McGinn, Councilmembers Tour Portland’s Transit System

Mayor McGinn and Portland Streetcar (Via Mayor's Blog)

Last week Mayor McGinn and Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Sally Clark, Jean Godden, and Mike O’Brien traveled down to Portland to learn more about Portland’s transit system. Below is an excerpt from the Mayor’s blog.

One thing that we immediately noticed is just how much passenger rail Portland now has. It seems like you can’t walk more than a block or two downtown without crossing streetcar or light rail tracks. The streetcar line and the Max light rail lines provide great coverage downtown and form the backbone for the east/west and north/south lines that connect downtown to the city’s neighborhoods and suburbs. Portland has been working on this system since the 1970s, and in that time they’ve shown how rail can revitalize a city. We’ve clearly got some catching up to do, especially as Portland is planning new rail lines.

A key to Portland’s success has been using public right of way for most of the rail lines. It significantly reduces construction costs by eliminating need to acquire expensive new right of way. They have integrated rail onto existing surface streets in a way that works for cars and buses while helping to improve the feel and pedestrian experience of the street.

It’s great to see city leadership spending the time to learn about transit. It would be interesting to know what the take away message for the council members were.


  1. AJ says

    I hope they went to the former Harbor Drive.

    “So where’s the tunnel? There was a major corridor here, where’d you put all the traffic? Traffic was growing, so you HAD to put it somewhere… where is it? Can you show us the tunnel?”

    • Wells says

      The decommissioning of Portland’s Harbor Dr (Hwy99 West) was made possible by the construction of Hwy 405 which skirts the west side of downtown Portland and connects to I-5 via the iconic Fremont Bridge. The City Council did not support the idea at first, but were persuaded by public action and advice from outside engineers who saw its feasibility and potential. As an outside engineer-type from Portland, my opinion of the deep bore tunnel is it’s dangerously risky to construct and maintain and poorly engineered to manage traffic. The only sensible tunnel option is the 6-lane ‘stacked’ Cut/cover depicted in the DEIS. Mercer West is an engineering piece of crap. And the Alaskan Way boulevard design should go back to the drawing board. Everything aspect of the DBT is a failure on the part of Washington State DOTs.

  2. Bruce says

    I’ll still take our light subway over their heavy streetcars as a backbone transit system. Streetcars are (relatively) cheap, don’t require much regional coordination, and Seattle is easily a big enough tax base to build the proposed streetcar network to provide local service if the political will exists. (Plus we won’t have to deal with federal EISs if we do it ourselves.)

    I hope, too, that they’re aware that you can’t build rail at-grade (due to hills, mostly) on some of the biggest transit corridors in this city, and for those corridors, our relatively cheap trolleybus network is the best option for local service on those corridors; I hope they appreciate what an asset it is, and lobby Metro to that effect.

    But yes, very pleased to see they’re taking a great interest in transit.

    • Mike B says

      The Streetcar is a totally different beast. In Portland, I NEVER took the bus to the places the streetcar travel to. Now, its opened an entire new section of the city. Something about that goofy little thing makes riding transit so much fun. Its more than any trolley bus can ever duplicate. It would be so dang cool if Seattle found the money to build the entire streetcar network out.

      We are building the “light subway” in those transit corridors now, albeit slowly, but at the extremely painful cost of $300M-$400M a mile. And Seattle is lobbying to keep the trolley buses, Metro just doesn’t care.

      • JohnS says

        I don’t care if Metro does or doesn’t care (and I think there are plenty of people at Metro who do care) – I care what the County Council thinks.

  3. Erik G. says

    WTH? Why aren’t *all* Seattle officials intimately familiar with nearly-all aspects of Portland, Vancouver (BC) and even Spokane or Victoria??

    Do they live in caves? Or did they just move in from SoCal?

    • Colin says

      seriously. since he’s just learning, maybe he should head up to Vancouver next and spend a day or two touring their system. Lots to learn there too.

      • Mickymse says

        McGinn is hardly a newbie on transit issues, if that’s what you meant, Colin… He fought for pro-transit concerns long before running for Mayor.

        As for City leaders learning in Portland… They didn’t just ride around on light rail. They also met with other electeds there and Tri-Met planners.

    • Adam B. Parast says

      Well there are public disclosure issues. If more than a quorum of them are together that constitutes a meeting.

    • Lloyd says

      One wonders if they drove in a city-owned van on the “Free”way or if they travelled aboard our Amtrak Cascades.

  4. Gary says

    Looks like all that bicycle riding is paying off!

