It seems like a long time ago already, but there was a lot of momentum behind this thing called the Monorail. I won’t even get into the details, the politics, and the goofiness of what became a battle about whether light rail or mono rail would carry the day. In the end, the monorail disintegrated under many of the same circumstances that some of us think will pull down the tunnel; Frankenfinancing, just-trust-us politics, and poor planning. But the latest effort for a hearty Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF) could keep one of the promises that the monorail mess couldn’t keep, rail transit for Ballard.

I’m going to quote from a memo written by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) asking for an $80 VLF in order to plan and execute rail to Ballard. High Capacity Transit is really another way of saying rail. Feel free to challenge that assessment in the comments, but here’s what SDOT is asking for:

For the Ballard and Eastlake corridors, HCT is the only option that meets projected transit ridership demand.  There are also travel time and greenhouse gas emission reductions that would not be attainable through other modes. Having the flexibility to pursue additional HCT planning would create a phasing process of (1.) 6-7 years of bus corridor development while simultaneously doing planning and design for two HCT corridors: Center City Connector and Ballard, and (2.) in years 7+,  focus on HCT corridor implementation and continued bus corridor improvements.

The experts are saying a longer collection period of the full $100 in VLF ($20 is VLF already happening) allowed by law would meet the demand for transit to and from Ballard. I am a demand side guy when it comes to transit, and that’s a big reason why I am a “density advocate.” Much of the whining and complaining about density has come from Ballard. Remember Edith Macefield? She’s the Ballard woman elevated to hero worship status by a peans written by Knute Berger and others because she held out against invasive “highest and best use” of land in Ballard. The truth is that Ballard has changed. Old Ballard has given way to the future many of us talk about. The old Googie Denny’s is gone in favor of density and everywhere you look there are people waiting in absurdly long lines to pay lots of money for fancy dinners.

Ballard, like it or not, has done much of it’s part in transforming Seattle into the dense, walkable, fully built out neighborhood that aggregates demand for transit, just like we density believers say it should. We’ve got the demand, now where’s the transit? It makes it hard on density advocates like me when the transit doesn’t follow the density. We’ve put all our rhetorical eggs in the density basket. If the City doesn’t up zone around transit or follow density with investment in transit where there already is density, it kicks us right in the eggs. The Council should do the right thing by Ballard on Monday, and support the maximum use of VLF so we can be sure that we put our money where our density is. If nothing else, do it for Edith.

104 Replies to “Ballard and beyond: $80 VLF helps realize a Monorail dream”

  1. Roger: The LID (local improvement district) worked out pretty well to help pay for much of the SLUT. How do you think Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne and S.Lk Union would vote for a district of their own to build their streetcar line?
    That would shift the burden from car owners to property owners, plus matching funds from ST, Metro, Tiger or anyone else.

    1. I’m not sure Queen Anne would want to be included in that LID. Unless this HCT were on top of the hill, I think it would be a tough sell.

  2. I drove from the 45th street exit to Ballard last week around lunch time.

    Even though there is frequent high capacity bus service, the street was jammed with cars.

    If transit can’t get people out of their cars on 45th, then its obviously the wrong approach everywhere else in Seaoplis (that’s my neologism for Seattle metropolitan arena, suggest it supercede Pugetoplolis)

    1. I took a bus from Ballard to downtown last week around lunch time, and it was jam packed. If people won’t use their cars there, they won’t use them anywhere and cars are obviously the wrong answer for Seattle. To anyone who disagess, I say Chewbacca to you.

      1. Originally I was going to argue with you, however, after a few hours of walking a mile in your moccasins, perhaps its does make sense.

        If your goal is not simply to provide speedy transport, but is an all out effort to make people use Mass Transit, then yes, cars “get in your way” because each person driving might be on a bus (in your world).

        And yes, I will do you the favor of casting your rebuttal that this is also what the Personal Transit system of cars and roads does to you — promote the use of Personal Transit over Mass Transit.

        Also see my reply Brent.

      2. *eyeroll*. John, please learn something about capacity and volume issues in transportation design.

        Top volume/capacity throughput: all-pedestrian. Trouble is, it’s not very fast and unless you’re in great shape, poor for long distances.
        Next top volume/capacity throughput: rail.
        Third in volume/capacity throughput: bicycles. Trouble is as with pedestrians.

        Nothing else even comes close. All your favorite things, cars, “personal transit”, blah blah blah, simply aren’t fit for purpose in a high-capacity corridor.

        Rail is for high-volume corridors. Period. That’s where it’s massively superior to anything else. If you’re taking a route few other people are taking, sure, take your “personal transit”. If, for whatever reason, enormous numbers of people are already going along that route, why, then, *you have a mass and you need mass transportation*. This is so dopey and straightforward that I remain amazed that anyone can deny it, yet clearly many, like you, still can.

        Expressways are horrendously inefficient for *mass transportation* — all they provide is speed, not volume. Trains provide volume,

        Remember this. This is why the car is a great thing for a drive to an unpopular mountain resort, or for an obscure cross-town drive between unrelated destinations — *low volume*. It is, by the same token, utterly hopeless as a tool for transporting even hundreds, let alone thousands, of people along the same route — for that you want a train. (A bus is somewhere in between the two, but frankly a lot closer to a car.)

    2. The problem is not that people won’t get out of their cars. The problem is that various interest groups won’t let the buses have their own lane. This is especially true in supposedly-hip Wallingford.

