The philosophy behind the plans for Link stations in the Rainier Valley was that people would take “alternate” transportation — buses, bikes, and feet — to get to the train. A couple of weeks ago, we looked how the bus side of that plan was working out. Today, walking and biking:
Sound Transit invested a lot in improving sidewalks, along MLK in particular. However, MLK is a relatively undeveloped, low-density corridor by Seattle standards, and the density was further reduced by eminent-domain seizures for construction staging areas. The walkshed, measured in people, is simply not that large. West of the line, the steep and heavily wooded side of Beacon Hill further restricts the accessible area.
If walk-up ridership is to significantly improve, the most important thing is to upzone and aggressively encourage dense development, although sidewalk improvements are urgent in the places where they are needed.
Sound Transit was sure to put bicycle racks at each station, and more importantly trains are well designed to accommodate bikes. However, the failure to put any sort of bike infrastructure on MLK itself — just rebuilt for the train — is a huge failing. A quick glance at the latest Seattle Bicycling Guide Map (pdf) shows the pitiful bike infrastructure around most stations.
Beacon Hill is served by sharrows, and Rainier Beach has an actual bike lane (thick blue) and bike trail (green) approaching it. For the other three Valley stations, there are oh-so-inviting “unmarked, un-signed connectors” (yellow lines) in the rough vicinity of the station. There isn’t even a signed bicycle route (dotted black line) that takes you directly to any of the five stations in the Southeast.
Building along the relatively sparse MLK corridor, with little to no parking, was a conscious decision to trade lots of ridership now for the promise of a more development, and therefore, more ridership, in the future. While that decision is defensible, it makes it all the more imperative that the City make minor improvements in pedestrian and bike access, as well as doing whatever is necessary to bring about the development that was the purpose of the routing in the first place.
73 Replies to “Rethinking Station Access (II)”
Do you have any numbers on the amount of people in Southeast Seattle who are bike-riders? My completely unfounded assumption is that they would be significantly lower than other areas of Seattle. Then again, that would make it a chicken or egg scenario. Do we need bike riders first, or the sharrows to support them? :P
What do you mean by “bike riders”? Is it “have you ever ridden a bike?” or “are you comfortable riding a bike on a busy street?”
I don’t think there is a demographic bias against bicycling in the Rainier Valley. “Bicycle Sundays” have been a major event along Lake Washington for 30+ years. Trying to bike commute along Rainier Avenue (north of Rainier Beach) is suicide, but Seward Park Avenue had designated bike lanes years ago.
SDOT September 2009 bike count locations http://www.cityofseattle.net/transportation/docs/CBDCountLocations.pdf
SDOT September 2009 bike counts in locations 22, 23, 24 which likely serve most cyclists from the SE http://www.cityofseattle.net/transportation/docs/bikes_dbc_countsgraphs09.pdf
About 330 cyclists were counted on one 2.5 hour morning period in September 2009.
WA State conducts a bike count once a year as well. Page 19 covers a.m. bike counts in the SE neighborhoods and page 24 covers counts in the p.m. http://www.cascade.org/Advocacy/pdf/2009finalcountreport_cbc_wsdot.pdf
About 225 cyclists were counted.
There is no consistent count method other than these two yearly counts. The locations can change, the counters can change, the weather can be variable, etc., etc., etc. We need better, consistent bike counts throughout the city throughout the year. I participate in the counts and it’s quite a process to even volunteer for the things and when the weather is bad, like during the WA State count, it really keeps the cycling counts low. It looks like there’s a drop in 2009 when there’s really not. It was just that ONE day (unseasonably cold and rainy). Better counts would only support better infrastructure and the idea that “no one rides” here.
I think these count are great and valuable but they are honestly they are bias towards the kind of people (middle aged, upper middle class, dowtown worker) that cascade targets. Cascade is an amazing organization but I think that there need to be a recognition that people ride bikes simple because it is easy and faster than any other mode of transportation. I would like to see this demographic more engaged than it currently is. That is why cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have such a high mode share. Not because they love bikes because it just makes logical sense.
Update: Since I’m a contributor I can update my comments but I just wanted to clarify that I just think that a CBD oriented measurement targets specific demographic. With that said this is by far the largest flow of bicyclist in the city and should be measures. I guess my frustration is more that there isn’t good data city wide data that I think would show some interesting things. Like how many people bike N/S on Broadway.
One of the problems of these counts is that it is announced when the counts are to take place. If you want to get an unbiased view of what true conditions are, you typically don’t broadcast that you are observing.
To follow-up on the previous post, one way to mitigate this would be to install an automatic counter on bike trails throughout the city/region. With these you could develop adjustment factors for things such as weather, day of the week, etc. that could be applied to spot counts.
I saw a presentation 2 years ago from the City of Vancouver which was using semi-permanent counters to keep track of number of riders. They were fairly accurate and really helped to better understand how ridership changes over the year, with weather, etc.
All of the above is exactly why better, consistent and more defined bike counts should be taking place. There are automated bike counters out there – SDOT just has to want to count bikes.
As for someone riding by one spot or on one day just to be counted? Well, maybe but that number has to be in the 10s. If I’m commuting, I don’t really want to ride out of my way just for that. If you are driving somewhere and know that there’s a vehicle counter on the roadway, do you divert your car to be counted? Same concept.
I’ve seen pneumatic tube counters on the B-G at least once (on Northlake, as I recall), though I have no idea who was doing the counting or why.
I’ve seen the tube counters on the BG trail between Magnuson Park and Matthews Beach park as well, in the last year or so.
I think the issue with automated counters is where to put them. Assume you can tune them to detect bikes and not motor vehicles or pedestrians, do you put them on sidewalks, bike lanes, or across all lanes? Where a cyclist rides speaks a lot about what kind of rider they are and it is really important to capture this information.
