The Beacon Hill tunnel (Photo by litlnemo’s husband Jason)

[UPDATE (Adam here): I did a few calculations to put the debate about whether a tunnel through Beacon Hill was necessary to rest. Beacon Hill station is very roughly ~280 ft above sea level, and SODO is ~20 ft. Using ST’s design specs of 4% this means that an elevated structure of ~6,500 ft would be needed to climb from SODO up over the hill. Another one of equal length would be needed on the other side as well. Pretty unrealistic isn’t it?]

Although I’d obviously like to see Bellevue pay for a Link tunnel under Downtown Bellevue, as someone who isn’t going to pay the very large costs I’m leery of taking a really strong position on it.  A common argument, however, is that Seattle is getting a very long tunnel from its downtown to Roosevelt on Sound Transit’s dime, so why not Bellevue?  It’s a natural question to ask, but betrays a pretty shallow understanding of the underlying concerns.  More after the jump.

First of all, there’s the issue of subarea equity.  These projects are actually funded with different pots of money, so on some level Seattle and Shoreline are deciding how to spend their money and the Eastside is deciding how to spend theirs.  On the west side of the lake the spending is a bit more concentrated, on the Eastside a bit more spread out.  To some extent that’s an inevitable result of the Eastside being fractured into three large cities, rather than a single voice that more or less speaks for the subarea.

There’s also a capacity concern:  you cannot run Downtown to Northgate on the surface and support the predicted demand – demand that will come from all over the region.  That is simply not the case for East Link, particularly since at-grade segments both east and south of DT Bellevue will forever constrain the frequency at which trains can run.

As for the Beacon Hill tunnel, once you’re committed to serve both jobs in Sodo and people in the Rainier Valley there isn’t any choice but to go up, over, or through Beacon Hill.  I’ve never seen a definitive technical document, but I’ve been told that only tunneling was practical for this problem, and that seems plausible enough to me.

Back to the issue at hand, although there’s some impact on travel time, in Bellevue the tunnel vs. surface argument is fundamentally one about traffic disruption.  Traffic disruption is undeniably a negative impact of surface lines; it’s a question of whether light rail is worth the disruption or not.  It’s not surprising to me that people who think light rail is worthless (e.g., Kemper Freeman) would think not, but I think most people would agree to take the trade.

140 Replies to “Tunnel Equity”

  1. Here’s a question that’s been bugging me for while based on some comments in STB. What is the maximum grade that LINK light rail can ascend? And it the limitation to do a grade the reason for having to built tunnels (as a way of getting around hills). And lastly, doesn’t this cost of tunneling everywhere detract from the overall thriftiness of rail versus road infrastructure?

    1. 1) ARUP cited ST’s design figures for Wallace’s idea. You can find all the info here on page 8 (

      Sustained Grade (unlimited length) = 4%
      Sustained Grade (up to 2,500ft) = 6%
      Short Sustained Grade (up to 500ft) = 7%

      2) From my understanding yes the tunnels (except for the future Roosevelt station) were needed because of the hills.

      3) I think it is impossible to make a comparison like that. Which roads, where, etc. There are just too many variables.

      1. Not to mention the huge economic net loss that resulted from all the displaced homes and businesses.

    2. The design limit adopted by Sound Transit for Link light rail is a maximum grade of 6 percent, ascending and descending.

  2. How much was it to put it underground? An additional 300 million was it? Seems like an East King special tax could pay for it fairly easily.

    1. An East King special tax is really no different than Sound Transit paying for it outright. The costs would come from that subarea if the agency were to pay for it, anyway. ST wants the city to find funding sources.

      1. It is different from ST paying for it outright, because it would be in addition to the money that ST is paying.

      2. It would be “in addition” either way, it’s just a matter of whether it would be the same tax for longer, or a higher tax for a shorter time.

      3. Just keep in mind that when you’re talking about the money “ST is paying” into the system, it comes from taxes paid by taxpayers in the East Subarea. So people need to know they’re getting what they paid for. The real question is why didn’t the ballot measure identify sufficient resources to build the system the right way in the first place. Then we wouldn’t be haggling over $300m. It would be in the revenue stream voters approved. We always envisioned a tunnel through downtown – makes sense, doesn’t it? So why wasn’t enough money identified to build it that way?

      4. Ugh that’s what I always questioned. The shortfall made Redmond/Microsoft and Bellevue pit themselves against each other (Go to Redmond VS downtown tunnel). They should both be pissed at ST for creating this situation in the first place.

      5. These intraregional conflicts are unfortunate. Maybe years hence after we are all tied together with much better transit we will think of ourselves more as a metropolitan entity with shared interests then a region comprised of warring “neighborhoods”. To make the situation worse, ST is receiving lower sales tax revenues than projected. We could use a Sound Transit 2.5 to “bridge the gap” and take care of Seattle and Eastside transit needs in one go… Something for Bellevue, also something for Redmond, etc. It’s too bad we can’t use the gas tax for these projects due to the 18th amendment. I don’t know the best source of revenue at this point (toll every major highway? :), but I’ll bet a well crafted package would pass, even if it were only King County.

      6. There was only so much money the East sub-area was going to be able to raise in a given time period. ST2 maxed out Sound Transit’s tax authority. There was no way to get an additional half-billion by just jiggering the package a little. In fact if it wasn’t for the fact that Sound Move banked a fair chunk of the original ST taxes for the East sub-area East Link wouldn’t be getting built at all.

        Just like the Airport is the logical “must have” for the initial line South and Northgate is the logical “must have” for the initial line North, Overlake Transit Center/Microsoft is the logical “must have” for the initial line East. Given where you want to build to and a more or less fixed budget a ST funded tunnel was never in the cards. Sure ST could shorten the initial line but if segment D of East Link ends up being axed to give Bellevue a tunnel expect Microsoft to raise a huge stink.

        All that said, in spite of the tantrums being thrown by Bellevue surface light rail through downtown isn’t going to “destroy” the city any more than B3 modified is likely to have any lasting effects on Surrey Downs (if anything Light Rail will improve property values especially if a station gets built somewhere between Main and SE 8th).

