The Slog reports that Mayor-Elect McGinn is considering putting Seattle-only light rail extension on the ballot as early as 2010 — that’s 11 months from now.

I think McGinn is basically right that Seattle voters (as opposed to Sound Transit district voters) will vote for transit anytime and anyplace*, so my only concern with timing is that the plan be mature enough to not have a revenue or cost meltdown in two years’ time.  That probably means getting some ST staff involved that now has some experience with financing, building, and opening light rail.

I’ve speculated in the past that this project will consist of an all-surface alignment from West Seattle to SODO station, combined with a souped-up Ballard/Fremont Streetcar to connect those neighborhoods with Westlake Center.  This would cost relatively little and punt the very expensive issue of how to get through downtown until ST3.

I have a call in to the McGinn team asking what the reasoning behind this is, besides it being awesome to have everything happen a year earlier.

*Except for the final blow to the monorail, but that I don’t think that example applies.

123 Replies to “Light Rail Vote in 2010?”

  1. A “souped up Streetcar” would not suffice for a Ballard / Freemont to West Seattle line. I would rather wait until Sound Transit can bring the line to vote and hopefully build something more future-friendly.

    I think after University Link opens and the public has had a chance to judge its success, a grade separated Ballard to West Seattle line would pass pretty easily. Worth the wait, in my opinion.

    1. I agree that a souped up streetcar will not suffice for Ballard. Maybe we could get an elevated line on the original monorail route, but using a conventional two rail system instead of the children’s monorail. A two rail system could be cross connected with the other light rail lines, which the monorail never could. We have enough different systems now, and don’t need another incompatible system.

      We need better transit from the NE corner of Seattle, and it shouldn’t have to compete with traffic, which BRaT will.

    2. Even a “souped up Streetcar” from Ballard to Fremont to downtown wouldn’t beat the travel time of the Ballard/downtown Rapid Ride busline. Most NW Seattle local bus routes would be transferring more riders to Rapid Ride than to Super Streetcar.

      Dare I suggest a technology-free study of the 10.1 mile West Seattle Junction/downtown/Ballard @ Market St. line? What capacity is REALLY needed in that corridor, over time? 380-foot long 4-car Link light rail trains? Most likely not. Shorter 2-car light rail trains like Portland and St. Louis? Likely closer to the mark. Where and how does the corridor traverse downtown Seattle? That’s a toughie.

      1. Actually, previous study both by the city and by the SMP have shown that Link-like capacity will be necessary for West Seattle to Downtown.

      2. How would West Seattle to Ballard traverse downtown? Perhaps 1st Ave. South to some point and then along the “old” waterfront streetcar route, and then along Elliott.

        I now believe a crossing of the Duwamish River below the “high-rise” West Seattle Bridge would be the preferred route in that “neck of the woods”.

        I also feel that SOME dedicated right-of-way could be possible, especially under the West Seattle Bridge, and along the “waterfront streetcar” route.

        I am definitely interested in this and, of course, am open to all ideas on such a system.

        I enjoy reading the ideas presented by other transit advocates!

    3. The thing is a Ballard/Fremont streetcar could be up and running before U-link even opens. Some exclusive ROW is possible along Westlake between Mercer and the Fremont bridge, as well as between Fremont and Ballard. It won’t likely be faster than RapidRide between Ballard and Downtown. However it will likely be faster than the 26 or 28 between downtown and Fremont. A streetcar line will also offer more capacity and connectivity between the center of Fremont and the center of Ballard.

      Longer term I would like to see a Downtown/Uptown/Interbay/Ballard/Crown Hill/Northgate line, but I don’t think that confilicts with a Ballard/Fremont streetcar line at all (any more than the U District via Eastlake streetcar confilicts with U-Link).

      1. A light rail line could be up and running before U-link as well. The only reason U-link will take so long is that the whole thing is a deep bore tunnel.

    4. Define “suffice”. It would certainly be a good thing for South Lake Union to Fremont to Ballard.

  2. I’d agree with barman – let’s get Mike settled in, and at least wait until 2012, if not 2016, for this major project. Meanwhile… there’s lots of “education”, bicycle and ped safety improvements, on-street parking removal for better transit and bike service and on and on, that can be done relatively quickly and realtively inexpensively. Not to mention expansion and renewal of the electric bus system.

      1. “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil”

        — Sheikh Zaki Yamani – former Saudi Arabian oil minister

        Do not underestimate the elasticity of gasoline prices. When gas went to $4 a gallon people were parking their SUVs in droves and cramming into my bus unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They were also combining trips and switching to bicycles – all the things you would expect people to do when costs escalate. Our whole economy is built on cheap oil so it will take time for people to respond to higher oil prices but people are changing their ways. Hummers aren’t exactly sailing of of the lots like they were earlier in this decade.

  3. It seems to be straight forward to use the Monorail alignment (elevated, not street level) from WEst Seattle to SODO as the next step… Ballard connection seems to need a lot more planning…
    I agree with Steve, NE connection is important. How about a Lakecity to Ballard connection? It could cross South link and that way connect to downtown…

    1. Ballard could just be the streetcar extension to Fremont and Ballard that way. It’s pretty separate from any future Interbay alignment.

