Rendering of 94th St Portal
Rendering of 94th St Portal

This month, Sound Transit is hosting a series of three open houses, providing information about the progress of the North Link project, which will extend Link Light Rail from the University Link terminus near Husky Stadium to Northgate TC. Because the designs of the three stations are at different stages, the prior open house at Roosevelt and the upcoming Brooklyn open house are primarily intended for neighboring residents and businesses, providing information about construction impacts and ST’s mitigation plans; whereas last Wednesday’s meeting was a presentation of ST’s 30% design for the Northgate station and tunnel portal.

STB covered the Northgate 15% design open house in May, and I’d suggest that readers who aren’t already familiar with the Northgate station design should start reading there, as in this post I’ll only cover information that’s new or different since then. I also recommend the slides from the open house, along with the other material available from the North Link document library.

The biggest change is the potential relocation of the north portal from 85th St to 94th St. Long-time followers of the North Link project will recall that the original project called for a bored tunnel to 75th, a cut’n’cover tunnel to 85th, then retained cut to 94th St before transitioning to elevated. By 15% design, the cut’n’cover section had been scrapped in favor of a longer bore, which reduced costs and dramatically reduced construction impacts. The additional extension of the bore to 94th is roughly budget-neutral, but further reduces the duration and extent of ST’s construction impact on the neighborhood. The additional cost of the longer tunnel will be offset by less work on the surface, and in streamlining construction activity.

The only other significant engineering change is in relocating the entire elevated station 27′ to the west of the previously-planned location, which helps optimize track curvature in the southern approach, and provides more contiguous space for the desired redevelopment of King County Metro’s Northgate TC property. Not much seems to have changed with respect to Metro’s plans for bus integration or TOD at this facility; similarly, a pedestrian bridge across I-5 to North Seattle Community College remains widely-desired and completely unfunded, but ST’s station will be designed to accommodate such a bridge should it ever be built.

The station is starting to come together architecturally, in particular the roof design. Primary attributes the architect desires for this station are protection from the elements, good natural light, insulation from freeway noise,  landmark prominence, and low life-cycle cost. The somewhat-surprising (to me) result arising from this is a platform design with glass surroundings, and a “tensile roof” — essentially a very thick, tough, semitransparent multilayer canvas pulled taut over metal supports. Denver Airport is perhaps the best-known large-scale use of this type of design in a transport facility.

Tensile Roof Alternatives
Tensile Roof Alternatives

In two possible design alternatives, the supports could be arranged either as a series of curved horizontal ribs, or several vertical poles, the latter creating a marquee-like appearance from the inside.  According to the architect, these roofs actually last longer on average than a conventional roof (30 versus 20 years), leading to lower total cost over the 100-year design life of this station; they are also extremely quick to construct. One possibly-desirable design element that’s not yet in the plan is to have “NORTHGATE” written in illuminated block letters on the west side of the station, to further enhance its prominence.

Out of the presentation and Q&A, only one potentially controversial issue emerged: replacement parking. During the construction process, ST will displace much of the surface park & ride capacity at Northgate (both on the WSDOT lot west of 1st Ave, and surrounding the current transit center). P&R capacity at Northgate is nearly exhausted, and it’s unclear whether it would be possible to replace that capacity by leasing more space in the adjacent parking lots, or by providing more bus service to remote lots.

In the absence of other workable alternatives, the possibility exists that ST may construct a parking structure in the area to replace that P&R capacity. Building a parking structure in the heart of an area slated for high-density urban redevelopment adjacent to the region’s only high-capacity transit system strikes me — and, I suspect, most readers — as the height of madness. Sound Transit is soliciting ideas for solving the replacement P&R capacity problem, and if you have any thoughts on the matter, I suggest you send them to the community outreach contact for Northgate, Ellen Blair.

60 Replies to “Northgate Station 30% Design Open House”

    1. I can’t believe I found something I agree with Bailo on. The scheme in this image looks awesome, even though it looks like it would involve wrapping the windows.

  1. I see you saved the bad news for last. The tunnel extension is great news – the fewer construction types, the less there is to go wrong. I also like the canvas roofs – especially Alt 1.

    But man does ST seem like a parking garage agency. How about they use some of those fancy buses they have to provide neighborhood service for a few years while the parking lots are in use?

      1. ST should not feel obligated to store people’s personal property for hours at a time, period. I firmly believe the private sector should provide any and all parking near transit centers to the extent allowed by zoning, and it should be paid parking. For ST to directly incentivize auto access to its stations is indeed madness. Reference Zach’s old post on Denver to look at modal splits when you have freeway-running light rail with large structured parking…depressing.

        https://seattletransitblog.com/2010/12/06/denvers-lessons-for-the-north-corridor-hct-alignment/

    1. It’s not the perfect thing, but there is some good to it for transit.

      Late night service for example. With my car parked at Tukwila, I don’t mind what train I get on from downtown when, say, I go to a concert at Benaroya. So, at points where bus service could be sparse or non-existent, if there is parking then I would still want to take the trunk lines like LINK to save on parking, hassle, …

      1. But with the money that isn’t being spent on building parking garages, such connecting bus service need not be sparse or non-existent. Furthermore, while parking garages benefit exclusively the people living in the suburban area and are useless to reverse commuters, connecting buses benefit everyone.

