There are a bunch of inaccuracies in Erica Barnett’s rant on Publicola Monday:

As Seattle Transit Blog has noted, the distance between stations on the south end of the line is much longer than in the central, north, and (planned) east portions of the line: Nearly two-and-a-half miles from station to station, compared to just over 1.5 miles for the north section and just over a mile for the central portion.

Erica is quoting the station spacing on South Link, Seatac to Federal Way, not “Central Link”, which includes long, stationless stretches outside Seattle. The actual station spacing is reproduced below:

Sound Transit


[Sound Transit] eliminated or indefinitely “deferred” two at-grade stations in South Seattle—the Graham Street Station between Columbia City and Othello Station, and the Boeing Access Road Station, between the Rainier Beach Station and Tukwila—in part so it could build the costly underground Beacon Hill station.

This isn’t a fact-check, but I think it’s a bad argument. First of all, BAR would be an elevated station, so it’s far from clear it would be cheap. Second of all, Beacon Hill is the highest ridership station in Southeast Seattle, so it’s reasonable to assume that Graham St. would perform worse than Beacon Hill. BAR, at the base of a runway, has poor ridership potential unless freeway express buses are terminated here to force a transfer.

Moreover, a tunnel station would be very difficult to install after the fact, whereas Graham St. should be relatively inexpensive.


Although Sound Transit initially estimated 3,000 people a day would board at Beacon Hill, currently, only about 1,000 do—about two percent of the total number who board the train over the course of the route on weekdays.

The link provided is broken at the time of this writing, but the 3,000 figure is for 2020, not today. The station data was taken when daily ridership was about 20,000, making it 5%, not 2%.

More on infill station possibilities here. Beacon Hill Blog also made many of the points above.

45 Replies to “Station Spacing and Hindsight”

  1. Without the tunnel, it would have been virtually impossible to serve Beacon Hill. Instead, the line would have had to go around the hill, possibly down dearborn, which would also have made serving SODO difficult.

    1. This is definitely Erica’s worst logical flub in a while.

      Beacon Hill is actually an example of a deep-level station done right: well-sited entrance right next to the road, and a minimalist floor-plan that puts the elevator about 15 steps from the train doors.

      If only the downtown tunnel had been (or Capitol Hill station were being) designed so well.

      1. Graham still needs that station, though.

        And, y’know, sidewalks and streetlights and east-west through streets and stuff.

      2. I was thinking about that as well. If you look at the chart in the post, the only center-platform stations are Rainier Beach, Stadium, Beacon Hill and, even though not marked this way in the chart, Sea-Tac.

        UW and Capitol Hill stations will be center-platform, the 15 steps part will be true, but the entrances probably won’t.

      3. What makes you say that. Given the size of the station footprints, my money’s on stairs as far as possible from where the train stops, at an illogical 180 degrees from the desired direction of travel, then backtracking across a gigantic mezzanine.

        It’s 500 feet from E. John Street to the southern entrance where the gorgeous (and unnecessarily condemned) Espresso Vivace building used to be. You could fit 3 or 4 Beacon Hill stations in this inevitable monstrosity!

      4. First of all, the actual station entrances won’t be taking up very much space at all, the staging area is what takes up a large area. It was very similar for Beacon Hill. However, for Capitol Hill Station they can’t just drop elevators down from the surface straight to the platforms, as Capitol Hill Station will be getting tens of thousands of riders a day, and needs the capacity of stairs and escalators.

      5. Well, we’ve had the “staging area” debate before. Suffice to say that the tunnel bores are only so big, the dumptrucks can only be loaded one at a time, and that I’m sure the gigantic block between Olive and Denny would have been more than enough of a staging area if they weren’t intent on overbuilding the station. (For the record, it seems to be more than twice the size of Beacon Hill station’s staging area.)

        I’m not arguing that the other stations would be better without stairs. My point is that Beacon Hill’s deep-level location forced upon the transit engineers something in which they otherwise have no interest: restraint.

        Modern design is overdesign. I know, Alexjonlin, that you’re a habitual “defender-of-the-way-Seattle-does-transit-stuff”, and that I’m a little prone to “I-know-better-because-I’ve-lived-where-it-works-better”-ing. But you know what? I have indeed experienced older and smaller infrastructure that not only does the job (i.e. handles the traffic) but does it better because all of those people get to the train and to the surface more quickly than an overbuilt station would allow.

        Case in point: , through which passes 4 light rail lines and a wide-bodied 6-car heavy rail, each running at <6-minute headways at rush hour and all packed so tightly that they'd make Houdini claustrophobic.

