Photo by Mike Bjork

Larry Lange has a long but neat meditation Central Link and the MLK corridor, almost one year after opening. It’s refreshingly non-hysterical.

He places special emphasis on development prospects in the corridor, which is appropriate. If we don’t see more Othello Partners-type buildings along MLK over the next couple of decades, the MLK alignment (as opposed to the regional light rail project as a whole) would be a failure in my opinion.

136 Replies to “11 Months of Light Rail”

  1. I also thought this was a good article. Some of the things I found most interesting:

    “The rail line eliminated most crossings of MLK and have added other complications to valley life.”

    So Link has created a barrier along MLK Jr Way, eliminating most crossings, and thus making that area less walkable — many people have to walk well out of their way to get to a place where they can legally cross the Link tracks. Not good.

    “”The stops seem to be too far apart. There’s no complimentary east-west connection to it,” said Gregory Davis, president of the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition, a neighborhood advocacy group, describing the rail system. “It’s just very under-whelming.””

    “Very underwhelming.” Basically, Link has had almost no positive impact on the Rainier Valley, while creating “complications” for people who live there.

    “The valley has four of the line’s 13 stops and as of early this year attracted roughly 22 percent of the riders, according to Sound Transit estimates.”

    So, ST has estimates for boardings at each of the 13 stations? Have they made this information public? If not, why not? If so, can someone tell me where I can find that information?

    1. Norman, your insistence on cherry-picking quotes, and that 11 months of performance closes the book on Central Link, makes a mockery of your argument.

    2. I’m a long-time resident of the south end and I have to roll my eyes at anyone who thinks that conditions haven’t improved in the MLK corridor since the building of LINK. Do you remember Rainier Vista, Holly Park and all the dead space along MLK? Time for a reality check! I would also dispute the “barrier” claim made in the article. LINK has made crossing MLK easier and safer for pedestrians who are willing to cross at the intersections. Before LINK, there were many mad dashes across MLK by pedestrians because crosswalks were rare and poorly marked, drivers weren’t paying attention to pedestrians and the intersections were poorly signalled.

      But there’s still a lot of work to be done to make LINK more useful to Valley residents other than waiting for the economy to improve.

      It’s time for ST to get serious about a station at Graham St. There’s plenty of developable property in that neighborhood and a good shopping district is already there. Plus, Kurose MS is just a block away.

      Rainier Beach station is pretty much useless. Metro doesn’t connect well to RBHS and the existing retail loop to the east and the industrial corridor south of the station has zero service.

      And today, it is more difficult to cross MLK as a driver. The east-west traffic backs up quite a distance and I know that SDOT thinks they have done a great job with the signal timings, but it is frustrating to sit up to 4 minutes (I’ve timed it) waiting to cross MLK on Graham or Columbian Way.

      And please, let’s not pretend that everything is going great in Ballard. Many of the new buildings are under-sold or under-occupied. Why? Just like Rainier Valley, the Ballard area is suffering from the bad economy, but also because there aren’t reliable and fast transit options to Downtown or the U District from Ballard.

      1. I would argue getting downtown from Ballard is quite serviceable. The U-District story, however, is an atrocity.

      2. Oops–> Here’s what I meant to say “Rainier Beach station is pretty much useless. Metro doesn’t connect well to RBHS and the existing retail loop to the east. The industrial corridor south of the station has zero service.”

        Ballard to downtown looks good on paper, but try riding a bus on a rainy day and the trip from downtown to Ballard during rush hour can be almost as bad as downtown to Bellevue.

      3. Metro’s Rapid Ride will serve Ballard-Downtown in a couple of years. Unfortunately it will be routed via Uptown, but it will be much better than what is available now.

        Regarding fast service from Ballard to the U-District: I have always felt that extending the 75 from Ballard to the U-District via Leary/Fremont–making it a circular route — would the the simplest way to make this happen.

      4. The limiting factor in decent east-west service is the congestion on Market/45th and Leary/36th. Unfortunately, turning around the 75 (which already suffers significant delays, particularly on Sand Point runs, at least from my perspective as a Ballard-Northgate rider) isn’t going to be able to avoid that.

      5. The issues with Rainier Valley transit service and specifically the Rainier Beach station are solvable by restructuring service in SE Seattle. Unfortunately as we saw with the plans to eliminate the 42 this will take political will that Metro and the County Council haven’t shown so far.

        All of the buses serving the current transfer point at Rainier and Henderson should be re-routed so they serve Rainier Beach Station as well. The big one for that would be to extend the wire for the 7 down Henderson so the bus turns at MLK and RBS rather than heading South up the hill. Some route should also go down MLK to Boeing Access road to serve the industrial area, though I’d guess the boardings in this section would be rather low.

        I think a S. Graham station will eventually happen, I just wouldn’t plan on it being soon. Perhaps ST3? Maybe as part of city funded transit improvements? Of course it will be sooner rather than later if there is a constituency to lobby for it.

        Ballard is its own issue. Rapid Ride will help some, though it would be better if it was more of a “real” BRT line like SWIFT or EMX. A Ballard/Fremont/SLU/Downtown streetcar will help too. However I agree the long-term solution is an actual light rail line serving Ballard.

        The big question is if the line should go downtown or to the U-District first. Ballard to Downtown probably has higher ridership, especially if it has a station at the Seattle Center and Lower Queen Anne. If the line is mostly or entirely grade-separated getting to the U-District (or Northgate) via downtown on light rail may be faster than taking more direct buses to those destinations. At certain times of day it might even be faster than driving.

        Of course we may only be able to afford an MLK LINK or Interstate MAX style-line which will be somewhat slower than a 100% grade-separated line. But that would still be a huge mobility improvement and getting rail ROW is probably easier politically than exclusive transit lanes for BRT.

      6. Chris,

        The 7 was not rerouted because (i) it would cut off the community served below Henderson, (ii) there’s no wire going there, and (iii) there isn’t anywhere to park all those buses at RB. It’d take moderate capital expenditure to fix (ii) and (iii) and a new route to handle (i).

        Meanwhile you have an 8 serving RB from Rainier/Henderson every 15 minutes or so, plus some 9s, 106s, and 107s. I’m not sure people much further North than that are interested in doubling back for 10 minutes or so to get downtown.

        The 126 did go from RB to the industrial area, but was cancelled as part of the reorganization due to poor ridership.

      7. I have to admit I really haven’t been to RB station since the 8 started serving it so I don’t really have a feel for how good the service there is now.

        Still I know re-routing the 7 to serve Henderson and the station was looked at as was a transit center at the station.

        My gut feeling is if the 7 was re-routed to serve RB station at least some riders from further North might use the connection to the station. The other advantage would be to increase service frequency between Rainier Beach proper and Rainier Beach station.

        As for the service South of Henderson currently provided by the 7 I’m sure a shuttle route to the Link station could provide similar service plus provide a regional connection via Link.

        A loop along Renton Ave S, Trenton or Cloverdale, MLK, and Henderson could provide layover space.

      8. Well I was thinking “shuttle route” in the sense that many of the Shoreline neighborhood routes operating out of the Northgate TC are “shuttle routes”. Presumably a route serving the part of the 7 South of Henderson would likely serve the greater Skyway area, connect to Renton or otherwise be made into a longer route.

        Though there is the 38 as a counter-example of a very short route with a very limited purpose.

        Another thought would be to loop the 7 at RB station while otherwise keeping the current route, much like was done with the 14 at Mt. Baker TC.

    3. There would have been more east-west service if the county council hadn’t bowed to the “Save Route 42” activists.

  2. Next month gives me three twenty-year spaces of transit history, with five years extra. In at least two of them, public transit- and most of this country’s major cities- died and are now coming back to life.

    Leave the subjunctive proclamations of failure to the usual Seattle editors, Martin. Concentrate on what you’re good at, which is making a joke out of their predictions. That way, whatever happens on MLK, in a couple of decades people will still care what you, as opposed to them, think about anything.


  3. “If we don’t see more Othello Partners-type buildings along MLK over the next couple of decades, the MLK alignment (as opposed to the regional light rail project as a whole) would be a failure in my opinion.”

    So, Martin, you seem to be saying that the most important reason for building Central Link was to spur development along the line? If so, then light rail was indisputably an utter waste of money.

    You can get exactly the same type of development you are hoping for along Link on MLK Jr Way, withOUT spending billions of tax dollars on trains. We have the same sort of TOD all over Seattle in neighborhoods withOUT trains, on BUS ROUTES.

    Here is just one example of what is going to be built in Ballard on the former proposed site of a Green Line Monorail station:

    What is the difference between this “Market Street Landing” in Ballard on bus routes, and “The Station at Othello Park”? Exactly the same sort of TOD, but in Ballard its at a bus stop, and in the Rainier Valley its at a light rail stop.

    Had the Green Link monorail been built, you can be sure monorail supporters would have said that the “Market Street Landing” was a direct result of the monorail station at that corner. But, the monorail was not built, and the TOD was built, anyway, at a bus stop!

    And this sort of TOD is all over Ballard, W. Seattle, Bell Town, Queen Anne, etc. On bus routes! Without spending billions of tax dollars on little trains.

    1. Norman,

      What are you advocating? Do you want ST to stop operating the light rail line? It’s built, it’s operating, it’s carrying 20,000/day and serving a variety of destinations efficiently. Fare policy integration among agencies should be improved, as should bus connections, and let’s hope they get improved. As to measuring development spurred by the light rail line, it is way too soon to be able to do that, without even factoring in the economic and lending downturn.

      1. I’m advocationg not throwing good money after bad. Stop wasting billions more tax dollars on more light rail.

        What is your definition of “efficiently”? When you include the capital costs, Link is many times more expensive per boarding than buses. Is this what you consider “efficient” use of tax revenues?

        You can measure the development in our area that has nothing at all to do with light rail. It is enormous. You think there has not been enough development in our area over the past few decades without any light rail?

      2. Move outside the ST boundaries if you don’t like paying for light rail. You lost the election, get over it. We all know that you think it’s a waste of your precious tax dollars, but you’re not the arbiter of what we as a society decide to invest in. There are plenty of people here who think its a great investment and worth paying taxes for, a majority of people, in fact. Isn’t democracy great?

      3. Of course. That’s the oldest scam in the books: “Your first investment didn’t turn out well, but if you just keep pouring more money into it, it will turn around.”

        Like someone in a casino who is losing money, and keeps betting more and more money in the belief that he can win back all the money he lost so far, if he just bets enough additional money.

      4. Norman,
        Even a lot of critics of light rail have acknowledged that it makes sense between Downtown, Capitol Hill, U-District, and Northgate. The existing buses between these destination are overloaded all day long in spite of extremely frequent service. There simply isn’t the road, stop, or layover capacity to increase the service frequency with buses, especially during peak hours.

        In addition many of the contracts for U-Link are already signed. Canceling U-Link would likely cost as much at this point as finishing it.

        Beyond that ST2 has passed, the money is there to build light-rail all the way to Lynnwood, Overlake, and Star Lake. Sure it could be stopped, but that likely would take convincing either the Sound Transit Board or the State Legislature to do so. Good luck with that.

      5. “Extremely frequent service?” How frequently do those buses run?

        “The existing buses between these destination are overloaded all day..” Thus, again putting the lie to those who claim “people won’t ride buses.”

        “There simply isn’t the road, stop, or layover capacity to increase the service frequency with buses, especially during peak hours.” I don’t believe this for a second.

      6. Well you could check the schedules yourself. But the 71/72/73/74 combined offer less than 15, 10, or 5 minute scheduled headways depending on the time of day. The 41 is somewhat less frequent but still more so than most other routes.

        Sure, lots of people are riding these routes, butmore people in this corridor might take transit once Link opens. This is particularly true for the North corridor as Link offers a significant time savings over driving even in periods when traffic is light. Furthermore you ignore one of the historic reasons for upgrading the capacity of transit lines or building grade separation which is simply the problem of being too popular.

        If you are so brilliant then where does the road, stop, and layover space to double the frequency of the 41, 71, 72, 73, and 74?

      7. So, you are claiming that 5 minute headways are the shortest headways possible for buses? I think you will find that on many streets, there are buses much more frequently than every 5 minutes. What makes you think that is not possible on these routes? You have offered no explanation whatsoever. It might require minor changes to the routes, removing some parking for layover space, or things like that, but you claim it is absolutely impossible to increase the frequency of these routes? I don’t believe it.

    2. As a Ballard resident, I’m in a position to inform Norman that all of the recently built, mid-rise apartment and condo blocks have two things in common:

      1. In all of their advertisements, they tout the walkability of Ballard and their proximity to transit connections.

      2. They have lots of parking, correctly anticipating that their desired residents will own and use cars for 99% of their other trips outside of Ballard.

      In spite of #2, the new residents — thousands of them, especially transplants from transit cities — do attempt to use the bus for A) 9-5 commuting if they work in the downtown core; and B) sporting events or evenings out that involve drinking. The result is that buses at those times are more crowded than ever before, stop more frequently, have much longer dwell times, and are less reliable than ever!

      Bus networks have a critical-mass threshold, and it’s frankly not that high. Once you’ve crossed it, incremental increases in usage beget exponential decreases in ride quality. Ballard is well past that point. That you think things are all transit-fine and development-dandy suggests that you either don’t live in Ballard, don’t visit Ballard, or don’t ever use the bus.

      (Also, you cited a stalled project — a hole in the ground — as your evidence. I’m doubly sure you don’t live here/don’t come here/don’t use the bus here.)

      1. @ d.p.

        So I’m not the only one who has noticed an increase in the number of, shall we say, “inebriated,” riders at night.

      2. The bus routes from BAllard to downtown are going to be improved with the rapidride system which is already funded.

        I just laugh at the people who complain about buses being too crowded. Add buses! lol This is complicated?

        By adding buses, you enable people who now drive, because the current buses are too crowded, to take the bus, and leave their cars at home, thus taking cars off the roads, and reducing congestion. This also shortens headways, making buses even more convenient.

        Dwell times can be addressed by SWIFT-style off-board payment, and wheelchair stations where the wheelchairs don’t need to be tied down. I have ridden SWIFT only once, but on that round trip, dwell times were no longer than Link dweill times. No reason this can’t be done with buses as easily as with streetcars or light rail.

        You allude to all the recently-completed TOD in Ballard. It is no different from what light rail supporters HOPE to see happen along the Link route in Rainier Valley. It has already happened — and continues to happen — in Ballard withOUT any rail.

        You disagree? You deny that Ballard has blocks and blocks of new Transit-Oriented Development withOUT any little trains?

      3. Norman, while those developments were built in expectation of the Monorail, you are still arguing with “If a, then B; B exists; therefore, not A”. (If link, then TOD; TOD, therefore not Link.) This is not a valid argument. Just because B can exist without A does not mean than A does not lead to B. The bus vs rail arugment is completely different. Yes, BRT is possible… but it MUST either take existing general-purpose traffic lanes or build new ROW to be as effective as rail. Sadly, there has been no political will to make Ballard RapidRide an ideal BRT system via taking over 15th Ave NW. If you get an initiative together, I will sign it.

      4. Those buildings in Ballard were not built in expectation of the monorail. Many were built after the monorail was canceled. I hope that was just a joke.

        However, if it were true that some TOD was built in Ballard in “expectation” of the monorail, why was virtually NOTHING built along MLK JR Way in “expectation” of Link? Developlers have known for years that Link was going to be built. Actually construction along MLK started years ago. So why has no TOD been built along the Link route in Rainier Valley, in anticipation of Link opening in 2009?

      5. No TOD? You aren’t even reading OP’s any more are you Norman, just jumping straight to your tired arguments, eh?

        Go back and reread the OP to see that your statement that ‘no TOD [has] been build along the Link route in Rainer Valley’ is a flat out lie.

      6. Norman,

        And what is to be extrapolated from RapidRide’s failure to offer any significant improvements in travel speed, dwell times, and headways (which will surely lead to much lower elective usage than a rail line would)?

        Despite the overwhelming passage of the RapidRide measure, there exists no political will to do it correctly, so it is being done poorly. Would such a complete failure ever be allowed with rail?

    3. If a bus route were to run frequently enough to make it convenient, you’d probably be complaining about how the buses are causing traffic jams.

    4. “But, the monorail was not built, and the TOD was built, anyway, at a bus stop!”

      It wasn’t built. It’s still sitting there as an empty fenced lot.

      1. There are blocks and blocks of TOD along bus routes in BAllard that HAS been built in the past decade. Have you never been to Ballard lately?

        Are you saying that you believe that the Market Street Landing will not be built?

      2. People just don’t flock to transit-oriented development when the transit is s%#t. The supposed benefit doesn’t exist to overcome drawbacks (busy street noise, diesel fumes, bums outside your window, gas station views).

    5. Norman,

      I don’t know why you enjoy having the exact same argument over and over again, but to directly answer your question:

      So, Martin, you seem to be saying that the most important reason for building Central Link was to spur development along the line?

      No, I think the purpose of building down MLK was to spur development.

      If that density doesn’t happen they might as well have still built the rail-line –but directly to Seatac via Sodo to provide faster connections to South King County, or figured out a way to put it down Rainier.

      I want to make it clear that I think the development is going to happen, but if I’m proven wrong I’d regret the choice of corridor.

