Photo by citywalker
Photo by citywalker

Two tidbits from the June 17 Regional Transit Committee meeting, on which I’ll file a more full report later.  Go to 1:45:00 in the video to follow along at home:

  • When the Columbia and Seneca St. viaduct offramps are torn down with the rest of the viaduct in 2015-2016, the planned route for West Seattle RapidRide (and indeed, most buses from West Seattle) will follow SR99 until it reaches a new King St. offramp.  From there, buses will make their way to the 3rd Avenue “transit spine” by using some combination of Main and Washington Streets.  The city will upgrade the route with various transit enhancements, possibly signal priority, a transit lane, or queue jumps.
  • West Seattle RapidRide (the “C” Line) has long been scheduled for a September 2011 opening.  Now that tunneling details have emerged, Metro staff is concerned that opening the line then — when both SR99 and 1st Ave S are hosed  — would really harm the RapidRide brand by not at all being rapid.  While all the additional service hours would still appear on schedule, the branded elements of RapidRide (special paint jobs, fancy shelters, some off-board payment, arrival boards) may be delayed until 2012, when the Ballard line happens to be opening.

View the RapidRide C project page here.  An earlier reaction to the RapidRide project is here.

50 Replies to “Viaduct and RapidRide Update”

    1. Well, its a bus…and buses are usually in my experience not rapid.

      1. A bus which competes with cars can’t be rapid. It’s not the vehicle that makes the trip rapid, it’s having a dedicated right-of-way, many doors for fast easy exit, pre-pay boarding so that boarding is also fast, and minimum number of stops.

        After that, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a train running on steel tracks, elevated tracks, buses on tires, monorails on tires, or PRT.

        This isn’t rocket science.

      2. Link will have fast, easy exits, pre-pay boarding, and a minimum number of stops. Is Link “rapid?” Last I checked, it’s going to take 4 minutes longer to get to the airport than the 194.

      3. Sam, your monomaniacal focus on those 4 minutes of schedule difference is getting tiresome. Try another comparison, let’s say the 42 today vs Link in 3 weeks from now, between Westlake Center and Othello – I think you’ll see some time savings. And, as has been written here so many times, there are many trips on the 194 where the scheduled time and the actual travel time are vastly different. This will be less of an issue with Link – you’ll see starting 20 July.

      4. LINK vs the 194… it’s the number of stops. And LINK’s right-of-way is interrupted on MLK with the street crossings which prevent it from accelerating to it;s 55mph cruising speed between stops. It’s why LINK should have been either in a cut/cover tunnel or elevated on MLK.

        Sodo busway… SeaTac.

        It’s why an express bus beats Light rail if it has an HOV lane.

      5. Sure but it’s not faster if you are trying to get to the airport from anywhere in the Rainier Valley or Beacon Hill. The time spent getting to downtown wipes out any time savings.

        When Link is extended north, nobody is going get off the train and wait for a bus for 8-30 minutes to save 4 minutes.

      6. Ok, but when I see the 194 (rush hour evening) it looks full to me. So there must be some number of people…60+ who do not want to go to the Rainier Valley but instead are heading to the airport and points South.

        In the greater scheme of things, LINK can’t be both a regional rail backbone and a local line. Those two things are incompatible, either it stops everywhere and is slow, or it stops infrequently and is fast, but then you have to have an alternative mode to get to the station. What we have on MLK is schizophrenic, it’s neither fast nor stops close enough.

        We could have improved the speed/time of travel if we had given LINK a dedicated right-of-way which allowed it to run at full speed.

      7. Where would you have cut ST’s budget to grade-separate the Rainier Valley?

        Or, where are you finding the regional funds to build a separate express system, aside from Sounder?

        We had a chance to build a fully grade-separated, mostly federally funded system in 1968 and 1970, and we blew it. Sound Move was the best proposal on the table, and if we hadn’t taken it we’d be nowhere, not magically in possession of whatever the system of your dreams is.

      8. I wouldn’t have built the MLK route. I’d have skipped the Beacon hill tunnel and gone straight South to SouthCenter, then hooked over to the airport.

        We had a chance to build a fully grade separated city financed system from Ballard to West Seattle and blew that too. So what is your point about missed opportunities? Atlanta got Marta and they still have some of the worst traffic, congestion, sprawl in the USA.

