The ST UW Station Plan (Sound Transit)
The ST UW Station Plan (Sound Transit) - not the one Ben is talking about

Last night I attended the University Link open house at the Museum of History and Industry. Construction is about to start on UW Station at Montlake, so there was a presentation explaining exactly where construction will take place, what sort of mitigation there will be, and what will go on. I’m not the first to post about this – Alper of Alpertopia covered it today as well.

The big takeaway from the Sound Transit presentation was that they’ll be using largely the same (very successful) noise mitigations they used for Beacon Hill, and they’ve provided for bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle access to UW facilities while construction takes place. They had conclusive answers to each question asked.

The end of the meeting was much more interesting. Prior to the presentations, I had a moment to speak with Andy Casillas, the UW’s project manager on their Rainier Vista project. He explained that contrary to their latest published design, the university has indeed dropped pedestrian bridges from their plans (not the one pictured above). The hospital side bridge was dropped because it would require expensive support structure construction in the basement of the hospital – he suggested transit users could use the existing underpass, but users are already cautioned against using that underpass at night without an escort.

The station side bridge reasoning was less clear. At some future date, he suggested a project might be undertaken to grade separate Montlake Boulevard, dropping it below pedestrian level, but this project is unfunded and unmentioned in any of the documents he presented.

During his presentation, he offered no quantifiable benefits to the land bridge design past the slightly shorter walking distance and additional layover space for Metro buses – but Metro isn’t being asked to help fund the project. He said the land bridge required an additional year of design time, but didn’t say how that might impact University Link’s schedule. He was unable to quantify impacts to pedestrian mobility or traffic – despite the walking distance decrease, this adds wait time at a new Montlake crossing light, apparently planned for 30 second intervals.

Most of the questions asked at that point were about the safety of a crossing for thousands of new users. Yesterday, I was willing to accept this with the assumption that the plan would be to build pedestrian bridges later. With those bridges apparently off the table, I see little benefit to the new plan and significant drawbacks, and no reason to support the additional expense to SDOT or Sound Transit. The existing Sound Transit station and pedestrian bridge design has already been approved by the UW Board of Regents as well as the Sound Transit Board – opening this agreement up for debate again would be foolhardy.

56 Replies to “Editorial: The UW Land Bridge? Not So Great.”

  1. Well put. In addition, the additional crosswalk would not worry me about safety so much, as that it is an additional inconvenience to 100% of the riders using the station. Without the pedestrian bridge, it makes no sense to build the landbridge, which cost more and is worse than the current plan from ST.

    1. Yes, it’s the convenience factor that gets me as well. Make the transit trip worse, fewer people will use it. If the UW were talking about separating Montlake as well, I’d go for this idea, but they’d need to do both in a pretty close timeframe.

      1. Also, Pacific Place is a tiny street compared to Montlake, so why are they proposing to spend 18 million to cross one small street, and still leave the huge one nearby with a cross-walk. Although crossing one street is only a small deal, it is one more thing to add to the list of inconveniences. And those all add up.

  2. This whole area is desperately in need of a more comprehensive integrated design that better addresses the needs of the many, including UW’s own students, faculty, staff and visitors, bicyclists heading for the Burke-Gilman trail and all those who are arriving or departing via bus or transferring between transit services here. It’s a tough problem, but no solution proposed thus far has really nailed it.

    Grade separation across Pacific Place is a good thing, by itself. It’s a nice urban design feature for the campus. Like Ben, I’m not sold on the at-grade crossing of Montlake Blvd. and it doesn’t seem like a very fair “trade” in this case in terms of convenience. Pacific Place is too small to merit a signalized crossing. Montlake Blvd. has about 40,000 vehicles a day.

    This station is going to be 6 minutes from Westlake and 3 minutes from Capitol Hill. It’s going to have about 25,000 boardings a day and presumably another 25,000 exiting the station. Everyone is a pedestrian by the time they enter the station. That’s a lot of potential pedestrian-vehicle conflicts on Montlake Blvd.

    So there may have been a lot of committees that have been quietly looking at this over the last year (without checking in with the larger community, to my knowledge), but I think the work is not yet done.

    1. I think the point is that the work *is* done – the board of Regents and the Sound Transit board both approved the Sound Transit design already.

      1. I believe the City of Seattle has yet to approve. SDOT likes the at-grade crossing for reasons that escape me. City Council may yet weigh in. Regardless, I don’t think the latest proposal will be, or ought to be, the final configuration of this triangle area. Extending Rainier Vista is an elegant approach in more ways than one, but the rest of this plan is sub-par for transit users, and as soon as that becomes clear to a lot of people, I think there will be a movement to improve it, even if it means tearing up what we may soon build.

