Richard Conlin
Richard Conlin

Dominic Holden of The Stranger interviewed likely Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin, christening him the “new mayor” while the titular mayor gets situated.  He didn’t waste any time before pandering to the STB crowd:

• Building Light Rail to West Seattle and a Streetcar to Ballard

“I would like to see us extend the South Lake Union Streetcar over to Fremont and over to Ballard,” Conlin said. He envisions using the same sort of traffic-signal preemption light rail uses on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South to allow a streetcar to move quickly through traffic. But that’s only a stopgap until we can afford to build a Ballard-bound light-rail line, he said. In the meantime, Conlin thinks the city can build a light-rail line to West Seattle within a few years. “I think that that one is relatively easy from a logistic standpoint,” he said. “We have to come up with the money, but I don’t think it’s terribly expensive.” A member of the finance committee of Sound Transit, Conlin thinks the voters would approve “a financing plan that makes sense” to pay for the project. He proposes a small utility hike, buy-in from businesses closest to the line, and other tax increases.

Yowza.  This isn’t exactly the McGinn vision, but it would certainly appear that the chances of this kind of thing actually happening just went way up.

There’s a lot more about the tunnel and the 520 bridge, which you should click over and read.

79 Replies to “Conlin: Rail to West Seattle, Fremont, Ballard – Soon”

  1. In a few year?! WOW! Now THATS the vision Seattle needs. I really need to graduate from college and get to work on the new WLink!

  2. So glad we re-elected this guy! I definitely think a streetcar line to Fremont-Ballard is a great idea. Light rail will connect Ballard with very different neighborhoods.

    1. What’s the status of the Ballard commuter rail station? As I recall it was dropped from the ST1 proposal for equity balancing reasons – Seattle put its share of regional funds into light rail and north bound Commuter rail is largely funded from Snohomish County revenues.

      IIRC, the location outside of the core business district was an issue – much like in Bellevue. However that is an issue that is resolvable – with light rail Links!

  3. So is anyone else on the council other than O’Brien likely to be a strong supporter of a McGinn or Conlin rail plan?

    1. Don’t have the source, but I recall Bagshaw making some promising comments awhile back (insofar as new members go).

    2. Most everyone else is pretty progressive and are probably, in one way or another, going to be pretty receptive to the idea. I think O’Brien will come out in strong support of it.

      1. Well there is Licata. He’s no Kemper Freeman but he might think there are better places for the city to spend money.

        But I’m mostly thinking in terms of strong supporters like O’Brien (and I’d guess Clark)

      2. Licata is a constructive critic, and usually spot on when he disagrees – he is somebody to get to know, and involve early on in the project, if you can. If he signs on the likelihood of a long term success goes up a lot, if you choose to just go with the bully technique of pushing something stupid through you will likely go down, hopefully sooner rather than later like what happened with the monorail.

      3. No, he’s a pain in the ass. Did you watch the video from the streetcar agreement? He would not stop harping on trolley buses when that was decided BEFORE the ST2 vote.

      4. Licata could have been a help if he’d actually been a critic of the monorail project. As I recall he was probably the last true believer on the City council.

    3. Drago is pretty much viewed as the mother of the streetcar. Don’t know about Burgess, Harrell, and Rasmussen. Licata would be against, I imagine.

      1. Drago is retiring. I’m mostly trying to figure out where Burgess, Harrell, Rasmussen, and Godden fall on the receptive to strong supporter scale.

      2. Lightning: You may have received that impression because I have reviewed the comparative costs and question why we would spend approximately $30-45 million a mile to extend a street car line versus $7-$8 million to extend electric trolley bus lines.

        I strongly support commuter rail, intercity rail and high speed rail but with all the modes of transit now in Seattle I question the wisdom of expanding the streetcar lines or creating new ones when we could get so much more through investments in the current electri trolley bus line system.


    4. O’Brien is great on density, but not so much on rail. At least that’s the definite impression I got from the meetup.

      1. O’Brien is a huge supporter of light rail. Yes, he worked to improve ST2, but he also worked full-time to pass it last year.

      2. I handed out a lot of his fliers. One of his bullet points was building light rail on the west side.

  4. I support this. :)

    It makes sense to extend the existing streetcar line, and there’s not even that much traffic on Westlake (compared to Eastlake). You could also avoid some bridge delays if the “Fremont” stop could be on the south side of the Fremont Bridge.

  5. Doesn’t makes sense to build streetcar to Ballard as a stop-gap for eventual light rail to Ballard.

    Better to put those SC resources into light rail from the get-go. Build the West Seattle leg as first phase, Ballard as second phase.