      But Wallingford is a great place to make lemonade out of love-for-lemons. If we can’t remove the ubiquitous parking, then run the transit down the middle … i.e. as a rapid streetcar.

      Frankly, the case for replacing the 44 with a streetcar is stronger than the case for building a streetcar from SLU to Ballard. (But I support both.)

      I’ll also repeat my plea to the message developers for the Mobility for All campaign: More swing voters will likely be sold by the idea of connecting Ballard to the FHSC than by the idea of connecting the SLU to the FHSC. I’m not against the latter (especially since it would be a prerequisite for the former). But I just think an honest poll would show its negatives are higher due to its association with a certain billionaire. Yes, Ben, message is everything. Don’t be willfully ignorant of Seattleites’ attitudes toward the SLUT.

      1. I don’t live there, so it’s not up to me.

        However, in the past I have written that 45th should be devoted to transit, rapid streetcar; however 50th should be rebuilt to be more of a thruway, parkway, expressway all the way to Ballard.

        This would pull the many cars that are just trying to get to I-5 off the commerce route and get them away from cars. At the same time, it would give the typical Microsoft car commuter a faster way to get to where he works.

      2. @John: Surface-running throughways can be really awful. When I hear about a “throughway” on 50th the thing I picture is Aurora Lite. Building more Auroras shouldn’t be a goal, as they chop neighborhoods in half that would otherwise be connected. 50th is hard enough to cross as it is, whether your mode is auto, bus, bike, or foot. A faster 50th or a more-prioritized 50th should not be a goal

        There may be ways to make 50th west of I-5 work better for through traffic that don’t hurt pedestrian connectivity so much. My “modest proposal” would be a complete removal of Green Lake Way south of 50th, but I’m sure there are a million reasons that can’t be done. Once you’re in the U-District east of, perhaps, Roosevelt, a road diet might actually improve throughput and safety by giving turning traffic somewhere to go. That area can be an absolute zoo these days.

        At any rate, nobody is ever likely to convince me that difficult Ballard-Microsoft commutes via private automobile are a problem worth solving. Microsoft and its employees have far more opportunities to choose their locations than most companies and most people. They’ve together chosen to generate tons of ridiculous commute patterns and to externalize the problems they create onto the rest of society. I sympathize rather little for any trouble they run into as a result. I say this as someone that works in the exurbs and actually bothered to take my commute into account when choosing a place to live.

    3. Imagine what that street would be like without buses running on it.

      45th-46th (and toss in 50th east of Green Lake as well) are corridors hopping over 2 hills with 4 lanes and multiple traffic lights. Congestion is (and always has been) a reality there.

      1. Not back in 1988.

        At that time the streets were empty around 1pm.

        Of course, then one could cross commute over the 520 bridge at 7:30 am and it would be completely empty!

    4. Here’s a tip: one should never take 45th to get from I-5 to Ballard, because it’s a traffic nightmare practically all the time through Wallingford, day and night. This is what happens when a main east-west route through the city, including for transit, drops from 4 lanes to 2 so that people can park on the street. That’s why it’s pretty much always better to take 50th instead (it has its own exit from the freeway both northbound and southbound) so that you bypass the worst of the mess through Wallingford.

      1. Indeed. Going from I-5/U-district, I take 50th. Going from Ballard I take 40th. I reserve 45th for when it’s late and I want Dick’s.

        It’s too bad 45th couldn’t be turned into a bike boulevard with wide sidewalks and swales and landscaping, etc. As a functional throughway for vehicles, it’s complete crap 18 hours a day.

      2. It’s sad there isn’t a real direct connection from 50th to Market St that doesn’t involve residential streets. It would actually go slightly to the north, but I’m imagining the two of you backtracking either to 46th or using 65th.

  3. “We’ve put all our rhetorical eggs in the density basket.”

    Well you can’t make a transit omlet without breaking a few eggs. Yes, the hens are home to roost after the Monorail fiasco. Had any system been built we would not be arguing about whether we needed a downtown tunnel to move people from Ballard and West Seattle.

    But now, I’d argue that the least cost thing we could do for Ballard is make the bicycling routes to the UW & downtown safer. The 15th Street bridge is a disaster for bicycles. Narrow, slippery grates, poor access, no car/bicycle barriers to speak of.

    Yeah a street car would be nice, but unless it has it’s own right-of-way the way the Monorail was going to, it’ll be as slow as the buses are. Yes we could fix the lights to give them signal priority. Yes a steel wheel/track system would reduce the road repair bills. But right-of-way is everything in speedy transit. The monorail had it in spades.

    But now that system is poison. Better to build out a really good bicycle system.

    1. Totally agree on the right-of-way issue. The last thing we need is to spend more money on non-grade separated but still expensive transit. Give me cheap slow buses or give me expensive fast rail. More expensive slow anti-bicycling rail like the SLUT? No thanks.

      And cycling does excel from the cost standpoint. That ought to be the central talking point of any cycling campaign. “It’s the transit we can afford – cycling.”

      Oh, and the main reason the monorail failed was that it was funded by a progressive tax. Come up with a grade separated proposal that doesn’t annoy the local oligarchs by suggesting they pay their fair share and I think you might have a chance.