      7. Surface light rail in downtown Bellevue would be like surface light rail in downtown Seattle (on 3rd Ave. and on Pine St.) — a real pain and a slower trip for riders.

        There’s a reason the prime transit corridor through downtown Seattle was put where it is, and with downtown Bellevue becoming the hub of the east side, same as DT Seattle is on the west, they need a similar facility. Unless they don’t want to grow and compete with DT Seattle, and are content with the limits imposed by a car-centric transportation grid.

      8. The money that ST is paying would be from the same source, so I wouldn’t really call it an addition.

  3. It’s complete nonsense that the “only solution” to serve Beacon Hill was a tunnel. Light rail cars can manage relatively steep grades very easily. Scroll about halfway down this link for the maximum grades and examples of light rail on steep grades all over the world.

    A general rule – if the sidewalk along a street doesn’t have ADA-required hill modifications (flat landings or ridges), light rail can go up that street without a problem. If the street does have a sidewalk with ADA modifications, light rail can go up that hill with modifications as well

    The only benefits of tunnels are a minor time savings (by going “straight” instead of up and then down), and most importantly, like you mentioned, traffic disruption. Bizarrely, Seattle chose to pay a ridiculous premium to minimize disruption to single occupancy vehicles on the surface.

    It’s a very fair question to ask why car-optional Seattle spent billions of dollars on multiple tunnels to not disrupt SOV’s, and car-required Bellevue doesn’t get even one. I think the correct answer is either, “we did this so you could drive to Seattle and not get even more confused,” or, “Seattle needs to be building at least one tunnel at all times to keep our deep bore contractors happy,” or, “sorry, Seattle screwed up.”

    1. It is rare for a new light rail line to get built with more than 6% grades.

      While tunnels avoid disrupting traffic they also avoid having the rail line disrupted by traffic or pedestrians. Furthermore tunnels avoid having to make sharp (slow) turns to stay within the street grid and they allow rail to have its own ROW in built up areas without having to buy up property and knock down buildings. It’s true elevated alignments can get many of the advantages of tunnels, people usually hate elevated alignments particularly in areas where the line or stations will need to be close to upper story windows.

      Even though the point is somewhat moot I’d love to hear what routing light rail should have used in Seattle. Remember using any tunnels other than the DSTT is cheating! Second there should be no mixed-traffic running, light rail has to be in its own lanes. Third remember any surface stations will take an additional 10′ of ROW.

      1. “Light rail has to be in its own lanes” – Why? These popular light rail lines are confused: (Tacoma) (Portland) (San Francisco) (Los Angeles) (San Diego) (Salt Lake City) (Phoenix) (Boston)

        Light rail avoids traffic and pedestrians by having strong signal priority/right of way. Surface light rail is (subjectively) more pleasant to walk along, as it discourages dangerous SOV’s along its route.

      2. Phoenix is a car culture (even more than Bellevue). They also have twice the light rail ridership of Seattle. I would be interested in seeing the total number of accidents and their severity before and after light rail is introduced. I would assume many light rail or streetcar accidents take the place of previous car or bus accidents. In places where surface light rail and streetcars deter SOV’s (like downtown Portland), I would not doubt the total number of accidents went down due to light rail – there are no drunk light rail drivers or streetcar drivers who don’t know where they’re going.

      3. And Houston had 53 in it’s first year!

        So we can be extra thankful that ST paid attention to what was wrong about these surface routes and did things to make it less of a problem.

        As for the Tunnel in Bellevue, it should be built so that the future 4 car long trains don’t disrupt the pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Tracks in the street are a bicycle rider’s menace.

      4. The Tacoma picture is a streetcar, not a LRT line.

        In the Portland picture, the MAX LRT is indeed in it’s own lane. If I drove up that lane in my taxicab, the fine is about $260.

        I can’t attest to the others, but there are hints (curb locations, lane markings, etc) that would indicate that at least some of those examples are clearly traveling in their own lanes.

      5. Tacoma Streetcar also has its own lane along much of its route, even though it’s not technically light rail.

      6. Tacoma LINK is kind of a hybrid. It uses smaller “streetcar” type equipment; however the infrastructure is full “heavy” light rail. I use the term heavy, since the OCS has both a messenger and contact wire, same construction as used in Central LINK. Also the right of way is designed to handle the bigger Central LINK type LRV, although IIRC only a single or 2 car set could make the turn at 25th. Overall, It’s a heavier construction than Portland. San Francisco basically still uses trolley wire in many places, with modifications to the trolley frogs to allow pantographs to pass through. And Pole cars can share the overhead as well.

      7. First San Francisco and Boston are old streetcar systems that have been largely upgraded to LRT standards. Much of the outer sections of their lines are characterized by features more in line with the old streetcars, everything from mixed-traffic street running, to frequent stops, to “stops” where the cars just stop in the street rather than stations with level boarding. That said they have large sections of their lines where they are grade separated, have their own ROW, or at the very least their own lanes for street running.

        For the rest of the systems while they may be largely at the surface and be located in street ROW the majority of their tracks are in exclusive lanes not shared with other traffic. Some of the systems have short sections of mixed-street running with buses or other vehicles but it is far from a majority of the line.

        Furthermore San Diego and Los Angeles (and possibly others) built large sections of their light rail lines in abandoned railroad right of ways.

        If you have a system with large amounts of mixed traffic running what you have in effect is a streetcar system. Your speed and headways are essentially limited to that of a bus because your train is stuck in traffic. You also greatly limit capacity because you are limited to at best 6 minute headways (though 10 minutes is more realistic for mixed traffic operation) and two car trains.

        Which brings me back to my original question, what routing would you have chosen for Link between Downtown and the Airport or between Downtown and Northgate? How would your lines be an improvement over the existing bus service?

      8. I would have routed the line South down Airport way. With a stop at the King County Airport. This would have linked the two airports and when we finally get around to using this field for passenger service we’d have the connection already in place.

