I-5 Colonnade Open Space: needed improvements and how to achieve them

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE I-5 COLONNADE OPEN SPACE

The I-5 Colonnade Open Space Colonnade (often called Colonnade for short) is 7.5 acres operated as a unit of the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. It is located under and next to Interstate 5 south of E. Newton Street on land owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, and leased to the City of Seattle. Colonnade (click here for location map) is very close to the geographic center and population center of Seattle–between Downtown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, the University District, and Capitol Hill. It is ranked by the internationally regarded CityLab web site as among the world’s nine “cool parks under freeway overpasses.”

With Colonnade celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2015 and having been built with limited funds, it required a fresh look. How could Colonnade be improved? Should it be expanded? How could it be made more accessible on foot, bicycle, or by car to and from the surrounding area? To address these questions, a planning/design process in 2015-6 hired design professionals and engaged the public with a public tour, three public workshops (on the off-leash area, bicycling, and skateboarding), five community meetings, two on-site open houses, an on-line survey, and a Steering Committee with stakeholders and participating agencies. The results of the planning and design process and next steps are discussed below; further history and background about Colonnade are further below.

THE 2015-16 COLONNADE PLANNING AND DESIGN PROCESS AND NEXT STEPS

In 2015-16 with the help of $24,575 Neighborhood Matching Funds from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods under contract with the Eastlake Community Council, a broad-based steering committee oversaw a planning and design study in cooperation with a wide range of public agencies regarding improvements and expansion of the I-5 Colonnade Open Space. Sections below summarize the results of the study and provide history and background about the area and about the planning and design process, including links to the many documents that were produced along the way. The final products of the planning and design process are the following:

1. Click here for the Steering Committee’s Final Report on the planning and design study.
2. Click here for the Final Design Concept Memo (Oct. 4, 2016) from J.A. Brennan Associates.
3. Click here for the Schematic Long-Range Plan package (combines schematic plan, three subarea plans, and a cross section of the proposed north-south multi-use pathway) (Oct. 4, 2016) from J.A. Brennan Associates. [Note that in the item just below, these same components are also available as separate files that are likely to be more convenient for viewing or printing.]
4. The plans package posted immediately above is also available as the following separate files: Click here for the schematic plan; click here for the following two subarea plans: E. Blaine Street Alignment and the Eastlake Slope P-Patch and Hill Climb; click here for the E. Howe Street Alignment; and click here for the cross section showing how the Colonnade north-south multi-use pathway would fit between the columns (all Oct. 4, 2016 from J.A. Brennan Associates).
5. Click here for the Excel file and here for the PDF of the Planning Level Preliminary Cost Estimate (both Oct. 17, 2016) from J.A. Brennan Associates.

Summary. The schematic long-range plan envisions more stairways; a north-south commuter/connector bike and pedestrian trail; better connections east and west through Colonnade, to the Eastlake neighborhood, and to the south; skateboard features; mountain bike improvements; parkour; bouldering/climbing; movement playground/all-ages outdoor gym; walking labyrinth; children’s play features; off-leash area improvements; more lighting; sidewalks where they’re missing on Howe, Franklin, Franklin Place, Harvard Ave., and Lakeview Blvd.; better parking; drinking fountains; and a public restroom.

The planning and design process As the neighborhood association for the area in which Colonnade is located, the Eastlake Community Council campaigned for the original establishment of the I-5 Colonnade Open Space. ECC is grateful to the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for $24,575 in Neighborhood Matching Funds that made possible a planning and design process to engage user groups, residents, businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies to examine a 20-acre study area that includes the 7.5 acres currently managed by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation and an additional 12.5 acres of WSDOT land south to E. Aloha Street, much of it now fenced off and marked “no trespassing.” No other plot of land this large and close to downtown has such potential for increased recreational opportunities, and the planning process is bringing together disparate user groups, stakeholders, and public agencies.

