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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

The opinions you read below are those of the individual writers, not necessarily views that will become formal positions of The Seattle Times. Respond to STop
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Jim Vesely
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Jim Vesely
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Lee Moriwaki
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Lee Moriwaki
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Joni Balter
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Joni Balter
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Eric Devericks
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Eric Devericks
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Lance Dickie
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Lance Dickie
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Bruce Ramsey
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Bruce Ramsey
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Kate Riley
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Kate Riley
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Lynne Varner
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Lynne Varner
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Ryan Blethen
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Ryan Blethen
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October 31, 2005

The Scooter Significance

A reader writes about the previous entry, in which I asked, Why should I care about all this Scooter Libby stuff:

Are you using your brain?

The longer this war drags on the more relevance this story will have. 20 years from now when people ask why we went to war I suspect this "less than shining moment" will undoubtedly come to the surface. Remember The Gulf of Tonkin? I do. We have the right to know when our leadership is deceiving us in order to serve their own purposes. As long as there are Americans dying for an unjust cause, I believe that we should be questioning every decision this administration makes.

Or, if we use your logic - maybe we should just look the other way and just let President Bush do whatever he thinks is right while we wait for some exciting story to come along. What country should we invade next? Hmmm...

Think before you write!

My reply:

My brain rebels at thinking about this case very much. But let's try. I'm against the occupation of Iraq as much as anybody, and was against the war since Bush first suggested it. I don't think it is in the national interest. But this isn't about that. It's a case about some White House guy named Scooter, who most people have never heard of. He is accused of lying to a grand jury and federal investigators about how, and when, he learned the identity of a CIA agent. What difference does it make to the planet Earth whether this Scooter fellow lied or didn't lie about how he learned the identity of a CIA agent? The occupation of Iraq is either justified or it is not, and this case won't change that. It either continues or it does not, and this case won't change that, either. Suppose Libby is convicted. Now suppose he gets off. I am bored already.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:27 PM


That Scooter Libby Stuff

John Derbyshire, my favorite columnist at the National Review web page--actually the only columnist I care about at that page--repeats my exact thoughts about the Wilson-Plame-Scooter Libby stories. Which is: Why I should give a hoot about any of this stuff? It is very important to some people, but it is not important to me. I am not saying what Scooter Libby did was OK, or that he should not be indicted. If he broke the law, indict him, prosecute him, convict him. Otherwise not. I am just not interested in it.

I am interested in politics insofar as political decisions affect the path of the country--toward peace or war, prosperity or poverty, freedom or authoritarianism, etc. If the absence of Scooter Libby means the troops come home from Iraq, then I care. If no policy is changed, then so what?

One way of separating the stories that matter from the ones the blow away like dandruff: Imagine yourself 20 years in the future, writing a history. Do you include this or not? So far, I would not.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:21 PM


"Scalito"

President Bush's choice of Samuel Alito as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court--see the Seattle Times story here --is much , much better and more defensible than Harriet Miers. He has 15 years of experience on the Third Circult Court of Appeals, and he has written more than 240 majority opinions.Therefore, the man has a paper trail, and may be judged by what he has written. Miers had never been a judge. Also, as an attorney, Alito has argued cases in front of the Supreme Court, which Miers had not.

Besides, I like the nickname, "Scalito." It suggests an alignment with Antonin Scalia, who, apart from Clarence Thomas, is the Justice who is most fastidious about interpreting the Constitution the way it was written and originally understood to mean.

I hope the arguments about Alito are about more than abortion. That's only one of many issues and, to me, hardly the most important one. I think how the court interprets the Commerce Clause is more important, because it determines the limits of Congressional power on a whole host of issues, from medical marijuana to migratory birds.

An interesting note: Alito was the favorite on Intrade, an Internet service for betting on current events. As available here, at the time I write this, betters are giving about 80% odds that Alito will be confirmed by the Senate.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:16 PM


October 27, 2005

What Would Rosa Parks Say?