    I hope he also visited the Hawthorn Street bridge to see what a city can do for bicycling if it puts it’s traffic engineers to it. At just over 3% of commuters in Seattle using bicycles vs 7% in Portland we could easily and for very little money in comparison to street car lines double the number of bicycle commuters and thus reduce the number of cars & congestion in the city.

    • Bruce says

      I disagree. Our biggest commuter destination and some of our biggest commuting corridors are characterized by monster hills that would dissuade all but the most hard core riders, who are probably already riding anyway. I’m not opposed to spending reasonable amounts of money on bike lanes, road diets, trails and sharrows, but all other things being equal, Seattle will never equal Portland’s bike modeshare due to topography.

      • benleis says

        The monster hills are potentially mitigated by electric bikes. I could imagine that making a big impact but I’m not sure what would have to change to move folks that direction.

      • Mike B says

        Yeah try convincing someone to buy a $1000+ electric bike. I tried a $400 e-bike with lead-acid batteries and with a full charge it didn’t have the oomph to get up any hills. According to the e-bike folks, one needs a bike with lithium-ion batteries to really conquer hills because they’re capable of higher power output, thus more torque.

        I agree with reasonable bike lane spending, but Seattle isn’t too easy for the amateur rider.

      • Jeremy says

        Seattle has precious little bicycle infrastructure, even in the flat areas: witness the Burke-Gillman spilling into the permanent-puddle-abandoned-rail-litigation-happy industrial zone between Fred Meyer and the Ballard Locks, patchwork bicycle “lanes” running the gauntlet of car doors, debris-strewn gutters, and concrete expansion joints, the suicide run on the left side of 2nd downtown, and inattentive speeding non-yielding cars crowding the road (only two buzzed me this morning, impatient to spin off the North end of the University Bridge).

        A few individuals I’ve talked to do not bicycle due to the above concerns; I suspect a proper car-lite green belt infrastructure throughout Seattle would increase cyclist numbers, “monster hills oh no what ever can we do?” fud aside.

      • Brian says

        Seattle has some steep grades, but Portland does too. We can do better. To improve bicycle access to the hill urban villages, it would be relatively simple to designate a series of switchbacking side streets as bicycle boulevards. There’s no need to ride up the Counterbalance when you can take a longer, less steep, quieter route instead. Alternatively, a Trondheim style trampe might work well for us in certain places.

      • Bruce says

        “Monster hills” is not FUD. The one place I’ve lived that had huge bike ridership was near Arizona state University, and it had almost zero bike infrastructure. It was bike friendly because the non-arterial streets around the university had low speed limits with very little traffic, and it was flat as a pancake. Most of the riders had no helmets and rode cheap beach cruisers or clapped-out old mountain bikes which couldn’t shift gear and had dodgy brakes.

        Any mode of transit that’s going to make a big dent on commuter car usage has to be non-strenuous, very safe, convenient for working people (i.e. you can do it in business casual) and dirt cheap to the user. I don’t think you can do that on a large scale in Seattle with bikes; I do think it can be done with transit.

        I absolutely support bike infrastructure where it makes sense, like finishing the missing link on the Burke.

      • Bernie says

        Along the lines of being more bike friendly, this note from the WSBA:

        The part of 28th Ave NE right before Madison (the common approach to Harrison and Lake Washington Blvd), which has been “under construction” for the off-season, has the potholes filled with crushed glass, and has a number of small glass bits scattered across the road from car traffic. If you cross Madison near there, I recommend you detour around to 29th Ave and cut back in. The glass is unavoidable as near as I can see — it’s not just one pothole, it’s across the entire road.

      • biliruben says

        We have plenty of flat routes among what would be huge bike corridors. The only problem is we’ve turned them into daunting, high car-traffic areas or scattered tire-eating tracks all over them.

        Make Westlake safe and flat. Make Fairview safe and flat. Triple bike ridership.

      • Bruce says

        You’re basically asking for a road diet and a repave on two of the five arterial surface routes that move cars north of the ship canal. That meshes perfectly with my transit agenda — and personally I’d love it, it would make those roads more walkable — but it would cause a riot. And for how many riders? Are you really going top the 5000+ daily boardings that a SLUT extension to the U-District would get (while lowering Metro’s cost to run that corridor)? I find it hard to prioritize bike projects when there is really low handing transit fruit.

        Keep in mind, also, that an Eastlake extension would probably be center running, and much of a Fremont extension would be on dedicated ROW on the east of Westlake, so none of these projects would add oblique track crossings for any cyclists.