Under the principle of matching funds, the Colonnade study depended not only on City funds, but on donated time, goods and services from many volunteers, businesses, and non-profit groups. The project had the support and cooperation of five Seattle departments: Department of Neighborhoods, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Transportation, Department of Planning and Development, and Department of Financial and Administrative Services; and of the Washington State Department of Transportation. Three Seattle public commissions (respectively for design, bicycles, and pedestrians) were also consulted.

The Colonnade planning and design project was overseen by a broad-based steering committee of stakeholders including residents, businesses, property owners, non-profit organizations, and public agencies. Support was provided by the Eastlake Community Council under the supervision of ECC President Chris Leman with the assistance of ECC’s community design liaison contractor, Art Tuftee.

The J.A. Brennan and Associates landscape architecture firm was the project consultant–hired under a City-supervised competitive process in response to an advertisement in the February 23 and 24, 2015 issues of the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce and a Request for Statement of Qualifications outlining general information, requested services, proposal requirements and the evaluation process. J.A. Brennan presented a site analysis at the April 23, 2015 public meeting, an alternatives analysis at the June 10 public meeting, and a draft schematic planat the July 8, 2015 public meeting. A more detailed description of the planning and design process, and the public and agency outreach, can be found in the Final Report (link above).

Reports from the public events. Notes of the discussions at the various public events (all in 2015) in the Colonnade planning and development process are posted below–click to access each one:

Notes from the April 14 Steering Committee meeting (14 participants)
Notes from the April 19 Public tour (32 participants)
Notes from the April 23 Public meeting (17 participants)
Notes from the April 30 Public workshop on skate features (24 participants)
Notes from the May 7 Public workshop on bicycle features(16 participants)
Notes from the May 9 Fitness day open house (64 participants)
Notes from the May 17 Public workshop on the Off-leash area (9 participants)
Notes from the May 20 Public meeting (30 participants)
Notes from the May 28 Steering Committee meeting (11 participants)
Notes from the June 10 Public meeting (20 participants)
Notes from the June 15 Steering Committee meeting (14 participants)
Notes from the July 8 Public meeting (25 participants)
Notes from the July 19 Outdoor open house (46 participants)
Notes from the Sept. 24 Public meeting (16 participants)
Notes from the Oct. 1 Steering Committee meeting (11 participants)
Notes from the Dec. 1 Steering Committee meeting (18 participants)

[b]Documents that received public comment[b] A first step in the Colonnade planning and design process was to conduct a Site Analysis of issues, problems and opportunities, and to release a series of drafts of this document for public comment. The first draft was released at the April 23, 2015 public meeting, and the second (and current) draft was released at the May 20 public meeting. The most important draft document to be released was the draft schematic plan; to see it, click here.

As further input to the design process, advocates for Colonnade improvements for mountain bike, skatepark, parkour, movement playground/outdoor gym, and bouldering/climbing uses prepared proposals for specific parts of Colonnade, as follows:

1. For the proposal by the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, click here
2. For the proposal by skatepark advocates Sean Kelly and Micah Shapiro, click here.
3. To view the proposal submitted by Tyson Cecka of Parkour Visions, click here
4. For the proposal by Ryan Spence on behalf of the bouldering/climbing community, click here
5. For the proposal for a movement playground (all ages outdoor gym) submitted by Nathan Arnold and Farley Harding, click here
6. For a drawing by the Colonnade project’s community design liaison Art Tuftee of the portion of the section of Colonnade that is roughly in line with E. Blaine Street, and includes the proposed locations for an outdoor gym/movement playground and a combination of steps and pathways to connect Franklin Avenue E. with Lakeview Blvd., click here
7. For a drawing by the Colonnade project’s community design liaison Art Tuftee of Colonnade’s new south end near E. Aloha Street that shows proposed locations for a multiuse pathway and a walking labyrinth, click here

Please see the top of this web page for links to the final overarching documents produced by the Colonnade planning and design process: the Steering Committee’s Final Report; and the landscape architecture firm J.A. Brennan’s Schematic Long-Range Plan (including three subarea plans and a cross section of the proposed north-south multi-use pathway), Final Design Concept Memo, and Planning Level Preliminary Cost Estimate.

