Seattle Subway’s Comments on the Sound Transit Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental EIS
This is the final post in a series we’ve been doing related to Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”). The comment period is over on Monday, so be sure to get your comments in to LongRangePlan@soundtransit.org before the deadline comes. This post calls out conflicts between the goals of the LRP and its content. If you want to skip the wonkiness but agree that we should push for the best quality rail system possible for future lines in the region, you can copy our comments and send them to Sound Transit in support.
Sound Transit uses its Long-Range Plan to identify and select corridors and technologies for future transit packages. We are currently in the comment period for the Long-Range Plan Update, which means there is an opportunity to give feedback to Sound Transit in regards to the big picture. Sound Transit last updated this document in 2005, four years prior to Central Link opening, and it shows. Sound Transit must review decisions that were made in its early days and are still affecting its direction now, as Seattle and the region have changed a lot in the 15 years since Sound Transit’s inception. We will frame our comments in the context of Sound Transit’s DSEIS’s Goals and Objectives for their Long-Range Plan (page 1-5).
Section 1: “Provide a public high-capacity transportation system that helps ensure long-term mobility, connectivity, and convenience for residents of the central Puget Sound region for generations to come”
- “Increase the percentage of people using transit for all trips”
- “Provide effective and efficient alternatives to travel on congested roadways”
Grade separation provides the most efficient and effective way to move people. It eliminates interference from other traffic and maximizes transit’s speed. Grade separation is a true alternative to congested roadways. The higher speed and frequency that a grade separated system enables creates the greatest increase in ridership as well. This, combined with the fact that nearly all of the 55 miles of lines Sound Transit is currently building are grade separated, make the following section of the LRP DSEIS out of place:
Chapter 2, Section 6.1 Alternative Technologies:
-The reason for exclusion of both Heavy Rail and Sky Train is listed as “Requires grade separation” (page 2-32).
Requiring grade separation leads us to the highest quality system and matches the goals of the Long-Range Plan. Different technologies make more sense for new lines in Seattle and the region. We need subway-grade speed and stop spacing to fully realize these goals.
As an additional justification for not studying new technologies, the DSEIS says “Adding new technologies that are not part of Sound Transit’s current operations would require separate new operations and maintenance facilities” (page 2-32).
This justification is either out of date or disingenuous. New lines in Seattle will require new O&M facilities regardless of which technology is used. When weighed against the advantages of driverless and grade separated rail (such as Sky Train) – the minor economies of scale achieved by using the same train sets across lines are not meaningful.
Section 5: “Create a financially feasible system”
- “Improve Financial Sustainability”
While it’s true that the cost per ride on Link is trending down and will likely continue on that trajectory as it builds out and attracts more riders, it is not true that Sound Transit is considering everything it can that could improve financial sustainability. Vancouver, for example, is able to operate Sky Train at a cost that is less than Link’s fare per boarding. It operates without taxpayer subsidy and even helps subsidize some bus operations. They achieve this by using driverless trains. Funding transit operations is a big and recurring political issue in our region; driverless trains can put a permanent end to that fight while saving the region a lot of money. Sound Transit must study implementing driverless trains in Seattle and the region on the new lines it builds.
Other ways to improve Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan:
1. Review and update the population model being used in the studies. The PSRC numbers are clearly inaccurate in their 2035 projections. We discuss this in detail here.
2. Study the Sand Point Crossing — it’s a better routing and the Trans-Lake Washington crossing study does not exclude this area form being studied. We discuss this in detail here.
3. Study the highest quality option for Ballard to UW: The Ballard Spur. We discuss this in detail here.
4. Study a better Eastside corridor. We discuss this in detail here.
5. Present an option to the board for West Seattle that is easier to include in ST3. We discuss this in detail here.
The comment period for this study ends on Monday 7/28 — be sure to send your comments to LongRangePlan@soundtransit.org by that deadline.
What to say to Sound Transit in your Long Range Plan Update Comments:
1. ST should revisit the justification for avoiding study of alternative technologies such as Heavy Rail and Sky Train, considering the current needs of Seattle, the region, and of an infrastructure investment that will be used by generations to come.
2. Study driverless technology for new rail routes as part of Sound Transit’s efforts to improve their financial sustainability in operations.
3. Review and update the population models being used to study ridership. The PSRC numbers for Seattle are clearly off.
4. Study the Sand Point Crossing – it will provide a better rail connection than SR 520 and the Trans Lake Study does not exclude it from consideration as Sound Transit first thought.
5. Study a better option for Ballard to UW.
6. Study a better Eastside Corridor.
7. Present a better option to the board for rail to West Seattle.