The Tunnel Ride

As of this moment, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct and Battery Street Tunnel are closed forever, to be replaced by another tunnel bypassing downtown altogether.

So we just finished riding all three of these on our bikes — and by “we” I mean Alex and I and about 12,000 other people, in a giant era-changing celebration organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club.

Where the Viaduct met the old tunnel.

Fortunately, the start/finish was just a few blocks from home.  The tunnel’s northern portal is part of a maze of public and private construction that has for years been re-shaping South Lake Union, and which on this day again permits crossing State Route 99 on Harrison Street, for the first time since 1954.

It was the Nisqually earthquake of 2001, though, that spelled the end for the Viaduct.  Damage left the structure unsafe until repairs could be made, and foretold what would happen in the bigger event that is sure to come. Years were spent debating replacement options, and then more years nursing the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine along deep beneath downtown, and now — after a three-week closure of a major highway — an 18-year overnight success!  (The celebration day for pedestrians was yesterday — there were nearly 100,000 of them. about the number of vehicles the road used to carry.)

Riders exiting the Downtown Tunnel’s south entrance.

The viaduct was one of those things that people loved to complain about.  Our Governor recently said that it separated the city from its own heart (the waterfront).  But the viaduct was really handy for going places, and, once you were downtown, it provided shade in the summer and protection from the rain for the other 90 percent of the year.  The new tunnel will be a magic carpet for somebody who lives on Queen Anne Hill and works somewhere south of the stadiums, like I used to — but there’s no place in between to get on or off.  Anyone who lives or works downtown — or delivers produce to the Pike Place Market — may be looking for a new route.  The distance from the city to its “heart” will remain the same, but now will include, at grade, much of the old traffic.

The whole trip was about thirteen miles, including our brief commute, and only took a couple hours; we were back home by about 11 A.M.  The weather was cold for Seattle, being in the 30s, beginning to cool off following an unusually warm January.  I wore nearly all my winter gear and it was more than adequate in spots, there being 800 feet of elevation gain, at grades up to 6 percent.  By three in the afternoon we noticed that it had started snowing — in time for Seattle’s historic first rush hour with its new Downtown Tunnel.

Below is a panorama from June, 2017, showing the top deck of the Viaduct on the right and, on the left, a new staging area for tourists ready to descend upon the waterfront.

Copyright Scott C. McKee