Light Rail Flyover Ramps at the I-25/I-225 Interchange –

Pending the results of a required Alternatives Analysis, over the next couple of years Sound Transit will select a technology and an alignment for High Capacity Transit from Northgate to Lynnwood.  ST recently released its Early Scoping Information Report, and Adam wrote a nice piece discussing the relative merits of the 3 corridors under consideration (Aurora, I-5 and 15th Ave NE).  The most likely alignment remains I-5, which is the cheapest, quickest, and shortest.  Having lived in Denver for 2 years (2007-2008), I am well-acquainted with interstate light rail alignments, and I think there is much we can learn from Denver’s alignment choices.

More after the jump…

RTD Light Rail System Map

In 1999 Metro Denver voters approved a property tax increase to fund the $1.67B ‘T-REX’ program, which added 19 miles of light rail (E, F, G, and H Lines) and widened I-25 to as many as 14 lanes (Roads and Transit, anyone?).  The project came in 3% under budget, opened nearly 2 years ahead of schedule, and has been heralded as a template for efficient government projects.  Rail has dramatically increased transit’s mode share along I-25, and the system averages 60,000 riders per day.  In short, Denver completed its T-REX corridors quickly, efficiently, and on the cheap by using an interstate alignment.  (Voters were sufficiently pleased that in 2004 they authorized the $4.7B (now $6.5B) Fastracks program, a breathtaking 119-mile, 7-corridor rail expansion program.  Predictably, the economic crises of the past few years have severely strained Fastracks’ budget, and the completion of several of its corridors is in doubt.)

What should we take from their experience?  If we care at all about land use and non-SOV station access, almost nothing.  Four years after service began, fully 50% of RTD riders access stations by car (see chart below), while a mere 25% walk and 1% bike . Despite ample land, there are few TOD opportunities south of the Colorado Blvd. Station, and too frequently passengers must access stations via lengthy pedestrian bridges and multi-story parking garages.  In a story that must inspire the owners of Bellevue Square, access to the Park Meadows Mall originally required that a pedestrian cross I-25 twice, as the mall initially refused permission for RTD to provide access to County Line Station.

If we do build along I-5, I hope extensive planning priority will be given to TOD and non-motorized access.  Again, here Denver is instructive.  Take a look at the Louisiana/Pearl station, which is the only station in the T-REX corridor without any parking.  Despite the retained-cut freeway, the street grid has been fairly well-retained and pedestrians have direct walk-up access to the station.  Impressively, this station has a 95% walkshare.

Louisiana/Pearl Station (Wikimedia and Google Maps)

By contrast, look at Southmoor Station.  This station is cut off from the neighborhood to its west, and to access anything at all passengers must walk east under I-25, through a parking lot, and north to Hampden Avenue, over 1/2 mile in all.  Not surprisingly, Southmoor has an 11% walkshare.

Southmoor Station (Wikimedia and Google Maps)

Lastly, look at County Line Station.  Though Park Meadows Mall relented and allowed a pedestrian bridge to be built into its parking lot, the station is almost completely surrounded by surface parking, two freeways, and a couple of hotels.  It’s 38% walkshare is likely due to transit-dependent mall employees making heavy use of the station despite the inconvenience.

County Line Station (Wikimedia and Google Maps)

There are good reasons to build along freeways (see Jarret Walker’s optimistic assessment), but usually the main reason is simply a nod to cost and political expedience.  I think we can do an I-5 alignment well, but precedent is not on our side.  Though Denver’s system has many strengths (speed, punctuality, peak frequency on combined segments), its reliance on freeway alignments permanently bisected its walksheds, severely limited TOD opportunities, and established a permanent pattern of driving to stations.

