Commentary: A viaduct eyesore in creative Edmonds?

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There are three interesting developments in the Edmonds viaduct saga.

First, as Seattle is tearing down its viaduct, Edmonds is seeking to build one. We are supposed to be living in a learning society. Companies learn from each other, individuals learn from each other and even governments do. Welcome to the Edmonds exceptionalism. The city’s motto should be changed to: Thou shalt not learn from the experience of 15 miles south.

Second, Mike Nelson has announced that his candidacy for the position of the Mayor. Strictly from the perspective of political theory, this is good news because contested elections are essential for democracy. Since as a Council member, he voted against the Viaduct, I suggest Mr. Nelson outlines a plan on how he will seek to reverse the most ill-advised plan to construct the viaduct?

Finally, it is terrific that Edmonds has been named as the first creative district in the state of Washington. This plays to the strengths and emerging character of our beautiful town. But do not get too excited …. we will have the viaduct. I suppose we need to build ugly, expensive, and dysfunctional structures to highlight the beauty of creative Edmonds!

The viaduct does not address any demonstrable need. Further, there are cheaper alternatives to provide medical help to individuals on the west side of the railway tracks. So why does the creative Edmonds want to construct the viaduct that will destroy the aesthetics of the Sunset Boulevard and the Brackett landing beach?

But its destructive potential does not stop here. Bridges attract all sorts of unwanted activity — peek under any I-5 exit. As a contribution to the aesthetics of Edmonds, the viaduct will bring graffiti, garbage, and maybe even social problems like drugs. Families would probably not feel safe taking their children to the Brackett landing beach.

Robert Moses is considered as one of the most important figures of urban architecture of the 1950s and ’60s. In New York where he served in important governmental positions, Moses built huge structures, including bridges, that would devastate neighborhoods, assault aesthetics, and destroy the character of the place. Of course, four decades after the death of Robert Moses, very few urban architects embrace his architectural vision — except for Edmonds.

Imagine you lived in Edmonds before the viaduct was constructed. And you return after 20 years accompanied by your children or grandchildren. You take them to the Sunset Avenue and then to the beach (stopping for coffee, of course). But instead of peace and beauty of the boulevard, you find an ugly bridge which is covered with graffiti and wrapped in a rusted chain linked fence. You see joggers gingerly avoiding needles and other garbage. And then you will take a deep breath and say, I miss my Edmonds kind of day.

Postscript: in the year 2040, Edmonds City Council voted unanimously to tear down the Edmonds viaduct. The Mayor noted in her speech that the city is committed to reclaiming the beauty of Edmonds. She said that about 20 years ago, while the city resisted the call to pave the marsh, somehow it did not have the wisdom to imaginatively address the issue of responding to health emergencies on the west side of the tracks. She wryly noted that it is not surprising that along with Alaska, Edmonds has the distinction of constructing a viaduct to nowhere. As she ended her speech, she declared that Edmonds has learned from its mistakes and is committed to reclaiming its natural beauty.

— By Aseem Prakash

Aseem Prakash is a professor of political science, the Walker Family Professor for the College of Arts and Sciences and the director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington.

26 Replies to “Commentary: A viaduct eyesore in creative Edmonds?”

  1. Of course an antiquated style of structure would be deemed needed by a man approaching 80. Edmonds needs new leadership. Leadership that that truly cares about taking Edmonds into the future instead of languishing in the past. Leadership that listens to and respects the Citizens of Edmonds instead of believing they are the absolute Rulers.

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  2. Well written, with much truth to it. I too am hoping that Mr. Nelson has a plan in place to stop the madness of this plan, placing a scar on one of Puget Sound’s most beloved beaches. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

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  3. Ms Prakash,
    Thank you for your insightful article about plans for a Edmonds Viaduct. My discussions with many Edmonds residents echo your sentiments about this horrible and useless eyesore. There has to be a less expensive and functional solution for the infrequent
    (rare) need for emergency medical vehicles passage.

    Thank you Mike Nelson for voting against this bad idea. You have my vote. Come on folks. We can do better.

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    1. Gretchen Sewall, Aseem is a delightful male who serves his community on the Economic Development Commission. While he deserves the respect you gave him by using his last name, I am sure he is not offended.