      1. I disagree. While a street car from Westlake and bearing NW to Freemont would have high ridership, it would be way too slow. That’s why the monorail being elevated was such a good candidate for that route.

        Given that no monorail project will be built in this city for at least another 10 years, we should push for a mostly elevated system to Ballard.

        Tunnel first leaving the Downtown tunnel at Westlake going NW, pop out for surface to elevated, return to the surface at interbay, elevate over the ship canal, parallel to the 15th street Ballard bridge, elevate through Ballard…

      2. Gary, we don’t have that kind of money without additional legislative support. Hence – but that won’t happen this year. What could happen this year would be a streetcar. Don’t knock it, we still need to cover Fremont. And we can make the streetcar faster.

      3. Ben,

        How do you propose to cross the Ship Canal? I don’t live anywhere near Fremont any longer, but I did live in upper Fremont (43rd and Phinney) for three years in the early 1980’s and even then from 36th to 34th Fremont was quite a traffic jam. When I visit nowadays it seems frankly hideous most times of the day.

        So it seems that the easy way across the Canal, the Fremont Bridge, is a pretty perilous option. The cars are going to be at the mercy of what is pretty mindless retail oriented traffic (e.g. cars braking for jaywalkers, backing in and pulling out of parking slots, turning left suddenly, etc) in the confines of a pretty narrow roadway. The expensive way, a new transit only Fremont Bridge is probably too expensive for the streetcar model.

        But, it might be quite a bit less expensive than previously considered. Assuming that the streetcar ROW runs along the east side of Westlake using some of the parking along it as has been proposed, what if it rose up a bit as it approached the Aurora Bridge overcrossing and turned to cross the Ship Canal on a medium height lift bridge that would have relatively few openings just east of the high bridge cantilever supports. The height at the life span would be about as high as the Ballard Bridge or perhaps a few feet higher to minimize sailboat openings.

        Once past the heavy cantilever anchors the trackway would diagonal slightly west to the southernmost of the concrete arch supports of the truss roadway and pass through it and the other two arches. The openings in the arches are high enough that the trackway could pass over 34th and land just south of North 35th at the top of the hill on little used (lower) Aurora North. The line would then turn west on North 35th leading directly into Fremont Place with only one intersection on Fremont itself fouled and no interference at all with the important Queen Anne/Magnolia to University District traffic flow from Nickerson onto North 34th.

        It’s not cheap to contemplate, but it is far better than risking the very fragile traffic flows at both ends of the bridge.

        I grant that this would make the very beautiful Aurora Bridge less attractive, and that’s an important consideration.

      4. I should have said that I believe it can be less expensive because it requires no land purchase of building demolition as would a rail bridge closer to Fremont Avenue.

      5. Gary,

        Why elevate through Ballard? Ballard between Leary Way and about NW 100th is the collection zone for a northwest light rail line. Are you planning to have it continue on northward from there? If so, to where and by what route?

        You simply can’t cross Carkeek Park even if you wanted to so you must be thinking Holman Road to where? Northgate? Aurora Village via the Interurban Right of Way?

        It’s only been about ten years ago that the #75 was extended to Ballard, and it currently has only half hour headways west of 125th and Lake City Way. That is pitifully far from the passenger volumes needed for a light rail line, especially one of the grade-separated “metro” style. So just having Northgate as the destination would be wasteful.

        I guess if you want it to go to Aurora Village you would have to elevate through Ballard or it would be recreating the Interurban full stop. Personally I think that any development in the old ROW should be mostly at-grade, at least between 115th and 165th, but that’s the collector area and having it run at grade all the way to the Ballard Bridge would be too slow if that were the only way to go downtown.

        But, by putting a “wye” in at the southwest corner of the cemetery and running right along its southern edge over to Meridian and Northgate you could provide high speed one-seat service from the Interurban collector area to downtown Seattle using the Northgate “turn-back” slots in North Link, downtown to west side to Northgate light rail and downtown to west side to Aurora Village mid-day local service using at-grade all the way to the bridge. This would require the removal of several houses which is always a thing to give pause.

        And of course doing at-grade between 15th and Greenwood is pretty hard to imagine.

  4. Although in principle I agree with this decision (the more light rail the merrier), in practice, I fear Seattle voter fatigue and any result would be a huge distraction from so many major projects at hand right now. How will any vote on light rail interfere with the viaduct replacement also going on apace next year. WSDOT has identified some companies (including local firms) who can offer proposals for building a tunnel and will be putting it out to bid towards the end of next year. With the 520 bridge replacement, this is a lot of heavy construction projects all appearing simultaneously. Unless of course it is Mr. McGinn’s purpose to derail the tunnel by introducing a conflict vote on light rail, 2010 is probably not the most prudent time to have some a vote. We have conflict diamonds and conflict minerals – perhaps we can now have conflict transit measures – using one thing to sabotage another.

    1. How does having a transit vote “conflict” with AWV or 520 construction? Have we forgotten how to walk and chew gum at the same time? The road warriors certainly don’t think their projects should have to wait because light rail is under construction.

