The Awfulness of Mt. Baker Station

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I pass through the Mt. Baker transit hub, using just about every mode, perhaps a dozen times a week. With all this exposure, I often think I’ve fully cataloged its faults, only to stumble upon whole new layers of design flaw.  At the moment, ST doesn’t plan very many more elevated stations, but perhaps exploring these flaws will spread a few lessons.

As always, these flaws are not the result of incompetence or malice of individuals, but instead very real technical, legal, political, and/or fiscal constraints. I’ve footnoted a brief explanation of why many of these flaws exist, courtesy of ST spokesman Bruce Gray. These explanations in no way diminish the ongoing inconvenience for riders.

Minimal Intermodal Interface

The best-understood problem is the flurry of inter-agency buck-passing that allowed a new light rail station, even newer bus transit center, and old road network to interface poorly, if at all, with each other. The station is placed west of Rainier and MLK, and therefore across busy arterials from nearly everything of interest.1 The street grid does nothing to guide buses to the station location, which is partially responsible for the Transit Center and its nearby stops sitting across those busy arterials and well away from any station entrance.2 In the photo above you can’t even see the primary Southbound 7 stop for Link access, which is another 50 ft off the north edge.

What’s most frustrating is that perhaps 200m to the south is an underdeveloped location that not only is physically closer to the station, but already has a footbridge spanning all the busy streets. In particular, from the Southbound 8 stop at S. Winthrop St.,  it is perhaps 100 feet (across a traffic-free side street) to the station. Unfortunately, to get there on the Southbound 8, riders have already done a loop through the transit center, possibly endured a driver shift change, a traffic light, and annihilated any time savings from using the closer stop.

Poor Escalator Placement

With traffic coming from north and south, Sound Transit placed their elevators and escalators roughly in the center of the station, to service the plaza entrance that leads to nowhere.3 Here’s where a center platform design would have been very helpful. Rather than having one elevator/escalator pair per side, ST could have had two servicing the center platform, one at either end of the station. Riders coming from the Transit Center or the stops to the south would then have their walk cut roughly in half.4

What’s more, that configuration would have made life dramatically easier for the disabled. The station’s escalators and elevators are, anecdotally speaking, not very reliable. When the southbound elevator is broken, ST suggests that disabled passengers proceed to Columbia City and switch to a northbound train. With a center platform, the probability of this convoluted plan diminishes greatly.

Low Footbridge Potential

Given that the Link system is seemingly in love with empty, trip-extending mezzanines, it’s astonishing that Mt. Baker, one of the few that could actually have used one, doesn’t have it.5 A frequent theme in the Metro Sounding Board before Link’s opening was that a foot bridge from the transit center to the station was imperative. You get no points for guessing that no one was interested in paying for it.

As I pointed out above, one such bridge already exists at the south end. A rider-friendly design would have built a new bridge or extended the old one to feed directly into a mezzanine level of the station, rather than force pedestrians to go up, down, and up again. But for once ST decided to let riders on the surface go straight to the train platform.

Why Does This Matter?

Anytime someone complains about walking distance, a wiseguy decides to pontificate on the joys of walking and exercise. And yes, one reason I like to use transit is that it inevitably involves some walking — even running — that helps to keep you healthy. But anyone who’s run up as the train (or worse, bus) pulls out of the station knows that extended transfer times mean missed trips. In fact, the layout of this transit hub adds minutes to any bus-train transfer, which is often the difference on downtown trips between switching to Link or staying on the 7. That’s ultimately more expensive for Metro and damaging to ST’s politically sensitive ridership numbers.

Is There Hope?

Some of the problems here will never be corrected, but the City of Seattle may step up to remedy several of the most egregious ones. By totally reconfiguring traffic flow in this area and abandoning the new Transit Center altogether, buses can better serve the plaza from which the station is designed to accept pedestrians. As one-way streets are clearly easier to cross than two-way streets, the crossing itself would be much improved.

My source at City Hall tells me that this proposal is currently swirling around at lower levels of SDOT and DPD, not yet part of the official plan, much less funded. Perhaps the real solution will have to wait for developers — and require time.

Footnotes:

1 “West [sic] of Rainier was a non-starter because you don’t want to have to cross over Rainier and then back to MLK. That would have required a lot more property acquisition and could have been troublesome with federal and state environmental regulations.”

2 Metro says that ST built the transit center and is responsible for the siting. Gray: “Having it on the west side presented issues for NB buses having to make a left across Rainier and severely impacted their travel times. Impacts from having it on the west side also ran into issues with the Cheasty Blvd historic corridor (section 106 of NEPA). And it also presented many issues with the UW laundry access and impacts from diesel fumes.

“More importantly, the community in conjunction w/ the City station area planning process identified the station area as a desired future ‘town center’. The community wanted to ensure development opportunities surrounding the station and have the station facilitate the establishment of a future “town center.” Basically, that area west of Rainier between Cheasty and McClellan is very ripe for big changes. Some have even talked about the UW laundry site becoming student housing (ala U-Link). Putting the bus center in there would have gummed that up.”

3 “The plaza occupies existing City R.O.W. (S. Stevens Street) and did not require additional property acquisition. Real Estate/Property Management interpretation of the federal regulations at that time indicated property could not be taken for ‘plaza’ purposes, only for track and station facility uses.”

