West Seattle from the air (wikimedia)

I think a lot of the Ballard-to-West Seattle light rail speculation is getting bogged down in routing arguments.  It’s fun but ultimately colored by our experience of those neighborhoods, and really needs some study data to capture the tradeoffs.

One line of opposition is that some sort of grade decision (e.g., at-grade through downtown) is grounds for opposing the package.  As I’ve mentioned before, despite loose talk of 2012 or 2016 ST3 votes, ST3 is not necessarily close at hand and a regional package faces much higher barriers to passage.  Moreover, no matter how soon ST3 comes, the more the city gets done in the meantime the larger the system will be at any particular point in the future.  Indeed, there is no concrete idea of how big the funding package for ST3 will be, so it’s unclear that it would unlock huge amounts of funding to allow more tunneling.  Lastly, the political takeaway from the defeat of a measure will not be “the package was not massive enough” but instead “even Seattle isn’t willing to support more light rail in the current climate.”

All that said, I’m not really worried about the measure passing in Seattle.  I’m not a magnificent political prognosticator but there’s a solid record that suggests that whether this measure goes to the ballot in 2010 or 2011 or 2015 it’s going to pass.  The real danger is that this plan, due to insufficient preparation, will overpromise and under-deliver.  As project engineering progresses, costs (mitigation and otherwise) go up.  That sets up the traditional Puget Sound funding crisis (see: Sound Transit circa 2000, Monorail circa 2004) where the entire enterprise has a near-death experience or worse.  That’s the real political risk.

It may very well be that the city can put together a reasonably high-fidelity plan for the 2010 ballot.  And of course, at some point before 100% engineering you have to take the planning you’ve got and go to the voters.  However, I hope the McGinn administration heavily weights the maturity of the plan.  For the comments: can anyone articulate what the benefit of going to the ballot in 2010 vice 2011 is, beyond everything potentially opening a year earlier?

90 Replies to “Editorial: Plan New Light Rail Carefully”

  1. I would think that ‘job creation’ would be one of the primary arguments for starting a year sooner.

      1. I’m guessing a streetcar line would be able to start fairly quickly. Though there would probably be at least 18 months of environmental review and design work required first.

      2. As a friend of mine who’s a city manager pointed out to me when critiquing the first round of stimulus, there’s a lot of job creation (and retention) that goes on before they start “turning earth” on a project.

      3. Yeah I’m just getting out of school and there are no jobs for engineers and most companies have already cut at least a quarter of their workforce. Architects have it worse.

  2. Thanks for the post Martin. I agree that the biggest danger is the financing plan won’t be enough to build the bare minimum of what the public thinks it voted for. I really don’t want a repeat of the monorail mess.

    That said I believe the sort of plan Conlin has been talking about (streetcar to Fremont/Ballard, light rail between Alaska Junction and SODO) with some pedestrian and bike improvements tossed in can be done for around the $2.1 Billion figure the Mayor has been using.

    Other than starting construction sooner the only real reason I see to put a plan forward this year rather than in a year or two is to have a transit fallback to the tunnel and to take advantage of some political will behind some form of Westside rail transit.

    1. I don’t think that comes close to $2.1b. The Ballard-Fremont streetcar is a couple hundred million tops, and the West Seattle light rail would be $600-$700m tops. So that leaves you with over a billion for bicycle and pedestrian upgrades, which I suppose could get you sidewalks on every street in the city plus cycle tracks on every major arterial, but that’s probably not going to happen.

      1. SDOT put Ballard-Fremont at $150m, but that’s to streetcar standards. If there’s going to be some attempt to enhance it (partial ROW, longer trains) it’ll go up.

        As for West Seattle Light Rail, the sky’s the limit. At the very least you’ll need to elevate a lot of stuff in Sodo to cross the train tracks and otherwise get across all the water. Even if you run at the surface in West Seattle, the neighborhood is going to take its pound of flesh for mitigation.

      2. I’d expect the Fremont-Ballard line will probably be enhanced from the basic mixed-traffic running line in the current plan. The easy one would be to give the line its own lanes along Westlake and perhaps in the Fremont to Ballard segment. Still I don’t expect that would add more than say $100 million at worst.

