Neighborhood green space and pedestrian safety advocates were encouraged in June when WSDOT released drawings of a potential park near the future Roanoke Lid that incorporated a little-used and overgrown Seattle Prep property adjacent to 520. The idea was based on a land deal allowing WSDOT to develop a landscaped path connecting Delmar Drive to Boyer Avenue, and Prep to use the freeway “underbridge” area for parking and sports facilities. Despite WSDOT getting community “support of pedestrian connection/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) path on south side of the [Portage Bay] bridge,” a favorable deal could not be reached as both parties ran into complications.
For Prep, it was decided that parking and sports facilities were uses not well-suited to the under-the-freeway area. For WSDOT, further environmental review would be needed to build a path through the site — work they were not eager to take on. Kerry Pihlstorm, 520 Bridge Replacement Engineering Manager, explained, “WSDOT is also not interested in buying the school’s parcel at this time. If our project impacts Seattle Prep property, it would need additional environmental clearance than what has been cleared through our 2011 Record of Descision. Our goal has been to minimize any significant changes to the environmental clearances we already have in place.”
For the public, it’s a lost opportunity to put a much needed pedestrian connection in a publicly protected green space. So far, the Community Design Process has rarely seen the kind of widespread support that backed this deal. An informal Montlaker poll found 94% were in favor of it.
The plan now defaults to the “Baseline” design, which still provides an ADA path using WSDOT property in the underbridge area. However, these are exactly the kind of dark, loud and potentially dangerous spaces for which freeways are notorious. WSDOT design consultants are hoping the path and a volleyball court can “activate” the space. Will it work? Maybe. But since there is still time to design the area before funds are acquired to build the project — are there other ideas out there for making something of this difficult space?
Here is the updated Baseline plan for the area released at last week’s Community Design Meeting: