Beacon Hill Station (Sound Transit)
Beacon Hill Station (Sound Transit)

Thursday’s photo of UW Station set up a barrage of complaints in the comments about how ugly the station is.  Art-hating barbarian that I am, my problem is much less the design of the station than the fact that it’s an isolated structure.

The quarter-mile radius around light rail stations are extremely valuable properties with which to do intensive land use.  There’s a somewhat less valuable band out to a half-mile, and of course that’s often further constrained by topology, etc.

I’ve already ranted about how Husky Stadium isn’t very intensive land use, but Sound Transit isn’t doing us any favors by falling in love with the plaza-in-a-park design.  You see this at Husky Stadium, Beacon Hill, to a lesser extent at Mt. Baker, and to a small degree even the other Rainier Valley stations.

I’m sure that promising to bring a plaza or a park is a much better selling point to the community than saying you’re going to bring a whole bunch more residents.  Nevertheless, I’d be all for incorporating stations into a much larger building built directly on top of, or immediately adjacent to, the station, as is done at many of the downtown stations.

40 Replies to “Station Architecture”

  1. you’d think they’d at least put up a Starbucks like the one at Westlake … or at least some kind of outdoor café or restaurant there

    1. I think the first question is – is it up to them? Can Sound Transit build a structure and then be a landlord? It’s not necessarily their choice, especially on UW property.

      1. Uh, Ben, try this question, **first** – which law firms get to decide which landlords get to profit from the public investment.

        Try this one second – who owns the Rainier Valley property all the nviros are so hot to see built as subsizided project housing?

  2. The UW is not likely to ever want to intensify use at Husky Stadium – they want a sightline to the mountain and parking.

    Beacon Hill uses a fairly small part of the total space enclosed in the walls – most of it will be returned to the owner (I think that one’s just been an easement). I agree on that station that working with the developer would have been preferable, but I don’t know that it could have been done on such a long schedule.

    Mount Baker has that plaza in front of the station (partly to connect it to the street), and it’s intended to be developed all around. A lot of that is UW land as well, and as far as I know, they aren’t interested in a master plan to allow for a good, cohesive set of developments.

    Note that in the one place where there isn’t a barrier (like the UW), at Capitol Hill, we’re seeing very small surface structures and a lot of engagement with the community on what to do with the space. Despite the public reaction to the last meetings being “they aren’t listening to us”, when talking to ST staff, they’re pretty enthusiastic about some of the great ideas presented.

    I would like to see more adjacent building incorporation like the transit tunnel has, but I don’t know there were significant opportunities to do so during Link construction. Much later, I think we’ll see buildings built around a few of the station structures (like capitol hill and mount baker), but it’ll take time before anyone wants to do that. Northgate might be an opportunity for a joint project.

    1. As a Cap. Hill Council member I have heard plenty of people supporting mixed use above the three Capitol Hill Light Rail entrances. Why can’t ST just sell the height rights and have someone build on top. I think this would be great for two out of three of these buildings and then maybe have one stand alone with a little public plaza.

      I also think the Capitol Hill station is the absolute perfect place for some height bonuses. The community is asking for a lot (Permanent Farmer’s Market home, Community Meeting space, improved pedestrian atmosphere, neighborhood character) and I think getting this would be much easier if we agreed to at least a very concentrated height addition for some of the TOD area. This station should really be a model for all other TOD opportunities for Sound Transit so I hope we can really make something amazing.

      1. I suspect that Nagle Place will end up being the farmers’ market home.

        Remember, for things like sidewalk width, that’s up to the city. Sound Transit cannot, by law, give up property for free when the federal government is expecting some repayment. The feds require highest and best use, which means the city codes have to force ST to do anything ST wants to do.

        So far, as far as I’ve heard, the city has been less than useful.

    2. I don’t see any reason why any of the tunnel stations should have an entrance that is a stand-along building, like we are getting at Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill. The station entrances to the downtown tunnel are the model to follow.

      1. If you don’t see the reason, ASK. I know I’ve asked before and found the answer satisfactory – Sound Transit doesn’t usually get to make the rules for land use.

  3. The Roosevelt Station is planned to have the airspace for most of it sold to developers. In the north entrance on the current QFC block, ST is only paying for stairs (a lot of them) and elevators up from the platform, with a possibility for a developer to build escalators as part of a development. (
    This makes it look like they will actually allow developers to envelope the south entrance with development like with the downtown stations. I hope this happens.
    Looks like that won’t happen with the Brooklyn Station, but area will be available for development right around the station.

    1. And the second image here makes it look like they will replace the Park & Ride at Northgate TC with TOD that would have a direct connection to the station.