  2. The glass stinks of the 1980’s obsession with block glass in everythig. that comes out strikingly awful in this design. But on the whole, it all looks too blocky, aside from the roofing. People won’t want to hang around here long at all. Sigh.

  3. I see the pedestrian bridge to SCC as a very important addition to this station. It will really increase the walkshed of the Northgate area, and obviously will provide a huge improvement over the existing pedestrian crossings of I-5 for people wanting to get to the station. Hopefully funds can be found to construct this. Maybe WSDOT is one possible source – they’ve added pedestrian bridges over I-5 in Tacoma and I-405 in Kirkland that I would say added a lot less value than this one would.

    Another enhancement to this station would be some sort of an HOV connection where buses from points North could easily access the station and drop off passengers without weaving through the Northgate Way congestion. Then again, with Link going further north, maybe it won’t be necessary.

    1. I second Ryan’s comments on the pedestrian bridge, and even more on the need for a I-5 express buses to be routed directly into the station, without having to lose schedule time fighting stoplights and traffic.

      If these ramps are done right, they could solve a decades-long problem with I-5 service: the lack of southbound transit lanes in the afternoon. Service is constantly crippled both south and northbound by the daily southbound traffic pile-up.

      Not only are southbound schedules stuck, but northbounds leave Downtown late because they can’t get in on time.

      For all the years NorthLINK is under construction, express access to and from I-5 would make it possible make it less and less necessary for I-5 buses to go Downtown at all.

      These ramps will definitely pay for themselves.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Agree with Ryan. North Link is right on the heals of Northgate, so the ramps would be pointless as buses are not going to be using I-5 anymore along that stretch.

      1. the north Link alignment has not been determined. ST does not have to do it all with one mode. suppose Link served the SR-99 corridor between Northgate and Lynnwood via Seattle, Shoreline, and Edmonds and frequent express bus used I-5 between Northgate and Everett via Lynnwood and the new center stop at Mountlake Terrace? Two corridors would be improved; buses would be used where they could go fast; Link would greatly improve transit in a corridor with much more development potential: Northwest Hospital, Bitterlake urban village, North 145th Street, the Sears complex and SCC at North 160th Street, Richmond Highlands, Edmonds CC, and Stevens Hospital. Link should be used to serve pedestrians, not parking garages. In both north and south Seattle, Link serves centers, not the freeway envelope; in Bel-Red, east Link does not hug SR-520; in south Bellevue, ST did not want the Wallace alignment. Similarily, why should ST serve a freeway envelope in the highest ridership corridor in the region? so, sure, there is reason for the Dublin-suggested cener access ramp to and form the north; how about at NE 117th Street?

      2. You’re making my head hurt.
        Oran said a couple of days ago ” According to the ST2 plan, when it’s done, it’s expected that Link will carry 52% of all transit trips in the region, bringing ST’s share to 66% of the transit market in 2030.”
        If 2/3rds of all trips will be on ST2, completed in 2023, then how can we have all these bus trips being allowed to proceed past Lynnwood?
        And Lynnwood has effectively given ST a green light with their guiding principles to follow the I-5 corridor, being the cheapest to build with the highest ridership?

      3. Oran is a reliable source of information, but I can’t verify his 2/3rd number by 2030. Currently ST’s share is 14% of 161 Mil annual unlinked trips in the region. MT= 113, PT= 15, CT= 10 mil. To capture 66% of market share, ST would have to take over all of PT, CT routes, and take half of all the MT riders. The implications for that scenario is the demise of two transit agencies, and 50% cuts at Metro.
        On the other end of possibilities would be to grow the overall transit market from 161 Mil annual riders to something like 418 Mil, with ST going from 23 Mil a year to 280 Mil a year – a 12 fold increase.
        The middle ground scenario would have all the transit agencies feeding the ST trunk line, creating 1/4 billion linked trips (transfers), meaning everyone would have to transfer at least twice to make the numbers work.
        More aspirins please.

