Once a sleepy town on the water with more grunge rockers than office towers, today’s Seattle is bustling with tech jobs and transplants and has a steep cost of living. Seattle was the fastest-growing big city in the U.S. over the past decade, but Mount Rainier still looms, reminding us of how small we actually are, no matter how big the city gets.
Considering its massive growth, it’s no wonder that the city of Seattle and regional transportation organizations are working on a spate of public projects to move all 725,000 (and counting) Seattleites around more efficiently. And the result of these transit projects will change the fabric of the neighborhoods they exist in. For example, South Seattle’s neighborhoods were among the first to be served by light rail, and while it better connected underserved communities to other parts of the city, it also drove development, property values, and displacement.
From more pedestrian infrastructure and bike lanes to an expanded light rail, here’s a closer look at how three ongoing projects will shape the neighborhoods where they’re being built.
Sound Transit’s Northgate Link Light Rail extension
The background: Sound Transit Link Light Rail stations dot the city landscape, from the University of Washington to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The Northgate Link Extension will add three new stations north of the university, including an elevated station at Northgate and underground stations in the University District and Roosevelt. Once complete, the 4.3-mile expansion will serve more than 40,000 daily riders. The Roosevelt neighborhood is busy and diverse, and its heart—NE 65th Street—is lined with a growing number of apartments, shops, restaurants. The Roosevelt Station will sit 70 to 90 feet below NE 65th Street at 12th Avenue NE and promises to shuttle riders to the U District in two minutes, downtown Seattle in 10 minutes, and Sea-Tac Airport in 44 minutes.
The current status: At the end of May 2019, the overall Northgate Link extension project was 83 percent complete. The Roosevelt Station is about 87 percent finished, with contractors now working on electrical and mechanical systems, escalators, elevators, stairs, and more. When this portion of the work wraps up in 2020, the trains will be tested prior to carrying passengers, according to Kristin Hoffman, Northgate Link Extension senior project manager.
The expected completion date: 2021.
The impact: In addition to improved transit, residents will experience more street-level activity in the form of a new public plaza and large artworks. Heavier foot traffic as a result of greater access into the neighborhood could create congestion in the area. “People will have to adjust to the frequent pulses of passengers exiting the station and additional traffic around the station,” Hoffman says.
Owned by Sound Transit and developed by private companies, three properties abutting the Roosevelt Station will host more than 12,000 square feet of retail space, an affordable day-care center, and more than 250 apartments reserved for low-income individuals and families. Along with better transit access, these properties, slated for development in 2020, could drive increased property values similar to what other Seattle neighborhoods have experienced after transit improvements.
Improved pedestrian connections to Seattle’s waterfront
The background: On the rocky shores of the Salish Sea, Seattle’s historic waterfront is in the midst of a major transformation made possible by the ongoing demolition of the elevated, seismically unstable Alaskan Way Viaduct. Seattle’s future waterfront will include new parks, paths, public spaces, and public art installations—plus, a rebuilt public pier and a new surface street with a bike lane. Another area of emphasis for the city’s Waterfront Seattle Program includes creating safe, convenient east-west pedestrian connections to and from the waterfront via adjacent neighborhoods. Planned east-west improvements in Pioneer Square, a national historic district, will enhance waterfront connectivity along Main, Washington, King, and Yesler streets between Second Avenue and Alaskan Way.
The current status: Presently, 5 percent of Pioneer Square’s east-west street improvements have been designed. “In the next year, we’ll be developing more of the new design, deciding what the sidewalks will look like, what materials we’ll be using, what trees and plants we’ll use,” Steve Pearce, project manager at the City of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects, says. Construction will begin in September 2021.
The expected completion date: Pioneer Square’s east-west pedestrian improvements will be complete in 2022, while other phases of the Waterfront Seattle Program will be finished a year later.
The impact: Improved accessibility through widened sidewalks, leveled-out walking surfaces, wheelchair ramps, and safer, more enjoyable pedestrian crossings will create a more enjoyable experience for residents. Main and Washington streets, non-arterials linking to Occidental Park, will remain quiet and pedestrian-focused, Pearce says: “We’re looking to create opportunities for sidewalk cafes and places to enjoy the sun and eat be outside.” Yesler Way and King Street, heavier-trafficked arterials, will connect to new, popular waterfront attractions like the refurbished historic Washington Street Boat Landing and a 20-acre promenade. Pioneer Square is the only neighborhood level with Seattle’s waterfront, so its residents will have among the easiest access to its updated features.
Property owners deemed to benefit the most from the waterfront improvements, including condo owners in Pioneer Square, will pay for part of the work through a local improvement district. A condo owner paying a $1,900 mortgage would pay an estimated $95 a year for 20 years. Pioneer Square’s historic buildings can’t be torn down, but investments will bring new commercial and residential buildings to the neighborhood—which will likely boost small businesses, too, and pave the way for more new retailers and restaurants.
Completion of the Burke-Gilman Trail’s Missing Link
The background: The Burke-Gilman Trail is a paved, off-street, 27-mile-long path connecting Seattle’s Golden Garden Park to Fremont, the University District, and eventually Bothell, a suburb on the east side of Lake Washington. Cyclists, pedestrians, stroller-pushers, and others enjoy relative comfort and safety along the Burke-Gilman, except for a 1.4-mile stretch through Ballard known as the “Missing Link.” When they reach the Missing Link, cyclists can either ride along Shilshole Avenue NW, a gravely road with little shoulder that’s crisscrossed by railroad tracks, or ride on larger streets with more vehicle traffic through the heart of the neighborhood. But now, after nearly 20 years on the city’s to-do list, construction to fill in the Burke-Gilman’s Missing Link is underway.
The current status: The Missing Link has been caught in a two-decade tug-of-war between road-safety advocates and industrial companies in the area. Despite ongoing appeals, the project is moving forward. “The city is firm on its position of wanting to complete the Missing Link in the location selected along Shilshole Avenue NW,” Louisa Miller, program manager at the Seattle Department of Transportation, says. “We’re moving forward.” Construction will be completed in three phases before reconnecting with the existing, westernmost segment of the trail near the Ballard Locks.
The expected completion date: 2021.
The impact: With the completion of the Missing Link, Ballard will be more accessible to more cyclists, including beginners and casual riders. “What we’re creating is an amazing regional connector for the Ballard neighborhood and beyond,” Miller says. The new pathway will be 12 feet wide with buffers on each side, raised and separated from traffic. To slow cyclists through the busiest industrial areas, it will narrow in some spots, and driveway crossings will be well-marked. Flashing LED signs near industrial properties will let bikers know if a large truck is nearby, too. “We’re taking great care to make sure visibility is good,” Miller says.
New development along Shilshole Avenue NW will occur, like the recent announcement of a new taproom, but the city doesn’t anticipate major changes along that stretch. “One of the reasons people love Ballard is because of its industrial culture,” Miller says. “That’s not going away.” Elsewhere in the Missing Link project area, Market Street will undergo changes to make more room for bikes and pedestrians and roughly 236 parking spots will be lost.