If our choice is truly “build along an interstate or not at all,”  I don’t think any of us would ask that the North Corridor not be built.  An I-5 alignment will draw impressive ridership, but its utility north of Northgate will be too dependent on the commuter market.  After all, ST511 to Lynnwood (~2,500 boardings per day) isn’t crush-loaded outside of peak hours, but Metro’s 358 (~10,000 boardings per day) often is.  Despite immense challenges, an Aurora alignment from Northgate to NE 205th St would add only 1-3 minutes to travel time, remove the need for parking garages at 145th and 185th, and present the greatest TOD potential and non-SOV station access.  It would almost surely have to be elevated, and the Canada Line’s elevated footprint in Richmond makes me think that this would not be as distasteful as many suppose.

56 Replies to “Denver’s Lessons for the North Corridor HCT Alignment”

  1. Argh, and here I was hoping for Aurora Village to be included somehow. There’s no easy way to get from much of SR-104 to Mountlake Terrace TC without a car.

    On the note of ST511 versus MT358, the MT301 also only receives ridership during peak since it hits I-5 at 175th. When the reduced weekday service cut the first MT358 but not the (nearly-empty that day) MT301, I was appalled.

  2. I wonder how the decade between the 1999 Denver vote and ST2 will play. I feel like there is far more coverage of land use and infrastructure issues today, even in major media like PBS’ Blueprint America. For example, Mountlake Terrace is already planning a town center development: “An adopted Town Center Plan calls for development of new stores, restaurants, offices, and housing in the 68-acre downtown zone. Wider sidewalks, street trees, and a public plaza for community use are part of the mix.”
    There’s also already a big rec center just north of the planned development district, about a mile from the current freeway station.

    1. Yeah, it’s just too bad the town center has to be several blocks from the station, but it’s obvious that it wouldn’t work too well fronting on the freeway.

  3. Running along I-5 sounds like a bad idea to me. Running on either Aurora or 15th seem like they’d do much more good for the community in the long run.

    I wonder if anyone’s looked at using the old Interurban right of way, either in part of in whole? That might be an interesting alternative.

    1. I suspect the Interurban ROW isn’t wide enough for City Light’s power lines, the Interurban Trail, and light rail.

      1. Sometimes it isn’t always obvious, but these old RR ROW’s were around 100′ wide.

        What might be a bigger problem is getting from the Northgate station over to the ROW, and there are parts where the trail has be severed by new property owners.

        The Aurora Village shopping center, for one, and up around 212th SW. That’s the road that runs just north of the Snohomish Co. Transfer Station. There’s a NAPA store ‘in the way’, so to speak. I’m sure there are others, but I haven’t surveyed that alignment.

        It will be a question of cost savings by using the Interurban ROW, vs. the cost of the above issues being resolved.

      2. Jim,

        One can use the Interurban ROW extensively, but not comprehensively. It is simply not viable between North 190th in King County and SW 220th in Snohomish County. It will have to be elevated in the center of Aurora for that stretch.

        It would also have to be elevated from 160th to 190th, but it would be much better that it be elevated above the ROW, which is a long linear park and bicycle trail than over Aurora. Access to the stations from the east side is MUCH better than in the center of the street and north of 160th there is more development opportunity on the east side than the west.

        South of 160th it can be at grade as far as about 140th, obviously requiring an overpass by 145th. From 140th south to 130th it has to be in the air, but can descend just south of 130th to run at grade all the way to the south end of the Evergreen-Washelli (110th). There should be a station at that point to take advantage of the need for a fairly sharp curve to come adjacent to the south border of the cemetery. Aurora would have to overpass the line, but otherwise it’s pretty much just buying a few houses all the way to a couple of blocks west of Meridian where it would go back to the air to access the north end of the Northgate Station.

        North of 220th it can return the ROW for a straight shot to the Lynnwood TC. A couple of overpasses would be required to maintain a 55 mph track speed.

        Yes, this cuts off Mountlake Terrace but it will never be anything except a peak-hour commuter source. Express buses can serve it very well for twenty years.

        Once the line is extended to Everett it might make sense to build a single-track peak-hour express line along the freeway with a station at Mountlake Terrace. But the value of all the TOD along the Linden/Aurora/Midvale corridor puts anything that might occur at MLT in shade so deep it is an umbral total eclipse.