    Huge challenge, however, is getting such a line through downtown, since the Link light rail corridor won’t have capacity to absorb such a new line.

    1. Transit Guy,

      I suspect LR to Ballard will go through Interbay, so the streetcar would actually serve a different corridor.

    2. The capacity of the light rail corridor downtown will go up when buses are removed. I am not aware of the specifics of that phasing in regards to the East and North links, but it will happen someday. Postponing deep bore design finalization till after the light rail plan is complete would be appropriate.

      Corridor improvements can be phased, doing so smartly is important. Consider MLK and what might’ve preceded the current configuration – personally, I think BRT designed to an expanded ROW with controlled access stations makes sense. All of the specific details of such a capital phasing plan are complicated, however expecting same from the well paid and now experienced Sound Transit design staff is totally appropriate.

      Construction of MLK style corridors should be able to be done assembly line style at this point of experience for the agency.

      Ballard to UW to 520 **might** be a more preferable initial routing. I always envisioned a Fremont surface bypass under the Bridge by Adobe, it might be too narrow to do that now. Anybody know?

      1. The light rail corridor downtown will be full of ST2 trains. The buses aren’t even in consideration there – there is no way to add another line to the tunnel.

  6. Actually, the streetcar lines along Westlake were to the east side of Westlake in their own right-of-way. It’s now parking.

    1. The city made a huge mistake when redoing that stretch of Westlake Ave. in missing the opportunity to make a separated bicycle facility. Westlake is the level connection to Fremont and the right of way there is gigantic. All we built is a sidewalk with a bunch of tight consecutive right-angle blind turns concealed by foliage. The planning seemed to assume bicycles don’t exist.

      Perhaps if a streetcar is routed there we can use that opportunity to address bicycling needs as well.

      You can still see an old streetcar shelter at the south side of the Fremont Bridge.

      1. Every time I bike through there I just go through the parking lot. Traffic always goes pretty slowly through there, and it’s continuous all the way from the bridge to Lake Union Park.

  7. When South Lake Union Streetcar is extended to Fremont and Ballard they should drop the word south from its name and just call it the Lake Union Streetcar, because it won’t be limited to serving just the south part of the lake anymore.

    I amaze myself.

    1. Look at the back of a Metro bus transfer. It says “This transfer entitles you to transfer to other Metro buses and the Lake Union Streetcar, …”

      For real.

  8. This plan sounds great! The new West Seattle-Ballard line will almost definitely not serve Fremont so the streetcar will be good for that. The only thing is, where would the West Seattle-only Link line go downtown? I hope they would build a tunnel. A tunnel from Westlake to the Stadiums mostly along Second would be about a mile long, so it wouldn’t be too expensive. Hm maybe you could integrate the interim terminus station at Westlake into a new development on the other half of the Macy’s Parking Garage block. The other expensive thing would be the West Seattle light rail bridge. You could do this line I think for between $1b and 1.5b.

    1. Maybe a Downtown-West Seattle line could branch off of Central Link just south of the Sodo/Lander St. station? Trains could run from Northgate to Downtown about every two minutes in the peak periods with service to Bellevue, SeaTac, and West Seattle about every six minutes from Downtown. A future ST package could pay for the new downtown tunnel and extension to Ballard.

      Before spending the $$$ on a new bridge over the Duwamish I’d want to see if LRT could run on the existing bridge like the monorail planned to do.

      1. A connection for a West Seattle line (and express service along Airport Way for trains from Tacoma and far south King County) is already in place at the maintenance facility. There is a running track that completely encircles the yard which could have turnouts at the south end to pass West Seattle and express trains in and out of the loop in the proper direction.

      2. It might be possible if the City is willing to remove some auto lanes on the bridge. Otherwise a new rail-only bridge would be probably around $300 million. I’m not sure what a submerged tube crossing would cost but it might be worth it if it could be done for around the same price.

      3. I’d like to see a 5th Avenue tunnel studied as well. It would provide a convienient transfer at Westlake and International district and could have a station at Columbia serving the Columbia Center, Municipal Tower, 5th Avenue Plaza, and whatever gets built at the church site.

      4. Paul,

        I think that’s the most obvious way to do things. If I’m doing this correctly there is enough room for West Seattle trains, but not for Ballard trains, because the constraint is how many trains come out the North end of the DSTT.

  9. Assuming the numbers pencil out unlike the monorail, a West Seattle light rail line would be most welcome here, especially since we’re losing egress to and from downtown via Hwy 99 with the tunnel. Hopefully the line will connect with the north and south running lines.

