We still don’t know much about the light rail plan Mayor McGinn will likely put before the voters that we didn’t know before the election.  However, one thing that is for sure is that it won’t be grade-separated from end to end, and that’s enough for some to make blanket statements that anything less than full grade separation is unacceptable, that we should wait to do it “right”, etc.

The Transport Politic makes a strong, Seattle-centric case for at-grade light rail, but here are some other political and financial observations:

  1. The unspoken assumption of the absolutists is that ST3 will deliver full grade separation if we were to wait for it.  In reality, that may be the case if we wait for the Sound Move bonds to get paid off in the 2030s and 2040s.  Otherwise, we’ll get whatever additional taxing authority the state gives us.   That may be billions more, or it may be less.  Dealing with that kind of uncertainty, it makes sense to accomplish whatever we can so that our ambitions can fit in whatever package Olympia gives us.  More after the jump.
  2. There are those who claim that gas prices will soon shoot into the stratosphere, creating unlimited political support for more transit funding.  Even assuming that’s correct (and I have my doubts), I’m not sure how to engage with that argument.  On the one hand, that’s a case to do nothing until future voters save us; on the other, it means we have to finish as many capital projects as we can as soon as we can to cushion the blow.
  3. If your objective is a more reasonable one — say, grade-separated through dense areas and at the surface through sparser ones, like Central Link — there’s lots of possibilities for projects that complement an ST3 project, rather than somehow prevent us from doing it “right:”
  • Surface light rail to West Seattle with elevated crossings where needed to cross rail lines and water, terminating in Sodo. I suspect Ballard will be a higher priority for ST3, so this would allow us to complete the segment most likely to be dropped if the funding isn’t there, while not committing us to a surface half-measure where more is needed.
  • A Second Avenue transit tunnel under downtown, Belltown, and possibly Queen Anne would absorb a major ST3 capital cost, improve RapidRide C and D service in the meantime, and probably cost under $2 billion.*
  • The Ballard/Fremont/SLU streetcar extension would connect several neighborhoods by rail without duplicating the obvious rapid transit ROW up 15th Ave.  At about $135m it’s also by far the cheapest of the three options.

It’s not at all clear that a McGinn plan will include any of these three things, or that it will even make it to the ballot, but it’s counterproductive to draw red lines that are unlikely to be met either now or when ST3 is ready for a vote.

*The 3rd Avenue DSTT is about $900m in today’s dollars, which as how I came up with my guess, which obviously depends on where exactly the tunnel ends.  If you’re new here, you may not know that there will not be room for Ballard/WS trains in the current tunnel.

118 Replies to “Holding out for Grade Separation”

  1. I still don’t quite get the notion that 15th Ave is an “obvious” transit ROW other than it was proposed for the monorail route and it has the space to run rail on the surface (therefore cheaper). That route means running through an area that’s sliced up by railroad tracks, effectively limiting quality neighborhood service to only areas east of the line. It’s almost like the Seattle version of the “Vision Line,” though instead of an interstate creating an obstacle, it’s railroad tracks. Check out this map I created.

    This single subway route more effectively serves four major neighborhoods: Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne, and Belltown. The SLUT could be extended up the west side of Lake Union to the future Fremont Link station and then either further northeast toward Wallingford or east-southeast toward Gas Works Park and eventually to the U District.

    1. While the routing is intriguing, I wonder how deep the Queen Anne Station would be (assuming a station somewhere between Boston and Galer and what would you remove along Queen Anne Ave to make room for a station entrance?

      1. I concur with Ben, all surface parking on Queen Anne Hill would be fair game, and the Safeway and/or MM lots would be perfect. =) Since we’re being futurists today, I think my personal map captures some of Martin’s post pretty well…a 1st or 2nd Avenue tunnel, a Belltown-Queen Anne-SPU-Ballard subway, and a Ballard-UW-Redmond line that connects with the SLUT at Brooklyn Station, etc etc etc…

        [Granted, other lines on the map are much further divorced from reality. =) ]

      2. Haha. Nice map. I’d say the Lake Union line should skip Husky Stadium and Medina, though – go to Children’s!

      3. Nice map. I think the pink stop labeled “Juanita” needs to be Houghton.

        I expect it will be a heck of a lot cheaper to add light rail to a 520 bridge than to build a new one

      4. Was thinking about it the other day, and your ‘gold line’ reminded me. Are there color designations for Central and East Links for the future? It seems the hypothetical West Seattle / Ballard is consistently labeled ‘green'( I assume from monorail days) but I haven’t seen anything with reference to the Link lines once East link is completed.

      5. Eh, I guess I was just trying to show how East Link plans call for the eastern station entrance to be on 23rd Ave S, while my hypothetical Gold Line would traverse 23rd all the way to Montlake and Woodinville. It made sense to me not to call the combined station merely ‘Rainier’. But it’s just a (quickly-drawn) fantasy map, and I’m not from Seattle…what’s Leschi’s westernmost boundary, 23rd or MLK?

      6. I’ve always thought the Central Line should be Purple.

        The line from North Seattle to Redmond should be Gold.

      7. I DID THE SAME THIND! HAHA I made a map that looks somewhat similar to yours. You have some great ideas. Love it!

        Send this map to the mayor, Sound Transit, KCM, Community Transit, Pierce Tranist and other mayor across the region.

      8. Except for one thing. The Gold Line needs to continue south to SouthCenter mall. Then the gold line should turn East at Kent and intersect the Sounder-CommuterRail before ending around Covington or Maple Valley.

        Bascially extend and curve the Gold Line East

      9. @Aaron: thanks for the excellent map, BTW. I’ve been thinking along similar lines but don’t have anything nearly as finished or sophisticated.

        @Zach Shaner: Leschi is just the waterfront neighborhood. I don’t know the formal boundary but I’d say East of 31st, or possibly out to MLK (28th). I agree “Rainier station” is pretty ambiguous. “Leschi station” is surprising given the location. On the other hand, that didn’t stop “Columbia City station” from being outside Columbia City.