        I’m guessing that between the rail crossings, water crossing, and avoiding major utility relocations most of the West Seattle line between SODO and reaching the Delridge area will be elevated with perhaps short at-grade sections to avoid the expense and staffing requirements of elevated stations. I’d also expect at least a short section of the line in the West Seattle Junction area will be underground.

        A quick measurement shows the West Seattle Junction to Sodo station is roughly 3.5 miles so construction costs are $350 million at $100 million/mile, $700 million at $200 million/mile and $1.4 billion at $400 million/mile. At $200 million/mile you’ve got enough to build most of the line elevated, at $400 million/mile you can just dig a tunnel the whole way.

      3. I think you’d go with the elevated, because you have to do elevated to get over the Duwamish, then Fauntleroy is quite wide so elevated is fine. Then there can be a couple block long tunnel into the center of the Junction.

      4. The University Link project budget is $1.9 million for 3.15 miles and 2 stations. I cannot think of a way to make a light rail project cost more than University Link (which is not to say it isn’t worth it), so that sets an upper bound of about $600 million per mile. Sound Transit estimates the cost of extending Central Link south to S. 200th St. to be $335 million for 2 miles and one station, which suggests that an elevated section would cost under $200 per mile.

        To really do West Seattle right, it would probably need to be elevated through SODO and over the Duwamish at the very least. The real variable (other than tunnel v. no tunnel) is stations. Those things are not cheap. About how many stations do folks think a West Seattle light rail line would have and where?

      5. I believe the mayor wants to finance the lines with 30 year bonds which means there will be considerably less than $2.1 billion for actual construction. I’d guess there is just enough for the lines I outlined plus enough to replace the head tax for bike and pedestrian improvements.

  3. I hate to sound like a amateur, but what is the difference between a streetcar and light rail? The length of the train?

    Because it would seem to me that a streetcar line from, say, 85th down 15th, through Interbay, past the Sea Center and on into Westlake via 3rd or 4th would be pretty nice.

    1. There isn’t really a “difference”. The definitions have a huge amount of overlap.

      It’s almost a misnomer to call Link “light rail” because its capacity from Northgate to the ID will be higher than many things called “Subway” – there are Paris lines with lower capacity than we’ll have.

      I wouldn’t put a streetcar through Interbay. Interbay is a great place for an express line to Ballard. If we’re going to do a streetcar, run it through Fremont, where there’s a bridge ready-made for streetcar service.

    2. Perhaps I’m wrong and I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I am, but I tend to think a street car generally uses the same lanes of traffic that cars do, like the S.L.U.T. Whereas Light Rail is a term generally used for a Light rail vehicle in its own right-of-way, like Link. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about the terms though, just convention.

    3. There’s much gray area between the two and plenty of exceptions, but in the most general terms light rail has higher capacity, stops less frequently, and is more likely to feature grade-separated dedicated right-of-way (and is therefore faster). Just look at Link versus the South Lake Union Streetcar for an example.

    4. The thing on Westlake is definitely a streetcar. The thing running from Westlake to Mt Baker is light rail. The thing on MLK could be either.

      1. Ignore this. It really is a subjective decision based on lane-sharing, traffic crossings, station spacing, and local terminology. Because I thought, wouldn’t somebody seeing the SODO segment for the first time think it’s a streetcar? And streetcars do have downtown tunnels (Germany, Philadelphia) and tunnels like Mt Baker (depending on whether “San Francisco Municipal Railway” is streetcars or light rail). MLK looks like a streetcar at first, but the wide stop spacing and (eventual) 4-car trains would make one wonder.

        And “Tacoma Link” looks and smells like a streetcar. One hopes it will be called “Tacoma Streetcar” someday.

    5. It’s like a sliding scale. One one hand, you have the TGV, vary expensive, fast, and high capacity, on the other, the streetcar. Light rail is faster, heavier, and higher capacity than the streetcar.

  4. I think the best way to do this route would be a fully at-grade (think MAX Blue or Yellow lines), except for the river crossings, which should be on its own spans.