4 “Based on the property constraints noted above, the physical track alignment criteria for exiting the tunnel portal, minimum radius of the curve, and avoiding the corner of the UW Laundry, and avoiding additional property acquisition precluded expanding the track centers to accommodate a center platform.”

5 “The alignment constraints tied to exiting the tunnel portal limited the height of the alignment at the station precluding addition of a mezzanine.”




Comments

  1. Gordon Werner says

    it is such a shame that the transit center is not directly underneath the station platforms itself … it looks like the station was designed that way … but it is just a lot of unused space.

    I really hope that they can figure some way to fix this problem in the future.

    • asdf says

      I fail to see why we even bothered to build this transit center at all, as making a bus->Link transfer is no easier with the bus stopping at the transit center, than having the bus stop along the street. In fact, a 48 (southbound)->Link transfer would have actually been easier with the old 48 routing that didn’t go through the transit center.

      Furthermore, the monetary cost of building the transit center was not cheap (I vaguely remember hearing something on the order of several million dollars). Surely, with that money, we could have scraped something together to make the existing pedestrian bridge over Ranier connect directly to the station platform, eliminating the stupid up->down->up movement.

      • says

        Great post, Martin. That Transit Center was a boondoggle — what problem does it solve that some tweak to the surrounding arterials wouldn’t?

        It’s absurd that the transit center function is not directly below the station. And that old, curvy, non-ADA-compliant “up/down/up” bridge ensures that pedestrians are not exempted from frustration attempting to access this station.

        Every single time I head to Mount Baker on the 48, usually hurrying to a flight at Sea-Tac, the bus stops on the right side of the street dozens of times, and then, just as it approaches my destination — the Link station — it veers left — at a transit signal with no transit priority — and then turns right — usually waiting at another signal — and then right again into the TC. All this snaking around yields me the honor and pleasure of waiting with my luggage in the rain for the light to change so I can cross a busy street.

        I timed this and it was about 4 minutes until I could navigate back to the place where the bus could have just dropped me off on the street it was already on, in front of the station. During this time, chances are pretty good I get to see and/or hear a Link train heading my way leaving the station — the train I would have preferred to be on. Then it’s on to a long walk down the Sea-Tac gangplank — with my luggage still — and on to the joys of airline travel.

        The plan bouncing around the city looks great. That area has so much untapped potential, with beautiful Mount Baker Blvd. and Franklin High School on the east side, and the greenbelt and Cheasty Blvd. to the west. Today, the station is named Mount Baker but seems oddly disconnected from that neighborhood. There must be a more elegant solution than the current mess. There are probably many, with no way to pay for any of them right now.

      • asdf says

        Next time, try getting off the 48 the stop before the transit center. Considering that you’re already on the right side of the street, with no signals to cross, depending on how fast you walk, you might come out ahead.

  2. Melissa says

    Don’t forget how the elevators were broken for weeks at a time. ST advised wheelchair passengers to take the train to Columbia City and loop back around.

    We live at the top of McClellan and occasionally walk to Mt. Baker Park or down to the lake. It’s a nice stroll once you cross MLK, but from 23rd west the entire area is confusing, loud and unwelcoming to pedestrians. (Unrelated to the station–there’s only a sidewalk on one side of McClellan.)

    Mt Baker Station actually feels very similar to being under the viaduct downtown: dark, loud, surrounded by traffic. The crucial difference is there’s no commercial density, so very little incentive to explore. There’s a great Ethiopian restaurant (Cafe Ibex) a few yards from the station, but you wouldn’t ever strike out on foot that direction unless you knew exactly where you were going.

    I’m excited to see the proposed neighborhood plan update–especially the traffic revisions. I’m not looking forward to the construction & hassle involved in making it a reality…but it won’t be any worse than what’s going on there now.

  3. Ryan says

    Any good reason why Mt. Baker wasn’t built with a center platform? Seems like a no-brainer for all kinds of reasons – cost and accessibility being the main two.

      • Mike says

        Still seems like the design engineers still failed w/ that alignment since the train crawls between BHS and MBS, so a center platform couldn’t have made things much worse. ST should have applied a boot to their bottom for the terrible speed, noise, and everthing else.

      • Nathanael says

        “Avoiding the corner of the UW Laundry”, apparently…

        Is that a really really important building, I guess?

  4. Brent says

    Moving the southbound stop for the 7 and 9 to a point with the shortest walk from the elevators seems a fairly obvious fix. But it takes the cooperation of all three agencies (since SDOT does the traffic engineering and can say a stop can’t be placed there safely, and it is ST’s property).

    I’m not that enthused about creating a one-way couplet. Car speed will increase, making the crossings more dangerous, IMHO. If the goal is to save service-hour cost for Metro, restriping Rainier for transit or HOV lanes would be a cheaper and more money-saving fix. In the long run, trying to push transfers to Link at the stations closest to downtown may run into capacity issues, anyway.

    .

    The best way I know to make the crossing safer is to have the whole station area be a school zone, and install walking bulbs that allow crossers to push a button, and in a few seconds have the ROW to cross, with flashing lights to let the cars know the pedestrians have the ROW. Having to wait a couple minutes to cross is a car-vs.-kid collission waiting to happen.

    • Mike says

      Having also wondered around there, higher car speeds wouldn’t necessarly be a bad thing since the whole area is already a brew of total chaos. Having cars going all in one direction are easier to follow than the current arrangement.

      This isn’t about saving money as it making the intermodal tranfer at MBS actually work.