      • biliruben says

        I was advocating for a flat route on Fairview, not Eastlake. That would have meant that the city would have had to grow some testicles and make sure they got a ROW through Mallard Cove before permitting a decade ago.

        That would have given bikes a flat lane on a low-traffic side street. Of course it would have meant pissing off waterfront land owners. A no-no in Seattle.

        Ditto Westlake. Lack of forethought at balls destroyed the only reasonable low-traffic, flat route into the heart of the city with the SLUT, and they caved to a few waterfront businesses, and instead of taking out some parking and building a real bike and ped path along Westlake, they made a dangerous sidewalk that weaves through the parking lot instead.

        These things still can be done, but we simply lack the political will.

        I’m guessing we could get very close to 10% bike share if we gave people a safe, flat route to work. Everybody I talk to about biking asks me about the routes after they would get off the Burke. When I tell them, they stare at me as if I’m crazy, and hop in their car.

      • Gary says

        The Ballard to Seattle topography is basically flat. That’s a lot of potential commuters.

        Colman park was designed for horses to get up the ridge. It’s also the same way that bicycles can get over the “Monster” hills.

        The key is giving bicyclists a safe place to ride that also goes from somewhere to somewhere without mile gaps through high traffic zones.

        Thing is, these sort of infrastructure changes aren’t high cost. But they add up. Look at NYC, 200 miles of bicycle lanes. It’s been an amazing transformation.

        As for reasons to get out of your car, is $5/gal enough of a reason? How about $7? We’ll be there soon enough.

  5. Mike B says

    Too bad we can’t pull a Portland, say f*** you to WSDOT, take the tunnel money, and spend that $4 billion on making a LRT/Streetcar system that ST isn’t allowed to participate in (to keep costs down). Portland’s efforts to reject new freeways in the 1970’s has done wonders to that amazing city.

  6. says

    The thing to take away is that despite billions poured into trying to corral people into living in 10 square blocks the majority of growth has been in Beaverton and Gresham, where many are living, working…and driving…from their large spacious suburban homes to their low density modern high tech workspaces.

    • Bruce says

      What an astonishingly stupid comment. You must mean the “billions” like those used to build MAX/WES to Beaverton and Gresham?

    • Mike Orr says

      At least those who are going where MAX goes have the option. If there’s one direction from Gresham that has the most concentrated traffic, it’s towards Portland. As for other travel patterns to low-density job centers and choice drivers, MAX doesn’t even pretend to address them. MAX allows you to live within walking distance of the station (e.g., my friend at 82nd) without living in “those 10 square blocks downtown”.

      • says

        On of my best friends lives in NW Portland just off Powell. It’s an old neighborhood, close to the city (sort of like a Ballard), but the light rail is not “2 blocks” from him. There are buses.

      • Zed says

        By NW Portland do you mean SE Portland? There’s no Powell in NW Portland, unless you mean the bookstore.

  7. Aleks says

    This is the key point:

    A key to Portland’s success has been using public right of way for most of the rail lines. It significantly reduces construction costs by eliminating need to acquire expensive new right of way. They have integrated rail onto existing surface streets in a way that works for cars and buses while helping to improve the feel and pedestrian experience of the street.

    What I find most amazing about Portland’s transit is the transit mall. Portland basically said, “hey, we’re closing two streets for cars completely”. How much did that cost? Not nearly as much as if they had had to build a tunnel.

    • d.p. says

      Portland’s on-the-cheap downtown solutions have, unfortunately, given MAX a permanent, painful lethargy right in the heart of the system.

      It’s really not something you can do in a city bigger than (or with less concentrated destination points than) Portland.

      • Adam B. Parast says

        This certainly is true but the cost of a tunnel under downtown portland is astronomical compared to the rest of their system. The Westside blue line is the only line that had any significant non at-grade segment (west hills tunnel) and that line cost almost a billion dollars. That is more than the cost of the east side blue line, red line and yellow line *combined* with a few hundred million left over.

      • d.p. says

        I know. I just saying that the low-end solution is not necessarily worthy of envy.

        Getting into and out of downtown Seattle on Metro is such a nightmare that the downtown-transfer penalty is routinely 30+ minutes. If we ever get a useful network of in-city light-rail lines, the transfer penalty will essentially disappear.

        MAX’s minimum 15-minute downtown transfer penalty is permanent.

      • d.p. says

        I know. I’m just saying that the low-end solution is not necessarily worthy of envy.

        Getting into and out of downtown Seattle on Metro is such a nightmare that the downtown-transfer penalty is routinely 30+ minutes. If we ever get a useful network of in-city light-rail lines, the very idea of a transfer penalty will be history!