      1. Chris

        There was an interesting article a while back in the New York Times on the dearth of big government game changing projects (such as the freeway system) or civic pride projects and it is my belief that building the tunnel and reclaiming the waterfront for our city would be one such project to buck the trend – and which would also be a game changer or at least not a game reducer in keeping the existing purpose of the viaduct intact.

        We may not all think that the tunnel is fabulous and most of you here do not think so, but we cannot be forever second guessing local and state government. Assuming that Senator Murray returns to Washington DC for a fourth term (and I am going to hazard a quick guess that none of us here wants otherwise) my second guess is thatshe will bring us back some federal stimulus or earmark money for the project. For those readers who hate cars, won’t it be nice not to have to see or hear them?

    2. Tim, it seems like your opinion here is pretty much based on not wanting the tunnel to die.

      1. Yes, I agree with you, but based more on the fear that if McGinn forces everyone one back to the drawing board on the tunnel then we won’t have a another decision for at least five years or more. McGinn brilliantly obscured his views on the tunnel towards the end of the campaign with the result, that we will probably never know how many folks swung back to him from Mallahan who do support the tunnel.

        However we are talking about Light Rail here and yes, whilst I agree with the idea of it in principle, let’s clear our minds on the other stuff first and get it all moving forward before branching out into other areas.

      2. Tim, there is no “back to the drawing board” on the tunnel.

        Only a few months ago, there were other options that had been worked on by the three transportation departments.

        And, BY LAW, the unfinished EIS process is not supposed to favor any one particular option.

        It’s not like anyone is proposing to scrap 10 years of work on this project. There are simply folks who think one of the other options (be it rebuild, surface, etc.) should be carried forward for a little more study — especially those who believe that the results of more study on the tunnel proposal scheduled to be released in late January or February will show increased costs above what we already cannot afford.

      3. Mickymse

        You must know very well that “a little more study” will in all likelihood turn into years because that is how we do things in Seattle, and why it takes us so long to get anything done. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle and the process we torture ourselves with could reasonably be considered quaint by some, but you have to admit it is also incredibly frustrating to those of us currently older than our toddler years who would like to see things done in our lifetimes rather than having to leave our best plans to generations to come.

        My other problem is that so many folks who write or comment on this blog appear to believe that they know so much more than the city and state planners who apply for their jobs based presumably on some knowledge and experience and our elected representatives or are voted in for something supposedly akin to leadership. I however do not believe that I know more than all of these folks and this will be a theme of mine in a big article I shall be submitting to Martin shortly on our achievements as a community in the past year and our goals for 2010. One of my central concerns is wondering whether I know too little and others too much that write here and which of the two knowledge bases makes for the more effective advocating of the mass transit options we mostly all agree on here. How much knowledge is just right and the most effective. The last time I felt this inferior was at my first book club where the attendees decided that one way to understand the book at hand was to discuss every other book in the English classical literary cannon. My frustration at not having yet read all of these other books but simply the book at hand led to my taking on what has since turned into a lifetime love of English literature, but right now I am still in this early frustrated phase when it comes to mass transit in Seattle and wondering if I either need to know as much as most of you here or whether others need to know a little less in order to trade some knowledge for effectiveness.

        Meanwhile, looking at another of your remarks:

        “BY LAW, the unfinished EIS process is not supposed to favor any one particular option”

        This may or may not be true but an underlying assumption here is that no one in local or state government can have thought of this fact until folks on our Blog mentioned the fact? I am going to make another assumption here that they must have done but also that they must have discovered a loop hole around it that maybe you are not aware of. When the governor of our state, the mayor of its largest city and the county executive of its most populated county proposed the tunnel, surely they must have either known of this loophole or assumed that we would be all stupid to notice the fact of where the EIS needed to fall on the linear narrative of our decision making. I have no idea which of the two assumptions is correct and maybe neither is, but without much evidence to show that we are as politically dysfunctional a state as say California or New York, can we assume that someone in local government in an advisory or knowledgeable capacity must know of a possible loophole – assuming of course that what you and others are saying here about the EIS is even correct. Again, I have no idea whether it is or isn’t, but I would like to explore further the concept of effective advocacy and how important or even relevant constant second guessing is in getting anything done.

      4. The other possibility is that when you get the Governor, the Mayor and the County exec all making deals behind closed doors they believe that common law doesn’t apply to them. One of the things that really drives this home is that they all had decided on the deep bore tunnel before the vote on elevated vs cut and cover and withheld their preferred option from public scrutiny until the last second.

        I’m beginning to think the ramps for the R.H. Thomson Expressway should remain standing as a reminder that no matter how quickly you make a stupid decision that ignores the will of the people it’s still stupid.

      5. Well now you see – when you treat these guys like this, what do you expect them to do – you treat them like fools, then they become fools and huddle away in a sieged mentality.

        RH Thompson who didn’t build those ramps but is an excellent poster child for a less enlightened time when general public ignorance got massaged into accepting some good and awful decisions for Seattle. RH Thompson did a lot of good for Seattle but the Denny regrade was far from his finest hour – in fact it was truly horrible but it goes back to my point of how much knowledge is a good thing? Eyman is the slash and burn rogue RH Thompson of our age without the good Thompson did.

