I can just taste what our Waterfront will become. Imagine walking with me – or your best friend – just a few short years from now, from Safeco Field up to the Olympic Sculpture Park. Satisfied with another Mariner’s victory, we stroll down the new tree-lined Railroad Avenue-turned-pedestrian/bicycle corridor to the end of King Street on the Waterfront. We’ve passed some new cafes along the way, bustling with waiters and afternoon diners, and marvel at how safe we feel in this rejuvenated part of the City.
Now on the Waterfront, we climb down the pathway to put our hands in the clean water of Elliott Bay. Nestled between Terminal 46 and the Ferry Terminal is a new beach and a “habitat island” where we can reach the Sound with ease. Seattle Public Utility has extended the outflow hundreds of yards further into the Sound, the Duwamish has been cleaned up, and Puget Sound is sparkling again. This habitat island offers respite for salmon as well as us walkers just south of the redesigned ferry dock; we appreciate the new clock tower on the Terminal Building as we sit on the sun-warmed rocks watching for the silver flicks of the salmonids moving north along their protected swimway.
Returning to Alaskan Way, we look east up Yesler toward the pergola where we now can see well into the heart of Pioneer Square. The iconic lamp posts and historic buildings are fully open to our view, unimpeded by the aged and cracking viaduct. A water feature has been added to the new building where the Sinking Ship Garage once stood. The Viaduct is gone and so is the noise from the 110,000 daily cars and trucks.
We feel the southwest wind blowing gently as we continue our walk past the newly renovated Ferry Dock. The ferry queue is now covered and hosts a sustainable green roof on top. The habitat is welcoming for both fish and birds, and we watch as an Audubon guide points out the abundant bird life in the area. We note that there are fewer cars and much less pollution than before because Washington State Ferries now has a reservation system allowing drivers to reserve a spot on the scheduled ferry of their choice. Besides, more often than not many of us now take the foot ferries and leave our cars behind because the improved transit is coordinated with the ferry schedules and our bike lanes are so much more welcoming!
Refreshed, we head toward the central Waterfront which has become the heart of Seattle’s new urban shoreline. A Wet Design water feature charms those who crowd close with surprise squirts and gurgling flows; the promenade offers space for runners, walkers, and bicyclists separated from traffic. The bulk of fast moving through-traffic is now 200 feet below us in the new tunnel, providing a safe and vibrant waterfront for people. Native trees and plants dot the promenade as far as we can see. Designers have reached out to all communities, and this is a place where people of all ages and cultures come to see and be seen. Old friends play checkers on the tables provided for such activities; lovers walk hand in hand and sit in the pocket green spaces, and families flock to the free fun that’s available for all on our Waterfront.
Businesses are busy as devotees line up for clam chowder, fish and chips, and harbor tours or sunset sails on Elliott Bay. Bicycles and skates are available for rent along the promenade, but we choose to explore the new park on the square block between Western and Spring/Seneca instead. Ample parking is available below this park, transit connects with ease to the terminal at the ferry dock, and above-ground forested pathways invite us into the interior of this new square where story poles and art respectfully tell the history of the Pacific Northwest tribes at every turn. The native plantings invite birds, and their calls surround us.
What’s that chord? Can you hear it? Just on the other side of our award-winning Aquarium a band is warming up. The summer concerts have returned in force on the reconstructed Pier 62/63 and hundreds of people including young adults and seniors are swarming toward the triple bill of Grand Hallway, Built to Spill, and Fleet Foxes. KEXP is broadcasting live from the Piers, and people are lined up six-deep to get standby tickets for the concert.
Since we didn’t think ahead to get tickets, we take the broad pedestrian causeway known locally as the Kalistrada up to Pike Place Market. This causeway reconnects Downtown to the Waterfront via Pike Place Market, and provides day stalls for artisans and vendors to sell their wares to the passersby. Like Danny Westneat suggested, a few blocks of the viaduct have been reclaimed and made into a pedestrian viewpoint and parkway, similar to New York’s High Line. From a favorite Pike Place Market vendor we purchase a handful of fresh flowers and lean on the edge of the old viaduct to hear the opening band’s set.
Later we walk back to the promenade and hitch a ride on the historical George Benson Waterfront Trolley which has been repaired and reactivated along the Waterfront. True to their civic interests, the Port of Seattle, in partnership with the Mariners, Sounders, Seahawks and a newly established Waterfront Foundation, agreed to restore the trolley line. In future years the trolley will take visitors and locals from Qwest and Safeco Fields all the way to the cruise ship docks on Pier 90/91.
For now, we get off the train at the Olympic Sculpture Park, thrill to the sunset over the Olympics, and then decide it’s time for one more libation. We walk the six blocks up the hill to an outdoor café for a drink. Its now twilight, and we can just see the glow of the attractions on the grounds of Seattle Center. Why not? We’ll walk over to the campus, which has become a hub for great music, art, and theater. There’s so much more to come and we’ll pick it up tomorrow where we leave off tonight. It’s a perfect finale to a fabulous day.
This of course is my idea of what the Waterfront could be. What do you see when you think about the possibilities?
To my delight, thanks to a dedicated group of civic and elected leaders, we are now creating what our Waterfront will be. Come see some of the concept drawings for yourself? Please join the Waterfront Seattle gathering on Thursday, February 17th, at 6:30 p.m. at the Seattle Aquarium.