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 public meeting, an alternatives analysis at the June 10 public meeting, and a draft schematic planat the July 8 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 here as they become available–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

On behalf of the Colonnade planning and design process, the Eastlake Community Council submitted an application for funding through the Seattle Park District Major Projects Challenge Fund. To see the two-page application, click here, and to see the third page that is a table of project proposals, click here. Subsequently, ECC narrowed down its request to focus on the proposed skate spot. Comments on either are most welcome.

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 (now 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 the I-5 Colonnade Open Space celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2015, the current planning and design project is an opportunity to look at possible improvements within the existing boundaries and to consider possible expansions. Toward that end, the Eastlake Community Council was approved in late 2014 by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for $24,575 in Neighborhood Matching Funds for a planning and design study to be conducted in 2015 of possible improvements and/or expansions of Colonnade. The outlines of that process are summarized in the introductory section above, with many more details available soon.

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