      3. That sounds terrific! Not that it’s an important consideration by any means, but to me there’s something satisfying about putting trains back on the Interurban right of way. It’s almost like admitting that taking them out in the first place was a mistake.

      4. “It would also have to be elevated from 160th to 190th …. It is simply not viable between North 190th in King County and SW 220th in Snohomish County.”

        The Interurban ROW is relatively unmolested between 160th to 175th, so I don’t understand the need for an elevated structure in that segment, however the area between 175th and 185th would be a challenge, along with the Sky Nursery property.

        With the power lines still occupying that space, it becomes an issue of ownership of the property.

        Road crossings will be an added cost issue, whether they are solved by grade separation or grade crossings.

        While not preferrable, grade crossings would fit better around station locations, since the trains would be travelling at the lower speeds in that area anyway.

        From 185th north to the county line is also intact, but the Aurora Village property is in the way.

        North of that, … well, I would hazard a guess that the property owners along 74th Ave W (Lake Ballinger) would have a cow, and it appears the ROW is down to about 50′ in many places.

        Talk about being in your backyard!

    2. Some sort of Interurban/Aurora/15th combo seems very attractive. There are some tricky bits switching between alignments, but for any given section one of the three seems like the “obvious choice”.

  4. Using an Aurora alignment as a reason to eliminate parking garages at Shoreline stops would simply make it impossible for most Shoreline residents to use Link at all. We’re already the city that has benefited least from our Sound Transit investment (we only get ST service in the off-peak, at a single location, and even then we have to walk by an unregulated homeless encampment to access it). As for transit access to Aurora Link stations, Metro should not be serving some Shoreline neighborhoods due to density and development issues, and I don’t see Metro being able to provide adequate bus connections to Aurora stops on the routes they do serve. For instance, most Shoreline routes stop service at 11 pm (at the latest), which severely limits the usefulness of Link if a rider only has bus access to it. Moreover, many of those 10,000 daily 358 riders won’t be able to use a realigned Link anyway. If one of their trip ends lies anywhere between downtown and 145th (a majority of trips, I’m guessing), Link will be fairly useless to them. A simple realignment of the 358 to terminate at the 185th St. Link station (likely what Swift will do, as well) provides for a good transfer between light rail and Aurora riders.

    Having said all that, I think a Link stop at 155th would be fabulous so long as it has parking included. A shared parking arrangement with Central Market would be perfect, and could be redeveloped as Shoreline densifies and transit service improves over the next few decades.

      1. It’s just at the 145th flyer stop. The 510 and 511 stop there off-peak hours. The homeless encampment is under the freeway. Since we don’t provide enough beds, I support homeless people being able to use a sheltered location, and I’ve never had any problems there. But, as a woman, I don’t feel safe using that southbound stop after dark.

    1. I tend to agree about suburban stations needing parking. In the suburbs, things are designed in a way that makes it extremely difficult to function without a car, and in Shoreline, there aren’t great bus connections to neighborhoods. Getting people using the system in the suburbs is almost certainly going to require parking lots. Within the city, however, I think we should push for TOD-style stations rather than a freeway alignment.

      1. Eh… I’d rather sacrifice short term gains in ridership for long term ones and moving to a more sustainable development pattern.

        We aren’t going to be able to future-proof the suburbs by basing our long term plans around the current situation.

        Of course, it’s hard to get these long term plans put into place without recognizing current realities.

        Anyone got any good compromise ideas? Maybe offsite lots with shuttles during peak commute hours?

    2. If either a Aurora or a 15th NE alignment was chosen for the North Corridor I’d say any station locations would have to include at least some parking. The only possible exception would be if a 125th station was added to the 15th NE corridor, as I think such a location could work without any sort of P&R.

    3. Shorline needs to push hard for a Richmond Beach Sounder station. I’d like one in Ballard so I could commute by rail, but that one won’t happen. We need one more station on the North line to generate more patronage.