        MAX’s minimum 15-minute downtown transfer penalty is permanent.

      • Wells says

        Would that Seattlers learn something about regional planning principles PSRC is supposed to put into practice, d.p. MAX is slow-going through downtown; about 20 minutes to go 3 miles between Goose Hollow and Lloyd Center. Some people see this as a major failing and clamor for a subway. Au contrare.

        The actual traffic problem MAX is designed to address has to do with land-use. If MAX LRT ran faster in a subway through downtown, this would further encourage cross-county commuting. Slow operation through downtown discourages cross-county trips and encourages land-use and development on opposites sides of the county to reduce demand for long-distance commuting and build MAX ridership in both directions.

        The initial Link LRT line has no major destination on its southern terminus (except that place one goes to when going somewhere else). PSRC and ST planners should prioritize the southern Link extension, but in true Seattle gold rush form, have their heads up their asses about serving monied interests.

      • Bruce says

        @Wells I don’t follow how making rail slow through downtown has good consequences. The most desirable effect of rail in an urban environment is to encourage people to live in the city by making living there better; a slightly-less-desirable but also legitimate (and not necessarily incompatible) goal is to move commuters in from existing suburbs via electric mass transit rather than car. If people commute from one side to another via rail, that’s not ideal but I’d much rather they did it that way than by car.

        I don’t understand what you’re saying about extending Link south and “monied interests” at all. Makes zero sense.

      • d.p. says


        Wells is wrong. Plenty of people in the Portland area still commute across/around downtown. And they do it in their cars. Literally no one chooses MAX unless the desired destination is right downtown and an easy walk from a stop. (After a teeth-pulling last mile, few want to transfer.) Lack of true/rapid interconnectivity is a big part of the reason MAX maintains much less modal share than an extensive, multi-lined system should be earning.

        Transit’s twin Achilles’ Heels are obstacles to rapidity and failure to serve walkable destinations in a walkable manner. All good systems conquer both, and the formula is known: as much grade separation and bottleneck-avoidance as possible; serve corridors with plentiful and multi-faceted activity; put stations 0.6-1.0 miles apart except in the very low-density areas that you should mostly be avoiding anyway.

        In advocating downtown bottlenecks while also encouraging distant commutes and exurban development (his weird South Link thing, Wells advocates both Heels. His position is indefensible.

      • Aleks says

        It’s not that I’m envious of the fact that they don’t have 100% grade separation in downtown — though I admit the above-ground aspect is nice. (It’s nice to avoid the 2-3 minutes it takes just to go from the street to the subway station.) Rather, I’m envious of the fact that they were able to do so much.

        Portland has a large rail network, and that’s in large part due to the fact that they build their projects on the cheap (and made the best possible use of matching grants). If they had splurged for a downtown tunnel, they might have one line now, instead of four.

        I should also note that this isn’t quite true:

        MAX’s minimum 15-minute downtown transfer penalty is permanent.

        When Boston built the Tremont Street Subway, it replaced the street-running segments of the streetcars that used to run on Tremont between Park and Boylston. They finally decided that street traffic was too heavy, and so they built another grade.

        There’s no reason why Portland couldn’t eventually do the same thing. For now, they’ve spent their money in a more useful way.

      • Aleks says

        And, I should add, the *last* thing I would ever suggest is getting rid of the DSTT. The fact that we have the DSTT is a huge asset. So don’t put me in that category of crazy. :)

        All I’m saying is that the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

      • d.p. says

        > It’s nice to avoid the 2-3 minutes it takes just to go from the street to the subway station.

        As someone who’s lived in Boston, you know perfectly well that this isn’t an inherent drawback of subways, but a consequence of the last 30 years’ deleterious impulse to overbuild subway stations.

        Have you already forgotten the 20 seconds it took from surface to platform on the T? Or the 15 seconds it took to transfer at Park Street?

        >I should also note that this isn’t quite true… the Tremont Street Subway replaced the street-running segments…

        Ah, but upgrading right-of-way — rebuilding already-built infrastructure better (especially given the logistics of building directly adjacent or below) — really is something that happened only in the era of inexpensive large-scale construction.

        That era is over; I can think of no instances of urban transit undertakings in recent history where the first thing built wasn’t effectively permanent.

      • Aleks says

        Have you already forgotten the 20 seconds it took from surface to platform on the T? Or the 15 seconds it took to transfer at Park Street?

        No, I remember. Though I also remember 5 minute transfers at State Street. :) But I also remember hopping on the B line at BU Central just because it was there. You have to consciously decide to go underground. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it’s something worth noting.