      9. That routing would have lost at least 1/2 of the current Central Link riders. It also probably wouldn’t get any Federal money.

      10. Huh. I hadn’t thought of doing two lines. If it really would be as cheap to build two lines (one through SODO, one through Rainier Valley) as to tunnel, I see two choices. With some snaking in the rectangle between Dearborn, Airport Way, 5th Ave, and I-5, go along the S edge of Dearborn, which would require redoing the Dearborn-I-5 overcrossing, and probably would displace some of the Seattle maintenance yard.

        Alternately, convert the I-90 express lanes W of Rainier to transit-only and then either build ramps down to Rainier Ave, taking out the access to the I-90 EB flyer stop from the W side of Rainier, so it would only be accessible from the E side of the road, or building an elevated structure to cross over EB I-90.

        Then do the same sort of work to widen Rainier as was done to MLK Way.

    2. I can’t imagine how a surface light rail could have easily reached “downtown” Beacon Hill, given some of the limitations of the street grid. Perhaps by taking out a few more buildings…

      I doubt anyone would want to take a train up the Holgate/Beacon overpass, but who knows.

      1. Look at the buses. If a bus can take a route, chances are light rail can as well (and perform better in rain and snow). Follow route 36.

        If you absolutely need a SODO station, build an entire freaking new light rail line through SODO to Georgetown. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you save a few hundred million dollars. Several other cities have built light rail lines with 20+ light rail stations for under $500 million, because they don’t build tunnels.

      2. How exactly do you propose to get light rail between the south end of the DSTT and the top of Beacon Hill? How do you propose to get back down to Rainier Valley? Is the ROW wide enough for 2 light rail tracks plus an auto travel lane or two? Do you need to buy property and demolish buildings so the train can make turns? Let’s also not forget that U-link will require 4 car trains, can trains that long be run down your propsed ROW without causing problems.

      3. It’s not necessary to go straight from SODO to Beacon Hill, any more than it’s necessary to go straight from SODO to Georgetown.

        The tunnels caused ST to purchase property and demolish buildings on their own. It caused Seattle light rail to be the most expensive light rail project (per mile and per station) in world history. It sounds like you’re arguing against building tunnels.

        Yes – there are a plethora of logistical questions (but not as many as the tunnels), but they’re moot now. My point is that they were never even seriously looked at (as far as I know) because the consensus amongst transit decisionmakers was that we “have” to have tunnels.

      4. It’s not necessary to go straight from SODO to Beacon Hill, any more than it’s necessary to go straight from SODO to Georgetown.

        So you’re saying Link should have wound all over the place like VTA in San Jose? We would have ended up with an expensive and low-ridership white elephant like they did. Remember people already complain that the scheduled travel time for Link between the Airport and Downtown is 5 minutes longer than the 194.

        The tunnels caused ST to purchase property and demolish buildings on their own. It caused Seattle light rail to be the most expensive light rail project (per mile and per station) in world history. It sounds like you’re arguing against building tunnels.

        The tunneling doesn’t require nearly the property acquisition and demolition that would have been required had the entire line be on the surface. One of the reasons the surface segment on MLK was so expensive is because Sound Transit had to buy property to widen the road so there was enough room for the tracks and the stations. Property along MLK was relatively cheap in Seattle terms, doing the same thing on Capitol Hill, Eastlake, in the University District, or Roosevelt would cost far more and be far more disruptive. Furthermore it is likely there would have been one or more historic structures in the way that people would have fought to save.

        With the tunnel sections the only areas where Sound Transit has had to buy property and demolish buildings are where they needed to dig a hole to build the station.

      5. Misha’s going off in all directions at once. Methinks she/he is pulling our collective leg.

      6. And plenty of other cities have mediocre transit systems to show for it. I’d rather take the time and pay the money to do it right the first time, than have to go back and put in tunnels later.

      7. You know I can’t think of a single modern light rail system where they’ve gone back and put in tunnels later. Most systems seem stuck with the decisions they made early-on.

        I’m glad we have a relatively well-designed system here rather than getting stuck with a mess like VTA light rail in San Jose.

      8. Well then, we are going to regret having put 5 miles of track down MLK. I’m more hopeful that a future generation will put a bypass of the Rainier Valley for folks going and coming from Tacoma and Federal Way.

      9. And non-car people like me avoid living in San Jose if we can help it, because its transportation is just slightly better than Bellevue.

        Another thing about VTA. It goes through downtown San Jose, but in Santa Clara it goes through office park row, three miles away from where Santa Clara residents live. So it’s good if you live in San Jose and work in San Jose or Santa Clara. It’s useless if you live in Santa Clara.

      10. Misha,

        You obviously know little of the concept of friction. Light rail trains run on very smooth steel wheels supported on very smooth steel rails. Buses run of deliberately roughened rubber tires on deliberately roughened streets. Now which do you think has a higher coefficient of friction between the wheel and its support? Hint, it’s not the rail cars.

        It is true that tram lines creep up and down steep hills throughout the world. For instance the Dolores Park hill on the J Church is about 9%, which is STEEEEEP! But the really steep part is only two blocks long and the trains descend it about eight miles an hour to avoid running away.

        The eastside grade up from the Rainier Valley to the crest of Beacon Hill might have been short enough to try a Dolores Park had Link been a streetcar system and some houses taken. But Link is not a streetcar system, it’s a Regional Light Metro. And once you got up there, the only way off to the west would have been up past Harborview along Beacon Avenue and down Jackson. The more direct routes down to the west have too great a total elevation difference, and I-5 is in the way to boot.

      11. “If a bus can take a route, chances are light rail can as well (and perform better in rain and snow). Follow route 36.”

        Ridden 36 lately? The southbound 36 does a very weird jog around PacMed on some relatively narrow streets. I can’t imagine light rail on that. None of the streets on top of the hill are wide enough for MLK-like light rail, except for Beacon south of Spokane, and that would require tearing out the median.