      1. “We need one more station on the North line to generate more patronage.”

        Okay, how about Marysville? Or Snohomish/Monroe/Sultan/Gold Bar?

  5. I wonder if this is how you get started – people already understand the freeway, they know where it goes. So you build the thing alongside the freeway to slow the growth of freeway use. First, the commuters drive to the stations. Then, build up bus service perpendicular to the stations and start teaching the commuters to take the buses to the stations. And then eventually replace the bus lines with new trains. I know that this kind of thinking must frustrate some people, but if we’re trying undo years of car reliance, we need to re-train drivers to let Metro do the driving.

    Just a thought.

  6. Good case study. Only reinforces common knowledge that a limited-access highway alignment kills walksheds and development opportunity from transit investments. I was already a fan of an Aurora-ish alignment, especially after the HCT North open house documents. While I feel for long-distance commuters, the central goal for ST projects should be movement of the MOST people cost-and-time-effectively within and between subareas. I’m not sure that LRT is designed to really move people literally between Seattle and Everett, but people outside those cities to/from them and other local centres. Commuter rail is meant to move people longer distances at time-effective rates. If we try to achieve that by LRT on I-5, we just get less a higher-frequency system at a higher cost with fewer riders and little change in actual commute/living patterns.

  7. Zach – I just wanted to say this is a nice piece. I respect the progress Denver has made with their rail infrastructure and ridership. Let’s see if we can do better!

  8. A few footnotes:

    IIRC, The territory that the Park Meadows mall is located on was outside the then-RTD sales-taxing district. I recall that this had RTD also not wanting to link the County Line Station to the mall in order to discourage any shopping there.

    Note that the line stops at stations to one side of I-25. This is a far better solution than using the median (see L.A. Metro Green Line if in doubt)

    Louisiana/Pearl is located within the boundaries of the former Denver Tramway Corporation system and thus was built up as a classic Sam Bass Warner Streetcar Suburb. Indeed, the namesake of the next station to the Southeast, the University of Denver (DU) was long known as “Tramway Tech”.

    Another advantage the planners/builders of the T-Rex Line had from it’s junction with the then-existing system at Broadway to at least as far as Evans and Colorado was the existence of the empty and un-reused Right-of-Way of the former Colorado& Southern Railroad which ran roughly parallel to, just to the south of, I-25. (You can still see it between S. University and S. Monroe along Buchtel Blvd.

    This extra land was used for the Colorado station and gave planners some wiggle-room for constructing the line and station facilities like that at Louisiana/Pearl.

  9. If that picture didn’t have a LRT in it, I totally would have thought that to be a HSR fly over….

    1. the photo is almost a little depressing…really great looking rail infrastructure with a tiny little single LRT vehicle on it. Ridership must be pretty low, unless that picture was taken on a non-event weekend.

      1. That picture is of the now defunct G-Line that provided suburb-to suburb service and connected the terminal stations Nine Mile and Lincoln. Ridership on the half-hourly, 1-car, G-Line shuttles was only about 900 per day, so RTD recently eliminated service on the line and required passengers to transfer at Southmoor. The flyover ramps constructed for the G-Line now sit unused, but will be reactivated if/when the I-225 Line is completed. Then it will again be useful as a suburban cutoff to provide a faster trip to the airport.

  10. It depresses me to think that as the planning is still going on, we’re already into “Better to build it on the freeway than not at all” mode due to funding concerns. This thing isn’t getting built for another, what, 15 years? Projects that far in the future should be able to dream bigger than an I-5 alignment. I hate that there is never any money for transit projects.

    1. We have to pay for it with currently-projected finances and the current voter mood. If we don’t build it because we’re holding out for something perfect, we’ll make the same mistake the region did in the 1950s and 1970s. And people will have to spend another thirty years dealing with the current bus service, with 30-60 minute headways, little east-west service except at peak hours, long transfers at Aurora Village and a slow 358/”Rapid”-Ride, buses getting stuck in traffic, little service evenings/weekends, and all the other things that make it difficult to travel between north Seattle and Snohomish County, Snohomish/SeaTac, Shoreline/Bellevue, etc. Just build it anywhere and crosstown buses can serve whatever destinations it doesn’t reach.

