A slide from the presentation: "further study" means either bus or rail.

Today, the Mayor has released the report his office commissioned with Nelson/Nygaard to determine the feasibility of light rail on 520. This study was reportedly presented to the Mayor’s office last week, but its release was delayed until today. It’s finally come with a blog post from the Mayor, essentially framing it in the most positive tone possible.

The obstacles the report highlights are similar to what we’ve discussed here in comment threads:

  • The pontoons would have to be designed to accommodate the weight of trains, and are not.
  • The west approach (meaning through the arboretum) would have to be at least 10 feet wider than the current A+ alternative to accommodate light rail without having to significantly modify the structure later.
  • Through the arboretum, the bridge must be wider (or have a gap) to allow light rail to enter and exit the center HOV lanes and diverge from the freeway.
  • From there are four choices for getting from 520 to the University – a flyover bridge starting out in the middle of the arboretum, a low level bridge along the east edge of the Montlake Cut, a tunnel underneath the Cut, or a surface option along Montlake Boulevard.

Our analysis after the jump:

To begin with, the report assumes that the center HOV lanes would be replaced with LRT – not operated jointly. This study appears to put bus routes such as the 255 and 545 back into congested general purpose lanes. Projected bus ridership across 520 in 2020 is some 25,000 weekday trips – but the report assumes heavy demand-based tolling to keep traffic flowing in the general purpose lanes. This might work, but it’s at odds with WSDOT’s current policies.

The report does fundamentally call out that the 520 bridge structure isn’t being designed to accommodate light rail. But didn’t we know this two years ago? The state made design changes to preclude light rail in early 2008. The state would have to add unknown cost and, according to the report, at least six months of delay, to redesign the bridge to handle the later addition of rail. But the governor and legislature already made that decision to cut costs – without a funding source for a design change, it’s not likely that could happen.

A big takeaway from this report is the bridge footprint that light rail would require. Much of the neighborhood opposition to the new 520 bridge comes from a desire that it have a smaller footprint than that currently proposed in A+. Including light rail would require that it be significantly wider right through the middle of the arboretum. A number of the people and groups at McGinn’s 520 press conference last month were there specifically because they want a smaller bridge. Redesigning the bridge to accommodate light rail by making it wider would certainly dilute the apparent support 520 light rail has today.

The last thing that really comes across here is that while there are several corridors that could be served on both sides of the bridge, the majority run from the University District at 45th down to 520, across the lake, and back up to Kirkland. They would all require a set of political nightmares: A different bridge design from the state with higher impact on the arboretum, a new crossing of UW campus, a new crossing of the Montlake neighborhood and the ship canal, and a long haul  from 520 to Kirkland through low density neighborhoods. Some of them would likely react just as Surrey Downs has.

Consider for a moment the options here. Sound Transit supports A+, as it serves buses fanning out to all the cities on the eastside. Transit supporter and former state transportation commissioner Virginia Gunby opined for it here last year. The state has already agreed to it, with the only fights remaining for bus funding to replace losing the Montlake flyer stop, and ensuring HOV access from 520 to the light rail station. Those are attainable goals, and they would well serve communities on both sides of the lake.

Light rail would only go over 520 out of supposed convenience – but I think we can lay to rest now any notion that it would be convenient, and furthermore, it would probably represent a huge investment on Seattle’s part to build a new tunnel where we’ll already have one. For costs like that, both financial and political, why not do it right? First, let’s focus our attention on building transit from the city center to Ballard and West Seattle. In twenty years, when we’re building from the UW to Ballard, chew on this:

The slide I would have shown: A different alternative (in green).

Maybe it’s a new bridge, maybe it’s under the water, don’t worry about that now – we probably won’t even cross the lake in the first round. But if we want to build transit for the long term, we need to stop looking at freeways and start considering the urban centers and destinations where we really need transit to go.

176 Replies to “McGinn Study Details Issues With 520 Light Rail”

  1. The green route would have to be a bridge, with a draw span in the middle and such. Why a bridge? Lake Washington averages 100 ft deep, with a soft bottom, a long ways down to put a tunnel I would think.

      1. Just to toss this out there: Given ~180′ as the depth of the lake at Kirkland and 6% as the maximum feasible grade for light rail (which is what is being used on North Link), you’d need something on the order of 2/3-mile to drop the line from the surface down to its nadir under the lake, and then another 2/3-mile to get back up to the surface on the other side. That of course presumes the tunnel could be constructed at a fairly shallow depth below the bottom of the lake…

        I’m not trying to poke holes in Ben’s “Green Line” concept, instead simply pointing out a fundamental engineering challenge of trying to go under the lake.

      2. I really don’t want this comment thread to turn into exactly what I asked us not to worry about. Sure, it’ll be a floating bridge, or a suspended tunnel, or whatever. That’s a discussion for twenty years from now – for now, the point is that 520 really isn’t a good place to put rail, and we have bigger fish to fry – like UW to Ballard, or Ballard to West Seattle.

      3. …or Issaquah, Federal Way-Tacoma, Burien-Tukwila-Renton, or Ballard-UW-Children’s, setting up for something like the Sand Point-Kirkland crossing. I really would agree that in a couple decades, with more of the public utilizing Link on a regular basis, a third Lake Washington transit crossing may have more support and political will. It might even be the obvious solution to the public at that point. Hell, maybe even some Norwegian fjord-side municipality will have built a floating tunnel by that point, demonstrating their viability.

      4. …and by “or” I really mean “and” :P

        Ballard and West Seattle really should be on the way by the point the others are mentioned.

      5. Yes. Ballard and West Seattle to the city center are my top priorities.

      6. Ben, we may have bigger fish to fry, but it still seems dumb to me to build the 520 bridge pontoons without enough flotation to support Light Rail. Your plan of crossing the lake at Kirkland is a total pipe dream. It’s never, ever going to happen. The bottom is too soft to drive pilings on to build the ramp to tunnel and the tunnel would have to essentially float in the muck on the bottom. We would have to build the tunnel on the surface, then sink the sections, and join them underwater. That’s one expensive way to build a tunnel.

        Much better is to put the tracks on the bridge pontoons now while we are building the 520 bridge and in 10 years after the bridge is built, build out the connections. The same way we did (only with the right rail) as we did the downtown tunnel.

      7. Given that we didn’t know 20 years ago what the “right rail” was for today’s Central Link, how can we be sure that we know today what the “right rail” will be for the connections you envision building out 10 years after the 520 bridge is built?

      8. Gary,
        I’m not sure if it reflects the current plans but at one time WSDOT put out a graphic showing how the pontoons on the new 520 could be expanded to allow for HOV and light rail.

        I have no objection to building 520 without rail right now, I just would like to make sure it is a possibility in the future should we choose to do so. That means the bridge is designed to have additional flotation added and there is a way to attach rail to the pontoons without completely rebuilding the bridge deck (ideally the rail can be added without taking away any lanes).

        I don’t think actually putting rails on the bridge is likely to have any more meaning than the rails embedded in the DSTT when it was built. In say 20 or 30 years when it is time to use the corridor for rail there is a fair chance any such hastily laid rail will have to be pulled back up anyway.

        In any case I’m with Ben here, as much as I think it would be stupid to build a new bridge with no possibility of ever putting rail across it (assuming that is what the current bridge design means), getting the Western end between the Arboretum and I-5 right and done in a transit, pedestrian, and bike friendly way is much more important and a much better place to expend effort.

    1. How deep is the SF bay between Oakland and San Francisco? It would be a good thing to find out.

    2. This is exactly why I said don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it! It’s probably 20 years out before we’d even vote for it.

      And it wouldn’t have to have a drawspan, would it? The new 520 bridge doesn’t…

      1. The problem with not worrying about it is it makes it harder to assess what we’re losing by not building 520 for rail. I could believe that a floating tunnel with surface light rail on Sand Point Way and a tunnel through Kirkland and UW is about the same price as all the increased costs for rail over 520, but I’m really just guessing. I do agree that this is a better route, so if I were convinced it were roughly as likely to happen as rail over 520, I’d agree that we shouldn’t bother making 520 rail convertible. But can this ever be done? That’s why I do consider the discussion on how the connection would be built to be informative.

        It would also be cool if a floating tunnel could extend West Seattle rail to Vashon, Southworth, and maybe Bremerton, but what does it cost? No one has ever built one before.

      2. I think it’d be cheaper, likely. For each of the two ways – 520 and Sand Point – look at the costs of each of the big pain points between 45th/Brooklyn and downtown Kirkland.

        We know that the cost difference on the bridge is $400 million (see my 2008 piece about 520 design, linked from today’s post).

        We know that we could use surface/elevated along Sand Point Way, instead of tunneling under the UW again.

        We know that we wouldn’t have to go from 520 to Kirkland on the eastside.

        I think that unless a real study is done, I’m considering it a tossup. A transit bridge really isn’t even in the same cost ballpark as something like 520 – it would be far cheaper, without interchanges or the ridiculous footprint of a six lane highway.

        And remember, if it’s a tossup, or even costs a little more, because the travel time would be so much lower, it would likely get a lot more riders for every dollar that goes into it. Just like the U Link tunnel – even though it’s more expensive, it’s more cost effective.

      3. Ben, I don’t see how a Sand Point alignment avoids tunneling under UW. You have to get from U-Village to Wallingford, and that will require a tunnel. It does save a crossing of the Montlake cut.

        However I think you’ll quite some expense entering Kirkland because the whole waterfront is built up, so either there will be taking of some expensive property or expensive tunneling required. Adding rail to the 520 bridge is much more akin to the costs of a surface alignment, if the design of the bridge supports it.

        I do think that the potential costs of a Sand Point – Kirkland crossing need to be weighed if that is to be an alternative to using a 520 alignment – especially if the region is about to spend $4 billion on a bridge and make it impossible to add rail to it. That seems like it would be a huge setback and roadblock for cross-lake transit in the future – perhaps you are playing into the hand of what certain Eastside interests want – a huge obstacle for more rail transit.