        More people enter and exit at Park Street than currently use Link in its entirety, and they do it through a pair of simple, 1-story staircases at the north end of each platform. Meanwhile, more people use the station daily to change lines than will probably use Central, North, and East Link combined, which they do via six staircases that modern designers would consider unfathomably skinny and that emerge on the light-rail level mere inches from the stairways to street level.

        Modern designers would take one look at it, label it a “cluster****,” and build it 5 times the size and with the heavy rail a block away from the light. But they’d be wrong. It’s worked for 100 years, and it still works better.

      6. Just what I was about to post Gern. As you can see the escalators lead from the center of the platform (where most people will board/deboard) directly to the small mezzanines on each side. Capitol Hill Station will have 3 entrances, one right on the corner of the busy Olive and Broadway intersection, one by Cal Anderson Park, and one on the other side of Broadway via subway by Seattle Central CC. The Cal Anderson entrance has an elevator direct to the platform.

      7. Park Street Station is right under the street, not 60 feet underground, so it doesn’t require a mezzanine and all that extra area to get out. But anyways, we are building this for the next hundred years, so we want to make it pleasant for all those people who will use it during that time, and that means putting entrances where people want to go and not squeezing people like cattle everywhere they go. Sure, it “works” in Boston, but that was built over a hundred years ago. Since we’re building a new system now, let’s at least make it comfortable. By the way, by a couple decades from now, there will probably be more people boarding at Capitol Hill Station than there currently are on Link in its entirety. I’m not a “defender-of-the-way-Seattle-does-transit-stuff,” I’m a “defender-of-making-our-brand-new-transit-system-nice.”

      8. Well, I clearly hadn’t seen the final interior rendering, and I’m relieved they got the escalator positioning right. Partial mea culpa (though why no stairs between the escalators?).

        That image, however, misleadingly gives the impression that you’re looking at the station in nearly its entirety, and that the distance you travel within the image will get you pretty much out to Broadway.

        For the full picture, you need to decipher this image:

        At the north end, it’s about another 120 feet from the end of Gern’s image to the actual street. And it appears that use of the south entrance will be actively discouraged (like some of the DSTT’s more arcane stairwells, its spiral stairs will be hidden behind closed), and riders visually directed to the west entrance 150 feet away.

        Alex, I’m sorry, but I just don’t get your logic. What’s “comfortable” about having to walk significantly further add in 3 or 4 minutes trip time just for entrance and egress at both ends, which might become 14 minutes extra if it causes you to miss a train? There will still be tight spots — doorways and passageways and escalators are the very definitions of “bottleneck” — but you don’t even get the psychological assurance that only a few seconds separate your alighting and your emergence into the city.

        What has worked for a century — and still works now — works because of the spacial constrictions, not in spite of them. If you build it too expansively, you’ll be wasting minutes of people’s time today, plus minutes of people’s time tomorrow, plus minutes of people’s time “for the next hundred years.”

      9. I mean, seriously… Gern’s image, which looks pretty darn huge, is actually barely half of the station’s lateral footprint. The thing could clearly have been built entirely between John and Denny without even sacrificing platform length. The south entrance could have been moved to the north side of Denny, and the west entrance made moot, with no more than a willingness to scrunch things up a bit.

        (And then there’s the UW station, thousands of feet from anywhere. Mount Baker/Tukwila redux…)

      10. There are no stairs between the escalators because the platform is not wide enough.

        “The thing could clearly have been built entirely between John and Denny without even sacrificing platform length.”

        Just barely fit the platforms and probably requires digging up part of John and Denny to construct the walls. The two tunnel ventilation fans and shafts would have to be shifted to the side. But then where would the emergency stairs go? Maybe the platform widened to fit them in in exchange for a shorter but wider footprint.

        As for Park Street Station, see 1928 Seattle subway station plan.

      11. d.p. has a valid point: in considering station access time, you really need to consider time to the platform, not just time to the station entrance. This is one of the advantages people often forget about street-running trains: it’s typically easy to get to street-level platform (though long light cycles and busy streets can change that, of course).

        Still, it’s not totally clear what ST could have done better for Capitol Hill. If the track is going to avoid underground pilings from nearby buildings, the track needs either to be deep or to be street-aligned. If it’s street-aligned, you can’t build center platforms, because there’s not enough space in the street right-of-way for two tracks and a full-size center platform. So unless you’re going to make the north and south platforms have separate entrances, you’re going to need a mezzanine, either because the station is deep or because you need some way to get from the side of the street to a center platform. And if you need a mezzanine, you’re going to end up with something that’s a lot like what ST designed.