Thus, I feel like automated counters are probably only really useful on separated pathways like the Burke-Gilman or the Chief Sealth trail.
There may not be as many Serious Cyclists (spandex and clipless pedals) per capita in the area, but for Link purposes we’re talking about people who would be willing to ride a mile or so to the station. That’s a very different demographic from recreational cyclists.
Riding a mile to the train doesn’t take spandex, or clipless pedals, or even a multi-speed bike, it’s a ride a little old lady could make on an old upright cruiser if it wasn’t one of the city’s most bicycle-hostile streets.
Looking at the bike riders who take southern Sounder trains, many are blue-collar workers wearing jeans on inexpensive bikes. No reason to think you couldn’t attract the same demographic to Link.
Your target demographic should be *anyone* able to bike, from young kinds to old women. It has to appeal to everyone or else not everyone will consider using it and until everyone considers biking it will just be a minority that actually ride.
Do we know if these stations will eventually connect to the Master Bike Grid? I suppose I could glance at the master plan on the city site, but I hope someone took the stations into eventual consideration.
My one big gripe with the new LINK line is the lack of a station at or near Graham/Orcas Streets. We know that a “potential” station was voted upon in the 1996 Sound Move ballot and we also know there is some contingency money left that ballot measure. I’ve been emailing Marcus Clark at Sound Transit on more clarification regarding leftover money from ST1 and adding new stations. I would think the Boeing Field station would get the first nod, but I believe the Graham/Orcas Station would generate more ridership than a Boeing Station, but maybe less than a Convention Place Station. Still a Graham/Orcas Street Station would generate higher ridership, bus some bus links, could be linked the bike grid and is prime for redevelopment.
Having re-read all the comments on Part I(bus transfers) at Mt.Baker Stn (MBS), and now some of the work here on Bike and Ped access, it’s clear that decisions made some years ago are not working ‘as planned’.
I’ll leave the finger pointing for others, except to say Metro tried like crazy to get the buses under the tracks instead of across the street, but those decisions are done deals.
Link ridership is suffering for poorly integrated bus/rail/ped/bike facilities at MBS as well as several others.
It looks like the same thing is going to occur at Stadium Station, with poor bus connections and pedestrian access that requires comfortable shoes. RIDING LINK SHOULD BE A NO-BRAINER FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON. Not something that has to capture riders from other modes to pencil out.
Agreed. Poor modal integration and disregard of user-friendly/no-brainer amenities has always been Seattle’s primary transit flaw. The actual planning is good, service levels are adequate, plans for rail expansion are competent and exciting, but the low-hanging fruit continues to evade us.
When we can’t make proper announcements during delays, have GPS stop info on buses, have a call-in next bus system that actually works (the new bus stop numbers, such as Rainier Beach, don’t work), provide day passes, or produce one regional timetable guidebook, opacity and confusion will continue to hold us down.
(See my post about it at zachshaner.ca)
“I’ve been emailing Marcus Clark at Sound Transit on more clarification regarding leftover money from ST1 and adding new stations. ”
What makes you think there’s leftover money? They haven’t even completed all of the Sound Move projects yet. Sound Move included light rail to 45th in the U-District with any additional funds supposedly going to the extension to Northgate. The priority needs to be getting light rail to the northend as soon as possible, where the transit demand is huge, before adding any stations to Central Link. When U-Link opens in 2016 they’ll be ten years late and one station short of completing the Sound Move plan.
There was about $20m in contingency money left from ST1.
That’s not leftover money though, as ST1 isn’t done. There can’t be “leftover” money anyways, as the sales tax has to be rolled back once the capital costs for all the Sound Move projects are paid.
Two things here, first I believe the passage of ST2 made the sales tax permanent. Second even if the Sound Move rules were still in effect I don’t believe the sales tax would have rolled back until the bonds were paid off. I’m pretty sure a small tax would have remained in any case to cover operating costs.
“Two things here, first I believe the passage of ST2 made the sales tax permanent.”
No, that’s not true. Once construction is done both the Sound Move and ST2 taxes will be rolled back to an amount that just covers operating costs and debt obligations. I didn’t mean to imply that the tax would be rolled back to zero.
I suppose the board could decide to keep collecting the full Sound Move sales tax to finance the construction of the deferred stations, but that’s different than saying there’s “leftover” money. Maybe it’s just semantics. My main point is that the light rail line promised by Sound Move is far from complete, there’s still over a billion dollars worth of construction to be completed, and that needs to be paid for before any money goes to adding a Graham Street or Boeing Access Road station.
Unless Sound Transit gets a windfall from somewhere I’d rather they be well enough along with all of the ST2 North sub-area projects to know what the budget is going to be before they take on any major new North sub-area projects like an infill station at Graham.
It is a fair certainty there will be a ST3 on the ballot in the next 10 years. The only question is if it will include new tax authority or will have to make due with the portion of the 0.9% sales tax not needed for operations and debt service.
I hope at the very least an infill station at Graham makes it into the ST3 package.
The other “no brainer” would be a Sounder station at Broad. A broad street station would have some operational issues though as most of the potential ridership is people who ride South Sounder but work in North Downtown.
A link station at S. 133rd and a link/sounder station at Boeing Access Road are two others that have been mentioned as possible infills. I can go either way on these. On a map they seem to make sense, but I don’t know if the additional ridership really justifies the expense. Furthermore there are issues with BNSF and a Sounder station at the BAR site.
I know a Ballard Sounder station has been discussed as well, but I don’t think building a station here is worth the expense at all. I’d rather see the money this would take spent on other North sub-area projects.