        That era is over; I can think of no instances of urban transit undertakings in recent history where the first thing built wasn’t effectively permanent.

        I guess it depends how you define “permanent”. Both the Portland Transit Mall and the DSTT were closed for years for major rebuilding projects; the former included a rerouting of MAX. To me, it’s entirely conceivable that Portland might eventually decide that the time is right to build a tunnel through downtown.

        But you’re right; realistically, if we hadn’t built the tunnel a while ago, we’d probably never have it.

      • d.p. says

        Funny… I’d actually forgotten about the State Street southbound-platform-staggered-above-and-south-of-the-northbound-platform thing.

        I used to think that was such a long walk, but living in Seattle for 5 years has clearly changed my sense of scale. I just checked, and it’s about 450 feet from the Blue Line (Old State House entrance) to the southbound Orange platform (Old South Meeting House entrance):,-71.057972&sspn=0.002664,0.004136&ie=UTF8&ll=42.357977,-71.058159&spn=0.002664,0.004136&t=h&z=18

        By comparison, Westlake Station is about 450 feet from the 3rd & Pine entrance to just the bottom of the stairs. Where Link stops is even further. And that’s par for the DSTT, whereas that long of a transfer is extremely unusual on the T. Plus, the additional Old South Meeting House entrance still offers a seconds-to-the-surface egress option.

        The 1980s Red Line extensions did suffer from the urge to overbuild, as does BART, as does the DC Metro, as will the 2nd Ave subway in NY. This is an epoch-based problem, not a geographical one. But in the interest of calling spades spades, it was important not to let “subway” and “inconvenient access” be made synonymous!

        The other, larger point I forgot to make earlier was that I think the middling nature of American MAX-esque transit building has less to do with the planners’ intent, and more to do with the requirement that transit planners to offer “compromise” options so substandard they really shouldn’t be on the table!

        Project proposals always require that at least three “plans” be offered. Invariably, this is what we get:
        Option 1: The honest-to-goodness rapid transit line that meets all the necessary route, speed, stop-spacing, service criteria to get the job done properly (i.e. what is actually needed).
        Option 2: The on-the-cheap, totally ineffectual option (poor stop placement, bottlenecks, or perhaps the mythical BRT “solution”).
        Option 3: No action.

        People debate and pontificate and open-forum and stroke their chins, and then, lo and behold, option 2 always gets chosen.

        Transit proponents need to learn how to play this game better, revising their negotiating position to offer:
        Option 1: Pie-in-the-sky, ideal world, never-gonna-happen-but-wouldn’t-it-be-amazing solution.
        Option 2: The honest-to-goodness rapid transit line that meets all the necessary route, speed, stop-spacing, service criteria to get the job done properly (i.e. what is actually needed).
        Option 3: No action.

        Because option 2 is always the “right answer” for politicians, those middle options need to stop being crap!

      • Aleks says

        Because option 2 is always the “right answer” for politicians, those middle options need to stop being crap!

        Totally agree. This is just basic negotiating strategy, and it’s something that progressives seem to be shockingly bad at. You ask for ten times more than you think is reasonable, and suddenly, your real plan looks like a good compromise.

    • Bruce says

      Seattle wanted a rail transit mall on 3rd in the 80s, but it would have been just a big local streetcar for downtown, and suburban commuters would have had to transfer, which made them cranky. Instead, Metro built the tunnel and bought the Bredas and the rest is history.

      Without denying the awesomeness of Portland’s transit mall, and their willingness to simply tell the car lobby to f*** off, I don’t think that approach works as well in Seattle, and moreover, whilst in total we have paid far more, we’re getting much more, namely a subway that goes from Downtown to the U-District in 6 minutes, a feat physically impossible in a car even if there’s no lights and no traffic. If you’re in downtown Portland, and have the choice between walking to your car and taking MAX to perform some errand, it’s at least a question worth contemplating. With North Link, people won’t even ask, Link will be so much faster.

      Portland also doesn’t suffer from the numerous obstacles to surface-running rail on existing streets that Seattle does, like hills, horribly disjoint street grids, I-5, the Seattle center etc. There’s only two streets that could really work as transit malls: 3rd & 1st. 3rd already is a much less sexy transit mall on-peak, and will probably become full-time once most of the busses get kicked out of the tunnel.

      There’s no reason why 1st couldn’t become a second transit mall with a streetcar, if the political will existed. You could take some parking and one GP lane in each direction, add bike lanes and limit GP traffic speed at 20 mph; sign it for local access only. I would absolutely go for that. Selling it politically would be a massive undertaking because all the businesses on 1st would s*** a brick. I doubt you could close 1st altogether, at least not at once, as there’s too many businesses that covet the parking there.