      10. how much room do you need for a station entrance? They would have to remove it for construction, but the parking would be right back there once they finished the station.

      11. Why can’t the station just have “hole-in-the-wall” entraces? or entraces where you simply build a pair of stairs in the middle of the sidewalk?

      12. Because that simply worked TOO WELL when they built the subways in London, Boston, Budapest, New York, Paris, etc.

        In the 1970s, we decided that new subways needed to be grandiose! And laborious to enter and exit!! And so prohibitively expensive that stops spacing ends up ridiculous and the line becomes useless!!!

        (I think it started in D.C. as Cold War penis-measuring contest — Moscow’s subways are elaborate. Now it gets mistaken for civic pride.)

      13. BTW, don’t let anyone tell you it’s a disability issue. While it’s difficult to RETROFIT a smaller inaccessible station (Boston, NY) with elevators (compared to retrofitting a bigger one), it’s perfectly easy to BUILD a new station small/fully accessible, and the results are better. Trust me, people with mobility issues HATE the downtown transit tunnel’s multi-elevator thing.

      14. (Amazing, Zed, how I was already typing the refutation of your argument when you posted it!)

      15. Also, the ADA was 1990. The cavern-station-with-the-huge-entrance-plaza thing got going in the ’70s.

      16. He (AndrewM) asked specifically about why stations entrances with only stairs can’t be built. The size and layout of the stations is another matter.

        The DSTT stations were built with mezzanines to allow cross-platform transfers without having to go the surface, and also to allow the future incorporation of fare gates and station attendant booths.

      17. Well, I had to look at Budacrest. Not one of those cities you really think of as being a world leader.. I mean communism collapsed and all. It’s probably a bunch of ox carts, right? No, it’s 2 million people. The reason Seattle doesn’t have subways like London, NY and Paris is Seattle is a backwater town compared to these cities. In fact we’re sub-standard even in Romania.

      18. Zed:

        1. In the given example (Queen Anne), any tunnel would be so deep that the entrance would be elevator-only, à la Beacon Hill. But there need not be a whole building on the surface for elevator-only stations to work. Just wrap the emergency stairs around the elevator shaft (the egress can be a sidewalk grate) and only the elevator shaft need protrude. Montmartre in Paris comes to mind.

        2. Speaking more generally, older/smaller stairs-only subway stations are hard to retrofit with elevators because there may be no part of the transit level that sits below the pedestrian portion of the surface level. With new construction, one would simply design around the idea of a stairway and adjacent elevator that meet at a smaller and shallower platform.

        3. I’m sorry, but your DSTT explanation doesn’t hold water. That amount of space would NEVER be necessary for fare collection, and the one station that will ever be used for bi-directional transfers (International District) is the only one without a mezzanine. And frankly, there are more than a few stations in NY with ramps from mezzanine levels to the platforms — but you have to give up your dreams of 60-foot ceilings for that to work. The DSTT was “architecture to impress,” plain and simple.

      19. As for Bernie:

        If you’re comparing us to Romania, then you looked up “Bucharest” rather than “Budapest.”

        In my earlier post, I CONSCIOUSLY chose as examples the earliest subways with still-functioning infrastructure (London: 1863; Budapest: 1896; Glasgow: 1896; Boston: 1897; Paris: 1900).

        So yes, actually, this makes all of the above cities “world leaders,” inasmuch as they led the world.

        Oh, and 1896 significantly pre-dates Communism. So you managed to be thrice wrong. (The Soviets, meanwhile, spared no expense in building elaborate and super-efficient subways, usually accessible from the surface by a single very, very long escalator. But there was definitely no “Bolsheviks with Disabilities Act.”)

      20. What’s wrong with artistic, spacious stations? It’s a continuing joy to be in them.

        The grand Moscow stations were built in the 1930s I think. The ones built around the 70s (e.g., Aviamotornaya) are utilitarian and dull. The long escalator ride under a plain canopy makes you wish there were more art there.

        “there was definitely no “Bolsheviks with Disabilities Act.”

        Handicapped people were not expected to use the subways.

        “The DSTT stations were built with mezzanines to allow cross-platform transfers without having to go the surface, and also to allow the future incorporation of fare gates and station attendant booths.”

        It’s more the first than the second. Mezzanines are kind of expected with side platforms. Intl Dist is the odd one out. NYC’s one-way-only entrances are also the odd man out, but they were built decades ago.

        Regarding Intl Dist being the only place for two-way transfers, why? Why shouldn’t we expect people to transfer at any common station? That’s the idiodicy of putting platform-level ORCA readers only at Intl Dist (except one southbound reader at Westlake).

      21. Mike,

        1. What’s wrong with “spacious” stations is that you add 2 or 3 minutes to every passenger’s journey just to get from the street to the train. Missed trains become more frequent as a result, contributing to the impression of inconvenience.

        And a person with mobility issues may find their street-to-elevator-to-mezzanine-to-elevator-to-platform journey alone takes 10 minutes… if both elevators are working! All it takes is for 1 out of 2 to malfunction and the route is blocked.

        Don’t believe this is a problem? On this very forum, people have written how much they prefer the downtown surface stations on the Portland MAX for this very reason. And MAX is SSSLLLLOOOWWWWWW downtown; a LINK station has to be pretty darn inconvenient for THAT to become preferable.

        2. Indeed, Moscow’s elaborate station decoration began in the 1930s. The 1970s were when the UNITED STATES adopted (in D.C. and elsewhere) its size-is-paramount approach to transit infrastructure. Also, It’s worth noting that most Soviet subway stations DO NOT have mezzanine levels. They’re surface-to-platform in one shot, even when they’re deep, and the chandeliers and fancy accoutrements tend to be on a MODERATELY-SIZED arcade as part of the CENTER platform.

        >Regarding Intl Dist being the only place for two-way transfers, why?

        Because in the long run, International District is the only place that two lines will meet, and nobody in their right mind would ride three stations into the tunnel to ride three stations back out.

