Photo from Mike Bjork.
Photo from Mike Bjork.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn yesterday seemed to confirm rumors that he’ll be running a ballot measure for in-city light rail expansion this November, a year earlier than McGinn’s deadline of 2011.

The possibility of a rail vote this year is the worst-kept secret around town. The Stranger quoted McGinn saying he’d like to have a vote this year and Publicola’s reporters have for weeks hinted that McGinn would be moving on a ballot measure sooner than expected, culminating with a recent report on McGinn’s strong opening statement as a member of the Sound Transit board.

His office wouldn’t answer directly when asked if the mayor planned to put a measure on the ballot this November. “During the campaign, he committed to put a plan before voters within two years,” said Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the mayor, “and during his inaugural address, the mayor affirmed that commitment.” But some actions can speak more clearly than [a spokesperson’s] words.

Yesterday, Publicola and The Stranger both reported that McGinn spent money from his own pocket to poll a potential measure for November.

This November, voters will decide a tax measure to fund light rail, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure. The measure authorizes up to two point one billion dollars in taxes over thirty-five years. If the election were today, would you vote yes to approve, or no to reject this tax measure?

66% Yes
21% No
13% Undecided

$2.1 billion is a lot of money for light rail and other green transportation improvements. (Central Link cost $2.6 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars to build.) We’d like to hear more specifics, though, including what role Sound Transit would play in building and operating light rail.

It now seems more likely than not that 2010 will have another vote for light rail expansion. A vote later this year would come just two years after the region — and Seattle overwhelmingly — voted to build Sound Transit 2 which extended light rail north to Lynnwood, south to Federal Way, and east to Redmond.

182 Replies to “McGinn Polls Light Rail Ballot Measure for November”

    1. 66% is considered a landslide in most elections. 66%-13%? That’s like polling for the question “Are you against executing the elderly upon retirement?”

      1. 66% at the beginning of the year translates to barely squeaking by come election day. This is actually pretty low this early on.

        When polled so generally, people tend to imagine best case scenarios – they haven’t seen exactly how much it would cost *them*, they assume they’d get something awesome, etc.

      2. But if you just go by people who are decided, that’s 76-24, which translates to probably at least 60% yes on election day.

      3. Exactly. A lot can change between now and election day. Opposition campaigns, more painful details…

      4. I agree in principle, Ben. But I do think a rebounding economy might stave off some of the typical dip.

  1. What routings does McGinn propose? At-grade, elevated, or underground (or a combination)? Locally-paid or assuming fed matching funds? How will the Ship Canal and West Seattle bridges be funded? Who will plan, build, and operate the line? If assumed to be integrated with ST, is ST involved with the planning? What is the timeline?

    Until all of the questions above are answered, I don’t see how a light rail plan can go to voters, primarily because cost is the huge unknown. $2.1B would not go very far in providing a Ballard-West Seattle line, especially considering the waterways that must be crossed and lack of available tunnel capacity downtown.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge rail supporter, and like the idea of speeding things up in the city. But not in a way that’s ill-conceived and poorly organized. Right now, it sounds like monorail vote #5.

    1. Why on earth should all that be answered already when all they’re doing is polling to see if it’s feasible?

      Ballot measures don’t get set in stone for November until *June*, even if something does happen this year.

      Fundamentally, if you want to see rail in the city, the absolute worst thing you can do is start badmouthing something just because you aren’t familiar with the process. Step one is exploratory. If they like 66% as a starting point, they’ll start planning.

      1. I think that those are good questions but there is close to 6 months to answer them. Yes this is a fast turn around but remember, quickness is what the public wanted out of ST2 and I don’t see any reason to expect that has changed.

        I agree that is brings back memories of the monorail but I think that it says that everyone that wants better transit in Seattle should be pushing for experienced leaders (like Joni Earl just to throw a name out) and a strong auditing, initial design scope, and risk assessment processes.

      2. And a June decision date is only four-and-a-half months away — hardly time to develop a proposal for a 10+ mile line, develop it sufficiently to give the voters good information on which to base a tax vote.

        I’m a McGinn fan and supporter, and I appreciate his enthusiasm for light rail, but a November vote this year is, well, just not feasible.

      3. It is if it’s the Ballard streetcar and a study for West Seattle, plus lots of other small things…

      4. I agree, it really isn’t alot of time, but how much detail is needed for a vote? ALso, how much information is out there already? How long has McGinn had people working on this?

    2. Actually, there were five monorail votes, so this would be “Number 6” for a westside line.

      But if McGinn goes for a ballot measure, the alignment and station sites need to differ greatly from the monorail plan, because of the larger scale of Link and McGinn’s own comments about aiming for a Portland-type cost range. Should be interesting….

      1. Mike,

        Is it your contention that the monorail issue and the light rail issue are so equivalent that a new vote on a westside light rail line would be equal to a sixth monorail vote?

        Monorail =/= light rail.

    3. Sometimes engineering and planning are like science.

      But sometimes they are like art.

      When you’ve got a rhythm, you go with it.

      LINK has proven itself as an effective technology.

      People like it. They want more.

      It would be a great way to spur the stagnant economy.

      The only think is 2.5 billion is way, way too little.

      It should be more like 25 billion.

      We need radically shortened completion times…we can build out from Covington to Everett to West Seattle to Issaquah in 5 years.

      5 years!

      Let’s go!

      1. Sometimes comments are like modern art. I think you just designed the first rail line that resembles a whirlpool. :0

  2. I just hope they find some way to fund this besides sales tax. Our sales tax is already kind of obscene.

    1. Sales tax isn’t even an option – the city doesn’t have the authority to ask.

      1. That’s not true, Ben–this vote will most likely involve creating a Transportation Benefit District. The city is authorized to collect a .2% sales tax and a car-tab fee up to $100. Someone correct me if I am wrong.

      2. Yep, I just checked. Property tax, .2% sales tax, $100 car tab fee, and tolls are all allowed by a TBD. Also there is new legislation proposed in Olympia to change it from the current 10-year tax to a 30-year bond structure–it seems like McGinn is counting on that passing.

    1. Rent dropped this year – if it’s being raised on you, move. I found a great deal in August.

      1. I moved in the middle of two rent troughs, no such luck. Meh.

        Oh well, I’m next to several supermarkets, the transit tunnel, the future streetcar and, g-d forbid that I should fall and be injured, the hospitals.

  3. I’d prefer to keep this bond issue as cheap as possible (but still build in the usual contingency fund): SODO to Alaska Junction, for several reasons:

    1) The general public is still undergoing sticker shock from the starter line.
    2) The engineering for the Ballard segment will be much more formidable and expensive.
    3) In particular, the issue of tunneling under Belltown could be headed for a collision course with the car tunnel.
    4) Connecting the West Seattle line into the existing line is really straightforward: Merge the lines just south of SODO station.
    5) I don’t want to take on anti-transit NIMBY’s in West Seattle and Magnolia at the same time.
    6) Vashon taxpayers should foot part of the bill to get West Link to the ferry dock and on to the airport.
    7) Showing recent immediate results in getting more light rail built before the 2016 ST3 vote will help the chances of ST3 passing (as will having ST3 on a presidential ballot that promises to be the biggest turnout of the decade).
    8) Council President Richard Conlin has publicly expressed support for a 2010 vote on a West Seattle line. I haven’t seen him say anything about a quick vote on the Ballard line, but I have heard him suggest it should eventually go to Northgate — which is a point of contention with the ST study map that recognizes the higher ridership from Ballard to the U-District.

    The tough sell will be taking a lane of traffic each way on the West Seattle Bridge and Fauntleroy Way. SOV drivers never get it that a new transit lane is increasing the capacity of the bridge rather than decreasing it. I’m wondering if it is at all possible for rail and buses to share the transit lane on the bridge, while assuming the buses take the general-purpose lanes outside of rush hour. For that matter, will it be possible to eliminate the need for any bus routes that go across the bridge, and simply manage to Link all of them at Delridge Station, Admiral Way Station, etc?

    1. 1) But by the time this would go on the ballot, we’ll be seeing more of the benefits of light rail.
      2) Maybe for the tunnel under the Ship Canal, but other than that it could run at-grade but separated from traffic along the 15th corridor and would be fairly inexpensive.
      3) I’m pretty sure that they would engineer it so that it doesn’t hit the 99 tunnel… There’s so many places around the country and the world that have crisscrossing tunnels, why are we worried about it here?
      4) Once U Link opens there won’t be enough capacity, unless you alternate it with Central Link, but in that case, once East Link opens there won’t be enough capacity.
      5) It wouldn’t go to Magnolia, and in fact it would probably be quite difficult to get to Magnolia from an Interbay station.
      6) We almost definitely won’t get it to Fauntleroy on this ballot measure, and besides, I think we should get it straight down to Burien first. People can take the POF to Vashon from Downtown.
      7) Definitely. And because of subarea equity, ST3 will have to include extensions of West Link, hopefully to Burien and Ballard-U District.
      8) The Green Line plan had an eventual extension to Northgate. We’ll probably do Ballard-U District first, but a later extension can take West Link to Northgate and Ballard-U District can be its own line.