      1. What will happen to the parking spaces? First they get rid of the lot next to Northgate North, then they get rid of this lot? I know they want to encourage TOD, but I know there are some commenters who Want To Know…

      2. Well they just opened up a bunch of P&R spaces in the Northgate Mall garage and at Thornton Creek, and I imagine the TOD there would have some P&R space. But hopefully there will be minimal parking. I just saw the plan for 1200 Stewart, which will be a 35-story building with 338 condos and 26 hotel rooms and will include a whopping 915 parking spaces on 8 below-grade levels. This is insane, especially for a building so close to downtown with so much transit access.

      3. Actually if any link station should have a ton of parking it should be Northgate. I realize parking structures suck, but the P&R at Northgate is already heavily used and Link will just draw that many more people. I’d really rather intercept those Southbound motorists at Northgate than have them try to bring their cars further into the city.

        Given that Northgate is mostly surface lots there is a lot of potential for TOD while increasing the number of parking spaces.

        As for projects like 1200 Stewart, I think it is long past time the city impose parking MAXIMUMS in certain areas like Downtown, Belltown, SLU, Lower Queen Anne, First Hill, Capitol Hill, and the U District.

  4. Well, theres the option of not building the station and bypassing that entire area. Save about $400 million in construction costs.

    Most people have no idea how much of a real political beast the UW is with the Link. They’ll laugh, spit in ST’s face, and ask for even more money if ST even mentions TOD on their property.

    1. My point is that the University should do it.

      I agree that UW has been a terrible citizen about the whole project.

      1. It’s unfortunately not a new problem. I’ve lived in the U-District for 5 years now, and the more I learn about the UW from outside and inside the more I think no one is making decisions for UW holistically. The president is more or less a fundraiser and figurehead. The provost is an operations manager. Each school and dept head thinks of its own interests and assumes that someone else will take care of the quality of life details.

        This is one reason I’ve become more interested in moving to SLU where UW has only a few buildings and where I already work part of the time. (Also, for all the talk of all Paul Allen’s Vulcan property it’s fairly dispersed and actually only around 30% of the private property in SLU–less when you consider all the public land including three parks.)

  5. There are two very good reasons intensive development should never happen right above the station at UW-Montlake.

    First, it isn’t needed. 50,000 people a day use the U of W campus. To the immediate west of the the Montlake Bridge you have the Health Sciences complex, with numerous clinics and labs. If this station isn’t continuously crowded and the trains don’t leave packed with passengers, it won’t be because of what’s happening around the station.

    Secondly, what others here are referring to as the Mount Rainier view is one of the few fine architectural vistas in the city. Now 100 years old, this vista has been preserved by the U of W through thick and thin, no small task for an institution of such a rapacious nature. It is, in a sense, one of the perceptual foundations upon which the civitas is erected.

    Having been a U of W student, I had to laugh at Martin’s idea that the Husky Stadium was an unintensive use. If so, it certainly was the only one on the campus. Every other place was packed to overflowing with students and staff.

    1. I’ve been a UW student too. 6 or 7 days a year does not amount to an intensive use, no matter how many people come there.

      1. The Husky Station is a good one – sure, Football games are rare, but they are also folks that would not otherwise ride the system and who are paying a fair chunk.

        Sure, it’s a bit of a walk to campus, but expanding that useful radius of a station with young students would be a good thing, no?

      2. They’d still use the system if the Huskies played at Qwest Field. No one is arguing that the UW stop shouldn’t exist.

      3. The Huskies will never play at Quest Field (other than for short periods during construction).

      4. Ah, come on. It’s not just Husky Stadium On the sports side it’s Husky Stadium plus Hec Ed plus the IAC plus the WAC plus everything else. Then you have access to the UW Med Center (huge) plus the whole south east part of campus (huge again). And all that is just within a quarter mile of the station — and a quarter mile just isn’t that far.

        Thinking of this station as “stadium access for football” is just totally wrong.

        Per TOD, it will never happen at that site — it isn’t needed and it is the wrong setting for it anyhow.

      5. The whole south east part of campus includes at lot of the engineering departments: Material Science & Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Computer Science & Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Aerospace, all of these within a 5-minute walk of the station. Add two minutes and you’re at the HUB.

        It’s not any farther than getting off the bus in front of the medical center.

      6. They could have moved the station farther north to the site of the (former?) nuclear reactor building which would better serve the east side of campus, but then it would be further from the UW Med Center so ridership probably wouldn’t be that much different.

        However, I suspect the UW prefers the stadium location for two other reasons:

        1) It helps them with their PR problem with the Montlake neighborhood over event day traffic and parking, and

        2) although it isn’t supposed to do this, it does make it just a wee bit more difficult for Frank Chop and WSDOT to put that massive SR520 interchange right next to the stadium.

      7. It gets really complicated if you put it there.

        That’s right in the front yard of the Civil, Mechanical, and CSE/EE buildings. The physical plant is also nearby with underground utilities. The site is also a large slope which means more excavation on the north part unless you move to a mined station vs cut-and-cover. During construction the staging area will need be larger than the station footprint, taking up more space.