        And trust me, even with the present multi-directional bus usage, there is NOBODY using the tunnel to transfer from “north” buses to 520 buses (all of which all stop at Montlake anyway).

      22. 1. I agree that walking time is paramount. It’s possible to design a spacious station that doesn’t increase walking significantly. It’s not possible to design a small station for 10-car trains. NYC does have these hole-in-the-wall, one-way stations with surprisingly narrow plaforms. I don’t consider those worth emulating.

        Often, the station is large because it has two entrances three blocks apart. Both entrances are a convenience to somebody, and they’d be walking the same distance on the surface (and waiting for traffic lights) if the station were smaller.

        2. DC’s street planning, plazas, and station sizes intentionally evoke the grandeur of a European capital. There’s precious little of that in the US, so the more the better. (Although it gives foreigners a misleading impression of what most of the US is like.) Anyway, DC stations are not “oversized”: you need so much space for 10-car trains and their waiting passengers. Metro Center station is at capacity I hear.

        The one thing that’s particularly oversized and long is the escalator at Adams Morgan station and the bridges outside it. But with the canyon and depth and number of passengers, I don’t know if it could be smaller; I’m not an engineer.

        I was last in Russia in 1996 so my memory’s a bit hazy. Arbatskaya is the largest and grandest station, and it’s a joy to pass through. But one transfer station in St Petersburg is (or at least was) so overcrowded they don’t let one direction transfer; you have to go outside and back in. That’s what happens if most people don’t have a car, and why big stations are important.

        3. “International District is the only place that two lines will meet, and nobody in their right mind would ride three stations into the tunnel to ride three stations back out.”

        Wrong on both counts. Westlake station transfers to the streetcar and monorail. University Street has a 2nd Avenue entrance and may be the transfer point to a 2nd Avenue subway.

        And people don’t just transfer opposite directions; they also transfer the same direction. There may be few people transfer from north buses to 520 buses, but there are more who transfer from the north buses to Link, and they expect to do so at any shared station as in every other subway in the world. BART has suggested transfer points between the N-S and E-W lines, but there are shared stations in between and no prohibition against using them.

      23. BTW, the four levels of escalators/stairs in the UW station design scare me. Talk about long walking time. And you have to walk between escalators at every level, like the horrid design of Westlake Center. I think most people would take the elevators, and hope that they go nonstop through the four levels.

    2. I think it’s the obvious route because it avoids Queen Anne Hill and has an existing water crossing with the Ballard Bridge.

      The problem with the Queen Anne Ave. alignment is that trains can’t make it up on the surface, and a tunnel (as with your subway) is expensive. And then you still have to go from Fremont to Ballard on the other side, which lengthens the route and increases Ballard-to-Downtown times. If it’s all subway compared to 15th surface it would still be quicker, but again at what cost?

      15th is a way to do the cross-lake connection with the money that’s likely to be available now. It should be supplemented with a streetcar extension through Fremont to Ballard for more local service.

      If we had the money, I’d be all in favor of a system of tunnels. But it would probably make more sense to have a Ballard-UW tunnel and a 2nd-Queen Anne-Aurora tunnel (surfacing on Aurora at some point to connect to Northgate) with a connection at Fremont. This provides a north-of-Ship-Canal cross-town connection, and the possibility of converting Aurora to a TOD-corridor over time. Having two north-south options from Northgate would also distribute the load more and provide more capacity for future 520 rail transfers to downtown.

      1. The ballard bridge can’t really handle a rail crossing. It’s in need of replacement already, and then we’d have trains waiting for boats. We need to go either over (high), or under.

      2. I’ve wondered before why tunnels don’t get much play when it comes to water crossings in Seattle. Mobile has both the Bankhead and Wallace tunnels going under the Alabama River.

      3. Given how much high bridges for rail are likely to cost (not to mention NIMBY problems) tunnels might actually be cheaper in many cases, especially if only long enough for the water crossing portion.

      4. Well, to go deep enough to get under the water, that means that you can’t just surface immediately on either side, particularly if you’re crossing where there’s a hill (i.e. Queen Anne). I guess you could surface faster on 15th because it’s comparatively low-lying. But then you just have to travel a mile on the surface, so it really makes more sense to have a deep Queen Anne tunnel. 15th might work elevated, but it’s a good question whether an elevated 15th plus a new bridge wouldn’t be so expensive that a tunnel’s only a marginal increase in cost.

        If there’s no way to do 15th as surface, I’m partial to digging a tunnel, even if it means doing it in stages and delaying the eventual build-out to Ballard.

    3. The biggest advantage of the 15th corridor is that it’s wide and flat, so at-grade light rail would be a relatively good fit. There’s not much between Queen Anne and Ballard (maybe a stop near Dravus for connectivity to Magnolia), but that’s also the case for the northern parts of Queen Anne.

      I like an underground line under 2nd or 4th, with stations at the same cross streets as the DSTT (ID, Pioneer Square, University, Westlake), and underground pedestrian connections between the stations (which would really be shown as one station each on a map rather than separate stations). Then, the line would continue northeast to underground stations in Belltown and Lower Queen Anne. The routing would descend from Queen Anne via an elevated viaduct, transitioning to an at-grade routing down 15th. The corridor would then go under the ship canal with an underground station somewhere along 17th (close to the heart of Ballard), then swing back to 15th and emerge near 65th, running at-grade to a terminus around 85th. Such a routing would maximize ridership by offering quick connections between the density points, but making use of cheap ROW for at-grade running where necessary.

      I like your map, but fear that the routing from Queen Anne to Fremont would be very challenging from a technical standpoint, going from tall hill to flat land, under a canal. Furthermore, the area between Fremont and Ballard is also a more industrial area, so you’ll still have the issues you mention along 15th, but with a narrower and therefore more expensive right of way.

      1. Underground would need to be under 2nd. 4th would mean crossing the DSTT twice.

        15th really lends itself to some grade separation – elevated is more likely, I think, than at-grade.