    The slowest segments would be undoubtedly Downtown Seattle and river crossings and the fastest segments along Elliott Ave/15th Ave.

    As much as I would love a fully grade separated ROW, the fact is we can not afford the “gold plated” alignment, which would be elevated and tunneling. The corridor is far too dense and with the upgrades to the BNSF, there will be no room there as well.

    There is no easy way of doing a Ballard – West Seattle route at-grade but it is the fastest solution. Think of $1.5-2.5 billion for an at-grade alignment for improved travel times and higher ridership over the current buses but more disruptive, shorter trains vs upwards of $4-8 billion for the fastest travel times, even more improved ridership, less construction disruption, longer trains, but at the cost of several miles of new tunneling, elevated ROW, etc.

    The Mayor will have a lot on his shoulders on how it should be done and trying to do the best of both worlds…This is something I would rather not screw up, especially on the first mayoral term as it will make or break him.

  5. I for one will be extremely disappointed if the proposal for “light rail” to Ballard turns into a “streetcar” to Fremont. I don’t have anything against streetcars and think a streetcar to Fremont would be great…but they are NOT mass transit. Mass transit has to be grade separated. If the money’s not there to do light rail to both Ballard and West Seattle right now, then the city planners should do a study and figure out: a, which line (West Seattle or Ballard) would serve the most people; and b, which is affordable to do a a grade separated line to. It maybe that light rail is just too expensive for the public to stomach right now. In which case McGinn should go to a plan b, which may be a streetcar network. In that case he needs to make it clear that streetcars are NOT mass transit. If we start building streetcars and calling them light rail, that’s a recipe for turning people off of mass transit.

    1. Amen. I don’t think a streetcar to Ballard, packaged as “light rail”, is worth the cost. I’d likely vote no on such a plan. If 2 billion only gets a streetcar, I’d rather spend $4b and get what we really need (light-metro).

      1. I think we can all go round and round about what should be built but there is a limit to what can be afforded and within that constraint the best project should be built. Also lets not forget that there might be some federal money out there.

      2. I disagree and agrew with parts of this. We shouldn’t “cheap-out” and build something on this corridor just because we think we need to do something quickly.

        We are going to be living with our decision for literally decades so we should take our time and to it right. If the budget doesn’t match the design, then we have two courses of action:

        1) extend the schedule to match the budget, or

        2) take our time and work on getting funding partners (Feds?).

        Given the focus on GHG and the recognition of land-use in the debate, I’d expect the Feds to be investing more in the urban environment in the future. I’d hate to build something like SC now with Seattle-only money only to discover that if we had waited 2 years we could have built Central Link style LR with the help of the Feds.

      3. I believe streetcars running at-grade are relatively cheap on a per-mile basis as the street doesn’t have to be completely rebuilt as with MLK (the vehicles are pretty light weight compared with light rail vehicles.) There’s no reason a streetcar can’t be partially grade separated or built in exclusive right of way if need be, although that generally costs more. MUNI does this in San Francisco.

        While Ballard does deserve true high capacity transit, a streetcar extension from South Lake Union up Westlake to Fremont and then out Leary (for example) to Ballard would serve a pretty different transit market than Ballard-Downtown via Interbay, so the concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We do have finite resources. I’m certainly in favor of planning carefully.

      4. …or up Dexter to Fremont if that makes more sense. I don’t mean to take sides on alignments. Dexter’s a major bike route… although maybe Westlake would make a better bike route if we built a real bike trail along it.

        To get true high capacity transit to Ballard or West Seattle, is a drawbridge OK? The alternative to get across the Ship Canal or Duwamish is a high level bridge or tunnel. Tunneling in these locations sounds challenging, but drawbridges on a rail line would seem to impact operations for the whole line, especially if it went up as often as the Fremont Bridge.

      5. Remember that there are two corridors. Westlake-Fremont-Ballard is definitely a good candidate for a streetcar for now, as we can later put express service on 99. Lower Queen Anne-Interbay-Ballard is a good place for an express.

        I’m happy with anything.

      6. No. The Fremont-Ballard line alone is 150 million, probably 200-250 with its own right of way. Central Streetcar is more than that. Eastlake extension is another 200. There’s well over a billion on the books, and those are all VERY short, with short platforms and cheap equipment.

