Before I go any further, I should concede that at least Portland has a system. Their dedicated right-of-way system vastly outshines our (small) grab bag of monorails, bus tunnels, and bus ways. So for now, advantage Portland.
In a few years, though, our system is going to be a substantially better design than theirs. Consider:
- Because the stops have to fit in a city block, the trains are only 2 cars long, so the capacity sucks.
- It’s at-grade just about everywhere, including downtown. Pedestrians are everywhere, making speeds crappy. The stops are too close together, too.
- Almost all of the line is along the freeway. So much for TOD!
If you look at Sound Transit’s track in the Rainier Valley, it’s much less inviting to pedestrians because it sits in the middle of a boulevard. The crossings are limited so that stations can be four cars long, and the only stretches of the ST2 that have stops along the freeway are Northgate to Lynnwood and I-90 across Lake Washington.
The MAX strikes me as rail-on-the-cheap. There is no less expensive way to build a dedicated-right-of-way system than to do it at-grade and use freeway rights-of-way, although this compromises its capacity, operating speed, and ability to promote long-term ridership through transit oriented development. If Sound Transit delivers on its promises, it’ll be worth the wait.