Public Realm Perspective

Liz stands on Columbia Street facing east with construction crews and activity in the background.

Meet Liz:

Pioneer Square has an unprecedented number of projects impacting the public realm: reclaiming alleys, redesigning streets and parks, fixing curbs and medians, waterfront, parking, and bike lanes. All this and more are all-in-a-day’s work for Liz Stenning, our Deputy Director. A friendly and familiar face in the neighborhood, Liz is all about ongoing improvements to our public realm from curb cuts to crosswalks.

Columbia Street:

Liz stands at the intersection of Post Avenue and Columbia Street at the border of Pioneer Square and Downtown Seattle. Last year at this time, Liz would have found herself eclipsed by a large, imposing  concrete structure intended to move vehicles in and out of Downtown Seattle – the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Columbia Street SR99 on-ramp. With the on-ramp removed, the corridor is currently getting overhauled and will re-open to buses, cars, and pedestrians in February 2020 –  nearly 54 years after the on-ramp was installed.

Columbia Street, looking west, Seattle, January 16, 1959 Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (60430)
Columbia Street, looking west, Seattle, January 16, 1959 Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (60430)

While the Columbia Street on-ramp to the Viaduct was the first section to be removed during the demolition phase in 2019, it was the final piece to be built during the structure’s original construction. Historylink states that the Columbia Street on-ramp to the Alaskan Way Viaduct opened to traffic on February 1, 1966. When the first section of the Viaduct opened in 1953, traffic could only enter and exit via ramps at Western and Elliott avenues to the north and at 1st Avenue S to the south. In the following years, several off and on-ramps were constructed to provide traffic access and reduce backups. The completion of the Columbia Street on-ramp provided a much needed access to SR 99 for Downtown Seattle visitors, and completed the final form of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Liz this Week:

This week, Liz is excited for the re-opening of Columbia Street.. “It should be done very, very soon,” Liz states. The physical changes to Columbia Street where the Viaduct once stood is a stark transition. “For years, Columbia Street was shaded and dominated by the Viaduct on-ramp,” Liz says. “I don’t think people gave much thought to the street and its surrounding public spaces.” Today, Columbia Street is finally being seen in a new light- as the shadow of the Viaduct has dissolved. New sidewalks, street lights and trees along both sides of the street will create a more inviting pedestrian experience traveling to/from the waterfront and Pioneer Square.

Columbia Street following the removal of the SR99 on-ramp

Liz says that the re-opening of Columbia Street will have substantial impacts to the Seattle community, “Once it opens, Columbia Street will be a key transit access point to and from Downtown Seattle. Instead of buses running on 1st Avenue, as they were during and after the Viaduct removal process, they will return to Alaskan Way.” Even though Alaskan Way has several years of planned projects ahead, this is one of the first to be completed.” Liz says.

Columbia Street’s reopening marks the first part of the Seattle Waterfront to be redone. For more information of the Columbia Street Two-Way Corridor Project and the overall Waterfront Seattle project, visit Waterfront Seattle’s website.