Yesterday, we reported that Mayor McGinn is likely to pursue a November 2010 ballot measure for light rail expansion.

During the campaign, the Candidate McGinn promised to offer a ballot measure “within two years” to expand light rail to the west side of the city. What route should his line take? What do you think we could build with, for example, ~$1.5 billion or so (with the rest of the funds going to bike and pedestrian improvements)? How big of a role should Sound Transit play? A tunnel through Downtown or a surface street alignment like Portland? Where would it be more cost effective to extend a streetcar line to rather than build a new light rail line to? How much should the voting public know before it expects to approve a multi-billion dollar funding package?

These questions will all be answered in the comments, to be sure. This is an open thread on McGinn’s likely ballot measure.

163 Replies to “Light Rail Measure in November: Open Thread”

  1. Like many of you, I am all for new transit. But I can’t vote Yes on a new light rail line until good, solid analysis can be done on the new line by light rail experts. Before voting on this, we should be given ridership projections, cost projections, and engineering analysis that shows that all issues were thought through by experts.

    I think this line will be really hard to build. The line will have to go over (or under) the canal, through Queen Anne Hill, through downtown (a whole new transit tunnel?) and over the Port.

    I think the line is a good idea, but I hope we take our time and think it through.

    1. I think this measured, cautious response is exactly right. It leaves me with a secondary question (which I think you were implying): can this kind of analysis be done in 6-8 months (to allow enough time to publicise the results)?

      If McGinn puts a well thought through, comprehensively planned light rail proposal on the ballot, I will be very excited at the prospect of Seattle finally speeding up its development of transit infrastructure. If it’s just something vague and handwavy I think it will be a massive own goal.

      1. I, too, will be very excited to support a comprehensive, well thought out plan, which makes clear to the voter what she will get, as well as the costs.

        Toward the idea of clarity, I think the citizens will need to be better acquainted with the nomenclature, for instance: clear definitions of ‘light rail’ lines? ‘street car’ lines? (any overhead wires involved, etc?) Sound Transit (versus not Sound Transit), and the hierarchy of these agencies.

        I am happy to serve to help identify nomenclature where transit geek speak may confuse our well meaning, thinking, voting public. (Unless, of course, the intention is to keep these good people in the dark!)

    2. I’d be a little cautious about saying you won’t vote Yes if all of those criteria weren’t met. Yes, I want a reasonably detailed design as well, but if we vote this down it will be seen as a mandate against in-city light rail.

    3. Guys, the URS ridership study on the two corridors in 2002 covered this really well for us.

      Remember that you don’t know what the line “will have to” do until you see a proposal. How about the Fremont bridge?

    4. First off, the line could have a station at belltown lower queen Anne. and then go in 15th to ballard. Which wouldn’t be too hard to do. (connecting with the DSTT of course)

      Second, the line does no have to go over the bulk of the port, it could split at SODO and then cross the river and tunnel into West Seattle.

      WSDOT/AMTRAK High Speed Rail to recieve $590 mil for Blaine to Portland improvements.
      Suck on than Mr. Ennis

      1. As to our coastal rail lines, my understanding is the rail bridge crossing West of Fisherman’s Terminal, west to Vancouver, is in dire need of replacement. Is this the case? Is this project on the list? Might we use a new bridge for more than just inter city trains (bike/walk . . . . and electric golf carts ;-)) ?

        Seems like a great opportunity for fixing what’s broken, using creativity and whole systems urban design!

  2. By “west side of the city”, do you mean West Seattle, Interbay, Ballard, etc? A second tunnel through Downtown a couple blocks to the west of the existing transit tunnel seems like a waste.

    1. A new tunnel will eventually be necessary, but will clearly not be part of a package of this cost.

      1. How much would it cost to build the line as aerial? Like what would have been the Green Line? No one ever mentions doing aerial! Wouldn’t that be cheaper than a tunnel and wouldn’t take as much right of way.

      2. I believe a big reason that the Green Line monorail was scuttled was due to the downtown business community’s fear of blocked views and shadows from elevated track downtown.

      3. I remember reading somewhere that people didn’t like large elevated structures (in the Rainier Valley?). Imagine extending the Mt Baker elevated track down along MLK with stations the footprint of Mt Baker on top of intersections.

        The monorail was sold as having slimmer columns and less visual impact than elevated light rail.

      4. If elevated transit, the stations could be part of the adjacent ‘buildings’, and not stick out like a sore thumb, but be integrated with the urban infrastructure in a most pleasing way (partly paid for by any commercial interests using portions of it – I know, not in THIS commercial real estate economy – but down the ‘line’).

        I would love to imagine MLK without the ‘double wide’ ROW, which really kills the spirit of urban living/density/lively streets.

        Sound Transit does not have enough stops along MLK to make it a part of the hood, thus it might be have been better off above or below grade.

      5. The green line ended up with tortured routing through Belltown because of NIMBY condo owners.

  3. I have no idea where you could do a dedicated surface route through downtown. Possible a couplet on 2nd and 4th?

    1. 2nd and 4th are major arterials and efficient one ways. unlikely to be able to take those lanes away. 3rd ave is better, get cars off that asap, but combining with busses there might be worse than the tunnel. 1st ave is reasonable too since that’s just grid lock traffic.

      1. I live on 4th, and while it moves traffic along, I think it’s underused. I could pretty easily see giving up either a lane or a parking lane.

      2. Would be sweet to take a lane away on both 2nd and 4th. Maybe right in the middle to help skinny those streets down a bit. SDOT crews have a curb lane of 4th closed off for construction in front of my building; so sweet, yet it is still a massive street.

      3. I think it’s very unlikely that a $2.1 billion measure could get you through downtown at all.

      4. Are you thinking the Ballard spur would have to be the SLU-Fremont-Ballard streetcar alignment? Or are you saying that 2.8 billion is just too optimistic to get the project done at all?

      5. Also, what cost are you estimating per mile? If you go by 100 million per mile, you could theoretically go from 15th and Market to Fauntleroy for about 1.4 billion.

      6. While I’m almost certain the McGinn proposal will be a Westlake/Fremont/Ballard surface line with a SODO to West Seattle Junction Link Spur, it would be possible to do a MAX like line through downtown relatively cheaply. Yes of would be slower than grade separated, but it would still be faster than say RapidRide.