Since I've been imagining dining with civil rights icon Rosa Parks, let me go a step further and imagine how she would respond to readers who assert discrimination to be a thing of the past. These readers seem to want to say, 'the nasty business of racial discrimination is done with, now let's rush along to a colorblind society."

What would Parks say? The sheer hubris of those who want to brush off racial discrimination as a thing of the past would likely make Parks spit her coffee all over my fine china. Parks was a brave woman who endured legal segregation - and whose parents endured far, far worse. She would certainly say America 2005 is a better, kinder society than America circa 1954. But America remains a place where people often pay an unholy price for having a certain skin color.

Kathleen Brose, the Magnolia mom waging an expensive legal battle to get Seattle Public Schools to ignore race in school admissions, is neither a demon nor a racist. She is however mistaken in equating her right to get her daughter into a particular school with the right, make that need, of the Seattle Schools to ensure a top-notch, diverse education to all of its students.

One individual ought not be able to move a system backwards simply so her own needs can move forward.
A lawsuit that siphons money from the classrooms isn't the answer. Quality schools in both the minority and non-minority neighborhoods is. Until Brose and the others who profess to support "colorblind" societies work as hard for inclusion and equal access for everyone as they work at appropriating the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Seattle Schools ought to continue to push for quality educations regardless of race or income.

Read Lynne's Column here.

Respond to Lynne.

Posted by Lynne Varner at 02:09 PM


October 24, 2005

A Lot Like Politics

The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Seattle Public Schools racial-tiebreaker case is here. Read it yourself and see which side is more convincing. I find the dissent far more convincing, but I have favored that side from the first. Simply, I think that using race to divide people is trouble. People have fought and killed each other over race, here and around the world. A strong argument can be made that it is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, and I support that argument because it fits well with the Constitution and is good policy and good sense.

To those who say, "race still matters," I reply: This policy makes it matter. It will increase racial resentment. It is bad in a practical sense and worse in a moral sense.

Several comments about the ruling and the dissent. The ruling simply repeats the educators' line, "We conclude that the District has a compelling interest in securing the educational and social benefits of racial (and ethnic) diversity." What is so compelling about it? Specifically, what is so compelling--think of the word, compelling--about increasing the number of nonwhite students at Nathan Hale from 30% to 40%? Why is that compelling? What is so compelling about reducing the nonwhite share at Franklin from 79% to 59%? What makes it compelling? We don't need to answer that, because we all know that it just is.

I liked the dissent's focus on the other side's use of the words, "segregation" and "segregated" to describe Seattle schools. People do this all the time. The Seattle Post Intelligencer does it today, here, saying, "segregation keeps spreading." As the dissenters on the 9th circuit said: "Segregation is a transitive verb. It requires an actor to do an act which affects segregation."

Look also at what this case shows about our system of law. The first court ruling, by a federal district judge (Rothstein) was for the use of race; then, to a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, against the use of race; then to the Washington Supreme Court, for the use of race; then back to a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, against the use of race; now to a full panel of the 9th Circuit, for the use of race.

Is this law, or is this just political opinion? I'm no professional in the law, but I am one in the matter of political opinion, and it looks a lot like political opinion to me.

Respond to Bruce.


Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:15 PM


October 20, 2005

Wasting Bill's Money

"Gates Foundation Exec Pans Seattle School District," our headline said. The story is here. I note it because I heard stories last year about my son's middle school, which is in the Seattle School District, of how some of that money was spent. Teachers were paid to attend meetings after school hours. The meetings were supposed to be about reforming the school. But at least two meetings were mainly devoted to two teachers who argued that they should be paid more than the other ones. I don't recall what their reason was. Maybe it was a good reason, though the person who told me the story, and who had been at the meetings, thought it was not a good reason. (And, yes, the two teachers won their extra money; they demanded it and got it.) The point is, Bill's money was being paid to people to sit and argue over how much of Bill's money they should get. Ridiculous!

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:27 PM


October 19, 2005

Epidemic Fatness


I come with some skepticism to our story on obesity, here. The story reports that more people are getting fat, though that is not how the advocates put it. They say there is an “epidemic” of obesity, which is a way of stating it that invites a solution—a political solution, with well-paid people to work on it.