      2. And 2nd Avenue is the saddest looking avenue in downtown Seattle. At times it seems more like an alley for 1st and 3rd. It could definitely use some love in the decades ahead!

      3. I’ve thought about 2nd vs. 4th … 2nd would be easier for sure, but 4th would allow a connection at Westlake, which is clearly one of the more important stations. I suppose the 2nd tunnel could stop between Pike/Pine, but you’d need a 2-block pedestrian tunnel unless you want to force the connections to the surface and back down again.

      4. Why couldn’t 2nd connect to Westlake? Don’t forget that Westlake has two entrances, on 3rd/Pine and 5th/Pine…there’s no reason a 2nd avenue tunnel couldn’t have a pedestrian connection.

      5. There’s no need for all the DSTT stations to be cross-connected to a new transit tunnel. Just have one station designated as a transfer station. A good reason to not designate Westlake as the trasfer station is that it’s already a pretty busy station.

      6. University Street station already has a 2nd Avenue exit. It should be easy enough to branch off it to the new station.

      7. Why not 5th? I’ve seen some older city documents assuming a transit tunnel under 5th. This gives you a nice transfer point at Westlake and International District, and avoids the BNSF tunnel entirely. It also allows for a midpoint station at 5th and Columbia which in addition to being adjacent to the civic center complex is also next to three million sqft+ office buildings. You could even tie the pedestrian tunnels running between them into the station mezzanine.

      8. I really like the idea of pedestrian connections between tunnels, using the same station names. Ending the tunnel at Lower Queen Anne would also lower costs compared to Aaron’s tunnel. We could use 15th on the surface to connect to Ballard for now, with the option of extending the 2nd Ave tunnel from LQA under the hill and across the water at a later date.

        To spend even less money, we could make the first tunnel section run only from Lower Queen Anne to Westlake Station (more like 2nd and Pine). A single pedestrian connection would serve connections in the rest of the DSTT or further south. Then build the West Seattle extension to Alaska Junction from SODO separately. The main problem with this is running two spur lines that don’t connect to each other or anything else, but it would save infrastructure costs for the first stage.

        One problem with ending the tunnel at LQA and using surface 15th is how you’d surface. If the LQA station is underground, then you have to build a tunnel portion to surface that couldn’t be used for a later northern extension. Unless you surface at the LQA station and build a viaduct all the way from that point to 15th. Then any future northbound tunnel could simply continue at the same grade back under the hill. It seems like navigating all the different grades could be tricky.

    4. You left off two areas that are growing quite fast… Monroe and Snoqualmie. Just sayin…

      1. Monroe could be connected by using commuter rail via Snohomish to Everett, with a transfer point at Snohomish to Eastside commuter rail. Of course, that would mean getting right-of-way to a completely different rail line.

        Snoqualmie and North Bend are too far out and we really shouldn’t be building rail anywhere near there IMO, even in 2075. But if the density was there, you could extend light rail from Issaquah. You wouldn’t want to ever go past Monroe for similar reasons.

  2. Building on my question from yesterday’s open thread, say we were to get a grade-separated ROW across the north side of the ship canal, and run one line from Ballard to the Redmond, with the other from Lynnwood to SeaTac. Does this put too much traffic in the DSTT? Here is a map:

    1. Hmm… I would argue that this doesn’t add traffic to the DSTT, it cuts trains to Roosevelt/Northgate. So the real question is are there enough trains going there. The other question I’d have with this line is how quickly it would connect Ballard to downtown. I believe it is 8 minutes from Westlake to Brooklyn station, so if you’re doing a tunnel with similar stop spacing with two Wallingford stops, a Zoo stop, and a Ballard stop (I’d add a second Ballard stop further to the west, personally) it could make the trip in around 20 minutes, which is not bad. Actually, it’s comparable to the express version of the 15 and beats then local version pretty easily. But 3 miles of tunnel could cost over a billion. A surface run would probably be not so good for going downtown but a useful Ballard-UW connection as well as a good way to get from Wallingford to downtown. Honestly, though, if the zoo is part of the route it has to be a tunnel for at least two miles before surfacing on Market west of the zoo.

      1. I was operating under the assumption that it would surface somewhere around Fremont Ave due to the grade going up Market. Luckily I think there might be enough clearance on the outside rim of the ridge to run a viaduct. That would shave off a mile of tunneling. And I’d probably swing the line farther up into Tangletown to maximize separation from the Wallingford stop; as it stands right now I don’t think I spaced them far enough apart.

        Also not shown on the map: a center-running streetcar up 15th Ave W, turning on Harrison and stopping on 1st Ave N outside Key Arena, then north to Mercer St wrapping around the Seattle Center and joining up with the SLUT.

    2. You can’t do that – we need all the trains we can get to go to Northgate.

      1. Why does Northgate need so much capacity? It’s basically a park-and-ride station. There isn’t going to be much TOD beyond the already completed Thornton place — anywhere else is going to be a pretty long walk. Is it all the bus transfers? Roosevelt? I assume we’re not going to grow the P&R by much, and the larger trains with 6 minute headways should be able to carry the P&R riders currently carried by the 41 with 2 minute headways.

      2. My understanding is that current plans are for most trains to terminate at Northgate rather than go all the way to Lynnwood. Anyway, I find it hard to believe that capacity demands through Snohomish county would be much higher than in south King county, but I may be wrong there. I guess if the 41 is any indication, park and rides do bring riders.

      3. Ben, admit you and Martin are not the final authority on decision making in Seattle. Blanket statements like this, and from Martin in his last line (…will not be room for Ballard trains in the DSTT) should not be made.
        There are a lot of circumstsances that would permit Ballard trains to share the DSTT, some of which I mentioned in Martins link above concerning this.
        Before Link ever thinks about adding frequency, they will be adding cars to meet demand. Cars are cheap, compared to annual salaries and operating cost by adding new trains to existing routes.
        As I have pointed out before, the ridership models are not predicting current Link ridership very well, and likely are flawed on N. and E. Link for the same reasons.
        It may be many decades before the DSTT is maxed out (or used to it’s fullest capacity, if you prefer), especially when the buses leave.
        Digging another tunnel through downtown is probably needed someday, but to just throw in the towel at this early stage is not wise.