      4. I pulled it from Table 1, where it says “Percent using ST”, under “2030 with ST2” it says 65%.

        I hate it when they use “riders” in this context. I think even ST was confused itself because it looks like it divided boardings from Table 2 by (linked) trips in Table 1. But in the Transit ridership paragraph it says “public transit in the Sound Transit District will be carrying an estimated 165 million trips a year, twice as many as in 1996. Over 100 million of these trips will be on Sound Transit.” If it is at least 100 million trips, that’s 60%. So the 109 million annual “riders” on ST in Table 2 could actually mean trips not boardings. Otherwise, division of ST annual (supposedly)/daily boardings by annual/daily regional boardings both equal ~44%. Then in Appendix C a similar table with the same numbers is printed and the units stated were boardings. So now my head hurts like yours.

        Maybe the reason why (linked) trips was chosen over boardings to measure agency market share is to account for transfers within other agencies like Metro. That means xx% of all regional transit trips use ST for at least one leg of their journey.

  4. Being from Philadelphia originally, I keep thinking that the ideal move would be to keep Northgate Station underground, and put it underneath the mall, along the lines of Suburban Station or Market Street east. It’d be a grind to figure out how to work out all the logistics of building a station underneath a mall that’s open for business, but the whole place would be worth a fortune once it was done. Station underground, mall on the first level or two, and apartments for however how you wanted to go after that.

    It’s probably way too far along in the design process to go back and look at that sort of thing though.

    1. See, that would make tons of sense and make people totally want to take Link. American transit planning is all about screwing up the details and making transit miserable.

    2. It would be a major change, but it’s not too late until the shovels hit the ground.

      For constructability: Instead of putting the station in the mall, put it in the parking lot and afterward build an extension of the mall over that section of parking lot.

      1. There you go, that’d be a relatively painless way to do it. There’s certainly enough parking lot there between the mall and the highway to allow room for construction of an underground station.

        Well, do you guys think that idea has enough going for it to make it worth pushing? I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, but if the idea has merit I can certainly write a few emails.

      2. Unfortunately, this was an idea that needed to be floated at 0% design, not 30% design. Pushing it now probably would be a waste of time.

      3. I’m not 100% sure of this, but I think the Morby Centrum stop in the northern Stockholm area was built underneath an existing mall.

        That said, it doesn’t seem to me that underneath vs. next to distinction is all that important, as long as the pedestrian connection is active and pleasant. The key idea is that if the station feels like part of the mall, then it’ll be natural to ride the train to the mall, ST can get revenue by selling/renting land for retail spaces, etc. A station under a mall naturally feels like part of the mall, but the same result can also be achieved by designing the connection between the station and the mall with a good pedestrian-retail component.

    3. I think you’d want to be careful that you didn’t isolate the station too much on the “Mall Island”. Sure you might get more use by mall patrons, but you might lose more of the local residents as they refuse to hike across the giant mall parking lots. Use a flyover bridge maybe as a solution to connect the mall more tightly, but I’ll say locate where more dense in-fill will go. You’ll have more 18 hour a day use than the peak mall traffic times.

      1. That’s why you create a mini-network of pedestrian tunnels or bridges for people to reach the station outside the mall from streets closer to potential TOD

      2. Judging from the maps on ST’s website, the station is already in an “island”, indeed an even worse one than you fear: the current design seems to have the station wedged between a mall parking lot on one side, and I-5 on the other.

        That seems pretty much the worst possible location from a pedestrian’s point of view—there’s nothing around it except cars and enormous amounts of pavement. Even with a bridge, it will be less attractive to mall users than an in-mall station, and it certainly won’t be any more attractive to non-mall users.

        Is there any location in the vicinity which would be viable for non-motorized external access? Absent that, the mall itself seems by far the best choice… that would at least give transit users the option of completely avoiding the pedestrian-hostile environment outside the mall.

      3. The parking lot adjacent to the station is a King County Metro Park & Ride. Metro has plans to turn at least part of it into TOD (maybe even all of it with garages).

  5. Reminds me of the Vision Line which virtually everyone on this blog derided as looking like circus tents. Ah, but if ST proposes something it’s gospe. Like the Overlake Station next to 520 instead of the stupid NE 24th route ;-). And speaking of circus, did ST’s Link engineers all come from a roller coaster background. There’s the Capital Hill to Montlake corkscrew. Now the 112th trench-flyover-DT tunnel-405/hospital elevated-BelRed trench and the 148th sky train into a trench to Overlake TC. I’m with Brian Campbell on this one. The real estate value of an underground mall station would be a revenue generator. Put a Chicago style Water Tower Place on top of it and you’ve got station, parking and dense retail; one stop shopping.

    1. ST proposed Roosevelt Station too, and I think it’s fair to say that most people here were not happy with its design.

      I totally agree that a direct mall connection would be fantastic. Boston has this for a number of stations (Back Bay, Prudential), and it works quite well. And of course Montreal has the Underground City, which is just amazing.

  6. the parking replacement needed for the Northgate construction staging should be built at the next station North (145th) with shuttle service. Once North Link is built it will still be valuable and ready as part of the Lynnwood extension (parking at 145th would be done0.