      A streetcar like that, from the Central District to 1st & Mercer, plus RapidRide, would be a decent substitute for a subway to Ballard via Queen Anne for the next 20 years until we build one, allow us to turn the overloaded 1/2 North/13 trolleys into Queen Anne neighborhood circulators from 1st & Mercer, and vastly improve transit downtown. This would be affordable on the city’s dime, at some point in the future when we’re not hopelessly broke.

      Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter.

    • barman says

      Seattle could do a lot more for third avenue by buying the properties between Pike and Pine and demolishing them. In all my travels, I have seen very few American cities with corners as equally prominent and disturbing as 3rd and Pine.

      • Bruce says

        You’re making me feel like a grizzled city dweller; I take busses from there multiple times a week. What’s so bad about it? Other than being non-aggressively hit up for money, which is routine in Downtown, nothing has ever happened to me there. Those buildings are relatively new construction, with plenty of tenants. Do you think it would be better as a dirt lot?

      • barman says

        Yes, I do think it would be better as a dirt lot. I’ve lived in Seattle for about a year and a half and these are what I’ve seen with my own two eyes at 3rd and Pine:

        1. A man making himself bleed profusely as he peeled skin off his face in a drugged out stupor.
        2. A large, pants-less woman grinding her genitalia into the sidewalk and singing loudly.
        3. Countless numbers of drug deals in broad daylight.
        4. Drug offers.
        5. Countless numbers of fights that could easily escalate into something much more dangerous.
        6. I have never NOT seen at least one possibly schizophrenic person babbling on about something and/or staring at me.

        And I make it a point to rarely visit that corner. I am very street smart, I grew up in Paris and I’ve seen a lot of things. But 3rd and Pine is ALWAYS a mess no matter what time of day. I’m in no way prudish. This is all in addition to the shootings and stabbings that occur near that area multiple times a year.

      • Bruce says

        Nope, I’ve not seen any of those things. And I don’t see how making it into a dirt lot will improve it. Is there a crack emporium in that building? Or do drug dealers flock to the Chipotle?

      • barman says

        I’m surprised you haven’t seen anything like that around there. I have multiple female friends who avoid that corner completely. One of my friends even takes a long, convoluted route through the U-District from her job in Ballard to her apartment on Capitol Hill just to avoid transferring in that area after dark and frankly I don’t blame her.

        I think it has something to do with the McDonald’s and the smoke shops or something. It probably doesn’t have much to do with the types of business themselves, but the general uncleanliness and unwillingness of property owners to do anything agressive about it. That is the most disgusting McDonald’s I’ve ever seen – the fact that its downtown doesn’t mean it has to be so gross.

        Anyway, I’m not going to cede the fact that in my experience, 3rd and Pine needs some serious work. Cleaning up that area will do more for downtown than a transit mall would.

      • Aleks says

        I have no problem with transferring at 3rd and Pine, and I haven’t seen any of the particular activities that barman lists, but the corner is undeniably sketchy, especially at night. I’m pretty street-smart and comfortable with weird people, but I wouldn’t blame someone for wanting to avoid that corner.

        That said, I’m not sure why you think a dirt lot would be better. To me, that just seems like it would make all of the behavior you mentioned even worse.

        The real problem, I think, is that 3rd and Pine has a critical mass of “unsavory activity”, which makes it feel so unsafe. The same number of crazy people wouldn’t be a problem at all if there were enough sane people to cancel them out.

        What I’d prefer to see is something like this:

        [a] Create more positive late-night activity, such as by encouraging vendors to keep higher-end stores open later, and subsidizing rents to fill in empty storefronts.

        [b] Put in more policing, and actively discourage people from loitering, panhandling, or otherwise disturbing the peace anywhere near the intersection.

        [c] Reroute buses so that 3rd and Pine is no longer such a major transfer point, for example by shifting buses to 1st Ave, changing east-west buses to avoid extraneous downtown travel, etc.

      • Bruce says

        I’m violently opposed to moving any of the frequent service routes off 3rd, except if it’s to put a streetcar in to serve the Queen Anne to Central District corridor. The whole point of a transit mall is to concentrate transit service through an area and facilitate transfers. A very frequent, fast streetcar on 1st is the minimum to make it worth giving up the universal routing of frequent busses down 3rd.

        Like you though (and I suspect everyone else reading this conversation), I find the idea that we’d bulldoze a block of prime real estate because some sketchy people hang out at the McDonalds and the smoke shop to be incomprehensible. Just post a couple of cops there at night, if it’s really that bad.

