Posts Tagged ‘the automobile age is done’

Seattle abuzz with new construction

Back from an interesting trip to the upper left hand corner of the U.S.: Seattle, Portland, Salem, and the Oregon Coast. A great time with family, and a good time reconnecting with these cities and places.

In Seattle, we rode the new South Lake Union Streetcar. Unfortunately, the streetcar was known as a trolley during all of the planning leading up to its construction, so now, of course, it’s called the S.L.U.T. Tee shirts are available.

The S.L.U.T. alignment

The trolley doesn’t run far, yet – about 20 blocks north, then 20 blocks back south – but it represents a powerful tool as Seattle (and all cities) begins to chuck the car.  We were last in Seattle four years ago, and barely recognized the place this time for all the new, and very dense, construction. The South Lake Union neighborhood is taking shape, after decades of planning, on land that was mostly one story light industrial sites, or surface parking lots. Currently new residential space is retailing at about $350 a square foot. Getting pricey.

In Portland we arrived at Union Station, having taken the very enjoyable Amtrak train from Seattle. Three and a half hours of delightful scenery away from the crushing madness of I-5 traffic. Nice.

Union Station in Portland used to be in an industrial area. Now the Pearl, the new and booming neighborhood in NW Portland, comes right to the tracks as one enters the city. This has happened with blazing speed – we were in Portland a year ago and the station was still high and dry. No longer – it has been swallowed by the neighborhood.

The big story in Portland was the City Council’s consideration of a new vehicular bridge for I-5 over the Columbia. The cost: $4.2 billion. The state DOTs want 12 lanes. The City Council wants 6 lanes, tolls, and lanes for the light rail system, bikers, and pedestrians. Building new highway infrastructure is a fool’s errand in these times, but at least they seem to know this, and are trying to hold some kind of line. We’ll see what happens. 

The existing I-5 bridge at Portland, over the Columbia River.

The proposed 12 lane I-5 bridge – unlikely to matrialize at this scale.

And at the Oregon Coast, near Lincoln City, we found ourselves wondering what will happen to these places – long, linear places along the coastal highway that is Route 101. Jammed with cars and RVs, the highway runs through Lincoln City at a very slow gait. And there’s no way to get there except to drive. Of course in the not-so-old days you could get to Newport, a bit to the south, by train. But no more. Interesting to think about what will happen here as cars no longer work.


Between the Pacific and Route 101, Lincoln City, Oregon.

Back home in DC, the City Council is holding hearings this week on the implementation of our new streetcar. Most opposition has vanished in the face of rising gas prices, but there are still some die-hard opponents moaning about how we should be spending more money on roads and buses and forget streetcars. They note that traffic and congestion have become unbearable here. So lets build more roads and make it even worse!

Hey folks – your car is obsolete. It’s over. Sorry, but the automobile age is done. Come back when somebody perfects a personal vehicle that the planet can live with. 

And our Metro system is already running over capacity. Buses are the most expensive form of urban mass transit, and have the lowest capacity. Build streetcars. In DC they say we can have a good set of alignments by 2030. Hmm. Bet it happens sooner.

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