      1. “main reason the monorail failed was that it was funded by a progressive tax”

        I beg to differ here. There were a couple of reasons it failed. One was that the data provide to the Monorail team came from Sound Transit which had made a mistake in calculating the number of cars and their worth in the taxing district. Then ST didn’t tell the Monorail team about this mistake but did tell the state. That meant the monorail team underestimated the amount of revenue and hence the % they would need to collect. And using those numbers started off by collecting less than the full amount.

        Second, they did a design build plan and no manufacturer of Monorails wanted to run the system after it was built. So few bidders and those that did bid, ran high to cover the operating costs. AFAIK public transit always has a subsidy to cover it’s operating costs and here it wasn’t included. So bid high otherwise get stuck with a 30 year loss.

        Then finally they lied, obscured the problems, beat about the bush, and then were ambushed by the Mayor Nickles who rather than appoint a commission to fix the problems forced a vote to kill it.

        My theory is that Sound Transit was terrified of the tax revenue to support a Monorail and that if Seattle went it’s own way they wouldn’t support a phase 2 plan. So they did what they could to kill the baby before it was born. In addition Joel Horn is a snake oil salesman and was put in charge of this project. He was not the civil engineer we needed. And worse was a not truthful about the problems when they occurred. But that’s just a guess. And others may have their opinion.

        But that’s not the thing. The problem is that “Monorail” equals “Disaster” and it obscures the benefits and real problems that elevated systems have.

        Going forward in the 2012->2022 years we need to look at declining revenue and least cost analysis to help drive our choices.

        While I’ve long thought that bicycles are only for us healthy fringe lunatics, I’ve realized that with a minor amount of help, they can become a major component of a transportation network. A bike sharing system fixes the “Last mile” problem. “Cycle Tracks” work for busy streets, and rails to trails/paths fix the “I’m riding all the way”

        And it’s all pretty low cost in comparison to all the other options.

      2. Biggest problem with the monorail was the “monorail” obsession. With current safety regulations, a monorail ends up being pretty much an elevated train which costs a lot more than any other elevated train…. and this is the root of the high bids for designing / building / operating. If they’d made it a “duorail”, something along the lines of Vancouver SkyTrain or Docklands Light Rail, I wonder if they would have pulled it off.

      3. “Monorail obsession” & costs.

        With any elevated system the cost is proportional to the amount of mass you have to support in the air. Ie. The heavier the cars, the bigger the track has to be, the larger stations you build, the closer and more supports you have to have. All of which make elevating anything an almost exponential increase in cost for every pound you put up there.

        Thus to lower the cost, you want cars that are light weight, and here because they are always above the auto traffic they don’t have to meet the same guidelines that Light Rail has to for side impacts.

        In fact, if you look at those small car designs like at Heathrow they can have smaller stations, with a smaller track and thus the cost per mile is going to be less.

        Re: Design & Build
        There aren’t any manufacturing companies who also want to be running a public transit system. It just isn’t a good business model.

        If you are interested in monorails, there is a lot of information at

      4. I’m a little confused about this. I thought Sound Transit came into being only after the Monorail fiasco?

    2. If you study Portland, what makes its systems work is not Mass Transit, but an intra-city network of expressways and high capacity boulevards (Powell Boulevard being a good example).

      What Seattle lacks are these — East-West highways leaving the backbone of I-5…parkways or expressways (I-5 to Ballard would be the most obvious, same up near 100th).

      1. Portland also has bicycling boulevards which slow down the auto traffic servicing the neighborhoods, and speed up bicycling and increase the safety for the riders.

        It’s an extremely low cost re-purposing of the existing roadway. And it appears to be working well. By increasing the number of trips by bicycle, decreasing the number of SUV trips, Portland has reduced the maintenance cost of their roads enabling them to keep up with it. It’s a virtuous cycle. (track)

      2. Uh, no, John. I guess I’ll just say “citation needed”. It’s been well documented that expressways and boulevards have really poor people-moving efficiency outside very specific and specialized applications.

      3. Portland does have a lot of wide streets going east out of the city. Powell, Burnside, Stark, and I-84 have some 14 lanes between them. That’s similar to Dallas and many other cities that have a 4- or 6-lane boulevard every mile.

        What strikes me about Seattle is that the south end has a lot more highways than the north end. The north end has I-5, 99, and 522. The south end has highways everywhere you look: 509, 599, 99, I-5, 405, West Valley Highway, 167.

      4. Portland works? The last time I was there, downtown was a congested mess of confusing, narrow one-way streets shared with streetcars.

      5. @Beavis McGee: And that’s surprising because it’s not like anyone in downtown Portland has a job to go to.

    3. Bicycling is not mass transit and in a city that rains as much as Seattle, investment in bike lanes is a waste of resources, no matter how cheap. People won’t get out of their cars to ride their bikes in the rain. They also won’t get out of their cars to r
      Take woefully longer trips on the current bus system. Light rail or street cars are a much better option, although I agree the monorail would have been a better system from a flow standpoint.

      1. Copenhagen is 34 square miles. Amsterdam is 84.6. Seattle is 142.5 square miles. The city is much more spread out and has far more hills than any of the cities you mention. People may be willing to make short, easy bike rides in the rain, but you will never see the same volume of people commuting by bike in Seattle as you do in those cities, but it has nothing to do with bike lines and everything to do with weather and length of commute. It’s great there are contingents of hard core cyclists who commute by bike n a regular basis, but it is nit a viable means of daily transportation for the vast majority of the city.

