No self-respecting urban planner would support the downtown freeway tunnel, a stunning $4.2 billion investment to replace a freeway that serves a fraction of the original freeway's capacity yet does nothing to mitigate all the runoff traffic that will clog downtown streets. But the Downtown Seattle Association and its members bankrolled a campaign to build that new freeway... which the keynote speaker at their big confab last week had a few words about.
At DSA's sold-out State of Downtown Economic Forum, the renowned former planner of Vancouver, BC, Brent Toderian, mocked Seattle's future underground highway, saying the best thing about the freeway in Vancouver is that "we never build it in the first place." He pointed that "the most important decision ever made in Vancouver... was saying no to the freeways."
The swipe came up when Toderian was addressing what he called "the first and most important" aspect of density: how we align land-use and transportation. In a backhanded compliment, he said, "I think it's wonderful by the way that you're burying your viaduct. It's a very, very important city making decision. I only regret that you're putting [freeways] underground and spending all that money on them instead of just getting rid of them."
"What we've found in our city building, magically, is that when you get rid of that infrastructure the city doesn't just still work—it works better!" he said.
Here's video (the viaduct comments come at the 9:00 minute mark):
For context, this is the expert they brought in to talk about what makes downtown great. And the best thing you can do to build a smart downtown—the most important thing—according to their big expert is not build freeways and use smart transportation planning—not doing the thing the stupid thing DSA just stumped for, spent money on, and insisted was needed for downtown.
What does the DSA think? I asked thier policy guy John Scholes, who is a nice man, and he e-mailed me a joke about how "we had a Taser attached to his ankle to keep him from bad mouthing the tunnel," which was cute. He added that the tunnel alternative called surface/transit was designed primarily for the car (except the major transit component?).
That's a cop-out of an answer, but it's typical of the DSA.
About a year ago, I repeatedly tried to interview DSA director Kate Joncas to ask about her ideas for invigorating downtown business, her ideas for filling office vacancies, her ideas for attracting new companies. She never agreed to that interview—neither did Scholes. But their agenda speak for itself: campaigning for more highways and stricter anti-panhandling laws (which don't make cities safer). It shows that downtown's prime advocate is clueless about how to make downtown Seattle better.