      • Aleks says

        When I transfer in that area, it’s generally between 10pm and 1am. I get off at 3rd and Pine/Pike, and then head up to Pike and 4th. Earlier than that, I’m much more likely to take the 8, but by then, it runs infrequently enough that it’s faster to go downtown, even though it adds an extra 10-15 minutes of bus time. (Sigh.)

        I guess I’m not totally sold on 3rd as a transit mall, as it currently exists. Streets that are car-free all-day can be fantastic. You can have food carts all over the place, lots of stores with people walking everywhere, lots of activity without any worry of being run over by cars. But because 3rd is only car-free some of the time, it doesn’t attract the same kind of interest or development.

        The shared-corridor issue doesn’t strike me as very compelling, either. Even late at night, 3rd has headways well under 5 minutes. It’s the only corridor in the city that unquestionably has more service than it needs. In contrast, 1st now has 15-20 minute headways at peak, and 30 minute otherwise.

        The main benefit of concentrating everything on 3rd seems to be the legibility benefit. If you want a bus to anywhere, it’s on 3rd. And that’s really cool. But I’m not sure just how useful it is. Arguably, skip-stop service hurts legibility almost as much as if service were on different streets. It can be very confusing to see a bus pass you by, even though you’re at a bus stop!

        So, to sum up, I’d be happy to see a *real* transit mall, and I think that could *potentially* go a long way towards making 3rd feel like a pleasant place to be rather than its current “bus ghetto” reputation. But I think the current situation isn’t optimal by any measure.

      • Bruce says

        I’m usually there between 6 PM and 10 PM weekdays, but sometimes later.

        I agree that 3rd should be bus-only all day, that it needs more effort to encourage street life, and to make it more aesthetically appealing. Signage needs to be improved, too. With the skip stop spacing, it would be absurdly easy to make big signs pointing north and south saying “The following frequent routes are at the next stop North”.

        Maybe I’m just the one guy for whom the stop arrangements on 3rd work great, but I’ll take skip stop over mixed 1st/3rd, unless it’s for something really compelling like a streetcar. Plus, you’re also sitting right on top of what might be the biggest transfer points of all, the Link stations.

        I would be very sad if Metro went back to putting frequent routes on 1st.

      • aw says

        Aleks: “The main benefit of concentrating everything on 3rd seems to be the legibility benefit. If you want a bus to anywhere, it’s on 3rd.”

        Except sometimes you have to go to 2nd Ave or 4th Ave. And sometimes you have to go in the tunnel. There are just too many buses in downtown to put them all on 3rd Ave.

      • Bruce says

        All the frequent, all-day routes are on 3rd. These routes are the backbone of the bus network, and between them carry a big fraction of all the riders, and they’re the ones we should focus on improving.

      • aw says

        Sure, but my point was that you can’t get a bus to anywhere there. It might be true that you can get a bus to anywhere inside Seattle, but if you’re going somewhere else, you need to know which avenue to walk along to find your stop.

      • Bruce says

        Right, I agree, 3rd Ave isn’t perfect, we can’t get every bus down there, it needs aesthetic improvement and to be made bus only at all times. But what we can do is provide the best service to the largest number of people by putting all the major bus routes and Link in the same place, and less frequent routes off to the side. All I’m saying is, that situation is better than splitting frequent routes between 1st & 3rd.

      • says

        “All the frequent, all-day routes are on 3rd.”

        Except the 41, 70-series, 150, 255, 550, Link… unless you count the tunnel as “3rd”.

      • Bruce says

        Link is closer to 3rd than any other street, so I think that’s reasonable. Plus all except two of those routes (255 & 150) are on borrowed time.

    • Mike Orr says

      Portland had right of way available. The Banfield segment is a disused freight railroad. The 205 segment was built in the ROW reserved when the freeway was built.

      The cost in using those segments is that there’s no MAX in southeast Portland (Hawthorne/Powell) which could best use it, and Clackamas has an out-of-the-way route to Portland (north then west).

      What comparable ROW does Seattle have? Not the Burke-Gilman trail; it goes far east of where most people are.

  8. Andrew11 says

    Portland is half the size of Seattle, it has light-rail because it is a small enough city that the traffic isn’t going to be effected by the clickity-clack center-running light rail/streetcar. Seattle is different. Seattle has the potential of becoming a large metropolis and requires vast rapid rail… not a friggn streetcar-like rail.
    Take a tour of the Boston or DC Subway, maybe even the Londton Underground, to see how real transit systems are built.