      7. First or Fifth seem reasonable.

        I agree that 2nd and 4th work like charms, and provide room enough for a BIKE ONLY lane in each roadway (center-ish lane, please), which cars may only wander through with a blinker on, going ‘x’ miles per hour.

        2nd and 4th are the best functioning roads in town.

        The Center Bike Lane could be surfaced in the new, hip Tennis Court Green (ideally with nets available for weekend use with rackets), that would be the ticket! :-)

      1. Ridership at Fauntleroy will be very low – it is not a dense neighborhood or a transit hub, and improving transportation to Vashon Island risks suburbanizing the island. Westwood Village and White Center are the ridership generators in the southern end of W Seattle.

    2. Why use a couplet? the tracks are already there in the tunnel. We should put all link operations in Downtown in the tunnel, so we don’t have portland’s problem for going through downtown. (the trains take 15-20 minutes in downtown, they’re supposed to be rapid transit)

      1. I am going off of the assumption that the tunnel will be at capacity by the time ST2 is finished, as has been discussed on this blog ad nauseum.

      2. Exactly. The increased headways for all those different lines squeezed into the tunnel would decrease train frequency on each line substantially to the point where it’s no longer “rapid transit”.

      3. There won’t be enough capacity left in the DSTT once East Link and Central Link are in place.

  4. I don’t know too much about the West Seattle section but in terms of Downtown and North, here’s my suggestion:

    1) A short tunnel through downtown (under 1st) that has similar stops to the current tunnel with possible underground connections (but above ground isn’t so bad with good signage).

    2) At least a stop or two in Belltown and then one at the Seattle Center, preferably on the West side to connect with Uptown (maybe under Key Arena).

    3) Then a surface connection on Aurora similar to the MLK alignment. I think this is by far the cheapest, most effective way to extend light rail and it would touch a lot of our already dense communities, Fremont, Greenlake, Aurora Village, replacing the 358 which is an incredibly popular route yet not very effective. It would also improve the streetscape along Aurora tremendously in those neighborhoods.

    I know this doesn’t directly connect to Ballard but we already have plans for BRT through Ballard to Downtown. It would be better to supplant the Aurora E Line with Light rail since planning is farther out and the route is much more conducive to rail. Also, you could run really frequent buses E/W in North Seattle that would connect a lot of people, including Ballardites to both the light rail lines.

  5. I just want it to be fast. In the long run development will fill in around it so it doesn’t seem so important precisely where it goes.

    1. Is this a joke comment? The purpose of building light rail line is to provide reliable, high capacity transit to areas of the city that don’t have it. Are you seriously suggesting that the speed of the line is more important than the destination or route? What if people used that logic for driving, walking, bus riding or any other transportation method? Just take the fastest route. Where to? Doesn’t matter! Speed!

      1. HHAAAssspppttt!
        (damn you spit-take!!!)

        Arribba arriba!

        (sorry alex and chris, but chh nails you here)

        Transportation should connect. Speed’s great, but usefulness must trump. Perhaps when we get to ST#20 you can lay in some express alignments and get your speed fix.

        I’ve got a question that ought to have been covered long ago, but I haven’t seen answered for years: While I understand networking the burbs/urban villages to the downtown, why exactly does Ballard (urban village) need to necessarily connect with West Seattle (urban village)? I wonder about how the number of trips using the entire route will be practically nil (as opposed to the Ngate-to-Seatac Link which has ‘destinations’ at both ends). More practically, do ballard residents and west seattle residents really generate all that many burb-to-downtown trips?? Most WS folks I know tend to stay in the SW addresses for shopping, jobs, kids activities/classes, etc. Likewise the Ballardites tend to stay in the addresses with ‘NW’ in them.

        In either case: Why not crosstown with connections to Central Link???

  6. Is there a way to get Sound Transit to speed up the study they have planned for the corridor?

    Wouldn’t this be a precursor to anything being planned/voted on?

      1. Not only that, he probably needs to front ST some money to move the study time up. Cash flow is very tight at the beginning of the plan.

  7. This is my vote, drawn on a Google Map:,-122.355766&spn=0.12978,0.308647&z=12&msid=105084358955426278280.00047e2ba41985553dedc

    Bascially, an extension of the downtown tunnel through Belltown and Queen Anne hill to Fremont, then a surface alignment along Leary to Ballard. It jibes well with commercial centers, as indicated in a map of Seattle restaurants:,-122.349586&sspn=0.062001,0.154324&ie=UTF8&radius=3.59&rq=1&ev=zi&hq=restaurant&hnear=&ll=47.639948,-122.366409&spn=0.061996,0.154324&z=13

    1. We’re out of capacity in the downtown tunnel. If we want a tunnel, it will have to be a new one.

      1. Matt,

        Why do you think the DSTT is out of capacity? It seems you could run a lot of trains at 3 minute headways.

        Here in Chicago, the elevated portions of the system run multiple lines e.g. Green, pink, orange, brown, and purple in the loop stations (some lines in opposite directions of course) with 8 car trains with stations much closer together than the DSTT stations.

      2. Thanks for the link. There was some good discussion back then. One of the items mentioned is that the theoretical capacity at 2.5 minute headways is 800,000 passengers per day. The reality is that not everyone who boards a Link train will transit the DSTT. For example there will be trips that might originate in Federal Way and terminate in Bellevue. Or of course, people making short hops, say Northgate to UW. So, the real capacity of the system is actually far in excess of 800,000 per day.

        I would guess that any additional capacity beyond this would be 30-50 years out. Unless you are anticipating a massive increase in Seattle Metro’s population in that time span that would necessitate this additional capacity, I think any decisions on this capacity could wait a couple of decades. Seattle area’s population I think has been increasing on average about 10-11% per decade. so in 2040 the city population might be around 880,000. King County’s might be: 2.4 Million.

      3. You’re absolutely right that this won’t be a problem for decades. But we need to design transportation on the scale of centuries. I know the next argument will be to run city light rail in the tunnel for a few decades, then build a tunnel. But at that point you’ve spent a whole lot of money connecting to the existing tunnel.