      2. The way to make bicycling part of a transit network is as the last mile with bike sharing systems. You get a free 1/2 hr on a bicycle with your transit cost. You bicycle the last mile to work and then you don’t have to retrofit the buses/trains to carry bicycles.

        Street Films has a number of good documentaries on how well it works. In one city in China they have 50,000 bicycles around the city at 1/4 intervals.

      3. Building bike lanes is actually a cost savings.

        It slows down the cars (usually to the speed limit, which makes me wonder why the road ragers think they have a God-given right to drive as fast as they want, while screaming that bikers break the law), thereby reducing the pothole-causing impact (which is a function of speed), and simultaneously reducing the square-footage of asphalt likely to sustain potholes.

        If a turn lane is added, it improves the smootheness of car traffic flow.

        Very small capital investment. Long-term operating (maintenance) cost reduction. Improved pedestrian, bike, and car safety. Improved mobility for all modes. What’s not to like?

        And it’s revenue positive.

      4. Seattle covers 142.5 square miles. Alex, if you can squeeze all of those land masses together so that the bodies of water do not in any way comprise distance to be covered (or obstacles to circumvent), then you can start start using the 80-sq-mile figure.

        Even then, most activity points (and thus most trips) within the urban area would be much, much more spread out than they are in Amsterdam.

  4. I’d like to quibble a little bit with the plan for where the Ballard streetcar will end. Yes, I think it is great to run it through downtown Ballard, so long as a festival street remains without track, for events like the farmers’ market.

    However, there are a couple semi-major destinations it stops short of: the Ballard Locks, the boat dock, and Shilshole Park. There are also lots of multi-story apartments further west on Market St, all the way to 32nd. 24th Ave quickly devolves into single-family Mayberry, and is not a useful place to run a streetcar further.

    This is not offered as a critique of the car tab package, but rather in hopes that the streetcar path design is a matter to still go through process.

    1. What I liked best was the idea of putting in a Sounder station there since it already runs through that area and has a bridge to Seattle.

      This would cut right past all the noise of 45th and take people to where they want to get to — downtown Seattle and the routes over to the Eastside.

      1. Unfortunately there seem to be endless problems with Sounder North’s right-of-way. I keep expecting that trackbed to fall into the sea, frankly, though it seems it more commonly gets buried by mudslides. A single Sounder station also wouldn’t provide service of useful frequency — because of all the freight traffic etc. — unless the line is fully doubled, with a pocket track for the station… which becomes hard due to the location of the right-of-way… and even so, it would not be in an ideal location… and unless FRA rules were reformed, it would be unusually expensive to operate… and so on.

    2. I always wondered about this too. The 46 always seemed useless to me until I biked out to Golden Gardens the other day. My friend from Sweden asked me if it was easy to get back there on the bus. I responded “not really.” A streetcar all the way to the beach there would be great!

    3. I think the question about where any HCT should go after the core of Ballard is two fold. Where is the largest development capacity and if the system is extended is the current terminus congruent with that.

      1. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, living right near the proposed terminus of the Ballard Streetcar, but there’s quite a bit of high-density housing on 24th all the way up to 85th Street.

    4. The core problem is the geography of Ballard itself. Instead of one obvious center for a station, there are three centers in a triangle: 15th & Market, Ballard & Market, and 15th & Leary. That forces any line to have two stations close together and to miss the third one completely.

      1. Mike, this is actually a good thing! A built grid of density and activity stretching in multiple directions is how cities are supposed to work, and Ballard now stands as Seattle’s only working example outside of the city’s downtown/Belltown/First Hill/Inner Capitol Hill core.

        The prevailing Seattle form — a linear “spine” of commercial or mixed-use, whether tall or not, with single-family as close as a half-block away, is not actually urban in origin. Greenwood, California, Madison, Rainier, 15th E… these are all streetcar suburbs. (Even the U-District is more linear than urban-clustered.)

        The spines facilitated direct, if slow, transit links to downtown, but at the expense of walkability to goods and services or connections to elsewhere in the city.

        This is why north Seattle’s residential neighborhoods are littered with small one-story boxy structures that were old general stores filling the need for walkable basics. Travel within the spine for some specialized services was made possible by the ultra-frequency of streetcars; our 20 or 30-minute bus replacements have negated that value.

        Grocery stores have replaced the corner stores, and now most living along the spines now have to drive most places even in their own neighborhoods. The clustered approach of Old Ballard and adjacent condo-ized New Ballard make it exponentially more usable on foot, with decent pedestrian access to core transit, wherever it is placed (long spines like Greenwood can’t be served with fewer than a dozen stops).

        There’s no question that Ballard’s geographical center remains at 22nd/24th and Market, with density stretching blocks in every direction, and further spines continuing along the arterials for roughly equal lengths. Though the residential density will shift east if and when the rehabilitation of 15th and Market is completed.

        (And for the record, 15th and Leary is not currently an important node; it’s a festering open pit selling fertilizer and manure. Seriously, that I have to potentially have my clothes smelling like cow shit all day to access the meeting point for “frequent transit” is pretty pathetic. Again, I live in a city!!)

        Really, all Ballard needs is frequent east-west and frequent north-south that both work. If you fix the 44 and fix RapidRide (short-term, with rail for one or both long-term), you’ve covered the urban center for anyone who can walk a half-mile and provided a reasonable service connection for those who can’t. The key is not skimping on those fixes!