For suggestions, comments or questions about anything regarding the Colonnade area or about this planning and design study, please contact the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org, or by U.S. mail at ECC, 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle 98102 or by phone at 206-322-5463.

FUNDING EFFORTS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Achieving the infrastructure improvements that are called for in the Schematic Long-Range Plan will require active efforts by many individuals, user groups and community groups. If you are interesting in helping in this effort, please the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org or (206) 322-5463.

Worthy of repeating here are these two links about funding needs that are also provided above in the section on the products of the 2015-16 planning project: Click here for the Excel file and here for the PDF of the Planning Level Preliminary Cost Estimate (both Oct. 17, 2016) from J.A. Brennan Associates. Subsequently, a more detailed estimate was done for the proposed skateboard feature. With that change included, below is a simplified list (alphabetical, not in order of preference) of the projects and their estimated cost as of 2016 (includes 60% for contingencies and project management). The sum of the cost of all projects is $7.02 million.

PROPOSED PROJECTS AND THEIR ADJUSTED COST

ADA pathway to enter Colonnade from the west at E. Blaine $160,000
Bouldering/climbing area just north of Howe St. steps near Lakeview Blvd. $400,000
Community garden and pathway/stairway on slope between I-5 and Eastlake Avenue $960,000
Mountain bike area reformatting and improvements $480,000
Multiuse pathway north-south to south boundary $240,000
Multiuse pathway south to E. Aloha St. under and west of the freeway $320,000
Multiuse pathway south to Belmont Ave. E. across slope that is just east of the freeway $400,000
Off-leash area improvements and expansion $480,000
Outdoor gym near Lakeview Blvd and E. Blaine St. $480,000
Parkour area just south of midpoint of Howe St. steps $480,000
Restroom $320,000
Public art features $320,000
Sidewalk on 2.25 blocks of east side of Franklin Ave. E. between Blaine & Galer streets $240,000
Skatepark just south of Lakeview Blvd. underpass $1,300,000
Stairway/pathway improvements E-W across Colonnade (E. Blaine St. alignment);
and at Galer St., a stairway down a steep incline from Lakeview Blvd. $320,000
Walking labyrinth just north of E. Aloha Street $120,000

As a first step toward funding various projects in the Colonnade planning and design process, the Eastlake Community Council in 2016 submitted a draft application to the Seattle Park District Major Projects Challenge Fund, listing the cost of 16 projects that encompass virtually all of what the schematic long-range plan calls for within the existing I-5 Colonnade Open and its proposed expansion. To see the two-page application, click here, and to see the third page that is a table of project proposals, click here. The Park Department asked for the application to be narrowed down to one project, and so ECC revised the application to request funding only for the proposed skatespot.

Unfortunately, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation either downgraded or disqualified (it is not clear) the 2016 Colonnade skate spot application, asserting that the Seattle Park District Major Projects Challenge Fund can only be spent on parks that are on City-owned land. (Colonnade is on WSDOT land that is leased to the City.) We can find nothing in the charter of the Seattle Park District that mandates this restriction. For this restriction to stand would be a serious blow to funding the various projects called for by the Schematic Long-Range Plan. The I-5 Colonnade Open Space was of course originally funded by Parks Department funds, including $1.75 million from the 2000 Parks levy.

For all of Seattle (not just at Colonnade), restricting the Seattle Park District Major Projects Challenge Fund only to land that is owned by the City poses a serious issue of inequity against valuable projects that are in dense neighborhoods lacking much City-owned parkland and where leased land is the most feasible alternative. The Mayor, City Council and Parks Department leadership should rethink this unfortunate policy.

In a March 2018 letter (click here), ECC submitted a new application for the skatespot in the 2018 cycle of the Major Projects Challenge Fund. The letter was also addressed to the Mayor, City Councilmembers and Park Superintendent, and asked for the project to be funded “whatever the source of City funds.”