    2. Not sure on the feasibility of that but I would LOVE to see light rail a block from my parents house on Queen Anne…

      1. Thanks Ben for being firm on this. Another thing some overly excited commenters forget is that the tunnel cannot just continue north under Third to Belltown and Ballard without construction of an underpass to get northward traffic past the southward tunnel from Westlake, requiring another closure probably for as much as a year. A flat crossing of the southward track by northward trains simply will not work. I know it is fun to hope for “the best” (whatever that might be for each individual) but please, folks, use common sense – go walk/bike/bus the routes, learn the limitations of modern transit trains, and most of all, read, read, read and think, think, think about how transit systems work.

      2. I have to yield to you guys on this. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good.

        That said, it’s clear the transit system we’d want 100 years from now would tunnel through downtown and would serve the dense Queen Anne neighborhood rather than the unpopulated industrial zone between Queen Anne and Magnolia.

        How is it that a hundred years ago we built a spiderweb of tunnels through New York City and in this modern age we struggle to build anything that’s not at-grade?

      3. How is it that a hundred years ago we built a spiderweb of tunnels through New York City and in this modern age we struggle to build anything that’s not at-grade?

        Zero environmental mitigation, zero disruption mitigation, slave labor wages.

        And less capital being sucked up by highways.

      4. It still needs to be underground. Underground subways move quicker, quiter and more efficient overall. The world has built vast underground subways… and they still are. There is no reason why Seattle can’t build a spiderweb of undergound subway lines.

      5. It still needs to be underground. Underground subways move quicker, quiter and more efficient overall. The world has built vast underground subways… and they still are. There is no reason why Seattle can’t build a spiderweb of undergound subway lines.

        Typically underground rail lines are built only when there is the ridership density to justify them and there isn’t room for a surface or elevated grade-separated line. Terrain can also force an underground alignment such as with Beacon Hill on Central Link.

        I could see underground stations in Central Ballard or at West Seattle Junction, but I doubt we’re going to see any additional lines built entirely underground.

        There is indeed a perfectly valid reason Seattle won’t ever see a spiderweb of subway lines: money. Subways cost $400 million per mile or more. The city doesn’t have the billions it would take to make the top in-city transit corridors into subways.

  8. I don’t think a surface solution through downtown will ever fly because of congestion issues. The best way to build this line is to do it in stages, starting with the simpler alignment — West Seattle to downtown — which could be done in elevated form.

    Stage 1 would start from Alaska Junction and basically follow the monorail alignment, with stations at California and Alaska, 35th and Avalon, Delridge, proceed over the Duwamish on its own bridge and then follow the alignment of the viaduct into downtown (construction could be coordinated with rebuild of AWV), with stops at King Street and Coleman Dock. This first stage could end with a temporary station at grade on Seneca Street just west of 1st avenue (where the Seneca street exit ramps are currently situated).

    Stage 2 would be a tunnel from Seneca and 1st, turning left under 2nd avenue for a transfer station to the existing line at 2nd at University. Continue on another station at the corner of Steward and 2nd (we could use the existing vacant property there for constuction of a station). Continue on 2nd with stops at Bell street and Broad street and up to a station near the fountain in Seattle Center. Turn on west on Mercer, with a station at Queen Anne, and exit from the tunnel near intersection of Mercer and Elliott. From there follow the BNSF tracks through Interbay with a stop at Dravus. Then continue over the canal to on to 15th, where it would switch to a surface alignment. I would recommend stations at Market, 65th and 85th.

    Stage 1 would obviously need to wait for the demolition of the AWV to be completed, but probably could be up and running in 8 years. The second stage would obviously cost more and probably could not start until after the new road tunnel is completed. Obviously, a connection would need to be made to the existing maintenance base and the easiest way to do that is to run a single elevated track just north of the West Seattle Freeway from the base to the main line near 99.

  9. Here are a few ideas (not comprehensive) for the Green Seattle Initiative or whatever it might be called:

    A SLUT extension up Westlake (which needs a real bicycle trail) to Fremont/Ballard, designed with potential future Ballard-UW light rail service in mind. (Maybe a truly fast, grade-separated connection from Ballard to somewhere can be done in this phase; I don’t know.)

    Streetcar extension to 23rd/Jackson to serve the CD.

    Something compelling for West Seattle (Link spur line from SODO?) short of building a new Link tunnel under downtown in this phase.

    Something to help link whatever transit runs on the new SR 520 to the UW… At the very least, getting bus stops next to the rail station and eliminating the 1200 foot walk in the rain across two busy streets at grade between bus and rail there.

    My favorite non-transit-specific pedestrian improvement idea is a crossing of I-5 (with elevator, possibly integrated with new development using a zoning bonus) at Republican or Harrison Street, connecting the densest neighborhood west of Chicago and north of SF (West Capitol Hill) to our fastest-growing urban center (South Lake Union.) With new crossings of Aurora, it becomes a 15 minute walk from the hill to Seattle Center. It’s a total bargain compared to all the rest of this — probably on the order of $10M.

    1. Oh, and a relatively inexpensive First Hill / Capitol Hill streetcar extension to Aloha, as per the preference of the Capitol Hill Community Council.

    2. a better extension for the SLUT would be branch off of Westlake at 7th and continue up Dexter and cross the Fremont bridge to Fremont. There used to be a line that did just that so there shouldn’t be any problems really with building one again

      1. Interesting – they used sprung frogs on that switch (and I would assume the other switch of that crossover).

    3. Libraries for All and the parks levy worked because they had something for every neighborhood. I think Jonathan’s on track politically – if this becomes west side vs. the rest of the city we’re going to waste time on pointless arguments. The ped and bike improvements will be split out city-wide; at least making an effort to include some other neighborhoods in the transit component seems wise.

  10. All I have to say is that whatever is proposed we need to have Mass Transit Now out there again.

  11. I think that any proposal to build light rail to specific neighborhoods in the city must be part of a larger city-wide mass transit plan. People outside of West Seattle and Ballard need to know that they’re not just buying better transit for those two neighborhoods, but into a long-range vision that will someday bring better transit to their own area too.

    Otherwise the risk is that I pay big new taxes to benefit others, and then never see anything for my own area.