      2. It looks to me like the Sound Transit bridge could be largely left alone when building the land bridge.

    2. As I said in the previous post I think ST, Metro, UW, WSDOT, and SDOT all need to sit down and get on the same page regarding all of the projects planned for the Montlake area. Particular attention needs to be paid to making the entire corridor attractive to pedestrians and cyclists while also ensuring it allows for reliable and convenient transit service.

  3. I agree that the current land bridge proposal doesn’t really improve the usability of the station. To me the design of the current skybridge is as ideal as we can hope because it offers direct unimpeded access to the station from campus, which is where most traffic will be headed. If they are concerned about improving access from the UWMC / Health Sciences complex than they should go ahead and improve the pedestrian crossings, but that can be done without a complete redesign of the station. I’m also a little annoyed that this huge proposal has come along so late in the process. The current design is already approved and has made it through the city’s design review process. How much money would be wasted by scrapping it now? In my opinion, if the UW wants a lid over Pacific Place they should build it on their own dime and leave the skybridge alone.

  4. A surface-only crossing of Montlake Blvd, at the UW Station site, has to be a non-starter. Up to 50,000 pedestrians crossing daily at a new mid-block signalized crossing?

    How much “Walk” time would the peds actually get, out of a 60-minute hour? At the new MLK crossings installed as part of Link light rail, peds push the button and wait — sometimes only a few seconds, other times a minute or more — and then they are given exactly five (5) seconds to start their march across the street. Anyone approaching the curb 6 seconds after the Walk light first comes on, they are supposed to stop and wait for the entire cycle.

    Is this what’s in store for UW riders six-and-a-half years from now? God forbid.

    1. The entire Rainier Valley is not particularly pedestrian-friendly including, unfortunately, all of the new light rail crossings.

      1. The crossings to and from the stations, though, are very short – 24 feet. Montlake is nearly three times that.

      1. Yea, Bernie! The Triangle Garage Tunnel is back!

        But not if Montlake is going to be depressed as might be what the good Mr. Casillas was implying.

        BTW, the “link” doesn’t seem to have embedded properly. Instead of a pointing cursor it gives a typing one. Can you just post the link in text so we can type it? Thanks.

      2. Yeah, .doc doesn’t work as a link like .pdf does (which is probably a good thing). Here’s the whole link:

        If that doesn’t load try a google search for “uw triangle garage plans”. The top one should be Getting to UW Medical Center | UW Medicine, Seattle which is some good info on the garage. The description for the .doc file is “Oct 17, 2005 … Overview of the Medical Center Facility Master Plan Study (Helen …. access to Triangle Garage and replacement site for displaced parking. …” I was looking for an actual floor plan, ideally with a side view showing grades but couldn’t find one.

      3. At the meeting, Casillas mentioned that such a tunnel had been considered, but was dropped due to “sightlines, security, and cost”, among other factors. Personally, I think it’s the most desirable alternative.

      4. It’s too dangerous. The perception of danger alone would cut use and put people on the grade crossing instead. The moment there was an assault down there (and given the history of the area, it wouldn’t be long), nobody would want to use it.

      5. One thing you could do would be have the tunnel open during the day, then at night there’s less traffic so it’s not as bad for people to cross on the street.

      6. With the number of people using the station I don’t see why an under-crossing of Montlake has to be dangerous. The station will be staffed both because that seems to be SOP for ST with underground stations and because trains will need to be cleared before they turn around. The portion under Montlake to a surface entrance in the Triangle could be made to seem like an extension of the station Mezzanine. The path through the garage and the crossing to the hospital is more problematic but shouldn’t be more of a challenge than the path through the SeaTac garage.

        The increase in foot traffic through the station should actually make the garage and tunnel to the hospital more safe at night.

      7. I don’t get why they’re not using underground links to the various sides. Done all the time in London and other major cities. You just walk down a different corridor and you’re across the street, just like the downtown link tunnel.

      8. I second this. In NY, London, Chicago — underground stations are “extended” by close-to-surface walkways under intersections. At Union Station in NY one tunnel runs an entire block. These are all located and managed inside the rail authority property with security and gates at each entrance. These are also “turnstile” entries which ST isn’t doing (for some reason) and that may be a factor.

        Bridges wont serve everyone, tunnels will. Tunnels, please. Turnstiles too :)

  5. Ben,

    You said: “he suggested a project might be undertaken to grade separate Montlake Boulevard, dropping it below pedestrian level“. What was he referring to when he said “dropping it below pedestrian level”. The Montlake roadway itself? It sure sounds like that’s what he meant.