        I’m sure the civil engineering students would love to have some hands on experience right in their front yard!

      8. I agree, that site could get more complicated and expensive. Sites further to the east (closer to the road and/or parking lot E1) would have lower costs, but then you are further from the heart of campus again.

        Bottom line — the current site is pretty good, they just need to improve the station design somewhat.

      9. Once again, no one is saying UW is a bad station. The point is the station’s immediate surroundings (except the hospital) are not its highest, best use. In particular, the parking lot and Husky Stadium itself are terrible.

  6. Huh? I think UW administration has some wacky ideas about land use and architecture, but how is a top-tier research university and major hospital not an “intensive use”? There are tens of thousands of students and jobs!

    (By the way, I recently got a survey about how ways UW could reduce its climate impact, and one of the ideas was to work for closer staff and faculty housing. That could be done well, though admittedly UW is not likely to know how.)

    1. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a station there, I’m saying the overall utilization of the station’s immediate surroundings is poor. To the Southwest, you have UWMC, which is awesome. To the East, you have some athletic fields, which draw big crowds maybe 7 times a year (30 if you call Hec Ed “big”). To the NW, you have to walk 1/4 mile before you even get to buildings!

      Ridership will be huge, but it could be even better.

      1. I believe the initial station location for a station with the Montlake crossing alignment would have been in lower Rainier Vista between Stevens Way and Pacific. This would have been much closer to the center of campus. However the UW said “NO” because of concern about passing trains interfering with science labs as well as not wanting ST to muck about with Rainier Vista. Thus the station location near the Stadium.

        The original alignment would have put a station at Pacific and NE 15th as well as 45th NE and NE 15th. Believe it or not the ridership is actually better with a station at the stadium than with one near the Physics building. I think the current alignment has the second best ridership after those with a station at Rainier Vista. I also like having a station at the UW tower instead of the Burke Museum parking lot.

      2. The science labs thing is kind of a big deal. I work at the UW in chemistry and we did a whole bunch of vibration testing before the station location was decided on. As nice as it would be to have the station closer, the impact of not being able to use equipment because of the vibrations would be huge. And I suspect the physics and engineering departments have instruments that are even more sensitive than ours.

        And for downtown trips, most students that live on campus will walk across from their dorms on the west side of campus all the way to the Ave or Campus parkway to catch the bus. So walking down towards the stadium will be closer. We really do need a walkway over the street from the station to the medcenter. It’s proposed in the current plan for Rainer Vista as a possibility and needs to become more definite. As for having the Huskies play at Qwest Field and using the land that the stadium occupies for something else? I’d be happy with that, but I’m a grad student and we’re notorious for our apathy about school spirit, sports and the like!

  7. You know, on further reflection on this issue, I don’t think the UW/Husky Stadium station looks that good. With this year being the anniversary of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exhibition, I think a station design that reflects some of the architectural history of that era (i.e, made of brick) would have been more apropos. Witness the clash between the styles of the Suzzalo Library and the more modern library close to it and you can see a similar sort of clash of styles with this new UW station. I am not saying it should be like the Suzzalo Library but maybe a building that captures something of the buildings surrounding the Quad complete with cherry blossoms could work well.

    These grumblings apart, it is a station and I am sure it will as a part interim, part permanent UW stop until such time as most people destined for the main campus presumably migrate to the future stop on 45th. Maybe that stop will be more architectural compatible with the best of the UW buildings and not the worst.

  8. The Beacon Hill Station looks more isolated than it will eventually be, hopefully, because it’s nearly surrounded by staging sites that are not owned by Sound Transit, and will revert to their owners.

    Unfortunately, we’ve heard of no plans for development on those lots, and folks up here are currently worried that they will just be empty lots surrounded by chain link fence for years to come. Let’s hope that the promised development around the light rail line comes to those lots quickly.

    (To the north of the station, however, will be plaza space, a “festival street”, that people are hoping will be a good place for a farmers’ market or something similar.) And El Centro de la Raza is planning some development there too.

    Incidentally, we just noticed yesterday that the doctors’ office parking lot on Beacon a block south of the station site has suddenly become a Diamond lot. No more free parking. I wonder if any other pay parking lots have suddenly appeared in the area to be ready for the light rail.

  9. The Rainier Plaza lot in Columbia City also became a Diamond Lot earlier this year. HAL bought the property with plans to develop it but these appear to be on hold for the time being as are Harbor Properties plans for the St Globain factory across the street from Tutta Bella.

    As regards development plans at Mt. Baker station there is no unified plan or vision. The city is working on an update to neighborhood plans but it is not really clear what these will accomplish.

    It seems as though the only vision the city has for the light rail stations in the valley is to concentrate low income housing and social services around them. Not sure this will help anyone. It really flies in the face of good urban planning which would strive to achieve a balance among incomes along with creating sustainable jobs with good wages.

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