    1. ST wasn’t a city-wide mass transit plan. We know where the corridors we need to build in are from the 2000 Intermediate Capacity Transit study the city did. That’s a pretty good long range plan.

      1. A 2000 study that’s sitting in somebody’s drawer at SDOT isn’t enough. I’m saying that we need city leaders to make a commitment to a city-wide light rail plan, with Ballard & West Seattle being the first parts that are to be implemented.

        And Sound Transit’s reach or purpose shouldn’t matter. This is a project being pushed by city leaders. I want to see them thinking about the entire city, not just two neighborhoods or one side of town.

    2. Here’s one possible component of a grand long term vision: Ballard to UW to Redmond over 520 (already in ST Long range plan from 2005 as a future HCT corridor), serving:

      Ballard (transfer to all N/S routes that cross Ballard Bridge, interline with any new bridge or tunnel here)
      Fremont (transfer to all N/S routes on Fremont Bridge and Aurora)
      Wallingford (transfer to 44, 16)
      Brooklyn (U District, transfer to North Link for Northgate, Lynnwood, etc.)
      U Village (transfer to all NE Seattle bus routes that serve the campus)
      UW (transfer to ULink for Capitol Hill, etc.)
      …and then interline with SR 520.

      The fate of SR 520 is being decided soon. The key for SR 520 is reserving dedicated transit ROW from day 1 and avoiding an additional 20,000 additional vehicles a day on top of the mess we have now, competing with transit, peds and bikes.

      In combination with the already-funded segments of Link, a high capacity east-west line would vastly improve transit access for Seattle north of the Ship Canal.

      This is a component of a long term vision, not the whole thing, and would clearly not be funded in one go.

      1. If a line is going to go to U Village, it might as well go to Children’s Hospital, which is on the cusp of a major expansion, one which will have even bigger transportation issues.

      2. Sure, it could go to Children’s Hospital on its way to the Sand Point – Kirkland bridge… :)

        Kidding aside, Children’s is a major destination and does have huge expansion plans and that whole district needs better transit access for sure.

      3. This is probably retarded, but what about after crossing 520, you then hit Kirkland, go South through Bellevue (if they build a tunnel), then East to Issaquah?

  12. I’ve previously suggested we convert Aurora to light rail. It would be surface almost the whole way, use the existing Aurora bridge, and would only need a bridge segment at West Seattle (though I left it on Spokane St on the surface in that map, that’s a bit of a dream). Adding an underground pedestrian tunnel would connect it to Link.

    1. Well, Matt, you’re standing on the track and the trolley bell is ringing. In about two minutes anandakos is going to inform you that the Aurora Bridge can’t be used for rail.

      The federal government has listed the Aurora Bridge as “functionally obsolete”. That means the bridge does not meet current standards for lane widths etc. I have do not know the weight limitations on the bridge. It seems obvious that buses use the bridge, and I think the reason most trucks are banned has more to do with congestion and the long climb up the hill after crossing the bridge.

      It also seems obvious that “functionally obsolete” is a way to replace bridges and roads that aren’t actually worn out. IOW, there are people out there who would like to replace that bridge. This could be a good thing, as in building a new route for transit, or it could be a bad thing, spending money on roads that could be used for transit.

      The old Highway 99 alignment, from Des Moines to Everett, is a natural for transit. Large portions of it are quasi-commercial, by which I mean they are zoned commercial and owned by people who would develop them, if the corridor was upgraded. A very good location for TOD.

  13. I was feeling a bit confused, what with all the reporting here about light rail on Seattle’s ballot in 2010, and the failure of any other news source in the city to report this. So I want back and checked all the links provided and could not find one quote from McGinn making this statement.

    In fact, in all the hubbub about McGinn and light rail, only two things stand out clearly to me- that when he started his campaign, he said he was gong to stop the expensive streetcar projects and provide funding for buses, and when he announced his vote-in-two-years plank, he was very careful to say only that he would make it possible for voters to vote on a plan that someone else had developed.

    It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes from all of this.

    1. The mayor polled about a 2010 ballot measure. We’ve seen trial balloons on Publicola for weeks. The mayor hasn’t announced anything yet, of course, but can you think of an alternative reason for that poll? They haven’t pushed back on the story either, you’ll note.

      1. You can think of several reasons but don’t choose to share them? Why does McGinn “want to hear” about a 2010 ballot measure passing if he doesn’t want a 2010 ballot measure?

      2. Well, one reason might be to influence how respondents answered a different question on the same poll. Another reason might be to make McGinn look like “the voice of the people”. That’s how we’ve seen him use the seawall poll results obtained by his campaign- results which were dramatically more pro-seawall than those obtained by a different polling firm, as noted here.

    2. Actually, John linked here yesterday…

      I’m wary of this, though…

      Much as I have been an advocate for awhile that it should be relatively easy to develop this plan — we already know what corridor it should run through, where some appropriate station areas are, what ridership might look like, comparisons of transportation modes, and more all produced by previous studies by the Seattle Monorail Project, SDOT, and others — I’m not convinced that SDOT and ST have the money or priority to get this done in time for a vote this year.

      And I would definitely be opposed to pushing something that’s not pretty well-defined for this line on the west side of the City. Seattle voters have already voted enough times in favor of wanting “something” on the western side of the City that’s rapid and grade-separated… but transit opponents did a good job of killing the monorail and citizen support for such projects because the plan was not well-defined until the end.

      Remember, this is a better taxing authority, but we still have to cope with basically the same small tax base that doomed the monorail.

  14. It seems like a line through Fremont into Ballard might be slow for getting to Ballard. It could be more efficient to run one line straight down 99 through Greenwood maybe even connecting with the future Northgate stop. Then, a separate line could be run around the waterfront down Elliot, then to 15th over the bridge into Ballard. Maybe it could even loop around Ballard and/or turn east and connect the North Link and the 99 Line. I don’t know if two separate lines would cost too much, but it seems it would be faster and more direct and maybe attract more ridership.

    1. Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and what your budget is. I think Ben thinks (based on his comments to date) you would do well to run either streetcar or at-grade light rail using the Streetcar Network’s proposed route to Ballard, which goes through Fremont. I think you could do that relatively cheaply, but I also think you’d have a lot of car interactions to deal with (i.e., I don’t foresee a dedicated transit lane for much of the route). OTOH going Interbay to Ballard gives you wider right-of-way and IMO a better shot at dedicated lane (though Magnolia would probably still whine).