      12. I will add, though, that that jog around PacMed is something that, if I recall correctly, dates back to streetcar days. So streetcars took that route, yes. But those were smaller than light rail vehicles and shared the road with (much fewer than now) automobiles.

    3. Whoah, okay, last thing you want to do is having us compete with a pro-rail source. Not all LRT cars are the same; like Chris said, the general limitation with the Kinki Sharyo sets is 6%. Beacon Hill isn’t exactly a mound; it’s sides are essentially bluffs. That’s why there’s even limited road access to the neighborhood.

      1. Yup, though I-5 has something to do with Beacon Hill’s limited access, too. But even without I-5, access to the Hill is a bit limited.

      2. Even on the east side of Beacon Hill, where the grade isn’t as steep, only a few roads can access the area from the Valley.

      1. SDOT’s limits didn’t suddenly make all the 20% grade arterials Seattle already has go away.

        These are the top twenty, but there are plenty more…

        “building a new 20% grade overpass from SODO over I-5 straight to the top of Beacon Hill.”

        That’s exactly what you’d have to do. Unless you propose going through the hill…

      2. Argh. None of those are arterials. There are zero 20% grade arterials in Seattle. None even close.

        The SODO station was directly connected to Beacon Hill BECAUSE of the tunnel, not the other way around. It’s not the only way to get around Seattle. Look at any bus route; they’re not going up 20% grades.

      3. misha, your point is totally lost.

        There was no way to take light rail up the sides of Beacon Hill. Harping on that now is… weird.

      4. Uhg!, what’s all the fuss about digging tunnels?
        The topic is “Tunnel Equity”, not how steep a hill rail can climb.
        Maybe the post should have been about “Tunnel Envy”, as Bellevue wants LRT to just go away — underground, both during and after construction.

      5. Ben, I’m not talking about duplicating our tunnel alignment on the surface, and have explicitly pointed out a reasonable path (something like the 36 or the 60). It’s the “tunnel alignment” for a reason – it was designed as the best alignment to put tunnels. If we keep saying we HAVE to have tunnels because two specific stations HAVE to be directly connected, we’re going to end up with tunnels between Eastlake and Upper Queen Anne, or a flying bridge between Admiral and Ballard. Meanwhile, other neighborhoods that could be served cheaply with surface routes – lower Queen Anne, Magnolia, the Central District, First Hill, North Beacon Hill, South Beacon Hill, Georgetown, Wedgwood, Lake City – will continue to go without rail in our lifetimes.

      6. misha, the voters agreed to a package that served certain places. If they had agreed to fund something different, perhaps we would have built something different. But seriously, your personal preference for where light rail should go is totally irrelevant to the discussion.

        Every time someone shows you that they’re right, you’re either changing the goalposts on them or changing the subject entirely. Stop it.

      7. I understand we had to build the tunnel alignment once ST 2.1 passed. I’m not talking about the funding – the topic isn’t “Seattle got tunnels and Bellevue doesn’t because that’s how the funding is allocated.” I’m talking about why it is that way.

        I can’t claim to understand why my comments are so annoying, but if you want me to stop, I will.

      8. misha,

        I find your comments interesting, although Ben obviously doesn’t. Ben and I had a conversation about this offline, and I want to make it clear that his “stop it” remarks are not made as a moderator; you are not being threatened with moderation for the content of your posts.

  4. But you have to understand, Freeman’s motivation is not to have the rest of the region pay for a Bellevue CBD tunnel, their motivation is to kill this project outright. So, don’t just think offering to pay for a tunnel is going to elicit any more cooperation from them. Their actions to date (I-90 challenge, outlandish alignment alternatives) bear this out.

    I think he is counting on good old Pacific Northwesterner’s sense of fair play and good faith for him to gain advantage. If you’re going to do this thing, know whom you’re dealing with. This isn’t about what is reasonable or “makes the most sense” because they will expend what ever level of resources required to counteract your good sense.

    If you’re going to take this on, be prepared for a contest that is every bit as difficult and high stakes (albeit on a local scale) as it was getting the current President elected.

    1. Excellent point, Charles – these folks will stop at nothing to keep their sacred autos and streets. They are little more than Tea Partiers in suits.

    2. Charles, I don’t think it’s going to be that hard. The Sound Transit board wants to build the project, and they get to override the Bellevue City Council on this.

  5. On a side note, the overhead signs in the DSTT are announcing the light rail at 2 minutes before arrival at the platform in Westlake. Very Cool!!!

      1. No, they’re in testing, which is why we didn’t post about it yet. Closer to the end of the month look for a rollout (and a post from us).

      2. Woh Double… any chance they might announce upcoming bus numbers, too?

        A board with the next 5 up, and the last 5 or 10 through would do wonders in helping me decide if I should stay underground and wait, or head up to the street for a different commute home…

      3. It would also have to scroll, or cycle between information.

        I think we’ll see how RapidRide manages their realtime arrival info, and if it’s working out, perhaps we can install additional screens for that kind of data.

  6. Mayor Davidson pretty much showed in his Times interview that he doesn’t understand any of this. In fact, I fired out an email to him a few days later covering all of these points. With that being said, I don’t think it’s going to change his mind.

      1. The problem is that ST won’t build the Tunnel without Bellevue support. And the Tunnel is what is needed. The ST board knows that and is playing hot potato with the project.

        As for “investing” the East Side Sub Equity tax revenue, that money was paid back into the general fund which financed the overhead of ST, and thus freed up money to build Central LINK. Without that money Central LINK could not have been built with the tax revenue that they had.

        It’s time for the ST board to play fair with the tunnels and put in this short one to make the Bellevue segment work. We don’t want a bottle neck in downtown Bellevue to block the service to Redmond and points N and East.

      2. ST doesn’t have any money for a tunnel. Period.

        If Bellevue wants a tunnel, they can pay for it. If they don’t, they can play political games and we’ll build a surface alignment.

      3. Yet somehow ST has money for a tunnel under the UW to Northgate? I don’t buy it. It’s politics at the ST board level that is trying to make Bellevue kick in extra money.