    1. West Seattle is likely to be a good start for real LRT, with the streetcar going to Ballard for now. Then Sound Transit could either expand the West Seattle-Downtown line to Ballard, or they could build Ballard-UW.

  10. Glad to hear talk again of extending the streetcar. People love to complain that it goes nowhere, but it has so much potential if it would just be extended. Build it to the U-District, build it to Fremont/Ballard. Even just turning down Stewart to the Market would be an improvement. You could even turn it down First Ave after that, onto the southern half of the central line plan.

    1. The Westlake Hub plan shows it continuing down Stewart and Olive (remember that the block between 4th and 5th is one way, so it would go on either side of the Times Square building).

      That’s a matter of building the Central Streetcar.

  11. I just hope there is some way to save the Waterfront Line. Sure, a new barn has to be built, and there is an even longer wait with the viaduct replacement, but I am confident that someone, if not Conlin, will make these future accommodations. I mean, there is a long, steep hill from First to Alaskan Way, and some senior citizens can’t even climb it.

    Anyway, back on topic, I think that extending the streetcar to Ballard is great, but wouldn’t they have to rebuild the Fremont Bridge to accommodate the rails?

    1. Yeah we need to get that back… maybe once the economy recovers the developer of that apartment project with the barn on the ground floor will restart the project?

    2. The fact that the First Hill line will need a barn holds out some hope it will be built with enough room for cars for a waterfront line (either the Melbourne cars or modern trams).

      As for the Fremont bridge I’m not sure how much rebuilding it would require. It was a major streetcar crossing back in the day, but it hasn’t had rails on it in 70 years, modern streetcars are bigger and heavier than the old ones, and modern trucks and buses are also heavier. Presumably this is one of those things that will come out of any study.

    3. Fremont has the lowest bridge span, so the most frequent openings. A streetcar on a drawbridge would be just barely acceptable nowadays. If we did that, we’d definitely need Ballard light rail too.

  12. A few thoughts:

    – I wonder if continuing the streetcar along Fremont N to the zoo, then over to the Greenwood corridor would make more sense. There’s little ridership between Fremont and Ballard on Leary Way, and much of the area is still light industrial. Phinney/Greenwood on the otherhand has a stronger base of existing passengers. I say this as someone who previously rode the #28 downtown from Ballard on a regular basis.

    – The Fremont bridge is currently a huge bottleneck and traffic on Westlake has bad backups approaching the bridge. I think you have to address that situation before trying to add streetcars to the mix. Would it be possible to run the streetcars on the North side of Westlake as it approaches the bridge, so that they aren’t impacted as much?

    – Light rail to the westside is important, but it needs to be at a light-metro grade rather than on the cheap (i.e. using surface alignments in downtown and Belltown). At-grade aligments make sense in some areas (15th ave through Interbay, SODO, etc.) but in other areas it will need to be grade-separated (Downtown, Belltown, W. Seattle Jct, across the Ship Canal) and I think the line will accordingly be very expensive.

    – It’s increasingly clear that a second tunnel through downtown will be needed after ST2. I would prefer a tunnel under 2nd or 4th Ave with the same stops as the existing tunnel. The two tunnels could have pedestrian connections underground at each station, effectively acting as one corridor as far as pedestrians are concerned. However, I think if we’re adding rail on 520 and I-90, part of the eastside’s pot of money should contribute to these tunnels rather than putting only Seattle’s subarea on the hook.

    1. A streetcar to Fremont makes sense, but I’m not sure about a Ballard extension right now. It’s hard to imagine people taking the streetcar from Ballard all the way downtown. There’s a reason the 15/18 have higher ridership than the 17 — Interbay is a faster way to get downtown (and so should be the light rail corridor eventually).

      Also, I wonder if the Fremont streetcar could go up Dexter (where most of the housing is), letting the 26/28 take Aurora to get downtown.

      1. Let’s do Fremont, then find out via ORCA transfers where the ridership is coming from. :)

      2. Despite living in ballard myself, I have to agree that the first priority should be to get to fremont. In and of itself, this would likely increase bicycle ridership significantly from Ballard since people could take the Burke Gilman to Fremont and hop on the streetcar to downtown.

        It can be decided later where to go from there: Wallingford? Greenwood/Phinney? Ballard along 8th avenue, bringing back the last of the old streetcar lines?

        The main point of a streetcar is to connect residents with jobs and activities, so a line along fremont avenue N to Phinney and Greenwood would probably be the best choice since this is a fairly high-density corridor with a wide range of businesses and as well as a great park and access to green lake.

    2. Fremont – Greenwood is a good idea. Greenwood is a dense area that’s in a rapid transit hole between Ballard and Aurora. And it could go east or west on 85th, or continue to Shoreline CC.