        If I were building the Ballard-UW Link connection — which I’m increasingly convinced is better in every way than a costly Westside Link or a lousy streetcar — I’d probably just stick the West Ballard station under 56th, with entrances at both 15th and 17th. (17th feels much closer psychologically to 24th than 15th does; 56th would minimize the construction intrusion compared to Market.)

      2. Yes, you can do it with two lines, or a line that bends backward. My preference would be Market Street and Leary (rather than 15th). However, it’s hard to ignore 15th, both because it’s the widest and fastest street, and because it’s a straight line going further north, while Leary seems like a detour (and a bottleneck if a surface train/bus crosses Leary & Market). RapidRide D found the advantages of 15th overwhelming, even though it misses the main center of Ballard.

        As for two lines, it’s so difficult to get even one HCT line around here, that two almost seems like an impossibility. You could have one underground line from UW to Ballard & Market, bending back for 15th & Leary, and then south or southeast. But people would say it looks “inefficient” to bend back, and the two stations seems excessive (for a subway, not for a rapid-streetcar). One wishes Ballard were centered at 15th & Market, then all these problems would go away, but we can’t do that. (By that I mean, if 15th & Market were a human-scaled center, not automobile-scaled as it is now.)

        The advantage of a 15th & Leary station is the walkshed currently to the east of it (the Ballard Blocks, the unfortunately suburban-designed Fred Meyer, and the underused blocks between them). More development like the Ballard Blocks would make it a nice little neighborhood. Of course the bus stop under the highway is hideous, but “something” could be done about that.

      3. d.p., use the HTML code for the little arrow characters.

        15th and Leary isn’t really much of a center at all, and 15th and Market only marginally more so. They are only of concern because 15th is the major route to get to Ballard from south of the Ship Canal, as well as the major route to go beyond it.

  5. “Originally I was going to argue with you, however, after a few hours of walking a mile in your moccasins, perhaps its does make sense.”

    No, it doesn’t make sense at all. What I wrote is a parody mirror image of your apparent policy: There were some cars on 45th around lunchtime last week, therefore there should be no transit in greater Seattle.

    If you were being sarcastic and/or using hyperbole, that’s different. Difficult to tell at times.

    “Personal Transit system of cars and roads”

    Cars are personal. Roads are public and are lavishly subsidized, similar to how transit is public and lavishly subsidized.

  6. Ballard, like it or not, has done much of it’s part in transforming Seattle into the dense, walkable, fully built out neighborhood that aggregates demand for transit, just like we density believers say it should.

    Thank you so much for saying this, Roger!

    Ballard kept up its end of the density bargain, which is why it’s one of the city’s loveliest and most interesting neighborhoods and is without question why I live here. The various transit providers have not kept up their end.

    RapidRide represents a 0% increase in service to the neighborhood (now that it has been confirmed, by Metro rumblings, to replace both 15 and 18 in most scenarios). If mayor McGinn is correct, ST has no intention of building another urban segment “for decades.” The mayor’s own plan has some deep flaws, though at least it exists. Nick Licata just wants to screw us over outright.

    You’re right, Roger. This city’s density-touting left hand still isn’t talking to the transit-endorsing right. It’s shameful.

  7. Monorail…are you kidding me? What we’re getting is a frankenstein mix of modes of mass transportation.

    1. It’s no worse than going to the grocery store and having a choice between apples and oranges & bananas etc. Each mode of transportation has it’s strong points if you use each where it’s appropriate you’ll serve the most people for the least cost.

  8. Most of the arguments for rail thus far seem to be that it would have grade separated right of way. There is no reason buses couldn’t run in that same right of way. If we built real BRT instead it would allow for the buses headed to destinations north of Ballard to through route, thus giving those residents a faster ride and one that doesn’t require a transfer.

    I understand how it might be politically easier to get dedicated ROW for a rail project, but i think providing a fast bus service that includes a one seat ride to Seattle for the neighborhoods north of Ballard might also be a good selling point politically.

    1. Except that the moment you start attaching your core BRT service to disparate tails, you’ve added a significant layer of potential headway/reliability foul-ups on your core ROW.

      Unless your tails are so frequent that something’s going to be coming constantly on the core — and this is Seattle, so that will never happen — this is the unfillable hole in taht argument.

      (Plus, there’s the whole “true BRT ROW costs just as much as rail ROW, has less capacity, is less comfortable, still uses diesel” problem.)

      1. Diesel is the BRT deal-breaker for me. We must begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use. Electrically powered rail in mostly dedicated ROW should be the way forward. I’ll certainly be disinclined to vote yes w/o electricity, steel wheels and dedicated ROW

    2. When you start talking about a grade-separated bus, the capital costs approach that of rail. If it even reaches 66% of rail, you might as well just build rail and get the higher capacity and psychological popularity of rail.

      1. BRT had capital costs of roughly 33% of rail for the Ballard and Eastlake corridors. If it is possible to find the political will for BRT it would be a very sensible choice.

      2. I was talking about full BRT with grade separation. The costs would indeed be less with a lower-level BRT, but there again you get what you pay for.

  9. The city’s political watchers are saying that the $80 tab is DOA in the city council, and that a $60 fee with no rail is what we’re likely to get.

    If anyone would kindly suggest a political way to get the city council to change course, I’m all ears.

    1. Two options:

      1) Elect new councilmembers, like Michael Taylor-Judd and Brad Meacham;
      2) If rail isn’t included, vote No.