    Is he actually contemplating digging a trench for that enormous road for an underpass beneath an at-grade pedestrian walkway? Wow. That’s a huge investment for a pedestrian crossing.

    Or would it also grade separated the southbound halves of the Pacific Avenue and Pacific Place intersections? Now that would be a winner! It would be a great boon to traffic passing by the University, a bit reminiscent of the Masonic undercrossing on Geary Blvd.

    One downside for transit integration would be that depressing the roadway would permanently nuke any chance for bus stops in front of and opposite from the station. They’d be down in the fast-moving trench. I also realize this is all pie in the sky.

    Most of all I’m glad that opinion on the board is now nearly unanimous that having all those people who will be riding Link cross Montlake at grade is going to be a huge problem.

    1. The opinion of people at the meeting also seemed against the at-grade crossing. Hopefully it was enough to convince them that grade separation is worth pursuing. In any case, UW won’t decide on the Rainier Vista plan until spring.

      1. Nobody’s got another $20-30 million to pursue it, unfortunately. It’s so far from reality that it’s not really worth considering.

    2. The grade separation of traffic and pedestrians mentioned here is related to the SR 520 project and some of the designs that would have brought the 520 off-ramp to the Montlake/Pacific intersection. That proposal would have depressed the intersection, leaving pedestrians to cross at grade in all directions.

      Now the legislative committee charged with deciding the 520 configuration has abandoned that idea in favor of a different proposal.

      The disadvantage of the ped bridge, from my perspective, was that a rider would need to transfer from one elevator to another at the station mezzanine level, exit a second elevator to get to the bridge, and then make yet another grade change to get back down to the triangle. This, on top of the fact that the UW station is 3/4 of a mile from where most main campus students are headed (and remember, the line goes right under the HUB!)

      But the land bridge seems to revel in placing huge platoons of pedestrians in conflict with tons of frustrated car drivers headed through the Montlake traffic nightmare. It disadvantages everyone. Is that to make some kind of point about putting pedestrians first? As a pedestrian, that’s not how I want to be put first. Years of planning should result in a better solution I think.

      1. “This, on top of the fact that the UW station is 3/4 of a mile from where most main campus students are headed (and remember, the line goes right under the HUB!)”

        Actually, between the Husky Stadium station and the station at 45th and Brooklyn, there will be no building on campus that is farther than 1/2 mile from a station.

        Yeah, it would be cool to have a station near the HUB, but the fact is that the campus can’t support the intense construction activity that would be required to build it, and having a station there doesn’t really serve the rest of the community or the hospital.

      2. Actually, the densest areas of main campus are on the south end (the College of Engineering buildings, Physics, Chemistry, etc.) On the north end of campus, the new law and business school buildings (Gates Hall and PACCAR Hall) will be closer to the Brooklyn Station than they are to the HUB.

        Yes, this will be somewhat inconvenient for people in the relatively small historic Quad, but that’s not most students.

    3. I think it would be cool if they lowered Montlake and perhaps with a little bit of the at-grade land made a transit center.

  6. Ben,

    There is no way that the pedestrian crossing is going to go “Walking Man” every 30 seconds. That would play absolute hell with the traffic flow on Montlake. It’ll be so close to the Pacific Street signal it will have to be closely co-ordinated with it. It doesn’t cycle on a 30 second schedule.

    And for how long will it be “Walking Man”? Someone speculated five seconds, but it would have to count down at least another fifteen seconds for people to get across five lanes of traffic. Even assuming everyone was virtuous and would not set foot in the street after the hand appears — like we all know is not happening — the walkers would have to get 21 of every 30 seconds. As they say on SNL, “Really!”

    1. When asked yesterday, he said 30 seconds. If that’s not the case, that’s another point against him. You can see that Alper reported the same thing.

      1. My interpretation is that he stalled and wouldn’t commit to a time between walk signs nor a duration of the walk period. It seemed like he was more accustomed to thinking in terms of car throughput.

        In response to the gentleman who argued that students wouldn’t respect a long pedestrian wait, he stammered until the next question, saying only that it would be synchronized with the existing (long) stoplight. He mentioned in response to another question that the new crossing wouldn’t reduce green time for cars.

      2. Ben,

        In no way was I questioning your reporting. I was simply pointing out that it is utterly impossible that the light will be timed as he claimed. The city and state traffic engineers will not stand for it.

        Was he clueless? Was he BS’ing? Was he out front lying? Who knows? The truth is his credibility as a public contact has, sadly, taken a hit because he didn’t have the strength of character to say the most important words a public official needs to be able to say (and follow through on…): “I don’t know, but I will get back to you with an answer.”