        I am also not saying that everything the state and city comes up with is good, but ipso facto, it is not all bad either and the trick is deciding which is which and this is where my comments as to how much knowledge is good or bad comes into play.

      6. Sorry relying on the city “professionals” to do the “right” thing ignores the money vested in such projects.

        Seattle voters recognize that the future is not the gas powered auto. That there needs to be an alternative. That we need to start building it now. That until then we need to keep things running but starting multi billion dollar projects which are for a dying way of life is dumb. Change scares the highway lobby and those who work on those projects, but it’s coming. And most of us see that the sooner we get ready for it the better off we will be.

        My bet is that the tunnel is never dug.

        Why? First the state is broke, so it can’t afford to just build things because some highway lobby wants to.

        Second, its the wrong thing to do, studies already show that it won’t fix the freight traffic which was originally the stated reason for building it and that the surface option will work for far less money.

        Thirdly, delay, the longer we take to decide what to do, the more obvious the future that most of us see will become obvious to the rest.

  5. Why wouldn’t the “final blow to the monorail” apply?

    The citizens of this city aren’t willing to tax themselves willy-nilly, even for public transportation. Look at the resistance to replacing the viaduct with a tunnel.

    Rail does not = good-please-tax-me-to-pay-for-it-no-matter-what, even in Seattle.

    The example of the Seattle Streetcar – which many if not most citizens still see as a boondoggle right along with the failed monorail fiasco – hardly bodes well for a positive outcome on a vote.

    I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen – but I am saying nobody should consider it a foregone conclusion that it would pass. McGinn’s victory itself is partially a result of his being backed by many centrist Republicans who favored his tunnel opposition based on dollars and skepticism about government projects coming in on-time and on-budget alone. I wouldn’t discount the continued power of this contingent in being overly optimistic about voters giving McGinn carte blanche to sink new rails all over Seattle.

    1. Jeff,

      I’m not making a value judgment; it’s my honest estimate on where the electorate is. We’ll see who’s right.

    2. I agree any measure would have to be sold to the voters. But at the same time I feel the voters in Seattle by and large tend to support raising taxes on themselves to improve transit.

      If a measure gets to the ballot I give it a pretty good shot, but I assume we’re going to have to fight for it too.

  6. Martin,

    I didn’t intend to convey an accusation of a “value judgement”, but rather a cautionary note about making assumptions about the Seattle electorate. I guess I think that a claim that “Seattle voters will vote for transit anytime anyplace” – then adding a disclaimer about the monorail – is a bit dissonant.

    I also intended my comment as a potential warning against overconfidence among rail/transit advocates. I wouldn’t let the guard down due to a belief that anything (except monorail) will fly with the voters. If folks want expansion of rail and other transit infrastructure – there’s going to be work to be done to convince people it’s worth paying for – it won’t be an automatic thing by any stretch.

    Again – I point to McGinn’s (sorry – narrow) win and my view (shared by many) that his victory had a great deal to do with his opposition to the tunnel replacement for the viaduct – an opposition shared by many Republicans who oppose government spending and taxation on just about all levels.

    1. There’s Republicans in Seattle? I thought they were all railroaded out of town ;-) Even the monorail won favor the first time around. An initial vote “for light rail” on this sort of timeline would be nothing more than a token gesture to study the feasibility. In other words things like alignment specifics and funding wouldn’t even need to be mentioned. Who wouldn’t want a new train for Christmas.

      1. Well you could have the measure authorize the taxes needed to build it which would be more than a token gesture. There’s been enough work done on West Seattle to Ballard that something could likely be put on the ballot next year with as much detail as ST2 had.

        On the other hand lets not repeat the mistakes of the monorail and make damn sure any such measure underpromises and overdelievers.

      2. All the work in developing the ST2 proposal for the ballot was completed by June 2008, several months prior to the vote. And all the work prior to that date sure didn’t begin in January 2008 with a brand new administration in charge.

        Nope, a Nov. 2010 vote on Seattle-only light rail is just dreaming.

      3. The level of detail on ST2 is pretty uneven. At one extreme you have the Northgate segment, of which we knew everything but the fine engineering detail. Meanwhile the stretch to Lynnwood is pretty ill-defined.

      4. Northgate was really just “what we couldn’t afford in Sound Move”. All the ST2 sections were about the same, with the exception of East Link, which was farther along.

      1. Who are these conservatives?? I was assuming that such folks didn’t exist in Seattle or at least are endangered. We pride ourselves on the fact that they have largely migrated to east of the Cascades where presumably they hold court at the temple of Rep. Hastings!

      2. one more election and the 8th district is Democrat. The demographics are slowly changing and the Republicans know it.

        Reichert would survive as a moderate republican but those who are, aren’t allowed to act that way in congress.

        he’s toast next time around.

      3. Look at the precinct map, Tim. People with water views tend to be the last Republicans in Seattle :) and guess how they voted…

    2. A number of folks — including electeds — will quite openly state that their NO vote on the last monorail issue was not an anti-transit, anti-Green Line corridor, or even anti-monorail vote… but quite simply a vote against a rather tortured shortened system that didn’t meet its stated goals, from an agency being run by short-sighted, non-transparent, and incompetent “leaders.”