      1. BTW, If we haven’t convinced the council to support the projects, getting the package passed will merely lead to it getting sabotaged, like the monorail. My biggest lesson from the monorail debaucle is that you can’t build a transit project without the wholehearted support of a governmental entity.

      2. I am seriously leaning towards option #2 here, even though I wholeheartedly endorse catching up on our pavement maintenance issues.

        But I’m one person, and probable everyone who reads this blog can’t even move the results 1 percentage point.

      3. I might just vote No if the council tries to flood the buses with millions of paper bus tickets. ;) I can see why Metro is unenthusiastic about ORCA (namely, ST is getting the better part of the bargain on fare revenue), but I don’t know why the City would be.

        But seriously, car tabs are the best taxing option we have available. There are ways to make it progressive (and this gimmick of giving away paper bus tickets is not one of them). If we have to fund the filling of potholes (and we do, as the City is liable for all claims on its streets resulting from people driving their cars into potholes and the resulting damage — even when such drivers are doing it intentionally to get money from the city )~: then it ought to be funded by those who create the potholes, not out of sales tax or property tax.

        Look, if they do put a smaller package forward, and it funds road maintenance and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure about evenly, and doesn’t use most of the tabbing authority, the city can then do a follow-up vote on adding to the tab for transit capital investment.

        Also, consider that if the council puts forward a $60 tab, with the percentage breakdown from the CTAC, that leaves $20 could be put to vote on a $20 rail-heavier proposal.

        But somewhere or another, the sidewalk funding needs to increase. Central city voters used to sidewalks everywhere may not get why edge city voters are tired of waiting for sidewalks. But we are, and we want them. They are a safety issue, and a necessity if we are to get more edge city voters to ride the bus. Nobody wants to dodge lots of cars to get to the bus and then wait at an unsafe bus stop in the middle of a puddle.

        The transportation needs of the city clearly are much larger than what the $80 can fund.

  10. I wonder if anyone’s ever put numbers to another underground link segment from downtown to Ballard. Tying into the DSTT would be a pain in the ass, but if you made the connection at Convention Place it might be relatively painless, and you’d have a pretty good sized area to launch the TBMs. If you started out there and had a station at say Lower Queen Anne, one on Queen Anne proper, and then head straight to Ballard it looks like it’d be a little under five miles.

    If you extrapolate from University Link’s numbers you come up with about $3 billion, which is of course a bit less than the DBT is supposed to run. I don’t know, personally I think I’d rather spend the money on Link from Downtown to Ballard.

    1. It would be much cheaper to use surface rail to get to Ballard. With a spur off the Westlake streetcar, it could use separate ROW along Westlake Ave., then use the Freemont Bridge to cross the ship canal. The separate transit/ped/bike bridge would make this more reliable, but that could be added as a distinct project at a later time.

      Regarding the idea someone had of the end of the Ballard route going toward Shilshole, it would be better to head north. There are more people in that direction, and it allows the possibility of someday extending the line north of NW 65th.

      With the money available, it’s better to build more track miles.

      1. A Ballard-Fremont streetcar will be no more convenient for getting downtown than the 28. It will attract more choice riders, it will have higher capacity, it will provide a much-needed connection between Ballard and Fremont, and it could spur much-needed densification in Frelard. But it will not be any faster or more convenient. (And quite frankly the Westlake alignment is such a waste. The route should be taking Dexter.)

        Ballard needs much better connections to the rest of the city, particularly east of I-5. 15th Ave W provides a great straight, rapid surface alignment to downtown, and sets up service to West Seattle. The TMP addresses this need with the big blue line from Lake City to White Center.

      2. Corridor 11 as shown in the graphic has one stop between Valley Street and Nikerson. Using Dexter versus Westlake won’t make much difference to ridership. And the separate ROW is right there along Westlake. That’s the fast, easy part of the journey.

        The Freemont Bridge should be used to keep the cost down. Once the route develops, an investment can be made in a higher, dedicated bridge. Regarding the 15th W alignment, would the Ballad Bridge be as much of a bottleneck as the Fremont Bridge?

    2. The reason why I don’t like this project is that we’re essentially building a major semi-permanent infrastructure improvement only as a gap-filler to tide Ballard over until ST can get its house in order enough to start West Link. Once West Link is built, it’ll essentially be duplicative unless West Link doesn’t go to Fremont. (This is the same reason I don’t like LA’s Expo Line taking the most direct path to Santa Monica; it’s only there to tide them over until they can complete the full Subway to the Sea, and then at least some of the track will be useless.) What’s more, it’s a streetcar, so it’s basically a fancy bus that can’t change lanes.

      I’d rather add bus lanes to Westlake and Leary. It might require street widening that a streetcar wouldn’t, but if they don’t think a bus can attract as many riders they don’t read Human Transit.

      (What would really be nice is if they – by which I mean both SDOT and Metro – gave a better commitment to RR D…)

      1. I think Santa Monica is high-density enough that there will be plenty of traffic for both Expo and the Subway to the Sea. LA is *high* population and can support redundant lines.

        Can’t say the same for Seattle, of course.