      4. Tunneling under 45th avoids most of the mess – medical and physics – that the UW has had an issue with. If the UW turns out not to be a problem, put a station under the HUB, but keep going east.

      5. Eric,

        Not only has nobody ever built one, but damn few people will want to ride through one, either. There are just way too many things that could go wrong with a tube semi-floating UNDER the water.

      6. Anandakos – not really any more than can go wrong with any tunnel in wet soil. And yes, they’ve been done in several places. Please don’t fearmonger.

      7. Well, BART goes through a tube resting on the bottom of the San Francisco Bay. How is a floating tube more dangerous? It would be built essentially the same way as the floating bridge, but winds wouldn’t stress it much at that depth.

    3. The Eurostar bullet train travels underneath the English Channel about 150ft. It’s not really that difficult… this is just a lake.

      1. The Channel Tunnel is within an extremely watertight, continuous bed of CHALK from shore to shore. It’s what makes the cliffs of Dover (and Calais) white and has only a few significant cracks that leak. The French started a pilot tunnel in the 1800’s and went about a mile under the channel without casing.

        The bottom of Lake Washington is geologically very young sediments. A “dredge and drop it” tunnel like the BART tubes would require a considerably deeper trench to reach a supportive substrate than did the Bay trench.

        And, the lake is much narrower than San Francisco Bay so the grades would have to be much steeper.

      2. The grades wouldn’t have to be steeper – you’d just have to tunnel down from farther away from shore.

      3. The actual Channel Tunnel boring conditions…


        “The rock on the French side is also chalk marl. However, the condition of the rock is broken and fissured for the first 2 kilometers. The fissures are filled with clay and water and are fed by the Atlantic Ocean. For the first 2 km Water pressure was expected to be as high as 10 BAR and virtually unlimited in quantity.”

        So the French side used TBMs designed to operate under high water pressure or relatively dry conditions. Unfortunately for the Brits, who were expecting dry conditions and used machines designed for such, they got flooded out several times. They were saved because their TBMs included safety features to handle high water inflows.

        – – – – – – –

        Seattle –

        The French crossover cavern was based on the Mount Baker Ridge freeway tunnel in the USA. [wiki]

  2. Agreed. 520 is hardly the ideal corridor for transit. A Kirkland routing makes a lot more sense.

  3. Thanks for your analysis. McGinn’s obsession with 520 light rail has always seemed like a huge distraction from real issues since the start, and it just keeps looking worse.

    As you say, the idea of a second lake crossing is very far off. It is especially disappointing to see the Mayor focusing on this when there are so many more pressing issues such as East Link, West Seattle / Ballard rail, and the viaduct replacement.

    1. The real fight should be over the second Montlake Bridge (transit only or HOV please and make it able to handle light rail/streetcars), Arboretum ramps (get rid of the damn things), and exit configuration at Montlake (HOV only going to/from I-5).

      1. If we make a second Montlake bridge, then make them both three lanes with one of those lanes being HOV, that’ll do the trick.

      2. That’s the proposal the neighbors have been fighting. Why would we want to put the buses coming off 520 through general traffic and red lights?

      3. Of course they’re fighting it. And perhaps when the new 520 opens the buses will be stuck in traffic while we focus our efforts on winning that battle. It will happen eventually.

      4. Why wouldn’t we want a second transit-only bascule bridge? That’s what Chris and I are getting at.

        The buses wouldn’t have to go through the Montlake Blvd intersections, and could feed directly into the rail station.

      5. Because if we built a second bridge to be transit only, transit would have to cross GP traffic. The HOV offramps at 520 and Montlake feed transit into the inside edges of the roadway – and that would most easily (and least congestedly) feed into the inside edges of two bascule bridges.

        And yes, the buses would still have to go through the Montlake intersections. You’re not about to get rid of the cross streets.

      6. If the transit lanes are on the inside, and the station is on the outside, that’ll be a mess.

        There has to be a better approach.

      7. Maybe have the transit lanes exit east of Montlake Blvd, cut through the pristine MoHI parking, and cross the cut east of the multi-million dollar houses into the middle of the current stadium parking.

        It shouldn’t be that difficult for the access lane and the transit lanes to cross grade-separated.

        HOVs would exit the HOV lanes somewhere east of Montlake, and just navigate general traffic from there to I-5, eliminating the need to replace about a mile of 520 north of Capitol Hill. We could then dispense with all the lids.

        Yes, the buses would be stuck in gridlock until UW Station opens. Oh well. It isn’t worth $2 billion to have an extra mile of HOV lane for just 2-3 years.

      8. Brent, all of this – including taking light rail across the bridge – is technically possible. That’s never been the issue.

        The issue is that there’s no political will to run transit lanes through rich folks’ backyards. That’s why this is a problem. And that applies to “these things the HOV lanes could do” as well. You’re basically describing K or L or something – one of the other options the state shot down.

      9. K and L still had HOV lanes and a much wider footprint all the way to I-5. My suggestion leaves everything mostly as is west of the transit bascule bridge, and has the new HOV lanes exit as a unit (but transit only) through the most politically feasible portion of Montlake. Every other proposal wipes out four or more mansions. If this were on the table, I’d have trouble seeing Montlake not going along with it.

      10. There’s nothing politically feasible about asking the state to reconsider something they already shot down. That’s part of what people don’t get about all this – the state isn’t interested at all.

      11. The comments on this post transcend the absurd. A rail only bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland; more chance they’ll extend BART from the Presidio to Sausalito. “Bear southeast through Medina”… he he he… That’s a good one. It’s technically possible to go to Mars and there’s a lot more interest.

        How about instead of more bridges we just have less cars? Make the Montlake interchange HOV only 7am to 7pm. There are already plenty of transit options to get to the U District (substantially more with Link) and if you want to drive to work alone get there by 7am. Going for the nightlife, wait until 7pm. Games, concerts, special events, ditto. It may have escaped people with all the talk of the UW being an “employment center” that it is a University. A University is a community unto it’s self. WSU gets along just fine without freeways. Commuters have the option of community colleges and extension campuses. A large percentage of faculty and students choose to walk or ride bikes to campus. The UW is not on the natural path between anywhere. It’s a secluded spot on the shore of Lake Washington. Why insist on making it (or the Arboretum) a thoroughfare or transit center for the convenience of people commuting from Seattle, Redmond and Kirkland.

      12. Bernie, you are being a bit absurd yourself. This Coug will hereby state that there is a big difference between Pullman and Seattle. You can walk from most places in Pullman to campus. The UW and Medical complex are a commuter center that is responsible for over 10% of Metro’s daily ridership and over 50,000 jobs.

      13. It’s not at all absurd. As you cite, 10% of Metro’s daily ridership is to the U district. You already have an option to not drive your car!. Guess what, you can walk from most places in the U District to campus and a large percentage of the campus population choses to do so.

        I did my first two years at Wazzu and finished up at U-dub ( that was back in the late 70’s). The difference in “community” was striking between WSU and UW. Pullman is geographically isolated. UW isn’t so the same “college town” feel will never be there but that doesn’t mean we need to provide the same sort of access to UW as South Center or Northgate Mall. UW has made great strides over the last decade to reduce trips to and through the U District. That should be respected. Antiquate options already exist for getting in and out of the U District and more is on the way with U Link. I’m not against building roads or advocating building a wall around UW. It’s great that we have access to this wonderful resource and major employer. The only problem is congestion caused by too many cars. Those bright academics at UW figured this one out; the way to reduce congestion is to reduce the number of unneeded cars.

      14. Oops.. “Antiquate” should be adequate… although “antiquated is an apt description of using a SOV to get to the U District.

      15. I go back and forth on the idea of a second bascule bridge across Montlake Cut. On the one hand I like the idea of gaining two HOV lanes, wider lanes, and hopefully some dedicated bike lanes (like the University Bridge has). I do want to make sure any additional capacity across the cut doesn’t go toward SOV use. On the other hand I hate the idea of dumping even one more car into the already crowded Montlake/Pacific intersection. In fact I’d advocate for converting two lanes of the existing bridge to HOV/transit but that doesn’t solve any of the other problems with the current bridge nor does it really help transit since the resulting congestion would likely slow transit down past where the Montlake/Pacific HOV lane ends.

        I’m fully with Bernie in pushing to cut way down on the SOV entrance/exit capacity in the Montlake and Arboretum area. In fact by reconfiguring the entrances and exits a bit it might be possible to keep some sort of flyer service at Montlake. It would mean giving up on the idea of SOV access between Montlake and I-5 on 520, but that is a good thing in my book even if it pushes congestion elsewhere.

  4. Maybe with all this newfangled tunnel drilling technology we’ll be using on the viaduct replacement we’ll be able to do the green route as a tunnel for cheap….

  5. The Lake is about 180 feet deep off Sand Point, for more than half the distance to Kirkland. San Francisco Bay is much shallower and many miles wider, and the BART tube rests on the bottom. That wouldn’t work off Sand Point and Kirkland, obviously.

    I like the suggested routing, but it looks like it needs a floating bridge. And it looks politically realistic for the second half of the century.

    1. I don’t think we’ll have to wait for the second half of the century unless we really flub shifting the legislature our direction for the next decade.

      1. Sure! That’s a great option. The point is that it can be done, and it’s probably cheaper than trying to do another tunnel under UW, cross the arboretum, modify 520, and fight our way through eastside neighborhoods, just to completely miss a part of Seattle that doesn’t have adequate transit.

      2. A new rail-only bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland is intriguing but it ain’t gonna happen. You’re looking at an incremental cost in the two billion range, and a pretty significant environmental impact… remember it has to land somewhere, and it has to go somewhere on either end, and it has to have a section at least 70, maybe 110 feet high, over the water.

        Next, we couldn’t get a submerged tube for the 350 feet under the ship canal with every community along the highway and the Speaker of the House behind it. So good luck getting one for a lake crossing. That ain’t gonna happen either.