  11. I just want Link to get somehow to Lynnwood. All the corridors have their pluses and minuses. “Inexpensive” will be the watchword for the next few years. Zach mentions the advantages of Denver’s system, and I don’t think they can be dismissed so lightly. 19 miles on 4 lines, early and under budget, and now expanding by over 100 miles and 7 lines. We should be so lucky. TOD is not the only factor, and maybe TOD will have less opposition in the future when high gas prices, deteriorating roads, and an older population will make driving seem like more of a burden. Putting rail on I-5 now does not mean that Aurora will never get it. Other cities have parallel rail lines, and we will have to if people make a fundamental shift away from the car in the coming decades.

    The I-5 route means that hundreds of ST Express and CT buses can be retired or repurposed for local service. That means a ton of gas not being used, or used for a more useful purpose. ST has indicated they’d probably have to continue running at least some of the express routes if Link is put on Aurora. Also, moving the rail line to Aurora and eliminating the express buses would make the Mountlake Terrace “transit center” redundant, and I’m sure CT and ST have put a considerable amount of money into them which would just be lost. That would be hard to explain to Snohomish County taxpayers.

    The main grace for Aurora fans is that the I-5 route may not be as cheap to build as anticipated due to the age of the freeway segment; it may be necessary to rebuild parts of the freeway adjacent to the rail line, and that may make the Aurora route look more cost-effective given its TOD potential, or at least not prohibitively worse.

    1. Even with an I-5 alignment the 185th, Montlake Terrace, and Lynnwood TC stations will all have at least some TOD around them. 185th is a very large surplus Shorline School District site. Montlake Terrace is redesigning their entire city around the transit center. Finally Lynnwood is focusing its density and downtown plan around the TC area.

    2. I thought ST was planning to have Link head back over to Mountlake Terrace even if it does cross over to Aurora first. Now, I’m not a fan of such a zig-zag, but I thought Mountlake Terrace was set in stone.

    3. Yes, putting Link on I-5 does mean that “Aurora will never get it.” It would be folly to have two fully developed lines three quarters of a mile apart.

      A single-track peak direction express line along the freeway with only one station at MLT makes sense. But if the main line goes I-5, Aurora is permanently out in the cold.

      1. Most people around here would rather have one line on Aurora and one line to Lake City than any line in the middle. The real problem is how wide the development pattern of south Snohomish is… Edmonds, the area north of Aurora Village, and Mountlake Terrace all sit near the county line. Perhaps the future belongs to some sort of SR 104 line.

  12. Also, there will be lots of TOD in downtown Lynnwood, which will have a critical mass of walkable destinations near each other. All the Link routings have a station there. Maybe that’s a good first step for Snohomish County. Also, they’re just starting the zoning reform for TOD around Swift stations, so they’ll have their plate full for several years developing those.

  13. Thanks for the great article. I am an ex-Porltander (now in Seattle). Tri-Met’s first line in the mid-80’s followed the same politically expedient alignment that Denver did. When I 84 was constructed, the first MAX line joined it in the center median; it is fair to say that Tr-Met and most certainly the transit community regrets that decision. They have not repeated that model, and have instead, used transit to build communities not park and rides.

    Keep up the good work.

      1. With seemingly a dozen P&Rs! Other than Clackamas TC is there much traffic at those stations?

      2. I think he was referring to the median alignment. But anyway, years ago space was left on one side of I-205 for a rail line as part of the initial deal to get I-205 built, *complete with bridges*, and accordingly it made a lot of sense to use it. This calculation is different from if you are building next to a freeway which didn’t have a fully bridged ROW carved out for you.