      Like Martin, and our Mayor-Elect, I am quite confident that Seattleites would support a well-designed plan for rapid, grade-separated transit on the west side of the city.

      I look forward to SDOT and ST planners putting their heads together, and hope someone can find the $$$ somewhere to speed up the studies.

      1. I don’t think full grade-separation is at all likely given the funding sources available and McGinn’s stated intent to emulate Portland.

      2. Probably not “frull grade-separation” as in elevated or buried. But we can surely build a west side line that never runs in a lane of traffic (as the Seattle street cars line do/will). I don’t think MAX ever runs in a lane of traffic in Portland. Even downtown, where it is at grade, it runs in dedicated lanes.

  7. I would love to see a street car from West Seattle via the West Seattle high bridge to SODO station. This no doubt require some lane modifications on the bridge but should be feasable.

    1. I live in West Seattle and I don’t want a street car, I want light rail. We’ve got nearly 80k people over here (and growing) with only two highway corridors connecting to the rest of Seattle. We need more capacity than a street car can provide.

      1. they need to build a LINK line from West Seattle to Fauntleroy to White Center to South Park to Georgetown to the current line. They could terminate it at Convention Place station (where it could later be extended towards Freemont, etc …

      2. I think a Link (not LINK where did you get the idea that it should be all caps?) line should go from Burien–West Seattle-Downtown-Ballard-Northgate-Lake City. A weird hooked line like that would result in far less ridership because of its indirect routing, and the fact that West Seattle, the population center, is at the end of the hook. Also, Link trains couldn’t go on those grades down to Fauntleroy and South Park, and it can’t all be underground. It shouldn’t be terminated at Convention Place, either, because that would mean it would have to hook around to get over to the west side of Lake Union.

      3. I think it should be more regional, instead of Ballard-Northgate-Lake City, which the 75 does quite well, this line could follow the interurban alignment and meet Link in Lynnwood. This would give another north-south alignment, serve the SR-99 corridor in north King, and provide a east-to-west connection that is not well served by buses.

      4. Ballard-Northgate-Lake City, which the 75 does quite well very slowly. The 75 is fast from Sand Point to Lake City, but it takes an inordinate amount of time to get from there to Northgate, Aurora, and Ballard. Exactly the situation that light rail would alleviate.

      5. What about hitting Belltown before going up to Fremont. And what about the ship canal crossing? I know there has been a lot of discussion about this, but it seems to me that the Fremont Bridge is already crazy enough.

      6. Yeah, this would reduce capacity on the Fremont bridge. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Maybe people will take the streetcar. :)

        I think it’s likely it’ll extend from the existing streetcar northward. Maybe we’ll get the streetcar extended down to 1st.

  8. Sound Transit already has basic plans for a light rail line to Ballard and West Seattle. I think he will just pass something similar to what Sound transit is already planning for (Downtown- Lower Queen Anne-Interbay-Ballard-University District and Downtown-West Seattle-White Center-Takwila)

    As for a souped up streetcar, Westlake Ave has a long parking lot next to it. using that right of way, we can have a streetcar on it’s own lane from Fremont to downtown. The 28 could terminate at the Ballard station, the 26 terminate somewhere else, and the 5 could enter I-90 earlier. And out souped up streetcar could run along the same route in the proposed Seattle streetcar network map, connecting to the Ballard light rail line and the 5.

    Also, in the proposition, Mike Mcginn should extend all those trolley bus lines in Queen Anne and Capitol hill/Madrona so that they connect to other routes instead of stop in the middle of nowhere as they do now.

    1. Chetan, I was with you until the last para. Huh? Those trolley lines go from QA to Madrona (2/3) or Judkins Park (4) – are those the ones you’re talking about? All of them run right through downtown and connect to…hundreds of other bus routes.


  9. If Mcginn also put through a plan to legalize and TAX marijuana, the city would make more than enough money to build subway light rail to both ballard and west seattle

    1. Oh come on Hal. Are you being tongue in cheek?

      I’m pretty libertarian when it comes to pot but I don’t think there are enough potheads in Seattle to make it a major tax resource.

      1. I’m pretty libertarian when it comes to pot but I don’t think there are enough potheads in Seattle to make it a major tax resource.

        As someone who used to deliver Chinese food there, I can tell you that without a doubt there are enough potheads in MAGNOLIA to make it a major tax resource.

      2. I was mostly joking but there are definitely enough potheads all over seattle to make it a viable tax resource. Not enough to cover all light rail costs but enough to make a good amount of revenue.

  10. The trouble with Link or a streetcar across the West Seattle Bridge is that it would take out one of the vehicle lanes. And we don’t have the space to really do that after a lane was converted into the existing bus lane.

    And you can’t just convert the bus lane into a transit-only lane because because of the crossover congestion to/from Delridge Avenue on-ramp and SR99 interchange.

    1. There will almost certainly have to be another bridge constructed – south of the rr bridge with a short tunnel through the hill under Andover street, perhaps?