  3. I like your suggested projects, but from everything I’ve heard there is no way we could build the tunnel or light rail to west seattle with the funding available. Remember the city has its eye on that TBD money for lots of other projects, and people might not vote for the full .2% sales tax and $100 car tab fee. I think the Fremont/Ballard streetcar would be great, along with making improvements to rapid ride like transit-only lanes or increasing frequency. Or we could just build out the whole streetcar system, which makes a lot more sense for the city to be doing than building out ST3.

    1. The City staff is saying we can raise about $1.8 billion, minus the costs of the viaduct, which might leave us with $900m. There are a ton of revenue variables here,
      but I’m counting about 4 miles from Sodo to Alaska & California. At the same cost per mile as Central Link you could do it.

      But yes, the downtown tunnel is out of reach if we’re going to eat all the deep-bore tunnel-related costs.

      1. There are too many other things the city needs money for. We’d need new legislative authority – like a sales tax on gas devoted to transit.

      2. I am philosophically opposed to VATs as it disguises the true cost of a tax.

        Taxes are a necessary evil, but they should be as straightforward and easily identifiable as possible.

      3. That would be great! The normal gas tax is constitutionally only for roads, but a sales tax on gas neatly sidesteps that issue. Plus of course it makes driving less attractive.

      4. There is another source of money for transit – and that’s to re-prioritze existing spending to place a greater emphasis on transit, and less on something else.

        The pockets we’re taxing have only so many coins in them.

      5. My understanding is that the “deep-bore tunnel related costs” include:

        a) Seawall replacement, a matter McGinn wants to rush forward on using the city bonding capacity, even at the cost of future federal assistance with costs,

        b) pedestrian, bike, and roadway improvements to deal with the change in traffic patterns (i.e., deluge of surface traffic) after the viaduct is removed, and

        c) The Central Line streetcar as proposed by Nickels and forwarded by the City Council.

        Not sure which of these costs you most wish to avoid “eating”.

      6. For starters, whatever overruns come out of the tunneling process.

        The Central Line is unlikely to be funded in all of this.

        More broadly, if the tunnel were to die, one possibility is that the State would simply zero out their contribution to the replacement of a State highway, in which case the City does eat the whole cost. More likely, they would chip in at least something in the way of rebuilding the roadway along the waterfront in addition to the I-5 improvements.

        Aside from overruns, though, given that the tunnel is going to be built there aren’t huge opportunities for the city to save money.

      7. The estimated tunnel budget of $1.9 billion includes $460 million in reserve for overruns.

        And it is my understanding that the $1.9 billion the City Council agreed to as part of the tunnel agreement included the costs of the Central Line.

      8. For starters, whatever overruns come out of the tunneling process.

        I suspect that if the actual tunnel construction blows its budget the city will tell the state to take a long walk off of a short pier if the state tries to stick the city with those costs.

      9. The estimated tunnel budget of $1.9 billion includes $460 million in reserve for overruns.

        The $1.9 billion “budget” is built on some rather optimistic assumptions about tolling revenue.

  4. Well, here are my random musings for a total buildout (or at least a start on) for ST2 and a potential ST3 package:

    1. Somewhere north of Lynnwood to Federal Way (or some point south)
    2. Somewhere north of Lynnwood to Redmond via Seattle and I-90
    3. Ballard to Issaquah via UW, SR-520, Bellevue and Eastgate
    4. West Seattle to Lynnwood via Seattle, Ballard and the interurban right-of-way
    5. Burien to Lynnwood via Tukwila Int’l Blvd, Southcenter, Renton, and I-405

      1. I’m not at all surprised you did’t think it was a good idea when I mentioned doing exactly the same thing three months ago.

        You have your friends. And then there’s everybody else.

    1. My thoughts:
      1. Everett to Tacoma via Lynnwood and Federal Way
      2. Everett to Downtown Redmond via Seattle, I-90, and Bellevue
      3. Yes, though we can start with Ballard to UW and Bellevue to Eastgate and Issaquah.
      4. West Seattle to Woodinville via Downtown, Uptown, Ballard, Crown Hill, Greenwood, Oak Tree, NSCC, Northgate, Lake City, and UW Bothell.
      5. Yes, though I’d use a mix of BNSF and new ROW between Downtown Bellevue and Totem Lake so S. Kirkland P&R, Houghton, and Downtown Kirkland could be properly served. The North End of the line could extend out 525 to at least 99 if not the Paine Field area.
      6. Everett to Seattle via 99, Fremont, and SLU. Possible extension to Burien via Delridge and White Center

      1. Great ideas–particularly #4 above. The Lake City-Bothell-(Woodinville) line is part of the NE line envisioned in the Forward Thrust package in the late ’60’s (although it then extended south through the UW area and Capitol Hill). Another possible routing on that segment if no Ballard-Issaquah would be Woodinville – Lake City – Roosevelt (a more natural grade than Northgate) – Wallingford – Ballard and on into West Seattle.

        I really like 3 and 4 together, though. Very little of the city would be un-served with those two lines in addition to Central and East Link.

      2. Thanks, I’d also point out that Lake City-Northgate-Oak Tree-Crown Hill-Ballard-Lower Queen Anne-Downtown was part of the City of Seattle ICT studies. The Northgate to UW Bothell portion was the subject of a ST issue paper. Of course Crown Hill to downtown was part of both the Forward Thrust package and the Green Line of the Monorail project.

        Even though we think the city and region has changed so much over the years, it is kind of amazing how the same corridors keep coming up again and again when serious transit proposals are made. If you go back far enough you’ll find that many proposed corridors used to be streetcars, interurbans, or rail lines at some point in the past. Hopefully one day we’ll stop studying these corridors and start building something.