    1. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. The original MAX line was built along the north side of I-84, not in the center median. It is shoehorned between the freeway and the UP rail line, but it doesn’t feel nearly as isolated as if it were in the middle of the freeway itself. Also, the freeway was apparently reconstructed at the same time as the MAX line was built, but the Banfield Expressway had been there since the mid 1950s.

      There are three stations on the I-84 section of the Eastside line. Of those, the closest in, Hollywood TC, is reasonably well-connected to an old streetcar commercial district and is comfortably walkable. (It’s accessed by a pedestrian bridge which also connects across the freeway, making it accessible from both sides.) The other two, though, are accessed from auto-centric overpasses and are walkable from very little. (Controversy recently erupted when ODOT erected a concrete barrier down the middle of 82nd Street to keep people exiting the MAX station entrance from cutting directly across four lanes of fast traffic to get to bus stops on the opposite side of the road. That certainly doesn’t help the area feel like a “walkable community”!)

  14. While solving for current commute patterns is important, it is also important to look into the future to see how workplaces will evolve. Will the downtown core still be strong with office employee’s commuting in from the suburbs in 10 or 20 years? Or will most of that have moved to virtual workplaces and replaced with businesses that rely on physical access to broad customer populations due to low market density? I’m sure there are some studies on this topic for the long-range planning / vision. The current work models are undergoing rapid change and building infrastructure that will take many years to complete may be overtaken by other changes making it less relevant if aligned too closely to today’s commute patterns.

    1. We don’t know how workplaces will evolve, only how they may evolve. In the 80s people thought the paperless office was coming. In the 90s people thought a lot of people would move to small towns and rural areas and work from home. This decade people think telecommuting, cybercafes, and neighborhood co-office space (i.e., renting a desk) will overtake the office. Videoconferencing was supposed to replace travel and meetings. Only in the late ’00s has there been a significant drop in paper forms, and the other trends are still small.

      The problem in the past 50 years has been a scattering of workplaces to transit-unfriendly locations. Highways make things disperse; good transit (especially rail) makes them locate near stations. Not everything needs to be downtown, but it needs to be near stations and neighborhood centers that are well linked. (No pun intended.)

  15. These freeway alignments lack any creativity in getting people to the transit network. It’s just assumed that people will not give up their cars.

    Case in point: If you look around the County line station, the whole area appears to be an automobile dependent suburban nightmare. The pedestrian facilities to and from the station are stingy at best and cycling infrastructure is virtually non-existent. If you look in the neighborhoods to the west, however, there appears to be an extensive, although sometimes broken up network of bicycle paths. The area appears to be relatively flat so you could probably comfortably ride from virtually all of the neighborhoods to the west.

    I don’t have any problem with freeway alignments as long as you give folks a choice of how to access them. Forcing me to choose a car is expensive and stupid.

    1. I think there will be strong momentum to implement east-west bus routes, moreso than in Rainier Valley. One, you can travel more than a mile without running into Beacon Ridge or Lake Washington, and there are destinations in between. Two, we’ll gain a lot of bus hours by eliminating the 41. Three, it’s further from downtown so people will see a greater speed advantage. Four, there are more people in the north end who are willing train riders and will be willing to ride a bus to the station.

      1. Even bus access isn’t enough for me. I want the walk shed for every light rail station to be as large as possible. The way that freeway stations are designed often means that you have to walk 2-5 minutes just to get *anywhere*, which radically reduces the station’s potential for TOD (or for building transit use in areas that are already developed).

  16. This post highlights one of my irritations with many transit systems (systems, not just light rail) in the majority of the country. We tend to build COMMUTER transit, not public transit.

    To me, the difference is key. With commuter transit, you have a situation similar to Denver – most ridership essentially uses a car to get to it. Yes, you have a few walkers, yes you have a few bikers, but the overall majority of people using the system take a car to get to it. While people CAN access the system without a car, it is neither efficient or easy to do so in most cases. With PUBLIC transit – having a car is an OPTION, not a virtual requirement. With public transit, I can walk to the bus/train station. I can walk/bike/connect to my destination after I get to my stop. I’m not worried about finding a mode of transport when I leave transit because the stop is in an area I can access and not have a car.