      1. For awhile last year I worked for a company called SP Plus transportation. They provide the van service for employees between their four main locations – the Columbia Center, Union Station (near Uwajimaya), their shipping center on McClellan behind Lowe’s, and Pac Med.

        For a ‘green’ company – these vans most of the time run empty.

        Anyway, some of us speculated that the entire van system could be replaced by a series of zip lines – starting at the top of Columbia Tower and extending down to Pac Med, and from Pac Med to both Union Station to the West and the Rainier Valley to the east.

        Would love to see’s flock of bright-eyed interns zipping from the top of the Columbia Tower to the lower locations.

        If they did this – the only bus service they’d need would be from the lowland locations back to Columbia Center. Could save a bundle, and be way green. Plus we could throw things at them while they zipped along in the sky.

    2. The Monorail was going to be elevated across the West Seattle Bridge. That should be examined first for a light rail line before considering a new bridge.

  11. Wasn’t there an Intermediate Capacity Transit study released by the SDOT around 2001. I believe it included some of the routes discussed here?

    1. Yes, although there’s more recent information in the URS ridership study the monorail group did.

  12. Why not run the Ballard Line along Elliot and 15th? It seems that roadway would be less expensive, and is ripe for upscaling development. If people mainly want to move between Downtown/Belltown and Ballard, that seems like a faster route than going through Fremont.

    1. The streetcar line is mostly serving Fremont, and the Ballard part is mostly there so that people from Ballard can go to Fremont or SLU. In the (hopefully near) future, we’ll get a real high-capacity Link line through Interbay to Ballard and beyond.

    2. We’re already building RapidRide to Ballard along 15th. We’ll do that with something bigger than a streetcar later.

  13. how about putting a second deck above the tunnel replacement on 1st ave for an additional downtown subway to serve the ballard-west seattle line?

  14. I’m voting yes, and I bet my city will too. Sign me up to help. The political will is probably there – Seattleites will go for something that mimicks the green line but with regionally proven technology.

  15. I hate to rain on the parade, but how would this be paid for? All branches of government are running short of cash right now, so exisiting taxes may have to rise just to maintain the status quo.

    The MVET used by the Monorail did not raise enough revenue and it was a pretty steep rate. Unfortunately, MVETs also favor those who drive a lot at the expense of those who drive a little.

    Gas and income taxes are illegal.

    Sales taxes are already among the highest in the nation.

    Property taxes are also quite high, and Seattle or KC may need to raise them just to maintain exisiting services. Taxing only properties near the proposed line would be difficult – the tax base there wouldn’t be large enough.

    Taking over the stadium taxes once those bonds are retired might be an idea, but I don’t knkow if that would raise enough money.

    1. You can argue forever that all our taxes are too high already, but then you see that Seattle voted overwhelmingly for more taxes of several kinds in 2008 and 2009.

      1. I think he means you can’t use a gas tax in Washington state to pay for transit other than for cars. And the WA constitution prohibits the income tax.

    2. “Property taxes are also quite high”? Not really. We’re pretty much in the middle range of states as far as our property taxes. Try living in the upper Midwest or the east coast and compare your property taxes to those here…not that bad.

      1. I can attest to that. My sister’s property taxes in Michigan are about the same as mine, even though my house is worth 4 times as much. Not that I really want my taxes to go up, but I feel that I get much more for my tax dollar here than I did in Michigan and I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more to expand light rail and help bring Seattle into the 21st century.

    3. The puget sound metro region has a gross regional product of about $200 billion per year. By population, Seattle is about 1/6 of that, so take the overwhelmingly conservative assumption of a city-wide economy of $30 billion per year. Approximately 20% of the american economy is transportation, almost exclusively cars and highways. Applying that factor to Seattle gives us a lower bound of about $6 billion per year that we spend on transportation, today. That’s enough to build a full fledged subway all the way from Ballard to West Seattle Junction in a single year. Of course, we’re not going to divert our entire transportation budget to building a single light rail line in a single year, but it gives you an idea of the general orders of magnitude in the transportation sector. Quite simply, we are nowhere near being “out of money”. The limiting factor is political, not economic.

      The only question is how much are the people of seattle willing to tax themselves? My assessment, and you are free to disagree, is that if McGinn waits until Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 to put a measure on the ballot, he could $4 to $6 billion in taxing authority over 15 years. McGinn is right that Seattle will pass a cheap transit in any year, but if he combines seattle’s generally pro-transit attitudes with the youth voter turnout we can expect in 2012, the sky is the limit. The millennial generation is the most liberal, pro-tax and pro-transit generation in American history, and 50% of the adult population in Seattle is under 40.

  16. i would hope that any plan proposed by McGinn includes re-instating the waterfront streetcar, in its pre 2007 form. I know the excuses as to why they cant run it, which is a total pile of… if you ask me. NYC had no problems constructing the IRT under NYC in 1904.. 105 years later we should not have the same problem. If they cant re-route the streetcar around the construction do they plan to close down the waterfront entirely?

    1. I really doubt you’re getting a waterfront streetcar again for a long time. It’s really just not that heavily used – there are a lot of better places for streetcar money first.