      1. 4) Once U Link opens there won’t be enough capacity, unless you alternate it with Central Link, but in that case, once East Link opens there won’t be enough capacity.

        I wondered about this. My experience from rail systems in other cities is they can run multiple lines on a single track with a 4 – 5 minute headway without difficulty. A “West Link” that runs in the tunnel and extends towards Ballard to the north and West Seattle south of SODO station makes sense (and maximizes our tunnel investment) if there’s enough rail to accommodate three lines through town.

        If this is not the case, we’re looking at another tunnel or elevated option through town. That’s going to eat 2B$ really, really fast.

      2. The issue is that in the future we’ll be wanting 4 or less minute peak headways between Downtown, UW, and Northgate. You can’t fit another 6-minute-peak line through the tunnel, so we’ll need another tunnel. The $2.1b isn’t enough for an ID-Uptown tunnel plus at-grade/elevated to West Seattle and Ballard, so either it’s going to be on the surface (no!!) or it’s not going to be a continuous light rail line from Ballard to West Seattle (yet).

      3. On the bus tunnel capacity issue:

        Could someone cite official reports that make relevant predictions?

        Now, consider some factors: Headway is currently 10 minutes tops, with two-car trains rarely at 100% of seating capacity, even in rush hour. The length of mainline trains can double to four, which all the stations have been built long enough to handle.

        The spur lines (East and West Link) don’t actually have to be increased to four-car trains. If each is only two cars, they can pull up one behind the other. They can even extend a little beyond the length of the stations, and still have all the doors fit within the platform length.

        In addition, there is space in the middle of the tunnel stations to allow for a third and fourth track. My first preference is to allow that track space to be the means for getting the Tijuana-to-Vancouver high-speed rail through downtown without having to wait at each platform. Barring that, the center tracks could be used for express routes to bypass two or three of the platforms. (This would be way down the road, when a bypass line between SODO and TIBS is built to cut 15 minutes off of airport travel time, and future neighborhood stations are built with a bypass track.)

        Further, consider the value of duplicate rail lines between major destinations. The West Seattle line could be the main line to Tacoma whenever the Rainier Valley line has to be closed for maintenance, and vice versa. One could serve as the night owl route on weekday nights and the other on weekends.

        Regardless, I can foresee the entire budget of the line being eaten up by the cost of building a second tunnel. I don’t see the proposal passing if most of the money gets spent on downtown re-engineering.

      4. Headway is currently 7.5 minutes tops, it is frequently standing-room-only at rush hour, and when U Link opens, you will have tens of thousands of people each day travelling on one 3.1 mile long segment, necessitating 4-car trains at frequent headways.
        You can’t have a rapid transit system have trains stopping to couple together, it would take way too much time. The stations are already designed for 4-car trains, with the ends going farther than the edges of the platform, like you said.
        There is no space in the middle of the tunnel to allow for a third and fourth track. Each station does have a center lane, but there is no third track between the stations, and there is certainly no room for a fourth track anywhere. There is no way to cut off 15 minutes between Downtown and the Airport, it’s already just 24 minutes from SODO to TIBS, at the very fastest an express route would probably cut just 6 or 7 minutes off of there, less with stops in Georgetown and at the Boeing plant.
        That’s a good idea about using them for other routes when maintenance is being done, but you can still do that with two tunnels downtown.
        If a tunnel from King Street Station to Kinnear Park costs the same per mile as U Link, it would be about $1.4b, so it would be a squeeze to get a whole Ballard-West Seattle with a tunnel downtown for $2.1b. However, we should at least build part of another Downtown tunnel, because we will need it in the future.

      5. I think the capacity issue is more nuanced than headways. Some facts I’ve found:

        – Sound Transit estimates (2001 study) that capacity in the tunnel is 16,000 trips per hour each way. This assumes no busses.
        – Platforms in the tunnel are of sufficient to run longer trains, which could be run less often. Something for the engineers to figure out.
        – Tunneling costs a lot ($600MM/mile?)

        Can someone from Sound Transit or one of their agents comment on tunnel capacity?

      6. Burien-Renton is probably one of the highest priorities for ST3, anyways! I saw that ST did a study on it years ago and found that it would get a ridership of 24k/day!

      7. Burien-Renton is probably one of the highest priorities for ST3

        Possibly, but that’s a South King project and is going to have to wait in line behind getting Link to the County Line.

        South King also doesn’t generate a ton of money, so it’s not all clear that we could build a rail version of the F Line.

      8. 3) I’m pretty sure that they would engineer it so that it doesn’t hit the 99 tunnel… There’s so many places around the country and the world that have crisscrossing tunnels, why are we worried about it here?

        Don’t forget the Great Northern train tunnel downtown! According to my map, the Great Northern Tunnel and the transit tunnel downtown are looped around each other. The GN tunnel goes above the transit tunnel between International District and Pioneer Square stations (thus the transit tunnel’s odd dip). Then it heads north directly under 4th and passes under University Street station and Benaroya Hall before coming out on the waterfront.

    2. 1. I don’t hear alot of grumbling from people
      2. not necessarilly … it all depends on the route
      3. the 99 tunnel HAS to be planned to take into account the possibility of more transit tunnels under seattle. There is no reason why they can’t bore the road tunnel deep enough so that we can still have a 1st ave or 2nd ave tunnel. Not doing this would be terrible planning and very short sighted.
      4. this would be problematic with east link and tunnel capacity (so I’ve been told here)
      5. if the tunnel is underground … nimbys should be less vocal
      6. I still say the route should run this way:

      Ballard (downtown with the possibility of northern expansion in the future – Fisherman’s Terminal (South side of ship canal) – Magnolia (east edge at new transit center / park and ride) – Pier 91/Elliot Ave – Lower Queen Anne/Seattle Center – Belltown/Sculpture Park – Pike Place/1st ave – Coleman Dock/1st ave – Stadiums – Georgetown – South Park – White Center – Fauntleroy – 1 or 2 stops along California Ave.

      If underground … this will be rather quick and would capture traffic to a number of population centers generating traffic / revenue / etc … ideally one could even dig down from California Ave to the Alki waterfront for a terminal there. Built correctly a future line could also go from Fauntleroy to Burien TC to the airport and points south on South Link

      future lines could also branch off from Belltown to the space needle/seattle center to Dexter to Fremont to points north as well … and if you add a connection from Georgetown to connect to the existing line you could have West Seattle service in both tunnels … or you could have a connection from the existing line to the 1st ave tunnel so you’d have Ballard-Airport through service.

      But that is just my opinion

      1. “1. I don’t hear alot of grumbling from people”

        I do, from my co-workers. And they are bus drivers. One of them is calling Link “the WHOOPS of the 21st century”.

        Don’t underestimate the undercurrent of a tax revolt, especially in the middle of a long-term recession. Look at what just happened in Massachusetts (!)

        Tunneling will not work in West Seattle, because the hillsides on both east and west are developed over already, and because having light rail come out along the beach side leaves it high and dry without a way to get to Fauntleroy without paving over miles of beaches and plowing through pristine Lincoln Park. Ain’t happening. As rabidly pro-rail as I am, I don’t think I’d even vote to do that.

      2. Brent,

        I think your co-worker (and mine) was referring to Link as the “WPPS” (as in Washington Public Power Supply) of the 21st century, not the “whoops”. The reference is actually a bit more topical than calling it an ‘oopsie’.

        Google it.

      3. Yep. That’s the project to which my co-worker refers.

        At any rate, the polling numbers for a west line were anemic at $2.1 billion. The mayor has yet to formally call for a vote on the line. The conspiracy theorists on the other blogs are likely to call the west line proposal yet another attempt to undermine the car tunnel. (Geez, I hope the ongoing car tunnel construction doesn’t politically block any further transit ballot measures. :(

        The school levies are coming up, so any further calls for long-term taxes would be poorly-timed (if you are a fan of the levies passing, which I realize is off-topic here).

        Still, with Conlin on board for at least $400 million for a West Seattle line, I’d hate to say thanks, but no, to him.

      4. Yes, WPPSS, the plan to build five nuclear plants in the state, was called “whoops” by opponents. Shhh, they haven’t thought of calling Link “blink” yet, or “stink”.

      5. Huh. Looked up WPPSS and it turns out that WNP-1 is the same design as the similarly abandoned Bellefonte plants in Alabama. The TVA is currently in the process of getting the paperwork in order to restart construction, over 20 years after construction stopped.