      3. (note that my comment above was in response to Kaleci above so my line #3 and line #5 are essentially the same)

        BTW I’m mostly going off various plans that have either been part of studies or ballot measures:
        #1 Everett to Tacoma and #2 Everett to Redmond are in the ST long range plan, they were also in the first attempt to pass Sound Move and in Roads+Transit (though I think some of the proposals only had rail going as far North as Ash Way). Overlake to Redmond is almost certain to be in any “ST3” package.
        #3 I think a spur line between Bellevue and Issaquah was in both the first attempt at Sound Move and in Roads+Transit. It is also in ST’s long range plan. Ballard/UW has shown up on a number of planning documents as well.
        #4 West Seattle to Lake City via Sodo, Downtown, Uptown, Ballard, Crown Hill, Oak Tree, NSCC, and Northgate was in the Seattle ICT study the city did a few years back. ST did an issue paper on a UW Bothell to Northgate line as well, though it turned at 145th rather than serving Lake City. Part of the corridor would have been served by the monorail green line as well.
        #5 Burien to North Renton was the subject of a ST issue paper. I’m guessing there is a good chance it might be in ST3. Bellevue to Totem Lake using the BNSF ROW was part of the HCT studies ST did for East Link. A HCT corridor along 405 is in the PSRC and ST long-range plans, though as BRT and not rail.
        #6 This is the most speculative line. The closest this corridor has had to any serious consideration is the Swift and RapidRide lines along with a ST issue paper on using SR99 between N 130th and Everett. The South end has had even less serious consideration, though there used to be an interurban/streetcar to Burien via White Center and Duwamish.

      4. #3–you (and Kaleci) are correct; in fact the spur line to Issaquah was envisioned as part of the 1968 plan. There was no direct service Bellevue-Issaquah however as Bellevue was not the center it is now. Alternating or staggered trains would run Seattle-Bellevue and Seattle-Issaquah. Today the idea of doing Ballard-UW and Bellevue-Issaquah spurs and connecting them cross-lake later if necessary is an excellent one. I seem to recall that the 45th Street corridor was one of the few in the city where transit usage already met standards for rail.

        #4–The ST issue paper was, frankly, ill-considered at best. NE 145th not only has little or no development save a small area at 15th NE, there is little opportunity for TOD along 145th or at the freeway station where it would have joined North Link. Lake City has much more room for development, it is a rare flat area in the city where building up would not impose on views (NIMBY), it is a hub urban village and already is a transit transfer point for much of NE Seattle. The proposed monorail line was a better solution and more closely followed the older 1968 plan (which also follows the natural topography).

      5. These are just shorthand, right? You’d definitely want more stops than just one per area mentioned in #4 at the very least. From Northgate it would depend upon whether you took Northgate Way or 125th. You’d want a stop where you first join Lake City Way, plus 125th, and 145th. You’d also want stops at Lake Forest Park town center and Kenmore (at 68th, near the downtown redevelopment), and possibly a downtown Bothell stop at 527 as well as the UW Bothell stop. There’s a transit center there, new development and an expanded park, all of which are not very walkable all the way from UW. It works out to about a stop per mile, which is reasonable spacing for the area.

        This is the line I would use most if it ever got built and I’m still in my current house, so the details matter to me.

  5. Amidst a car tunnel, the Amtrak tunnel, and two light rail tunnels, how is a bullet train going to get through downtown Seattle?

    1. would have to be east of 5th avenue, and would need plenty of time to descend under U-Link

    2. You assume a bullet train is going to need its own tunnel through Seattle? It is a pretty safe assumption that any train would be making a stop so shared tracks in the downtown area isn’t a complete showstopper. Furthermore dedicated HSR ROW between Everett and Seattle is unlikely any time soon. If cars are endangered enough that we can take bullet train ROW on 99 or I-5 I’d worry about getting the trains through downtown then.

    3. I’m thinking it could use the 99 tunnel. But all the “how can we fit another tunnel downtown?” questions aren’t really based on anything, you can have tunnels at any different level under any different street, I bet you could fit a dozen north-south tunnels downtown. Other cities have tons and tons of tunnels for every kind of transportation all over the place.

    1. Yes, great ideas. It provides a path to rapid transit everywhere without being too expensive (subways everywhere now) or so cheap we’ll have to replace it (streetcars everywhere now).

  6. If we’re going to have reliable LR on the West Side then it NEEDS to be grade separate. I’ll love to see ST do a cost study of the corridor, and list the prices of all available options. My guess is a grade separated Ballard-West Seattle LR would be close to $3 billion.

    Also, the Amsterdam Tram comparison by is specious, in my opinion. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and they are downright hostile to cars. To drive in inner Amsterdam is a fool’s errand. I’m not saying I don’t prefer the transit/bike centric planning of Amsterdam – I just think it’s politically unrealistic here.

    1. You might come up with $3.5 billion if you somehow assume it’s able to run elevated through downtown without any political friction, in a way the monorail certainly could not. And that’s with some surface-running at the edges.

      More realistically, full grade separation will cost you $5 billion or so.

      1. Yeah, $3 billion is a little optimistic. :-) How in the world are we going to come up with $5 billion? I can’t imagine Seattle voters voting for that kind of spending package. Most of the money would have to come from elsewhere.

    2. As someone currently living in Amsterdam, I can tell you that the trams work all right, but not optimal. Where totally grade-separated, they work fine. However, they regularly mix with traffic and this slows them down at bottlenecks (even at some stoplights, the cars are stopped too close to the tracks and the tram has to wait). Generally speaking, the trams are pretty slow and aren’t time-competitive with biking or driving (or walking in some cases).

      I have a choice of a tram+bus or tram+metro or bike option. Bike is fastest, followed by tram+metro. The metro is much more reliable and consistent than the trams.

