The Story Behind Seattle’s ‘Ramps to Nowhere’

520 Ghost Ramp
520 Ghost Ramp | © Allynfolksjr / Wikimedia Commons
Jacklyn Grambush

Why does Seattle have off-ramps that are unfinished, dropping off into nothing? Why have these roads with no destination been standing tall for a half-century? And how on earth do unused concrete giants represent environmentalism in the Emerald City? It is said that democracy works best when its citizens get involved. Seattle’s Ramps to Nowhere are an example of just that.

Back in the 1960s, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was planning to connect the 520 floating bridge to I-5 via the R. H. Thomson Expressway (sometimes referred to as the Empire Expressway), which would cut through the Washington Park Arboretum as well as a handful of neighborhoods. The majority of homes that would be displaced belonged to poorer, working-class, black families.

It didn’t take long for people to rally against the expressway’s construction, unifying faculty and students from the University of Washington, the Black Panther Party, and environmental groups against the city’s plans. Numerous groups were formed, namely the Citizens Against the R. H. Thomson Expressway (CARHT).

R. H. Thomson Freeway Plans

Not only were people trying to save their homes and stand up for black communities, but they were also concerned about the future highway’s impact on the city’s livability. At this time, environmental sustainability was a relatively new topic of conversation. The citizen activism went so far as to actually block bulldozers ready to continue construction, ultimately leading protestors to success. With the activists changing the city’s mind, construction was halted in the early ’70s, leaving incomplete, ghost ramps hanging off into nothing.

Since 1972, the ramps that were unused by vehicles became a summertime spot for pedestrians. Kayakers and canoers would wind through the support columns in the water and swimmers would climb up to jump off into the water. Used for picnicking and stargazing alike, one of the WSDOT’s many projects on pause may not have served its originally intended purpose, but the ramps became an important part of the city nonetheless.

In the 2010s, the beloved Ramps to Nowhere became once more a relevant part of the city’s discussion. With the impending renovation of the 520 floating bridge, the WSDOT intended to tear down the remaining ramps. Suddenly, citizens were fighting to preserve the roads they had fought against 50 years prior.

Groups such as Activists Remembered, Celebrated and Honored (ARCH) argue that the ramps are a valuable symbol in the city, a memorial to those who fought the freeway and won, as well as an important reminder that people can make a difference. The ramps represent a decision, driven by the citizens of Seattle, that kept the city from becoming a highway-dependent metropolis like Los Angeles, building the foundation for it to grow into the bicycle-friendly and public-transit proponent that it proudly is today.

Following the precedent set by Gas Works Park, which hosts the ruins of an old refinery, the supporters of the city’s ghost ramps hope to preserve a small portion of a single ramp in the North Entry of Washington Park Arboretum. Though its permanent residence in the park has yet to be assured, it is safe for now, with plans to finalize its future very soon.

It looks like Seattle’s Ramps to Nowhere led us somewhere after all.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article