        As fossil fuel prices increase and the damage a petrol based economy does to our environment and society becomes more recognized we are going to have to diversify our energy portfolio. Nuclear Energy is a great mid term solution.

      6. My dad was an activist against WPPS but I don’t remember the details. I think they said the plants were unnecessary and it was a backroom deal (no public vote). The projections assumed power consumption would continue increasing steadily and there was nothing we could do about it.

        The ironic thing is, with the subsequent gains in efficiency and computerization, the plants turned out to be really unnecessary. I’m not sure the activists realized how much of a change it would be. Power consumption hasn’t gone down because people ate up the gains buying more gadgets, but at least it didn’t skyrocket like the WPPS planners predicted.

        However, Washington is at the limit of its hydro capacity and we go a bit beyond it. Perhaps one modest nuclear plant could bridge the gap. But there are other efficiencies that haven’t been tapped. I’ve read that utilities have to have capacity for the highest demand of the year, the way parking lots are built for the Christmas rush. Because rolling backouts aren’t acceptable. That forces them to build a bunch of capacity that’s idle most of the time. Also, residential rates are averaged for high- and low-capacity periods, so people have no idea whether turning on their dishwasher now is causing fossil fuels to be burnt or not. A smart meter system would allow homeowners and appliances to know when those peak periods are, and to choose to be off being on during them.

    3. Brent, you’re making a lot of assumptions there and asking for some things that are impossible.

      1. Okay, the first four:

        1) 66% isn’t bad. The general public just gave you your answer.
        2) Ballard’s by far cheaper. Streetcar extension work would be $150 million, upgrading that to MAX-style (via Fremont) would be more like $300 million. The right of way is already there.
        3) Nobody’s even suggesting tunneling. That would be completely, totally, utterly out of the question with $2.1 billion.
        4) You can’t put more trains in the DSTT than ST2 already will. Everyone wants to be able to, and that’s nice, but ST2 is going to need that capacity in 20 years.

        I’m concerned that you’re just going to try to argue with me bullet point by bullet point. Please don’t.

      2. Thank you, Ben, for patiently going back over previously-posted points, and for providing the side panel
        Best Reference Posts: Future Link Headways

      3. Ben: I don’t think that’s true about the tunneling. Considering that U Link is under $2b, and that you could do some variation on the Ballard-West Seattle with considerably less tunneling, you could get Ballard and West Seattle connected to the light rail system for under $2.1b without having at-grade light rail downtown.

      4. U-Link has two stations, no maintenance facility, and it’s 3 miles – for $2 billion. Ballard-WS with a tunnel is a $5 billion proposal.

      5. The 3rd Ave DSTT was about $800m-$900m in today’s dollars. Construction inflation has exceeded the CPI in that time, and a 2nd ave tunnel would likely be much longer.

        I think $2 billion is a reasonable guess.

    4. Brent,

      Answering your questions in reverse order, No, it will not be possible, or fair to eliminate all bus routes across the West Seattle Bridge. It’s not that far from Delridge and Spokane to downtown that it would be reasonable to force people to transfer. Also, First South needs frequent service for all the development that’s occurring along it.

      It is certainly possible for buses and Link to share a lane each way over the bridge. The trains have to observe a long stopping distance, but the wide tires and wide separation between pairs of wheels make driving on panel track essentially no different from ordinary pavement.

      You are wrong to claim that a new transit lane is increasing the capacity of the bridge, though. There simply isn’t enough through traffic to create the sort of miles long congestion that transit volumes can ameliorate. Taking the lanes will decrease general traffic capacity, but honestly, it probably won’t matter in a few short years. Gasoline and automobiles will be out of the reach of ordinary working people.

      Now, Ben is going to yell at us, but the fact is that for thirty years, until Federal Way and Redmond are reached, there is going to be enough capacity for some of the University Link trains to go to West Seattle. So connecting using the flying junctions at the Maintenance Facility and serving West Seattle just makes sense.

      Ballard is more difficult because of BellTown, South Queen Anne and the Ship Canal.

  4. I had heard that this ballot initiative would also include more bike/ped funding. I was wondering if there may be a consideration to expand the trolley bus network. Maybe electrify the route 11, 27, 17, 48 (maybe part of it), and 8. Of course, maybe just a proposal to add more streetcars would work too. Of course, this is all just dreaming right now.

    1. Trolley expansion is not a “sexy” thing, so it’s going to cost more than the votes it gets you. It’s really not worth it.

      If you want to make it worth it, set up a pro-trolley campaign. I’d love to see one.

      1. Don’t dream! Set up a pro-trolley campaign! We need one. You could email me and I can provide a lot of background.

  5. Include a bike path that goes from downtown and meets up with the Green River Trail, and i’ll be the happiest person in the world.

  6. I think this $2.1b number is good for the grade-separated-light rail cause. That would probably pay for a line with a Downtown tunnel from Westlake (or maybe even Belltown or LQA) to the stadiums, elevated through SODO, on a rail bridge to West Seattle, and elevated/in the Fauntleroy median to West Seattle Junction, plus the Ballard/Fremont Streetcar. Of course, if this number is for a light rail line all the way from Ballard to West Seattle, then this probably wouldn’t have a downtown tunnel…

      1. I was just thinking, $2.1b could probably get you a line from Ballard to Westlake with a tunnel under the Canal and a tunnel from Uptown to Westlake, and an at-grade/elevated line from West Seattle-King Street Station. They wouldn’t be connected yet, but it would be a lot better in my mind than slow, accident-prone at-grade light rail.

      2. A tunnel under the canal plus the line from Ballard (say 65th) would get you to Lower Queen Anne.

  7. A November ballot initiative faces a lot of hurdles.

    First, the state legislature would have to give local taxing authority and a funding source to the city of Seattle. The authority given to the monorail died with the monorail. The funding sources in the TBD legislation don’t likely get you there.

    Second, they have no design, no alignment, and no chance of deciding them before June. How will they cross the Duwamish to West Seattle? Do they tunnel under California at the Junction? Ballard is almost more complex–Interbay? Wallingford? Northgate? You will need a high bridge to cross the ship canal for an Interbay alignment and how will you get out of downtown. How much will miles of tunneling under 45th in Wallingford cost if that was your choice? They have no idea.

    Third, 2.1 Billion appears to be a made-up number by McGinn’s voodoo math guy, Chris Bushnell. ST has a reputation for building quality facilities that plan for future growth. They will not want to build anything with their name on it that is of poor quality to meet a fixed budget.

    Fourth, why would the ST board approve such a poorly thought out plan when they want to go back to the ballot in a few years for ST3 to expand transit throughout the reason? And if they don’t go along who has the regional expertise to build it?

    Fifth, no public process on alignment choices? Really?

    I could go on and on and frequently do, but as much as I love rail and want it expanded to my lovely West Seattle home, this is a stinker of an idea.

    1. No public process? Huh? This is the mayor who holds endless town halls.

      Are you saying that you only want light rail to West Seattle if a station is built on your front lawn, or do you really mean your West Seattle home as in the whole of West Seattle? What alignment would you suggest?

    2. I think the best way to make sure this project fails is to let the public decide on every detail. Throw together a basic plan and cost, get ST and the council’s buy-in, get Seattle voters’ buy-in, and leave the rest to the transit wonks with occasional community meetings for input on details as they’re designed.

  8. I’ve been pro-light rail in the past, but Sound Transit is proving to me they don’t know how to build good light rail lines. Most objective people would agree the line to SeaTac is terrible routing. And most objective people would agree that the routing to the eastside is even worse. Sound Transit has a poor track record of designing smart light rail routes. They are trying to be too many things to too many people, thereby diluting the effectiveness of light rail. I don’t want to give them even more money to waste on a poorly routed light rail line. They haven’t proven to me they know how to use light rail to its best ability. My vote is no.

    1. Sam,

      The mayor is proposing that the City of Seattle, not Sound Transit, build this line. ST might eventually take over operations.

    2. Most objective people are totally uninformed about how things get built. If you want to make things better next time, the one thing you can really do is understand that process so you can explain it to others.

    3. I always love it how people like Sam can say “most objective people” and claim more than a small fraction of professionals/policy makers/citizens are in his court.

      It’s easy to make bland, blanket claims like that – but you won’t see Sam citing any data to back up his claims, or proposing an alternative to the SeaTac train. There is always a long, tortured history (and reams of study) behind any alignment picked by a public agency. There seems to be about 5 minutes of thought behind the people who endlessly daydream about generic “alternatives.”

      You can tell how out of touch this person is by the way he believes ST would be designing the Seattle-only routes.