    • d.p. says

      In the long run, trying to push transfers to Link at the stations closest to downtown may run into capacity issues, anyway.

      No. Not even remotely.

      Do you realize what you’re saying, Brent? That we should build billion-dollar rail infrastructure and then encourage a large portion of riders to stay on their thousands of bus routes to and through downtown?

      Can you think of any city with subterranean downtown rail infrastructure that still desires or expects to waste money and space keeping riders ambling along on the surface.

      Anyway, Mic did some triumphant capacity calculations here. Metro currently only serves 400,000 daily trips, system wide. That overwhelming majority of Metro riders could switch to the tunnel without hitting capacity. And as others have said, that’s a problem Seattle should love to one day have.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      I don’t think we’re likely to be capacity limited on South Link in the foreseeable future.

    • Mike Orr says

      “In the long run, trying to push transfers to Link at the stations closest to downtown may run into capacity issues, anyway.”

      “No. Not even remotely.”

      Actually, I don’t even understand what Brent was saying. What does “pushing transfers to Link at the stations closest to downtown” mean, and why would we want to do that? Shouldn’t our goal be to transfer to Link at the stations closest to the trip endpoints?

  5. Frank says

    aside from the curve/tunnel/row issues in mt. baker, i’d love to see a future post explaining why we have so few center platforms in rainier valley – as a lay person it seems like it would be cheaper.

    but i agree with this post, mt baker is by far the worst station. and there’s no practical fix now that i can see w/o rerouting rainier and mlk.

    all these north neighborhoods worried about tall buildings and changes to their neighborhood need to learn the lesson. the worst thing that can happen is have multiple agencies not talking to each other and force ST to ignore whats there and then flatten everything around it.* to me it looks like somebody playing simcity

    *not that siting near an intersection of 2 car arterials will easily become a walking/biking paradise by dropping in a train station

    • David Seater says

      I’d guess that there are so few center platforms because Link is center-running on MLK without a median between the tracks. It probably takes a lot more distance to curve the tracks out for a platform (and then back in) than it does to put side platforms and connecting sidewalks. Taking up more width for a longer distance would have meant more ROW acquisition.

  6. Charles says

    I think the “concern” about fumes is a bit specious. Buses there could be instructed to not idle in similar fashion to how they operate in the DSTT.

    It is really bizarre to me that transit centers here aren’t co-located with train stations. Back east gets this. It doesn’t make any sense to make your customers have to cross busy streets. Further, we’re not talking about that many routes at Mt. Baker. what, about 9 routes, at least 2 of which are electrified.

    I think with a little traffic re-routing and priority turn signals, the transit center could operate adjacent to the Link station with minimal fuss. You have a very underutilized parking lot that a portion could be turned into bays.

    Lastly, in the short term, they should move the southbound bus stop from Rainier and McClellan to right in front of the Mt. Baker Link Station. It would be safer there.

    • Mike Orr says

      “It is really bizarre to me that transit centers here aren’t co-located with train stations. Back east gets this.”

      As does Edmonds, Everett, Bellingham, Kelso, and Portland — almost every station on the Cascades has Amtrak/Greyhound/local buses at the same transit center.

      • says

        Yeah, but now it is a very compact trimodal interchange! Yeah, it surely is easier to fit that into an open field, but it is still an example of good TC design.

  7. Tim Whittome says

    Without wanting to widen this discussion too much but I think at some point we need to talk about whether we screwed things up on the MLK alignment and that rather than Mt. Baker Station being the problem, it is more an issue that the elevated track was not continued throughout the four mile MLK corridor. Mt. Baker offers more a glimpse of what could have been than ipso facto being a problem.

    I say this because I rarely complete a Link trip without some delay along MLK – stopped lights etc. bedevil the main line and these issues would have diminished with an elevated track down the corridor.

    Still as Martin says, it was not done out of malice but for fiscal reasons that the problems we have on Link today will not be addressed anytime soon because the initial flaws were there at the outset.

    The result is that we remain today with much slower Link service than we were led to believe and for those going to SeaTac Airport from downtown a much slower service experience. Still they do have more room for bags over the old 194 bus!

    • Frank says

      i would love to see statistics on problems along MLK vs problems in DSTT. Its not like cruising across the duwamish in RV – the pauses seem brief and at least you can see the problem is a light not aligned. I find the DSTT to be far far more frustrating. I can’t wait to see all buses up on 3rd.

      • Tim Whittome says

        Oh agreed the DSTT is currently terrible at rush hour with the buses off schedule almost at the start of their routes having to wait for Link trains. I would have more ‘proceed with caution’ yellow lights for buses when a train has gone through on green. If a driver doesn’t have the discretion to see that a train is ahead of him then he shouldn’t be driving a bus. I would credit the drivers with a lot more sense than this to know when the train and bus ahead of him has safely left the station in front.

        The DSTT is a whole other thing though – the delays there will hopefully end for bus riders once those buses can shunted upstairs in 2016 – can’t really come soon enough for both bus and Link riders.

        MLK though is different. Link can get easily thrown and the signalling still isn’t adjusted fully to allow for easy passage through. Elevated trains would have eliminated that problem. So too would a tunnel but the expense!

      • mic says

        Tim, there is nothing concrete about kicking the buses out of the tunnel in 2016. There’s capacity up the kazoo until after 2020.