If they can ever get those rezones to go through, it will significantly increase the number of people walking to the Rainier Valley stations. Mount Baker Station has the largest rezone planned for its station area. They want to allow 16 story buildings in the center of the new high density district there, with shorter buildings around it, and make Rainier a main street for the neighborhood. That’ll be a really great area in a decade or two. And then Beacon Hill, Columbia City, and Othello all have rezones planned to allow more 4-6 story buildings, and I believe they are going to study a Rainier Beach Station area rezone soon. Unfortunately, none of these rezones are going forward until at least next March because of some really annoying NIMBYs.
I think the tall buildings are low income housing … no major retailers or amenities and high traffic on Rainier – sorry this is no charming main street!
There is absolutely no plan for what any of the buildings will be in that area, or what amenities there will be. Just a zoning plan.
The Mt. Baker station area has some real potential to be a really nice pedestrian neighborhood though. There are many of the businesses you would want such as a grocery store, drug store, home improvement store, etc. Of course most of them are on auto-oriented lots that should be prime redevelopment sites. It isn’t ideal, but I think the potential for some transformative TOD is better than any station on Central Link other than Othello. Beacon Hill has very good TOD potential as well. The challenge there isn’t so much transforming the neighborhood as ensuring the TOD improves what is already a decent pedestrian neighborhood rather than diminishing it.
Isn’t Rainier already the main street for the neighborhood, and the whole valley?
The vicinity of Mt Baker station looks like it was transplanted from from suburban automobilia. Each fast-food restaurant is all alone with a big parking lot. It’s the most depressing part of Rainier. I’d gladly see it upzoned, and am glad others think it’s possible.
Can we include jitneys in this discussion? People should be able to have a jitney pick them up at their door and drop them off elsewhere. It is done back east in some places. And as I recall there were over 500 jitneys operating in Seattle in 1915 moving about 50,000 passengers a day.
Yes. We need to move away from jalopies and hoopties. Even trackless trolleys and penny farthings are outdated. What we need are some iron goats!
Michael Arnold, I completely agree on the Graham/Orcas Streets station, It seems like a perfect place for one. Do you know if there is a community group working to put one there?
Not sure, though I’ve included the community bloggers for Beacon Hill, Columbia City and Rainier Valley in my emails to ST. I don’t know what good my communications will do, though Mr. Clark has been very informative and serious in his emails and appears to want to answer all my questions factually and honestly to see if a station is possible.
Really, this is only one piece of improvement along MLK Way. As others have expressed here and what Martin stated in his blog, there are other issues that need to come together here. The city master plan needs to have bike lanes or sharrows to each of the stations. There needs to be more signage directing people where the stations are, a possibility of better walking routes or steps down these high hills especially to the Mount Baker and Rainier Valley stations and better high-density rezoning which will lead to more multi-family dwellings.
We need to bring all pieces together…walkers, bikers, bus and train riders. Better paths for the walkers, more bike routes for the bikers, GPS on the buses with reader boards and voice activated ‘next street stop’ and LINK stations showing the next 3 train arriving times. All this combined will make for a much better transit experience for our citizens.
I’ve taken transit in scores of cities around the world and believe me, we aren’t the worst, but we can be better and be one of the best with all the improvements we’ve listed. I just hope someone from the city is listening…
Were there any arguments against a station at Graham or Orcas, besides cost and travel time?
Because the cost for a surface station is relatively minimal.
And the dwell-times on LINK are some of the longest of any rail-transit system I’ve EVER been on; I’ve taken airport trips where the driver sat for 45 seconds at every stop! Shave 20 seconds off the dwell times and you’ve just saved 3 minutes on your trip — more than enough to justify the added stop at Graham.
The dwell times at the MLK stations are set by the signaling system, and from what I’ve heard they’ve recently been extended and it’s improved the reliability along MLK greatly, trains are rarely getting stopped between stations now. Might as well keep the doors open, because the train can’t leave before the computer lets it anyways. The dwell times seem long until you’re the one running for the train.
I read that the dwell times on MLK had be tweaked to sync with the times street signals, but they’re still WAY to long at Tukwila, Beacon Hill, the SoDo stops, and in the tunnel (with buses waiting behind).
Dwell times are less than half as long in Boston and New York, and about 1/3 as long in Montreal, despite much higher entry/exit volume at each stop in those cities. As with the driving habits of many Metro operators, it sends a “we don’t care how fast we get you there” message. And it certainly negates any suggestion that a Graham station was cut for reasons of travel time!
Dwell times at the other stations seem to be dependent on the operator.
Graham wasn’t cut for reasons of travel time, it was cut because Sound Transit was broke.
Do you happen to know the final price-tag for the Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach stations? Given how much they must have spent on the monstrosity at Tukwila, I find it hard to believe one more (seemingly obvious and comparatively useful) surface stop would have broken the bank!
I don’t know the costs off-hand, but at one point Beacon Hill and Stadium stations weren’t going to be built, and Tukwila was going to be the terminus. Graham Street was the easiest station to cut because there are 4 other stations along MLK and there was some community opposition to the Graham Street station anyways. I’m sure a number of stations could have been built for the $50 million that Sound Transit had to give to Rainier Valley Community Development Fund. I think things turned out OK given the huge difficulties ST faced in the late 90’s. Graham Street can always be built later when demand warrants it, but I think a station at 133rd in Tukwila would better serve the region.
I’m pretty sure Beacon Hill is the most expensive station in the system currently not counting the DSTT stations. Of course Tukwilla International Blvd is quite likely the second most expensive station. The expense with Beacon Hill really can’t be helped, but Tukwila is so obviously overbuilt compared to either Mt. Baker or Airport.