The Eastlake Community Council is also seeking funds from the Seattle Department of Transportation for installation of several missing sidewalks whose absence the planning and design process found was impeding pedestrian circulation and safety in the Colonnade area. These funding needs and efforts are described on the web page at right entitled “Pedestrian Safety.”

For any of the projects listed here, please contact ECC at info@eastlakeseattle.org or 206-322-5463 if you would like to help in the campaign for funding.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE I-5 COLONNADE OPEN SPACE AND A LINK TO MORE DETAILED CHRONOLOGY

Click here [not yet activated] for a detailed chronology of nearly a century of the Colonnade area and the current park (what is now the Interstate 5 right of way south of e. Newton Street). Below is a brief summary.

Once a cedar and Douglas fir-covered hillside traversed only by Native Americans, in the 1880s this area was logged over by settlers who began to build homes. One of Seattle’s first bicycle paths was soon replaced with streets and sidewalks. A thriving residential neighborhood was there in 1960 when it was destroyed to make way for the construction of I-5, which opened in 1962. Despite the freeway along this stretch being on a high viaduct whose grand space underneath would have allowed re-establishment of passage underneath, the I-5 right of way was marked “no trespassing,” an exclusion reinforced in some places by fences.

How this bleak off-limits space became a celebrated part of the Seattle parks and recreation system is quite a story, not only for its exhilarating outcome but for seeing the challenges facing even the best of proposals. Colonnade would never have emerged without the efforts of countless volunteers, non-profit groups, civil servants, and elected officials.

The 1998 Eastlake Neighborhood Plan [see link at right], prepared by a coalition of stakeholders under a contract between the City of Seattle and the Eastlake Community Council, called for opening up the Colonnade area to public use, replacing the no-trespassing signs with public stairways. pathways, and other amenities. There was initial resistance from the Seattle and Washington State departments of transportation. Even the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation resisted, seeing the area’s potential only for an off-leash area.

Two key steps in turning the City and state departments around occurred in 2000, and both were by the Seattle City Council: adopting a grassroots amendment to the Seattle Comprehensive Plan calling for an east-west pedestrian/bicycle connection under the freeway in the Colonnade area; and funding the I-5 Colonnade Open Space (for $1.75 million) by listing it as a project in the parks and recreation levy that was put before and passed by the voters in November 2000. These City Council actions resulted from a coalition of non-profit organizations, neighborhood residents and businesses, users of the nearby Blaine St. and Howe St. stairs, bicyclists, skateboarders, and others.

This coalition also worked with then state legislator Ed Murray (later Seattle Mayor) who was key in persuading WSDOT to cooperate. WSDOT came to recognize the I-5 Colonnade Open Space as contributing greatly to pedestrian and bicycle options, a plus for WSDOT as a transportation agency.

Despite urging from City Councilmembers, the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, and others that the Colonnade design should be for the use of over 20 acres of I-5 right of way, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation kept it to 7.5 acres, although promising to consider expansion in the future. Through a public process, a park design for this 7.5 acres was agreed to which included the central east-west stairway; switchback pathways paralleling the stairway (providing an alternative for those in wheelchairs or with strollers); picnic tables and benches; an off-leash area; a central public art installation; and a mountain biking area, with the latter being constructed with donated funds, labor, and materials.

With Colonnade celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2015 and having been built with limited funds, it required a fresh look. How could Colonnade be improved? Should it be expanded? How could it be made more accessible on foot, bicycle, or by car to and from the surrounding area? To address these questions, a planning/design process in 2015-6 hired design professionals and engaged the public with a public tour, three public workshops (on the off-leash area, bicycling, and skateboarding), five community meetings, two on-site open houses, an on-line survey, and a Steering Committee with stakeholders and participating agencies. A summary of the planning and design process, along with links to the planning documents and a status report on realizing the recommended improvements, can be found in sections above.

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