      • lazarus says

        Ah, no. Absolutely not. There is nothing like “capacity up the kazoo” in the DSTT, or at least free-flowing capacity. In fact, when the ride free zone ends later this year Metro might end up kicking some bus routes to the surface THEN just to keep the DSTT flowing smoothly.

        It’s a given that 2016 will see the DSTT close for buses. The days of dual operation are numbered.

      • says

        If he meant “bus capacity needs until 2020″, he’s right – the 41, 550, and possibly 70-series will still want the tunnel until their respective Link lines open.

      • mic says

        This is nonsense to say it’s a given that the buses will leave the tunnel after 2016. Show me any shred of evidence this is a done deal.
        On the contrary, just by adding 2 cars to the current trainsets, doubles existing capacity and doesn’t effect one bus trip.
        Link runs 8 trains an hour in the peak, times 4 cars, times 148 riders per car is 4736 in each direction. Now times that by 15.4 gives 72,939 riders per weekday, times 2 directions is 145,868 per day.
        Adding two stops (Broadway & UW) to the end of the line just requires more cars, not any schedule changes. Link is a long way from the 145k per day, up nearly 500% from 2015 ridership.
        (see my link elsewhere for the ST formulas on DSTT capacity)

      • says

        Metro planner I talked to says buses could remain in the tunnel until Link reaches Northgate. And that’s after the RFA’s impending death was announced.

        If the tunnel gets too congested post RFA, I think Metro will kick the peak routes out, not the all day, all star ones like the 41, 71-73, 150, 550. That’s where capacity problems currently exist.

      • asdf says

        When Link first opened, it often got delayed at MLK stoplights, but in the past couple of year’s, the train has consistently breezed by every one of them I have been on, without stopping at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Link on MLK seems to be a rare example of transit signal priority that actually works. Compare this to the RapidRide routes that spend lots of time waiting at stoplights.

        If we want to make Link go faster, the first place to focus on is not the Ranier Valley, but stuff further north. For example, in 2016, just eliminating the bus transfer downtown, alone, will shave 20 minutes off the time it takes me to get to the airport, each way. Kicking the buses out of the tunnel will save a few more. Furthermore, with buses gone, Link should be able to travel a lot faster through the bus tunnel than it currently does. Go to Washington D.C. and look at how fast their trains go when they enter the stations and how quickly they decelerate to a stop and accelerate again. Link is similar in the Ranier Valley and further south, but in the downtown tunnel, Link crawls at 10-15 mph between the tunnel stations. Another option to speed up Link is to fix the security barriers at the south end of the tunnel. Currently, each train entering or leaving downtown has to stop for at least 30 seconds or so for no reason other than to wait for the barrier to get out of the way.

      • mic says

        Just to be clear on DSTT capacity, It is designed to handle 547,000 riders per weekday using 4 car trains and 2 minute headways. To put that in perspective, its more riders per day than every route combined in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, plus all the ST services thrown in, plus streetcars.
        To get anywhere close to design capacity ST/Metro/SDOT/WSDOT must think as one, and absolutely give priority to bus/rail transfers.
        Mt. Baker and UW station don’t even pass the giggle test for how to do it.

      • lazarus says

        mic,

        Don’t delude yourself. U-Link will more than double the ridership on LR. Doubling the train length to 4 LRV’s will not solve the problem. It’s really pretty simple math.

        The one thing that joint ops in the DSTT has done is expose the unreliability and undesirability of bus based systems as compared to rail systems in high capacity corridors. With the bulk of riders in the DSTT soon arriving via LR, the only plausible solution to the reliability problem of joint ops will be to move the buses to the surface. Because at some points the needs of the many outweigh the inconvenience of the few.

        Expect the first discussions of moving buses to the surface to occur when the RFZ is eliminated – Metro has already mentioned moving some routes to the surface as a potential solution.

      • mic says

        Well Laz, as long as we’re not deluding one another, remember “Money talks and BS walks”.
        Right now Link pays for 23% (2012 ST SIP) of the DSTT operations and bond cost. That share moves up, as buses leave the premises.
        Do you really think ST wants to quad-triple their costs and assume all the leftover debt if buses can be accommodated?
        Plus the higher operating costs to Metro will get King Co. Council members panties in a bunch – Oh wait, they sit on the ST Board too.
        Good Luck with your personal ‘Give ‘em the Boot’ campaign.

      • lazarus says

        Hilarious. If you really think that the DSTT bus routes will be retained because of politics then that is exactly the sort of reasoning we DON’T need in our transit planning. What ever happens in the DSTT should be driven by efficiency and operational considerations and not by King County politics.

        And besides, I think your understanding of King County politics is a little off base in this regard. No politician has ever, nor will they ever, feel any heat for moving a tunnel route to the surface to “increase efficiency”. That’s just a silly assertion.

        Additionally, it is likely that most (all?) peak only routes will be out of the tunnel by 2016. That leaves only a handful of suburban, all-day routes in the tunnel. There just isn’t much political gain to be had by protecting tunnel access for those routes, and eliminating the Seattle/NKing tunnel routes will be great fun for the suburban R’s.

        So, ya, DSTT joint ops will be toast shortly after U-Link comes on-line. It might take one or two service revisions to get it right, but it will happen.

    • Anthony says

      The only reason there is more room for baggage is due to ST’s totally stupid policy of making the bike are a luggage area as well. Ugh.

      Unfortunately this thread highlights a serious problem repeated over and over; transit agencies here do very little coordinating amongst themselves. What the hell?