      12. Oran, I know that’s the argument, but I don’t buy it. The platform-to-mezzanine elevators are at the furthest extent of the platforms. The southern end seems to be directly under Denny, while the northern end is well short of John. Using platform siting as your starting point, you could have moved them 50 feet north and saved you the need to build — and future passengers to traverse — those extensive entrance spaces.

        I further hypothesize that the alignment could and should have been slightly angled (southwest to northeast), thus sending the bored holes out from the platforms 60 feet under Broadway rather then 30 feet under building basements that therefore were condemned to avoid boring conflicts.

        Steve, I’ve never understood the objection to separate entrances, particularly on a system with no 2-employee-necessitating fare control. Heck, I.D. station’s got them, and that’s supposedly a transfer point!

        Our other DSTT stations are so fundamentally inconvenient that you’re liable to frequently encounter an expressed preference for MAX. And MAX is molasses-slow: it should never be anyone’s preference, if the underground alternative is done right!

        But I know that at the subterranean level of the Link station, a mezzanine was inevitable; I still think it should have been done on a smaller scale, something modern planners won’t do unless forced. And it should have been able to manage a street-to-platform elevator. Making the disabled rely on 2 separate lifts to be clean and working properly and not make them miss a train is generally ill-advised.

        And Oran, your 1928 link is just fantastic — no wasted time there! Throw in 2 elevators where it says “storage” and you’ve got a fully ADA-compliant shovel-ready project!

      13. The Capitol Hill Station was originally going to be cut-and-cover under Broadway, but the business community objected to having Broadway closed for years, so they moved the station to the east, which necessitated a deeper station. The reason the pit is so big is that they are both launching the TBM for the Capitol Hill to downtown tunnels from there and also retrieving both TBMs for the University to Capitol Hill tunnels from there, while simultaneously building the station. There are also emergency exit stairs and emergency ventilation fans that have to be sited, things that weren’t necessary in an 1898 subsurface railway and are especially important in what amounts to a 3 mile long chimney.

      14. I don’t know if they’re on the right track or not but I can tell you that the Mt. Baker station is ridiculous. If the same people are building the Capital Hill and University Stations that built Mt Baker then why would the results be different? Most of the cities in the world have a staircase (or two on opposite sides of the street) to access the metro. Just a staircase and nothing more. Maybe the staircase is flanked by escalators but that’s it. Having spent many years riding the London Tube and the Paris Metro I about fell over when I saw Mt. Baker station. What were they trying to build, the Empire State Building???

        All we need is a staircase/escalator from the street to the platform and it should be as close to both as possible. It seems that we want people to be impressed by how large our stations are. I’m sure they’ll be about as impressed as they are when they look at our giant supermarkets and the lift kits under our trucks.

  2. One of the reasons why the Boeing Access Road station was deferred because the BNSF railroad wouldn’t agree to placing a Sounder station there.

    1. And I can’t figure out a reason for that anyways… So that people can take Link up from South King County and transfer to Sounder at Boeing Access Rd? The time that it takes to transfer would erode the time savings of skipping the Rainier Valley. The only thing that would make sense for that station would I guess be if one were going from South King County to the Rainier Valley, but how many people are doing that?
      144th or 133rd would be much better infill sites between Tukwila Intl Blvd and Rainier Beach.

      1. Theoretically if Sounder ran more frequently you could take Link from SE Seattle to BAR, then easily transfer to go to Tacoma or some of the other Sounder station sites without backtracking to the International District. It could actually be useful. I have family members who live relatively near the Sounder line Puyallup station, and it would be very, very handy for all of us to be able to take Link to Sounder and vice versa to get to each other’s houses to visit without driving the evil 167.

        But Sounder runs are so limited now that even though we could catch Sounder downtown, it’s not really useful for us. (If they would at least run on the weekend it would help a bit.)

        I think you might be amazed at some of the pent-up demand that is there that would become apparent with more Sounder trains that aren’t just on weekday rush hours.

        But, having said all that, it’s not entirely necessary for the BAR station, but it would save a little time for those of us going to SE Seattle from S King County and Pierce County.

      2. A Boeing Access road Sounder Station would provide Sounder Passengers quicker access to the Airport as well as the MLK stops

  3. Is there even physical room for an aadditional station on MLK? or would they have to stagger the platforms to accommodate it?

      1. I’m sure ST won’t have any trouble buying up and demolishing that gas station, bakery, dental clinic and take away that strip mall’s parking. They already cleared out a few city blocks on Capitol Hill for an underground station.

      2. My point was that, between MLK’s super wide lanes, those massive curb bulbs, and the six feet already between the tracks, one can easily reconfigure to squeeze in anything you want, no condemnations required.

        When I see the vast expanse of pavement that is MLK and then hear someone ask “is there even physical room?” I start to understanding why this city’s been so slow to comprehend density.

