The Great Freeway Fight is one of the key mythologies of post-war Vancouver, still referenced as a key to understanding this place. But at exactly the same time – late 1960s to 1962 – a parallel fight was happening in Seattle. While I-5 had been built (and was used explicitly by the Vancouver Planning Commission to oppose the Chinatown Freeway), Seattle citizens were organizing to oppose two more freeways.
The so-called Freeway Revolt didn’t just determine the fate of Seattle’s built environment — halting the development of the proposed R.H. Thomson Expressway and Bay Freeway — it was also a galvanizing force in local politics, according to a new directory released by the Seattle Public Library.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, a broad coalition of activists in Seattle challenged plans for a dense network of freeways traversing and girdling the city. Seattle’s freeway revolt was remarkable in its scope and diversity, uniting geographically, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse groups across the city. Their collective actions over a multi-year period succeeded in halting two major freeways and significantly downsizing a third, saving parks, shoreline and thousands of homes and businesses. …
The freeway revolt was part of a unique period of activism and social change in Seattle, from the anti-war, environmental and Black Power movements to transformation of the Seattle City Council with a “new wave” of political leaders. The well-known “Save the Pike Place Market” initiative passed at the ballot only a few months before voters defeated the R.H. Thomson and Bay Freeways; leaders of the two movements were collaborators and colleagues.
Organizations such as the Seattle Model Cities program, Central Seattle Community Council Federation, Choose an Effective City Council and the Forward Thrust campaign came into being around this time and intersected with the freeway revolt around issues of community empowerment, civic leadership and mass transit.