Zed, I don’t disagree with you that the train goes a RIDICULOUSLY long way without stopping, but there is really nothing to constitute a walk-shed at 133rd — just a handful of low-scale light industry and no sidewalks — or anywhere else along Link’s asinine chosen route. Sad, but truly not worth the expense of an elevated station.
Here’s why Graham matters:
The greatest failure of the current Link is its inability to persuade the public that:
A) it can aid urban mobility in daily life (i.e. not just for the occasional Sounders game or airport trip), and
B) it can be a potential complete-trip option (i.e. that a bus tranfer may be necessary for some trips, but won’t be seen required for every trip.)
Every successful rail transit system meets both of the above criteria. When station spacing is reasonable, you make it significantly more likely that a user from anywhere in the Rainier Valley or a user heading to anywhere in the Rainier Valley can use the system for any and all of her mobility needs without needing to touch a #7 bus.
They are, of course, making the same mistake in Capitol Hill as we speak.
And ditto to Chris Stefan.
Link isn’t a streetcar and shouldn’t have the sort of stop spacing seen on a streetcar. It slows the line down and stations cost money, especially when grade separated. Similarly lines that wind all over the place to try to capture every possible pocket of riders end up being slow and underutilized. You end up with something like the VTA.
As for the Central Link route I have few complaints with the routing chosen, at least between the DSTT and Rainier Beach. I will say the alternative with the underground station in Columbia City at Rainier Avenue and the trenched station at Graham would have been nice had it fit the budget. The routing between Rainier Beach and Tukwila is less than optimal, but given the fight over the 99 alignment there wasn’t much choice. Even if there had been the money to route via Southcenter there still would have been a gap South of Rainier Beach as there really is a whole lot of nothing until North Tukwila.
The 133rd station would be useful for replacing the Tukwila P&R and as a transfer point for the routes serving it. It is also near an I-5 exit so it could be used for truncating routes coming from the South County into Seattle. There is also a business park near 133rd that could have its density increased.
I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make about Capitol Hill. Again Link is a regional service and given the need to head to the University there are only so many possible station locations. The First Hill station would have had good ridership but the budget simply didn’t allow for it and the construction risk was too high.
Firstly, I want to make sure you know that when I said “ditto to Chris,” I was actually agreeing with your observation about the “obviously overbuilt” Tukwila station (and not dittoing my rebuttal of Zed at you as well). Sorry if my ambiguous wording put you on the defensive.
You say “Link is a regional service,” and that is precisely the problem. Link is designed like a regional service, even within the city, and it shouldn’t be. Having lived in Boston, New York, and Chicago, you’re never going to find me arguing for streetcar stop spacing, but I do know a thing or two about “psychological walksheds.”
I stand by my above criterion “B”: worthwhile urban rail transit must be seen as having potential to make (at least some) complete trips without a bus transfer in order to work its way into citizens’ daily routines. This is essential for building ridership in the long term, and I cannot think of one functional and successful rail transit system in the world that doesn’t meet it. Reasonable stop spacing is requisite for this.
Link as it now stands is like having BART but not having MUNI. It’s like having the D.C. Metro, but with the same stop spacing in the District as in the suburbs.
The VTA might be the other extreme — it loses its appeal through excessive circuitousness and inefficiency. But it’s fallacious to suggest that we have to choose between that or a “regional service” that willfully sabotages its own in-city usefulness.
I want to respond to each of your other points:
– Southcenter: Actually, I’m glad this got bypassed. None of the adjacent retail is walkable in the slightest, and many sell larger items that nobody was ever going to take on the train. I find it baffling that this retroactive debate is still being had.
– S. 133rd: I see. You’re arguing for it mostly as a park&ride/transit center, which is not a horrible idea. It’s a much better location for that than Tukwila station, and it’s not bad to encourage more car-to-Link commutes on the part of the line that is rightly “regional” in design. But still, I checked Google Street View — there aren’t even sidewalks!
– Capitol Hill: It took some sleuthing, but I found a contractor’s map that appears to accurately depict the route of the Capitol Hill tunnel. It passes directly under 14th & Mercer, as well as under 20th & Lynn. If stops had been designed at 15th & Mercer and at 24th & Lynn (a shift of just 400 feet to the east), every single person who lives, works, or visits that entire quadrant of the city would be within walking distance of a subway station. Instead, we get one station on a pre-existing thoroughfare in the southwest corner of the district and a bunch of people stuck on buses forever.
– First Hill: I’ve yet to see one shred of compelling evidence that “the construction risk was too high.” Expensive, definitely! But not “risky.” Spin aside, First Hill was nixed thanks to Bush-era FTA guidelines that encouraged funding projects for “new riders” at the expense of improving life for those already using crappy transit, such as the residents and hospital workers of First Hill. The only “risk” was that having an expensive station tied to pre-existing transit users would put Federal money in jeopardy. Bush’s hatred for the non-wealthy: 1; useful transit in the city of Seattle: 0.
“Link is designed like a regional service, even within the city, and it shouldn’t be.”
So there should be no regional service at all? There was none until Link, unless you went downtown and took ST Express or Sounder, but ST Express does not serve the neighborhoods directly and gets caught in traffic, and Sounder runs only a few times a day.
BART is nice but MUNI is screamingly slow if you live on the west side of the city, as is MAX downtown/eastside, and the NYC subways where they stop every ten blocks. But the subways have parallel express lines (hint: regional).
Any problems with local gaps can be solved with more buses/trolleybuses/streetcars. Metro just needs to find the money and will to do that. Having said that, a Graham station and 133 station would be OK because they wouldn’t add much travel time and their gaps are unusually long. But having three Capitol Hill stations and First Hill and similar stations elsewhere would detract from Link’s potential because it would make it less competitive with driving if you’re going from say Rainier to Lynnwood. Link can replace express buses only if it’s as fast as them (or almost as fast in the case of the 194).