    2. “street cars” are indeed “mass transit”. From my reading of your post, you want what I want and that is “Rapid Transit”. Rapid transit requires its own right of way.

      Putting the West Seattle, Ballard up for a vote in 2010/2011 makes as much sense as the Monorail Green line did. As in alot! It will help people move when the viaduct work is finally done, whatever we end up doing. It will allow Sound Transit to allocate more service to Seattle where the riders already are. The Monorail Green line ridership studies already show that this is the right corridor to build out. And sooner rather than later is what this city needs to do to make it more livable sans cars.

  6. Speaking as a citizen of Seattle and a proponent of good rail transit throughout the city, I would much rather this go before the voters in 2011 as a well thought out plan. The monorail experience is still fresh on our minds; it cost us a lot of money and we ended up with nothing. That stung, and political considerations aside, who wants that to happen again? From a political point of view, maybe the economy will have improved by then and voters will be in a better mood to vote for it. We could have a surly electorate this fall, even in Seattle.

    1. 2011 is a good time to fail. Progressive turnout really only happens when there’s a lot of spending in other races. Sound Transit failed in 1995 and 2007, remember.

      I’d rather go for something small in 2010 and something bigger in 2012, perhaps.

      1. I agree with this Ben. I think the initial line should go from Alaska Junction to downtown to downtown Ballard.

        Some thoughts I have on this:
        With Alaska Junction, the 55 could be reinvested into a more frequent Route 128 (getting it to 15 to 20 minute service and it would go to two light rail stations). The Rapid Ride line could be shifted to take over the western half of the 560 (or perhaps as an extension of Route F). The savings to Sound Transit could be used to bring the 560 to 15 minute service during the day between Burien and Bellevue (those West Seattle hours are funded out of South King County based on the 2009 Service Implementation Plan). Now that’s regional improvement! Other current routes (e.g. 51 and 53) would provide feeder service. Route 21 and 22 take a more active role in providing local service along Alaska and Avalon.

        In Ballard, the 18 could be reinvested in more frequent service on Route 75. This would provide replacement service along 24th Ave NW however something would need to provide service through North Beach. Other connecting routes would include Routes 17, 44, 46 and a future streetcar line that would provide frequent connections to Fremont and Westlake. The Rapid Ride line would continue along 15th Ave NW.

  7. I don’t know if the city has the budget to afford to study all the neat ideas floating around.

    A bond issue to expedite engineering studies of a whole slew of proposals might seem anti-climatic, but turn out to be a necessary step.

    It might turn out that BRT has more than sufficient capacity for a Faunteroy/California Ave route, for many years to come. It might turn out that multiple BRT routes (Delridge/White-Center, Fauntleroy, California/Admiral-District/Harbor-Way–potentially replacing the costly Ferry) end up with higher ridership projections than any single light rail route would, at a fraction of the cost.

    Likewise, multiple BRT routes in the north and northwest corridors might prove just as effective in ridership, and almost as effective in speed, as one or two light rail routes. Think about West-Interbay/Discovery-Park BRT, or West-Interbay/North-Queene-Anne-Fremont/Gasworks-Park/U-District BRT, 15th Ave/Holman/Northgate BRT, Fremont/Phinney-Ridge/Greenwood BRT or more express or perhaps to U-District, etc. There are a lot of options, and probably not enough money to study most of them. ORCA data will hopefully winnow down the popular corridors, though — which is an additional reason to be patient.

    Nor should the eventual big bond package just be about the west end. It should have something for every part of the city and every mode of non-SOV transportation.

    1. I think a huge network of BRT routes going everywhere in West Seattle would get lower ridership than one light rail route. The vast majority of people just have an aversion to taking the bus, but they are perfectly willing to ride light rail. Plus, I haven’t seen any evidence of BRT ever creating TOD, but light rail practically always does.

      1. West Seattle neighborhood leaders are still fuming that the city didn’t build them a parking garage in the Admiral District. Expect them to demand parking garages along the light rail line, rather than a good network of buses.