      As for Mt Baker, am so glad I get to avoid that mess, dealing with Rainier Beach is easier. I remember that wheelchair snafu, what a bunch of BS pulled by ST on that as well.

      • asdf says

        Given that lots more people ride Link with luggage than with bikes, I can’t say I fault ST on this. And you can still take a bike on board if there’s space available.

      • Nathanael says

        “Should the organization of all the agencies be adjusted to encourage more cooperation and less buck-passing, and if so, how?”

        “Yes”, and “I have no idea”?

        They can’t figure out how to coordinate things in Chicago, or in NY, either.

    • Cheesewheels says

      Building something right the first time will always save time, money, and headaches in the future. RV is a perfect case.

    • Miles Bader says

      eh…. I’ve never ridden the airport link, but my friends in Seattle absolutely love it, and find it a pleasant, frequent, and reliable way to get to the airport.

      My memories of the 194 bus, on the other hand (which I always used to take, much to the disgust of friend who’d rather just splurge on a taxi) are of nothing but misery … endless waits for the bus outside in the rain (the frequency was horrible, as I recall), and a jerky unpleasant ride.

      • Tim Whittome says

        Yes its comfort was a negative but it had a reasonably direct route into Seattle and was faster usually on the I-5 than Link is. We were oversold on how fast Link would be on the sections of the route where it could be faster

      • Miles Bader says

        @Tim
        I think the worst part of the 194 was that it was so infrequent … it added a non-trivial amount of stress to arriving at Seatac—if you just missed it, argh…

        The Link’s big attractions, besides simple comfort, seem to be that it’s relatively frequent and its timing is very reliable (traffic is always more of an issue for buses/taxis/personal cars). Raw speed is not enough.

      • asdf says

        And don’t forget Sunday evenings after 5 PM and all evenings after 8 PM when the 194 didn’t run at all. Even on paper, even if you were really lucky to have the 174 right there, the 174 was not as fast as Link is.

  8. mic says

    I totally agree with Martin on this one. Among the most transit rich corridors in the system, the #7 has the crappiest bus/rail interface. It seems like Seattle goes out of it’s way to screw things up. The next clusterfuck for bus/rail to come on line will be FHSC, followed by UW Station coupled with the loss of Montlake flyer stops. We’ll need full time docents to direct riders to the next leg.
    I blame Metro/Greg Nickels/Ruth Fisher and many others for taking rail planning/building/operation out of the hands of King Co. Metro in the early ’90′s. They all bought into the grand spine concept from Everett to Tacoma, creating another agency with ginormous taxing powers. That has led to turf wars, policy debates, funding/spending fights, piss-pore bus/rail integration and very expensive transit solutions to make all the players happy. Seattle will get it’s 3 legs of the spine, and then be tapped out for decades.

    • lazarus says

      The only thing that I agree with in this post is that the #7 has a poor interface with rail. The rest of the post has little basis in fact.

      • mic says

        We shall see in 5-10 years how the two projects I mentioned work out.
        Total boardings and cost per boarding will be a couple of good benchmarks.

      • lazarus says

        Most voters couldn’t care less about cost per boarding, but they do care about having alternatives to sitting in traffic.

        In 5 or 10 years nobody will doubt the wisdom of building these systems. Instead they will be focused on expanding them.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Metro is an operating culture with a strong bias towards maintaining current service. If they’d been in charge of Link the capital budget would have been raided each time the bus budget got into trouble.

      • mic says

        Exactly. That’s what transit agencies do that run all the transit service. Bus? Rail? it’s all just vehicles to them. Juggling resources with service and capital is actually a good thing – call it raiding if you must, I call it fiscal management.
        The current system promotes full scale building by one agency and cannibalizing service by another – all under the the same transit umbrella.

      • Bernie says

        To be fair Metro really only enacts the policy dictated by the County Council. Under Kurt Triplett in particular there seemed to be a clear focus on building a better system. But the efficiencies constantly are watered down by the council. The ST board has had the luxury of never hitting the bottom of their pot of gold. That’s largely because none of the ST express hours are funded by the north King subarea and the other sub areas are still banking capital for Link expansion. The exception of course is South King where capital cuts were made to the Federal Way Link extension rather than cutting service hours.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        I’d view it as cutting off our escape from crappy bus service to preserve said bus service.

    • Bernie says

      The next clusterfuck for bus/rail to come on line will be FHSC, followed by UW Station coupled with the loss of Montlake flyer stops.

      I inquired about this at the last WSDOT open house I attended. The flyer stop capability isn’t really lost. In fact I’d say it’s enhanced. However, Metro does not want to route buses bound for the eastside up onto the lid during peak hours. Off peak all 520 buses will make a stop on the lid. With the promise of extra bus routes from the eastside to UW I think this makes a lot of sense. If it doesn’t work out, like say the money for the extra service isn’t available then we can revert to all buses stopping at Montlake. The exit to the lid will be a much better environment for the rider. The slight increase in travel time will be more than made up by direct center HOV lane access.

      • says

        It’s better as long as there’s actually sufficient frequency on U District-Eastside routes. Will the ridership justify that?

        Anyway, like you say, the exit to the lid will be more pleasant and accessible and better for transfers, and the HOV improvements around the area may mean that a stop on the lid doesn’t cost that much time between the Eastside and downtown. Maybe one day we’ll forget our maniacal obsession with through-vehicle capacity on Montlake Blvd., shorten up the light cycles for a better pedestrian environment, implement serious TSP at the lid bus stops, etc. A stop on the lid can be really quick if we want it!

