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By Clair Enlow

September 12, 2018

Design Perspectives: Battery Street group looks to other cities for ideas

Special to the Journal

Belltown's quest for adding parks to the neighborhood has taken a new turn this year: Battery Street.

The Battery Street corridor runs along the top of the Battery Street Tunnel, which will be decommissioned next year along with demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and used as a dedicated landfill.

Battery Street itself may not be much more than a lid over the tunnel in Belltown, but activists hope to salvage a new green street there.

Street ideas from other cities will be shared by designers at a few special installations during the design festival called Design in Public. The installations will be on view at the intersection of First Street and Battery Street, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

You can learn more at https://www.designinpublic.org/event/battery-block-party/.

MIG|SvR Design [enlarge]
This image from MIG/SVR Designs shows improvements to 21st Street in Paso Robles, California.

Images submitted for the event show lots of lush planting strips with natural drainage and filtration systems, and trees. Activists want the tunnel plan to accommodate these kinds of amenities on the surface street.

Community interest in the street corridor began, ironically, with the death of a dream. Last year a neighborhood group called Recharge the Battery lost a bid to save the tunnel itself. Based on this neighborhood initiative, the Design in Public festival then called for ideas for reusing the vast tunnel space.

Architects eagerly dove in, choosing to ignore that the tunnel would be a very convenient place to stash debris from the Alaskan Way Viaduct, now scheduled to be dismantled next year.

Despite stunning images of park-like underground spaces, the state's process has not been disrupted, nor all that future rubble diverted.

Image by Olin Design [enlarge]
This green street design graphic shows underground infrastructure that would capture runoff.

The question of how the tunnel might be saved was never answered, but there is no doubt it would have been expensive.

The neighborhood group now calls itself On the Battery, and it has scaled down the ask. Way down.

Instead of saving an underground tunnel built for four lanes of traffic, how about a few tree pits and some drainage pipes? With only minimal intervention in a tunnel-turned-landfill, they say, we have a golden opportunity.

Battery Street could be another place to grow healthy trees in Belltown and also boost the city's pledge to increase the urban tree canopy by 30 percent by 2027, according to Recharge the Battery/On the Battery co-founder Aaron Asis. At the same time, Asis and his fellow activists want their neighborhood to catch up with the level of planning and investment that other downtown neighborhoods, like Pioneer Square, have seen.

The quest for more parks is just part of that, and Belltown has shown a particular interest in combining art and green street infrastructure, like Growing Vine Street, the drainage and filtration systems along the western slope of Vine Street. Drawings produced last April outline Battery Street as a green street anchored at one end by a large triangle of park space (where the southwest tunnel entry is now) and at the other by surface improvements, connecting the green street with Denny Park.

Proponents suggest that such a scheme might include a prominent viewpoint in the form of a deck-like extension of Battery Street over the former portal. Perhaps it could be the green roof for a semipublic structure underneath?

It's hard to tell at this point where the money for this kind of green infrastructure might come from, but the portal and street corridor are within the boundaries of the local improvement district for the upcoming waterfront redevelopment. At this point, city planners seem to be emphasizing ongoing changes along nearby Bell Street that would make it more park-like.

Activists want to get people talking about the possibilities and challenges at meetings between parties — which include the state and its contractors, the city of Seattle, and neighborhoods groups.

What's in the future for Battery Street?

The neighborhood wants to meet the city half way. But no one seems to know where that halfway point is right now.


Clair Enlow can be reached by e-mail at clair@clairenlow.com.

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