        Even then, I think voters outside of West Seattle will vote for West Seattle light rail more heavily than voters outside light rail’s walkshed in West Seattle will.

        Either way, we need to make a decision whether to build BRT or light rail in the Fauntleroy corridor, lest the county build the line, and then scavenge it once light rail moves in, at a cost of over $20 million in construction down the drown. Same decision with 15th Ave NW.

        I hope the county will be amenable to building a different BRT corridor (California Ave to the north point, down Harbor Way to Admiral Way Station?) instead of the then moot Fauntleroy corridor.

        Still, let’s not whittle down the options without real data.

      2. They’ll build these “BRT” lines anyways, and they’ll be replaced in about 10 years. This is happening with the A line pretty soon too.

      3. Brent, we have real data. Cities that build BRT realize fast that they’re wasting money they could be using to build rail.

    2. The BRT we have is not true BRT. If we truely want to build Bogota style BRT, it will const as much.

      Also, we need an arterial transit system. BRT does not deliver that. It’s like thinking if it’s better to build underpasses at all intersections in the city, or build I-5. We need the artery.

  8. No matter how long we wait, we won’t be able to afford the alignment everybody wants. We won’t be able to do it all on our own unless we get a massive influx of people. Not under ST3, not under a city-funded plan, not in any way shape or form. Even under ST3, West Seattle-Ballard LRT would be on the city’s dime thanks to sub-area equity. Even if we double-dip with ST.

    It wouldn’t be politically imprudent to go for funding this year as long as we acknowledge that there’s a difference between what we want and what we can afford. McGinn should offer multiple options with this in mind with the basic idea of getting to Ballard and West Seattle sooner rather than later. More than that, he could easily call it a blanket “rail ballot” for this purpose as long as he makes good on pushing it out to West Seattle and Ballard.

    For example, we could present it as:
    Best-case package: Fully grade-separated line from West Seattle to Fremont, elevated or as a traditional rail mall on Second Avenue, own lanes in Ballard, Fremont and West Seattle, new mid-rise bridge over Harbor Island.

    Mid-range package: Grade-separated line from Downtown to West Seattle with elevated-to-surface running in DT Seattle and terminus in retail core, extend streetcar network to Ballard.

    Low-range package: Streetcars in own lane to West Seattle, Ballard, Fremont, UW, extend platforms on SLU line, purchase Skoda 14T 5-section trams, put 3-section 10Ts on First Hill line. If possible, additional Streetcar lines in own lane.

    The initial vote could secure funding and begin planning ASAP, after which we could get an advisory vote on final alignments when we know the funding situation. Although it seems a bit busy as far as plans go, it sure as heck beats the normal Seattle process since it’s clear that we’ll end up having to make a final decision as a city instead of having that reality sprung on us at the last minute.

  9. I really don’t think with no design or engineering on Feb 1, that light rail in 2010 is realistic. Typically you do not want to go out for big tax packages in odd years because of the smaller electorate, but there may be some city council races that make that a possibility for a Seattle-only election. 2012 and 2016 are the best years for countywide elections because they are presidential years.

    1. Unless you think the smaller turnout would trend your way more than the broader electorate. If, for example, you expected an anti-Obama wave in the next Congressional round, you might intentionally put a local transit issue on a different ballot that didn’t have as much right-wing appeal.

  10. I don’t think it’s realistic to have a vote this year. Too many questions, and no specifics. I’m not sure there can be specifics in 3-4 months.

    As a Ballard homeowner, I’d be very wary of a “streetcar” for Ballard. I support a median-alignment along 15th, but strongly believe that there needs to be grade-separation through Belltown, QA, and downtown. There also *must* be a grade-separated crossing of the ship canal. Both the Fremont and Ballard bridges are extremely congested, and raise too frequently for reliable transit service.

    1. The Ballard-Fremont streetcar is different from light rail, and both are needed. the streetcar is not really meant for Ballard-Downtown trips, but rather for trips around and between Fremont and Ballard. The light rail line is meant as a very high-capacity, fast link between Ballard and Downtown.

