Seattle's Clashing, Confusing, and Disjointed Grid

Seattle is a city of grids (plural). Downtown, alone, contains three, making for some pretty interesting transportation challenges. Some argue it's simply part of what makes the city livable.
September 20, 2012, 7am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Seattle, like most American cities is built to a grid. Still, in this Northwestern metropolis, distinct changes in the orientation of the city's many clashing grids creates unique transportation challenges. "Our city of hills and water is also a city of broken streets," writes Knute Berger. "We're less multi-modal than we are modal-maniacs. We've never met a mode of transportation we don't believe will free us from the challenges of being gridlocked in a landscape that was never flat, never open, and never dry."

Blame Seattle's grid problems on early city founders and developers, says Berger. From the first developers, and their differing visions for the ideal orientation of the grid, to the Olmsteds, who designed the sweeping, and beautifully curving, parkways, Seattle's streets have long been disjointed.

Still, "I wish Seattle had less grid," says Berger. "I wish it were more like a Tuscan hill town or a landscape of organic patterns like rural India, which sometimes looks from the air as if it was grown in a petri dish. We could do with more ground-level irregularity on the human-scale; it would create more interest and variety on the streets (and it's one reason the Pike Place Market is so satisfying)."

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Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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