      Having said that, I would have no problems with an Aurora alignment – but you already have Metro spending $$ on RapidRide. Again depends on which neighborhoods you’re trying to serve and how much it costs.

  15. Has there been any mention of going under the Duwamish river to West Seattle rather than over? With ship clearance restrictions, any bridge would have to have a very high clearance, and I can’t see West Seattlites putting up with losing a lane or two from the WS bridge. There’s plenty of unused space under the Spokane-street viaduct for staging. I just don’t know what would be involved with tunneling under a river.

    1. Even with a surface or elevated route, the grade up to the top of the hill in West Seattle is going to be tough. If you went below the river the grade would be that much greater. If your goal is to avoid taking lanes then you’re probably better off building it elevated parallel to the WSB. The extra expense would also mean less track and fewer stations in West Seattle. Frankly I think for a starter line it’s enough just to get to the top of the hill, and use streetcars for local service in the neighborhood, mostly along California.

      The harder question is Ballard. I think you bundle the W. Seattle Link spur with a streetcar extension to Ballard through Fremont and a detailed planning study of light rail alternatives in the area. To provide more city-wide appeal, see Jonathan’s suggestions for expanding streetcars in other places. The studies should also be broader–study Ballard-UW, Aurora/99 surface and tunnel/surface combo, and Ballard-downtown direct.

      One thing about starting with a streetcar is that it will be needed for local use even if there’s light rail eventually, and allows for a phased approach. Ballard to downtown via Fremont isn’t quick, but Ballard to Fremont/99 via a streetcar plus a Link stop to downtown is better as a second stage improvement. And then you upgrade that to tunneled Ballard to Fremont light rail with a downtown transfer on 99 Link.

      Is it possible to run single ST trains streetcar/MAX style? That could help by allowing some Link routes to begin streetcar style and upgrade over time as needed.

      1. Phoenix runs single cars during off-peak hours and weekends to save costs.

        The Link LRV is heavier than a streetcar so the tracks will need to be constructed to support the greater load. The minimum turning radius is not that much greater than a streetcar (25 m Kinkisharyo vs 18 m Inekon Trio) but could be an issue with limited street space.

      2. Shouldn’t Link also be running single cars at off peak times right now? How much money does that save? Same labor cost since it’s one operator either way. What is the extra electricity expense of having a two car train as opposed to a single?

    2. That whole area (Harbor Island) is fill so it’ll be complex work to stabilize the soil around a tunnel but I’m no geotech engineer.

      And the soil there is contaminated.

    3. I say that a line could serve 1st or 2nd ave (tunnel) georgetown, southpark, white center and then head northwest towards west seattle

  16. Run it up Delridge, not to The Junction. The poor need transit more than the rich, and it will but much easier chugging up the Delridge valley than climbing Fauntleroy.

    It would completely revitalize Delridge. 15 to downtown on a train? I might move there.

    1. I bike Delridge daily, and I’ve often tried to envision what the street would look like with an MLK-style at-grade light rail line. You could do it north of Orchard by taking away the turn lane and street parking. South of Orchard, though, Delridge narrows, and it would be tough to fit any tracks without expanding the road into adjacent (private) property.

      BTW, it’s already less than 15 min from Brandon/Delridge to downtown on the 120, which comes every 10 minutes at peak (assuming no traffic, of course)

    2. You are correct that the 120 via Delridge has the highest ridership of all Metro routes in West Seattle. Delridge also has the advantage of being flat, and is a straight shot for extending the line further south to White Center, Burien, etc. However, many parts of Delridge are too narrow for at at-grade exclusive right of way. The only way to get through these portions would be subway or elevated like Vancouver’s Skytrain. Which would completely blow McGinn’s budget…

      Delridge would be great for a feeder streetcar (running in mixed traffic) – connecting to Link in the north at Spokane and in the south at White Center. Flat, not too much traffic.

  17. At point, speed is more important than exactitude.

    Because of the economy and general slow down, we have a chance to buy right of ways, employ labor, and most of all help Puget Sound for the future by acting now.

    Spend as much money as it takes, but do it now, and do a lot of it.

  18. I’d like to see a phased approach recognizing that we won’t have all the engineering answers in six months. Something that presents a citywide plan, funds one segment, and prepares the engineering for the other segments. Then we can vote on each line at a time with its configuration known.

    Ballard and/or West Seattle need to get the next two lines. They’re the areas that get the least benefit from Link, and they were promised a monorail and didn’t get it. Aurora should get rail at some point, but it’s so close to Link that people would complain, “Why does north-central Seattle get two N-S lines while we don’t have any?” But I don’t think a full Ballard-to-West Seattle line can be planned in six months, and I’d worry about it being shoddy if it was. West Seattle to SODO makes sense, as does Ballard to Brooklyn or Ballard to downtown.

    Extending the SLUT to Ballard is OK as long as it’s clear that it would mainly benefit Fremont, and that it’s no substitute for a Ballard-downtown rapid. Although if the SLUT is extended in a Y to both Ballard and UW, then a Ballard-UW streetcar could share part of the tracks, and would need its own track only for the northlake part. We could call it the SLUT Triangle.

    If the SLUT is extended in a Y to both Ballard and UW, then a Ballard-UW streetcar could share its tracks and would only need its own tracks for the northlake segment.

  19. Wow! With all this transit dollars, Mcginn could easily pay for the entire $250 million Seattle streetcar plan!

  20. It needs to be in a tunnel downtown. At-grade light rail is slow, has lower capacity, is accident-prone, and attracts fewer riders. Yes, it will cost a lot more than at-grade, but it’s worth it in the long-term. It looks like there’s no way that the $2.1b that McGinn suggested would get you a full downtown tunnel+Link to Ballard and West Seattle, but it might be able to get you a SODO-West Seattle Junction Line, and a Westlake-Ballard via Belltown/Uptown tunnel and Ship Canal tunnel line. These could be linked up in ST3 future under Second Ave.
    Of course, it’s very possible that that $2.1b number means absolutely nothing, and that he and his pollster just chose that randomly for the sake of finding out public opinion.