Pardon me for my cynicism.

Why is it, the article asks, that the rate of obesity is greater in South King County than in Seattle, or on the Eastside or the North End? The advocates’ first thought is that there are so many fast-food places in South King County. Then there is a thought that in certain neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods especially, there are few places to get fresh produce. Maybe the problem is “access.”

Where the advocates think “access,” I think “market demand.” Fast-food flourishes where people buy fast food. Produce departments flourish where people buy produce.

The article says produce has become more expensive and packaged foods like frozen pizza haven’t, and quotes a poor person saying she can’t afford fresh produce. Well, it depends on what kind of produce it is: Potatoes? Mangoes? Red delicious apples? The new “honeycrisp” apples I just bought for $1.99 a pound? Produce comes in varied prices, and often is on sale cheap.

I wouldn’t accept the word of a poor person, or any person, who says he's buying frozen pizzas because that’s all he can afford. Packaged foods are not cheap compared with making things from scratch. What tends to be cheap, year in and year out, are such things as a sack of potatoes, a sack of rice, a sack of onions, a bag of pinto beans, a bag of lentils, a whole chicken, a pound of hamburger.

I don’t doubt that more people are getting fat, and, as the story says, it is not for reasons of genetics. Obviously: has our genetics changed in 25 years? Only a bit, through immigration mainly, and that’s not it. Immigrants are probably thinner than native-born Americans. Nor is it because we are driving more in cars than 25 years ago. We drove lots then. It is because there is more rich food today, and because we like it, we buy it and we eat it. To call it an “epidemic” is to mangle the language. Epidemics happen to people. This is something people are doing by choice.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:27 AM


October 17, 2005

Lap Dances as "Expression"

Names of political groups are such jokes, particularly when they’re supporting something that has a negative connotation. The strip-club issue is an example, as our story, here, explains.

The issue is “lap dances,” which is a euphemism itself, but let that go. Take the official name: Lap dances. The city wants to ban them by imposition of a “four foot rule.” Now comes a group that wants to allow them—a “group” represented by an attorney for the owners of Rick’s club. The “group,” which appears to consist of the people selling this particular service, proposes the name, Coalition Against Censorship.

Censorship is about speech and press. This is a dance. Or undulation. Or something along that line. Whatever it is, there is not a lot of verbal content in it, and if there is any “press,” it is something pressing against something else, which was not the meaning James Madison and his buddies had back in 1791 when they wrote the Bill of Rights. Censorship is an issue for newspapers and television, and maybe for libraries. You could censor a report on lap dances, and you might ban or restrict the dance, but you wouldn’t censor it.

Another thing: Coalition of whom? Two men in a Volkswagen?

Anyway, that name didn’t fly. Somebody else had it, a group opposed to banning books in public schools, which comes closer to the meaning of the word, “censorship.” So the group, which is to say, Rick’s, proposed a second name, Free Speech Seattle.

Speech again. What are those half-naked girls doing at Rick’s, giving speeches? There is much talk of the phrase, “freedom of expression,” and I suppose you could say a lap dance is an expression, but hitting someone over the head might be “expression,” too, and we don't allow that. Actually the Constitution does not guarantee freedom of expression. It says, “the freedom of speech, or of the press..”

But alas! The lap dancing "coalition" cannot use this name, “Free Speech Seattle.” It turns out that the folks protesting the ban on posting handbills on telephone poles had reserved that name. That issue was about the press, not speech, but at least it concerned verbal communication, which is not what is on offer at Rick’s.

The pro-lap-dance people are searching for another name. I offer one free of charge: Lap Dances: Yes!

Everyone knows instantly what it means. And it brings a smile. Furthermore, it offers the acronym LADY, which mocks the old tradition of goofy political names.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:14 PM


October 15, 2005

Farmers' let-down

Danny Westneat wrote a crackerjack column, here, about a woman in a car accident who was refused coverage by her carrier, Farmers Insurance. Here is the story: The accident was caused by a man trying to run his girlfriend off the road. He ran her vehicle into the opposing lanes of Aurora Ave. North, whereupon she collided with the woman in the car, who was severely injured and in a coma for several days.