  7. After reading the articles cited and thinking about it some more, I’m coming around to this idea of not grade-separating the Ballard line. It could be streetcar-style on 1st ave up to Seattle Center, then over on Mercer to 15th, where it could have its own lanes through interbay and up through ballard. There are already bus-only lanes there, right? The problem is it will still be really expensive, because there needs to be a new crossing of the ballard cut, either a really high bridge (otherwise it will open all the time for ships) or a tunnel underneath. If McGinn’s ballot measure can do all that, I could support this cheaper option.

    1. Please please please. Having the lightrail go “streetcar-style” is inefficient and poor-quality, and will be expensive in the long run. This is not giving us the “right” style of rail for Seattle’s future. It needs to be underground and as far away from vehicle traffic as possible.

      Concerning lightrail, the way to go is:
      1. Underground with each line having its own pair of tracks.
      2. In the outskirts, pops above ground and is grade-separated (aka staying clear of vehicle traffic)

      We have already regretted laying the lightrail down the center of MLK Way, let’s not make that same mistake again.

      1. Andrew,
        I think there is a need to be realistic. There is a lot of room in cost, speed, and capacity between a streetcar running in mixed traffic with no signal priority (IOW a bus on rails) and a full-on light metro such as U-Link. None of the potential corridors in the region is likely to have the same level of ridership as U-Link/North Link which means they aren’t going to need to run reliably on sub-5 minute headways with 4 car trains.

        Face it a lot of other cities in North America (or for that matter Europe and Asia) manage to have very successful light rail and/or tram lines with large sections of at-grade running. There is no reason to believe the Seattle area is so special the same won’t be true here.

        Furthermore I’d like to see better transit sooner rather than later. If we insist on only 100% grade separated lines then the only new corridor likely to see rail any time soon is West Seattle Junction to SODO. Anything else will have to wait for ST3 which could be a very long time away if ST doesn’t get any additional sources of funding.

        Personally I’d rather not be stuck on a slow bus winding its way through traffic for any trips outside of the Link lines in ST2 for the rest of my life.

        One thing that can really help at-grade light rail (or streetcars, or even buses) is very aggressive signal priority/preemption. While this doesn’t fix some of the issues with train length and headways of at-grade, that is unlikely to be a problem for most potential corridors in the region.

      1. That’s why we need more alternatives to local driving, especially in Belltown. Most of those people driving around are looking for parking, which will be in decreasing supply as surface lots get developed. Streetcar-style rail with frequent stops downtown is needed in addition to fast commuting options.

      2. If the train has its own lanes and aggressive signal priority/preemption the other traffic is much less of a problem.

    2. Zef, the line you are proposing is not really any better than the current express bus service to Ballard. And with RapidRide coming on line, that is even more true. The investment should be made on a line that does not duplicate Metro’s RapidRide investment.

      1. A light-rail line with its own lanes is going to be better than what RapidRide is offering. 100% off board payment for one, all door level boarding, and greater capacity for two more. For another thing a light rail line is almost certain to have signal priority which I’m not sure is in the RapidRide plans at the moment.

        Given how weak the RapidRide tea is turning out to be, I don’t have a problem with rail duplicating or replacing it. At this point RapidRide is little more than a bus route with a weinermobile paint job.

      2. Are the RapidRide buses not going to provide level boarding?

        Do you really expect ridership to justify even a two-car train in West Seattle or Ballard?

        Doesn’t Metro eventually plan to deploy enough TVM-type machines for all the RapidRide stops?

        Why would a rail car get any better signal prioritization than a RapidRide bus on the same path? Isn’t it the same technology?

        As far as right-of-way, can’t RapidRide have its own lanes, shared only with other buses, the same way a railcar could? The only difference I see is that the railcar might need its own billion-dollar bridges, while RapidRide could have a stash of extra buses and standing-by drivers near the bascule bridges to maintain headway. With light rail, there is a lot more involved in putting new vehicles ahead in line. Moreover, RapidRide doesn’t shut down just because of an accident involving one of the buses.

        I’m a fan of light rail. But I’m also a fan of fiscal sanity. I’m just not seeing that much added benefit from replacing the RapidRide lines C and D with a neighborhood railcar line, especially since the C and D are already being built, regardless.

        This is not a case of ROW absolutism. This is a case of added benefit (of which a very weak case has been made so far, IMHO) vs. added cost.

        Yes, I want more dedicated bus lanes in West Seattle and up to Ballard. Yes, I want full implementation of pay-before-you-board. Yes, I want the transit spine in West Seattle to be fast. I think we can get there well enough with RapidRide plus continued lobbying for better ROW control. Put that in the bond measure, at a small fraction the cost of tearing out the freshly-installed RapidRide and replacing it with rail, and I think the will of Seattle voters will be to give RapidRide full control of its ROW and full pay-before-you-board expense authorization, plus covering the small cost of bringing all stops up to levelness specs.

        The one thing I see us losing by not being it-must-be-a-railcar absolutists is electrification. And the shutdown of the entire line every time one vehicle is blocked.

        I don’t see capacity increasing beyond what the RapidRide buses can carry any time soon.

    3. It seems that a Ballard streetcar is a solution in search of a problem. It would be expensive to build and offer no real time savings over buses. Furthermore, Ballard, Queen Anne, and Belltown have obviously seen lots of development without fixed-guideway transit, so I don’t think you’d have the TOD benefits of a streetcar that would justify the cost. I also think that building streetcars now with a mentality of building light rail later is that you damage your credibility because people will associate light rail with slow, stuck-in-traffic streetcars.

      1. You’re making the assumption that any at-grade line is going to be the same as the SLUT or Portland streetcar with trains operating in mixed traffic with no signal priority and frequent stops. That doesn’t have to be the case. McGinn is proposing giving rail reserved ROW taken from cars. Furthermore signal priority will mean the train doesn’t stop for lights very often. Stop spacing is mostly a matter of how you design the line, off board payment and all door boarding makes each stop a bit less of a pain in terms of dwell times anyway.