      • Bernie says

        One big plus besides the noise, better safety due to visibilty and time to hike up/down the stairs is you don’t have to figure out if your bus is stopping down below or up on Montlake at the start of the cloverleaf. How many people have made that mistake and watched their bus go sailing through the flyer stop!

      • asdf says

        One comment I left at last week’s meeting was anyone who wants to take the bus from Redmond or Kirkland to downtown when their happens to be a Husky football game going on is going to be stuck in a 20+ minute traffic jam of cars getting off at the Montlake exit to go to the game. This will be a huge regression over today, where bus service from the Eastside to downtown bypasses all the game traffic, while still providing the flyer stop allowing people to ride the bus to the game.

        Unfortunately, the only workarounds for this are either EastLink (once it gets built), or to forgo transit altogether and drive all the way.

      • Bernie says

        @asdf, I wouldn’t worry too much about Husky pointyball games. For one they are only a half dozen Saturdays out of the whole year and almost always off peak meaning the buses will stop on the lid. And with any modicum of common sense special transit service will be in effect. OK, for get common sense; the most profitable sports franchise in the State, by a long shot can afford to cough up the money for bus service. Worst case is you just get off at the first stop DT, transfer to Link and back track to your tailgate party. You’ll still be there at least a half an hour sooner than anyone that left from the eastside in a car. Or bike/walk across the new 520 bridge access.

        What really needs to happen is nix the GP exits at Montlake. Allow GP use of the HOV lanes off peak or make them HOT lanes and then you can control the vehicle flow through the triangle to maximize throughput of people. It’s not as hard as winning a national rowing championship.

      • says

        @Bernie: THIS. Being able to combine frequency of routes going the same place is huge.

        @asdf: There’s a bus/HOV onramp to the lid, which should help. A lot of game traffic is probably HOV… it would be awesome if we had dynamic HOV limits always set high enough to keep traffic moving on them.

        Anyway, it only matters 6 days a year, right? Also: should we permit the stadia enough parking to screw the whole city with traffic?

      • Scott Stidell says

        The UW has been paying for additional bus service for 25 years, since the north upper deck opened in 1987. This not only includes shuttle service from something like 8 park-and-rides throughout the region, but additional service on several regular routes as well. Between 20-25,000 people use this service on game days. It is a very popular service that probably has gotten people who wouldn’t normally ride the bus to consider transit as a transportation alternative. We drive only to tailgate; when the rare occasion comes that we don’t tailgate, it’s the bus for us and always has been. Link will pick a decent amount of that traffic up, especially when the line opens as far as Northgate.

      • asdf says

        Eastbound, getting to the stop on the lid will require going through the general-purpose exit-ramp. During Husky games, we’re talking 10 light cycles at 2 minutes each. Even during non-husky games, if the Montlake bridge is up, we’re talking at least 3 lights cycles of 2 minutes each to get through the exit ramp.

        A 5% chance of a 5-10 minute delay may not sound like much. But if you have to transfer to a local bus on the eastside with 30-60 minute headways, a 5-10 minute delay can suddenly turn into a 30-60 minute delay and that becomes a very big deal.

      • Bernie says

        Yes, I didn’t have the maps in front of me and I do recall there was an asymmetry issue with the current WSDOT plan. But seriously, why should an eastbound bus from DT stop at Montlake once Link is in operation? We have to start thinking about the flyer stop post the “new world order”.

      • Bernie says

        Oh, I guess that’s part of a two part question. One important function of the flyer stop is increased frequency of buses back to the eastside late at night. At that time Husky pointyball is not an issue. Traffic on 520 is light and using the GP lanes isn’t a problem. The Montlake plans have come a long way from what was originally proposed. All they need to do now is eliminate the GP exits, especially eastbound, and it will be as good as it gets. Note, I’m all for leaving the HOV/HOT lane exits open for GP use when capacity is available. When capacity isn’t available then, well… more cars means more people going nowhere fast!!!

  9. Al S. says

    One more problem is that station access to and from the west is non-existent. Given the hillside to the west, I’ve been amazed that a mostly level trail was never pursued that would feed into the station from the northwest and/or southwest. As the Carpenters would sing, “.. So close, and yet so far away…”

    Thanks for point out this system “failure” in good station planning. Was there ever a station “area master plan” for the two or three block radius surrounding the station? Why do we spend the hundreds of millions on light rail and not put an emphasis on this? Looking into the future, most of the new North Link and East Link planning appears to again focus strictly on what Sound Transit has to build and not broader station areas. Most new station area planning done by the jurisdictions appear to come with little capital incentive money by Sound Transit or other places, and instead appear to be primarily focused on zoning regulation. Just a few blocks from here, a new East Link station is being designed, for example. Will this attitude ever change? Maybe this “failure” can be raised up to inspire agencies to rethink the way that expensive investments get designed before they are built. Sigh…

    • Mike Orr says

      The agencies can’t do this. The mayors, councils, and governor have to set the agenda and fund it. The reason we’re spending billions on light rail without a master plan is that adding $X billion to ST1 or 2 would have endangered its passage. The SFH/lowrise advocates would have screamed even louder to kibosh the whole thing, and it would have delayed Link by years while the rezoning was negotiated with every neighborhood. Sometimes it’s better to put in transit ahead of development or rezoning, and let the rest of it follow. That’s what happened in Portland on the Gresham branch, and at the automobile scale it’s what happened at every Interstate highway exit.