    1. How does an at grade alignment attract fewer riders?

      If anything I would think that it would attract more. If people see a light rail vehicle coming I think that they would be more inclided to take it. If you have to travel down several flights of stairs to get to light rail they may just choose to take some other form of transportation. This is especially true for the elderly and those that are disabled.

      1. Sound Transit’s analyses of the Downtown Bellevue East Link options showed that the at-grade option garnered a few thousand less riders than the tunnel options, or even the elevated options all the way over on 110th or 112th. I’m not a professional planner (yet) so I don’t know why this happens.

      2. That seems odds, but it seems to me that for short trips an at grade alignment would generate riders and for longer trips a below grade alignment would generate riders as it is quicker to go through a downtown area. I would expect that short trips are non existent in downtown Bellevue.

      3. At-grade is slower. Long-time commuters figure this out and select the mode that gets them where they’re going fastest.

      4. True, but take into consideration that most commuters are going downtown, not through it. This is not the same “spine” mentality of st1 and st2

      5. So Capitol Hill and Rainier riders will have the privilege of getting anywhere in the region quickly, including jobs on the Eastside, but Ballard and West Seattle riders will not because “most of them are just going downtown”. What they need is a fast way to get to Link or the downtown buses, and if it happens to take them to downtown destinations too, so much the better.

        However, I’m cautiously optimistic that an MLK-like route will be good enough. We should start with the timeframe. I suggest 10 minutes minimum, 20 minutes maximum, from Market Street or the Junction to downtown/Central Link. That would be reasonable for both short and long trips. The 15-express is +/- 20 minutes, the 15-local 25. Can a surface route achieve this? We’ll know from the engineering studies. Downtown and Belltown will be the hardest part. The main thing to avoid is putting stops every two blocks like MAX or the SLUT. I don’t think it has to go to Seattle Center because there are already many ways to get to Seattle Center including the monorail.

        You can’t say “riders won’t come” with both short-distance and long-distance segments. Riders have never had the opportunity. The main reason people on the Eastside don’t ride the bus is that it’s infrequent and doesn’t go to their destinations.

    1. Depends on what you want to do. Yes it’s a huge amount compared to current (and recent) Seattle budgets even with Bridging the Gap funds, but with drainage you can spend $1 million per block on sidewalk construction.

      Fortunately with the Ped Master Plan we have a good tool for spending whatever money is raised where it is needed the most.

  21. What about running it in a “cut and cover” tunnel under Alaskan as part of the seawall replacement, just like Nickel’s had wanted for the Viaduct? Certainly the waterfront isn’t the ideal spot, but some investment in pedestrian and bike improvements coupled with the eventual elimination of the viaduct would make it much easier (or at least seem easier) to get from the downtown core to the waterfront. I personally would rather walk a bit if it meant we could avoid at grade stuff which would get stuck in congestion.

    1. And it could use the sonn(?) to be abandoned Battery Street Tunnel to reach Aurora and South Lake Union, along with traveling up trough Interbay to Ballard.

    2. I think the waterfront’s the perfect place for this line – in a tunnel or even at street level (since there aren’t any traffic crossings, and we’ll have a wide right-of-way). The main tunnel to build would be a pedestrian tunnel to the bus tunnel. Add a few escallators and it would be a fast and easy connection between the two lines.

  22. Would creating a transit-way in the space currently occupied by the Viaduct be a possible alternative for routing the West Seattle – Ballard line? Or would it be a little too far out of the way from the job core in downtown to be a worthwhile consideration? With one of the concerns being the routing through downtown Seattle due to the DSTT being at capacity once U Link opens in 6 years, locating the line near the waterfront could be a more affordable way to route it. Construction costs for the route could be combined with the construction that will already have to take place when the Viaduct comes down. And at the same time, avoiding the main core of downtown means potentially avoiding the limitations on train length due to the smaller block sizes in downtown Seattle. Then in the future, once funding is hopefully available for a 2nd downtown transit tunnel, the light rail trains could be re-routed to that tunnel, leaving the tracks on the waterfront open for the return of the waterfront streetcar.

  23. Maybe I’m the only one but I see McGinn’s strategy of putting the Seawall levy and the light rail plan on the ballot ASAP as a way to; one, block the deep bore tunnel, two, hide behind a shield that the voters rejected immediate rail expansion. In case you haven’t noticed, tax increases haven’t exactly been the most popular thing with the electorate lately. Then again, maybe Seattle is more liberal than Taxsachusetts.

    1. I think that there are probably alot of people that the whole seawall levy is an attempt to stop the deep bore tunnel. When I heard that I thought mhmm this looks suspicious and I saw a comment earlier on the same thing.

      1. I’m really confused by the notion that fixing the seawall would somehow stop the deep bore tunnel. Fixing the seawall is one of the things Seattle agreed to do as part of the deep bore tunnel agreement. Someone please enlighten me on how this could somehow stop that project.

      2. If the seawall gets completed ahead of the tunnel it could make it easier for the city drop there support for the tunnel.

        An example of why the city might drop support for the tunnel: For several years there is not going to be any major road along the waterfront and as such people are going to have to find alternatives. The city could say people have found ways to get around with any major road along the waterfront why do we even need to be support or spend any money for this tunnel.

  24. Unless you build an entirely new maintenance base, you have to hook the West Seattle line into the existing line. Why not temporarily build a line that branches off from the existing main line at/near the SODO yard, goes across the Duwamish flats and the river on elevated columns like the ones by the airport, and then climbs into West Seattle? When the whole system starts to reach capacity in 15 years, you can think about building a new parallel track (say, N along 1st Ave. S) to a new tunnel through downtown, and the old connection becomes a shuttle track for cars going in/out of service.

  25. You could make it at-grade on 1st. Maybe just close it to cars from Pine to Columbia, and make it a pedestrian, bike and train right away and open-air mall.

    At pioneer square, jog to alaska and go elevated.

  26. Here’s how to do a Western Seattle line, as a Streetcar:

    Start in Ballard, at Seaview & 57th. There will be a Commuter Line Station there someday. Trust me.

    Curve around East to Market Street, then turn South onto 15th Ave NW.