      3. The platforms likely need to be staggered. There isn’t enough space for two side platforms on the same side without buying more ROW. And the curb bulbs do not extend far enough for a 4-car train platform+ADA accessible ramps. The lanes could be narrowed but you’ll see pushback from freight and Metro who like wide lanes. You gain at most 4 ft from narrowing lanes and that’s only twice as wide as the yellow textured strip! The tracks are not moving. I don’t think ST is willing to shut down the line and part of MLK to reconfigure the tracks and overhead. Not to mention the underground utilities.

      4. D.P. my question is valid … if you look at the size of the existing stations it is not foolish to ask whether or not the existing ROW can accommodate a new station.

        Currently there is not room for an Othello or Columbia City style station … just look on Google Earth. Sure there are curb bulbs on the opposite sides of Graham St from the Left Turn lanes … but the platforms require space as do the ramps and pedestrian safety zones.

        And there needs to be enough clearance for workers to safely build the station.

        The only solution that I can see would be staggered platforms but I don’t even know if they can fit without major reconstruction of MLK which would be expensive.

      5. The only solution that I can see would be staggered platforms but I don’t even know if they can fit without major reconstruction of MLK which would be expensive.

        Eliminate the left turn lanes from MLK to Graham. It seems like that would be enough for staggered side platforms.

      6. It’s all relative. What Seattelites think of as “loud” train noise that deserves several million dollars of capital improvements would make any Bostonian laugh them out of town.

        Completely agree with your comment on Seattle’s sense of space/density. Seattle barely knows what “dense” is.

    1. I think I remember hearing that they designed it so that there would be room for a Graham St Station in the future. They’d probably have to take some of the property on either side of the street, though. Other cities do staggered platforms and it seems to work just fine (although the places where I’ve noticed that tend to be cities with far lower standards, like San Jose VTA).

      1. It’s not just San Jose by any means — New York has staggered platforms in a bunch of places, and I think Chicago has some too, though I’m not 100% sure about that.

      2. Paris’s Tram Line 3 has staggered platforms at many of the stops and a recently opened station on the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis has staggered platforms.

      3. Does anyone know the cost of a Graham Street and Boeing Access Road Station? Someone also mentioned the 133rd Street Station in Tukwila. I believe that if there was money and a will, those two stations could get built at any time since they were originally in the ST1 package. Graham Street was shelves and Boeing Access deferred, however it doesn’t mean that one day we can build them without an additional vote. As far as the new Tukwila station, I believe that would require a vote. Adding these 3 stations would result in 16 stations for the 15.6 mile route. Less than 1 mile station spacing and very do-able. I’m also one of those crazy people that also thinks that Convention Place could also be utilized as a station someday (yes, I’m dreaming) which would create a 16 mile Central line with 17 stations.

  4. Factual errors, while unfortunate, are forgivable. What I don’t and will never understand is Publicola’s continual reluctance to issue prompt and apologetic corrections. It’s purely bush league and it breaks the trust between reader and author.

    1. I am surprised that there hasn’t been a correction yet (well, as of the last time I looked, a couple of hours ago). ECB was replying to the comment thread. I hope they correct the article soon. The last thing we in the SE need is more in-fighting. The next to last thing we need is more fodder for the anti-rail folks. :)

      1. Good find. Of course you shouldn’t have to hunt down corrections.

        So trite. A correction is not a place to continue the argument, but she can never just walk away. I remember when she published a whole Orca rant around the notion that she was going to have buy a physical $5 card each month. When people pointed out that it was a one-time purchase, her response was only, “OK, fine, but…”

        And this “correction” is posted as one item on a numbered list under an unrelated headline in an unrelated post. Anyone who reads the original post without happening to read this edition of “On Other Blogs Today” still has bad information. That’s asking *far* too much of your readers. To top it off, she seems to almost completely misunderstand Martin’s critiques in this post. Yucky journalism, and a double-shame since she shares many progressive ideals.

      2. It wasn’t a correction, though. At least, there was no correction on the really misleading part of her original article — the part where she read “South Link” and interpreted it as Southeast Seattle. Even if people read both posts, that hasn’t been corrected. Only reading the comments would clarify it.

    1. Deja vu…

      It’s Freeway Monorail and King County Monorail all over again. I was a supporter.

      I-5 and I-405 are hardly level. Check out the many inclines in Bothell, Kirkland, Bellevue and Renton. Those areas were never proposed to get tunnels anyway. Oh and they actually removed a tunnel in Wilburton.

  5. Maybe this has already been commented on, but isn’t the airport station a “center” station and not a “side” station.

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