We’ve already seen that 12 minutes from UW to downtown + 6 minutes (guessing) from South Bellevue to BTC will make a significant dent in those willing to take it from Redmond — causing calls for a second line on 520. Adding stops would just make it worse.
As for TIB being overbuilt, how? The upper story of the station could be smaller, but that’s not a big deal. The P&R is necessary because the surrounding area is low-density houses with only a few buses here and there. My friend has a house for rent in SeaTac. I’d almost take it except it’s a 40 minute walk to the station, and the only connecting bus is a way’s away, runs every half hour, and stops at 9pm. It would be great to have Seattle-level buses from Burien/SeaTac/Riverton Heights/Boulevard Park/Tukwila to the station, then we could do without the P&R, but nobody seems willing to do this.
I’m sorry if I sounded defensive, when I posted that I had just finished a back and forth with someone else who didn’t really get the difference between steetcars, light rail, and metro systems.
That said I’m against going crazy with stops on light rail, particularly on the main N/S “spine” line. 1km is about the optimal stop spacing for light rail except in the most dense areas of a city. In some cases spacing between 1/2 mile and 1km is justified, either because two large nodes are fairly close together or because the light rail line is acting more as a urban connector and less as a regional trunk. Anything less than 1/2 mile needs to be limited to CBDs or should be served by a streetcar or bus.
All that said I think a Link station somewhere between Graham and Orcas would be a very good idea. Furthermore the city should make pedestrian improvements for all streets within 1/4 mile and major bike improvements within 1km of all link stations current or planned within the city a budget priority, especially for the Northgate station and all stations South of the DSTT.
I agree the retroactive debate is rather pointless. However most who complain about the routing of Central Link either think it should have gone through the Duwamish industrial area, or think it should have served Southcenter.
If the Burien/Renton Link line is ever built Southcenter will get a station. While it is currently an auto oriented wasteland right now there is the potential to turn it into something more like downtown Bellevue. Both the city of Tukwila and the mall owner seem to be thinking in this direction in their long-term plans.
I’m thinking S. 133rd would be mostly a P&R location at first, but that long-term it could serve to create a dense node around the station. There are examples of this happening with other rail transit systems including Portland and Vancouver. Of course it would need planning and infrastructure support from the city of Tukwila such as building those missing sidewalks.
FWIW, The current Tukwilla P&R doesn’t have sidewalks either other than right around the P&R.
Stations at 15th & Mercer or 24th & Lynn would have to be deep mined, which are both expensive and risky. There is also the issue that the rather tony neighborhoods surrounding both stations would very likely resist any upzoning.
Some history is probably in order here. The line was moved East to cross the ship canal at Montlake rather than Portage bay fairly late in the planning process. By that time the two potential Broadway stations had been consolidated to a single station at John.
In any case I’m willing to bet that with the exception of the First Hill station the ridership gains of any additional stations between downtown and the U-District would have been marginal and offset by the lost ridership due to increased travel times.
By construction risk, I mean that the First Hill station had a high likelihood of issues that would cause delays and cost overruns. This ultimately would pose a huge financial risk to the project if the cost overruns exceeded the contingency budget. To be sure the FTA guidelines heavily weighting new riders and their travel time savings didn’t help either.
Okay, a number of days have passed and I’m not sure if you’ll see these replies anyway…
Nevertheless, I’ll write separate replies to Chris (who makes some great points) and Mike (who, I’m sorry to say, seems to miss the point completely).
(Okay, apparently I need a lesson in blockquotes. Here’s that same reply with no markup.)
Okay, a number of days have passed and I’m not sure if you’ll see these replies anyway…
Nevertheless, I’ll write separate replies to Chris (who makes some great points) and Mike (who, I’m sorry to say, seems to miss the point completely).
“1km is about the optimal stop spacing for light rail…”
Yes! Absolutely 1km (or 0.62 miles, or 9-11 minutes walk) is a fantastic stop spacing! In cities all over the world where rail transit is woven into the fabric of daily life, you’ll find it designed with that rule of thumb in mind!
So isn’t it a little bit nuts that Mt. Baker and Columbia City are 2km apart? That Columbia City to Othello is 2.6km? That the Capitol Hill and UW stations will be nearly 3km from each other and entirely skip over the city’s largest contiguous medium-high-density residential area, forever relegating most of its very large population to cars and trolleybuses?
“There is also the issue that the rather tony neighborhoods surrounding both stations would very likely resist any upzoning.”
It is a bit of a West Coast and development-centric fallacy that transit infrastructure must be accompanied by a dense cluster of new cookie-cutter buildings to work. This is only a necessity if you start with an expanse that is uniformly of an extremely low density (Southeast Seattle truly does need a development push to make Link work). Despite the single-family and small multi-family nature of much of Capitol Hill’s housing, the district is cumulatively 2 nearly unbroken square miles of built-up/inhabited/utilized space, and its populace is already accustomed to walking between various points on the hill.
The critical mass for transit is already there — just between Broadway and 23rd, the neighborhood supports the 49, 10, 12, 43, and 8, all frequent routes (by Seattle standards) — no new construction or forced upzoning required! (Boston, Chicago, even Queens and the Bronx have transit lines that run through and have reasonable stop spacing within neighborhoods of similar layout and character, and there is no shortage of demand.) My station hypotheticals — about 1km apart, BTW — were not arbitrary, but represented centralized locations that are already, taken cumulative, walking destinations for the entire population of the Hill.
My guess is that you would be right about 24th & Lynn encountering resistance — it’s actually less swanky than the Volunteer Park area, but it sees itself as a suburban-esque respite from the city and would gripe about the “undesirable” elements Link might bring. But 15th & Mercer (or 15th & Roy), for all its opulence, views itself as a nexus of refined urbanity and would be flattered to have a real subway, which would just happen to benefit the thousands of Hill residents of all income levels who are within a ten-minute walk.