      1. You can thank norm rice (was it that long ago?) for that decision. Of course, it takes ten plus years for something like link to have a meaningful impact on a neighborhood like that. It’s great from a urban renewal aspect, but often those who were there before link – and in some cases for many years get the shot end of the stick.

        Thats why i’m actually kinda saddened to see link and the streetcar come to first hill/capitol hill. Rents in the area are already rising in anticipation of new transit choices (See what happend to the old Vouge and the MusicWerks store, plus the old Bus Stop bar – Although they’ve since reopened)

        Granted its brining in new devlopements that are more dense and transit friendly as a result, however in the process destroying the charm and draws of the neighborhood

      2. As annoying as gentrification can be it is far preferable to the alternative of a declining and decaying neighborhood or even city.

      3. The Vogue closed because its rent was going to double or triple. MusicWerks closed because people aren’t buying CDs like they used to. The Bus Stop moved because the owner razed the block for condos (which were then halted by the real estate crash). The “gentrification” of Pike/Pine since the 90s has a wee bit to do with Link but not much.

      4. Building light-rail through the industrial area never really made sense. There simply isn’t either the employment or the residential density there for high-capacity transit to make sense. Sure you would have had the money to get further South, but the potential ridership isn’t spectacular due to auto-oriented suburban development patterns.

        Rainier would have been better from a ridership standpoint but there wasn’t a way to do so with the funds available.

        I do think the areas around Mt. Baker Station, Columbia City Station, and Othello Station will see lots of TOD (and already are) in the coming years particularly if the station areas are upzoned. Rainier Beach Station is more of a problem in that there is no “there” there and much of the potential TOD area is taken up by the hills and the powerline ROW.

    6. “And this sort of TOD is all over Ballard, W. Seattle, Bell Town, Queen Anne, etc. On bus routes!”

      All these locations have much higher demand than Rainier Valley due to decades of redlining and racial stereotypes. Ballard is a self-contained town with a lot of attractions within walking distance, and that in itself encourages dense developments. The demand was partly created by the promise of the monorail, and after its failure by the hope that the city will eventually extend rail south and east. Until then, people are suffering on the bus, and glad that at least they can enjoy 15-minute headways.

      The reason for rail in Ballard is the same as the reason for Capitol Hill: not to create density, but because the density is there. Rainier Valley is different because the “creating density” argument applies more there. Obviously, from a standpoint of existing density, the line should have been on Rainier Avenue, but that was judged unfeasable due to the narrow street and high congestion. With Link, MLK is more likely to build TOD. Without Link (i.e., with 30-minute headways on the 42), you may get density but would just as likely get more one-story strip malls.

      (And yes, it would have been possible to put BRT and density on MLK. But that ignores Link’s increasing advantage over buses as the line is extended to Northgate, Lynnwood, and Bellevue.)

      1. Total aside, but…

        Mike, we don’t have 15-minute headways.

        Headways are 20 minutes on 2 separate routes that don’t have enough coordinated reliability to be considered together — even if you live with walking distance of both corridors or are willing to jog to their meeting point at Leary.

        Southbound headways drop to 30 minutes each right in the middle of rush hour, which creates something of a nightmare after 5:30.

        The most infuriating thing about Metro’s rush-hour emphasis is its reliance on unidirectional rush hour expresses. If you routinely head south from Ballard in the afternoon rush, the ratio of “dead-heads” to in-service buses is about 6:1.

      2. True, it’s not quite “true” 15 minutes. I spent five minutes trying to word that concisely. But still, it’s more frequent there than in most of the city.

        The problem with no reverse-rush expresses is that 15th fills up at rush hour and you lose ten minutes going through Queen Anne, so if you work in Ballard it takes significantly longer to get there and back than if you work downtown.

      3. Actually the problems compound far more than you say…

        On top of the service frequencies dropping at 5:30 (as I mentioned before), leading to the packed inbound 15s/18s (as you mentioned), there is the light at Elliott and Mercer, which at rush hour is timed to give a consistent green to outbound rush-hour traffic.

        Buses detouring to Lower Queen Anne wait as much as 4.5 minutes for their left-turn light. Then they get funneled up the hill with dozens of cars; if they have to stop at either 5th Ave W or 3rd Ave W, they wind up in the back of the pack.

        The “ten-minute” detour through Queen Anne can be as much as 15.

        Of course, riders waiting downtown for their outbound through-routed buses to Alki and Delridge get doubly screwed by this.

  4. The election was before anyone could see what a failure Central Link was. No wonder light rail proponents were so anxious to have the vote before Central Link was actually operating. They sold voters on a light rail fantasy, before voters could see the dismal reality of light rail for themselves.

    I don’t have to live outside the ST boundaries to avoid the sales tax. But, it’s not a matter of my personal tax burden — it’s a matter of what those billions of dollars of tax revenues could have been used for, were they not squandered on little trains.

    1. Also, you’re construing the poor design/routing decisions of Central Link as weaknesses inherent in rail mass-transit itself. A whole bundle of fallaciousness!

    2. Central Link is only slightly shy of ridership projections that voters were expecting when they voted for it. And that is with the economic recession – which was not a factor in ridership projections. In what ways, exactly, has Central Link been a disappointment to the voters that wanted it?

      1. Voters have been told repeatedly that ST light rail could carry as many people as a “12-lane freeway.” You think 20,000 boardings per day is as many people as a 12-lane freeway carries? Hint: I-5, which is 10 lanes between Spokane St. and the SeaTac exit, carries about 400,000 people per day past any given point.

        If you tell voters that light rail can carry as many people as a 12-lane freeway, and it actually does carry about 1/20 as many people as a 10-lane freeway, I think it is fair to say that voters were misled.

      2. Norman, this is getting tired. First you mention estimates of what Central Link CAN carry, and then you jump to what it actually carries at this time.

    3. The tax revenue couldn’t have been used for anything else, because it wouldn’t have existed to begin with. The taxes were approved by the public for a specific set of transit projects. Twice.

    4. Once again, the silly argument about money that could have been spent elsewhere. Who’s to say that if the money wasn’t being spent on Sound Transit that it would have been spent on something else? If there was something else on the ballot, say, Free Beer for Prostitutes, do you think we would have voted for it?

      1. No, but Free Beer AND Prostitutes, would have gotten my vote! ;)

        As others have pointed out Norman keeps harping about what ‘could have’ been done with ST2 money instead of Link without realizing that the reason people voted for ST2 was b/c of Link. It is pointed out to him at least once a thread, but he always ignores it.

        Norman, once again, why don’t you actually try to push FOR something instead of just against things (rail)? If you spent half the time and energy you do riding and complaining about Link on putting BRT on the ballot, we could be voting for it next Nov. I know I for one would love to see Rapid Ride upgraded to true BRT, faster construction, and a general expansion of the network and would vote for it.

    5. This anti rail argument is getting really really old. Why is the entire world investing in urban rail if it is a boondoggle?

      The answer is quite simple, those who tout the advantages of buses simply do it to kill viable transit plans. A good system has everything; bikes, rail, buses, cabs, ferries, and yes, cars.

      1. Yep. A well rounded system is whats needed here too. Not just Local and Express buses, but better long haul bus services, More trips on Sounder and Amtrak Cascades, more Streetcar and regional light rail, More HOV lanes, with dedicated access ramps and freeway stations attached to structured P&R lots (even if they are for a modest per day fee), Smart freeways like what is being installed in seattle region wide, and even taxi stands at transit centers, and mabye even someday accepting ORCA cards on cabs.. Big dreams. mabye someday.

    6. Why have i gotten the feeling that some of my posts have been sensored (have they?) but not this guys?

      Besides if you are talking about failures, i’d read the history lesson on the SPMA. I still have my free ride magnets good on December 15, 2007… I’m sure it will open up any day now!

      1. I think if you include too many links in your post it goes into the moderation queue which can take a while to clear if the people with access to it (just Ben, John, and Martin if I recall correctly) are busy with real life.

        Also you have to be careful not to violate the comment guidelines. Name-calling, attacking other posters, wildly off-topic posting, or trolling will get you moderated.

        In spite of a very different point of view than most people here, Norman does follow the comment guidelines.

  5. What I would like to know is whether the price of homes have gone down more along the light rail or further away? That would be a good indication of whether people want to live near light rail or not.

    1. That’s easy to find out if you want to spend a little time with the King County Parcel Viewer. It will list the appraised value for all the homes over the last 20 years. You’ll likely see a big drop in the assessed value everywhere from 2008 to 2009 but you could compare the size of the drop vs comparable property as you get farther from the stations.

  6. House prices in my area ( around Brighton Playfield over at Graham & MLK, have gone down over the past year or so ( not suprising they where too high anyways ), but not as much as other areas in Seattle. I think it has helped areas like Columbia City, and the very fact that Othelo has deveopment and existing business are improving ( Safeways pending remodle comes to mind). MLK really needs a stop at ethier Graham or Orcas. As for the walkability of MLK, its NEVER been all that walkable.