  17. Good discussion, but from my seat in Denver, there are some footnotes that should be added. Denver has several Light Rail lines, with the one described being the worst case for pedestrians. And, because it was built on one side of I-25, there are potentials for future walk-distance development in the remaining open spaces.

    The Light Rail line currently under construction only will have the burden of a highway right-of-way on its outer segment, in an area that is certainly not pedestrian friendly. East of West 13th Avenue & Oak Street in Lakewood (see it in Google Earth) it is on a former interurban right-of-way that is already accessed by grid block streets, albeit interrupted in various ways.

    Developers and urban planners are all looking at possibilities for walk scale developments along this line. Like the Welton Street line that was not mentioned in the article, this new line will likely have a lower peak-to-base ratio than the opposite extreme along I-25.

    News media are catching on to this, with a recent series on the inner Denver Sun Valley neighborhood just completed in the Denver Post. A planning grant just was obtained for the Two Creeks area of Lakewood for infill development around the Lamar Station (West 13th Avenue & Lamar Street).

    1. Agreed, the West Corridor will be a great improvement! I focused on only the SE corridor because it most closely aligns with our current expansion choices…like you 7 years ago, we’re trying to decide upon our alignments. You chose I-25, with distinct costs and benefits. I’m hoping we won’t choose I-5, but if we do we can still learn positively from your experiences.

  18. look at all the response in two days. great topic. and, I agree with groan above, just wait for gas to get expensive again THEN you’ll hear some support!

  19. Comparing the 511 to the MT358 is silly. There are 245 buses a day that go down I-5 from Lynnwood to Seattle and then 245 a day that return thats several times the number of 358s. Just putting a rail down the middle of the freeway takes those 245 buses off it. The idea that the Link should be going through neighborhoods to pick up people is true in my opinion when only dealing with any other line. There aren’t really any high density areas north of Seattle so putting the Link in a neighborhood doesn’t make a lot of sense. People in Lynnwood take buses to other places close to Lynnwood or they take a commuter bus to Seattle. The rail down I-5 would replace the commuter buses and would still rely on park&rides and local buses to feed it.

    However, I don’t think Link is the right train for I-5. It will in most cases be slower than driving and the same speed as taking a bus. I see no advantage to this. We already have trainsets that lean into the corners and can do 120 mph given decent tracks. Whey aren’t we looking at the Sounder for I-5? It’s faster, it holds more and we already own the trainsets. The north Sounder has low ridership numbers because outside of picking up ferry traffic and people who live along the water (at all THREE stations) nobody rides it. It takes me 30 minutes on the bus to get to the Sounder so it makes no sense. However, if it went by all the park&rides ridership would be 5x (based on replacing 245 commuter buses) without counting those people who would now go to the city that wouldn’t before because they didn’t want to ride buses.

    The fly in the ointment is the size of it and the diesel engines. I think someone should study electrifying it. I’ve analyzed the entire path between Seattle and Everett and I think the Sounder would be in Everett by the time the Link got to Lynnwood. If we had 30 minute trips from Everett to Seattle I think it would be a very busy train. Of course it would have to run all day as well. I don’t think this would be possible without electrification.