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  4. This commentary compares an enormous two level viaduct to a pedestrian bridge that also serves as an emergency vehicle access. A better comparison in my opinion is the foot bridge that connects the UW campus to the Lite Rail station. I walk that way frequently and have never seen needles, graffiti or people sleeping under it. And I think it looks pretty good, for a bridge. (I prefer mountain peaks.)

    A worse case scenario is not a good comparison to the proposed connector. Remember, over 50 options were considered before selecting the connector. CM Nelson was on the Task Force that recommended that option. AND… the final design has not been completed, which I we expect to have artistic elements included.

    We need to learn how to have important conversations without comparing worst case scenarios to proposed ideas. I’ll be attending the 3 Practices meeting on January 30th as a way to build my conversational tool box. Here’s more about it… https://myedmondsnews.com/2018/12/what-is-the-3-practices-its-a-way-to-bridge-the-difference-divide-in-our-community/

    Finally, Dr. Parkash is a thoughtful and accomplished scholar. I work with him on the Economic Dev Commission and find his ideas worth considering.

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    1. Mr. Tibbott, thank you for putting some rationality to the over-the-top comments in the letter. I myself am not fully convinced the connector is the best solution but I also acknowledge that I was not involved in the citizen’s group which developed the options, nor involved in the final recommendations. So I’m willing to study this to make an informed decision. I will not fault the mayor, as he is only following up on what was recommended to him. Frankly, the scenarios written in the letter are unduly extreme, and not helpful to the uninformed. The ideas provided serve to incite opposition, and not objectively inform our citizenry.

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  5. The waterfront connector will be an eyesore and a big waste of money. Nobody benefits except the people who get paid to build it. Let’s stop this thing.

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  6. I support efforts to shut down the connector proposal.
    Some reasons that the connector is a mistake:
    Cost overruns will push the price tag well over budget.
    Nearby homeowners and environmental groups will undoubtedly sue the city to block the bridge further delaying the project and adding to the cost.
    Emergency access around a stopped train has very rarely been needed.
    There are alternatives:
    Develop a communication channel with Amtrak & BNSF to move the train in an emergency.
    Staff a first-response firefighting/EMT squad on the west side of the tracks.
    Present and future technology will provide robust emergency response solutions.
    What’s the protocol for a response once the bridge is built? There are multiple scenarios which will delay a response using a bridge connector.
    If you build it, the ferry system will use it.
    This project will further deteriorate the quiet, quaint nature of our city. It will ruin Sunset Ave with increased vehicle traffic, noise and light pollution. There are so many other important things in Edmonds that need funding ahead of this connector. Put a stop to the connector.

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  7. Hey, I heard that Seattle has a slightly used but never abused tunnel drilling machine for sale. We could start the tunnel at the top of Main Street hill and have it come out at the new community/senior center parking lot. I bet we could pick that baby up for less than 10 mill. saving a cool 20 mill. right off the bat. Spoiler alert for the Fox News loyalists, this is a joke. Clint

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  8. Mayor Dave. No fair, these people attacking us old guys just ’cause we have all this valuable experience under our belts. Just want you to know, it’s not bad out here in the ‘ol retirement pasture; in case you are thinking of hanging up your spurs. You can go to meetings because you want to; instead of because you have to; and you can rant and rave about all the “mismanagement” in MEN while the young folks struggle with the problems. Clint

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    1. Not attacking the mayor; just thinking if we can vote for chili cookoffs and clam chowder cookoffs, why can’t we have a vote of the people on this very impactful proposal.

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      1. Denise, back in 2011 we embarked on creating a Strategic Action Plan for Edmonds. During the process we engaged more than 2500 people and conducted a statistically valid survey that showed the public was in support of creating a “Waterfront connection” You will find it as Action item 4a.8 in the SAP which and be found that this link. I think it was on page 56. http://www.edmondswa.gov/strategic-plan.html
        The concept of the connection came from the pubic. The public process that followed is what got us to the current point.

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        1. I followed your link and found several additional links for where there was citizen input including several surveys. None of these links provided insights into the actual methodology used so it is impossible to judge the “statistical validity” of the surveys that were posted. That said, I did not see any reference to the proposed “waterfront connector.” Instead I saw questions related to “waterfront connection.” These are two very separate issues — completing the existing connection along the waterfront (between the marsh and the ferry / Brackett’s Landing) and the proposed connector. In addition, I believe Denise is asking for representative citizen input on a proposal that now has a tangible design that residents can look at and effectively evaluate. In 2011 this may have been an idea. Any resident input at that stage would be at best unreliable if not completely misleading as they could have been responding to just about anything.