        Next, light rail on 520 doesn’t have to be hard. You could have a station on or near the surface, adjacent to UW station, and a high level fixed light rail-only bridge flying across the cut to connect to 520, threading the waterway between McCurdy Park and Marsh Island so as to minimize park impacts; on the Eastside, you just follow the SR 520 corridor right down the middle, and after Bellevue Way, you ascend, targeting the South Kirkland Park and Ride, a TOD opportunity. Then you follow the BNSF ROW to interline with East Link heading east towards Overlake/Microsoft. That may not be a perfect solution, but it’s an affordable one. It doesn’t need any tunneling either. Maybe there are other possibilities with lower impacts. Maybe there is a tunnel alignment that works, on dry land. In any case, 10 feet of width across the lake is not going to be what makes or breaks any idea here. It seems to me it’s perfectly viable to put light rail on the bridge.

        Rail on 520 wouldn’t stop us from doing it anywhere else. We’re looking at a $4.65 billion project right now that removes transit stops along the highway, constructs a new bridge that cannot be used for light rail, and retains a drawbridge in 3 BRT lines. It essentially precludes light rail on 520 without enabling it anywhere else. Plan “A+” is fundamentally an auto-oriented solution. Our communities are going to fight it to the bitter end, if it requires chaining ourselves to bulldozers. The Mayor of Seattle is definitely not on board that plan. Plan A+ is not happening.

        The Mayor’s priorities are right on. The bridge we build is the one we have to live with for the remainder of the 21st century. We should not build the floating bridge and approaches such that they have to be rebuilt to carry light rail, which the consultants understand is the case with the current plan.

        If we stop assuming that all of the transit between the Eastside and UW has to use Montlake Blvd., that frees us up to do the Montlake area in a way that will really work for bicyclists, pedestrians, and local transit users. A rail-convertible bridge carrying BRT could be a perfectly viable interim solution.

      3. Would you please address the actual issues, instead of talking about all the “coulds” and “shoulds”? My whole piece is about how the state just isn’t changing course, but you’re ignoring that.

      4. The 520 tube idea kind of came in at the last minute, and a tube for a highway would need to be much larger than for a rail line. I do think the never-been-done-before risk is something we’d be more willing to take on with a locally funded project that we could kill if it became too expensive than with a state project that’s viewed as essential.

      5. The tube idea is interesting. One major advantage a rail line would have over a highway tunnel is the lack of need for ventilation. It would likely work as well as floating bridges…. Mmmm, maybe not.

        BART goes through a tube resting on the bottom of the San Francisco Bay. How is a floating tube more dangerous?

        Well, it’s already resting on the bottom which is has proven to be the major risk with (not) floating bridges. A submerged tube is trying to bop back up to the surface before it ends up “resting on the bottom”.

      6. Bernie, the floating bridges are “held down” with cables as well, or I believe they’d ride a lot higher in the water.

      7. The mooring lines are just keep the bridge from moving around on the surface. Of course any anchor line does have some downward component just because of the vector math. 520 is sitting about 3′ lower in the water than when it was built because of “upgrades” they’ve done over the years and all of the added cement to patch the cracks. The submerged tube idea is interesting. Nominally it would be neutral as far as buoyancy but it would have to always exert some upward pressure or the anchor cables would go slack and then it could start to move side to side. It might be a great idea, I’d just rather let someone else debug it.

      8. So let someone else debug it, and just go “oh, we’ll probably build a floating bridge.” There’s no reason to start worrying about technology some 20 years before we even consider a crossing. Build Ballard-Children’s.

      9. Ben you are also ignoring that the 520 bridge is $2Billion short of the cash to actually build it. So it really doesn’t matter what the state “wants” to do now. They can’t really do anything but these studies until the economy improves.

      10. The only way you can still claim 520 is short money is if you ignore the tolling scenarios they plan to pass next session, and ignore all those new structures going up over both highways, ready for tolling equipment to be attached.

        Waving your hands and saying “They don’t have the money” really does tell me opponents no longer have a clear path.

      11. I thought 520 was short even with the tolling? I assume this means the remaining funding issues have been hammered out?

        Speaking of tolling does anyone know what the status of the CRC is? Is there enough money to build it once the tolling is in place or is there still enough fighting over the project elements that it will be a while before construction can start.

        With at a minimum 5 government entities involved (USDOT, WSDOT, ODOT, City of Portland, City of Vancouver) that is a mess from the word go. Though it would seem the two state DOTs are much closer on what they want to do and how to do it than the two cities are. Vancouver is especially out in la-la land as no tolls isn’t going to be an option.

      12. Ben, what is the tolling scenario the legislature plans to pass next session? Does it already have majority support in both houses?

      13. Ouch! That’s the sound of the headings on the table in your link biting you on the ass. Notice that the heading in the fourth column is “Proposer“. Nobody has built one and you can be damn sure that the vibration and concentrated weight of a transit train passing through it would play HELL with the buoyancy computations.

  6. It is unlikely that another bridge will be permitted to be built over Lake Washington in our lifetimes. Cost and environmental impact make it extremely unlikely. It is far better to meet high capacity transit needs and road needs on the same structure, even if that structure is marginally larger.

    It was my understanding that from the beginning the 520 bridge was being designed to accomodate a later rail corridor. If that was removed from the design it certainly got little to no publicity when the decision was made.

    I understood that rail could get added to the structure and that it could accomodate the weight. I’m surprised if this is not true. I don’t think it would be a huge loss if bus-only lanes were lost if the rail were to follow the chart, with service to Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond – it would dramatically reduce the need for bus trips. However, I don’t know about losing the HOV capacity.

    Even if all the decisions about how and where rail will continue beyond either end aren’t settled, the 520 bridge design should allow for eventual rail service within the 75 year life of the bridge. If this is precluded, there won’t be any rail crossing of Lake Washington other than I-90. The cost of another bridge elsewhere and the community and environmental opposition to its landings will preclude it.

    1. Yes, light rail support was stripped from the bridge design in January of 2008:

      The vast majority of bus trips across 520 are from downtown to Kirkland and Redmond. Putting those in a general purpose lane to be replaced with one of the UW-to-[eastside city] corridors would reduce the utility of the HOV/transit lanes.

      I don’t think the wasteland that is the south third of Magnuson Park will drum up opposition to a landing. Downtown Kirkland isn’t a quiet bedroom community – sure, there will be opposition, but much less opposition to routing through South Kirkland and North Bellevue residential neighborhoods, or Montlake, or tunneling under the UW again…

      1. A third crossing of Lake Washington between Sand Point and Kirkland is unnecessary and will never happen.

        I understand the need for, and love, rail transit. Do we really need to “pave the lake” to save a commuter 10 minutes?

      2. A 30 foot wide transit/bike bridge is ‘paving the lake’?

        Remember all the people saying we didn’t need to tunnel for light rail? Turns out it’s more cost-effective to build the tunnel, because highways don’t actually go to the urban centers people want to go to.

        And if you save fifty thousand commuters ten minutes every day, you get fifty thousand cars off the road.

      3. According to the WSDOT SR 520 – Bridge Replacement and HOV Program Update on: Mar 03/31/10 11:26 AM

        Question of the month

        Question: How wide is the current SR 520 bridge and how wide will it be in the future?

        Answer: We’ve updated our SR 520 bridge facts page to show and explain what is planned for the width of the new bridge. The current bridge is 60 feet wide and includes two general purpose lanes in each direction. A replacement six-lane bridge will be 115 feet wide and have two general purpose lanes and a transit/HOV lane in each direction. The bridge also will include a path for bicycles and pedestrians and safer shoulders. The pontoons supporting the bridge will be built so that in the future regional decision makers and voters have the option of adding light rail.

        Not that WSDOT always has presented reliable and accurate information on the project :=

  7. Why would 255 and 545 need to put back in the general purpose lanes? Wouldn’t the light rail at the very least replace the section of those routes on 520 bridge.

    1. No. The 255 goes to downtown Kirkland and then Totem Lake. The 545 serves Microsoft and downtown Redmond. Both of those go to downtown Seattle.

      A rail route could only serve one of those eastside corridors, and it would go to UW.

      1. The 545 will probably see some riders switch to East Link once that’s built. According to the Sound Transit docs for segment D and segment E, the estimated travel time on Link from Overlake to Downtown Seattle is 25-32 minutes. The current 545 schedulemakes that trip in 31 minutes at peak, 27 minutes mid-day (Overlake TC to 5th & Pine). Similarly, downtown Redmond to Seattle on Link (if funded/built) would take 31 to 41 minutes. On the 545 it’s 40 – 49 minutes.

        Redmond to UW is a different story (545 is ~20 minutes faster), but with the addition of the 542 this fall the 545 will probably lose a lot of the U-District-bound riders. The loss of the Montlake flyer station would make that almost a certainty.

        Thinking this far out, I think the green line connecting to the cyan line (Ballard – UW – Sand Point – Kirkland – Redmond) would do a very good job replacing the 545 and 542. It could also connect interestingly with the (eventual) terminus of East Link in DT Redmond. Maybe those trains could run a giant spiral, starting with the current East Link plan (Northgate – UW – DT Seattle – DT Bellevue – Overlake – DT Redmond) and continuing to Kirkland, Sand Point, U-District again, and eventually Ballard.

        I don’t know as much about the 255, but I assume DT Kirkland riders would prefer light rail across the lake on the green line with a transfer to U-Link (at Brooklyn?) to get to DT Seattle.

      2. I don’t think the cyan line would replace the 545 unless those trains looped around to Overlake. But then yeah, it could.

        The 545 won’t really “lose” too many riders. It just won’t gain as many new ones. :)

        But remember that the current 545 schedule accounts for significant congestion – and a lot of that won’t be there. It will still be significantly faster than Link. Also, your Link numbers are from the ID, not Westlake/Pine.

      3. Here’s another spiral fantasy route: from Northgate to – UW – DT Seattle – DT Bellevue (via I-90) – Overlake (East Link) – DT Redmond – Totem Lake (at-grade on existing rail ROW) – downtown Kirkland (via BNSF ROW now in public ownership) – Houghton – South Kirkland (all at-grade via BNSF ROW) – UW (via 520) – Wallingford (via tunnel) – Fremont – Ballard – Interbay – DT Seattle – West Seattle

        So, basically, head out I-90, wind around Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland counter-clockwise, and then return to Seattle over 520. From UW, head west to Ballard, connecting to a future west side line.