    • asdf says

      We already have a very good mitigation for people accessing Mt. Baker Station from the west. It’s called Beacon Hill Station.

  10. Matt the Engineer says

    I’m probably missing something, but could we bulldoze the buildings right next to the station and build a transit center there? Either an open design like the current one, or put it on the bottom floor of new buildings. And sell the existing transit center land.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        The designers left room under the station for rows of cheesesteak vendors. There is no other rational explaination for all of that empty space.

      • Charles says

        One challenge that vendors may face in these newly constructed units is that unless the builder has pre-built HVAC suitable for restaurants it is difficult to retrofit. That is something I discovered in talking to the owner of the new cafe that opened in one of the large new residential complexes near light rail is that in order to offer additional ‘grilled” items or things like pizza, they would have to install very expensive HVAC which wasn’t provided to the space.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        It’s generally a matter of chase area. Floorspace is valuable, so owners want architects to minimize non-rentable area like duct chases that run all the way up the building. If the original intent of the retail space doesn’t include hoods, it’s often very difficult to add it later. I hit that issue in a new mixed use area in Kent where the developer changed his mind at the last minute when a large chain restaurant wanted to rent space. We had to change the design significantly while the building was already in construction, and he even had to upgrade the electrical service (and lead time on transformers can be long).

        Wait – what does this have to do with anything? I was kidding about the rows of cheesesteak vendors, though it wouldn’t be much of an issue there even if they were added.

  11. Mike says

    In leau of having a mez level, ST could pull a page from the San Diego Trolley playbook and install a crossing between the two platform levels, and send a pedestrain bridge east towards the TC by using the norhtbound plaform as a “mez” level. The best example I can think of is here: http://g.co/maps/9dnnw It works very well and nobody seems to get hit. (From what I can gather, nobody has been killed crossing at stations and they’re all unguarded crossings.) Saves a ton of money to as station design is simplified greatly.

      • d.p. says

        Also, the bicyclists would get stuck. Seattle has the world’s dumbest cyclists. Fossilized Seattle cyclists have been found in the La Brea tar pits.

      • Brett says

        I’m with you here – “Train tracks are hazardous to bicycle riders!” – let’s sue the city! How about take an alternate route? Or ride in the other lane? I’m glad the lawsuit against the SLUT got thrown out.

    • Anandakos says

      Every Max station has level pedestrian crossings at each end. I think a couple of people have been killed since the system began, but it’s very rare. The trains aren’t going very fast and they have those double turn barriers so you have to “look both ways before crossing tracks”.

  12. Carl says

    ST is about the repeat the mistake at the UW/Husky Stadium station. The connection between the ST Link station and buses is miserable. Someone coming from Capitol Hill who wanted to transfer to Redmond or Kirkland either has to walk over to SR-520 (where the buses from downtown don’t have a direct stop, but have to exit the freeway, make a left turn onto the local street, followed by a right turn) — or they have to cross the Triangle and Pacific Street to a stop in front of the UW Hospital. It’s not much better for riders wanting to reach the 43/44/48. The whole connecting system is poorly designed here. There could have been a transit center above the station, with segregated transit lanes on the new bridge/lid, and a direct route to/from Pacific St.

    • Zed says

      From my experience at the Montlake Triangle design meetings I don’t think that ST should get the blame for this. It’s up to SDOT and WSDOT to design the street infrastructure and Metro the bus routes. The location of Husky Stadium Station has been known for ten years now. Like Martin said above, the agencies need to work together to design these systems, because ST has no authority over Metro, SDOT, et al.

      • mic says

        Thank you ladies and gentlemen of the jury.
        I rest my case.
        For what it’s worth, SDOT/METRO/ST were lobbied by the bike club to not have buses under the rail platforms at MBS for safety and access issues. Anyone want to confirm my source? Denials by bikers are not accepted (something to do with credibility)

      • Lack Thereof says

        Based on rider destination patterns, the Metro stop is actually in the right place for the majority of their riders. All the projections expect trips to the UW & UW Medical to outnumber Link/Metro transfers almost 2:1.

        It’s Sound Transit’s Link stop that’s in the wrong place.

      • says

        Maybe there should be a single agency responsible for designing intermodal transfer stations that takes input from all the various agencies and then comes up with the best solution that pleases all of them the most.

      • Charles says

        Umm @Lack…, The vast majority of bus trips from Mt. Baker TC are on the #7 to Downtown or #9 to Capitol Hill with the #48 coming in 3rd. It would be far faster for someone wishing to go to most places on the UW campus to go downtown and take any of the 7X express buses. In 4 years time, they can simply get on Link and be at UW in about 25 minutes.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Lack,
        Remember that ST wanted to put the station up on Rainier Vista between Stevens Way and the Triangle. The UW pretty much dictated the current station location.

        But everyone, especially WSDOT and the UW gets a big F for screwing up a key transit, bike, and pedestrian corridor/hub.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Charles: I was referring to the UW station, not Mount Baker

        Chris: I don’t particularly hold it against them. It’s in the wrong place by necessity, not incompetence. I’m just defending Metro not following Sound Transit to the wrong place, in the name of transfer ease.

  13. says

    Is that Google photo from before LINK was actually running…or shot on a Sunday?

    I find it hard to believe all the parking spaces are empty.