        And trouble is if they voted on it, Bellevue citizens would probably pass it! The Bellevue city council on the other hand seems to be in the pocket of Kemper Freeman.

      4. “Yet somehow ST has money for a tunnel under the UW to Northgate?”

        They didn’t have money for that tunnel until ST2 was passed and taxes were raised. The original Sound Move plan passed in 1996 included a line to Northgate, but after costs doubled there wasn’t any money for it. We’ll finally get to Northgate 15 years later than promised after paying taxes for it for 25 years. I suppose we could do the same thing in Bellevue, build to South Bellevue P&R and then wait 10 years until there’s enough tax revenue to tunnel under downtown Bellevue. Somehow I don’t think that would go over too well.

      5. Actually Sound Move only promised to UW, with Roosevelt and Northgate if funding was available.

      6. The reason that UW to Northgate is in a tunnel is to keep the graidents reasonable as you leave the UW. I think they are planning to draw it up at around 1-1.5% and as I recall the UW station is fairly deep (nessistated by the ship canal). Of course this was from a few years ago so….

      7. So then why didn’t ST2 have funding for a short tunnel in Belleuve? It’s obvious looking at the siting that this would have been extremely useful for a regional system to not bottle neck in Downtown Bellevue. It’s pretty clear that there is already a ton of auto & bus traffic. Adding LINK on the surface is going to make this a lot worse.

  7. I can’t ever remember Kemper Freeman saying he thinks light rail is worthless. I’ve heard him say it works best in high density cities like New York, London, and Hong Kong, and that it’s not a good value in less dense areas like our region, but I’ve never heard him call it worthless.

    Stop demonizing the man for not agreeing with you. It cheapens this blog.

      1. While I would advocate an aggressive strategy in pushing back Kemper Freeman and his cronies, that article is very over the top and I would choose not to make it relevant in this fight.

        It is enough to know that Kemper Freeman has acted in ways to use his considerable clout to “buy” politicians and to obstruct this process. That calls for pushing back quite actively to take the direction of a city with great potential back into it’s citizens hands.

      2. And we need to remember that his wealth was built upon opportunities created by the government internment of American Citizens in concentration camps, the ones of Japanese decent who used to own the lands around today’s NE 8th Street and Bellevue Way NE.

        Buy low, sell high! (And it Uncle Sam can help you in the process, that’s OK)

    1. Kemper Freeman is not constructive when it comes to mass transit. You only have to try and drive into downtown Bellevue at rush hour or during the Christmas holidays to realize what a complete mess it is driving along NE 8th. I don’t despise Freeman’s retail and density vision for Bellevue but I do despise his ideas on how best to get folks to his shops and buildings.

      1. Just one point. E/W traffic is the issue in Bellevue not N/S. The current surface alignments look to only affect NE 4th and possibly Main st, and not NE 8th. I think everyone think NE 8th when they think of Bellevue traffic and that will not change regardless of LINK.

      2. Is what i think is intresting about KF is that he walks to work! Apparantly he lives in one of his devlopements and walks to work every day. Usually those who have alternative commutes and live in urban envoroments are pro-transit, its too bad he’s the other way around. of course he must not have to drive in all that mess thats downtown bellevue much…

  8. Can you explain more about why the capacity of light rail is different above ground vs not. This is non-intuitive for me.

    There’s also a capacity concern: you cannot run Downtown to Northgate on the surface and support the predicted demand – demand that will come from all over the region.

    Perhaps you mean you cannot run on the surface and in an existing street like through Rainier Valley, or something about right-of-ways. But that’s not exactly what your wrote, is it? Wouldn’t an grade-separated + signal prioritized routing be just as efficient as below ground or elevated?

    1. “Can you explain more about why the capacity of light rail is different above ground vs not.”

      What he meant was that it wouldn’t be possible to build an effective light rail line from downtown to Northgate using existing street ROW.

      “Wouldn’t an grade-separated + signal prioritized routing be just as efficient as below ground or elevated?”

      I think you’re confusing grade-separated with exclusive ROW. The Central Link MLK alignment has an exclusive ROW, but it’s not grade-separated. On an alignment like MLK, where trains run at-grade with auto traffic it isn’t possible to run trains with headways under 5 minutes, and the speed of the trains is limited to whatever the speed limit is for auto traffic, in this case 35mph. North Link is being built to accommodate trains running at 2 minute headways with speeds up to 55mph. When complete it will be the highest capacity light rail line in North America. Sure, it would have been possible to do the same thing with an elevated line, but the cost of buying property to build the line probably would have exceeded the cost of tunneling.

    2. Peter,

      The capacity is different because at-grade the frequency of trains is limited by the need to accommodate cross-traffic. The Rainier Valley will never run more often than about every 6 minutes because of this. The Northgate-ID segment may run as low as 2 minutes, meaning you have three times the capacity.

    3. In addition to the headway limitations others have pointed out another limit often imposed by using street ROW for light rail is train length. In many systems the maximum train length is 2 cars. There are systems with large sections at-grade that can handle 3 or 4 car trains but that typically comes at the cost of blocking some cross streets permanently like Link does on MLK.

      Shorter trains mean less capacity. So it is quite likely that had a surface alignment running on arterials been chosen for Link between Downtown and Northgate that the ultimate capacity would have been anywhere from 1/4 to 1/6 of what the line we are building will be.

  9. There’s also a capacity concern: you cannot run Downtown to Northgate on the surface and support the predicted demand – demand that will come from all over the region.

    I have to also comment on that ridiculous statement. More people fit on light rail cars when they’re in tunnels? Huh? Light rail cars on the surface have the exact same capacity as light rail cars in tunnels, of course.

    And bolding a word doesn’t make it true.

    1. Beg to differ. The trains are the same, but practical headways are very diferent for at-grade, mixed traffic ROW and exclusive ROW, whether it be tunnel, at-grade or elevated.
      LRT can’t be given signal priority AND frequent headways, like every 2 minutes on city streets. There’s just not enough green time for everyone to keep traffic flowing. I think MLK is by agreement 5 minute headways max.
      Otherwise, 2 minute headways are very achievable with proper controls.
      That’s the big difference.