Farmers insured the woman in the car for accidents. Farmers’ lawyer wrote that what had happened was not an accident, because it had begun with an intentional act—the man trying to run his girlfriend off the road. Because it was not an accident, the injured woman’s policy didn’t cover it.

Westneat writes in his second column, here, that some 400 people wrote emails to him, pretty much all of them outraged at Farmers, and some Farmers customers said they would cancel their coverage. I say: Good for them.

He also writes that Farmers, apparently shocked by the publicity, may cover the woman after all. Good.

I am not a lawyer, and I have not read the insurance policy involved here. The lawyer’s definition of “accident” may be the one the company uses. If so, it is deceptive and misleading—and we may believe it to be intentionally deceptive and misleading, because everything in these contracts is intentional.

What is an “accident”? I look in my dictionary, Webster’s New Collegiate, and the definition that applies here is this:

“An unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but from the consequences of which he may be entitled to some legal relief.”

Crucially, what is an “accident” depends on your point of view. In this series of collisions, the damage to the malignant jerk of a boyfriend was not accidental. He caused it by an act of will. From the viewpoint of his girlfriend, her injuries were not accidental either, because Malignant Jerk intentionally caused them. In legal terms, they were a “tort,” not an accident. But Farmers doesn’t insure them. Farmers has no duty to them and is not concerned with them. Farmers insures the woman driving in the opposing lanes. She has paid Farmers to protect her, and she is relying on them to do so. She has not exhibited any “fault or misconduct.” She is not having a chase on a public street, and is minding her own business. She has done nothing to cause a collision, has no reason to anticipate it and, presumably, no way to avoid it. To her, what happened is clearly and obviously an accident. She is relying on Farmers for coverage in an accident, and the company defaults on its obligation. It lets her down.

Westneat’s first column had a headline asking for Farmers to “have a heart.” I wince at headlines like that, because insurance companies are not charities. You could ask the girlfriend's insurer (if any) to “have a heart,” too. I don’t expect or want insurance companies to have a heart. I ask them, instead, to have a brain. This woman is their customer. The public can see that she has done nothing tricky or deceptive, and has no questionable intent, and that Farmers Insurance has let her down. They can ask themselves whether they want to be insured by Farmers or, perhaps, by someone else.

A final question: Suppose the woman we’re writing about had an accidental-death policy, and that as a result of these collisions, she had died. Would Farmers now be denying the death benefit by arguing that her death was “not an accident?”

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:46 AM


October 13, 2005

YES! Watermelon beer.

A reader informs me that in saying, "What's next? Watermelon beer?" I'm "already behind the times." The cutting-edge brewers of San Francisco have already done it. Here's the link.

I think I'll go back to politics now.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:10 PM


October 12, 2005

Pumpkin Beer

I usually stay away from cultural topics, as my sophistication is suspect and my tastes middlebrow, but I couldn't help help this. Pumpkin beer! According to the story in the Times, Anheuser-Busch is coming out with pumpkin beer. This is to appeal to the varied and adventurous tastes of the young, and to contain cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and "real delicious pumpkins." I know people pollute their coffee with stuff like that, even in a city like Seattle where coffee is sacrosanct, so it must be conceded that they can do it to beer. But why? Just put some cat litter in and be done with it. And in what circumstance is this concoction recommended? The brewmaster--I can imagine this brewmaster--says it is recommended as a dessert beer.

A dessert beer? What is that? Beer to be served wiith pie and ice cream? Or is it, "You can have a slice of huckleberry pie or you can have a schooner of pumpkin beer?"

What's next? Watermelon beer?

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:36 PM


October 10, 2005

The Authority to Make Common Choices

Philip K. Howard was in the other day. He’s the New York lawyer who made a splash a decade ago with his thin and infuriating book (infuriating at his topic, not at him), The Death of Common Sense. These were followed by The Collapse of the Common Good and The Lost Art of Drawing the Line.