        U Village could be served en route to Ballard. You could still connect Children’s with a Children’s to a West Seattle route. You could have another route that circled the Eastside, crossed 520 and terminated in Ballard. Some sort of split would probably be needed for schedule reliability anyway. Are there any three hour runs in a light rail system with at-grade sections? I would guess not.

      4. Oh, and you could still run direct Ballard to Redmond service, using the BNSF ROW from South Kirkland to interline with East Link. That line could then continue on to circle around Totem Lake. Then trains that started as East Link service could just terminate in Redmond, in that case. There are certainly many options.

      5. Once light rail is built out to the UW and Overlake, we would want to brake up the 545. One route could take the path of the 542, while the other could go from Overlake Transit center to Redmond Town Center. The Extra bus hours could be put somewhere else.

  8. Someone remind me again why a separate bridge for light rail along the 520 ROW isn’t a feasible alternative? It makes sense to build in modular structures…

    1. Because if we’re going to spend money on another bridge, 520 isn’t a good place to put it. It’s really out of the way, and then we miss NE Seattle.

  9. I like your thinking here. Your green line has the added benefit of connecting the ballard uw line to u village, an area not conviniently connected to uw stadium station.

    1. Exactly. And it covers Children’s Hospital, which is planning to expand, could provide access to Magnuson Park and any future development that might happen at the old naval air station site, and creates good transfer points for bus service from farther north.

      1. Basically recreating the old streetcar line that ran to the Naval Seaplane Base ( a la Sandpoint )

  10. I’m really surprised that a Ballard-U. District-Bellevue with an extension to Eastgate make it given the amount of service that exists now between the U. District and Bellevue. I really question the two-way frequent service between the U. District and Kirkland. I bet if you analyzed the Route 540 ridership, you find that ridership from Seattle to Kirkland in the morning to be not very productive.

    1. I don’t just mean the green line, of course – I’m saying one of those other lines with the green line as the connection across the lake. Ballard-Redmond would be obvious, but I think you’re right that Eastgate might be more productive.

      1. I’m guessing a Eastgate and Issaquah spur will probably make it into ST3. I’m guessing this won’t go across the lake but will head to Bellevue and Redmond (though the line may be built with the option of running service in both directions).

        In any case I’d guess there is a good chance there will already be a line to tie into once a second cross-lake line gets built.

        This also makes a nice “X” centered on Bellevue which should give fairly good options for travel between Eastside destinations.

  11. I don’t agree with the third lake crossing concept at all. It would be on the order of $2-4b in today’s dollars for a couple mile long crossing that will never see enough transit ridership to justify that huge of an expenditure. Also, Magnuson Park is a priceless asset for the city and I strongly object to your calling it part of it a “wasteland.” Go there sometime, the south third of it includes wetlands and habitat for diverse wildlife, not to mention wonderful walking paths.
    The 520 is well situated for routes from the University to Bellevue and to Redmond. The 271 from the UW to Bellevue and Issaquah is frequently packed and is quite high ridership, demonstrating the high demand for a route along there, and I suspect that the 542 will show us there is high demand for a UW-Redmond route as well.
    For the Downtown to Kirkland route, going across the 520 bridge would be about the same amount of time and also serve the UW, but wouldn’t require a whole separate bridge. We will need to serve Children’s Hospital sometime but that doesn’t justify the huge expenditure for an extra bridge, and it could be well served by a streetcar, instead of by light rail.

    1. I go there all the time – for shakespeare in the park, for plays, for the library book sale, to fly kites…

      I didn’t call it “part of” a wasteland. I said “part of it” is a wasteland. The south edge of it is old building foundations and a bunch of parking lots. The park part is nice, but that’s only a small part of it – there’s a lot of space that wouldn’t be missed.

      UW-Redmond would be faster through Kirkland. Only UW-Microsoft would be slower, and if you attached UW-Redmond to the existing line (as it doubles back), you would still get a one seat ride. See that light blue line on the map?

      But frankly, it’s not as expensive as I think you make it out to be. It’s not a six lane bridge with shoulders. It’s a two lane bridge – and it doesn’t have expensive interchanges or offramps. Keep in mind that the 520 rebuild is much longer than just the floating bridge segment – it includes huge lids in three places and the whole Portage Bay structure.

      1. No that southern third of the park is not just parking lots and building foundations, there’s also wetlands there. Each year we go out and plant trees in that part of the park, and it’s definitely not a wasteland. When I said UW-Redmond I meant UW-Dntn. Redmond via Microsoft, which is the only way to make a UW-Redmond route get enough ridership. And UW-Downtown Bellevue would be much faster via 520.
        I guess, not being a six-lane bridge, it would be more like $1.5-$2b, but still, it would be about as much as U Link for something that would get way less ridership. I’m just not seeing any reason why there is any reason to spend that much when the 520 bridge is right there. When we finally are going to build light rail along this general corridor in a couple decades, I have a feeling that people will be a lot more amenable to giving up space on the bridge for light rail, we just need to design the current bridge to accommodate light rail.

      2. All of ST2 is “about as much as U-Link for something that would get way less ridership.” U-Link just happens to be an incredibly good deal, it’s not a good minimum benchmark.

        I feel like if you’re “not seeing any reason”, you must not be reading my piece, which outlines the massive political battles that would take place trying to do this. You do get that half the “pro-transit” people opposing 520 rebuild are there because of the footprint, right? And you get that UW threw a fit when we wanted to build U Link? And that for 520, you’d have to build a tunnel from the U-district to the bridge that would cost just as much as a new lake crossing would?

      3. The pro-transit people opposing Plan A are not “pro-transit” in quotes; we are completely sincere, and we are on board with the Mayor’s approach here. There are big political battles with the current path as well as alternate paths. UW has consistently opposed anything that touches them and asked for ridiculous mitigation packages. They asked for $522 million in the last go and it was provisionally granted. Such treatment is unlikely to survive much scrutiny in this era. UW will have to deal with impacts like the rest of us.

        It has not been established that a tunnel is the only way to make a light rail connection to UW. To get further west, yes, a tunnel would probably be required, at significant expense, but with significant benefit.

        None of this is to say other potential rail corridors don’t also merit attention or even priority. But I think it is premature to commit to relying on buses alone for the rest of the 21st century on 520, when it is not that hard to enable light rail. What if oil is $300 a barrel in 2030? What might we wish we had done now?

        I have a feeling the culture is really going to change in the next decade. I think the next generation of adults will strongly embrace transit, in part out of economic necessity, and in part from an even stronger environmental ethic than we see today. I think the next generation would curse us for precluding light rail on this bridge, while we spend the next 30 years paying the $4.65 billion bill.

        Here’s what I wrote on this general topic… back in 2002!

        520 is due to be tolled next year. I believe (and have long believed) that during the years we are constructing 520 – maybe 2012, 2014, who knows exactly when, we are likely to initiate systemic tolling of all the limited access highways in the region in order to raise funds in a world of declining gas tax revenue. SR 520 still needs at least $2 billion; repaving I-5, another $2 billion. And when we do toll the whole highway system, nothing but political will stops us from managing that capacity to reduce congestion. With congestion pricing, carpools, vanpools and buses as well as freight and general purpose vehicles all get a reliable trip. With light rail, the many who are unable to drive or choose not to drive will have a very attractive transit option. So 4 lanes of traffic plus light rail could operate fine.

      4. Jonathan, I don’t even know what your point is.

        Trying to add light rail, and in that action making the bridge wider, would split the Mayor’s coalition. If you don’t realize that, you’ll just lose, and in a few years we’ll have A+.

      5. I made a number of points. I am not sure what’s unclear. To summarize the post above:

        – The communities along the highway are strongly pro-transit.

        – Political disagreement about 520 is nothing new.

        – Maybe we can get BRT and/or light rail at least to UW without any tunneling.

        – Enabling light rail on 520 does not, by itself, commit us to constructing it, nor would a provision to enable future light rail on 520 preclude us from constructing light rail elsewhere.

        – I think we owe it to future generations to avoid precluding light rail on this brand new bridge.

        – We are likely to have system-wide tolls by the time the new 520 bridge opens. We can use pricing as a tool to maximize mobility in the “general purpose” lanes.

        There are many other points I could make, but those are the points I tried to make in the post above.

        The width of the floating bridge is not a big issue for most folks, outside the fear that the bridge will be restriped for 8 traffic lanes.

        The Mayor’s position on 520 now is fundamentally the same stance he took in the campaign.

      6. Jonathan, if you’re pro-transit, weigh in on something transit related sometime instead of just every article about 520.

        You are, as I said, totally ignoring any issues, and just saying over and over “we need to do this!” without actually looking for a path to doing any of it.

      7. Ben,

        Jonathan has been a pretty active commenter on the First Hill streetcar and some other topics. He deserves the courtesy of taking his claim that he’s pro transit at face value.

    2. The cost estimate for just the floating bridge on SR 520 was about $1.6B back at the end of 2008. And those are year of expenditure dollars, not today’s cost.

      1. Right – for a six lane floating bridge with driveable shoulders and a 14′ bike path. That’s about four times as wide as rail bridges are.

      2. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but among the many challenges of a Sand Point to Kirkland bridge is ensuring 110 feet (possibly as little as 70 feet, with Coast Guard approval) of navigational clearance somewhere over the water. Basically, boats need to be able to get to the north end of the lake. That requires a high-level bridge somewhere. The high level bridge would have a long approach section on either side as light rail is generally thought to be limited to something like a 6% grade for a long stretch. I’m not a civil engineer, but having looked at the bathymetry of Lake Washington, it’s not clear how you would support such a high span over the water… deep underwater columns in a seismic zone?