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  9. Mr. Prakash has a great rating on ratemyprofessors.com, yet within this hyperbolic editorial, I’m not finding the same qualities students attribute to him:
    * “is never polarizing in his lectures”
    * “He encourages students to think and critically analyze every aspect/contributor to a situation.”

    UW is lucky that Mr. Prakash is not teaching a Creative Writing course.

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  10. Councilperson Tibbott,

    Good satirical political writing is a lost art. I find Mr. Prakash’s letter both entertaining and able to make a valid point. I doubt he seriously believes that the proposed connector will look like the Alaskan Way or other viaduct, but he IS making a valid point. I really do think we all ought be able to engage in challenging each other’s ideas in a way that is forceful, but not abusive, which Mr. Prakash has done and done brilliantly. I think Edmonds is currently engaging in some healthy political debate and dialogue and perhaps it is long overdue. Nothing to be worried about as long as it is respectful. Beware of people telling you that, if you don’t agree with them, you are being disrespectful. I look forward to more of Mr. Prakash’s writing.

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  11. Seriously this time, I’m with Mr. Clark (above) on this issue. Is there any evidence that someone has died or suffered irreversible harm from being “trapped” by a train blocking access to the waterfront? Has the city or the RR ever been sued over something like this? What is the great imperative that this thing is even needed? There is a major difference between being greatly inconvenienced and physically harmed. How about some signs at the various intersections that read something like CAUTION, You are entering area with access frequently blocked by train activity. Enter at your OWN RISK. I’d guess that would come in at well under 1 million $’s.

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  12. Rebecca, No way to reply directly below your comments so I will put them here. Your comments are really good and I will try to respond as factually as possible and offer and opinion at the end.
    When the SAP was initiated by the EDC and approved by Council, there were 3 main “city” players and the general public involved. You can see a summary of that on pages 1-4. There were Retreats, Stakeholder Focus Groups, Adult Resident Opinions, Young Adult Opinions, Public Charrettes, Public Open Houses, Registered voter household priorities, and public hearings. You will see detailed numbers of each on the “Summary of public outreach events” on page 3 and 4. That details the 2514 participates, some who participated in more than one event. Under the Registered voter data you will see 466 participated. While I do not have the exact citation made to council by another public survey I recall that the survey company told council that a sample sized of slightly more than 300 would produce results with a +/- 5% accuracy. (I recall it to be 315 but not positive of that number). When we directed the research for the SAP we asked for the sample sized to be significantly above that necessary to produce the +/_ statistically valid range. While those words are not stated directly in the report that is the background to the sampling done to support the idea of “statistically valid” It should be noted that there were 6 retreats. These were sessions with the full council, full planning board, and full EDC members participating directly with the SAP consulting team. These sessions were taped. I have not looked to see if these tapes are posted on the city web site.
    Your second point “Connector” vs “Connection” is valid. They are two different words but in the details in the SAP for “Connection” it says “Work to establish an emergency and everyday access over the railroad tracks and ferry terminal lanes for pedestrians bound for shoreline and waterfront attractions from Harbor Square, Salish Crossing, and Downtown” That statement kind of says the same thing that is the current intend of the proposed “Connector”. But they are different words and say the same thing.
    Your point about Denise’s point is a good one. When an idea…”connection”… turns into a concrete (that’s a joke) proposal in the form of a “connector” then should there be some form of validation from the public or do we trust our council to make that decision for us? How should look at the various public sessions leading up to where were are today. Were we mislead about the scope and cost of the project? And then their is all the discussion about costs. Contributors so far are, State, BNSF Edmonds Taxpayers, ant the latest to the list is Port District Taxpayers. Not enough in that bucket to pay the bill so we are seeking other grants.
    Rebecca (Denise and all the others concerned citizens) the concerns raised all have value and while council has taken different positions at different times on different parts of the current plan the public input is still important!
    Not withstanding the “data and information” above my concerns relate mostly to the cost, benefit, risk analysis. Costs $25m+, benefit, a new physical path way over the north end of the tracks. Risk assessment for types of incidents that have happened in Edmonds or that could happen based on other RR accidents, Pedestrian, Vehicles, or Derailment. Finally what do we know about what will happen when BNSF adds the 2nd track. What will they do with the land that they own that is part of Railroad Ave? How are they planning to get people across the tracks to catch southbound trains, track level, underpass or over pass. If they reclaim their part of RR avenue will there be enough room for parking and two way traffic. I would guess RR avenue will become one way and we will loose parking as well. All are complex issues but in the final analysis have we done the best job possible to assess the costs, benefits, and RISKS. While we hunt for more money council could set some guidelines they wish to consider before making any final decisions on construction. Public hearing, open houses and all the things done to date have not silenced well meaning people and their concerns. Not sure of the answer to this legally, but could we put a question on the ballot this fall? We are already paying for our part of the election for the Mayor, 4 council seats and 2 port commissioners. That question would get about 13,000 responses. Council would not have to follow the outcome but it could guide them on what people are thinking.
    Sorry for the long response Rebecca but you questions and comments deserve good information thoughtful opinions. Hope that was the result.