    2. I’d wait to have a more formal plan, and also to hit an election with higher voter turn-out.

      I concur totally with your statements about SC. With Seattle’s hourglass geography, the N-S LR routes really need to be built to Central Link standards (speed and capacity). Cheaping-out by building SC instead will just short-change Ballard once again.

      Use SC where appropriate and to cross-tie the two LR lines together.

  11. In the meantime I would:

    1. Disband RapidRide
    2. Install more round the clock ST Express Bus service to “simulate” the prescribed future LINK service.

    This way we can get a “look see” and find out what works empirically instead of pointing our fingers in the wind…

    1. RapidRide A is late, and I think B-F are postponed due to the revenue hole. So that may give a year or two to supercede them before they’re rolled out.

    2. Actually, no, you wouldn’t really get a “look see”. Buses stuck in traffic aren’t really comparable to light rail — unless you’re Kemper Freeman.

  12. Can the “authorities” here please comment on which agency would design/build/operate which alternatives?

    To me the logical course of action would be that Sound Transit design/build/operate any line that’s similar to/compatible with Link light rail, and the City of Seattle would design/build/operate any new streetcar lines, i.e. any line that operates with equipment like the SLU streetcar and the coming FH streetcar. Both of these assumptions made regardless of the fact that a City of Seattle-only ballot measure would be providing the local funding for both scenarios.

    1. Neither Seattle nor ST operate anything. Metro operates Link, the streetcars, some ST Express buses, and I think the monorail.

      I’m pretty sure ST would design/build anything Link-like. They have the experience. The city would just have to pay ST and tell them the requirements.

      Either the city or ST could build streetcars. Didn’t the city build the SLUT? It would be a matter of whether they find it more convenient to do it in-house, or they’d rather hand it off to people with more rail experience.

      1. And ST operates Tacoma Link, and BNSF operates Sounder.

        ST being the lead is a good idea regardless of who their low bidder is.

  13. The push to have a Light rail on the ballot is definitely politically motivated. Having some sort of west side light rail line would be used to argue against the deep bore tunnel as unnecessary and out of line with “Seattle values”. I for one would agree if that is McGinn’s intention, but a more well thought out plan would serve us better in the future which is how we should be thinking of this.

    I for one would rather see us build a new Bus/transit tunnel downtown which is fully light rail convertible for future use. We could run Ballard, West Seattle Rapid-ride routes and some of the buses that will be kicked out of the tunnel when U-link comes online in this new tunnel. Throw in some pedestrian and Bike improvements, add some streetcar extensions (SLU to UW, Broadway Aloha extension). You could also create a link between the current tunnel to the proposed one while adding new entrances at Westlake for example as envisioned by the city’s Westlake hub planning.

    This approach fits into our budget (and current tax base), and would provide a significant improvement to transit service not only for Ballard and West Seattle, but also the entire city since you would continue to run other bus routes in this new tunnel. This would build a political base to work with around the city and not just those two neighborhoods. It also makes fully grade separated transit service in the future much more realistic by breaking this project up into segments. We could also fund Sound Transit’s planning for this corridor.

    What do you all think?

    1. I think that’s a reasonable solution. I keep thinking that many of the half-measures suggested become useless in future expansions. It’s not like you can build on the street now and tunnel later and recoup what you spent on the street – that effort is gone*. But a bus tunnel is useful (though less satisfying) now and makes our next expansion less expensive. Our current bus tunnel is a significant reason why we were able to afford Link.

      *Unless we build another light rail line in a tunnel and keep the one on the street – but we’ll then have to come up with the money for two full light rail lines, which is unlikely for a while.

      1. I agree, this would be a great interim step to serve West Seattle and Ballard well but not have to build an expensive West Seattle light rail bridge, etc, for the time being.

    2. No need for a new bus tunnel in DT Seattle. Make it LR from the beginning, make it all center platform to reduce the footprint (cost), and extend it to the North of Ballard and to West Seattle as the budget allows.

      We don’t need to build all of it at once. A policy of continuous expansion has worked well for Portland – we should do the same (but build to the higher standard of Central Link).