“…would have been marginal and offset by the lost ridership due to increased travel times.”
Clearly we just disagree on this. Increased travel times are most irritating when they seem to serve no purpose — I get incredibly annoyed waiting for 2 minutes or more at a red light on 15th West & Dravus, a stop I will never use, while cars zoom by in their dedicated underpass, but a 30-second stop built into the underpass would seem totally reasonable based on the number of people who board there. A stop near 15th Ave and Volunteer Park would be amenable to most riders because they can see its worth and envision themselves taking advantage of it one day. Stops such as this would reinforce the understanding of Link as a conduit for a variety of trips, with a variety of start- and end-points, for a variety of purposes, traveling a variety of distances, at various times of day. Which is vital to such a system becoming worthwhile, and which is what I’m about to criticize Mike Orr for not getting.
Meanwhile, my bet is that the vast majority of current 10, 12, and 43 riders would trade in their unpleasant 20+ minute rides for an 8-minute walk plus a 3-minute train ride, and that any number of current drivers would join them. I fear that Sound Transit’s approach will leave Link forever limited in its scope, usefulness, and appeal.
Now, Mike Orr, I’m going to attempt to address each of your statements that I find problematic. I’m going to do my best to be nice, but I’ll admit up-front that I find your reasoning to be infuriatingly ill-informed.
To be honest, you come across as someone who has visited cities with better transit than ours but probably never lived in any of them long enough to see how their systems function in daily life or to internalize their rhythms enough to become an authority on their attributes and flaws.
“Any problems with local gaps can be solved with more buses/trolleybuses/streetcars.”
And here you sound like such a public-transit enthusiast that you would anticipate with excitement the chance to ride 3 different modes on a single, simple journey. Trust me that the majority do not feel that way.
Metro-style scattered point-to-point service is a disaster, but so too is the opposite extreme that you seem to endorse: requiring transfers and additional transit modes even if your destination is reasonably close to the axis of the rail line. As I have said repeatedly in this thread, rail MUST be seen as a capable of providing a variety of worthwhile, quick, effortless journeys in and of itself, or it will never replace slow, infrequent, yet point-to-point buses in the public consciousness.
“[Extra stations] would make it less competitive with driving if you’re going from say Rainier to Lynnwood.”
Firstly, it’s already not competitive with a non-rush-hour highway because it doesn’t go in a straight line and it has to stop at least once or twice!
But more importantly, who the %&$* is ever going to take it from Rainier all the way to Lynnwood? Seriously, what percentage of riders will ever do that? It’s a ridiculous example! Yet it bolsters this notion that the line needs to focus on end-to-end travel time above all else without understanding that intermediate journeys will be the crux of the line’s function. Honestly, Mike, is it really worth cutting in half the number of plausible journeys that can be taken on the train, just to save 3 minutes on a 1-hour route? Both you and Sound Transit need to understand that this isn’t a Rainier-to-Lynnwood shuttle. It is a corridor for getting people into and around the city!
“BART is nice but MUNI is screamingly slow if you live on the west side of the city, as is MAX downtown/eastside.”
Yes, MUNI and MAX are screamingly slow where they behave as streetcars — stopping every two blocks, making frequent 90-degree turns, getting stuck at lights. When exactly did I advocate for a streetcar-like design for Link? Of course, MUNI’s west-side slowness gets a pass from me because it then drops into a tunnel and travels the last 4 miles to downtown in about 10 minutes — all with exceedingly reasonable and useful stop spacing. Why do you continue to see 2 block spacing and 2km spacing as the only available options?
“…and the NYC subways where they stop every ten blocks. But the subways have parallel express lines (hint: regional).”
Manhattan is 12 miles long. Take the super-local and you’ll still travel it end-to-end in less than 30 minutes. Plus, you’ll be able to get on and off near any place you can possibly imagine needing to go. Do you realize that when you said, “any problems with local gaps can be solved with more buses…,” you just advocated for the NYC express lines sans the locals? How do you think that would work out?
“…a significant dent in those willing to take it from Redmond.”
UW and Bellevue are only 4 miles from one another as the crow flies. It doesn’t make sense for it to take 20 minutes to travel If I had a pair of super-buoyant running shoes I could run that far in just over half an hour. I don’t know the solution, but I do know that this has nothing to do with stop locations, and everything to do with geography and the location of existing infrastructure. Adding 30-60 seconds in Capitol Hill will not make or break this routing. (Plus, Capitol Hill has a ton of Redmond employees who are probably more likely to take transit to work than those living in Roosevelt would be anyway.)
“As for [Tukwila] being overbuilt, how?”
Gigantic platforms, gigantic roof, and gigantic stairways with gigantic walls of glass where adequate platforms, a functional roof, and straightforward stairways with enough glass to block the wind and rain would have sufficed. It’s a behemoth from the highway; it was clearly designed to impress, and that’s an expensive thing to do.
Similarly I’m not sure anyone not watching the RSS comment feed will see this, but here goes …
1 km stop spacing should be the minimum for any transit line trying to be “rapid” not a maximum. A line shouldn’t waste money on a stop that will slow the line down and have low ridership if it isn’t needed.
To take your first example there really isn’t anything between Mt. Baker and Columbia City to stop at. No urban villages, no residential density. Just a few blocks of low-density residential cut off from the surrounding area to the East and West by terrain.
Hopefully Sound Transit will build a station somewhere between Graham and Orcas eventually. But at the time this station was dropped because there wasn’t enough money in the budget to build it.
