Seattle Digitizes Its History of Anti-Freeway Activism

Inside the "Freeway Revolt."

(Credit: Seattle Public Library)

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Today, freeway removal projects are all the rage. But in 1960s and 70s Seattle, a surprisingly diverse group that included University of Washington students, Montlake homeowners, the League of Women Voters and the Black Panther Party united to stop two freeways before they were built. 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.

(Credit: Seattle Public Library)

The 113-page document was compiled by researchers with an $8,000 grant by 4 Culture (using the King County lodging tax), the Seattle Times reports. It contains links to archived newspaper articles, planning documents and primary resources, like audio recordings, photos and maps. The idea was to codify information into a single, easily-accessible source, Priscilla Arsove, a member of Seattle Activists Remembered, Celebrated and Honored (Seattle A.R.C.H.), told the Times.

“You can’t just walk into the library and say ‘I want to read about the Freeway Revolt,’” she said.

From the archive:

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. 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.

Seattle A.R.C.H. previously led efforts to save several pieces of one of the “ramps to nowhere,” i.e., R.H. Thompson onramps built through a Seattle park before the project was halted. Their intent was to “show future activists that civic engagement can produce big results,” as Josh Cohen reported for Next City in 2016.

(Credit: Seattle Public Library)

In Seattle’s case, “big results” is accurate.

“Were it not for the citizen activists, Seattle today would have one of the world’s most concentrated freeway grids,” according to the Times.

The directory is available here.

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: seattlehighways

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