      It’s a huge risk to spend on something that won’t get that many riders when you have to use that line as an example later when you want money for more.

      1. Who cares how many people use it if, by what’s been presented and not denied on this blog, that it turns a profit. And that profit doesn’t even include the nebulous effect of increased economic activity. How do you account for the cost of capital tied up in the vintage streetcars not being used? If you don’t believe it’s a viable proposition then we should sell (or donate) the rolling stock because I believe letting something like that just rot away is criminal.

      2. Ben,

        Dollar for dollar though it’s a great value. For one thing – most of the line is built already and the cars have been purchased. We just need a place to park the damn things.

        And as I recall – the waterfront streetcar line got a lot of riders. Currently the line is still running – as diesel Metro buses painted in the same colors as the old streetcar.

        Reviving the waterfront streetcar would mean retiring those diesel buses – which run free, all day, every day NOW.

      3. Not used? your kidding me right? Before it shut down, I saw ridership numbers around 320,000 annual passengers and regularly saw marriages, specials, charters, etc on it. It made a lot of money.

        It was the face of Seattle for many, many years. People STILL use the Waterfront Streetcar images as part of Seattle, even though the vehicles are not in service.

        So we went from a streetcar that surpassed many of Metro’s bus routes to a bus that didn’t even crack 40,000 passengers… So really, what is better?

      4. 320,000 annual passengers is not very good. SLUS gets more than that (over 500k in the first year, I don’t know about now), and it’s attacked for low ridership all the time.

        I’m not comparing to a bus. I’m saying that if we’re building streetcars, we have to stop building low ridership routes or else we will not convince the public to pay for more of them.

      5. The difference is, this is not a “commuter” system, it was never attended to be a commuter syste, this is a vintage streetcar that one person fought hard to get here and we allowed it to be put out of service without a fight or even lip service. If the City of Seattle just stopped running the South Lake Union Streetcar, because they wanted to build a new condo at the Streetcar maintenance facility, would you be up in arms about it then?

        300,000 passengers is still quite a bit when you look at the full picture. The Waterfront Streetcar was not put into service to have 1 million annual riders, run every 10 minutes. It is an asset that is critical and vital to the region and it helped a lot of businesses on the Seattle waterfront.

        In all reality, the line should be extended to the Smith Cove cruise ship terminal to take up those expected 900,000 passengers that will go through the terminal in 2010 and over a million in 2011.

        I can keep debating and going on and on about it but the point doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of people and besides, were talking about the light rail line =P

      6. ah, juding that no other system other than the Seattle center monorail turns a profit, how can you say that the waterfront street car is a bad investment?

        By your measure, the more a system loses the better it is? that’s ridiculous.

      7. I’ve been skeptical before about this “the streetcar made a profit” argument. Where does that data come from? It seems hard to believe that a system that often appeared empty, required 2 operators at a time, and couldn’t take advantage of maintenance economies of scale could actually turn a profit.

      8. Tourism is how the waterfront trolley makes money. Improving transportation options for Amgen. From May to October, 211 ship visits. Year round

        900,000 turns of passengers between Pier 91 and Pier 66 cruise ships alone. 4.1 MILLION walk on at the WSF dock. 2-3 million at the Pike Place Market. Don’t have stats for the Aquarium, as City of Seattle Enterprise, but all of this would be connected by rail and right of way that we all OWN, on equipment already PAID FOR.

        Just extend the damn line NORTH through Myrtle Edwards Park and Pier land. The Port offered to HELP PAY for this 5 years ago. Amgin offered to pay as well, and currently PAYS for a private shuttle to run between it’s campus and town.

        Keep the line connected and running to Pioneer Square until the Viaduct replacement forces the line to be severed. Run the line from WSF to Pier 91. Build a temp garage under the viaduct on city or port land, or even use the the Armory space.

        WE spent 20 YEARS of tax dollar paid legal fees to get that right of way. We paid for the cars. Squeeze around the SAM park on either side of the Western most side of the rail bridge and follow the edge of the SAM Park. The original design of the park CALLED for a trolley car stop. AMGEN’s campus could take a stop at the far south and north end. It might even encourage them to make MORE use of the site…

        Then a stop as close to the ship piers as Das Homeland Security will allow. If nothing other then the 400 plus EMPLOYEES for the pier use it, it will be a success fiscally, and environmentally. It reduces traffic issues on Elliott and 15th, it reduces demand for parking. Its ELECTRIC not Diesel. AND IT’s MOSTLY PAID FOR. We need to add 2 miles of track through the east side of the Park and a temp shed.

        I bet you can do this for less than 52 Million Dollars?

        How much profit is the FREE bus turning? There is obviously a rationale worth metro running it… even if the bus generates 1/5th the passenger count the old line did.

        ccording to the story at History Link, the line Averaged 200,000 a year in the first few years it ran.. BEFORE we had ANY Cruise ship traffic OR Amgen OR F5 or Classmate etc.any of the office buildings on the west side of Elliott…

        This line SHOULD be the very next one we build. It COULD be operational in time for next summer if the city would make it a priority.