    2. Misha – line capacity doesn’t just refer to traincar size, but to the product of (traincar size x headways). A surface route restricts the ability to run at the most frequent headways due to congestion and schedule padding due to at-grade crossings. A 30% slower route can run 30% fewer trains with presumably a 30% ridership reduction as well.

    3. Sloppy terms being used here.

      “Surface” – dedicated and separated ROW means one level of service, mixed with traffic and/or lots of intersecting vehicle crossings mean quite another level of service.

      High Speed Rail is typically on the “surface” so it isn’t “surface” alone that makes the difference.

      You can run from downtown to Northgate on the “surface” and achieve predicted demand, you just have to leave the street grid in shambles – closing streets or spending even more dollars on grade separated intersections.

      1. Ideas are what’s important, not whether someone has master transit jargon. A lot of people on this blog go out of their way to work terms like TOD and grade-separated into their sentences. Jargon mastery does not equal superior ideas.

    4. misha, I feel like you come into a lot of these discussions with some information – but I’d like to ask you to consider the experience of the people commenting here.

      The last couple of times you’ve attacked others’ statements, they’ve cited sources and explained why they’re right. Please consider that before continuing challenge after challenge.

      The only way to run light rail trains with the reliability, speed, alignment and headways necessary to serve downtown to Northgate was to build underground.

      I call out alignment and speed because the places that needed to be served often don’t have direct streets between them – but it makes Link far more cost effective to be direct in this case, because of the sheer volume of trips it will accommodate.

      1. I understand and apologize for the rude tone. I’ll dial it down for future challenges. :)

        Headways – yes, the same headways can be had with surface routes. There’s nothing special about tunnels that gives them shorter headways. A direct downtown/Roosevelt/Northgate line could have had shorter headways and travel times (who knows?), and we could have plenty of money left over for many other lines to serve Montlake and other destinations.

        The opposite argument could easily be made – the tunnel alignments have made it so several places that need to be served cannot be served (Central District, First Hill, Georgetown, Fremont, Lower Queen Anne, north Capitol Hill, etc.).

        I’m not trying to bash a really magnificent project in the works. I’m trying to argue for changing our priorities in the future – we can’t wait until 2050 for another four Seattle light rail stations because we “have” to build more tunnels.

      2. Given that, as mentioned before, we’re building 39 more light rail stations in less than 15 years, and can go back to ballot in 6 or 10 years, I think your concern is misplaced.

        I could extend your argument to suggest we should build streetcars everywhere. That seems to be essentially what you’re saying – that geographic coverage trumps quality.

        The thing is, the marginal cost between low quality and high quality gets you a lot more riders for your dollar in the long run than spending that same amount on more low quality service – especially when you’re spending it on dedicated facilities.

      3. Ben, we’re not building 39 more stations unless you’re secretly building some of your own.

        U Link: 2 stations
        North Link: 7 stations
        East Link: 12 stations
        South Link: 3 stations

        6-7 of those are in Seattle.

        I do support more streetcars and more surface light rail. Portland’s streetcar cost about $150mil and carries 12,000 riders a day. They just broke ground on their second streetcar line that will be almost as long and also cost about $150mil. That’s a pretty gobank bang for your buck, especially considering they take 2-3 years to build and have a positive effect on their city and amass ridership while everyone’s still young enough to appreciate it. No, I’m not saying we only build streetcars, but they have a place, especially in dense areas that our tunnel alignment is completely bypassing.

      4. Huh, I read 39 elsewhere in the thread and assumed it was fine.

        23 stations is great. Then you have First Hill Streetcar – that’s another seven or so.

        Then you have two more for Sounder.

        You’re mixing dollars from different years, which is a big part of the problem. You’re also coming into these discussions just wanting to push a point – and you don’t want to listen to others.

        You’re not going to last long if you keep up this attitude. You’ll just be told “no, you’re wrong” over and over again until you give up.

      5. Ben, I think it’s a little rich to tell someone they’ll be wrong “over and over again” immediately after she corrected a pretty significant factual error in your comment.

      6. Ben knows all the stations being built, he just didn’t take the time to add the number up. This is like one of those interviews on the street where they ask someone the capitol of state x and the person doesn’t know. Yes we should all know, and it is embarrassing if you don’t but it doesn’t show anything besides the fact that you don’t have it memorized.

        Anyways my point being Ben, count next time, Misha do some research before making an assertion. We don’t get paid to fact check and it annoys me to no end when the comment thread becomes a place were someone makes irresponsible comments and then others have to correct them, and then more irrepressible comments are made and it just snowballs.

      7. I’m not trying to be a bad commenter and I am not trying to “gotcha” Ben, everyone makes errors. I admit I was rude in my first comments and I sincerely apologize.

        I’m just trying to make the point that the tunnel alignments in Seattle were not our only options to build light rail in Seattle. I understand if we kept the tunnel alignment and tried to replicate it on the surface it would be unfeasible; that’s not what I’m suggesting. I really don’t think anyone believes that is incorrect?

      8. Someone else can do the math, but when everything that has already been approved is built out, won’t the Link Light Rail system have 39 stations? I imagine that is where the number comes from: Tacoma, South, Central, U, North and East.

      9. “Headways – yes, the same headways can be had with surface routes”

        Depends on what you mean by “surface.” A surface alignment like MLK, or the MAX Yellow Line, where auto traffic crosses at signalized intersections, is limited to 5 minute headways because of the time needed to accommodate signal phases for other traffic movements. And the speed of the trains is limited to whatever the speed limit is for autos. The situation is slightly different in Europe, because of the way they deal with transit priority, but we’re not in Europe.