        Next, the floating bridge WSDOT wants to build is a 30 foot viaduct all the way across the lake. The Governor vetoed a provision that would take it down to 20 feet. How do folks feel about two new viaducts on the lake, one for 520, and another from Kirkland to Sand Point?

        I’m not sure offering up Magnuson Park as a sacrifice is going to go over that well with the communities there. I’m also not sure how you land such a facility in Kirkland… it would clearly dramatically change the landscape of the Kirkland waterfront. Then you need to connect it on either end.

        Just getting from U Village to the BNSF ROW on the Eastside would be an epic project. We are looking at multiple billions of dollars before you start tunneling west from UW. In contrast, we can construct rail-convertible BRT facilities on and around 520 at a relatively minor cost, by leveraging what we are already building.

      3. Oh, yes, I’m suggesting “sacrificing Magnuson Park”. And multiple billions of dollars to put light rail on Sand Point? Give me a break.

        It’s the same as always with you. If it’s not your personal preferred 520 solution, you’re against it.

      4. Ben, settle down. Your personal issues with Jonathan are really getting in the way of what could be a really interesting discussion about building a 520 bridge that will serve our needs for a long time to come, not just for the next 20 years.

  12. I agree that the 3rd crossing is not an especially good idea that will never materialize. There was consideration of putting a third vehicular crossing of the lake there back in the day but it’s long since died. I highly doubt that there will be support for a new bridge for light rail there.

    That said, I agree that 520 is well situated for trips between UW and Redmond/Bellevue, but it’s more than just that. 520 is also a good route for Downtown to Redmond (that’s why the 545 goes there!). What I don’t get is why what I think the most obvious option isn’t mentioned at all here or in the report: connect the light rail over 520 directly to the university link! If you’re already considering a tunnel under the montake to get the rail to UW, why not have that tunnel feed directly into the UW Link station? I’m sure there’d have to be some additional engineering to ensure that where the central link tunnel joins the 520 tunnel is safe, but this has 2 big advantages:

    1. Direct access to downtown — the train could reverse after stopping at the UW station and just go downtown, this is clearly a high demand corridor (just look at the 545 ridership), so this would be a good option
    2. Allowing for phased construction of the new light rail corridors. What I mean is the bridge (and subsequent light rail) will be completed long before planning for a cross-town light rail corridor on 45th can be planned and constructed. This way the new light rail will have somewhere to terminate before that cross-town corridor is constructed, and it can even follow the north link to northgate.

    I’m also perplexed by the concerns over having to choose between the Kirkland corridor and the Redmond corridor (255 versus 545). We can do both in the long term, and in the meanwhile we can terminate one at the light rail. Frankly, I think it’d be best to terminate ALL bus traffic at some type of light rail transfer station. Then once across the bridge to UW, you can have up to 3 separate routes, one that goes north along the north link, one south along the central link, and one on the new cross-town corridor. To make this process most efficient, synchronize the schedules so that the busses arrive and leave from the light rail transfer point immediately before and after light rail goes there.

    1. That option isn’t mentioned because there isn’t room. We’ve talked about it a lot before, when we were writing about the choice between 520 and I-90 for light rail.

      Between Lynnwood and downtown, trains will eventually be running as often as we can possibly run them – because there’s so much demand. That’s why East Link interlines with North Link – so we’ll have “red” and “blue” (or some such) trains going from Lynnwood to Downtown, and then they’ll naturally split apart to South and East.

      South and East combined don’t have the demand we’ll have North.

      So quite simply – there is not enough capacity. If we can run trains every two minutes (the theoretical limit of the signaling system), we’ll be doing it already.

      1. Well, that sounds silly, that’s a software problem not a hardware problem. Vehicles on highways have reasonable following distances today of, what, 3 seconds? That’s 40 times more than 2 minute headways that you’re claiming light rail is limited by. I have a hard believing time that the physical restrictions of light rail require a 40 times higher headway than with, say, busses.

        I say instead of spending billions to dig another tunnel, why not spend a little money on coming up with a signaling system with a modest improvement of headways to something like 30 seconds? That would be more than enough capacity for downtown -> lynwood even with interleaving 520 light rail traffic. Even if this technology isn’t available today, the 520 bridge is seriously 100 year investment. Does anyone think that signaling as a serious enough problem to sizable affect an investment of that scale?

      2. Headways aren’t limited by following distance. The minimum headway is a function of deceleration, station dwell time, and acceleration. The shortest headways reasonably achievable are around 90 seconds, and that’s with light automated trains and a moving block train control system. The RER Line A in Paris, a heavy rail commuter line that’s the busiest in Europe, has headways around 2 minutes, but if you’re standing in a station watching trains it appears that there is only about 20 seconds between the time a train leaves the platform and another arrives. 20 seconds is not much margin of safety for a several thousand ton train. Vehicles on a highway don’t stop and start on the highway (except at rush hour!) they use ramps to decelerate and accelerate.

      3. Stephen – Zed’s right. It’s not something you can handwave away. I have to have this conversation pretty regularly, though, because everyone tries. :)

        Block signaling exists because if you don’t have it, and one little thing goes wrong, you plow two trains with 800 people in them together a hundred feet underground. We learn this lesson over and over again when people decide their system is “better”. The most modern system in the world, the Siemens maglev test track, didn’t have block signaling, and they ran their test train into a maintenance vehicle, killing 30 people. You can’t plan for perfection – you have to plan for faults and failures not to kill people.

        I write software to test software for a living. I’m paid to understand how often a system is going to fail, and to be able to target fixes to prevent the worst failures. One of the things I’ve come to learn is that any sufficiently complex system will eventually fail catastrophically – no matter how much money or design work is thrown at it. One day, with your thirty second headways, a train will lose a wheel in a tunnel, and if the train behind it is too close, hundreds of people will die. Because that’s not societally acceptable, we design systems where the following train has time to react and stop – and that means 2 minute, or at the very least 90 second, headways. And that’s not enough to add a third line.

        The RER example is great.

      4. But as we built out our rail network, not every rider from the north end will have to transit the Husky Stadium-Capitol Hill route. If there isn’t sufficient capacity, perhaps a more direct route will be built from Northgate to downtown via Wallingford, Eastlake and South Lake Union, providing new capacity and allowing some capacity on the Capitol Hill route either for riders who transfer or direct trains.

        The argument that rail riders cannot come across 520 because there is not enough capacity on North Link seems strained since we are talking about significant new investments, and that should include new capacity from Seattle northward, too.

        Or a route across 520 serves the U-District and then heads south, perhaps elevated over the ship canal and Eastlake, providing service to South Lake Union before entering downtown.

        There are clearly engineering problems to be solved, but they aren’t automatically harder than building a new bridge or tunnel at Sand Point. There are a lot of existing travel pattterns which cannot be served effectively by Link via I-90, but could be via the 520 corridor.

      5. Yes, eventually we’ll want a couple more crossings into downtown, and probably one of those will need to be much higher capacity. At that point, it’ll make sense to have a cross-lake route with a transfer, and I’m honestly assuming that will happen before we built east-west across the lake again.

        But a route across 520 still doesn’t make sense. You’re going south for no reason. If you want to serve Bellevue, get there through Kirkland, instead of trying to cross the lake between them.

      6. So you mean to tell me that the MOST a dedicated light rail ROW could ever be utilized is once every 2 minutes, and that is a fundamental physical limitation of the system?

        The reason I’ve always been a fan of light rail is because I’ve assumed it’s technically superior to other forms of transit– it can offer higher capacities at higher speeds. Well, clearly the builders of the link have already reneged on the higher speeds, with the types of dedicated ROW and open flat areas like you see on the bridge the trains should be physically capable of going at least 100mph, twice their current max speed of 55mph–slower than busses.

        Now you mean to tell me that the capacities of light rail are also already maxed out? Was nobody concerned that they are investing billions in to a system that is already going to be full? Maybe we should invest in BRT then, since I know busses can have a headway less than 2 minutes…

      7. So basically, if I keep talking to you, you’re going to start bashing rail because you had misconceptions and we’re clearing them out?

      8. Keep in mind that 4-car Link trains can carry 800 people, arriving every two minutes. According to New Flyer the DE60LF hybrid bus can fit up 62 seats and up to 53 standing. Assuming that’s simultaneous, you could cram 115 people on each bus. To meet the throughput of Link (800 people every two minutes) you’d have to run 7 buses, with one arriving every 17 seconds.

        Given that packed bus will have to dwell significantly longer than 17 seconds to board/alight passengers, BRT clearly cannot match light rail capacity in a high-demand corridor. Not to mention that buses would be limited in speed to prevailing traffic conditions, increased boarding times for passengers with disabilities/bikes, etc. Each bus also requires a driver, fuel, and maintenance.

        As Zed pointed out, the two minute headway on Link is from arrival to arrival. The train will dwell at the station for boarding during part of that time, and be accelerating or decelerating in and out. If we assume that the dwell time is 30 seconds, then someone arriving at the station has a 1 in 4 chance of a train already being there with the doors open. Even if they arrive just as a train is leaving, the next one will probably be pulling in within 90 seconds. The odds of arriving at a station without a train present and having to wait more that 1 minute are probably very low.

      9. Well… if by “bashing” you mean stating that apparently light rail has lower capacity than other systems, then yes. You make it sound like that’s a bad thing though. I don’t understand why we should focus on one system if it is fundamentally limited and there are better options out there. There’s like a hundred in this thread here about where this light rail line or that light rail line should go, is it so terrible to question if light rail is the best investment given the needs of the system?

      10. Stephen,

        Click on the “Why Transit?” link on the sidebar. That has been debated ad nauseum in the comment thread and we will not reopen that subject here.

      11. “Well… if by “bashing” you mean stating that apparently light rail has lower capacity than other systems, then yes.”

        What other systems? You didn’t state anything. I was simply trying to explain to you what limits the headways of a rail system and from that you inferred a bunch of other things. Headways aren’t the ultimate variable that determines the capacity of a system. Capacity is usually increased by adding cars to a train, not by decreasing headways. Adding a car functionally decreases the headway to 0.