  11. yes, the TBD should place the full $80 on the ballot and it should include a transit component, but it should not specify corridor 11 or any other one. The program should also include significant funding for sidewalks on arterials that lack them. The Mayor and the Planning Commission are jumping the gun. See the “draft” on the graphic? there is much analyis to do. First, how to get through downtown without reducing overall CBD transit capacity? Second, determine the appropriate mode: rapid streetcar or rapid trolleybus, both of which use clean quiet electric traction power; the capital cost is significantly differnct and funds will be scarce. Third, consider Fremont; will the HCT line use the exsiting Fremont Bridge and be subject to the congestion after openings or use a new bridge and miss the center of the universe; the choice is not trivial or obvious. third, note the graphic has a couplet on Leary and old Ballard Avenue NW; has that been studied and thought through?

    1. Agreed. It seems pretty obvious to me that connecting the dots is more practical than all this George Jetsen pie in the sky crap.
      SLUT is built. Using the same type vehicles, and extending the line to U’Dist and up Westlake to Ballard is a natural. Then once that is done, half your line from Ballard to U-dist is built, sharing the Burke-Gilman ROW to Campus Pkwy to finish it. That would be far cheaper and just as quick a trip, or faster than trying to shoehorn something on 45th on rails. Leave that corridor for ETB’s, and get rid of the street parking in Wallingford.

    2. “rapid streetcar or rapid trolleybus”
      What’s the cutoff speed between if it’s just a streetcar or trolley, and a ‘fast’ one?
      Not trying to pick a fight, Eddie, but is it avg speed on the route (including stops), defined by FTA, APTA, or some authority or just one of those buzz words some consultants like to invent for selling an idea?
      Sorry I missed dog days.

    3. Well, that is how MAX was built. Make it cheap street-running or center-running, use freeway ROW where available, and call it a day. And now MAX has five mediocre lines which are better than nothing at all. I wouldn’t support this if Central Link weren’t already under construction, but now that it is, the issue of whether the other lines can be rapid-streetcar or grade-separated rail is less urgent. Because Central Link will still provide an advantage to trips that transfer to it.

  12. I have to point out that the Googie Denny’s, like the Sunset Bowl, made way, in fact, for a flat vacant lot, not more density.

      1. I have always thought of extending LINK from University St. in a parallel tunnel under third avenue to Bell street, then turn north with a stop at The Seattle Center at about 5th and Harrison (EMP), then turn west and emerge from the tunnel at about 15th Ave W and E. Mercer Pl. From there either align on the west side of 15th W in existing heavy rail ROW, or on the east side next to the fluff until Garfield. Then center run a la MLK, elevate over the ship canal, and center run 15th Avenue NW to 85th.

        This alignment has several advantages:
        1. It is a direct route from downtown to ballard
        2. It gets to Belltown, Seattle Center, Interbay (Yeah Green Line)
        3. The terminus at University St. would one day be the portal the fabled express tunnel through downtown
        4. Huge ridership potential

        The disadvantages are:
        1. Expensive, probably 4B dollars depending on how much tunnel

      2. Have you thought about how much per rider that would be, amortized over 40 years, plus 10-15 minute service, all at todays rates.
        I get about $17 bucks a rider, or 4 times what the bus costs – for how many minutes saved?

      3. What’s your ridership estimate? I would assume 25,000 boardings more or less. The line would probably need twice that to be close to practical.

      4. The ideal would be to extend the tunnel under Queen Anne with a station at QA & Boston, and then emerging near the ship canal. It would cost a lot of money but it would end Queen Anne’s isolation, that it takes a long time to get anywhere from Queen Anne on transit in spite of the short distance.

      5. Mike Orr, I’ve long agreed with you on just blasting under Queen Anne. Though (sadly), Other Mike might be right about the ridership not justifying the expense.

        I’m increasingly convinced that the full-on Ballard-UW Link spur is the answer to all our speed/capacity/ridership/cost justification problems:

        1. At just under 3 miles rather than 5, it’s inherently less expensive.

        2. The merger point for the tunnels at Brooklyn is more obvious than the Convention Place workaround, and with some forethought — please, Seattle, for once, forethought! — the junction could be built while the U-District tunnel is under construction.

        3. The Northgate boring machines could be immediately reused for it.

        4. If U-Link is only 8 minutes, then the Ballard spur wouldn’t be more than 7 or 8 minutes either. That still offers a 15-minute one-seat to downtown (better even than the streetcar’s utterly-spurious 16-minute claim).

        5. Ridership: we’re not just talking about Ballard-to-downtown demand on this line. We’re talking Ballard-to-U.Dist.+C.H.+downtown demand plus Wallingford-to-U.Dist.+C.H.+downtown demand plus Phinney-to-U.Dist.+C.H.+downtown (plus Greenwood-via-connection demand, etc.).

        6. If that isn’t an all-day-demand corridor by Seattle’s standards, then there isn’t one!

      6. DP, I think it was you who gave me the idea of a Queen Anne subway station. If you’re building a tunnel anyway, you might as well extend it further to a high-ridership station. QA is denser than Beacon Hill, and the Beacon Hill station has respectable ridership. You can also reorient the bus network to be more local. My suggestion is to keep the 13, and to turn the 1-2-3-4 into a two-way loop from Seattle Center (station) to 15th W/Fulton to 6th W/Raye to QA/Galer to QA/Boston (station) to Taylor/Boston to Seattle Center.

        A cross line generates more ridership than a parallel line, because it facilitates trips in twice as many directions. Thus a 45th line would have particularly high ridership.