  7. MLK Way is light years safer and more walkable than it was before. There is also more development and more possibilites along this street than I have seen on this street for the 14 years I’ve lived here.

    1. There is an article by Neal Pearce on Rainier Valley in todays Times confirming this.

  8. As a recent transplant to Seattle, I have to say Im shocked about how poor the public transit is here. In just 6 months, Ive already learned to love Seattle. I like how there are quaint, walkable neighborhoods scattered across the city. There are some urban sections near downtown, but much of the city revolves around “small townish” walkable neighborhood commercial strips with big city amenities and strong community involvement.

    But it’s a city that desparately lacks in good public transit. Sure, theres a decent bus system, but rail is the backbone of any good transit system. The neighborhoods in this city are quite spread out and the inability to easily get from one neighborhood to another really causes Seattle to lack that true city feel of connectivity. Ive recently moved from San Francisco, and before that lived in Chicago and DC. Those places all felt like cohesive, connected cities largely because of their transit. Seattle is starkly different, and the lack of good rail seems to be the main culprit.

    I don’t understand why most Seattleites arent fighting for light rail ALL OVER this city. Even the current long-term plans leave out Belltown, Queen Anne, Fremont, Ballard, Wallingford, Phinney/Greenwood, Madison Park, etc. These neighborhoods will remain like islands, feeling like separate towns. People should be out there insisting that more light rail measures get on the ballot ASAP. From talking to people, I have no doubt people would support a significant increase in Sales Tax to get more light rail out there. This shouldnt be a compromise, we need to get out there and insist light rail go everywhere. Look at what LA is doing with its 30/10 plan. Seattle needs that type of vision, and needs the guts to demand transit EVERYWHERE, not just in select corridors.

    1. “Ive recently moved from San Francisco, and before that lived in Chicago and DC”

      You’re citing the three cities (besides NYC, Boston, and Philly) that have a quantum leap better transit than 90% of the US. Seattle unfortunately abandoned its rail system for two urban freeways (I-5 and 99), and extensions to the suburbs (I-90 and 520). This had the usual effect on the city: splitting neighborhoods, noise, and de-emphasis of transit. The metro-area population was half what it is now, and the largest employer Boeing built huge free parking lots for its employees, and regularly transfers people from one office to another 30 miles away. This all gave it more of an auto orientation than the other cities cited, and thus a larger constituency demanding “No rail!” And now there are the tax-haters who don’t like capital investment unless it’s highways.

      It’s widely expected that Ballard, Queen Anne, and West Seattle will get some sort of rail to replace the promised monorail. The Sound Transit 3 ballot measure after 2015 will probably have some rail there, and the city is also exploring its own options. ST3 is also likely to have a Burien-Renton line and perhaps something Issaquah-ish or north-south on the Eastside.

  9. Also, I forgot to mention, it seems inexplicable to me that–at the very least–there aren’t even preliminary plans to connect Belltown and Lower Queen Anne to the light rail system.

    The first priority of any rail transit system should be to connect core inner neighborhoods! It makes the most logical sense. You can dramatically increase ridership by covering relatively short distances. I have no doubt adding these two neighborhoods would cause a huge increase in ridership across the entire system. Plus it could serve as a jumpoff point for a future extension to outer neighborhoods like Ballard.

    I don’t understand why the mentality seems to be Ballard or nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should keep fighting for light rail to Ballard, but if thats deemed too expensive or out of reach for right now, at the very least get an extension approved to Belltown and LQA! Maybe I have yet to figure out how politics and government work in this city, but it seems absurd to me that extending light rail to these core neighborhoods isn’t currently in the works.

    1. @Aaron
      Welcome to our small minded burg where most politicians and most voters are single family residence-single occupancy auto-non transport oriented and have been for half a century. Rail to Belltown and LQA?? It’d be far too succesful for most politicians and voters in THIS city.

    2. I believe the goal of Link is precisely not to offer service in the dense urban core. At least not to start with. Its funding structure and mode of operation are geared towards serving outlying communities.

      I don’t think of Link as light rail so much as pre-metro; as long as we avoid bad decisions like surface running north of the ship canal, we’ll reap the benefits in dense areas eventually while satisfying the political desire to build out to the single family homes.

      1. But connecting LQA and Belltown will eventually serve outlying areas as well. Someone from Lynnwood will be much more likely to ride the light rail directly to the Northern Part of Belltown or LQA, than to ride to Westlake, get off and transfer to a bus or monorail or walk.

      2. It’s about project scope. We can’t plan and vote for all the interior stops as individual projects; the overheads and potential for scope creep would be lethal. “Extend Link to Ballard” is a feasible project scope.

      3. Lynnwood is going to be served by extending U-Link and North Link not by an extension of a future Ballard to Downtown Line.

        If a Ballard to Downtown line was eventually extended further North it most likely would go to Northgate via Crown Hill and Greenwood, then Lake City, and possibly Bothell. (See the City of Seattle intermediate capacity transit study)

        On the other hand this isn’t to say the big prize ridership wise for any Ballard to Downtown line will likely be Belltown, Lower Queen Anne, and the Seattle Center. One huge problem is with North Link the existing transit tunnel will be at capacity so a line to Lower Queen Anne would require its own route through downtown. A tunnel will be expensive, elevated will have a lot of opposition, and surface will be slow.

      4. Chris… Aaron wasn’t suggesting that a Lynnwood line would be likely to go through LQA.

        He was saying — from an experienced citizen of transit cities — something that I’ve said frequently: A rider is more likely to make the trip from Lynnwood to LQA via transit (as opposed to driving) if the whole thing can be done via good transit (with a convenient and painless tranfer), rather than good transit followed by an infuriating stint on bad transit.

        This is why transit and route design needs to focus not just on whether residents can be “sourced” from a give

        And this is why I find it so infuriating when Seattle Transit Bloggers defend massive stop spacing with the notion that 15th Ave and Maple Leaf should be bypassed and backtracked on “local transit modes.” Non-transit geeks just don’t want to do that. It’s a recipe for people continuing to drive!

      5. Forgot to finish my middle paragraph:

        This is why transit and route design needs to focus not just on whether residents can be “sourced” from a given location, but on comprehensively covering as much ground as possible within the system’s walkshed to provide as many trips from and to as many places as possible.

        There has been altogether too much focus on the number of housing units near potential stations. In a sprawling city such as ours, people travel to and from disparate points (friends’ houses, out-of-the-way appointments) all the time. Why wouldn’t you want to put as much built-up (even medium built-up) area in your line’s walkshed as you can, when you’re already building the thing?

      6. Exactly. I was never suggesting the line would go from Ballard to Lynnwood. I was saying that, once the line extends to Lynnwood, people from there will be a lot more likely to take transit if they can easily get to their destination. Since Belltown and LQA are prime destinations, it makes sense to connect them to the system, even if it means transfering to a different line at Westlake. Thats very different than walking to an overpriced monorail (which doesnt even stop in Belltown or LQA proper, technically) or taking an excruciatingly slow bus or streetcar.

        I think a streetcar could work to connect an area like Phinney/Greenwood to Fremont (if Fremont ever gets a light rail stop), or Lake City to Northgate, etc. In other words, it could work to connect nearby ‘non-destination’ areas relatively close to light rail stations that will likely not have a station in the forseeable future. But a streetcar can’t be a substitute for real transit to neighborhoods that truly need it. A streetcar to LQA, Belltown, Fremont, Ballard, etc. will not suffice.

        San Francisco, the city I just moved from, had two systems, but they were both speedy and grade separated: heavy rail (BART) and light rail (MUNI)–and they easily connected within various transfer stations. And together they worked for both inner city and regional.

        DC, where I grew up, is even better. The METRO there covers both inner-city transit and regional destinations all within the same system. To be honest, I think DCs system is signficantly better than both SF and Chicago.

        The point is a streetcar or bus cant be seen as a substitute for rail transit. They’re not in the same category. They’re crucial and supplemantary (I definitely prefer streetcar to bus, by the way), but they dont work as substitutes. Rail has been proven to be the crucial backbone of a good transit system. All major areas need to be connected by rail in order for a system to work.

        The line D.P. suggests from Belltown to LQA to UQA to Fremont to Frelard(? Im assuming the area between Ballard and Fremont) to Ballard sounds optimal to me. That makes sense. Those major destination areas need to be connected by rail!

      7. d.p.:
        I’ll agree with you that a second Capitol Hill station would have been nice, but I suspect adding such a thing to the U-Link project might have lowered the FTA rating. Much for the same reason the First Hill station had to be dropped.