        Link is being built to a specification that will make it the highest capacity light rail system in the country, comparable to many subway systems, with the ability to handle over a million boardings per day. The capacity issue that Ben was referencing isn’t a limitation of the people moving capacity of the system, but a limitation on the number of trains that can safely travel through the tunnel from the U-District to downtown which might preclude the ability of trains coming from 520 to use the same tunnel to reach downtown.

      12. The shortest headways seen in the real world are around 100 seconds with heavy rail equipment. This translates to 36 trains per hour per direction, which isn’t that many more than the 30 trains per hour per direction Sound Transit is already planning for. The ultimate capacity with 800 people per 4 car train is 24000 passengers per direction, per hour.

        Now there might be enough passenger capacity to handle transfers from crosstown lines in the North End or from a Northern trans-lake corridor (be it 520 or Sand Point). But there isn’t the capacity to shove additional trains from other lines into the Northgate to downtown line. Far better to tie the new cross-lake line into a Ballard to UW line that will hopefully exist by the time we’re seriously looking at a second trans-lake line.

      13. Well how about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manila_Light_Rail_Transit_System

        The system can theoretically run up to headways of 1.5 minutes with a cumulative capacity of 60,000! It appears they do this by adding cars and having the cars themselves significantly bigger. In one of those 4-car trains you can fit 1350 people, versus the Link’s 800. Now I’m not saying that today we need that kind of capacity, but if you theoretically wanted to interleave 520 light rail traffic into the university link then you could easily do that with those higher capacity trains.

        Now of course, this has other implications, I’m sure the larger cars would require a longer platform at the stations. But given that only the stations on the south-bound link have been built yet, it’s not too late to make the stations on the east and north links accommodate higher capacity trains. Either way, if you build the stations in such a way to support it you don’t need to buy the trains now, you could buy them when capacity warrants it.

      14. That’s interesting. The new Yellow Line Manila cars must have either transverse seating or very few seats to be able to accommodate that many passengers. The newest Manila Yellow Line vehicles are made by the same company (Kinkisharyo) that made the vehicles for Link and are actually 8 feet shorter than the Link vehicles. A 4-car Manila Yellow Line train is 347 feet long, versus 480 feet for a 4-car Link train.

        One way to increase capacity in the future would be to use a fully articulated train instead of 4 individual coupled vehicles. This is what they did on the Berlin U-Bahn to increase capacity. You can walk from one end of the train to the other; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHwhW2aplSg

      15. So clearly there ARE options for increasing capacity on existing track. And given that trips across 520 go downtown more than anywhere else, it makes sense to me to send the 520 trips downtown. Now someday in the future we may also get a UW-Ballard line as well (frankly, I assume that’s going to take a lot longer because that’s straight through neighborhoods), so it would at that point make sense to divert SOME of the 520 traffic crosstown or maybe north even, but I just wish we could have i direct kirkland->downtown or redmond->downtown link (instead of going all of the way to the 90 bridge first)

      16. Just to add to what Chris said, Link’s capacity is 24,000 riders per hour, per direction, per line. With 4-car trains, each holding 800 people, coming every 2 minutes, that’s a capacity of 48,000 people an hour on each line. And that’s if everyone gets on at the first station and off at the last one; realistically many get on and off in between which further raises capacity. That indeed, comes to a capacity of 960,000 riders per day per line with a 20 hour service day. Washington, DC (2nd busiest rail system in the US) doesn’t even have that kind of ridership. I’m not sure Toronto does (2nd busiest rail system in North America). NYC (~4 million/day) would be the only city on this continent with that much ridership.

        I am impressed with Link’s train capacity; it’s quite high for light rail. In DC, a 6-car heavy rail train has a capacity of 900 people. They’re gradually redesigning cars to provide less seating to fit more people standing, but you’d be surprised how marginal the gains are. Only in the past decade, with 106 miles of track, 86 stations, 30 years of service, and over 700,000 riders a day, has WMATA started running 8-car trains that hold 1200 people. And 120 seconds is the shortest scheduled headway they run.

  13. Why would you have the lightrail cross the 520 bridge only to terminate at Redmond, which is exactly where the East Link is headed? When it crosses the 520 bridge, it should split into two ways:
    -One line turn Southeast through Medina, and intersect the East Link in Downtown Bellevue before continue East towards Issaquah terminating closer to North Bend.
    -The Second link turning north towards Kirkland and continuing through Juanita and terminating in Kenmore.

    1. I wouldn’t have light rail cross the 520 bridge. And I don’t know how you think you’re going to convince Medina residents to have a train go through their neighborhood.

      1. The chief ambition of light rail on 520 is to connect North Seattle (primarily) to the Eastside with reliable and attractive transit service. Because transit options are so poor, unreliable and cumbersome today, many potential transit users drive instead, thus worsening traffic congestion on the Ship Canal Bridge and the Montlake Bridge, the access points to 520. The resulting congestion then causes secondary transit reliability issues as the most affected corridors are also the major transit routes.

        With a light rail (or true BRT) station at UW, you could take light rail from, say, 145th St. at the edge of Shoreline to UW in about 10 minutes, and then transfer to a 520 route. We start to get the network effect, in which every additional line multiplies the utility of the entire system. It seems unlikely that commuters from Shoreline to Redmond would elect to spend an extra hour every day using I-90 to get to the Eastside, just to avoid changing trains.

        As for convincing Medina residents to accept a train, if you believe that the surrounding residents have the ability to stop a project, then you should also believe that Plan A+ is not going to be built, because every neighborhood adjacent to 520 strongly opposes that plan.

      2. Jonathan, the State is always more willing to force a highway project through than a rail project.

      3. Jonathan, Medina and Yarrow Point got lids, and I haven’t heard a thing from them since.

        Again, you have a lot of “coulds” and “shoulds”, but the problem has never been lack of ideas – it’s been lack of political will. As long as you keep typing answers like this, it seems like you don’t understand what the problem is.

      4. A 520 Link route to Bellevue would not have to go through Medina. It could follow the 520 corridor and then go surface or elevated down Bellevue Way, perhaps turning on NE 10th to avoid NE 8th congestion.

        A second branch could go to S. Kirkland P&R, following the BN corridor and then diverge to downtown Kirkland before continuing along Central toward Redmond, with a branch toward Bothell. This is all what the top diagram shows.

        We don’t have any hard data, but my gut says that a 520 routing will be both financially and politically cheaper to build than a new Lake Wa. crossing

      5. Three branches would leave you at like 15 minute headways. We aren’t going to build that anytime soon, except maybe for Issaquah.

      6. If you have 2.5 headways on the trunk, you can have 7.5 headways on the branches. However it is also possible that you would have service along a Bothell – Kirkland – Bellevue route, for example, and it connect/interchange with a Redmond – Kirkland – Montlake – UW route (or with a Redmond – Bellevue – S.Kirkland P&R – Montlake – UW route). There are various operating patterns that can keep decent headways on each branch.

  14. Light rail is not the best solution for 520 for at least a few decades. Development patterns are sparse and diffuse on the Eastside making it difficult to serve effectively with rail. But express buses do a fabulous job–buses today on 520 carry 14,000 a day, almost as many as Central Link. This is also the number one vanpool market which carries almost as many riders as well. They are high quality, fast, pleasant routes. Sound Transit concluded this after extensive study. So did WSDOT.

    McGinn’s blind support of rail on 520 despite the facts is a real shame because there are lots of sensible places to build rail that make a lot more sense. What about Lake City Way and the 522 corridor which is constrained for cars and buses? A line branching off from Roosevelt or Northgate could run up Lake City Way and provide and serve far more density and match growth patterns.

    I agree with Ben that West Seattle and Ballard should be the first priority. A Lake City line could complete the “X” that Dick Falkenbury envisioned with the monorail.

    My point is that we need to think strategically with limited resources to devote to transit instead of overreaching like McGinn during a severe recession. Seattle will find that it will be difficult to finance major light rail expansions with just their tax base. Sound Transit is a far better bet.

    Here is one scenario that I think could be plausible:

    ST3–2016 presidential election

    Pierce extends Central Link to Tacoma
    South King builds rail from Renton to Southcenter to Burien to West Seattle
    Seattle builds West Seattle and Ballard
    East King either goes to Issaquah or Totem Lake/Kirkland

    ST4–2020 presidential election

    Pierce expands Tacoma Link and Central Link
    South King expands Sounder and service to the East Valley
    Seattle builds Lake City and Aurora
    East King links the Eastside to the Kent Valley

    I just made up this mix so you may have better thoughts, but the point is that we should be making decisions like 520 based on logic and science rather than emotional arguments like you can’t build a road without a train.

    1. Actually, that’s something along the lines of what I see happening – although I see Ballard to UW happening before Lake City or Aurora. It’s a much denser corridor.

      1. Perhaps Ballard-UW would be a better choice than Lake City or Aurora. That is precisely why we need to make rational, well-thought out decisions that match where we want growth to occur and how we can best use trains AND buses to serve the region.

      2. There’s no need to put the “AND buses” there. We already have the buses.

      3. I think the more rail you build, the better you can redirect bus service to feed the rail. Buses are still the workhorse of our system.

      4. Ben,
        I don’t understand how you can say “520” is the wrong place to cross the lake, but “Ballard to the UW” is a key corridor. Wouldn’t we run the train from the 520 bridge to Ballard, right past the UW? Isn’t that the East portion of the trip?

        You have clearly only one goal here and that’s a third crossing, and as I and others have pointed out, is highly unlikely. IF that is true, wouldn’t you want to cross at 520 as opposed to having only the I90 crossing?

    2. WSDOT is a corrupt organization assembled to serve automobile-related business interests, NOT the public. Corruption at department management level, incompetence and obeisant servitude required in the lower ranks of WSDOT employees. Seattle’s long-standing traffic nightmare is the intended result of WSDOT’s agenda to make travel throughout the region impractical or impossible by any mode other than driving.

      Mayor Mike McGinn is a fighter boldly defending Seattle area residents from previous and current DOT directors who should be charged with criminal negligence and serve the public behind prison bars.