      1. I like the SeaTac route. it’s not perfect but it stops at a lot of the major South Seattle community/neighborhoods.. where else would you suggest it stops? Harbor island? the warehouses? I am so glad it’s not a simply a commuter line to the airpot route as that would unusable for inner city transportation. kind of like london or paris.. i have friends in both mount baker and beacon hill and i like columbia city to visit. These are the places i most often want to see not the airport.

    4. Sam,

      You really think that the Eastside alignment is a “worse than terrible” routing? Where else would you have it go? It connects the center of Bellevue with the tech center between Overlake and Redmond, and the planners were astute enough to realize that for a $100 million extra they could get some spectacular Seven Corners/Fall Church type Transit Oriented Development along NE 16th.

      Yes, there’s the endless bickering about the alignment through downtown Bellevue, and that is important to the success of the line. But overall it hits all the high notes and will create a linear metropolis between Meydenbauer Bay and downtown Redmond.

  9. Has the mayor said the city will build the line? With who? They have no staff or expertise doing so. And there is no time for public process if he wants a ballot measure this fall. Brent, light rail will never come to my home and that has no role in my decision. But businesses, neighborhoods, and others will all weigh in on alignment choices. Look at the debate in Bellevue now to see what kind of debate happens with alignments. And Sam, your criticisms of the alignment choices for ST lines is a result of local pressure on where light rail went. This is precisely why it is difficult to envision a decision by June on an alignment with no process and no design.

    1. I have difficulty seeing a design emerge by June, which is why I am glad the mayor is asking for the sun, the moon, and the stars in 2010, so that by 2011, we can agree on the sun.

      But no public process by June? We’re already doing it, right here. ;)

      I don’t know the details of how SDOT would build the rail. They do have experience in building the S.L.U.T., which really has no more engineering mistakes than light rail does (the biggest being that the track is blocked by emergency vehicles). If the city and ST work together, I think the city can competently build the West Link. But that’s just my layman’s opinion.

  10. If the city puts up 2.1 billion dollars how much would the feds be likely to kick in to help us out?

      1. Contra to Jeff, the FTA will still have a budget, and it is possible that we could get new starts or small starts money.

      2. [deleted, off-topic] but trying to answer people’s questions can be rewarding as well. The feds put up over 800 million out of 2 billion for U-Link. Could we hope for a comparable (1.4 billion) match for this project? or is that unrealistic. If so what would be realistic?

      3. jeff,

        [deleted off-topic] There are discretionary spending cuts being proposed (I have been pro-Obama by the way) and it is entirely possible such spending will have an impact on national support for transportation projects.

        [deleted, off-topic]

      4. Martin,

        Thanks for actually giving some information about my question. Would a contribution of between 500 million and a billion be reasonable to expect or is even that too optimistic?

      5. That really depends on what the competitors are and how the ridership and cost estimates work out. I have no idea what order of magnitude to expect.

      6. Jeff,

        “Could we hope for a comparable (1.4 billion) match for this project?”

        The short and sweet answer is “HELL, no!” There is insufficient density in Ballard or West Seattle to demand a rail system. There may be by 2030 if Boeing doesn’t close everything down and move to South Carolina. But not now.

        SOUTH CAROLINA!: mint juleps, Appalachian Trail hikes, and ladies who get the vapors. How insulting!

      7. Cut what out?

        If there’s funding available and that won’t be subjected to any proposed spending freeze, then that’s good news. If however there *are* implications to a national spending freeze – then isn’t that worthy of discussion?


      8. yes that unfortunate development is worthy of discussion. But saying that the feds will just get out of the business of supporting local transit projects is not.

      9. jeff,

        But saying that the feds will just get out of the business of supporting local transit projects is not.

        Gee, good thing I never said that.

        [deleted, comment policy whining]

      10. Jeff Welch,

        The question was, “is it possible to get federal funding for light rail expansion in the city?” The answer is yes, the FTA has new starts and small starts funding pools that could help with light rail/streetcar expansion based on the merits of the line. You bring up the valid point that a freeze in the overall discretionary budget makes it unlikely for us to have much larger new/small starts pools going forward — all would probably agree that a budget freeze doesn’t increase the odds of money being available for Seattle’s local rail expansion. But one could also mention the fact that the stimulus and the forthcoming jobs bill (if one passes) have money programmed for new/small starts. Those pools of money are dispersed based on project merits, competitively, and it is possible we could get some federal funding even with a budget freeze.

        So the answer is not “zero,” which read to me as a bit flippant but also wrong. We don’t encourage the tone of absolutism. So here we find ourselves at a crossroads: Engage in a reasonable exchange based on the facts on the ground or become upset when others correct us.

        The writers of this blog have very little fundamental differences of opinion with you, but your tone is a bit too harsh and I’m sorry to say that you are given more moderator attention because of it. I don’t know what you wrote — I do think the budget freeze would be considered “on-topic” here — but I suggest we all cool down, because it’s just the Internet. Going forward, people are going to be less confrontational with you if you are less confrontational with them.

  11. Plus the federal programs for funding take years and use complex formulas. But why bother McGinn with details…

    1. Hold on there, r.b.c. The Mayor did a poll, on his own dime. He has yet to call for a 2010 vote on light rail expansion in his capacity as mayor. I just don’t see the harm in doing a poll.

      1. Will do, but I would still bet against large infusions of federal money for these lines given the national competition.

  12. No harm in doing a poll at all. Although I would be scared of 66% support with no details and no design. Not much of a poll, either. Only one question on rail with no estimated tax burden.

    1. Would you help fund another poll, with a larger sampling size, more details, and breaking down the possibilities between segment A, segment B, or both, with alternative approaches to each segment?

  13. I say do it – but, do it right.

    There should be some rudimentary study done of alignments before floating this with the voters.

    1. We’ve actually done those studies several times, from the URS ridership study done for SMP in 2002 (no, it wasn’t specific to monorail as a mode) to the city’s intermediate capacity transit study done in 2000.

      1. ??? If we’re building for the “economic climate of 2010” then we’re driving a car at 70mph, looking only at the road a foot in front of our car. I assume such studies consider centuries, not little decades.

      2. None of that matters when you’re relying on public approval. Voters are short sighted and fickle. They will be voting entirely within this economic climate.

      3. We were talking about studies, not votes. I suppose we could do more studies if you think that will help voters be less short-sighted and fickle, but I don’t know why you’d think that.

      4. Jeff, I’m not sure what you mean – both the studies Ben references looked at the demand for transit trips on the west side corridors (West Seattle/downtown/Ballard) and regardless of which mode we select there’s clearly demand for transit. Some huge number of total trips (2/3 or more?) are not work-related anyway, so even if we’re seeing a decrease in current bus ridership due to the economy, more convenient and timely transit access leads to more ridership in the long run.

        If the larger question is “should you do more studies before you put something on the ballot” then that’s a different discussion.

    2. Whoa, folks – let’s rein in the excitement here. Yes some rudimentary studies have been done, but the advanced technical studies about how much the various aspects of such a project cost are nowhere near complete. This sounds like a rush to judgement to me. Let’s spend an extra year+ figuring out what we wish to do, where it will go, listening to feedback from those affected, and put this on the ballot on 2012. Remember, we are taxing ourselves to build something to serve us for the next half century+ it cannot be a “stop gap”; it needs to be right from the start. I hope we want more than a MAX-like system – something compatible with either the nascent streetcar system OR with Link, but NOT in between. Either way, we’ve some planning to do first.

      1. You’re wrong Lloyd. A Max level of service is exactly what’s appropriate for the West Side line. If you aim for a Link level of service, the stations have to be too far apart. That means that the development around them has to be at least six to eight stories to fill four car trains.

        Neither Ballard nor West Seattle deserves to be changed that radically. They are classic old streetcar suburbs — urban gems. They shouldn’t be turned into more Capitol Hill. People who want single-family homes are human beings too.

  14. Can someone here please explain to a novice regarding “headways” in the downtown tunnel? So say North, Central, South and East Links (ST1 and ST2) are all complete. Which of these will be “through” lines. I may be wrong or partially wrong, as I understand it East Link will be a seperate line from Central Link? What about North and South Links? What I am curious about, what is the time between the trains if all these lines are built out? Won’t the headways be down to about a minute?

    As a person who has visited all the large Asian and European countries and frequented all their transit systems, I know that I have never seen less than a minute headway especially on their subways. Light rail and streetcars may be a little less sometimes. Does adding a Westside spur Link to West Seattle and Ballard create a necessity for a new tunnel in downtown that everyone is talking about? Would headways be less than a minute?

    1. All the Bellevue trains will go through the tunnel to Northgate. It won’t be separate.

      The time between trains will be somewhere from 3 to 4 minutes. You can’t get them closer because there will be at-grade portions in Bel-Red and Rainier Valley that will create schedule fluctuations.