As for North Capitol Hill there simply is NO money for additional deep mined stations, especially ones that won’t have very high ridership.
The density isn’t there to justify expensive underground stations.
A station at 15th near Volunteer Park might have made sense, but at this point that is pretty much water under the bridge.
It isn’t in the plans and was never in the budget.
From UW to Northgate the station spacing is about right. There is a bit of a gap between Roosevelt and Northgate, but no real good spot for a station.
I’m pretty sure you’d get at least some screaming from North Capitol Hill if a rail station was built there. Never underestimate the ability of people to scream loudly about change in their neighborhoods.
What I’ve said above pretty much addresses the rest of your points.
Two things that might enhance the access for people on the rest of Capitol Hill (and the CD as well):
* The first would be to implement the Rapid Trolley Network that was proposed as mitigation for the AWV rebuild. This would restructure the ETB network into a grid with high-frequency service and RapidRide like features.
* The second would be extensions to the streetcar network. Though there are no plans for anything other than the Broadway streetcar to Aloha or Prospect. However I could see potentially bringing streetcars back to 15th and to 23rd. Though the hill on 23rd might not be something modern streetcars could handle.
Michael, we did get your email at the Beacon Hill Blog. You want to write an opinion piece? A Graham station isn’t quite on the Hill, but it is relevant to quite a few Beaconians.
I thought I’d take a ride along the Green River Trail a couple of months ago. Living in N. Seattle, I thought it would be a good excuse to ride LINK, so rode down and caught it in the bus tunnel, took it to Tukwila station, and rode down the hill to the Green River Trail. No problem.
On the way back however, I had NO interest in climbing that hill again, so decided to find my way over to the Rainier station, which I thought might not involve too many hills. It turned out to be very simple and painless. The only hairy part was crossing I-5 at the Boeing Access Road, where you had to contend with merging traffic.
A few signs and maybe some striping, and you could open up easy biking to downtown from anyone as far as Auburn who cared to do it. Right now, it’s complete guesswork to get make this extremely easy connection.
On a related note, there should also be a connection from the Green River Trail to the Green River Trail. I’ve tried repeatedly to find my way from one to the other, and have never succeeded. I’m sure it’s not hard, simply needlessly opaque.
Green River to Duwamish River Trail! Oops.
It is a nice trail but what disappointed me when I rode on it was how it very abruptly started and stopped when it meet a cross road. At the minimum there should be sharrows but it just kind of starts and stops and doesn’t give riders much guidance.
I mean the Chief Sealth Trail
Green to Duwamish is easy, done it many times, but I wouldn’t begin to try explaining it in text. But it’s on the Bicycle layer of Google Maps.
As I recall, the last time I tried to make this connection (and the first time I actually succeeded!), I was pleased to find signage and pavement markings which hadn’t existed before. I also recall taking some photos, but I can’t find them now.
In any event, here are the Google Maps biking directions for the 2.7-mile missing link. In my opinion the only thing they get wrong is that when you get to 14th & Director, Google wants you to go about 300 ft down a rather busy SR99 onramp (Des Moines Memorial Dr), then make a left across two lanes of said busy onramp. Instead, I’d get onto the east side of 14th (i.e. the sidewalk), and continue on the sidewalk when you cross Director (on the left side of the fence). Then once you’re past the interchange you can easily get back on the road for the last mile to the Green River Trail.
Thanks! Admittedly, it’s been a while since I tried this, so glad to see they added signs. I would never have guessed your suggested route.
Cascade has been doing some work to gather information on these problems in the South Park area. This will be more important come June when the South Park bridge is closed and the Downtown to Seatac bicycle route gets re-routed [or abandoned]. You should email Tessa Greegor (see the above link) about your experiences there.
I guess I’ll lodge the lone continuing complaint about lack of safe proper bike stowage within the LINK trains… its true, LINK has generally not done a good job with the low-hanging fruit, inter-modality etc. Now that the weather’s been nice i have been skipping LINK’s assocaited hassles and riding back and forth to work downtown. By the time i haul my bike in and out of the stations + the frequent stops and starts LINK has been having lately, I generally make it home in the same amount of time on my bicycle, regardless of traffic. Saving $5+/day is beginning to add up.
I was not particularly pleased to be forced to take the stairs out of the tunnel. I can see the need for the rule if the escalators are crowded at Rush hour, but they were empty for me, and my muscles where done!
Ummm, every grade-separated Link station has an elevator that will accommodate a rider and his/her bicycle. No need to tax those spent muscles
Now you tell me! ;)
“Escalator, no. Elevator, yes.”
Seems odd, but I’ll take it.
Bikes can’t roll down an elevator on top of people if you lose control, but they can on an escalator.
“I guess I’ll lodge the lone continuing complaint about lack of safe proper bike stowage within the LINK trains…”
I guess I’d like to know what you’re looking for. Link has mounting hooks that exist for the sole purpose of hanging bikes in a neatly designed, protected nook of the train. Aside from Portland MAX, and perhaps the Amsterdam metro, no other urban rail transit on earth is so accommodating for bikers.
The nook is inadequately sized and leaves the bicycle hanging out into the walkway, which is compounded by the seats opposite also sticking out into the hallway.
It’s interesting that most of the pictures I can see on flickr are of the nook itself rather than it’s impact on the rest of the train when filled. Here is my cameraphone photo of one of my bikes hanging on a Link train. My bikes are slightly larger than average, (that’s a 59cm frame) but that is also the simplest and lightest of my bikes; my regular urban commuter.
I’ve noticed there are a lot more people walking between the articulated section than I would have expected as well.
As there are four nooks between two cars, and you can’t really move a bicycle easily between the two sections of a single car, let alone between the two separate cars, ushering bikes toward these hooks makes boarding uneasy and chaotic.