  17. I have no problem with Seattle only transit, as long as Seattle is the only ones paying for it.

  18. Just that if Seattle wants to make it own light rail, than let the city of Seattle and the City of Seattle alone pay for it.

    1. That’s what the city would have a vote for. The City of Seattle can’t vote to tax the rest of the county.

      Even with Sound Transit, Seattle residents are paying for their own stuff (Exception: Shoreline kinda gets screwed). I think you don’t understand subarea equity.

      1. McGinn doesn’t have to abide by subarea equity – that’s for Sound Transit. But yeah, McGinn can’t tax anyone outside of the city.

  19. This is what I am afraid of, that if there are cost overruns Seattle would turn to the state or county goverments to pay for it. Truth be told if this was a Sound Transit project I would not have a problem with all Sound transit districts paying for it. As long as Seattle does not oject when other areas do it as well.

    1. Mathew, please use the “reply to this comment” link.

      Your fears, though, are weird (and unfounded).

  20. A few observations:
    – No clear delineation exists between streetcar and light rail
    – The key here is a surface alignment in existing street right of way – this approach, maybe with a few ROW purchases to get through pinch points such as the Ship Canal crossing, is the only way that such a project will be affordable and constructable in a reasonable time frame
    – West Seattle does not lend itself to rail, due mainly to constraints crossing the Duwamish but also to lower ridership
    – The Ballard/Fremont/Westlake route the city has looked at would not be as competetive with bus as the almost-monorail route via Interbay and Uptown/Lower Queen Anne (whether the corner of Uptown at 1st & Denny or the heart of Uptown at Queen Anne & Mercer. The almost-monorail route would be easier to build as well, with mucho available right of way on Elliott and 15th.
    – Sound Transit involvement should be minimized. Their funding for a west side line study should be shifted to the city, which can probably move faster.

    1. The clear delineation between streetcar and light rail is that light rail has its own ROW while a streetcar shares theirs with other road vehicles. Beyond that the vehicles are pretty much the same.

      1. Not true. Many streetcar segments are in dedicated ROW, while many LRT segments are in mixed traffic.

      2. Give some examples then. Don’t just contradict.

        What I stated is the general definition of each.

      3. Light rail in mixed traffic: Muni Metro neighborhood lines; MAX on portions of the downtown transit streets
        Streetcar in exclusive ROW: Waterfront Streetcar, Muni F Market waterfront segment

      4. Like Bobby says – there is no clear distinction. One man’s light rail is another man’s streetcar.

    2. I second that point about using 15th and Elliott. It would be cheap and quick to build and in the future could be expanded to Northgate.

      1. Yeah, but we need that corridor for a fast system, and this is unlikely to be a fast system, so we should go for Fremont and leave 15th alone for something heavier. Plus, rapidride.

      2. LRT/Streetcar on Elliott/15th or anywhere else in Seattle can be as fast as RapidRide. The key is in the priority treatments rather than mode.

      3. Arrgghh – along the interurban alignment to Lynnwood!!!! This should be a starter system that Sound Transit could build on.

    3. Just to clarify, you think the city can move faster than Sound Transit, so that’s the reason it should be the lead agency? I don’t know if that’s true or untrue, but it seems like ST is the one with experience pulling off a succesful rollout of a link line already. I think ST involvement should be maximized, so that we make sure the new line integrates well with central link, and so that we learn from their experiences at every possible opportunity.

  21. Y’know, if you wanted to make a game about building transit lines, West Seattle to Ballard would rate pretty high on the challenge scale. Several navigable waterways to be crossed, fairly intense development in place along much of the route, the main stem of the BNSF running through everything, most people living on hills, and of course, the question as to how many people actually want to go from Ballard to West Seattle.

    It gets a little easier if you think of most of these people going downtown and some of them continuing on to somewhere else. Of course, then you lose that wonderful talking point in which the dramatic sweep from West Seattle to Ballard makes it unnecessary to add any details.

    I particularly liked the part where McGinn said it was the state politicians holding Seattleites back from their natural hankering to build transit- as though Nichols wouldn’t have built a transit line from West Seattle if he could have.

    For my own part, I think replacing the highest ridership buses with light-rail streetcars should be the first order of business- not because they would be any faster, but to carry more passengers per employee and reduce the system’s exposure to fuel-oil price shocks. As matters stand, every extra rider may be a benefit to society, but they’re just all extra expense for the transit system.

  22. I heard McGinn talk a lot about a Ballard- U District light rail line. At a town hall in Ballard he told people not to assume that light rail in Ballard would head downtown. This line would fit in well with his goal of having light rail on a rebuilt 520 bridge.

  23. Just a note… when I speak of a streetcar line from West Seattle to downtown, and beyond, I am not speaking of a single truck Brill car from 1909. Streetcar lines, especially those that have some dedicated right of way, are essentially light rail.

    Modern streetcar/light rail vehicles are, and can be, multiple units, JUST AS THEY WERE IN THE PAST. Please look at the history of the interurbans that once ran in the Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and Bellingham corridors. I think you will agree they were streetcars, as well as light rail TRAINS. They even hauled freight.

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