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    1. Thank you for the additional information although the length of the response makes it a bit difficult to follow — surprised you didn’t get the message about two many all capital words — apparently the abbreviation RR does count as a capitalized word (rather than abbreviation). The voter survey you reference (called phone-control internet survey) is not available on the city of Edmonds website so it is impossible to see how it was done and what the results were.

      Connection as you define and as shown in the SAP (Work to establish an emergency and everyday access over the railroad tracks and ferry terminal lanes for pedestrians bound for shoreline and waterfront attractions from Harbor Square, Salish Crossing, and Downtown) makes sense but what I don’t see from this definition is the idea of connecting a residential neighborhood north of downtown to all of these areas south of downtown — makes a heck of a lot more sense to figure out how to get across at Main and Dayton to Harbor Square and the waterfront south of downtown.

      Note sure that a vote is the correct thing to do. But possibly a valid and reliable poll (beware of strictly Internet surveys with non-random outreach) could guide that decision.

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      1. Rebecca, sorry for the all caps, i am such a sap!
        Study validity. I recall that the methodology was discussed in detail at one of the retreats. Those retreats were recorded in council chambers and probably available either on the web site under council meetings or you could gain access by a public records request. Since the sample size was larger than necessary to be valid and it was done in all sections of town, and because it include phone calls to both cell and land lines it was very complete. I recall a council member asking a similar question and the answer was not challenged by any council member, edc member or planning board member those citizens were satisfied. The studies cited were done to help give ranking to issues that had be brought up by the other sessions I mentioned. The end result was to show the degree of interest the public placed on an issue. Clearly you would like more information about methods so do a public records request if you have doubts about what I believe to be true.

        On connection verses connector, my point was the idea of finding way to deal with emergency situation was asked and answered. Yes the question did not discuss details of potential locations. The is probably why the options discussed in the many public sessions and presentations ranged for idea way south and way north and several in-between.

        Election vs some form of random outreach is a good one. My recollection is a survey would cost $10,000 to $20,000. One I saw cost $15k. We are already paying for an election so If legal to ask an advisory question of the voters would cost far less and allow for more than 10,000 votes not just a sample of under 500 people.

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  13. Sorry for the all caps gaff in my comment above. I would point out though, that my all caps wern’t meant as shouting at a specific person which would be offensive, they were meant to emphasize the message on a potential sign to get people’s attention. Also, I really would like to know if there have been any historical instances of people suing the city or BNSF as a result of being trapped by trains? Has there been any financial loss to the city up to this point in time? I think this information should have some bearing on the final decisions in all this. I also think it would be prudent not to build any permanent structure until we know precisely what the RR is going to do with the part of Sunset that they apparently own based on comments above.

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    1. Clinton — that wasn’t directed at you in particular but as a general reminder. In the past we have had people use nearly all words in caps and it is hard for folks to read — hence the policy.

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    2. Hi Clint, Where above are there any comments about the bnsf ownership of sunset avenue? Are you referring to my comment about railroad avenue? I checked the county web site land value and ownership web site and it showed bnsf ownership of railroad ave. or at least a part of it. I have asked the city for clarification several weeks ago but have been given not response to date. Nothing was said about sunset avenue anywhere above.

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