      There is absolutely, positively, NOT more space in the tunnel for another line.

      1. I absolutely appreciate this blog and the comments.

        I am also trying to consider ways that the system can/could handle more routes/riders.

        Is it “written in stone” that ALL Bellevue trains and Airport trains HAVE to use the existing tunnel?

        IF, a West Seattle line was built to SODO LINK station, couldn’t every third train enter the tunnel, and those that could not, become a transfer at SODO station? The same could apply to Bellevue and airport origin trains.

        As I mentioned in an earlier comment, transfering to another train is relatively common in other cities, such as WA D.C.

      2. Any Bellevue train that didn’t go to Northgate would be wasted. You’d just be putting those people on whatever your next northbound train was, and that would damage ridership.

        We would never, ever, ever connect the tracks at SODO. You’re asking for political nonsense by doing so. A transfer there is fine until we can build a second line through downtown.

      3. Thank you!
        The JRPC/RTA/Sound Move sold the idea on 90 second headways, with 22,000 riders per hour max each way. Now eveyone’s wringing their hands at 3-4 minute headways in the tunnel. So now capacity is less than 30%?

      4. There is for twenty years, Ben. Deny it all you want, but it’s the truth.

        A West Seattle stub line connecting using the flying junctions at the Maintenance Center (there would of course have to be separate parallel lines that stay elevated alongside the tracks that descend to ground level) would be pretty cheap to engineer. The West Side line is going to have to be connected to the main line so that West Side cars can go for heavy maintenance.

        The interconnection can be used for revenue service for ten or fifteen years until it becomes clear that the current projections WILL be met. By that time there will be the means and will to build that second tunnel and take the line to Ballard.

    2. I agree that eventually there will be enough peak-hour travel demand on North and East Link that the requisite short headways needed to accommodate the demand will preclude using the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, but in the meantime it seems like the tunnel could accommodate all 3 light rail lines. A Ballard-West Seattle line could probably be built in 5-6 years, opening sometime around 2017. All of the ST2 extensions will be coming online sometime between 2020 and 2023. It will probably take a decade for those lines to mature and build enough ridership to require headways under 7.5 minutes. That’s close to 15 years that we could use the DSTT for a West Seattle – Ballard line while figuring out how to pay for a second downtown tunnel.

      1. We don’t build infrastructure like this for “in the meantime”. You can’t kick the funding can out like that – you’d be forcing a later ballot measure to finish the line. In fact, because this would be such an easy attack during the campaign, such a plan would probably kill the measure in the first place.

      2. Well that’s just wrong, Ben. Every light rail system in the country has been built in increments, and in fact, several have made just exactly such a “build the cheap bits first and then we’ll tackle the expensive parts when it’s proven itself” strategy.

        One of those happens to be Sound Transit’s Link system.

  15. I’m worried about the timeline but I hope McGinn will be smart and not bite off more than he can chew. A finished plan from Ballard to West Seattle in six months doesn’t sound feasable. But one thing ST has been successful at is including money in each levy to plan the route for the next levy. We don’t have to do everything all at once, and a small measure with plans for a future measure in two years seems to make voters happier. Ballard-downtown sounds most feasable for the first pass, although West Seattle can rightly say they need something during the viaduct construction.

    So is $2.1 billion a lot or not? John Jensen says it’s almost as much as Central Link cost. Most of that was for the Beacon Hill tunnel and downtown. So if we assume an MLK-like route without tunnels, maybe downtown-Ballard or Ballard-UW would be half that. Tha

    1. (continuing)… That would leave lots of money to study a West Seattle routing and electrify several bus routes and maybe make the levy smaller (to leave money for the second vote). I do think McGinn will just accelerate ST’s own studies for Seattle, and not propose something ST won’t be willing to build.

      Long term, Seattle needs a grid of lines. Ballard-downtown, Ballard-UW, and Ballard-Northgate. Mt Baker to UW to Lake City to Northgate. A West Seattle-Burien line would connect to existing plans for Burien-Renton and later to Bellevue and Lynnwood. And something from West Seattle to South Seattle. But I think we’re better off voting for each segment as it’s engineered rather than a huge long-range plan. That allows adjustments to be made as bad soils are discovered, traffic patterns change, and the price of gas goes up and down (and its upward trend will make people more and more favorable toward transit, good for future votes).

      Also, a Seattle vote can’t obligate Vashon Island residents. But we can prepare the route for islanders to vote for it in ST3.

      1. Vashon would have to vote to annex to the Sound Transit district, from which they are currently excluded (as they have no Sound Transit service, unless you count the 560 from Fauntleroy). Vashon annexing wouldn’t mean much new revenue, but they would almost certainly be a strong “yes” vote for ST.

    2. Downtown to Ballard, you can have an MLK-like route through Interbay, but you really have to tunnel through downtown and under the Canal. Ballard-UW there is nowhere to put an at-grade MLK-like route, you also have to put it in a tunnel. It’ll cost a lot of money, but it will enable very close headways, higher ridership, and faster travel speeds, and will not mess up the street grid or ever get into accidents with cars, pedestrians, or bicyclists.

  16. Just idle speculation, I have nothing at all to back this up, but could it be that McGinn is ‘rushing’ this so that when/if a new Jobs Bill passes SDOT can get a bigger seat at the table by having more ‘shovel ready’ projects?

    1. Hard to see it, Anc. Even if he accomplishes what he wants with this vote, and there is another ARRA-like stimulus coming (there is) next year, ST won’t have the time to complete environmental review, etc to render the project “shovel ready.” And I doubt there’ll ever be stimulus money spent on the “planning” side since it jsut doesn’t ahve the same multiplying effect that the construction side does.

      1. If it’s streetcar-ish, there’s absolutely enough time to be shovel-ready by next year.

      2. That would be exciting if you’re right, Ben. Based on my work experience, I always worry about what has to be accomplished in NEPA for projects, because of the time implications for those processes.

  17. I notice that, although there doesn’t appear to actually be a plan on the ballot, the question used when people were polled stated that there was a plan on the ballot. Maybe John can clear this up if there has been some error in the reporting.

    Naturally, that kind of behavior raises a few hairs at the back of my neck, and a few more are raised by the thought that yesterday the mayor told the City Council that 70% supported his seawall idea, and today we learn that 66% support his rail proposal. It must be wonderful to be so popular.

    But what would be even better (for McGinn) would be if he could replace 200 people with his own people, and then the voters would give him $2 billion to play with, without any clear understanding of what the money was supposed to buy. Which, according to this ‘poll’, a full two-thirds of them are perfectly willing to do!

    All I can say is, that certainly is wonderful!

  18. I was thinking about light rail extensions on this route a while back. With a limited budget, a tunnel is out and new bridges are going to be difficult, and elevated portions will probably have to be kept to a minimum. This also requires surface streets that are broad enough to accommodate a surface alignment, and fewer stations with longer platforms. So any dreams of replicating the monorail Green Line are out.

    Without a new tunnel, the only way forward is to built the Ballard and West Seattle lines separately, connecting to existing Link stations. That suggests starting from Westlake station going north and SODO station going south.

    To avoid the expense of new bridges, existing bridges will have to be used. The West Seattle Bridge is big enough, though I wonder if the grade would be a problem. Alternatively, a lower route over the Harbor Island Bridge is a possibility, though that would probably have too big an impact on freight. The third option is to build a new light rail bridge, but that would mean shortening the route in West Seattle.

    Once you’re in West Seattle, there’s another problem. California is too narrow to support a surface alignment for Link. It’s ideal for a streetcar, though, and 35th *is* wide enough for Link. So put a station at 35th and maybe a second station at Alaska Junction. Then put a streetcar line as far down California in both directions as you can pay for. This provides local service and gets people to the Alaska Junction station for downtown and regional connections. Options like a light rail bridge or alternate route that serves Delridge would be possible, but would likely add expenses and shorten what could be done with the streetcar. Given the political wrangling over the line in West Seattle proper, it might be best to simply build to 35th and Fauntleroy or 35th and Avalon and leave the rest of it for later. I would argue that the eventual Link connections through White Center and Burien be built from a western spine along 35th, with Link trains going to Alaska Junction on a short 2-way spur from that spine.

    Going north, the downtown streets are too narrow for Link-style rail. It’s tempting to bag the whole idea and just build the streetcar line from Westlake to Fremont and then to Ballard, crossing on the Fremont Bridge. That should be considered, but let’s think through a Link solution anyway. To get from Westlake to Seattle Center, repurpose the Seattle Monorail alignment as an elevated Link line, but add a Belltown stop. Have a single Seattle Center stop, and cut across Center grounds. Follow the Green Line route the rest of the way to 85th (using 15th from the bridge northward), using all the same station locations. Seriously consider using the Ballard Bridge for the crossing, maybe even claiming the whole bridge for exclusive use by transit and freight with other traffic redirected to Aurora. If that’s not possible, build a rail bridge crossing and accept that you won’t get much past the Market Street stop in the first round. Add a streetcar from Ballard to Fremont and on to Westlake for local service ASAP.

    Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I think that if you don’t have a tunnel, you might as well just get to Ballard via the already proposed streetcar line. It’s still worth connecting West Seattle to Link from Sodo to Alaska Junction, keeping options open for future expansion, and adding a California streetcar. I do wonder whether Link operations for such a short line would be feasible, but I don’t see a better alternative.

    I also wonder if the Green Line legacy has us ignoring other potential Link corridors that might be better. Wouldn’t SR-99 make a better regional rail alternative? Do we really need two north-south Link alignments, or should we be focusing on local connections using streetcars and BRT? What about the Seattle portion of a Northshore east-west regional connection that splits off from North Link at I-5/125th with stations at Lake City/125th and 145th? That leaves ST3 to finish the regional connection through Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, and Bothell/UWB, serving ST express buses and longer-term Eastside rail connections.

    1. “Have a single Seattle Center stop, and cut across Center grounds.”

      And watch people flip out all over again that a train might cross their hallowed Center lawns… with probably a bigger footprint than the Monorail would have had.

      (I remember when the Sky Ride crossed those lawns. It was pretty great. Back when there was still a lot of kinetic energy and fun at Seattle Center, before the long slow decline. I think the removal of the Sky Ride was part of the beginning of that decline, but I digress. I did support having the Green Line run through Seattle Center.)

      “Follow the Green Line route the rest of the way to 85th (using 15th from the bridge northward), using all the same station locations.”

      Which the public no longer owns. But don’t get me started on that one, either — I’m bitter.

      1. There are definitely problems with this alignment for Link, some of which are familiar to those of us who remember the monorail wars. That’s why the more I think about it, the more I think we just build the streetcar line to Ballard via Westlake and Fremont, and only use Link for the Sodo-to-Alaska Junction section to West Seattle.

        If we want to add a second route to north Seattle longer-term, to support redundancy during service operations, we should use 99 from Denny along Aurora to Northgate Avenue, converging with North Link at Northgate station. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect the 99-North and West Seattle routes into a single line down the road. Maybe once the separate routes are successful, the political will to connect them with a tunnel will be achievable.

      2. “…just build the streetcar line to Ballard via Westlake and Fremont, and only use Link for the Sodo-to-Alaska Junction section to West Seattle.”

        Beginning to think this is sounding more like an acceptable solution for the short-term. Still leaves the door-open for a secondary tunnel and Interlake routing, provides a quicker time-line of service for the Ballard-Fremont-Westlake route, and (depending how you connect the lines at SODO/maintenance shops)messing with the Central Link, at least until headways get to their max cap.

        Actually have heard the latter mentioned a bit, remembering Ben bringing up routing through the maintenance yard up to Central Link for a decade of so sometime back. Curious short-term idea.

      3. I’ll save Ben the indignity of having to disabuse you of the notion that he brought up the idea of connecting through the MF loop. He’s frothing at the mouth against it.

      4. The downtown-Ballard streetcar is good for Fremont users, but those going end to end would probably find it slower than the 15/18. The SLUT already takes an inordinate amount of time to get to SLU; who would want to take it to Ballard?

      5. Ah…that may be why my memory associated it with, unfortunately for the exact wrong reasons :P See if I can dodge the bullet for the time being, though if he exacts the kind if justice I’ve come to expect from him on this blog, that is not likely…

      6. Cascadian,

        There’s way too little density in the Aurora corridor south of Northgate Way to support link. You have to get across the ship canal and then you have skirt Green Lake which will REALLY have the NIMBY’s up in arms.

        Where Link should be duplicated along Aurora is NORTH of Northgate Way along Linden and the old Interurban ROW along the backside of the cemetery, as far as Aurora Village.

        The main Link line will offer vanishingly little walkable service through Shoreline north of Northgate. Besides the usual “only a semi-circle of usable development potential” of lines alongside a freeway, there’s the problem that at nearly every station there’s a big park in one quadrant of the interchange. And the truth is, there’s hardly any room along the east side; it’s already built out as single-family neighborhoods, and you can hardly call them blighted now, can you? Unfortuately, almost no one will be walking to Link between Mountlake Terrace station and Northgate. Grant that it is the fast route for regional service.

        But along Linden/the Interurban ROW there is already a strong development pressure, and there’s huge opportunity to bulldoze crap auto-oriented low rent strip-development between Linden and Aurora as far north as 160th. It’s perfect for at grade Max Yellow Line-type light rail through it’s “collection” area. Think of the Muni Metro lines in San Francisco For several miles stations would are about 1/3 of a mile apart so everyone along the route is walkable, but then they get to the tunnel and turn into a bullet trains to Upper Market and the CBD. A Shoreline Link would be similar: at grade construction in separate right of way for five miles is perfectly acceptable in a relatively dense collector area if there is a trunk line ride through important traffic centers that trumps driving.

        It would be very similar to the potential of NE16th in Bellevue. Shoreline should be BEGGING for such a line. It would be a huge bonanza for them.

    2. Don’t do it. Wait until you can spend more money, and do it right.
      We should do a general 99 corridor line in the future along with the other ones, mostly underground in the city with stops at Queen Anne, Fremont, Wallingford, Phinney, Greenwood, etc. We do need multiple in-city north-south Link alignments, because people live all over the city and need to get around. Someday we can also have a line that goes up Lake City to Woodinville, mostly elevated, splitting off from Central Link around Roosevelt.

      1. While I agree that people around the city need to get around, and I want to expand Link, I don’t know if it really means that Link is the only or even the best way to get people around. We might be artificially conflating distinct goals.

        In the urban core, a subway makes sense, but subways are expensive. If you can’t do a subway, Queen Anne is out of the question, aerial Link in the city just sets up bitter arguments about column placement and blocked views (remember the monorail wars), and surface Link requires either broad avenues for MLK-style service or else you’re stuck with streetcar speeds and train lengths and might as well just use that technology.

        Of all these corridors, even though ridership estimates are the lowest, I think Lake City Link makes the most regional sense. There has to be a long-term north end connection from Central Link to East Link that doesn’t require going all the way south to I-90 or north to Lynnwood. I don’t think a spur from Roosevelt Station makes sense because you end up building a lot of new track for not a lot of savings in time, and there aren’t any good station locations until 125th anyway. If you want local service, then build a streetcar for that purpose or increase bus service. Link is not designed for local service.

        The other corridors really look to me like “locals” that streetcars can serve well. At least until there are billions to build tunnels everywhere and the density to justify it. As a redundant north-south line, 99 is the best way to go because it’s a broad street that can be reconfigured to support a relatively quick surface alignment (and encourage station-area TOD in areas blighted by auto-dependent development), whereas other surface routes are on narrower streets in predominantly residential areas and would probably be too slow.

      2. I should add that a North End cross-town Link route from Ballard to UW (and possibly onward via 520 to the Eastside) is worth doing. I actually think it would be more useful than downtown-Ballard (but I can’t remember/don’t know the ridership estimates, if they exist at all). But it would be expensive as a tunnel (which is the only way to do it). You’re talking 3-4 miles, maybe more like 5 depending upon trade-offs between directness and number of stops. University Link is just over 3 miles at $1.9 billion, so you’re probably talking $3 billion in today’s money for the Ballard-UW tunnel, for something with less ridership.

      3. We can’t do subways everywhere right now, so we should wait to build light rail until we can build it in subways. A Lake City line would serve a wide area of the region and provide important regional connections, but as you say, it would probably have the lowest ridership of all those lines. Just because a line is just in the city doesn’t mean that it’s “local service” and Link shouldn’t serve it. With stop spacing every 3/4-1 mile, it isn’t local service, and being all in the city, it isn’t regional service, but it is very much a good service for Link to provide. We agree on streetcars providing local service though, in the next 30-40 years, I expect us to replace practically all of our bus lines with streetcars (and cable cars, as the case may be). Instead of building a mediocre at-grade Link line in the median of Aurora, we should wait until we have enough money to build a line that is underground and actually serves the activity centers. The Ballard-UW Link line, while expensive, will be very worth it. True, it’s not as high-ridership as U Link, but it’s still way higher ridership than most other proposed lines in the country, so it shouldn’t have too much trouble getting funding.

      4. Ballard-UW Link would only have to be a tunnel between Fremont and UW. There should be enough right of way between Ballard and Fremont to run a decent system at-grade. If it managed to have stations in both Fremont (near the bridge) and Wallingford (at 45th) then it would cover most of the destinations on the 44, 30, and 31.

