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What If Seattle Had a Century-Old Subway?

Virgil Bogue's 1911 Plan of Seattle called for a centrally-planned metropolis with efficient transit, parks, and a cap on building height. It was voted down, but remains an interesting study on planning for the long term.
August 29, 2015, 11am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Seattle Municipal Archives

Seattle grew by leaps and bounds from the 1870s through the early 20th century. Expecting future expansion, engineer Virgil Bogue developed a comprehensive plan to accommodate over a million people. The ambitious project failed to garner enough support, but in today's transit-friendly climate it's an interesting piece of 20th-century planning that pays little attention to cars. 

The 1911 plan's street layout has a European feel. "Downtown buildings are capped in height, much like Paris, so as to let light into downtown streets. Mercer Island is one big park, restricted from development. And city government offices are condensed in a grand civic center across Denny Way from where Seattle Center now sits."

The New York Subway got its start in 1904 (and Boston's in 1897), so it's not inconceivable to imagine a Seattle line. Bogue wrote, "The city's growth will be retarded with a tendency to develop congested, undesirable and unhealthful districts unless rapid transit facilities are provided."

Bogue's proposed mass transit seems like a missed opportunity these days. However, as historian Leonard Garfield puts it, "what we take from the Bogue plan is that ideas that are too grandiose won't have the support of the people."

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Published on Monday, August 10, 2015 in SeattlePI
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