        Headways in a tunneled, elevated, or otherwise traffic separated alignment are only limited by signaling technology and train dynamics such as acceleration, deceleration, top speed and station dwell time. The University and North Link extensions are being built to accommodate headways of 2 minutes or less and speeds of 55mph, because that’s what’s needed to meet travel demand in that corridor. The segment from Northgate to downtown alone will have nearly as many daily boardings as Portland’s entire system, and then add on however many boardings the extension to Lynnwood generates.

        “we can’t wait until 2050 for another four Seattle light rail stations because we “have” to build more tunnels.”

        We’re not. If everything goes as planned, by 2023 we’ll have 56 miles of light rail built by Sound Transit. That’s 20 years from the start of construction. It took Portland 27 years to build 52 miles.

        I’m glad your interested in transit in Seattle, and are anxious to see more light rail built, but you really need to get some historical perspective on the process that we’ve gone through to get the system that we’re building. Central and North Link went through the political sausage maker for over a decade before construction began. The where, when and how debate went on for years between politicians, planners, and community groups and what we ended up with is a result of the countless compromises that were made between them. It’s not as simple as a transit planner waving a hand across a map and saying “build this.” That worked in the early 20th century, but, unfortunately for transit buffs, doesn’t work any more.

      10. Out of curiosity, will they be building any additional train yards or staging areas other than the current one?

      11. I think that they may eventually a train yard near Redmond but the is going to be after all the light rail from ST2 gets completed. But I hear that they are going to end east link at Northgate so they going to need a lay over spot at Northgate if that is in fact the case.

      12. I don’t believe there is any money for an additional maintenance facility in ST2.

        As Patrick said there is a siting plan for a Eastide MF on segment E in Redmond though like segment E it isn’t currently funded.

        I’ve also seen some documents discussing a possible maintenance facility on the South and North lines though again I don’t think those are funded yet.

        The good news is the current maintenance facility is big enough to handle all of the cars needed for a full ST2 system build-out.

        Based on the plans I’ve seen for the Northgate station there are a couple of tail tracks there for train storage but it isn’t a full train yard by any stretch of the imagination.

      13. I know in the past an Eastside MF has been discussed here at STB but I was curious and started digging around the ST website and I can’t actually find anything about an Eastside MF. The only thing I can find is a maintenance base near Seatac and 272th St to hold up to 50 cars and the possibility of storing up to 22 cars at the ends of the lines.

      14. The MF is mentioned in the East Link DEIS and I believe in the ST board decision selecting their prefered alignment (B3, C3T/C4A, D2A, E2, MF5).

    5. misha,

      Between King Street Station and north Alaskan Way, BNSF, formerly Great Northern, tunnels under the city. Can you imagine the consequences if that line was built at ground level?

    6. Doesn’t a tunnel allow four car trains to be run rather than shorter trains that more or less conform to block sizes? In Portland they can’t run trains longer than two cars due to the small block sizes downtown. Four car trains certainly hold a lot more people than for example a two car train, so it stands to reason that more people fit in light rail cars in a tunnel than on the surface.

  10. This entire comment thread is SO 1994. After years of outreach that had the region weighing options including a primarily at-grade network, the most support was clearly for alignments that featured speed and capacity. In fact, the 1995 vote which would have an abbreviated North end tunnel was defeated. Next up, a 1996 vote with a faster line – guess what – it passed. I don’t know if Misha is new to the region or not, but we are not and were not uninformed rubes at the time. A decision was made. The North end tunnels have been studied and re-evaluated so many times its embarrassing.

    1. As someone who has been in the Seattle area for 2.5 years this is my take on it. From what I have seen so far it seems like every thing gets over studied and have a massive amount of options come about because of the nimby’s and Kemper Freeman’s on every major project which get voted more times then is necessary. The government agencies in our region don’t really stand up to the the nimby’s and Kemper Freeman’s and as such projects take way longer then they should.

      1. A lot of that is NEPA and SEPA. I suspect you just haven’t been exposed to it as much before.

      2. I understand all the enviromental reviews and what not (it can be much at times) but what I am referring to is all the alignments/options take for instance the viaduct if I think at one point there were at least 6 different options.

    2. Actually the discussions and studies go back even further than 1994. The region has been studying light rail since sometime in the early 1980’s. If you include rapid transit lines then the studies and votes go back 100 years.

      I don’t believe there was difference in speed between the light rail lines in the 1995 vote and the 1996 vote. The big differences as I recall were the light rail system was substantially scaled back in length (S 200th to NE 45th) and scope (no Eastside line), the tax rate was lower (0.5% as opposed to 0.9%) and the taxes had a limited term (30 years, removed by the ST2 vote in 2008). There was also a larger regional express bus component in the second measure.

      1. I’m fairly certain 1995 vote featured a shorter tunnel, featuring a ‘shell’ for a First Hill station (under union street of all places), and a bridge over portage bay….unfortunately I can’t seem to find any trace of it online!

      2. Actually I’m pretty sure the original Sound Move taxes were limited to 30 years. The ST2 vote eliminated that restriction.

  11. I meant to post about this earlier but got distracted. Technically the photo at the top of the page should not be credited to me. It is on my photostream because it was taken with my camera, but as the description on the Flickr page for the photo says, the photographer (who says he stayed in legal areas on the platform and just held the camera out to get the shot) is my husband, Jason.

    We were waiting to catch Link to Columbia City, to go to the Bookfest.

  12. Yes, I was just on the 36 this morning. I’m quite sure a solution to that turn could have been found for less than the $400+ million Beacon Hill tunnel, and I and many others would have ridden it this morning as it could have had North and South Beacon Hill stations. I’m not saying following the 36 was the best idea, I’m saying that building tunnels (like this west-east tunnel) wasn’t the ONLY option.

    1. “I’m quite sure a solution to that turn could have been found for less than the $400+ million Beacon Hill tunnel”

      A solution would have had to include major street widening (and thus, property-taking) as well. I suppose that still might be cheaper in monetary terms than a tunnel, but certainly not in political terms.

    1. Excuse me for pointing this out, but the “Seattle Streetcar Network” is just a bunch of wishful thinking right now. Under Nickels there was a good chance the First Avenue Line would have been built- which would have helped revitalize the Pike Place Market. When last seen, McGinn was opposed the First Avenue Line, and he quite obviously has none of the political skill needed to create such a line.