    Cross the canal, and stay on 15th Ave NW Southbound. This entire stretch is prime area for enhanced development. There are lots of blue collar jobs that will be served by a streetcar here. People in apartments along the Eastern edge of Magnolia will walk or bus to stops here to get downtown and back.

    Continue along Elliot, then do a weave with a rise or a dig at Roy to hook up with the Streetcar line on Alaskan Way. Stick on Alaskan to King, serving the whole pier area, then slide over to 1st. Look! More access to Stadiums! Yay Sports Fans!

    Stick with 1st down to the West Seattle Freeway, then turn West and cross with every other friggin’ roadway that heads over to West Seattle. Put a stop with some elevators at Harbor Ave SW, so bikers can get off and cycle along the waterfront. (I’ll race you to Margaritas at Cactus!)

    Follow SW Admiral Way up to California Ave SW, then turn South.

    Continue South to Fauntleroy Way SW, then turn West and follow Fauntleroy down to the Ferry Stop south of SW Trenton St. Cut into that hillside on the Eastern side, and put a single lane reverser in there.


    Now everyone from Vashon to West Seattle to SODO to Magnolia to Ballard to Train-Commuters-From-The-North can take a streetcar to downtown Seattle, or anyplace inbetween. A short walk past the stadiums gets them on Link. A bus gets them pretty much anywhere else.

    As for Fremont, just split the SLUT at Westlake Ave N and have “Destination Streetcars”. It works fine with the Green Line in Boston.


      We’ve got 80k+ people on our little peninsula island over here. We should be part of the regional transit system. Do it right the first time. If supplementing regional light rail with a streetcar makes sense later, fine, but light rail should come to West Seattle from downtown first and then continue on to Burien.

      Thank you.

  27. As a general rule in transit planning, we should not put in a station unless we are willing to zone the quarter-mile station radius at least NC-65 (six-story mixed-use buildings). Neighborhoods might say they want rail, but unless they are willing to upzone, we will never see a sufficient return on the investment.

    This will limit where stations can be placed in West Seattle, as the only areas that currently meet this criterion are the West Seattle Junction and maybe White Center.

    1. Maybe LINK should only be an express/inter-zone system and we build as few stations as possible so long as there’s lots of parking and bus interface.

      1. That’s the idea, it’s supposed to be a transit I-5.

        As for parking, it should be there in the suburbs, but the city should just have good bus connection.

  28. I think many of us agree that a grade separated route through downtown that serves Ballard and West Seattle makes the most sense for what the city needs. The problem being that this route would be expensive, necessary, but expensive. As mentioned before $2.1Bil is nowhere near enough to do this right.

    I think we could fund a new Bus tunnel under 2nd or 1st, connect up to the Ballard and West Seattle Rapid ride lines (and some of the routes that will soon be kicked out of the DSTT when U-Link comes online). This could be our down payment for a future ST3 vote on extending to north and south. You could build it ready to go for future light rail use (like the DSTT was supposed to, but actually right).

    What would that cost? How about cut and cover (very disruptive but cheaper) versus tunnel boring?

    We could also fund the Streetcar network plan plus pedestrian and bike improvements with that $2.1 bil.

    What do you all think?

    1. I agree, my first priority would be to build a new rail-ready bus tunnel through Downtown. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the political will (or even imagination) is on this right now.

    2. Good idea, Chris. Repeat what worked before, and give RapidRide someplace “rapid” to go. Especially if you include the 358, which has also been proposed for rail conversion someday.

  29. Why not start with the West Seattle line being the south end of the University-Link segment? Build one line at a time, although slower, still gets it going. This way tunnel capacity is not an issue, since there would be the trains running from the U going through there anyways.

    1. I agree that 2 spurs off central/university link to serve West Seattle (from SODO) and Ballard/Fremont/Wallingford (from Brooklyn) seems like a good first step, if the extra distance and time of transferring isn’t too much of a turnoff. When a second downtown tunnel (and West Seattle-Downtown-Ballard) becomes feasible, those spur lines just make non-downtown trips easier.

    2. East Link and Central Link trains will both be continuing up through University Link to Northgate with very low headways, so you can’t fit another line in there.

  30. I definitely like the idea of a second north-south downtown bus tunnel, ready for conversion to rail in the future.
    Where are all those buses going to end up after the Link expansions open?
    You could eliminate cars from a couple of streets downtown, but perhaps there is no political will for that.
    Building the tunnel, the most expensive part, now would help maintain good bus service for the next 15 years,
    and provide for rail expansion in the future.

  31. I’m reposting my comment from the ballot measure thread here just to include it with all the other ideas mentioned.


    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.

    1. I think that it is important to also connect White Center, South Park, Georgetown to the network

    2. I was thinking there could be a cable car connecting Fauntleroy and Lincoln Park with Link stations up the hill. Your routing sounds almost exactly like my fantasy routing, cool!

  32. Some of these proposals seem to depend on the viaduct tunnel being built as planned. I don’t think we should count on that until it happens. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but we don’t want to have one of our rail lines bite the dust if it doesn’t.

  33. What about running the line up 5th? You split at the ID Station, then run at grade or elevated with stations that correspond to the ones on 3rd and terminate at Westlake. From there you can connect to Central Link, the Monorail or the SLUT. If there’s any money left over, extend the SLUT to Fremont/Ballard and the U District.

    Alternately, you could continue the line (elevated) up 5th from Westlake. You’d have to replace the Monorail, but you’d go through Seattle Center and then make a right turn on Elliot/15th (back to surface) and take that all the way to Ballard.

  34. Where is the viaduct tunnel supposed to go? I found a WSDOT map that shows it going under 1st Avenue, if that’s still current.

    We’ve been talking about a second transit tunnel under 1st or 2nd. But I don’t know if the deep-bore tunnel is compatible with a 1st Avenue transit tunnel. I’d rather have it closer to 3rd anyway, but it did give me an idea. What about replacing the deep-bore tunnel with a cut-and-cover tunnel with a transit tunnel on top of that? Then the car-lovers would get their f*ing freeway without the expense of a bored tunnel, and the transit tunnel would prepare us for rail on Aurora, which could spur to Ballard. The main problem would be tearing up 1st Avenue for construction, but perhaps the car lovers would accept it if we put both cars and rapid transit in at the same time.

