Seattle’s I-5 highway through Eastlake neighborhood

[Guest post by Eleanor Doughty in Seattle]  

 Welcome to Eastlake, Seattle: the most interesting neighborhood I’ve ever lived in. I’ve lived here for only four months but I’m ecstatic I lucked into calling this neighborhood home – just please don’t move here or I will not be able to afford it.

Eastlake comprises the narrow, fairly flat area between the clean-ish waters of eastern Lake Union and the I-5 highway, the busiest road in Washington State. The I-5 highway is a defining feature of Eastlake. Above, see Eastlake on the left, cut off from the rest of the hill by I-5. I live just downhill from it, and it is never quiet. The omnipresent white noise of traffic is thankfully distant enough that I actually find it soothing – it reminds me that civilization is still out there.

Unlike most of Seattle, this neighborhood still has a feeling of history to it (here meaning “before the 1960s”), mostly thanks to the dry docks, shipyards and floating homes, which were built by and for the sawmill workers during the mid-1800s timber boom.

View from my desk at twilight

My window view doesn’t really do the scale of the structure justice. A line of towering redwoods, pictured below, was mercifully spared when the highway was built in the 1960s. I’m sure the neighbors facing the highway appreciate the shield they provide, for aesthetic reasons as well as for noise reduction and air quality.

This view of the redwoods puts the highway structure in scale with some

townhouses and utility poles at the street level.

The Colonnade – the park underneath I-5 – is the best place to appreciate this marvel of infrastructure engineering. When they built this part in the 1960s, it effectively cut off Eastlake from the rest of the hill. There are only a couple links to pass under/over the I-5 to the uphill neighborhoods, and this dirt path is the only close option for me. It feels like a brutalist concrete cathedral, with its dizzyingly high ceiling. All that mass above you feels even heavier when you remember how many hundreds of cars, trucks, and buses are hurtling down the 12 elevated lanes of traffic.

Besides being a badly-needed pedestrian path, this otherwise dead space under the Colonnade (formerly “a drug infested encampment”) has an unusual use: it boasts the world’s only urban mountain bike skills course! I’ve heard that it was a project tirelessly developed over a decade through the vision of a local mountain biking enthusiast, and the first phase was constructed by volunteers – it’s kind of a thing here. Now it’s part of the city park. The course is not exactly flush with cyclists on the regular, but it does make me want to get on a mountain bike and bump around the dusty hills.

The people and truck in the sketch below came for a work party, spending their Saturday morning volunteering their time cleaning and maintaining the park.

Even telephone poles seem tiny in this space.

The dead space of the I-5 also provides refuge for homeless campers, out of the way of pedestrians and the constant drizzle. This encampment (below) recently popped up. They stay until the city posts notices of upcoming sweeps, in which all private property is removed. This is a controversial practice in a city with a major affordable housing crisis and also a huge homeless/transient population. Before a camp is swept, liaisons refer the campers to local shelters where they’ll be accommodated, but more often than not they just move somewhere else. There is a lot of space under the highway.

At least there’s a roof

Eleanor Doughty is a freelance illustrator and urban sketching enthusiast originally from Virginia, now living in Seattle by way of NYC. You can follow her sketches on Instagram and Tumblr, and find her illustration portfolio at edoughty.com

Share

Recent Posts

USk Travel Hub

August 15, 2022

Planning to travel to New Zealand pre or post USk Symposium 2023,...

Read More

11th International Urban Sketchers Symposium will be held in Auckland, New Zealand 2023

July 19, 2022

Kia ora sketching whanau – Hello sketching family! We’ve had to keep...

Read More

Drawing Attention June 2022

May 31, 2022

Drawing Attention, the official zine of the Urban Sketchers organization, communicates and...

Read More

2022 Regional Events Grant Recipients

April 28, 2022

Greetings to the amazing world-wide Urban Sketching community! It’s been too long...

Read More
en_USEN