      9. Even if there were no stops on MLK and Link could travel at 55mph, the trip to the airport would only be shortened by about 3 minutes. Big deal. I really don’t see how running on MLK has ruined the whole system as some people on here are so intent on believing. What good would Link be if it just went from the airport or Southcenter to downtown as quickly as possible without serving anybody in between? I suppose it would be great for the handful of people who want an express train to the airport all for themselves, but that’s not really the point of a mass transit system. I don’t see why people are so fixated on the travel time to the airport. If that couple of minutes is so valuable to you then you can probably afford to take a taxi to the airport. Besides, with Link running at two to four times the frequency of the 194 your trip will be shorter overall. And no waiting for five minutes to get off the bus at the airport.

      10. The issue with MLK is that it’s not grade separated. And in order to go down MLK, we had to tunnel Beacon hill, and the cost of the tunnel prevented the tracks from being elevated.

        And LINK is supposed to be a regional transit system, that’s why it’s funded via three counties tax and not just a city wide trolley system.

        And without grade separation, we add time to trips, and the projected 29 crashes a year which add even more time and jug the system up.

        And without grade separation, we cannot automate the system and remove the extra labor costs.

        Without grade separation the cars have to be reinforced to withstand side impacts from autos/trucks etc, so the vehicles weigh more, so the track and supports have to be larger. The more the mass, the more the cost of the track if you elevate it. And since we are on glacial till, tunneling is dang expensive even for cut and cover (the sides keep wanting to fall in…)

        The more a system costs both in operating costs and materials to build it, the less of it we get. There’s your ridership crash number. And that’s why MLK was the wrong way to go.

      11. I thought that it was the Rainier Valley residents who didn’t want the line elevated

      12. The more important question is:

        What would you have cut from South King to pay for the line to go to Southcenter and the airport? You can’t use the savings of not tunneling through Beacon Hill and having an alignment along MLK (surface, elevated or underground) could not be used to build to Southcenter because of the subarea equity rules. So what in South King would you suggest not have been built?

      13. Was it ever considered to stay on SR900 MLK to Rainier and follow the proposed East Link connection to downtown. That would have eliminated the expense of the Beacon Hill tunnel and the additional expense the north sub-area funds are required to contribute to East Link. I’m guessing it would have generated more initial ridership than Beacon Hill.

      14. You’re a little late to the party Gary, these decisions were made years ago. MLK was never going to be grade-separated, period. The small benefit does not justify the huge additional expense. The central Link line itself is not a “regional transportation system,” it is part of a regional transportation system that includes commuter rail and express buses and eventually a region-wide light rail system. Central Link was paid for with King County money, not money from Pierce or Snohomish, because ST is legally bound to spend money where it is raised.

        And when has there ever been talk of automating the system? If ST wanted an automated system it would have been built that way from the beginning.

      15. Gary,
        Gordon’s right, Rainier Valley residents didn’t want an elevated line in their neghborhood which had as much to do with killing the notion as cost did.

        Mind you, with the exception of Skytrain and the Las Vegas Monorail there hasn’t been a fully grade separated automated transit system built in North America since Calgary built their light rail line. Of the 20+ systems built since then, few have had much in the way of grade separation and most have had significant portions at-grade. Seattle is much more grade separated than most systems except Edmonton and St. Louis which have similar amounts of grade separation as Link.

        Sure Link could have bypassed Rainier Valley and MLK but any cost savings would have been offset by the loss of federal funding. Sure Link may be slower than a car or even a bus between certain orgin and destination pairs but link takes the same amount of time every time and Link runs more often than most buses.

        As for bypassing Rainier Valley and MLKm

      16. I think Link should be grade-separated in Rainier Valley in the future. But for now it’s great; the at-grade section on MLK is the best at-grade light rail I’ve ever seen. And it is in no way a “local line.” It only stops every mile. If it were a streetcar it would be stopping every couple blocks. I can’t wait for the 18th!

      17. Small correction – Calgary is *not* automated – it is a combination of at-grade and elevated light rail, operated by a human driver.

      18. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply Calgary was either automated or entirely grade separated. I was mentioning it because it was the first modern (as opposed to legacy streetcar system upgraded with LRVs) light-rail system constructed in North America. Since Calgary built their line almost every new system built since then has been light-rail.

      19. You know funny thing, lots of critics are complaining how Link shouldn’t have been run through Rainier Valley and should have taken the most direct route from downtown to the airport. After all the people living in Rainier Valley already ride transit, besides many are poor, many are minorities, and the neighborhood has a reputation for crime.

        At the same time very few of those same people advocate bypassing Capitol Hill, The UW, U-District, or Roosevelt in order to get Link to Northgate as fast as possible. After all if the South line should primarily serve commuters by getting between the big P&R on the South end to downtown as quickly as possible shouldn’t the North line? Not to mention all those stops and the wide swing over to Montlake probably add several whole minutes to the travel time from Northgate!

        Sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it? Realize your arguments about MLK and Rainier Valley sound equally silly to anyone familiar with the area. Especially if they’ve ridden the transit serving the area.

      20. Sorry I don’t buy your racism argument here. The UW, Capital Hill and the U-district all have more jobs and people per sq mile than the Rainier valley.

      21. Gary,
        Yes the density in Capitol Hill and the U-District are higher than Beacon Hill or Rainier Valley, but Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley are higher density than anything along what a “straight shot” to either Southcenter or the Airport would be from the International Station.

        BTW I wasn’t saying your comments about Central Link routing had a tinge of racisim to them, but many of the complaints I’ve seen from others especially those on sites like the Times and PI do have more than a touch of racism to them.

        FWIW the routes serving Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley are by and large full and slow Link is needed just to upgrade the transit capacity in the area.

      22. “””In the greater scheme of things, LINK can’t be both a regional rail backbone and a local line. Those two things are incompatible”””

        Yes, and I wish more people saw the benefit of paired local/express lines like the NYC subway. But that is way beyond what people are willing to pay for here. A true express would stop in downtown Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and Bellevue, with no stops in between. This would allow people to get between any two points in the three-county area within 90 minutes. But neither Link nor Sounder nor ST Express is it. Link is more of a “limited” service: slower than an express but faster than a local (streetcar). Still, it’s a substantial benefit over what we had previously. The surface portion in MLK was a mistake but it’s not the end of the world. Imagine if it had gone on the surface all the way through downtown and in north Seattle, as most light rail systems do. Then it would be as slow as a bus. So Link isn’t perfect but it’s reasonably good.

  1. I’m looking forward to Rapid Ride. While some who are childish and dishonest will nitpick on the word “rapid,” those of us who are big-picture transportation experts will see its vital role in a healthy, regional, multi-modal transportation system.

    1. Exactly. We need more high capacity transit in areas where we won’t get light rail. (At least not any time soon) Sure, we need to extend the transit-only lanes on 99 to make it really work. But that kind of effort is really worthwhile because once you dedicate that lane to transit, the idea of giving that lane to something like a streetcar which is more permanent transit infrastructure becomes a lot more feasible.

      It seems like there’s a lot of focus on flashy extras like the shelters and arrival boards, when the more important issue is getting these buses a dedicated lane. In a lot of places on the northern sections Aurora, you’d just loose the parking. And it’s not as though the retail there is terribly dense. There are a lot of parking lots for the customer base. As for the places where you’d loose an SOV lane, they’re planning on tolling the tunnel anyways, so that will probably cut down traffic enough to where it’d be fine. That at the spike in gas prices that will happen whenever the economy recovers.

      1. geekgirl,

        The “flashy extras”, along with additional service hours, are all that Transit Now is getting. It just happens to leverage existing municipal investments in BAT lanes, especially in Seattle.

        Where such lanes don’t exist, such as in Bellevue along the B line, or on the West Seattle Bridge, RapidRide will be stuck in traffic like anything else.

      2. – a brand that implies a minimum level of frequency, all day
        – some off-board payment
        – some electronic sign boards

    2. I want to nitpick that it’s RapidRide not Rapid Ride, which is a BRT service in Albuquerque.

      I want to see something like the 99 B-line (UBC to Broadway) in Vancouver. It doesn’t have any of those extras. They don’t have fancy wienermobiles, just a regular articulated bus with a different paint scheme. What they have is very frequent service (4.5 min base headway, 2 min peak) running in transit-only lanes during rush hour. Still, it’s so packed that they’re talking about replacing it with a rail line which is a good progression.

      1. “replacing it with a rail line” …Exactly!

        Now Vancouver has a lot of experience with elevated transit, so it would have a high probability of being replaced with similar equipment.


        Re: Weiner Mobiles:
        Nothing wrong with having a fancy bus, it’s not tied to the street and if it’s line is replaced with fixed rail of some sort, it can be moved to another location. I’m all for using paint to get the first part running, a dedicated lane using a basic bus run more frequently, then stepping it up with better shelters, and a longer specialized bus, then stepping up to an elevated or tunneled track line.

        As most fans of Light Rail on this list are fans of increasing the density of our cities, it’s a nice natural progression, and if the plan is outlined and carried out developers will build to it.

    3. Sam,

      Your first message seems to indicate that you have a problem with Link qualifying as “rapid transit” since it will take four minutes longer than the 194 to get to the airport.

      I don’t know if you make lots of trips between downtown and the airport, but even though Link is scheduled to take four minutes longer, Link will have a higher capacity and run more frequently (rapidly) than the bus.

      As others have mentioned, Link will also allow more people to get between many points long the line in less time than the 194 express bus.