I read only the first one, but I get his point. Too many decisions are being made by lawyers, and a good deal of those are really stupid decisions. An example is the “zero tolerance” policy for guns in the public schools, in which a working .38 machine pistol, an antique pistol with no trigger spring, a plastic cap gun and a miniature replica one inch long might all be called “weapons” and subject their owners to expulsion. The policy forces a school administrator to be stupid, and not recognize the difference between a weapon, a perceived weapon, an artifact and an obvious toy. Another example is employee recommendations. Employers are now advised not to give any recommendations, good or bad, about employees who are leaving, for fear of being sued for defamation. The policy pressures employers to be mute, undermining the socially useful function of passing on an employee’s reputation to other employers.

Our Sunday op-ed piece, by David Brown of The Washington Post, highlighted the legal molasses that slowed down the rescuers after Katrina. He wrote, “We've become a society of rule-followers and permission-seekers. Despite our can-do self-image, what we really want is to be told what to do. When the going gets tough, the tough get consent forms.” His advice, for next time: If you’re in an emergency, and you know something ought to be done, “Just do it.”

But that is running a risk. What Howard is trying to put together is a movement “to restore the authority to make common choices.” That means the authority of rescuers and responders, of teachers and principals, and—particularly—doctors. That does not mean making it impossible to sue them, Howard said, but it should mean making it much more difficult to win and collect damages. It means raising the burden of proof.

I’m for that.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:42 PM


October 07, 2005

"Sustainable" Counter Tops


Knute Berger begins his column in the Seattle Weekly with the concept of “sustainability.” He writes:

The general idea is that "sustainable" development is progress without the negative impacts of consumption, a way to orient consumer society so that it doesn't devour its own tail, much less its head. But as the term gathers currency in the corporate and political worlds, it seems to suggest eco-gloss that can be used to cover business as usual, a buzzword.

In my dictionary, the Webster’s New World, “sustain” means “to keep in existence; keep up; maintain or prolong; to provide for the support of,” etc. A thing would seem to be “sustainable” if it could be maintained or prolonged. A crop of trees that you cut down and that grew back, could be cut down again, etc., would be a sustainable crop.

In Politically Correct Speech “sustainable” seems to mean anything sanctioned by the environmental movement. I was in the dentist’s office a few weeks ago, and there was a magazine of stuff for the polo set, and there was an ad for sustainable counter-tops. What made these particular counter-tops sustainable? They had a certain recycled content. I don’t remember how much; maybe 50 percent recycled paper. Something like that. And I thought: why does that make them “sustainable?”

The radical environmentalists say the human race is wrecking the earth with industry and our gluttonous habits of consumption. But the intended readers of the magazine in my dentists’ office were not radicals. The target market was wealthy people with a soft and fuzzy notion of the environment--people who don’t want to give up their nice kitchens, but instead of a granite counter top they’ll have a sustainable counter top. Instead of paper made from pulped trees, they’ll have paper made from de-inked waste paper, which was earlier made from pulped trees.

Several questions come to mind. Did the “sustainable” counter top really use fewer resources than the other one? If it took more labor and energy to make, maybe it used more. Did the paper use fewer resources? It costs labor and energy to collect recycled paper, to sort it, to de-ink it, and otherwise to use it in the paper-making process. If it did use less energy or wood fiber or chemical, was it enough less to make even a presumptive difference?
And more: if the buyers are affluent, and they build a 3,900-foot house, and it has “sustainable” counter-tops in a giant kitchen, are these people in possession of more environmental virtue than the non-anointed in an 1,100-foot house with all components ordered from Home Depot? And, given the development of the rest of the world, with the rise of China and India and other places that itch for hot water, air conditioning and a set of car keys, can the adoption of “sustainable” counter tops matter? Is this worth thinking about at all?