    3. I don’t see any real connection between WS-downtown rail service and the deep bore tunnel.

      The existing AWV plan has a limited access roadway that extends all the way from 35th & Avalon to King St. & First Ave. In fact, that southerly portion of the AWV project is already under way, and it will provide a fast expressway from WS to downtown for buses, HOVs, and SOVs also. Any rail corridor would mimic that roadway.

      The tunnel’s only value to WS travelers is for those destined to the Aurora Ave. corridor; period.

  14. We need a long-term plan and a short-term plan. Long term, Link will be needed on all five routes identified in the monorail plan (Ballard-West Seattle, Ballard-UW, Mt Baker-Lake City via 23rd S/25th NE, West Seattle-South Seattle), and then some (Aurora, NW 85th-Northgate-Lake City). It should also show how Shoreline and White Center/Burien could plug into the system if they decide to have similar service someday.

    There are several existing plans and analyses: the monorail, the Seattle Streetcar lines, the city’s “core route” bus plan, and whatever ST and Metro have. McGinn needs to identify which parts of these he wants to pursue and put them all together. Generally, we need more fast Link routes, more streetcar routes to complement them, and saving/expanding the trolleybuses.

    The short-term plan should be something doable that fits into this. Something at $2.1 billion or maybe significantly less (to save our taxing capacity till we get more engineering results in). Extending the SLUT to Ballard and UW may be it. LR from West Seattle to SODO may work. (But where would the terminal be? How far would you have to walk to transfer?)

    If we do extend the SLUT, something needs to be done about the bottleneck from Westlake to Lake Union, and it needs to be twice as frequent. Throw some money at that.

    1. If there were two lines heading north from Westlake (one going to UW, one going to Fremont/Ballard), they would share the Westlake to Lake Union tracks, which would result in double frequency on that segment. If that were the case, the curb lane in both directions on Westlake should become a BAT lane. The existing platforms should be extended to accommodate two-car light rail trains.

      North of Valley St., the MAX Yellow Line should be used as the model for both lines. Trains running in dedicated lanes with center platforms. Stops every 6 blocks or so, for the most part. That would create a system that is an improvement over the busses the connect the neighborhoods to downtown, but is still pedestrian friendly for connections between the neighborhoods.

    2. I never understood a lot of the technical stuff the monorail folks put out there. I wouldn’t trust it — a lot of it was more marketting than need.

      I’d take the time to re-study the overall plan and route mix. Some are obvious (DT Seattle to Ballard), but some of the other potential routes really need to be re-thought.

    3. I meant the general monorail corridors. SMP never committed to exact streets and station locations for the lines beyond the Green. That was to be decided in a future vote. We know where the highest-traffic corridors are, and they correspond closely with the monorail lines.

      1. I’m not even sure all those corridors makes sense.

        I’d focus on getting a line built to Central Link standards roughly along the route that the SMP planned for the Green Line. Then I’d focus on what you want to do elsewhere (SC? More Link? Or maybe Portland size LR?)

      2. Yes, but I’d rather start with the overall plan and how the next line will fit into it, rather than just building something and then realizing it does/doesn’t meet our needs. We’re building RapidRide that may be eclipsed by rail right after it opens. A Westlake-Ballard streetcar may make sense in the long term, or it may not, depending on what Ballard Link does and whether another tunnel is built downtown. Should a Westlake-UW streetcar go to UW station or Brooklyn station? It depends on what the Ballard-UW line does. We need to have some kind of master plan rather than doing everything piecemeal.

        Seattle looks like a mess: a monorail with two stops, a subway at the airport, a short streetcar that doesn’t go much of anywhere, a light rail which is a good start but isn’t quite an anchor yet. We need to decide what we want throughout the city rather than building more things out of context.

  15. Isn’t much of West Seattle a liquification zone? I would guess this might drive costs through the roof for a route that transverses these zone. Anyone know of the facts?

    1. The Duwamish Valley tends to be a liquifaction zone — but we already built Central Link in part of it and we built accordingly. It’s not a show stopper.