        As someone who lives in Maple Leaf I can tell you that this is almost entirely a single-family neighborhood with little to no support for increased density. I don’t really see a good location for a station in Maple Leaf. While perhaps the line could be re-routed to serve the apartments and business districts on either 5th Ave or Roosevelt that would mean an expensive underground station and additional tunneling. There is also the question of an appropriate staging area for the tunnel portal before Northgate.

        I suppose 92nd could be a station but that is rather close to Northgate TC, is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and has the walkshed cut down by I-5.

      8. Aaron:
        I’m sorry I misunderstood you. Perhaps I’m too used to thinking of single-seat rides. ;-)

        I agree that with frequent reliable transit the willingness to transfer goes way up.

        As for streetcars, it isn’t that I support streetcars running in mixed traffic over various forms of light rail with exclusive ROW. I support streetcars to serve Belltown, LQA, Fremont, Ballard, etc. because they actually have a chance of getting built in the relative short-term. Ultimately I’d like to see these neighborhoods served with Link, but the money isn’t currently there and the lines will take a while to build even if it was.

        I doubt a line serving Belltown, LQA, and Ballard would serve Upper Queen Anne or Fremont because of the extreme expense of tunneling and the deep mined station Upper Queen Anne would require. More likely such a line would follow more or less the Monorail Green Line corridor up 15th Ave W via Interbay.

        There are other ways to serve Fremont such as a future E/W line, but there is little planning for that as yet.

      9. Chris, I do get your logic. Unfortunately, the same “expectation of permanence” that people use to argue for streetcars over buses can come back to haunt you. Once you’ve installed a streetcar to LQA, you’ve created yet another political obstacle to building real transit. Build transit that’s sub-par AND has an “expectation of permanence,” and you’ve doomed whole areas to permanent sub-par transit!!

        (Heaven forbid they try a streetcar to Ballard — I can’t think of a post-1940s city in the world where people use local streetcars for 6-mile journeys. In a streetcar-filled city like Prague, 6 miles puts you end-to-end across the urban area, and chances are you used the subway for some part of your trip.)

        Chris, please search for my other reply to you for more… (CTRL-F for “practical worries” and it should appear).

        Meanwhile, Aaron wrote:
        “I think a streetcar could work to connect an area like Phinney/Greenwood to Fremont (if Fremont ever gets a light rail stop), or Lake City to Northgate, etc. In other words, it could work to connect nearby ‘non-destination’ areas relatively close to light rail stations that will likely not have a station in the forseeable future. But a streetcar can’t be a substitute for real transit to neighborhoods that truly need it. A streetcar to LQA, Belltown, Fremont, Ballard, etc. will not suffice.”

        …and it’s one of the most important things written here in a while. Completely sidesteps the entrenched debates over the litany of sub-par options that clueless Seattle transit planners have put on the table, and describes in plain language a system small enough to be politically comprehensible yet smart enough to work!

        It’s nice a find a like mind and an ally — Aaron, I’m glad that you’re here. Sorry you have to put up with the lousy transit!!

      10. Likewise! I know there are plenty of others out there who feel the same way. Now, the question is, what can we do about it?

      11. Kyle S’s statement about Link being politically intentioned not to offer urban transit such as you were accustomed to in SF, Chicago, and DC is precisely correct. Unfortunately and depressingly.

        His second statement, calling Link a “pre-metro,” reveals the perpetual misunderstanding in Seattle that “metros” are for regional travel first and urban travel second (ignoring that in most successful transit cities the urban metro is the backbone and the regional usage is the adjunct).

        Imagine the DC Metro, but with all of the stops in the district itself 3 times further apart.

        Imagine the El, but with the spacing of the Evanston Express on every line.

        Imagine BART, but without MUNI.

        That’s what we’re getting with LINK’s North and East phases. Enjoy!

      12. Ok, I have a better understanding now of what you guys are saying regarding Link’s intended structure. It is definitely unfortunate that “political intentions” seem to be getting in the way of common sense, but that’s nothing new I guess.

        Still, with Belltown and LQA being such popular destinations for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd (from what I can tell at least), expanding to these areas seems to make so much sense from a regional standpoint as well.

      13. I meant “pre-metro” in the sense that I really hope we build rapid transit infill stations in the urban core. I’m from New York originally, and while I understand that Seattle doesn’t have nearly the density that allows the MTA to put all their stations 9 blocks from each other, and that the only way to get this system built in the first place was to point it at the regional crowd, at some point we need to stop ignoring the large market of condo-dwellers in Belltown and Lower Queen Anne.

        As for your comments about the B&T crowd, they’re precisely why I moved out of Belltown. But if there’s no stopping them from crowding 1st Ave on the weekends, better for them to take Link than drive.

      14. I understand what you’re saying, but even as a regional system, it should be top priority to provide access to all the major downtown destinations. These are regional destinations. Stadium, Pioneer Square, Financial District, and Westlake are already covered, Capitol Hill is on the way. All that’s left is Belltown and LQA. Why not finish connecting the core area–where people from Bellevue and Lynnwood are trying to get to–ASAP?

      15. Well I think Link hit most of the high points between Downtown and Northgate. There really aren’t any good locations for an infill station in that section. Sure it would have been nice if there was service to First Hill and the 15th Ave business district, but the ridership wasn’t worth the added cost. If the FTA criteria had been saner the First Hill station probably would have happened, but that is water under the bridge.

        Past that I really can’t argue with the station spacing North of the Ship Canal. The UW campus could possibly be better served (say with a Rainier Vista station) but the UW forced the stadium location. Good, frequent transit connections with buses, ETBs, or streetcars to the Link stations that are being built will give more people better mobility at far less cost than adding extra stations or snaking Link all over the place to pick up every possible pocket of density would have.

        For example I’d love to see a streetcar down Ravenna, 65th, 15th, University Way, and Pacific serving East Green Lake, Roosevelt Station, Brooklyn Station, Campus Parkway, Health Sciences, and UW Station.

      16. As I’ve said before (and say elsewhere in this thread), it’s not just about hitting the “high points.”

        To phrase it in a way I haven’t done before: You will NEVER have enough people living immediately on top of any given rail station to support high-capacity transit all by themselves, unless your stop is directly below Chicago’s Hancock tower.

        Your core/trunk line(s) MUST have the ability to be useful to as many as possible — via really good connections to areas further from the trunk line(s), of course, but also by maximizing your walkshed both for those beginning and those ending their trips at any given point along the line(s).

        This I have written before: If you need “local transit” to directly shadow the trunk line(s), then you’re doing it wrong!

      17. The number and location of stations along U-Link and North Link is pretty much set in stone at this point.

        However assuming we were able to re-design the entire Downtown to Northgate alignment, adding stations would add cost, especially where those stations would need to be mined due to depth. I’m guessing such a line would also have a much harder time qualifying for FTA grants as well. Then there is the increased travel time by all of the added station stops. Right now North Link will provide a 13 minute trip between Northgate and Westlake. Each additional station will add additional travel time as would any additional line length needed to put the station in a good spot. Pretty soon you’d be looking at a 20 or 25 minute trip between Northgate and Westlake. While that is still pretty good during peak hour compared to a SOV it isn’t the game changer a 13 minute trip will be.

      18. Oh and due to existing transit demand in the U District and Roosevelt you’d need some sort of local service unless the station spacing was very close.

        University Way and 15th NE between Pacific and NE 65th has the highest per-mile transit boardings in the region outside of downtown. The Ave could use the economic shot in the arm a streetcar would provide and even with link the transit use is likely high enough to justify streetcars over buses.

      19. Chris, your practical worries about the cost of additional tunneling and of FTA funding are valid. But the implications are hugely problematic — you are essentially arguing that in 2010, true and optimally functional urban transit cannot be built! I refuse to believe that!

        I disagree that adding more stations themselves (as opposed to more tunneling) necessarily breaks the bank. Where cut-and-cover is feasible — and where designers are willing to choose basic over elaborate — you’re looking at the equivalent of digging a simple building foundation. Hardly an exorbitant extra cost considering that a marginal increase in the number of stops yields an exponential increase in the permutations of potential trips on the line. (I do, of course, understand that 15th Ave on Cap Hill or an Upper Queen Anne station would cost far more.)

        And I most strongly disagree with your assessment of the effect of additional stations on travel time. On a well-designed and fully grade-separated portion of the system, additional stops shouldn’t add more than 1 minute each — in many cities it’s more like 30 seconds. So you’re looking at an additional 2-3 minutes (not 7-12) in exchange for vastly improved usability. A worthwhile trade!

        If the U-District has such a high density of boardings — and I agree that it does — wouldn’t that be a pretty great argument for true urban stop spacing through it. You just inadvertently made a winning argument for stops at 45th, 55th, ANd 65th Streets!

        (Also, your 92nd Street suggestion is actually a good one, as it would serve NSCC, which Northgate won’t, eliminating the need for the 75 and 16 to take their ridiculous NSCC detours.)