        It sounds like Matt got the real answer on a different question.

        As a correction: the post should have read “20 of every 30 seconds”. I had mistakenly remembered “six seconds” for the lights on MLK. But I went back to check and found it “five” after having written the paragraph, so I changed the first line of the paragraph, but overlooked the math at the end. Sloppy work.

    2. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d note that the current crosswalk cycle at Montlake is around 20 seconds. However, even though cars keep turning west onto Pacific, the crosswalk cycle ends and northbound Montlake traffic is allowed to continue while southbound Montlake waits for the protected turn signal to expire. By the time that expires, it’s around 30 seconds.

      Adding a controlled crosswalk mid-block, the crosswalk cycle will take the extra 10 seconds, so I’d think walking man would be 15 seconds. :0

  7. This guy probably gets paid more than arts & humanities faculty who study urban issues!

    This is just another example of UW’s misplaced priorities, ridiculously bloated, counter-productive administration, and misplaced priorities. If it ain’t big science, UW ain’t interested.

    Meanwhile, Queen Phillis will be getting a 6-figure gift from Nike Corp.

    Remember that when you’re waiting for the light to change to green so you can cross Montlake…

  8. It’s all depressing. Even more so when you think about the SR-520 expansion.

    By the way, I caution anyone against being anywhere along Pacific St at night without an escort. No eyes on the street and there have been several robberies.

    1. Joshua,

      How very sad to hear that about Pacific. What is happening to Seattle, the sanest big city in the US?

      There’s a hospital there for heaven’s sake! You’d think that SPD or the University police would keep an eye out. Is there no money for public safety?

      1. I don’t know that the number of robberies along Pacific is particularly high compared to the rest of the U District or Downtown. However it isn’t exactly a friendly stretch to walk down after dark.

        Adding the rail station should help though as there is nothing like a lot of foot traffic to make an area safer.

      2. Hopefully someone can also find some money for improved pedestrian-scale lighting as well as part of all these changes. Chris is 100% right, more people around will definitely help, but I’d feel safer walking at night through that entire area if the lighting were better.

        BTW Jonathan has it right I think – the typical agency soup is going to result in something less than what we could have…but I don’t see a way to get everyone to the table to really talk about what could happen. UW’s wanted to underground Pacific for years, even though there’s no money and they can’t really tell you why they think it’s worth the investment, or at least no one I’ve ever talked to at the U could tell me why. Whole thing feels like missed opportunity, and the surface crossings are just nuts given traffic volume and signal timings.

      3. The whole friggin campus has had crime issues! I have a kid at the college and I get the nearly daily alerts about some strong arm robbery going on over there. It should be one of the first things that Mayor McGinn addresses, beef up street patrols in the area until it settles down.

        The underlying issue appears to be drug use with many of the robbers looking for cash for their next hit. And students with ipods, laptops and no weapons, or self defense training or nearby cops making them easy targets.

        Any pedestrian access to this station has to have clear street visible sight lines day and night to be safe. That totally eliminates a tunnel.

      4. I don’t think crime on campus or in the U District is any more than it is in say Downtown or on Capitol Hill. This isn’t to say the perception that the streets are less safe than they used to be isn’t valid, I just don’t think it is a problem unique to the UW and surrounding neighborhoods.

        There is no reason an underground crossing of Montlake can’t be made as safe as the station itself. There is also no reason a passageway through the garage and to the Hospital can’t be safer than the current situation as well. The sheer volume of people will increase safety all by itself, but good design, and increased security will help as well. There is a tunnel under Benaroya Hall between Second and the University Street DSTT station. For some reason this hasn’t become a hotbed of crime. In the Capitol Hill station plans there is a passage from the station mezzanine under Broadway to an entrance next to SCCC. I haven’t heard any concerns this passage will be a hotbed of assaults either. Why should UW station be any different?

      5. There’s already a tunnel from the Triangle parking garage to the hospital. And it’s not particularly unsafe.

      6. Here’s a couple of examples:

        University of Washington police have sent out an alert to students, faculty and staff about a robbery on campus on Sunday.

        At approximately 6:15 p.m., three students walking north on Cowlitz Road toward Terry-Lander Hall were approached by two men. One of the men pulled out a black handgun, pointed it at the victims and robbed them of their laptop computers and other personal property, according to the alert.

        A woman, who appeared to be serving as a lookout near the intersection of Lincoln Way and Cowlitz Road, yelled at the robbers to hurry. The robbers and the woman then fled.

        Officers searched the area but didn’t locate the robbers.