My first mitigating ideas would be removing the separator by the door and moving the the hook to the other wall, and maybe removing one or both of the seats opposite, perhaps converting them to additional bicycle hooks. Clearing these areas entirely and making them standing room for bicycles would probably be better.
I suppose it depends on how long you expect a cyclist to be on Link and if they’d want to stand that long. Taking a bicycle on link doesn’t save a great deal of time for the average rider at the moment. Once UW + Capitol Hill are open I think we’ll see a greater amount of bikes on Link as you’ll be able to travel between neighborhoods without riding up major hills, but still bring a bicycle with you to be able to get around.
Boy, I cannot agree at all with the generally negative tone of this thread toward the integration of Link stations and cycling routes & facilities. I think they are very well integrated. Sure the city could do a better job with signage and more sharrows, etc. But the access is good and appropriate. It’s as if some of the commentators in the thread are not actually regular cyclists.
Several examples to consider:
First, there are two major north-south cycling routes in the Link corridor, the Chief Sealth trail on Beacon Hill and the Lake Washington trail. Link stations are easily accessible from both, the Rainier Beach station from Henderson (via bike lane) from Seward Park Ave, and the Beacon Hill station from Beacon Ave (via sharrow).
Second, there is good east-west access to the Columbia City station from Alaska, which also connects into the main north-south cycling corridor at Gennessee Park, home of the Danskin Triathalon.
Third, the Mt. Baker station is accessed fairly easily form the I-90 trail via a short ride on 23rd.
Finally, I know several people who work in the south end (Renton & Kent) who regularly ride in from homes North Seattle and board Link at Westlake to truncate their rides, especially during poor weather. I’ve also heard of some Beacon Hill commuters riding in to town, then taking the train back so they can skip the hill by using the elevators.
Now, I know not everybody is a “regular cyclist” but it’s worth noting that, for those who are, these are great and easy connections. I’m guessing if tentative cyclists gave some of these connex a try they’d get used to them pretty quickly.
I think the question is what kind of regular cyclist are you talking about? Lines on a map do not equal connectivity. You have to do something to earn it.
Third, the Mt. Baker station is accessed fairly easily form the I-90 trail via a short ride on 23rd.
That “short ride on 23rd” is about a mile. Not worth mentioning for a recreational cyclist, but serious cyclists aren’t the target demographic.
Draw a two mile radius around the station, and look at what fraction of the homes and apartments in that circle have clear bike access to the station that doesn’t involve riding on Rainier or MLK. Bike access simple and safe enough that someone who doesn’t ride a bike for fun will think it’s a reasonable way to get to work.
Cascade & ST/Metro should team up to put out a “Ride Your Bike to Link” pamphlet or website. It would have maps of the area around each station, showing the easiest & safest routes to/from the stations to nearby bike trails or major bike routes, and indicating which nearby roads have sharrows or bike lanes. As it is, a cyclist who gets off at Mt Baker and sees Rainier & MLK could easily think there aren’t any good biking routes from the station, either to the I-90 trail or to anywhere else in the area.
I think the point is that we need significantly more bicycle facilities within the bike-shed of stations.
We recently got a slew of new direction finding signs installed on bicycle routes, including the SODO trail along Link in SODO that has been a secret for so long. However these signs often direct you to other trails and neighborhoods and never direct you to light rail stations, which they should.
While it’s great having a 3.6 mile trail like the Chief Sealth trail for for long distance commuters, is someone who is already biking five miles going to stop to wait to get on light rail for three more? Maybe.
How many more Link riders could we get if we made Link stations a hub of bicycle lanes and way-finding signs within a two miles radius?
Martin, I think you’re completely missing a significant problem in SE Seattle with regard to accessing the stations. The needed infrastructure simply hasn’t been built out properly at all.
Sure, there’s great improvement along the line itself, and excellent facilities at and immediately around the stations. But walk more than two or three blocks away from the stations and/or MLK and it’s often a very different picture.
In many places, there is a real lack of sidewalks, proper lighting, and safe routes to/from station areas. It is my belief that this is what has lead to the loud call from some folks to have more park and rides near the stations.
A number of residents have told me they don’t feel safe letting their wives and children travel back and forth from their homes to the stations — especially during other times of the year when early sunset and more inclement weather make it seem very scary to travel where it may be dark and one is on the street pavement.
Mickymse has a point which is why I mentioned jitneys earlier. We have elderly people and others who cannot ride a bike our walk any great distance and their needs are ignored in this discussion.
Will automobile access to Link stations be Part III?)
I got to see Oran’s video of 5 trains through the southbound side of Beacon Hill Station in 15 minutes.
It certainly does appear that people are taking up the offer for reduced parking at the airport to take light rail to sport events. Kudos to ST for developing the post-game train queue system!
I’d like to see a section of parking at the airport be reduced rate for Link riders 24/7. After all, the parking lot is already there, is underutilized (as the car nuts like to say about bus lanes), and ought to serve all transportation purposes, as that is the Port’s mission. Let’s fully utilize this parking before ST builds any more park-n-rides on South Link.
Throw in a staging area for Metro vanpools, and we could get the noise level down a few notches from those complaining about lack of parking to ride Link, make a bigger dent in the post-game smog production, and maximize synergies for socially-preferred trip potential.
I’d have a completely different strategy.
The most successful LINK station is Tukwila.
Reasons? Ample free parking. Long distance makes taking train worth it (like Sounder). Located near suburbs where business commuters live.
I would cut down the number of LINK stations radically and make it more like the old Monorail concept of it being an “Express” rather than a local for getting people from the edge of Seattle and the exurbs into downtown or for exchanging to another exurb (Kent-Seattle-Lynnwood Redmond-Bellevue-Renton).
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