    • Bruce says

      Are you aware that we are doing just that in the form of Link? But streetcars are useful too. Have you ever ridden a trolleybus through Belltown or First Hill at rush hour?

    • Mike Orr says

      We are doing just that with Link, but people are wishing it were slower and less effective like MAX is. MAX is an example of how US rail transit is usually an afterthought, they won’t build a subway so they build a streetcar-like thing and pretend it’s enough. Yes, it’s fine for what it does, but we already have the slow service covered with buses. What’s missing is a fast service, as in “rapid” transit. In Europe, NY, DC, etc, the subways function like freeways and most traffic is drawn to them because they’re the fastest way around. They’re the reason a majority of the population takes transit. (That and land use, which puts destinations near stations, of course. And private companies unilaterally locate near stations to get the riders’ business.)

      The main problem with Link is that it’s not fully grade separated. If it were it could run at 55 mph everywhere and collisions wouldn’t happen. However, given that, the MLK and SODO segments are working better than I feared.

      (MLK is like MAX between the Banfield and Gresham by the way, where it runs in a median with signalized intersections every 10-20 blocks. That works OK too. What doesn’t work is downtown where MAX crawls and stops every other block. And the Steel Bridge where it crawls to NOBODY’s benefit because there are no stops on the bridge. Skytrain has its own bridge, BART has an underwater tunnel, but MAX crawls as it goes onto the bridge and across it.)

      Yes, sometimes we have to compromise to fit budgetary constaints, but that doesn’t mean the low-budget system is the most effective system. Instead it means that that community has a gap in its non-automobile mobility.

      • Bruce says

        I’ve got over my heartburn about the lack of grade separation in the Ranier Valley and Bellevue. Once I realized how ST plans to interline North/South/East link downtown, I realized how simply we could have < 5 minute headways downtown with longer headways in the non-grade separated areas.

        I think the biggest problem might actually be the grade crossing at Royal Brougham. The SODO pocket track is just south of there, so if you start running two lines, you'll be running trains through that intersection every other minute which renders it almost useless. Maybe SDOT will close that street? Not sure how crucial it is to Seattle's traffic grid.

      • aw says

        With interlining, East Link will branch off north of Stadium station, so the train frequency will be lower there. There will be some cases where two trains go through the crossing at once, so you save on lowering the gates then, and trains clear the crossing quickly. The delay for cars on Royal Brougham shouldn’t be much different from a normal traffic light signal.

      • Bruce says

        Not if you’re running three lines total. Your’re right about East Link trains, but if you’re running 9/9/9 trains as suggested here then your headways across Royal Brougham are 6 minutes in each direction.

    • Bruce says

      None. The monorail is contracted out to a private company, Metro runs the busses and the streetcars. The city subsidizes some of the service hours on the SLUT, purchases some additional bus service on a handful of corridors under Bridging the Gap, and pays for all of the hours used for the Waterfront bus and its predecessor streetcar. The city actually built the SLUT and will build the First Hill streetcar under contract for Sound Transit; ST will pay for the IDS-CHS segment, and the city (we hope) for the Aloha extension construction. I’m not sure what the eventual service funding cocktail for the First Hill line will look like.

      • Zef Wagner says

        First Hill Streetcar operations are permanently funded by Sound Transit, something like 6 million dollars a year.

  9. Jack says

    Time to man-up and complete the vision started by Mr. Faulkenberry and approved by the citizens of Seattle nearly 15 years ago.

    We need a tunnel/at-grade route from Univerisity Station, Belltown, Seattle Center, Fremont, Woodland Park Zoo, Greenwood, Bitter Lake. (ST3 goes to Ballard)
    We need an at-grade/elevated route from Sodo, Spokane Street, Luna Park, Fauntleroy, Lincoln Park.

    This will probably cost $10B. A .1% property tax levi would cost each household about $1/day and generate $75MM annually. Raise the gas tax $.03/gallon, raise the vehicle license tax, toll the west seattle bridge $.25/crossing. This should be a sufficient tax base to issue bonds for the project.

    • Zef Wagner says

      That would be awesome if we could toll the West Seattle bridge. Residents would have a fit, but only because they don’t realize that with tolls would come a decrease in congestion as more people take buses. It would be a great bridge to toll because it is pretty much the only way to get to the rest of Seattle. The toll money could go partly to maintaining the bridge and partly to fund more bus service or to build light rail.

      • JW says

        I think you’ll see tolls on the WS Bridge when you also see them on the Ballard, Fremont, University, Montlake, Aurora and I-5 Bridges. Which is to say…no time soon.

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