      20. All things considered I don’t think U-Link/North Link did all that bad, especially considering some of the alignments proposed early on that would have stayed on or near the I-5 ROW all the way from downtown.

        Politics being the art of the possible, the available funding including FTA grants needs to be kept in mind. Sure it would be great to be able to build an ideal system as quickly as possible, but nobody has really been able to do that in a long time in the US.

        Still Seattle has done pretty well, Link is largely grade-separated and MLK is better done than many cities surface light rail lines. We’ve got a system that will support 4 car trains and short headways on the busiest section which is more than many systems can boast. Compare Link to any other modern US light-rail system.

        A stop at 55th might make sense if it was either under University Way or Roosevelt, but I doubt we’ll see an infill station here any time soon.

        Given the pedestrian density in the core of the U-district you really need stops at least every 5 blocks if not every 3 (roughly the current bus stop spacing). This is why I think a streetcar would be a perfect complement to Link service between UW Station and Roosevelt Station (though I would extend the line all the way to East Green Lake at the least).

        Serving NSCC was my main thought with a station at 92nd, there is a big cluster of apartment buildings nearby as well. There might be a chance of an infill station at some point in the future if NSCC makes enough of a stink, though a shuttle bus to Northgate TC would make almost as much sense (or a decent pedestrian connection between the TC and NSCC campus).

      21. We need two distinct systems. A narrow-spaced, high-frequency system for local travel (up to three miles), and a wide-spaced, high-frequency system for longer trips. City residents make both kinds of trips. You shop and go to the library in your neighborhood. You job may be near or far. And you may go a long distance for events like a ballgame, to visit somebody, to go to a mall, or go to a park. Link is a compromise between citywide and regional, but not local.

        Adding a few infill stations to Link is OK. (Most notably, Graham and 133rd.) But adding a lot of stations will destroy its long-distance ability. You need circulator buses and streetcars and east-west routes for the neighborhood stuff, not a Link station every ten blocks.

      22. Seattle can’t support stations every 10 blocks the way Manhattan can.

        But every 20 blocks? If funds were unlimited, ABSOLUTELY! I think it’s hilarious when people here (including people whom I like, such as Alexjonlin, Chris Stefan, and yourself) say that it would be too expensive to infill Link anywhere but the “major” points yet advocate for sorts manner of local streetcar construction for the infrequent, inconvenient transfers that most people would prefer to avoid (if they could just walk to the darn subway itself).

        (Your example of good & frequent east-west connections exempted: that just makes sense, the way Chicago covers its far-from-the-El connecting trips.)

      23. “…yet advocate for manner of cumulatively expensive local streetcar construction…”

        Lots of typos today. Ah, well.

      24. “…yet advocate for all manner of cumulatively expensive local streetcar construction…”

      25. If Link had stations every ten blocks, how long would it take to get to Tacoma, or even Federal Way?

      26. UW station to Northgate already has nearly 20 block stop spacing. UW to Brooklyn is about 20 blocks, Brooklyn to Roosevelt is 20 blocks, there is a gap at Maple Leaf but as I point out elsewhere this is a low-density neighborhood with no support for increased density. Furthermore with the current alignment a station at 85th would have single family housing on one side with I-5 on the other.

        Both Northgate and Roosevelt Stations are a short bus trip, bike ride, or drive away. Anyone who would be willing to go to an inconveniently located station at 85th would just as likely make the trip to Roosevelt or Northgate.

      27. Chris:

        UW to Roosevelt does have 20-block spacing. But as we discussed elsewhere, that stretch is a great example of a stretch that really deserves 10-block spacing.

        It’s the areas currently expecting 40-block or 60-block spacing (useful to few) that would experience vastly improved connectivity with 20-block spacing), regardless of pin-pointable development opportunities.

        Even the lowest-density part of Maple Leaf is still “built up” enough to have thousands within its walkshed. Cement east-west connections and you add thousands upon thousands more. These people won’t suddenly switch to transit that only goes a few places with ease and frequency. Give them transit that goes everywhere with ease and frequence — even supposed “non-destination” — and they will use it.

        I am indeed arguing that the entire model for West-Coast United States light rail building (“high points” only) is flawed… but I firmly believe it that’s the case. I was just reminded of more proof in the form of Sound Transit’s surprisingly low expectations for ridership even when all of ST2 is built.

        (P.S. Think of all of the tiny (pop. <1000) towns throughout England with frequent rail service. The reason that these places can continue to support frequent rail service is that it goes to all the other tiny towns in addition to the big cities, so everyone can use it no matter the starting or destination points.)

        And Mike:

        Federal Way is roughly 300 blocks south. So you're only talking about 15 stops (maybe more like 18 when accounting for zigs and zags). That's just a few extra stops — and a few extra minutes — in exchange for vastly greater trip flexibility. Who cares about planning the fastest possible ride to Federal Way if your route is only useful enough to attract a few hundred people once you get there?

      28. d.p., station spacing is a small part of successfully densifying a city. Take a look at the Seattle urban centers and villages (map available at ) Then look at where the Seattle Public Library branches are, where the community centers and parks are, where the public and private schools are, etc. Wherever you can draw a .5mi circle and get most of these are the best places to build density, and therefore also the best places for stations. UW Brooklyn is a good location close to library, neighborhood service center, etc.

      29. Joshua,

        I do fear that I keep repeating myself, but you do seem to have missed my central point.

        Of course the “urban villages” are of paramount importance!! But within the urban continuum, people wish to come and go from all sorts of places around and between those places. Connecting only “major points” and nothing else — suggesting that the vast majority of trips should involve last-mile transfers to buses and streetcars and other inefficient modes on both ends — is a recipe for people keeping cars as “default” and transit as “limited purpose” (i.e. commuting and not much else).

        No successful transit system, anywhere, is so self-limiting. If you want transit to become the default option, you had better be able to get throughout the city easily and painlessly, at all times, with one non-rapid transit transfer at the most (not both ends). And the transfers you do require had darn better be quick and painless!

        Cast a wide net with your rail system, or set yourself up for disappointment — which is the tale that ridership predictions tell.

      30. I mean, seriously… which is better? To have a line that goes “all the way from Federal Way to the U-District in 40 minutes” but then makes you spend the next 25 minutes finishing your trip on a bus? Or a line that takes 5 minutes longer (more stops) but drops you somewhere you don’t need the connecting bus at all?

        I can’t believe this is even controversial!

    3. I’ve basically come to the realization that Seattle will never have a comprehensive, rapid transit system in my lifetime. There will be a simple line from Northgate to the Airport, and to Bellevue, but that’s about it sadly.

      1. It doesnt have to be that way. If we fight to get measures on the ballot light rail can be expanded to cover a lot of this city within less time than you might imagine

      2. Aaron — If you’re not familiar with the history of the Monorail, it’s worth reading up on it, especially since the Green Line was planned to connect the neighborhoods you’re talking about.

        The Monorail saga was complicated, and there are a lot of opinions about why it failed. But one core lesson from it is this: grass-roots transit planning is not a good idea. Which isn’t to say transit advocacy isn’t a good idea. Just that it’s not as simple as fighting for ballot measures — there has to be leadership from elected officials too.

        BTW: I think the reason there’s no QA line without Ballard as a terminus is that a short Northwest spur actually wouldn’t be all that well balanced with the existing system. Capitol Hill and the U-District already need all the capacity they can get, and it wouldn’t make sense to run a Northgate to QA via downtown line, since it’d have to turn around somewhere. So Belltown/QA have to be paired with another downtown crossing, which pushes the whole project into a higher weight class.

      3. Funny thing — Aaron’s actually 100% right. Being so new here, he hasn’t yet been steeped in Seattle’s utterly warped notion of what constitutes “feasible” options and “reasonable” compromises.

        A sub-par line to Ballard, containing compromises like crossing on an existing drawbridge, having to wait for lights, or (heaven forbid) being built as a streetcar extension, would wind up being Ballard’s permanently sub-par transit link, and is indeed unacceptable.

        And the excruciatingly stupid idea that is the 1st Ave streetcar to LQA — forget mass transit; that should be called “min transit” — is rightly laughable to a recent transplant from a transit city.

        Why shouldn’t there be a vocal constituency for two-station true subway branch that Aaron suggests? Belltown/LQA is the most consistently dense urban continuum in any direction from downtown, and it’s the very definition of multi-use (residential, commercial, tourism, recreation, entertainment, nightlife) with a need for bi-directional mass transit (comings and goings at all hours).

        Cities all over the world extend/branch off their subway lines by one or two stations as needed to serve high-volume destinations. Why should people have to put up with buses that make you wait 15 minutes (despite there being 5 different lines) and then take 12-15 minutes to crawl 1.5 miles) when there exists a rapid transit system just 1.5 miles away?

