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Would Seattle Traffic Be Better Today With the Bogue Plan?

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Seattle is known for tree-huggers, Earth-firsters, moss-between-the-toes nature lovers. So, here's a story about how Seattle got this way by leveling hills, filling valleys, and rerouting water - and having grand plans - even if we vote them down.


Today's gridlock is brought to you by, the voters of 1912 who voted down the Bogue Plan, a plan with foresight that was too much for its time and would've avoided some of today's problems but can't be revived. In retrospect, parts of the plan are obvious. Others were obviously never going to work. It is refreshing to see how some people can think ahead despite their detractors. What ideas are considered jokes today that could be brilliant in a hundred years.

Seattle is an hourglass, or at least the old core is. Geography bottlenecks transportation to a few areas of relatively dry, flat land. (Just look at what it took to build I-5.) Virgil Bogue saw this and advocated for an underground mass transit system that wouldn't interfere with above ground development, too much. If we weren't careful, he said, we'd experience hour long commutes, and they aren't good for business. What would he have thought of the bus tunnel? His idea of an underground railroad that reached Kirkland may have been a bit impractical, though.

Railroads were big. They were the tech companies of the day. Bogue even helped build a few, including the Northern Pacific; and got to name Pasco, WA and find Stampede Pass. Seattle needed a major railroad station, something befitting one of the major cities of the world, or at least the West Coast. His style was much more traditional European, and to have enough room to work with, he sited it at the south end of Lake Union. That's probably not going to happen, but if it had, the railyards near Sodo would somehow have to squeeze into the Denny Regrade. King Street Station may not be as grandiose, but it might be a better location.

Big cities need a big focal point. He put his near the Denny Regrade, which was one of the reasons the voters didn't like the plan. It put too much development too far from the core that was entrenched around Pioneer Square. Anything near Lake Union was too far from the city. Now, South Lake Union is an extension of downtown; and we did build a big focal point just a bit west of there. Something with a Space Needle and enough room to hold parties of a quarter million.

Bogue had big plans and also reached a bit too far. Some challenged whether he'd overstepped his authority by suggesting changes to what is now Harbor Island, suggesting ferry routes, and suggesting extensive parks (which the Olmsteads were working on.) He and his team took a year to draw up the plans, so there is plenty of detail. If the votes had swung the other way, would we be erecting statues to him, or debating whether someone else's plan would've done better?
· Bogue Plan for 1911 [imgur]
· Virgil Bogue [wikipedia]
· Seattle Defeats Bogue Plan [HL]
· The Story of I-5 [CS]
· All History Lesson coverage [CS]
Written by Tom Trimbath

Seattle Center Pavillion

Mercer ave, Seattle, WA