        I don’t know what you mean by “Convention Place workaround”. My understanding is that the Intl Dist – Northgate tunnel capacity is fully committed in ST2. So the 45th line would have to terminate at Brooklyn or continue east, not turn south to Capitol Hill and downtown.

        The planners are aware of the possibility of a 45th line because I asked them directly about it at the Brooklyn station meeting. It doesn’t sound like they’re accommodating it much though. The guy just said vaguely that it would probably have to go underneath the other station due to the UW Tower foundation on the west side.

        I sadly have little hope that a 45th subway could be approved before the North Link TBM is finished.

      7. It makes sense to me that a 45th line would continue east from Brooklyn station. If that line is tunneled under NE 45th, what happens in the vicinity of I5? Does it cross over or under I-5. Putting it under I-5 would make it very deep around where it crosses Brooklyn (but it would also have to pass above or below the North Link line).

      8. I leave that to the engineers. The EIS would have feasability comparisons for a deep tunnel, shallow tunnel, and surface alignment.

      9. In fully-developed networks, transfers are a normal part of daily life.

        However, the problem with forcing this particular transfer at Brooklyn is that, by eliminating the one-seat to downtown and Capitol Hill, you’ve eliminated part of the justification for not building the true north-south subway between Ballard and downtown.

        I will continue to refuse to accept the “Northgate to I.D. is maxed out” thing. Subways can run 90-120 seconds apart. They do it all over the world. They do it fully automated, they do it line-of-sight, they do it every which way. If our train control system is incapable of handling that, then we got sold a substandard train control system and should rectify it.

        Even if three lines end up in the central subway, there’s no time of day when they’re each running 6-minute frequencies or less. The “maxed out” thing is just wrong!!

      10. Even if three lines end up in the central subway, there’s no time of day when they’re each running 6-minute frequencies or less. The “maxed out” thing is just wrong!

        +1. If we’re maxed out at 3 minutes, with a modern system, we’re doing something wrong.

        It’s worth pointing out that, during peak, we currently have buses — for which the signaling should be much more primitive than Link — coming every 60-90 seconds. I know that trains are longer, but that shouldn’t make *that* much of a difference, especially with dynamic block scheduling.

  13. If we’re going to build any rail segment in North Seattle west of I-5, I agree that this looks like the route with the best ridership potential. I also like the fact that the streets along the route are wide enough so that rail could actually be built there without screwing over bicyclists, unlike the Eastlake corridor.

    Two things that need to be addressed, though:
    1) Service reliability – Will this be an exclusive ROW or mixed traffic? Is everyone getting on south of the ship canal going to be hit with random service delays every time the Fremont bridge goes up?

    2) Headways of 15 minutes after 7 PM weekdays and all day weekends is not sufficient. The proposed route should have a higher ridership potential than the already-built segment of Link through the Ranier Valley, but link runs every 10 minutes until 10 PM seven days a week. Also, if observed traffic volumes on roads are any indicator, traffic volumes on Saturday afternoons are just as high as traffic volumes on Monday afternoons (before rush-hour). Why should the transit service be worse on Saturdays? As someone who has to work Monday-Friday and whose commute to work isn’t along this corridor, virtually ever time I would envision myself using the train would be during the evening or weekend period.

    Finally, when there’s any kind of major event downtown, such as Mariners or Seahawks game, one train every 15 minutes simply doesn’t provide the necessary capacity to get everybody home after the game. If you try it, you’ll get crush-loaded trains and 30+ minute wait times for a train that actually has space on it.

    1. If they do get close to approving this, it should include a strategy to improve evening/weekend headways, even if we can’t afford it in the first phase. There needs to be a definite commitment to this to ensure it happens. Link’s current frequency should be the standard for all HCT corridors. That’s the only way to make Seattle more of a transit-oriented city.

  14. Don’t look now, but it is being reported that the fee will actually be $60 and that all planning and/or construction of HCT will be specifically excluded. I.e., no rail as part of this deal

    Yet another poorly planned/poorly executed McGinn initiative. Anyone see a pattern here??

    1. Ah, now it looks like they would still include funding to “study” the Aloha Ext and some sort of a connection between the SLU and FH streetcars.

      But still no money for any sort of construction.

      1. The revenue stream wouldn’t be anywhere near large enough to allow construction, particularly for the Fremont/Ballard line. If they got the full $80 perhaps they could bond against some of that revenue…

        I almost feel like this may be a line that has to be built in stages. First to downtown Fremont. Then along Leary. Then through Ballard.

    1. Boxing up stuff for a remodel we found the family copy of Now and Then. Great book. Also found some other great history of Seattle books. Our Bellevue History is still MIA :-(

      1. I hear you. If someone released a bunch of old Bellevue photos for free use, I’m sure there would be a strong, positive reaction. I use mostly Seattle Municipal Archives photos because they’re easy to get to and easy to use.

      2. Is there a length of time after copyright that scanned images from a book can be put in the public domain or do the rights remain forever with the publisher or owner of the image. I think our Bellevue History book is around 40 years old. If it went as far as the PACCAR build it was just barely. It had lots of photos of the Crabapple Restaurant and the giant Madrona. Here’s a good start on an Eastside collection of photos.

      3. Ah yes, the “Mickey Mouse” rule of copyright, aka “If big corporations are making money off it they can keep on doing so, otherwise if you’re a lucky copyright holder we’ll make you jump through tons of hoops, if you’re not completely screwed.”

        Sorry, one of my other interests involves indie work in an art medium.

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