        And, as Aaron says, each useful extension serves as an advertisement for the next. If a real subway branch existed to LQA, it would be that much easier to argue for a bore under Upper Queen Anne (one deep-level Beacon Hill-like station), followed by a tunnel under the canal and stops at the west end of the Fremont strip, in Frelard, and in Ballard.

        LQA could hopefully be built sooner than East Link, though the most logical (eventual) service plan might presume concurrent openings (reflecting the presumed higher frequencies on both East and North links than on Central Link):
        SeaTac – Northgate
        Overlake – Northgate
        Overlake – LQA

        In the short term: we already have rapid transit to Seattle Center in the form of an aging and copiously cheesy tourist monorail that just happens to do in 60 seconds what the bus takes 12-15 to do. Unfortunately, it’s private and never worth the extra fare. I continue to think that a creative Metro or city government should negotiate a fee to let monthly-pass holders only use the thing, alleviating some of the burden on the parallel bus routes while presumably not eating into the monorail’s tourist revenue in the slightest.

      4. Yeah, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. You’re obviously a lot more well-versed than I am in your understanding of this city’s neighborhoods, so I appreciate your explanations!

        I just rode the monorail for the first time and was shocked at how fast it went. The bus from downtown to LQA took longer than it would to walk! The monorail took about a minute, although it’s definitely a rip-off considering you don’t even get a transfer.

        What would the cost estimates be for a Link line from Westlake to LQA with a stop (or two?) in Belltown in between?

        As for the failed monorail project, I just read the link about it attached to this page. Sounds like fascinating and contentious stuff. I really dont know enough about it to judge, but the route seems spot on!

      5. Geography and local politics play rolls, but so does history. As the City expanded and annexed, it aquired a number of streetcar lines that had been built by developers as a transit base for their housing developments. We had 80 some miles of streecars and trolleys that criss crossed the city, along with cablecar lines to get up the hills.

        Over time, the city ended up owning the streetcars and sadly paid too much, just in time for the depression… The Cablecars were yanked out with the coming of the diesel bus. The city ended up haveing to face bankruptcy in the street car operations, and in short it left a very bad taste for streetcars. Along with the coming of trackless trolleys, the rail run system was deemed obsolite and taken out. If you look at the map of electric trackless trolleys from 1933 you will see an extensive system, larger than the one operated today.

        Light rail has been spoken to since the 1910’s… there are maps showing proposed subways from Seattle to Kirkland under Lake Washinton. In the mid -60s we had the opportunity to get light rail, along with many other advances… we voted for parks, pools, and sewer treatment. Light rail lost. All this history is important to understand how we ended up here… Just a bit of perspective.

      6. However, keep in mind it was a different world in the early 1900s. Streetcar tracks were actually cheaper to build than a paved street, particularly if it could be done on a trestle like along Westlake. Now we have parking lots and even pave alleys which is very expensive and bad for runoff.

        Also, the original ETBs were paid for by a federal grant.

      7. Northward spurs off of the existing transit tunnel aren’t really practical if for no other reason that all of the capacity will be needed for North Link. Any line heading to Belltown and the Seattle center will need separate ROW and stations. At the very least you would have a 3 station line with a stop at or near Westlake (though with separate platforms from the current station), Belltown, and LQA/Seattle Center. A separate 3 station line would either need its own O&M base or a non-revenue connection to the existing Link tracks.

      8. For what it’s worth, I continue to disagree with your reading of line capacity.

        Two lines. Three lines. I’ll eat my hat if this city ever runs any of them with enough frequency to impinge upon minimum headways and overload the tunnel.

      9. Once Link goes all the way from Westlake to Northgate I have no doubt that 4 car trains every 3 minutes or less will be needed to keep up with demand during the peak commute.

        Transit use is already extremely high in this corridor and a lot of additional demand will be created by offering a frequent fast trip. Especially one that competes with SOVs in even free-flow traffic conditions.

        I’m willing to bet North Link will blow right past its initial ridership estimates much like the Phoenix and Houston lines did.

      10. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy.

        Transit in this region is too political. There is a regional body that plans and builds, but all the revenue is local. Meaning, to build the subway sections that are needed through Seattle, you have to raise similar amounts of revenue in other parts of the region and come up with projects for them also. Seattle could go it alone, but this would require legislative action, and an extremely expensive ballot measure that Seattle would entirely pay for. Just about any tax can pass in this town, so that isn’t a huge concern.

        The geography is very challenging. Both West Seattle and Ballard would present expensive challenges. West Seattle for the Bridge crossing and the grade to get up to Admiral Junction. Ballard would create challenges under the ship canal.

        On top of this, no one is seriously planning lines for other neighborhoods in the city. ST will soon begin studying a Ballard to UW extention, which could potentially serve the Downtown-Ballard corridor. But, still no plans for Fremont, North Aurora, Central Area, etc. The “mayor” of Seattle, and I use the term loosely, has thrown out various mentions of another in-city line, but at this time there’s no specifics. Given the overall budget he’s mentioned so far, any such line would likely resemble a streetcar rather than rapid transit.

        It is challenging to build rapid transit just about anywhere. I currently am living in Amsterdam which is having its own challenges with its new Metro line (5 years late and $2B over budget). But, it seems Seattle just does not have the foresight or the political will to get it done. Too many years of provincial thinking, poor elected officials, and a needlessly bureaucratic transit structure are to blame, in my opinion.

      11. Well actually the funding is there to go all the way to Lynnwood, Overlake, and Star Lake which is a bit more useful than just Northgate, Airport, and Bellevue.

        ST will do a study of West Seattle to Ballard and Ballard to the U-District as part of the planning for ST3. Sub-area equity means that expansion outside Seattle will need to be balanced with expansion in Seattle. The current guess is ST3 will likely be on the ballot in 2016.

        Past that there is the possibility the City might find a way to fund some in-city light rail expansion. A West Seattle Junction to SODO line might very well happen. Unless there is some new tax authority granted by the legislature though most of the city-funded rail is likely to be in the form of streetcars.

        Speaking of streetcars I’d say all of the lines in the current streetcar plan have a good chance of happening. First Hill is funded, the Fremont/Ballard extension of SLUT has decent political support, lots of groups want to see the First Avenue line (which will serve LQA and Belltown) happen.

      12. We’re incredibly lucky that ST2 was approved before the crash because it would be impossible now. But Lynnwood to Overlake to 272nd covers a lot of destinations. Many people already have a downtown-Capitol Hill-U district-Northgate axis to their trips because that’s where the best bus service is. Right now I can only use Link occasionally: dinner in Columbia City, SODO to Costco, and the airport. But with ST2 I’ll be able to make 98% of my trips on Link, with Link + bus for work, Link alone to visit relatives on the Eastside, the occasional shopping trip to Northgate, and even to the MMA fights in Mountlake Terrace, Des Moines and Bellevue (and with bus extensions, Kent and Edmonds). There are 30,000 UW students and staff with more or less similar needs. And one can live in Rainier Valley and still get to all these destinations in a reasonable amount of time. Effective travel time to these places will be cut in half due to shorter transfers, more destinations on the line, and lack of traffic/stoplights.

        So even if Link is not extended, it will make it a ton easier to be carfree in Seattle. You’ll still have to live and work in certain places to take advantage of it, but the area will be vastly extended to cover most of the places carless people tend to go.

    4. Hopefully a light rail line to Ballard would include stops in Belltown and Lower Queen Anne. But there’s not point in building a light rail line just to those neighborhoods, I think Belltown/LQA to Downtown is best served by the Central Streetcar down First Ave.

      1. “The point” is that it’s perverse to give people the option of a 25-minute trip into the city from the furthest reaches of the region, and then make them spend an additional 15 minutes going the last 1.5 miles to their extremely dense, extremely high demand, extremely urban destination.

  10. MLK Jr. Way South is much better after Link than before; it was quite auto-oriented with high speeds and dangerous crossings. Link will help spur focused development after the recession. Wonder if MLK Jr. Way South would have been better still without the added width, if Link had taken lanes.

    Three governments could have done better and will have second chances to do so. ST could have added an infill station at South Graham Street; perhaps Seattle will pay for it now. ST and Seattle could provide better wayfinding at Mt. Baker. Seattle could have rezoned earlier and denser around all three stations; that can be adjusted during the recession as well. Metro could have restructured for better east-west service; too many weak routes were retained; there will be another opportunity to restructure service.

    An unanswered question is: what if ST had spent the Sound Move Link funds on an alignment betwee Mt. Baker and NE 45th Street? Now, Link will not reach NE 45th Street until 2020. We will wait 10 years for the best part of the system.