      Mike will also stop the Deep-Boor Tunnel travesty-fiasco because its engineering is absolutely abominable, whether Seattle’s servile City Council and transit activists realize it or not.


      1. “Seattle’s long-standing traffic nightmare is the intended result of WSDOT’s agenda to make travel throughout the region impractical or impossible by any mode other than driving.”

        I’m no fan of WizzDOT, but we are the only major city in the country where congestion has decreased in the past ten years. Portland congestion has increased while transit mode share has stagnated, even with major light rail extensions. Way to go Portland! And congratulations on having an unemployment rate higher than Detroit. :->

  15. I absolutely agree with Ben on this. McGinn doesn’t think light rail should go along 405 through Bellevue, but suddenly 520 has to have light rail? 520 goes through a really low-density part of the eastside until it gets towards Redmond, and that area will be served by East Link anyway. Also the bigger footprint through the arboretum and montlake is a major concern. I think 3+ HOV lanes (maybe transit-only at some point) would be the best thing to focus on. After West Seattle-Ballard, the crosstown line from Ballard to UW should be the next light rail line, with an eventual crossing to Kirkland. I also really like the Lake City line someone mentioned above.

    1. A Lake City line opens up the potential to serve all of NE King County with direct service into UW/Downtown, or at worst a one transfer ride. LC probably has the highest capacity for increased density of any North End neighborhood outside of Northgate; it is woefully underdeveloped currently. I don’t mind the idea of rail service thru Sand Point at all, but a Sand Point station wouldn’t really “serve” NE Seattle well. The road north is a two lane street all the way to Lake City through strictly single-family neighborhoods; there is no area where further development would likely be possible until reaching LC.

      The 75 is an okay local route (more so since Children’s helped fund additional service), but it is slow in no small part due to traffic issues on Sand Point Way. There is also no other reasonable way to get from the rest of NE Seattle to a Sand Point station by transit; NE 95th is the only cross-street of any note on SPW and it goes nowhere in particular, transit-wise.

      1. Sand Point isn’t the end-all and be-all of NE Seattle transit. Don’t think I was saying that.

        And I think the 75 would probably be eliminated entirely and replaced with a different service (maybe a shuttle-like bus along part of the old route). Bus needs change dramatically when you have rail.

        Lake City is nowhere near higher priority than connecting Ballard to UW, though.

      2. Didn’t mean to imply that LC was in any way more important than Ballard-UW, which I believe already has rail-level transit demand. I was just commenting on the LC portion of the discussion.

        A high-capacity route of some kind with a stop in LC would fill a large gap between Northgate, Sand Point and Roosevelt, all of which are 20+ minutes away from much of NE Seattle’s population most times of the day. While this is down the road quite a ways, it would be nice to keep it on the radar.

      3. I also find Ballard-UW to be very high priority. But I keep wondering if there’s a way for light rail to serve Fremont. Is it possible/realistic? Would it require a different line further out in the future?

  16. In Portland, the new transit bridge over the Willamette River will be completed in 2015. This bridge will carry, streetcar, light rail, and buses ALL in the same lane according to engineering proposals.


    Why does light rail over 520 have to displace buses and BRT? Light rail, vintage trolley, and buses all share the same lanes and right of way in the new Portland Transit Mall.

    Montlake provides a crucial transportation corridor to the Eastside and to points throughout Seattle.

    Despite the State’s stubbornness, McGinn is right on to be exploring options and reopening the discussion. The new 520 will be a bridge design that the Seattle region will live with for the rest of the century. There needs to be light rail across 520 and it doesn’t need to preclude BRT or existing Sound Transit buses.

    The WA state DOT needs to make this a transit project in its first phase.

    P.S. did the montlake flyover stops get removed? Those are a godsend to get to the eastside.

    1. Why does light rail over 520 have to displace buses? I don’t know, you should ask Nelson/Nygaard, they made that assumption. I suspect they explain why in the study.

      Yes, the flyer stops are being removed, because removing them will make your trip to the eastside better. Yes, I’m serious.

      With the 520 HCT plan, bus service from UW to Eastside will be increased – so you’ll have a one seat ride instead of a walk/bus to Montlake to transfer. And because the new service won’t be packed with people by the time it reaches you, you’ll even get a seat.

      Plus, this will create a direct transfer for people coming from the north on North Link to go to, say, Redmond or Kirkland, as they’ll be able to transfer at the UW station.

      1. Removing the 520 Flyer stops will make transit service worse, will increase costs, and will depress ridership.

        There is not enough demand from the UW alone to provide decent headway service evenings and weekends. Either there need to be inefficient, low ridership buses, or people will be stuck with hourly service and empty buses.

        People who currently transfer at Montlake will be even worse off, becuase instead of using high frequency routes, they’ll be stuck on the low frequency UW routes.

        People headed downtown may have lower frequency / longer headways at off-peak time because service hours from a good route providing transfers will need to be split to lower frequency dedicated routes.

        The argument that UW riders will get seats is spurious. Either there are enough seats for all riders, or some riders have to stand. If you are just reallocating who has to stand, that is certainly not a reason to eliminate a well-used transit facility.

      2. I figured this out – it finally clicked for me why I can’t care about the flyer stop.

        U Link is so fast that evenings and weekends, a user taking that downtown will get all those buses they’d have gotten at the flyer stop before. It’ll take a little longer, but this just means the edge cases are a little worse, and the 80% cases are better.

      3. That service pattern with Plan A+ implies that drawbridge openings can randomly interrupt all of the bus service between UW and the Eastside. Meanwhile, all downtown to Eastside bus service over 520 will be kicked out of the downtown tunnel and will suffer from congestion on I-5 and downtown streets no matter what we do with 520. In this scenario, Seattle’s transit access to the Eastside in the 520 corridor is weak.

        Why wouldn’t we seek a way to continue to stop all the downtown buses in Montlake? Doing that doesn’t imply less service elsewhere. It could only help. Particularly during the off-peak times, when headways are greater, the highway-adjacent stops would minimize transfers and wait time.

      4. Why yes, drawbridge openings can indeed interrupt bus service between UW and Eastside. Just like today, where everyone going from the UW to the Eastside goes over a drawbridge.

        Why don’t you seek a way to continue to stop all the downtown buses in Montlake? All you do is bash other people’s ideas and make demands.

      5. I have sought and publicly advocated for specific approaches to accomplish exactly that, even in this blog. I’ve been putting in volunteer hours to address concerns raised by my community, the Sierra Club and others. This is starting to feel like an ad hominem attack. This blog is a great resource; Let’s stay focused on the issues here.

      6. Ben, not sure I understand your first comment. Are you saying that U-District riders going to the Eastside will take Link to Westlake and then transfer to a bus across 520? Even if Link is fast to Westlake, they still have to take another 10-15 minutes to get back to Montlake. And it really only gets attractive once Link goes further than Husky stadium. In addition it ignores riders who transfer to the 43 & 48 for stops along those routes.

        I don’t see how eliminating the Montlake flyer stops benefits anyone.

      7. I have to chime in here. I think that (as is typical with most Seattle decision-making), those of us who live south of the ship canal are being ignored. FORGET THE U-DISTRICT FOR JUST ONE MINUTE PLEASE.

        Removing the Flyer stop hurts travel from the Central District east across 520. Currently, we can just ride the Fourty-Late north to the Montlake Flyer stop, and catch a bus across the lake without having to wade into the congested mass of delays that is the U-District.

        Catching those same cross-lake buses downtown worsens headways signficantly, due to the poor schedules of buses headed downtown, particularly in the south part of the CD (14/27). Half the time getting downtown is faster by going south to Mt. Baker and catching Central Link, making it a two-seat ride before we even get to the cross-lake bus.

        Eventually, we’ll get an easy transfer to East Link, but we’ll have to make another transfer in Bellevue or Overlake to get to destinations served now by buses at the Montlake Flyer stop. No matter how you look at it, it’s slower trips and/or more transfers for Central District commuters.

        If I’m missing some obvious service improvement, let me know. Or is the CD’s ridership just one of your “edge cases”?

    2. Portlandia, my understanding is that shared use (rail and BRT) becomes an issue at high speeds. You can do it in the DSTT, and Portland can do it in a transit mall. I believe speeds on the new Willamette bridge will be DSTT-like: they can get away with it because the bridge spans such a short distance, but I don’t think we want to crawl across Lake Washington at 20-25 miles-per-hour.

  17. did the montlake flyover stops get removed?

    Flyer Stop, and yes the current planning (lack of?) eliminates it. Yet it fails to eliminate the ramps to/from the Arboretum.

    1. I really don’t understand why they added those again. They’ll just make congestion worse. They won’t affect transit, though, so whatever.

      1. Is it that no auto driver should have to give up anything they have today, while transit riders lose the option of connecting at Montlake on a facility that is well used and they have had for 40 years?

      2. That’s definitely where the state is coming from. I just know we can’t successfully fight that with the allies we have now, and the opportunity cost of spending our time on this is high.

        That said, the option really wasn’t good. If we fund the HCT plan, we’ll have a better result.

      3. I’m willing to bet Montlake and other 520 opponents will be able to lob enough lawsuits in WSDOTs direction to significantly slow down if not entirely stop construction. Remember neighborhood activists got the RH Thompson and Bay Freeways killed. They also delayed I-90 construction by 20 years and were able to wring significant design changes and concessions out of the state.

      4. I am not advocating for the arboretum ramps, but they do affect transit. Without those ramps, rush hour traffic for Metro buses will triple in time from 23rd and Madison to Montlake.

    2. Yet it fails to eliminate the ramps to/from the Arboretum.

      Maybe WSDOT hasn’t given up its dreams of someday building the R.H. Thompson expressway.

  18. Thank you Ben. This was a spectacular read. Top to Bottom.

    I’m anxious to get the 520 debate behind us so we can focus on the best next steps for transit.