  16. There are other things we can do, essentially for free, in the meantime:

    1. Turn the outer lanes of 15th Ave NW into full-time dedicated transit lanes, instead of off-peak parking lanes. Grrrr.
    2. Look around for similar opportunities on other arterials where bus speed stands to be drastically increased by setting up a dedicated transit lane: Aurora? 15th Ave NE? 25th Ave NE? Madison? N 45th St or N 50th St? I think the neighborhood orgs in most of these corridors would take the trade-off of losing some parking for gaining faster bus service. They aren’t like West Seattle. If it can be done for cheap, all the better.

    1. Would #1 also remove bikes from the Transit Lanes? I would hope so. Whats the point of having a Transit Lane if you get stuck behind a bike.

  17. Ask Bill Gates to donate some money to help improve Seattle’s transit. Maybe a subway line from West Seattle to downtown and then up through Queen Anne to Fremont and Ballard would be possible.

    Ok, maybe Bill helping with the funding isn’t realistic… but it’s nice to think about Seattle getting the best rapid transit system possible without sacrificing the “rapid” element of transit.

  18. Maybe what we should do this November is build grade-separated SODO-West Seattle Link, plus the entire streetcar network, including Ballard-Fremont, U Line, First Ave, and Rainier, plus some others maybe. The most expensive parts of a real light metro line can wait until ST3.
    Or we can do that 2nd Ave rail-convertible bus tunnel, that would be awesome.

  19. As with Martin, I think that this project is at risk of over promising and under delivering. I think that the mayor is desperately looking for an issue that he can quickly suspend his reputation and legacy from and stamp his administration with appropriate colors and banners. He is following a successful administration and so he has to justify his raison d’etre as soon as possible.

    In principle, I am obviously for the proposal but there is still a risk of following the Seattle Monorail Project into eventual oblivion. What was that – four votes for and one against, the nays have it sort of thing – . We have a lot going on right now from bridges to tunnels to ST2 and not wanting to overwhelm voters with too much would make me hesitate to support this initiative in 2010 but wait for dust to settle to see if 2011 looks better.

  20. Were the Ballard line to be the SLUT extension to Fremont and Ballard, what improvements would need to be done to the existing line to make it worthwhile?

    1. Take over lanes of traffic for exclusive transit usage (light rail and busses). Extend platforms to accommodate 2-car trains. Add signal priority at all stoplights.

  21. This makes me feel old. I’m so old that I feel like I need to know what the plan is before I can talk about it. Either you guys are some sort of wild geniuses, like Churchill’s description of French politics, which he regarded as impossible to understand but extremely effective, or you’re missing a vital ingredient in the discussion of the plan.

    And then I recall the exasperated wisdom of an instructor years ago- “The plan is what you did.” Why, of course! How silly of me to try to write it before I put it in action. Worthy corollary- figure out why you did something after you do it.

    I can’t help but wonder what happened to McGinn’s aggressive appeal for public input. With the clock ticking, it might be wise to figure out where and when the public will be allowed to comment on all this planning. Who knows, maybe there actually is a plan, sitting in a room worth some brochures nearby, just waiting to be discussed.

    1. Like me, you are not a huge McGinn fan. I am not sure how well thought out this plan is, but my concern is how many transit agencies do we need in the region to work on projects? Has Sound Transit signed off on this or will it be like the Monorail Project – full of nice earnest folks – disclosure that I volunteered for them – but disastrously flawed as an organization.

      I do support light rail between Ballard and West Seattle, but how will this project align with the tunnel? At this point, we can see where suspicions are bubbling up from with regard to anything the mayor proposes for the West Edge and West Seattle. I think he needs to explain more comprehensively where he stands on these issues and why? Bottom line is that he is blanketing that part of the City in fog and it is very difficult to see how everything gels together at this point. He needs a vision plan.

    2. Let’s see how old you are… :D

      “McGinn repeated his promise to end Seattle’s transit problems in the Pacific(side), and to bring ‘Rail with Thriftyness.’ When pressed he stated that to tip his hand could jeopardize negotiations going on in City Hall.”

      1. As one old VN vet to another, this sounds like the the comments coming from city hall when they announced that rails were being put into the DSTT as the vision for the future.
        Now the city management wants rails across 520, and a couple of billion for rails to ‘somewhere-somehow-this year or next’, with about as much thought given as back in 1991.
        A good lesson for taking a history class, less we repeat ourselves.

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