  11. Some observations about riding the 124. On a Sunday afternoon the bus was standing room only from the Museum of Flight into downtown. One might think anybody coming from south of TIB would have transferred to Link and a full bus load boarded between there and Boeing field. I mean, build a $2B railroad that goes to and from the same place one would think the the high capacity system would siphon off all the riders, right? Note, everyone on the bus with the exception of three or four people rode the bus all the way into DT.

    In reality I’m betting that a large number actually rode the bus from south of TIB and declined to transfer. Why? First it costs $.50 more and only one other person besides myself used an Orca card. There were a couple of people with passes but by and large everybody is using cash and paper transfers. Second, travel times from TIB to DT are the same for Link as the 124. Whatever your transfer time wait is is lost time in transit. One of the reasons for using the RV route was the claim that the airport wasn’t going to provide sufficient ridership and RV would. That seems to be flat out wrong. Even with Link there is still demand for the bus along the most direct route from the airport to DT and RV hasn’t brought in the numbers that were expected. Without the expense of the Beacon Hill tunnel Link would have been able to reach Star Lake or Federal Way TC and the ride from the airport to DT would be significantly faster. As far as development I think a shot in the arm for all the businesses in South Seattle would have more economic impact than condos in RV. And access to blue collar jobs would have spurred the as much or more TOD all along 99.

    1. But the 124 originates at TIB. All those riders either transferred to it at TIB from other routes or boarded it north of there. Maybe ORCA-less riders are transferring from the 174 to the 124 at TIB for the trip downtown. If they are they are wasting about 20 minutes, because the transfer time from the 174 plus the trip time to downtown on the 124 is about 55 minutes. It would make sense for people who live north of TIB to take the 124 to downtown, instead of taking it to TIB and then transferring to Link. But from south of TIB or SeaTac it would always be faster to take Link.

      The original Link route was to have gone up International Boulevard from East Marginal Way, which would have made a lot more sense to me, but Tukwila put the kibosh on that plan.

      1. According to the schedule the 124 on Sunday afternoon is 31 minutes to S. Jackson and Link is 30 minutes to Pioneer Square. If all the ridership is from TIB north then the argument that taking the direct route from DT to the airport wouldn’t generate enough riders seems bogus and the north/south Central Link will forever be crippled by this expensive and time consuming detour. I think it’s also a lost opportunity since a deferred RV line could have tied into East Link and then with out the burden of having to go to the airport and Federal Way could have continued south and east to Renton leaving open a smorgasbord of expansion and connection options.

      2. The argument isn’t that “all the ridership is from TIB north”, it’s that airport plus Rainer Valley equals better ridership.

        If no one wants to transfer to Link at TIBS that’s up to them. It would be interesting to watch what happens right after a 124 leaves TIBS… are people more likely to take Link at that point, or wait 30 mins?

      3. I think the comparison isn’t just TIB north (99, East Marginal Way ridership vs RV) but system ridership for what could be built with the same number of dollars. And on that score I think the direct route to the airport would be the clear winner since without the cost of the Beacon Hill tunnel Central Link would already be well South of the Airport, travel times would be reduced so that it was in a position to compete time wise with express buses and it would be serving an area with much higher employment than RV.

        As it sits I’d pay the $.50 to ride the train rather than a standing room only bus if they were leaving at the same time. If there was a wait for the train and the bus might save me a 30 minute wait DT to catch the 255 then I’m take the bus. If there was a layover DT either way I’d wait at TIB and take the train. That’s just me though and there was only one other person on the bus that used an ORCA card. Granted the bus was almost standing room only when I got on but the overwhelming pattern seemed to be cash + transfer. It’s a guess but I’d say a lot of riders waited for the 124 at TIB so they could use their paper transfer. The delta for them is a full $2.50 to ride the train. At that point I’d likely ride the bus too unless it really hosed my transfer DT.

      4. Interesting read. The Boeing tunnel was total crap. There is a rail line along E. Marginal Way already. Boeing moves very few planes across the street and when they do they do it at night to minimize impacts on traffic. A retained cut might have made sense for grade separation and then all you need is an overpass capable of supporting a plane (like at Chicago’s O’hare airport). The real apples to apples comparision would have been at grade with signal prioritization on E. Marginal Way like they ended up doing on MLK. This ship may have sailed but we’re watching the sequel with East Link.

        Others, including the former head of Sound Transit, deny there was any intent to deceive but acknowledge that inaccurate and misleading information was used to describe the choices to policy makers.

        Let me say this about that, it depends on what the meaning of the word is is.

      5. I’d hardly call it crippling and time-consuming. The difference in distance between the MLK route and a route through the Duwamish is negligible, and I’d assume that there would be stops along the way, so how much time would really be saved? And does the observation of one full bus really mean that there’s enough transit demand to justify light rail? I’m sure that Riverton Heights and Boulevard Park would generate some ridership, but that could easily be served now with a station at 133rd and better bus connections.

      6. One full bus certainly isn’t a ridership study but this was on a Sunday afternoon. The M’s game had already let out so it wasn’t just a bunch of special event traffic. 4PM isn’t even what I would expect to be a peak travel time on a Sunday.

      7. The actual distance isn’t that much farther but the RV route is as slow as a local bus taking E. Marginal Way. You replace that with reduced stops (vs. the bus), dedicated ROW and/or signal prioritization and I’d think you be taking 5-10 minutes off the travel time of the bus. Instead people are talking about adding more stops to the Central Link route to try and increase ridership. Pretty soon you’re staring at a 40 minute trip to travel what should take closer to 20.

        One of the stops on E. Marginal Way would be at Boeing Field; a stop dropped from the plan because it’s terrible location (not really at Boeing Field or any of the Boeing plants). I think there would be much better stop spacing than what fell out from the tunnel under Beacon Hill. The number of stops from Pioneer Sq. to Mt. Baker seems excessive. I’d guess that there would have been the need for one or two less stops than we have now and three or four less than what some have proposed as in fill.

    2. TIBS is not Rainer Valley. Once you’re in RV the cost is the same to get downtown ($2.00), and the trains come more often. I do wonder about the ORCA adoption rate… paper seems unenforced at this point. Many times I’ve witnessed Metro drivers telling people to get an ORCA “next time” when using ST transfers. I wonder if there’s a code for “ST transfer”.

      The other issue is that you were already on the bus. If for example you had to transfer at TIBS and saw the 124 pulling away as your bus came in I bet you’d be happy to pay $0.50 to avoid a half-hour wait.

    3. TIB is the most-used station outside downtown (ignoring the ballgame crowd at Stadium). I repeatedly see more people getting on and off at TIB than at other stations. The airport seems to be second, and Beacon Hill third. So the two furthest stations have the most riders even though they have to make the complete Rainier Valley detour.

      The surprising thing about Link is not what people south of Rainier Valley do, but that the Rainier Valley stations themselves are so unpopular. There are a certain percentage of people that are purposely avoiding the train, even when the travel time and walking/wait time is equal or better than their alternative.

      1. I suspect TIB usage is because it’s the only P&R and $2.50 is way cheaper than parking DT. It would be interesting to know though what percentage arrive by car vs bus transfer. Beacon Hill surprises me. ST was going to leave that one unfinished. I’d have expected Mt. Baker to be much busier.

  12. At this point, there is one route group that totally bypasses a Link station without any transferability to a route that does reach the station: the 101/102.

    Given the loss of Sunday morning service on the 101, I think it is time for Metro to consider having at least some runs on the 101 go to Rainier Beach Station, so that service hours can be re-expanded to cover Sunday morning.

    I don’t think it would significantly worsen service on the 101 to take some of those service hours and turn them into a 103 to Rainier Beach Station route running a regular 7-day schedule. Take one of the two half-hourly runs during midday away, and turn it into two 103 routes, giving residents 3 trips instead of 2 every hour to head toward downtown Seattle and back. Since the 101 operates in the tunnel, riders could decide whether to take Link, knowing the connection time, or wait for the 103.

    I bet that, in time, the 103 would become more popular than the 101, as people could do things like shop for groceries or stop for a bite to eat on the way home, or take Link+103 home from ball games once they get tired of the 101 getting stuck in post-game traffic, or take Link+103 to and from events at Rainier Beach and Franklin High Schools.

  13. Consider adding the 106 and 107 to the same route group (they are all out of South Base now). Then make the 103 you propose do a circle route from RBS to Renton using 106 and 101 routing. This would fill a service hole in West Hill early mornings on weekends and late nights everyday. With Creston Point and new apartments next door about to open – the need for more service is growing along MLK south of RBS.

    Ridership is very high 0n the 101 – Unusual to find a seat @ S. 129 ST most mid day trips 7 days a week.

    Skyway is a difficult neighborhood for transit to serve – steep hills and a street network that is difficult to navigate (both driving and walking), But I think what you propose would improve service and perhaps make it more efficient.

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