      5. I think a U District-Ballard Line should go straight, not out of the way to serve Fremont. But even if it did, an at-grade line from Fremont to Ballard would be too slow, as there are lots of cross streets, and bicyclists and pedestrians.

      6. There are a lot of cross streets there, but I’ve never seen it very busy—the ship canal is only a block away, after all. Most bicyclists and pedestrians are going along the Burke Gilman, and the line could be constructed to have a limited number of pedestrian crossings. Even with an at-grade section here, with a tunnel between UW and Fremont Link should still be far faster than the buses today are.

      7. Just to stimulate the imagination (speculation is cheap, building stuff costs real money):

        Supposing there were light rail across SR 520 (in addition to, NOT instead of East Link on I-90):

        Bore a tunnel from MOHAI parking lot west then curving north to UW (roughly following the routes buses travel today, but underground) with transfer opportunity to ULink (parallel station off to one side) and local buses at UW. (On this alignment it’s over 2000 feet to the south shoreline of the ship canal. I think this is long enough for the grades to be well under the limits.)

        Continue boring north, emerging just east of the Burke-Gilman and north of Hec Ed / Bank of America pavilion where the good soil runs out.

        At-grade section heading north through current parking lots, transitioning to elevated station spanning 25th Ave. just south of (new) NE 45th St. Viaduct, serving the 3000 or so employees and countless visitors to University Village (which has growth plans that phase out surface parking) and connecting to bus routes up 25th Ave, 35th Ave. and Sand Point Way (Children’s Hospital, etc.) Provide ped connections to new 45th St. viaduct so station itself serves as a hillclimb assist.

        Bore into the forested hillside at the NE corner of campus, basically straight west.

        Cut-and-cover U District station north of 45th St. between Brooklyn and 12th Ave. NE, currently a sea of surface parking where Metro 43 turns around. Transfer to Brooklyn station on North Link.

        Cut-and-cover station around 45th/Wallingford. Put the neon “Wallingford” sign on top of it. Bus connections to 44 and 16. Perhaps pull the TBM out at the giant hole once intended for a development at 40th/Stone Way.

        Cut-and-cover, at grade or continued bore to an Aurora/Fremont station underneath and spanning Aurora between 38th St. and the Fremont Troll. This provides ped access to Fremont plus bus connections to RapidRide on Aurora and Metro 5. 36th St. which turns into Leary Way. The “interchange” would have to be reconstructed to support station construction and bus transfers.

        Before this is funded, construct SLUT extension to Fremont and Ballard. When this is funded, share trackage into Ballard.

        Next, on the Eastside:

        Follow SR 520 ROW to just east of Bellevue Way. Transition to short elevated section to serve South Kirkland P&R. At-grade station with major TOD opportunity there.

        Follow BNSF ROW at grade to East Link and serve the new Bel-Red major TOD areas (124th, 130th) en route to Redmond. Share trackage with East Link into downtown Redmond and continue in future phases up the railroad ROW to Woodinville, Totem Lake, Kirkland, etc. making a grand Eastside loop.

      8. Not a horrible scenario, as long as you never plan on spending any money in West Seattle. You might try and care about something else than Montlake, Jonathan.

      9. Wow, I discuss First Hill, Capitol Hill, West Seattle, Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, U Village, Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond and Woodinville on this blog and someone thinks all I talk about is Montlake. I guess you can’t please everyone!

      10. Sorry, I read all of your other posts and you are inclusive. I just worry about the money and will to do all of this. My apologies.

      11. Oh, there’s no money for any of this! At least there isn’t now. But maybe there can be money if there are ideas that inspire people — and actually work. Maybe with enough dialogue in forums such as this, such ideas will emerge.

    3. I agree that a West Seattle to SODO Link Station line would be great. A West Seattleite could then go south to the airport or, north, to downtown Seattle.

      Yes, it would involve a transfer at SODO station. But, I feel this is fine…sort of like traveling in the WA D.C. area on their fine METRO subway. Transferring from one line to another is common, and easy.

      1. Considering that most riders on this line would be going downtown or to points farther north, the line should be designed to go into a downtown tunnel eventually. Also, a terminus near ID station would probably be better than at Sodo—that would allow for connections to a lot more bus routes (over I-90, all the buses that start in downtown going north) than Sodo would.

      2. “I agree that a West Seattle to SODO Link Station line would be great. A West Seattleite could then go south to the airport or, north, to downtown Seattle.”

        I love this because it would also make it relatively quick and easy for Beaconians to get to West Seattle and back. Right now, the West Seattle Freeway Bridge is quick and easy via car, and having it be quick and easy by train would be nice.

  19. “put a streetcar line as far down California in both directions as you can pay for”

    This is a great idea. You essentially make the Admiral to Fauntleroy neighborhood corridor completely walkable while serving the type of TOD-esque density that alreay exists on California (and about which some in SE Seattle are so squeamish).

    “I would argue that the eventual Link connections through White Center and Burien be built from a western spine along 35th…”

    I get tingly all-over whenever I read something that suggests Light Rail in Burien.

    1. Especially if said streetcar line construction was used to ‘reclaim the street’ by making pedestrian and bike improvements on the scale of what is being discussed in the Capital Hill Memo and thread downpage.

    2. FWIW, I think the grades are streetcar navigable all the way from the Fauntleroy Ferry dock past Lincoln Park to California and then up the length of California to the viewpoint on the north end, winding down to the water taxi dock.

      Didn’t there used to be a streetcar on this stretch? It’s 5.5 miles from one dock to the other. If you turned it around at the water taxi dock and went to Alki Point, it’s about 8 miles.

      It’s only 12 minutes across Elliott Bay on the water taxi. If you ran it more often, you could probably beat the bus for a lot of trips. It would certainly be a more enjoyable trip.

      1. Yes, Admiral Junction, West Seattle Junction and Morgan Junction all got their names from former streetcar junctions.

      2. A streetcar to Alki Point? …snowball’s chance in hell those million dollar view condo owners along Alki Ave SW would ever allow that.

        To get a street car from the water taxi dock up California Way SW means climbing a steep upgrade with a hairpin curve on a two lane street. I’m no engineer but if there’s solution my guess is it would be expensive.

  20. David in Burien,
    I’m curious as to why you don’t move to South Seattle if you are that excited by Light Rail. Just wondering.

  21. I think McGinn might have something else in mind with the routing of a Ballard-Downtown-West Seattle line. I found this little gem over and Orphanroad ( ). This would allow him to politically argue to Seattle voters that we wouldn’t need the Deep bore tunnel since we can replace the highway alignment with light rail. This routing would also go along with his comments on using existing right of way (hwy 99).

    This is just a conversation piece, but could help think through this issue more thoroughly, rather than focusing only on the old Green line routing. This alignment has plenty of engineering and political challenges (hwy99 is state property; how do you cross the ship canal; how do you route it through Downtown; etc) but so does the green line alignments. Just food for thought.

    1. Focusing just on this map:

      1) The Seattle Center and Key Arena are major regional destinations. Having a light rail run strictly down Aurora would serve them poorly to not at all.
      2) Crossing the Aurora Bridge, and then turning left at Fremont, would involve a rather long drop. If light rail were to cross the Aurora Bridge, I would expect it to turn left somewhere closer to Woodland Park Zoo (a somewhat lesser regional destination), if at all.
      3) If Aurora is the chosen path for a secondary light rail route through north Seattle, I’d expect it to simply intersect with the Ballard-to-University line, and keep going.
      4) Buying lanes off a state highway to turn over to a transit agency now has a precedent. Maybe our legislative delegation could even push down the price tag, especially if they feel remorse for having voted to spend so much money on an automobile-centric project in Seattle.
      5) I now have a better appreciation of the headway problems created by merging and splitting rail lines. If this line turns east around Northgate, it could become the line to Bothell and Woodinville. (The 522 buses are packed like sardines.)

      Thanks, moderators, for tolerating discussion of ideas you know to be difficult or impossible.

      1. Re: 522 buses packed like sardines

        I presume that after North Link is built, the route that is 522 today would follow Lake City Way but target Roosevelt instead of I-5 and terminate at the station around NE 65th St. Headways could be reduced as hours now spent on I-5 are repurposed.

        As a route, SR 522 would seem to make a good line. Maybe you could run light rail at grade down the middle of it, but there sure is a lot of traffic on it now. There are some grades that seem iffy as well. If you ever got to Woodinville somehow you’ve got railroad ROW that takes you south from there.

      2. The 522 has ROW priority most of the way along Lake City Way. It has a very limited number of stops. It’s almost halfway to being a BRT line, in that sense.

        But you also have to add in the capacity of the 372.

        If you combine the two routes, plus 306 and 312, into a 10-minute headway route that serves Roosevelt Station and then heads down into the U-District, you’ll still be around the current capacity of the combined routes. At what point does the headway break down on a BRT route?