I’m not a scientist. But I can see that the people all wrapped up in this sustainability stuff are mostly not scientists, either, and in any case they do not seem to be thinking scientifically. They have an idea, and following that idea makes them feel good. I have no objection to what they’re doing, but I wonder if “sustainability” is really an honest word for it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:41 PM


October 06, 2005

Those "holistic" admissions

Our story on the University of Washington’s new admission plan, here, raised the suspicion of Tim Eyman. He was the original sponsor of Initiative 200, which banned racial preferences in public-school admissions. He interprets the UW’s move as a way to get around I-200, and he may be right.

Why? Well, first off, the UW has gone to Olympia and testified in favor of a bill that would have suspended I-200, as I described in an earlier column here. It has asked the Legislature for permission to use preferences. Secondly, in the Times story, it says, “The shift was prompted in part by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003 that universities could consider race or ethnicity as a factor in a comprehensive admission review, but could not award points for it in any admission formula.”

The court ruling was Grutter v. Bollinger, here. It allowed a version of weak, undefined affirmative action which was done (in Justice O’Connor’s words) in a “highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant's file.” The UW promises to review its cases holistically to bring it in line with this ruling.

The UW admits it cannot use race as a factor, because under I-200, that is the law in Washington. That is, the U.S. Supreme Court says Washington can use race as a factor if it wants to, but Washington has chosen not to. But under the “holistic” approach, how would you know? There are no points. There is no grid. There are test scores and grades, but there are other, non-quanfitiable factors. So how would you know whether there was a racial preference or some other unquantifiable x factor?

About the only way would be to look at whether the racial percentages change when the new system is adopted. It is not proof, but it is a suggestion.

My guess is that Eyman is correct, and that sneaking in race is part of (or all of) the motivation here.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:46 PM


October 05, 2005

Viaduct: the Woodland Park solution

State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, and leader of the Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Senate, met part of the editorial board today. Among all the things, most interesting was his comment on the Viaduct.

On highways, Finkbeiner, who represents northeastern King County, would widen I-405 but believes the money spent on rebuilding the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a waste. They should just take it down and make it a surface street, he said, like San Francisco did with the Embarcadero.

It got me thinking. I’m not for the proposed tunnel, which comes in a $4 billion now and very well might come in a double that, as Finkbeiner predicts, if it were really done. Anyway, Seattle can’t afford it, though Mayor Nickels still doggedly supports it.

The only alternative to the tunnel being seriously considered by the Washington Department of Transportation is the “Rebuild Option.” But there are others, if we thought about them.

I once wrote a column, here, on a proposal to shore up the Viaduct and keep using it. I still think that would be the best solution if it were technically feasible, which the two retired engineers I quoted said it was, the state says it isn’t. I am no engineer, and leave that question open.

A group in Seattle, the People’s Waterfront Coalition, proposes to replace the Viaduct with a simple city street—and not a very wide one, either. The state once issued a report on the Viaduct and listed a surface-street option which had two more lanes than the Coalition's plan. The state's option would have 12 stop lights, reduce northbound traffic speed to an average of 8 miles per hour, cause the worst congestion of any of the alternatives and create the most air pollution.

Here was my thought: What if the city built a surface option with no stoplights? Have a set of flyovers around Safeco Field, so that cars and trucks could get to the Colman Dock, and have a vehicle underpass at the north end, where the road would have to rise to the Battery Street tunnel—and otherwise have pedestrian crossings only.

That way traffic is accommodated, the Viaduct comes down, and money is saved in huge amounts.

My proposal would make it harder to drive from downtown to Alaskan Way, but there is not a lot of traffic that way. The waterfront would be noisy and not quite the pleasant waterfront stroll as some of the other options. But the Viaduct would be down, and views unblocked. The road would also take more land than the Viaduct, because the (six) lanes would be side-by-side, but not a whole lot more land. Think of Aurora Avenue cutting through Woodland Park: no exits, no on-ramps, just a straight shot, with pedestrian overpasses only. Add a median divider, replace sidewalks with shoulders, and you have it.

Respond to Bruce.


Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:34 PM




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