  20. I was the Project Manager for RTD on the T-REX project discussed in the article. A couple things I would like to point out:
    – Realistically there was no other feasible right of way that could have been used to serve the Southeast Corridor. No railroad, no open space – only miles and miles of very expensive private property, which would have been politically, socially, and economically not feasible if the highway alignment was not available. The benefit is that the line is fully grade separated, very fast and has excellent ridership.
    – We did realize during the project that we had to be more proactive in adding better pedestrian access. Several pedestrian bridges were added to the project, partially paid by the private sector. These bridges have very successful in improving pedestrian access.
    – You are correct that Park Meadows Mall did not initially want any access to their mall from County Line Station. However, we did ultimately reach agreement to allow a ped bridge to be constructed and it is now in service and well used by our passengers.
    – RTD did make a conscious decision to serve the commuter market. Our earlier Southwest Corridor was built to a suburban area and we received (and still do) many complaints about inadequate parking. The T-REX project was designed to mitigate those parking concerns and hence we build five large parking structures and several surface lots. RTD has recently changed its TOD policy to provide more emphasis to TOD compared to parking.
    – In spite of this, much TOD has occurred or is in the advanced planning stage. The TOD has been slowed by the economy but many plans are in the works and we are confident that it will continue. In the meantime, there are excellent examples of TOD at Lincoln, Dry Creek, Arapahoe, Belleview and Yale Stations that have developed since the project opened.
    – The separation of the Southmoor Station with the neighborhood to the west was an unfortunate result of too many noisy NIMBYs in that neighborhood. However, at Dayton Station where the same separation was going to occur, a neighborhood crusader rallied the neighbors for us to provide access to this dense neighborhood. It is very successful and the neighborhood loves it.
    – In summary, the decision to build along a freeway is unique to each project and area. It has its pros and cons, but with good planning can be a real asset.
    Excellent article, I enjoyed reading it.

    1. “- The separation of the Southmoor Station with the neighborhood to the west was an unfortunate result of too many noisy NIMBYs in that neighborhood. However, at Dayton Station where the same separation was going to occur, a neighborhood crusader rallied the neighbors for us to provide access to this dense neighborhood. It is very successful and the neighborhood loves it.”

      Sounds like this is the biggest lesson for activists!

  21. Random comments. Comparing the Seattle area to the Denver area misses this important difference: the Denver area still has wide-open spaces!!! To 47hasbegun : I take Community Transit’s #130 to get from Aurora Village to the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. It runs every ½ hour. You’re right, neither Sound Transit stop is in Shoreline city limits. The SB stop is a long, often wind-blown walk from an undersized park and ride that’s east of I-5. Not fun, and prohibitive to many to be practical. Also, traffic is already a mess around that area, and it has been for at least 30 years. Snoco: an Aurora alignment offers cross-town service at 105th, 130th, 145th WB (peak), 155th (peak), 175th EB (peak), 185th, 200th, 205th, 220th, 216th. Granted, not late-night as you stated. However, an I-5 alignment offers: 145th NB, 185th, and 236th SW, and that’s it; the appeal is primarily to peak commuters. Metro is on the brink of cutting the equivalent of Community Transit’s entire service, so more cross-town service is unlikely. There’s also the issues of Thornton Creek around 145th and not a lot of parking other than at 185th. An Aurora alignment, while expensive, offers these destinations, some of which are more than peak-only: Bitter Lake, Central Market/WSDOT/Shoreline Community College, Shoreline Town Center, Costco, Premera/Stevens Hospital. It also offers a true express trip to downtown Seattle, unlike Metro’s purported “Rapid” ride, with its 12 stops in Shoreline’s 3 miles planned (at Shoreline city official’s insistence). Lightning: I agree, Shoreline needs a Sounder station. We could also stand to see Sound Transit buses stop at Lynnwood in the NB direction, especially on Sundays and holidays when Community Transit service doesn’t run. Mike Orr: Community Transit is planning to pull back service with Link, but the present economic circumstances, it may have sooner. The alignment won’t matter, the destinations (downtown Seattle, UW) do. Brent: the “zig” I saw went across SR 104 – a nightmare in terms of construction on that often-packed thoroughfare – and NE to MLT. That city’s leaders are pushing hard to have their to-be-developed town center served by light rail. All that being said, on Thursday (12/16/10), the Sound Transit Board is receiving a briefing whereby light rail on I-5, Aurora –elevated, and Aurora – at grade are sent forward along with a couple of token bus rapid transit options. Next spring, that group will further narrow the choices. If I interpret the preparer’s codings correctly – they didn’t bother to have a key – the first two options were rated the strongest. See

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