Seattle’s Freeway Revolt

Seattle would be a very different city today were it not for the citizen activists who, some 50 years ago,  vigorously opposed plans calling for a dense network of freeways traversing and girdling the city.  Seattle’s Freeway Revolt, one of a number of such uprisings across the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s, was perhaps unrivalled in its breadth, diversity and impact.

A broad coalition of activists, representing communities from Mt. Baker to Lake City and groups as diverse as the Citizens Planning Council and Black Panthers, joined in opposition.  Their collective actions over a nearly 10-year period succeeded in halting two major freeways and significantly downsizing a third, saving parks, shoreline and thousands of homes and businesses.

RHT Drawing

  • Roughly a mile from I-5, the RH Thomson Expressway would have cut a 15-mile swath from Duwamish to Bothell, destroying as many as 3,000 homes and displacing up to 8,000 people in now-thriving Seattle neighborhoods.  Cutting through the heart of Seattle’s Central District, it would have devastated inner city communities.
  • The Bay Freeway, envisioned as a link between I-5 and the Seattle Center, would have created a massive viaduct walling off South Lake Union from the rest of the city.  A citizen lawsuit was instrumental in stopping it.
  • The proposed 14-lane I-90 Mercer Islandbridge would have obliterated much of Mount Baker Ridge. Citizens spearheaded legal challenges and advanced design modifications that eliminated six lanes and greatly reduced neighborhood impacts.