  13. This is something I have been wondering for a while, and I guess this thread is as good a place as any.

    Why so much focus on Light Rail over Streetcars? Is it b/c of the size of the city? Would it just be too much? Besides visiting cities like Boston, NYC and London, which was only for a few days, my only real experience with public transit was when I lived in Heidelberg Germany. I used the Strassenbahn everyday, and they worked quite well for getting around the city. When I moved to Seattle I was surprised at first by the lack of anything but buses, and then secondly that all the focus seemed to be on Light Rail, with very little on Streetcars.

    1. It’s just terminology. When we say ‘light rail’, we mean partial grade separation.

      Remember that Tacoma Link is ‘light rail’, but it’s no different than the streetcar you rode in Heidelberg.

    2. Have you ridden the SLUT? It stops at every light, has stops every two blocks, and you can walk to your destination while you’re waiting for the next one. We already have things that do this; they’re called buses. An effective streetcar needs at least partial grade separation or signal control. The MLK portion of Link, or the hillside extent on SF’s Church Street line, or some of the streetcars in Moscow, are examples.

      Some here thing we need to replace buses with streetcars to cope with the rising price of gas. I agree with that in the long term, but you need faster trunk lines for the streetcars to feed into.

      1. Thanks guys, but I guess I am still a bit confused.

        So basically the difference between Light Rail and Streetcars is that Light Rail is above/below street level or at least right of way, whereas a Streetcar is little more than a bus on tracks?

      2. It’s confusing because “light rail” is a really broad term that can sometimes be used to include streetcars. Generally, I think that the term “streetcar” is used to designate vehicles small enough that it can run mixed in traffic. Though it doesn’t always need to; for instance the Waterfront Streetcar had mostly its own right-of-way. But the Waterfront Streetcar clearly could run in traffic, as does the South Lake Union Streetcar. But Link Light Rail, while it crosses the street at some places, always has its own right-of-way and couldn’t really be integrated with traffic.

      3. Actually you can run modern large LRV’s in mixed traffic and many places in the world do. The two biggest issues are the somewhat larger turning radius and limits to how many cars you can string together (typically no more than 2 in street-running).

    3. Responding to Ben’s comment, “streetcars”, “light rail”, and “light metro” all merge into each other. Streetcars and light rail are the same except that light rail cars are bigger. (Technical details like rail gauge and voltage need not concern us.) The main difference is how the tracks are laid.

      Streetcars traditionally run in regular streets, with a few short bypasses where feasable, and sometimes a tunnel downtown. Light rail has exclusive lanes at a minimum, although it may share intersections. Light metro is a style of light rail routing that minimizes shared intersections and spreads stations farther apart, to make it more like a fast subway. Link is light metro.

      Also, don’t forget trolleybuses. :) They’re one advantage Seattle has over most American cities. They are trackless streetcars, and more or less follow the former streetcar routes.

      1. ^Also the wiki for Central Link and Link Light Rail have it listed as “Transit type Light rail”

        Don’t know if it is an important distinction or not, but the more accurate the information (and alot of people hit Wiki up first) about the system the better, no?

      2. Awhile back there was a debate in the STB comments over whether Link was “light metro” or “pre-light metro.” I come out on the latter side.

      3. Link is not a light metro just yet. Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Canada Line would be a light metro. They are completely grade-separated and run very frequently.

      4. U-Link/North Link are going to be very light-metro like. 100% grade separation and very frequent service during peak.

  14. Rather than spend the money on a street car to Ballard, the county and the city should spend some of the money on a Sounder station in Ballard with connecting express bus service to UW with stops at intersecting N-S bus routes. This, along with a Broad Street stop (reactivate the Waterfront Trolley) would basically complete the north Sounder picture in the Seattle area. And we could get service in year or so, instead of next century.

    Forget the water taxi from Ballard to downtown. It would be a poor duplication of an upgraded Sounder.

    1. Frankly, I don’t think it’s worth it to spend millions of dollars on a station that will see trains 4x in the morning and 4x in the evening. The station would practically be near Golden Gardens which has very little population density and light transit demand today. Then, unless there’s a Broad Street stop (with some sort of connector to downtown), you end up all the way at King Street Station and need to find a way back North into the core. The limited frequency and distance from population centers would make Sounder a very unappealing choice compared to the existing and proposed bus service, in my opinion.

  15. I would love the light-rail to expand all over Seattle… but it has to be underground. Sound Transit made a horrible decision in having the light-rail placed in the middle of the congested MLK Way. Seattle has a high population-density, therefore it deserves an underground subway.

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