      Right now it takes me about an hour to get between where I live and the airport, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. If I miss one bus, my trip to the airport will delayed by at least a half hour. Link will cut that trip by half. If I miss one train there will be another in 10 to 15 minutes during most of the day. Similarly, the time it takes me to get between home and downtown will be cut by about half.

      Next time you’re thinking about those four minutes just remember that at least they won’t be lost in I-5 traffic and that if you miss a train, the next one is likely not very far away.

      – Rob

      1. I agree, but I have to say, frequently and rapidly mean completely different things.

  2. Since I commute every day into Downtown from West Seattle, let me say that I think this routing is simply DUMB.

    Why run the buses along SR-99? How about we run them in the extended bus lane that will run from the West Seattle Bridge across the soon-to-be-widened Spokane Street Viaduct, and down the soon-to-be-constructed new exit lanes to Fourth Avenue? Then they could simply enter the existing E-3 Busway and run into the DSTT.

    This would provide rapid service and great connections to suburban buses, as well as Link.

    1. Probably getting the RapidRides into the tunnel wouldn’t work after University Link is done. However, I totally agree and think that’s a great idea – the Busway seems to connect to 3rd Avenue reasonably well.

      Also, what’s the origin of “E-3”? Don’t the I-90 Express Lanes have some sort of alphanumeric designation, too?

      1. From KC Metro’s news article Can you talk transit?
        In the mid 1990s, the state built a transit-only roadway along Fifth Avenue South between Royal Brougham Way and Spokane Street to help move buses more quickly between downtown Seattle and Interstate 5. There were multiple alternatives and options on the drawing board, and the one finally selected was Alternative E, Option 3. The “E3” designation stuck. Currently, the busway is being retrofitted for use by both buses and light rail. Sometimes you may hear it called the “SODO Busway.”

    2. How would route from downtown Seattle to West Seattle? I don’t believe there is a corresponding on-ramp in the expanded Spokane Street viaduct.

      1. Good point about the lack of an on-ramp… although you could simply run it to Lander and then turn westbound to 1st Avenue, and take the 1st Ave on-ramp up onto the Bridge. It’s a slightly longer trip out of Downtown, but I still think this routing is preferable for connections to suburban buses and Link.

        Sure the proposed routing on SR-99/King St. ramps still gets you to the existing route on Third Avenue with access down into the Tunnel stations, but I think the possibilities of traffic tie-ups are higher that way, even with a dedicated transit lane.

  3. It’s going to be interesting to see how well RapidRide works. I’m very familiar with the area that the A-Line will be operating in. North of Federal Way High School the speed limit becomes 45 and you can really fly, especially in the HOV lanes. Not everyone respects the high limit–you often get people going 35, and some people merge into the HOV lane too soon before their turn which can be an annoyance. As long as the TSP works, the system should be reliable because nearly everyone respects the HOV designation of the outside lanes, even during the occasional time when it becomes a parking lot in the other two lanes.

  4. Honestly, just about every route in Seattle should be a Rapid Ride route. Less stops, NextBus reader boards, off-board payment… This should be the standard.

    1. If only RapidRide had less stops and off-board payment… It stops practically the same amount as every other bus and they’ve cut out the off-board payment part of it. But for local bus routes I don’t think they should remove many stops. Instead they should make regional rapid transit (Link and maybe RapidRide) that would have few stops, with local buses taking people from the stations to their homes.

    2. I wouldn’t go so far as to say EVERY Seattle route should be Rapid Ride. Every high-ridership corridor should be looked at for possible BRT-like modification or conversion to a streetcar. Both should have similar station infrastructure (off-board payment and a sign showing the wait for the next bus/car), frequent service, signal priority and dedicated lanes where possible.

      1. That’s essentially what I said. Every bus line in the region should have all these features, not just a few special routes. These Rapid Ride routes, and most BRT routes around the country, are how European cities design all their bus lines.

      2. If you did that for every route in the region you’re looking at a lot of money just to put in off-board payment and electronic next bus signs. Think about what it would take to do this for every stop even if you pruned the stops down some. There is no way every route can support 10-15 minute headways all day either or that every route could be given dedicated bus lanes.

        For that matter Rapid Ride doesn’t really seem to have all of the features I listed either.

      3. The more expensive petrol gets, the less we’ll be driving, and the greater the demand will be for transit. By that time (not too many years down the road) most in-city routes WILL be able to support every 10-20 minute service. It is not a matter of “If” only a matter of “When”. We (should) prepare for earthquakes, we ought to be preparing for sudden increased in transit demand (by 2020 at the latest) as well.

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