    1. The Mayor of the city this highway runs through, 100% of the communities along the highway and the 43rd district legislators and the Sierra Club and the Cascade Bicycle Club and the boating community and the Arboretum and others are all opposed to the A+ plan. Meanwhile we are at least $2 billion short of the funds to pay for it.

      If you want to blame someone for any delays, blame the state, which thus far has expressed a total unwillingness to compromise on even the objectively dysfunctinal aspects of the “A+” plan. We were all working in close partnership with the state until there was a decision to declare war on our communities.

      Sorry, but this debate will not be over any time soon. Who knows what collateral damage will occur from it.

      1. So you’re basically ignoring the tolling packages that would cover I-90 and 520 and make up the gap.

        The state gets to make this choice. Sucks, but until you fight to change THAT, you’re not going to win.

      2. Actually I am using the state’s latest figures for the costs of the project which include the revenues expected from tolling 520. The state says we are $2 billion short.


        Tolling I-90 (all of the lanes, not just HOT lanes) could indeed raise a lot of money, but it hasn’t been proposed let alone approved. Rep. Judy Clibborn, who represents that district and chairs the House Transportation Committee, has expressed great reluctance to toll all the lanes of I-90, gravitating instead to an approach that would create HOT lanes and raise other taxes and fees, while hoping for federal grants to make up the very large remaining gap.

        The state chose an elevated viaduct before the region agreed on a bored tunnel downtown. SR 520 is a state highway, but the state is not the only actor here that gets to make decisions relevant to this process. There is a federal role as well as a local role in numerous decisions.

      3. Jonathan is onto something: the region and the state agreed to a deep bore tunnel even though the Mayor of Seattle and a whole bunch of other interests oppose it, it is finally moving forward, after 9 years. Go see all the people working on it right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Taxpayers are benefitting from record low bids. Now most everyone is working on bringing better transit along that corridor, maybe even in the form of light rail from Ballard to West Seattle.

        Same is possible, and now appears likely. on 520 after 20 years of delays since the state first proposed a fix and Montlake objected.

        On tolls: the state must first decide to authorize them, only after that would there be a federal role and it is relatively easy, especially compared to realistically sorting through all the land mines associated with light rail on 520 in the near term.

      4. High unemployment is not a good reason to slam what amounts to a bad project through.

        Same is possible, and now appears likely. on 520 after 20 years of delays since the state first proposed a fix and Montlake objected.

        If I remember my project history right the state proposed an even larger auto-centric monstrosity 20 years ago. Neighborhoods on both sides of the lake objected and rightly so as the state’s proposal would have almost entirely destroyed many of them. There was also the small matter that the state had no real way to pay for it.

        On tolls: the state must first decide to authorize them, only after that would there be a federal role and it is relatively easy

        Well there is a federal role beyond signing off on the tolls. Almost every aspect of the 520 project is going to require federal permits of one sort or another. Just because the state has gone through the motions of NEPA/SEPA doesn’t mean they will get those permits when the time comes.

        If the state decides it needs to get some federal highway money to help build the project that adds even more federal involvement.

  19. Rather than spending billions on LR on 520, we should spend billions on a LR to Ballard and West Seattle. :-) Seriously…I’d be happy to ride LR from Ballard to Downtown, and then transfer to East Link. Yes, it would be around 20 minutes longer to get to Redmond that it would be go over 520, BUT we’d also get fast reliable commute to downtown and the Central Link, which would connect Ballard/West Seattle to the rest of the region via Link. To my thinking…that’s money much better spent.

    1. Unfortunately, we don’t get gas tax money (what’s being spent on 520) for light rail.

      If you want to see that kind of decision possible in the future, you MUST help us fight for better legislators. That is the only way forward.

      1. Yeah, let’s get legislators to approve MVET, gas sales tax, or tolling revenue to use for transit. That’s what would really make a difference. We have to hold legislators accountable and say we will not re-elect them if they don’t push for these kinds of revenue streams.

      2. Ben,

        Surely you know better than to say stupid stuff like this. Only a billion or so of the 4.5 billion dollar bridge project is from the gas tax. The rest could be spent on schools, health care transit or whatever the state wants to spend it on. They just want to spend it on paving over the arboretum. Light rail across 520 may be problematic but that is no reason to be a big cheerleader of this project.

      3. Nope the 520 funding is from the Transportation Partnership Fund (RCW 46.68.090 = gas tax), tolling and federal money which would go to other highway projects (likely in another State). The addition of center HOV lanes on the eastside is scheduled to happen before the new bridge opens. The State has already started construction on the pontoons. Seattle can delay the process on the west side but the rest is going to happen. The legislature only funds two years out. They don’t actually have to have full funding in place to start construction.

      4. I don’t understand how they can start construction when the EIS isn’t finished. Or is the East approach part of a separate EIS?

      5. The HOV reconfiguration is separately funded. I would guess that they had to file a separate EIS but it would be much less stringent. It’s just a lane reconfiguration. There are already outside HOV lanes from 51st to the water. The part they’re building now from 202 up the hill I know was a separate project that was approved long ago but is being completed in phases. Redmond has a reconfiguration of 148th interchange in the works and Bellevue is working on changing 124th/130th to a two way access point. Currently you can only enter 520 westbound and exit eastbound. I wish they’d leave it that way.

        As far as the pontoons the Governor played the public safety card. They need to have the pontoons ready in case the current bridge starts to sink so they can quick like a bunny lash up the new pontoons to the old bridge and prevent a human disaster like the region has never seen. At least that’s the story. That lets them skate pretty much on the site EIS in Grays County where they’ll be turning wetlands into a drydock and cement factory.

  20. McGinn does it again I see – first he sets up a consulting study and then he uses its negative results to clamor for change to the original plan to fit in with his preconceived idea of what he wanted in the first place. Sounds like a waste of City money if he looks at the report and doesn’t like what he sees. He seems to be positioning himself as the Al Gore of mass transit but without the same level of threat comensurate with what he wants to achieve to the reality he faces.

    I’m sorry guys, but for the moment, Light Rail on the 520 is a pipe dream with no real substance to it – maybe it is just a shadow of a pipe dream.

    Future generations can work on this problem but for now, there are not any plans for how to link in Link either west or east of the proposed bridge.

    As I have said before, let’s concentrate on the plan we do have – namely Light Rail across the I-90 and stick with this. Could we start building the parts of this that are NOT controversial and then this would position ourselves better for the parts that are.

  21. Well, for the first time, McGinn comes out with a statement that is honest, forthright, and far-seeing- and look at the love he’s getting!

    I stand second only to his ex-girl friends in my loathing for the guy, but he’s right- the bridge won’t be able, as designed, to accommodate light rail, and that is wrong. It’s not something he as Mayor, or Seattle as a community, should just grin and bear, like bobblehead dolls on the rear shelf of the state car.

    As for the idea of simply letting the state do what it wants, because we’ll build something ever-so-much better 40 years from now, why of course, we’ll have lots of money, when oil is $300/bbl and every city in the nation is desperately begging for assistance with their bus-based operating expenses.

    Sometimes it’s hard to look into the future, but it’s easier when the future is a re-run. 40 years ago the people of Seattle forced the state to stop building the RH Thompson, and the state promised they would never again build another bridge across the lake to pump cars into Seattle streets. Now, with a little help from Ben, we have a proposal to build, not one, but two new bridges across the lake. Who knows, maybe the state will even rebuild the elevated Viaduct to connect with a new freeway in the 520 corridor- wouldn’t that be fun?

  22. As we gaze into our crystal balls and extrapolate this, that and the other thing 20, 30, 40 years into the future, don’t forget the

  23. I can see both sides of 520. But let’s focus first on where people want to travel from and to, and then on whether 520 is the most efficient route, or whether the fact that it exists means we should use it anyway.

    Kirkland-Seattle and Redmond-Seattle have been shortchanged ever since 520 was built. It doesn’t have a ped/bicycle sidewalk, and the 4 lanes have been grossly inadequate since 1980. I’d love to provide Seattle-Kirkland light rail, but I think Kirkland is just going to have to suffer for longer. Maybe just abandoning 520 now or in 50 years is the best way to cut our losses. 520 has never gone to population centers on the Eastside (west of Microsoft), it has just gone between them.

    So if we don’t put rail on 520, where would we put it? Sand Point – Kirkland is one possibility. Another is a ferry between Sand Point station and Kirkland station. A ferry wouldn’t have enough capacity for thick commuter crowds, but it would serve the “I’ll accept slowness for a view” crowd, and be infinitely cheaper and less NIMBY-prone to build.

    Or we could go around the lake through Bothell. Lake City already needs rail, and UW-Bothell makes a good transfer point for a N-S eastside line. It would have to have few stops to reach acceptable speed between Seattle and the Eastside… if that’s a priority. But we’ve also noted the demographic changes and potential population shifts. Young people are more open to transit and alternatives to cars. And a high gas price would make those low-density neighborhoods around Kirkland less desirable. So maybe Kirkland-UW / Kirkland-downtown is an acceptable gap, and light rail on I-90 and 522 would be good enough.

  24. I have to say that from what I’ve seen of cities designing rail transit networks, they seem to work better when the whole system is designed at once and then built gradually (DC) rather than deciding and building on each line individually (St. Louis, Seattle). People all want their neighborhood/suburb to have LRT access, so they fight hard for each potential line since there’s no overall system map showing how the long term (say 30 year) plan will look and affect them. This leaves people, including me, with lots of questions and sometimes anxiety. Connecting Everett and Tacoma is pretty obvious, but after that it gets murky. Will there at some point be a north-south line east of Lake Washington? Is that a prerequisite for a second east-west line (whether 520, Sand Point-Kirkland, or something else)? Will there be a line going north from Ballard? To where? Will North Link above Northgate run on I-5 or SR-99? How many transfer points will we have and where will they be? Will our rail network be designed to minimize transfers so you never have to change lines more than once, or will a lot of trips require more than one transfer?

    I don’t expect every detail of the 2040 network to be nailed down now, but I think it would be really helpful–and could even prevent fights like this–if we all could see the same comprehensive system map with all the dashed lines on it answering questions like these.

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