        Notification of a Criminal Incident
        10/25/09 – Armed Robbers Arrested – Seattle Campus

        On Sunday October 25th, at approximately 7:30 p.m., a male UW student was approached by three male teenagers at the Northgate Transit Center. The teens asked the victim for the time. The victim referred to his iPhone and gave them the time. The victim and three suspects rode the same bus to the area of Brooklyn Ave., N.E. and N.E. Campus Parkway where they got off the bus. The victim noticed that the suspects were joined by a fourth person and appeared to be following him. When they reached the area of N.E. 42nd and University Way, N.E., the suspects surrounded the victim and one suspect displayed a handgun. The suspects then took the victim’s jacket and iPhone and fled the area southbound on foot.

        UWPD and SPD officers conducted an area search. UWPD officers located possible suspects in the area of Montlake Boulevard, N.E. and N.E. Pacific Street. After a short foot pursuit three of the four suspects were detained and later identified by the victim. The suspects were turned over to SPD, who later transported them to the Youth Service Center.

        The victim did not report any injuries resulting from this incident.

        This case is being investigated by the Seattle Police Department under case number 2009-375875.

        On Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 7:39 p.m., a female student was walking westbound in the 1900 block of N.E. 47th St., when she was approached from behind by an unidentified male. The male grabbed her by the neck and put his hand into her pocket but was interrupted by a passing vehicle. The suspect fled in an eastbound direction. The victim received no injuries and nothing was taken.

        This case is being investigated by the UW Police Department under case number 01-09-002016.
        On Monday, October 5th, 2009, at 8:57 p.m., North Precinct Seattle Police officers responded to a report of a robbery that occurred approximately 30 minutes earlier. A male victim not affiliated with the University reported that while walking in the area of N.E. 47th Street and University Way, N.E. a male approached him from behind, pressed a hard object into his back and demanded his property. The suspect took property from the victim and fled eastbound on N.E. 47th Street on foot.

        This case is being investigated by the Seattle Police Department under case number 2009-352246.

        It’s not a safe neighborhood at all. Tunnels are right out.

      7. Gary,

        Your analysis is flawed. None of this criminal activity happened in a tunnel. I could use these examples and argue the land bridge is unsafe.

      8. Considering UW has issued advisories about that tunnel, I’d say there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s unsafe.

      9. I argue that the safety issue has nothing to do with the tunnel and everything to do with the lack of street activity. There have also been advisories about the E-1 parking lot on Montlake and it’s pedestrian bridges. I’m glad the station will have cameras.

      10. Have you walked that neighborhood at night? There was plenty of street activities (lots of it not legal drug transactions) along the Ave and I’m pretty sure I can find plenty more reports armed of street crime. The local safeway is known to the students as “unsafeway”… The issue is lack of enforcement.

        A tunnel has issues with sight lines. An open air bridge is visible to the traffic below. Which allows drivers to report suspicious activities.

      11. I work in the Med Center along Pacific, so I’m out there at night every evening. The vast majority of crime around UW is either on the Ave or near Greek Row (north of 45th), not along Pacific. It’s a totally different neighborhood. There was a robbery a couple weekends ago at 15th and Pacific, but that was right after the Apple Cup, and most likely football-related.

      12. Anyone who has had the misfortune to visit the UW ICU on game days knows sports fans are more important to Seattle PD and traffic control than hospital patients or visitors.

  9. The Land Bridge illustration looks like it is more meant to beautify the Rainier Vista than to serve transit. Don’t know why ST should have to subsidize that.

    It seems like it would be simplest if one exit from the station mezzanine level has an entrance in the triangle. It’s not unusual for an underground station to have multiple exits on different sides of the street – and an undercrossing of Montlake Blvd seems attractive. If the concourse is wide it won’t feel like a tunnel.

    It seems surprising that there is so little integration to bus routes. I understand that some bus routes from the Eastside via 520 are to connect to Link here, but if the bus stops are on Pacific St. in front of the hospital that isn’t a particularly direct connection, and requires crossing Pacific St. to reach east/south bound buses.

    1. Having a tunnel there was considered by Sound Transit early on – I seem to recall being told it was dropped for the aforementioned safety concerns. While a concourse would be nice, it still opens into a nasty garage.

  10. Here’s a good map showing the location of the station, tunnel, and underground structures including the Triangle Parking Garage and pedestrian tunnel:
    It’s from here:

    The station itself is huge. From eyeballing it I don’t think there is anywhere else they could have located the station and tunnel without destroying the Triangle Parking Garage and/or some other buildings, and stadium concession buildings are being demolished I think.

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