        We had a 5-minute headway on the 40-acre bus at UT Austin. Problem was: One bus would get clogged, and then 2 or 3 nearly empty buses would trail right behind them. That was a much shorter line.

        On the other hand, we have about 6-minute headway on the 590s out of Tacoma Dome Station in the morning. Since there aren’t stops in between there and downtown, the clogged-leader problem doesn’t seem to emerge. (The buses-caught-in-HOV-traffic-jams does, though.)

        Since 522 is more like a BRT route than an express route, I think a real BRT route on 522 would either be packed on day one, or run into the clogged-leader problem.

        I’d like to see a study of a 522 passenger-rail corridor be part of ST3. But it doesn’t belong in the Seattle transportation package.

      3. I don’t think going over the Aurora bridge is feasible. The lanes are already really narrow, and there isn’t a shoulder or divider in the median. Adding light rail to the bridge would probably take away three or four lanes of car traffic, which is more than is politically possible now.

      4. Brent

        #2 Woodland Park: Bigger Drop. Aurora rises at least 150 feet between 38th and the summit at 50th. Unless you wanted to tunnel through Greenwood Ridge around 65th (a possibility) you’d have to turn west right at the zoo, or you’d be climbing back up the hill you just summited and then started descending. If you do turn at 50th, when you get to 1st NE it’s “look out below!”

        Not gonna work. It’s 39th and left to Leary or a half mile tunnel at 65th…and then you have to double back to Market Street.

        Anyway, the bridge is too lightly constructed to handle all of that extra weight from the trains and track structure. You can take that to the bank.

        It’s beautiful, but it’s NOT a rail bridge.

        The only possibility that I can see for crossing the Ship Canal there is a mid-level bridge directly east of the Aurora footings with the deck swining between the Aurora supports north of the semi-arch end block. The last four footings could take a streetcar level of service to a landing at 35th, keeping it out of the craziness on the Fremont Bridge. Left to a direct connection at the five way intersection with Fremont Way at 35th and Fremont, right to Wallingford and the U-District. But it’s a streecar/tram level of service, not Link.

    2. I will admit now that my understanding of Salem-Portland relationships of the 1970s versus the Olympia-Seattle relations today is somewhat sparse, but is there any glimmer of hope that our Highway 99 tunnel could become the Mount Hood Freeway of this generation? First off Freeway scraping and rerouting of money for a light-rail project I’m sure has issues that make this suggestion ridiculous. However, just curious if anyone is familiar with the Portland situation and Washington law enough to say either way.

      I assume there are immense political complexities and legal roadblocks with abandoning a highway project in favor of a mass transit alternative, like the Mount Hood Freeway was for the initial TriMet Max segment. As far as I can tell Oregon and Washington have VERY different stances and legal issues concerning the funding of roads, gas taxes, etc. I find Chris’s post an opportune moment to show how much this map, despite it’s shortcomings in certain instances, follows a similarly impacted area(if not cost) to the viaduct replacement.

    3. Somebody needs to tell Hizzoner that the Aurora Bridge won’t support rail structure. Cettainly not for something as heavy as Link. Maybe the Czech cars, but even that would be a stretch.

  22. Quoting from above: “The measure authorizes up to two point one billion dollars in taxes over thirty-five years.”

    I’m kind of surprised no one has pointed this out yet (maybe I missed it?), but $2.1B of tax revenue collected over 35 years does not equal $2.1B for building infrastructure. A large chunk (30-40%???) would need to go to debt service, unless you plan to spend 35 years building as the tax revenue rolls in.

  23. Quoting from the future Link headways post by Ben:
    “An overall Sound Transit 2 operating plan I saw on paper suggested three 9 minute headway lines – One from Lynnwood to SODO or Rainier Beach, one from Northgate to Bellevue/Redmond, and one from Northgate to Sea-Tac/Federal Way. This would cause three minute headways between every other train south of downtown, and could cause problems in at-grade portions.”

    Those Rainier Beach trains could be routed to West Seattle instead, at least until ST 3 or 4 or whatever builds a second tunnel under downtown Seattle.

  24. That sounds workable, if 9 minute headways are sufficient south of SODO. But that seems questionable in the long term.

    Supposing you did this, en route to West Seattle, you could provide a station in the industrial area half a mile south of SODO, which is an area with a lot of jobs. This could also be a bus transfer location for future long haul buses using future Industrial Way I-5 direct access ramps.

    Then you have to get across the Duwamish somehow. Presumably you’d serve Delridge and 35th Ave. SW areas on the way to the Junction.

    If you did the Vashon Ferry to Water Taxi streetcar line on California Ave., that could take you the rest of the way to many destinations in West Seattle.

    Depending on how much of this were at grade, it might not be astronomically expensive. But the Duwamish is a challenge and I don’t know how many lines containing at-grade segments you can reliably feed into the downtown tunnel.

    1. Ah, if you had this West Seattle spur, you could route some trains from Northgate to West Seattle as Paul suggests, and an equal number from West Seattle to Beacon Hill / Rainier Valley… and maybe it evens out.

      Just trying to think through the implications of “what if we wanted to serve West Seattle with Link.”

  25. If it were up to me to plan light rail in West Seattle, I’d do the following.

    West Seattle routing:
    – diverge from Link near the maintenance base
    – have a station on 1st Ave S somewhere north of Spokane St
    – come over the W Seattle bridge elevated (like the monorail proposed)
    – have a station at Delridge
    – come the hill (elevated) and have a transit center at Fauntleroy/Alaska (Junction)

    That would be the end of the initial segment.

    Future development would include tunneling to the south/southeast to valley that contains Delridge with stations at High Point, Westwood Village, and White Center on the way to Burien. Haven’t thought about routing past White Center much, but a station between White Center and Burien would be a good idea.

    I don’t think Fauntleroy is worth the hassle of trying to take light rail there. People walking on/off the auto ferry can catch a RapidRide bus to the Junction or to Westwood to transfer to light rail.

    That’s my $0.02.

  26. Other ideas on my wish list for funding by the City of Seattle:

    1. Installation of tap-twice technology and hiring roving security for all in-city buses, with deboarding and boarding at all doors for all in-city routes. Besides speeding up all routes, this would maximize ORCA’s utility as a planning tool.
    2. 24-hour service on all in-city lines, even if the headway is only one hour. This is a graveyard-shift city. We need graveyard-shift transit to make transit feasible for our blue-collar work force. Add more ambassadors on the night-owl runs, so the word gets out you won’t be sitting in the middle of a moving homeless shelter.
    3. More homeless shelters (in relation to point 2).
    4. Match headways on all Linking routes to the rail headway. Match bus start times at Link stations to rail schedules.
    5. Add an hourly night-owl route that serves all Link stations until the DSTT, and then runs on 3rd Ave, to serve Seattle residents who work graveyard at the airport or downtown, and would ride Link if they weren’t stranding themselves.
    6. If Ballard light rail proves unfeasible, then complete Ballard BRT all the way to Northgate Station.
    7. If Aurora light rail proves unfeasible, then complete Aurora BRT all the way to Aurora Village (if Shoreline opts in to helping fund it). It seems ridiculous that Metro and Community Transit didn’t coordinate a plan to keep SWIFT passengers from being left relatively stranded at Aurora Village. It is unfortunate that great transit projects get ruined by political lines on a map.
    8. Study BRT and/or light rail from the U-District to various corridors in Ballard, as well as to various corridors in the Central District.
    9. Madison Ave BRT, to Madison Park.
    10. A general study of where BRT on a major street out of downtown would drastically improve service over the milk runs on those streets.
    11. More frequent service everywhere!

    1. 1. Doesn’t Metro already have funds to do that on the entire fleet? But fare enforcement is another thing.
      2. Yes! More 24 hour service, please. Although I would focus on core routes and simplify the network. That is one thing we’re ahead of Portland, which has no night owl service.
      3. (really not in my area to comment on) but I tend to agree
      4. The Urban Village Transit Network plans to have most major routes match Link’s service frequency and span.
      5. Sound Transit should fund this.
      6. I’m sure it’ll be feasible but that depends on how much money we can get.
      7. RapidRide E line is already planned to go to Aurora Village, just a few years from now. And SWIFT passengers are not stranded. The 358 runs every 15 minutes during the day. Yeah, it’s not a pretty bus but it works.
      8. The city is laying the foundation for better bus service with improvements on 45th/Market.
      9. Interesting, I want it to be a trolley route again.
      10. The general trend is towards wider stop spacing. More real-time passenger info displays at busy stops and every stop downtown. Better information like maps at stops. More priority for transit on major streets for speed and reliability.
      11. Stop the cuts in service . Hourly service is unacceptable in the city of Seattle.

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