        See any of the at-grade light rail lines in the rest of North America for examples of what can be done. Or see trams and light rail in Europe and Asia. At grade rail doesn’t have to be a “local bus route on rails”.

      2. Isn’t it within the mayor’s power to reserve ROW for certain bus lines on city-controlled streets?

        Do we really need a bond issue for that?

  8. What about building something comparible to the Canada Line in this corridor? What would that cost? The Canada Line cost less per mile (adjusted for USD and miles) than Seattle Central Link and Portland-Milwaukie light rail.

  9. Can someone offer official projections of ridership demand on the RapidRide lines C and D? That would speak pretty directly to whether there would be a point in sending multi-car trains to West Seattle and Ballard.

  10. One other point on the politics of this bond issue: Wouldn’t southeast Seattleites tend to vote no on this proposal if they saw a western rail line eventually competing with the Rainier Valley line for ridership between downtown and the airport, and points south? That opposition would start with the local chambers of commerce.

  11. Questions about Martin’s proposals.

    Where would a downtown/Belltown tunnel exit at the north end? It would have to be convenient for Ballard rail, Aurora rail, Ballard BRT, and Aurora BRT. I guess if comes up at Denny or Mercer there would be a good enough way to get to either 15th or Aurora. It was always unfortunate that the original DSTT was too far out of the way for the 358.

    How would a West Seattle-SODO line terminate at the east end? Would it go into SODO station and then somehow turn around? Or would there be a separate east-west station on the corner? The latter suggests an inconvenient transfer crossing an intersection, which would irritate riders. And if the line is later extended north, the extra station would be temporary.

    1. Would a second tunnel be bus compatible? Frankly, after this experiment with our existing tunnel, the two don’t work well together. Furthermore, designing a tunnel for buses is more expensive (wider ROW, expensive signalling systems, no Island platforms, etc.). It would be a mistake to build another “bus” tunnel.

      1. I’m afraid the headway on a West Link tunnel would not justify using it solely for that rail line. There is ongoing pressure to get buses off downtown streets.

      2. Ryan,

        You can’t dig a $2 billion tunnel for rail and have it sit idle for an indeterminate amount of time until rail is up and running. It’s bad politics and bad policy.

      3. Would it be possible to make it center platform like the Bellevue Transit Center, where the buses go the “wrong” direction so that their doors face the center?

  12. Other weaknesses of West Seattle light rail, when compared to RapidRide Line C:

    1. No mutli-modal stop at the Faunteroy Ferry Dock.
    2. A smaller walkshed for its smaller number of stations.
    3. The likelihood of a 2-seat ride, transferring at SODO Station.

    One advantage, however, is that it would be easier to run a railcar in the reverse direction in the lane south of the divider on the West Seattle Bridge, next to a railcar running the same direction as traffic in the second lane south of the divider. However, the buses would be bumped into general traffic. The problem would then arise of how to get the railcars onto whichever next street they follow.

  13. Yes, Martin (and others), anything less than grade-separated is “unacceptable.”

    Some of us in this City have been working for many years on bringing mass transit to Seattle. And it’s clear that citizens want RAPID transit.

    We’ve already seen that transit signal priority is less than ideal along MLK. And much as some readers seem to think cars should just disappear, people aren’t going to stop driving.

    We don’t have enough capacity on E-W routes in the City as it is. That makes taking away a vehicle lane from, say, Ballard-UW extremely difficult. I don’t see how you can do that without making traffic worse, which makes getting support difficult.

    West Seattle or Ballard to Downtown already requires new water crossings, which drives up the costs.

    Yes, we should wait to do it right. Part of the death of the Monorail Project was poor leadership that tried to create a smaller, more affordable system when revenues turned out to be less than needed.

    Would you buy a cheaper, less safe, poorer mileage car for your family simply to have one sooner, too?

  14. After going to Chicago for the last few days, I’m starting to think that having it elevated Downtown doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. If you put it in the middle of Second with plenty of pedestrian treatments and bright happy murals along the trackway and encourage retail all along the street, that could work out fine, and people have been saying that elevated costs about the same as at-grade.

    1. I’m also fine with elevated if that’s what it has to be, but the fact is we already tried to run elevated down 2nd avenue and the NIMBYs got it pushed out to 5th, at least through Belltown. Then you had silly schemes to somehow “save” the Alweg monorail while allowing the new monorail to use the same ROW.

      I don’t see any reason there wouldn’t be a replay of the same fight with the same result if ST tried to do it instead of SMP.

  15. Mike,

    1. What’s wrong with “spacious” stations is that you add 2 or 3 minutes to every passenger’s journey just to get from the street to the train. Missed trains become more frequent as a result, contributing to the impression of inconvenience.

    And a person with mobility issues may find their street-to-elevator-to-mezzanine-to-elevator-to-platform journey alone takes 10 minutes… if both elevators are working! All it takes is for 1 out of 2 to malfunction and the route is blocked.

    Don’t believe this is a problem? On this very forum, people have written how much they prefer the downtown surface stations on the Portland MAX for this very reason. And MAX is SSSLLLLOOOWWWWWW downtown; a LINK station has to be pretty darn inconvenient for THAT to become preferable.

    2. Indeed, Moscow’s elaborate station decoration began in the 1930s. The 1970s were when the UNITED STATES adopted (in D.C. and elsewhere) its size-is-paramount approach to transit infrastructure. Also, It’s worth noting that most Soviet subway stations DO NOT have mezzanine levels. They’re surface-to-platform in one shot, even when they’re deep, and the chandeliers and fancy accoutrements tend to be on a MODERATELY-SIZED arcade as part of the CENTER platform.

    >Regarding Intl Dist being the only place for two-way transfers, why?

    Because in the long run, International District is the only place that two lines will meet, and nobody in their right mind would ride three stations into the tunnel to ride three stations back out.

    And trust me, even with the present multi-directional bus usage, there is NOBODY using the tunnel to transfer from “north” buses to 520 buses (all of which all stop at Montlake anyway).

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