      1. How is one line already in existence, and another already paid for ‘wishful thinking’?

        In fact both McGinn and Conlin have talked about getting rail to Ballard and West Seattle, which with the kind of money they are talking about means Streetcar at this point in time.

        However even if this were not the case, how does the Seattle Streetcar Network not being fully realized detract from my point that Misha is more likely to obtain her objective (more cheap rail in Seattle) by pushing the network, instead of arguing against something that has already been built? It would seem to reinforce it IMO.

      2. Well, let’s see- Seattle lost a line and gained a line. Net change = zero.

        At this rate, we’ll be there in no time.

        My own feeling is that to tell someone to work for the Seattle Streetcar Network is the functional equivalent of patting them on the head and sending them off to play with imaginary friends.

      3. Are you kidding?

        Did you just ignore my entire post and restate yours?

        We’ve already committed to building another line (First Hill). There is work to be done RIGHT NOW on getting a good alignment as well as the city to pay for an extension to Aloha. The new President of the City Council has stated an extension of the SLUT to Fremont and Ballard is one of his biggest priorities of his presidency. The Mayor has stated that he wants rail to Ballard and to West Seattle. THERE IS GOING TO BE A BALLOT ON RAIL EITHER THIS YEAR OR NEXT. It doesn’t get much more relevant than that.

      4. Now if McGinn would add the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar along its proper alignment with it’s proper rolling stock back into the mix. I hear all the arguments of why not, however no one has looked at what effect all the construction (and destruction) would have on waterfront businesses. the loss of parking, and general construction activities. having the streetcar back would allow tourists and locals alike to access the waterfront without having to drive. Now, some people will say the bus… but all realities are – the damn thing runs empty.

      5. What I’m seeing here is transit-as-religion. The True Believer doesn’t need any proof- a few runic inscriptions, and some proclamations from High Priests will suffice.

        I would love to believe, but my faith is weak. I see a city that discontinued a profitable and important streetcar line. The First Hill line is being built by ST because they feel they promised the voters a station they are now unable to provide. I’m not convinced Seattle would build that line on their own. And the Mayor who wanted to build the First Avenue Line was defeated by the candidate who said he wouldn’t build it.

        The South Lake Union line is a short line that was heavily bankrolled by a few large property owners on a street that everyone agreed was underused and overaged. Building a First Avenue line from the Seattle Center down to Pioneer Square and then out to the CD will be a lot more difficult.

        Ah, who am I kidding- I don’t want to believe, I want to be convinced– and it’s going to take more than a few pretty drawings and a few words from on high to do it.

      6. All I can really say is “put up or shut up”. I’m ready to do whatever I can in terms of time and money to support a serious effort at a Friends of the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar organization. The same thing goes for an organization advocating for a citywide streetcar network. I’ve seen a lot of kvetching, especially over the George Benson line, but I can’t say as I’ve seen a serious effort to either bring back the waterfront line or to advocate for a citywide streetcar network. I’d consider forming such an organization myself, but I don’t have the time, energy, skills, or connections to do so.

        As for the Fremont/Ballard line, I’d say it has a fairly good chance of getting built as Conlin seems to feel it is his legacy project. The best thing to do at this point would be to write the members of the City Council saying you support a Fremont/Ballard streetcar line and that you support putting it on the ballot in the next two years.

      7. Chris, we have a streetcar blog for the waterfront streetcar, and we can always use more posters (and more readers). A couple of guys were e-mailing me last month about putting some actual physical presence in the game, which I, for various reasons, cannot do. I’ll be happy to connect you with the blog or the enthusiasts or just take your e-mail and work it into a blog post- you can e-mail me at tscott-at-sinclair-dot-net.

      8. It doesn’t require any kind of faith, just the ability to reason, to see that you are more likely to influence future events than past events.

        You may choose to ignore the reality of the network expanding, and the extreme likelyhood that it will continue to expand, but you can’t ignore the simple reality that the past is the past.

      9. SCO, I’m not 100% sure I agree with the First Avenue assessment (Drago was its biggest cheerleader on Council, and she’s gone) but definitely agreed that overall streetcar construction seems less likely in the short term. In a recession, who’s going to be excited about setting up a LID? And the City’s revenues are obviously dropping through the floor.

      10. The First Hill streetcar is funded and will be built. A line to Fremont and Ballard is likely to be on the ballot in the next two years. That is MORE streetcar construction in the next few years not less.

      11. In SCO’s defense, I believe the entire council voted to prioritize the First Avenue line above all others (except First Hill) back in December 2009. So it wasn’t just Drago.

  13. If Kemper Freeman had a sinister plan to cripple rail transit, it might be to have the trains run in surface traffic in Bellevue. This will be an operational headache for the life of the system. Riders from Redmond will be irritated twice a day by what in practical terms will be a 10-minute jog in the route.

    Get Bellevue to pay some of the cost and dig the tunnel. In fact, just keep right on digging out east past 405. You’ll thank me later.

    1. Kemper and his minions frustrate me to no end… Kemper is not Bellevue. And his minions should remember they serve the people and not Kemper. Zero chance, I know… But some of us Bellevue residents want light rail – even some of us who live on the proposed routes.

      A tunnel makes the most sense for downtown. Period. Kemper & friends built right up to the curb leaving no room for any infrastructure expansion. They only have themselves to blame for the congestion they claim to be concerned about.

      How to pay for it? I say make the obstructionists (ie Kemper, Wallace, Surrley Downs, etc…) pay for the tunnel. I know…again, zero chance…

    2. You exaggerate just as much as those who are screaming that a surface alignment will “kill” downtown Bellevue. The surface alignments currently on the table will have anywhere from 8 to 12 blocks of at-grade running in downtown. That hardly amounts to a “10-minute jog in the route”.

      As for tunneling east of 405 I hardly see the point other than to burn huge piles of cash.

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