    Another idea would be to just go ahead with the 1st Avenue streetcar they tried to put in the viaduct package but couldn’t, only extending it to Ballard and West Seattle.

    1. One other distinct possibility for a second Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel would be going down 5th. This would allow both Westlake and IDS stations to be shared with both lines (not on the same tracks/level though). It would also allow for a station at the Civic Center.

      To your second point, bored tunnels are usually cheaper than cut-and-cover tunnels except for very short stretches. While the TBM costs money, so does utility relocation (and construction disruption).

  35. I know there’s little love for the monorail here…but what about extending the existing monorail to Ballard? It would connect with Link at Westlake. I’d rather have light rail to Ballard with a downtown tunnel, but I’m afraid we’ll never be able to raise enough money on our own. I’d also love to have light rail through Wallingford to the U district, but that would have to be a tunnel, which would very expensive as well. Ugh…I wish there were some real federal money for mass transit!!! We should be lobbying Senator Murry hard, as she’s on the transportation committee AND she’s up for re-election. Bringing some serious federal money for Seattle mass transit would be a huge boost for her in Seattle – where if she gets a strong turnout, she wins the election.

    1. It was looking like there was going to be a huge new transportation bill with $50b for high-speed rail and $100b for transit, but unfortunately Pres. Obama’s spending freeze will probably put that on the back burner for the next several years…

      1. Actually there is plenty of money to do that as long as you take $150B away from roads and airports.

    2. Extending the Alweg monorail would require custom-made parts. The city has the plans, but the Alweg company went out of business long ago. The advantage of light rail or streetcars is it’s off-the-shelf technology which is cheaper than building custom parts.

  36. If Mcginn wants to go with a Green Line type price range. Then he should make this a Seattle transit bill including the following on top of a Link extension:

    Bicycle boulevards like in Berkeley.
    Streetcar/Rapid Ride on routes like the 7, 36, 5, Lake City way and Delridge. (perhaps streetcars closer to downtown, like north of the Beacon hill station, and RapidRide farther out)
    Extend trolley bus routes in Queene Anne and Capitol Hill to actually meet other routes or stations, rather than stop in the middle of no where.

    1. Hmm, Berkeley is flat and has wide streets and is a suburb. How would that work in a large city with hills and narrow streets. Where would you put the boulevards?

      I can see some places in north Seattle that has lots of long residential streets. N 75th Street between Greenlake and Ballard. Linden or Dayton Avenues around N 100th Street. But where would you put them in central and south Seattle?

      One thing that was lost with Link. MLK used to be the flattest, easiest way from Madison Park to Rainier Beach. Now with the narrower street and more traffic, I’m not sure it’s good for bicycles, but what’s the alternative? Lake Washington Boulevard has the big hill on it, and between it and Rainier in the mid Valley.

      1. There are still plenty of long strait residential streets (check out google earth, you can see them) in which to put bicycle blvds. Remember, Berkley did not acquire any land when building them.

  37. I rode the SLUT yesterday for the third time in my life, to estimate what a trip to Ballard or UW would be like. It’s extremely slow, mainly because it stops at every single light. That’s in addition to the stations every 2 blocks downtown and every 3 blocks in SLU. The worst pauses are at Westlake/Valley and Fairview/Valley, on both sides of LU station.

    A Westlake extension wouldn’t have that problem, and maybe a Fairview extension could make some speed. But it’s still going to have that bog-down in SLU and Belltown. (Or is that the Denny Triangle?) South of the park already looks like downtown with its large buildings, so maybe if we just pretend it’s part of downtown the slowness can be tolerated.

    But really, some signalization or signal pre-emption is necessary. (I’m not sure what the difference between these is.)

    The other problem is the 15-minute frequency. I had to wait for 14.5 minutes at LU station and pretend I couldn’t walk to Denny Way in 6 minutes. Any work on the SLUT needs to double the frequency.

    1. For some reason, the streetcar misses every light, even though buses and trolleybuses don’t have that problem.

    2. The streetcars themselves are capable of going at 40mph. If we take some of the ROW from that parking lot next to Westlake and turn it into a railway, this could be a partial rapid transit system for the the Freemont area.

    3. I rode Tacoma Link last Saturday the difference between it and the Seattle Streetcar was really noticeable. For one thing T Link has its own exclusive lane except on Commerce St. It stays on time and runs every 10 minutes despite a portion of it being single tracked. And T Link rarely stops at signals because they are timed for the train.

      Signalization is just adding signals to an intersection that doesn’t already have them. Signal pre-emption is giving unconditional right of way to a certain movement with like an ambulance, fire truck, or a freight train. Signal priority is giving preferential treatment to a certain movement like Link trains and late buses, the signal will change sooner or stay green longer just for them but not necessarily instantly.

  38. The Greater Seattle metropolitan area is a burgeoning region of over 4-million internationally-influenced Washingtonians. Each decade, how metro population will add another million as out freeways clog up. What do we do? We do what the rest of the world has done in situations like this…

    …All over the world, you will find vast, cobweb-like subway systems that are the backbone to the city’s infrastructure. Subways? Yes. Subways… not the pathetic version (at grade light-rail) Americans have been using. Many cities here in the US have made the mistake in turning towards light-rail. These light-rail projects in cites like Phoenix, Houston, Minneapolis and Portland chose not to follow what cities worldwide have done (digging underground subway systems), and instead builds one or two at grade light-rail segments that don’t exceed 30mph. On top of that… they “dig an even deeper hole” by constructing AT-GRADE light-rail DOWNTOWN! This is unbelievable. Seattle.. please do not make this mistake.

    Seattle needs to use its role models overseas… like Japan and Europe, who have used engineers and planner with intelligence and wisdom/experience in building UNDERGROUND subway systems. Seattle needs to hire experts from London, New York and Tokyo to build subway lines cheaply, efficiently, and good enough quality to last centuries.

    Be smart Seattle… put the whole darn thing underground.

    1. Andrew,

      First of all, please pick a different username. There are something like 8 people in the transitsphere named Andrew.

      The reason not to build a subway is that it’s much more expensive. ST is spending every dollar they plan to collect. If you can come up with State funding, or a radically expanded FTA grant process (as existed in the Forward Thrust days), then we can talk.

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