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Sunday, February 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The viaduct debate | Don't wall off Seattle's waterfront

Special to The Times

In an all-mail vote, Seattleites are weighing in on a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Advisory Measure 1 centers on the surface/tunnel hybrid design; Advisory Measure 2 on a new elevated structure. A third option, the surface-street/transit alternative, is not on the ballot but hovering in the wings. Here are two views on the March 13 ballot titles:

The ballots arriving in your mailbox for the March 13 special election are much more than a referendum on a highway project. They represent perhaps the most important decision this generation will make about the kind of city we leave for our children and grandchildren.

We have an opportunity to tear down the concrete wall that has separated our city from its waterfront and replace it with a public gathering place that celebrates the natural assets of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.

But Olympia has other ideas for our waterfront. It wants to force us to accept a much bigger, uglier elevated freeway that will shroud our city's front door in grime, noise and shadows for the next 100 years.

And to top it off, some of our state leaders say they don't care what people in Seattle think about this.

That's not right. And it is why now, more than ever, the voters of Seattle must make their voices heard. Vote "no" on Measure 2, the elevated rebuild option.

After requiring the city to hold an advisory vote on how to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the governor has now changed her mind and is proceeding with plans to build a bigger, uglier elevated structure and increase car trips into our city by at least 25 percent.

Measure 2 on your ballot asks whether or not you agree with her. It is a straight up-or-down question — yes or no to the state's plan to wall off our waterfront for the next 100 years.

Our waterfront, and our city, deserve a better future.

Voters have stood up many times before when outside forces have threatened to bulldoze the heart and soul of our city. In 1971, Pike Place Market was the target. People said it would be cheaper to just tear it down. But Seattle rejected the shortsighted option and voted to preserve this historic treasure.

Thirty-five years ago, we rejected a plan for an elevated Bay Freeway on the shores of Lake Union. In the same election, voters put an end to a plan to run a freeway through the Arboretum.

Those plans were wrong for Seattle then. And Olympia's insistence on building a new elevated behemoth on our waterfront is just as wrong for our city today.

Our waterfront is a public asset — a destination for residents of Seattle and the region. We should do everything we can to make it cleaner, less noisy, less harmful to our environment, and make it more accessible and more enjoyable for all.

But that is not what a new elevated highway would do. It would be 50 percent bigger than the current viaduct, reducing existing public space along the shores of Elliott Bay. It would cram 25 percent more auto traffic onto our waterfront, along with added noise and exhaust.

Is this 1950s solution really the best we can do in the 21st century?

Absolutely not.

If we want to prevent climate change and curb our greenhouse-gas emissions, we need to encourage more people — not fewer — to live in the city. The best way to do that is to create great public space where people, not cars, can linger and enjoy the incredible natural setting of our city. Tearing down the viaduct will create significant new public open space in our city.

Imagine our waterfront without the noise, blight and dirt from a nearby elevated freeway. Imagine walking along the waterfront and actually hearing the words of the person next to you, or hearing the cry of a seagull and the splash of the waves instead of the noise of rush hour.

Imagine a walk from Pioneer Square, along the water, and up to Seattle Center. Imagine a lid that extends Victor Steinbrueck Park and creates a new pathway from Pike Place Market down to the waterfront. Imagine walking down University Street and down Harbor Steps toward a view of the Olympic Mountains.

Compare that to today's experience of walking into shadows cast by a looming freeway. Now imagine it worse.

The decision is yours. The people of Seattle know what is best for their city. Don't let Olympia decide the future of our waterfront for us. Vote "no" on Measure 2. Vote "yes" on Measure 1, the tunnel option.

Greg Nickels is mayor of Seattle.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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