  14. Mickymse says

    If this sort of thing didn’t happen repeatedly around the area, I’d forgive the political excuses… but it really just seems like transit planners don’t actually use the transit they are working on.

    • Mark Y says

      They may ride transit around here, but I truly feel they’ve never ridden anywhere else, because we wrestle with things that were solved a long time ago in other cities.
      Haven’t they ever been to Vancouver, or San Franscisco?

  15. Lack Thereof says

    At the moment, ST doesn’t plan very many more elevated stations

    South 200th?

    When the southbound elevator is broken, ST suggests that disabled passengers proceed to Columbia City and switch to a northbound train.

    That’s what happens when the northbound elevator is broken.

    Footnote 1 appears to justify the siting of MBTC east of Rainier. It’s supposed to be justifying the siting of MBS west of Rainier. The current location is probably better than the alternative, trying to sandwich it between Rainier and MLK. In a perfect world the elevated station could have straddled the Rainier/MLK intersection.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      That’s what happens when the northbound elevator is broken.

      Nope, think it through. Taking the northbound train is useless when the northbound elevator is broken.

      • Lack Thereof says

        nope, you think it through. Columbia City is south of Mt. Baker.

        Southbound broken = ride north to Beacon Hill and switch trains.

        Northbound broken = ride south to Columbia City and switch trains.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Wait, I guess we should specify if we’re considering an inbound passenger or an outbound passenger. I was assuming outbound, because that’s when you’re sitting on the platform listening to the messages.

    • Bus 62 says

      I think SB riders needing accessible routes getting off at Mount Baker are directed to continue south to Columbia City and then double back if the SB elevator is down. If they’re getting on going south and the SB elevator is broken, I guess they’d go north to Beacon Hill and turn around. Good thing those stops accomodate a U-turn without going through a mezzanine.

  16. Cheesewheels says

    “At the moment, ST doesn’t plan very many more elevated stations”

    What about every South Link station and every North Corridor station from Northgate to Lynnwood? South Bellevue, East Main, and Hospital on East Link?

    • Brent says

      Haven’t you heard? The Federal Way City Council is so desperate to get a choo-choo train that they are willing to save money by having it run at-grade, even though it will add 10 minutes to the travel time and make most riders stick with the 577/578.

      • Mike Orr says

        Tune in in 2023 when you’ll hear Federal Way say, “No, don’t cut our 577/578 even though we have Link. We want both Link and express buses.”

  17. jeff says

    I can’t disagree with any of the problems Martin mentions. But my biggest gripe is that the train moves so slowly from SODO to Mount Baker. Riding to the airport I am always thinking we are going to move quickly once the train gets to the grade separated portion south of SODO. But we seems to crawl along until after the Rainier Beach station. How can a grade separated train move so slowly?

    • Gordon Werner says

      switches … there are a lot of them … maybe that’s why? … same question different place … why does the train slow down before the climb to TIBS … and why does it slow down (heading north) right before the jog over I5 ?

    • Brett says

      Different operators seem to handle these areas differently, although they do seem to slow down for switches and areas that are “lubricated” with gel for noise (such as the area between Mt Baker Station and the Beacon Hill tunnel). I bet ST has speed restrictions at all the places trains typically slow down, and some operators observe them more closely than others. Also it seems like sometimes operators are driving slowly on purpose, as though there is a conflict up ahead or they are just running ahead of schedule headway.

    • shotsix says

      Oh man, those slow sections are so cringe-worthy. You think grade-separated is going to mean SPEED, but all you get it is a game show loser sound in your head. There are some rare moments in an uncrowded DSTT that exceed speed expectation (and actually remind me of real rail transit), but the super slow ramble from the Mt. Baker Station into the Beacon Hill tunnel (and all along SODO) is really deflating.

      You want to love Link so much, but they make it soooo hard. If Husky Stadium to Capital Hill doesn’t feel like a rocket when it opens, it will be such a bummer.

  18. K says

    But MAN, you should have seen those architectural and landscape drawings. They were FANTASTIC looking!

    :P

  19. baselle says

    Northgate Station is going to be elevated. What can we learn from this? During open houses what should we be looking for?

    • Andrew Smith says

      They do have a better bus transfer system imagined, mostly because there is so much more space there. It’s still not ideal.

      You may have missed your chance to go to the open houses, but comments are still open.

      • David Seater says

        The 60% design open house for Northgate hasn’t happened yet, and I haven’t seen a date for it either. I think it’s sometime in the summer. That said, the bus transfer system will largely be up to Metro, and they’ve been soliciting feedback on different layouts for the new Northgate TC in conjunction with the TOD plans for the lot.

      • baselle says

        I’ve been to the open houses and participated some. ST has only discussed the station itself (where the Northgate P&R is), the tunnel coming up and out at 94th and the construction schedule. I don’t think I’ve missed much yet.

        Nothing yet on Metro connections, which btw, if you are coming in from the west (Greenwood) it feels like *all* bus lines loop around NSCC.

        Time to walk through Mt. Baker and see for myself, I guess.

  20. GuyOnBeaconHill says

    It’s hard to see why ST chose to build an elevated station at that location. If the tracks had been laid on the surface from the east portal to a ground level Link station, there would have been plenty of money left over to acquire property for better transit station siting.

    • David Seater says

      Ground level tracks would have meant blocking traffic on Rainier and/or MLK every time a train came through in either direction.

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