    1. They can only do that after they commit to the North Corridor’s alignment. And 145th is too far to be built with a little bit of stub track money. Plus the expense of building on I-5 without disrupting the freeway foundation (which is old). That’ll take a lot of design and engineering, more than just the little bit budgeted for a stub track.

    2. I-5 and NE 145th Street is a very poor Link station site; one quadrant has Jackson Park and no development potential; it has a full freeway interchange and will always have lots of general purpose traffic slowing local bus service; the land to the east is zoned single family; Thornton Creek is buried under I-5. we should not want Link in the freeway envelope.

    3. Oh, they can’t even commit to light rail until they finish the EIS. Not that that was followed on the Deeply Boring Tunnel, of course.

  7. If ST wants more parking spaces at Northgate, charge for the existing spots to create more open ones. And then keep charging for them after the station opens for service. If yet another parking garage gets built there, we’ll never be able to get rid of it. It’s not like those who drive to Northgate, park, and ride the 41 aren’t already getting premium service for a 1-zone fare.

    To improve the flow of the 41, add a security FTE, whose primary responsibility during rush hours is to staff the 41 back doors until Metro adopts a simple way to use rear-door ORCA readers to their full potential. And add transit lanes along the 41’s path, where feasible, until the 41 is truncated into a mere neighborhood route.

    I don’t think there needs to be an architectural solution for the Community Transit buses for the few years they would presumably be terminating at Northgate Station. However, temporary transit lanes in part of the approach from southbound I-5 to Northgate Station and part of the approach from the station to northbound I-5 would be nice. That’s *if* CT decides to terminate commuter lines at Northgate Station.

    Also, add a bunch more bike lockers at the transit center. Bikers deserve to park as much as drivers do, and the footprint of those lockers is much smaller than the footprint of an auto parking spot. Adding parking stalls while not having ample bike lockers is backwards. If ST is charging for the use of bike lockers, why do drivers get to store their vehicles on ST or Metro property for free?

    1. ST does not have the authority to charge for parking at Northgate as the lots currently there are WSDOT and King County. Charging for parking at a P&R is something that would have to be approved (at least tacitly) by the King County Council, something they have hitherto shown little interest in.

      That’s not to say that charging for parking at Northgate isn’t an excellent idea on the merits; it is. Unfortunately, ST can’t do it unilaterally.

    2. Free P&Rs are part of the assumption ST was created with. It would be good to start charging a fee to offset the P&R’s expenses and commuter-route expenses, but it would require a significant turnaround in the region’s attitudes, beyond just ST slapping a fee on its P&Rs. It would affect how people vote on ST3, for instance. People may be less inclined to vote for it if the P&Rs won’t be free.

      1. And other people will be less inclined to vote for ST3 if there are more free P&R’s. It’s blind speculation that people voted for ST2 for the free parking. Remember the roads and transit bill?

      2. Ok, how about this. Delete the Northgate Park & Ride entirely, and expand the next P&R north by an equal number of spaces.

      3. A few transit fans who want paid parking are dwarfed by the number of citizens who want free parking and consider it a natural expectation. (After all, their taxes pay for the P&R construction and maintenance.) It requires changing the attitudes of at least part of the mainstream population before it could succeed. That requires a charismatic person to convince people that maintaining free P&Rs is not the best use of their tax dollars. Who is willing and capable to do that? (Hint: they won’t listen to McGinn.)

      4. Mike, by that logic we shouldn’t charge fares either. Our taxes pay for operating and maintaining the buses after all…

    1. I thought the city of Seattle discourages park and ride lots, especially capital intensive garages that cost up to $30,000 a space. The city itself is losing money on its own Pacific Place garage. Might as well get future Link feeder service up and running sooner.

    2. Here’s a thought. Fast forward to 2030. ST2 is built. ST has now captured 65% of all transit trips. Everyone driving their car SB on I-5 near Lynnwood sees the advantage of taking Link because gas is now $17.00 a gallon.
      How big a parking garage at Lynnwood is required and how much would it cost at the going rate of about $20,000 per space.
      So, from WSDOT, I-5 handles about 96,000 daily vehicles going SB, so let’s cut that in half to 48,000 cars needing a parking space.
      At $20k each, that’s only $960,000,000 for a parking garage of skyscraper proportions to fit the site.
      OK. That Works!
      That would add about 60,000 (wag) new riders to Link, or about 18 million annual riders – still well short of the 418 million riders needed to get to 65% market share noted earlier.
      I think more parking garages is the answer.

    3. Are we talking ideals or reality? Ideally there would be no parking, and streetcars would run from the Link stations to all residential neighborhoods, which would also be built in a walkable manner. In reality, people are suspicious of transit at all, but they’ve grudgingly accepted it as a way to deal with I-5 congestion. They’ll tolerate increased taxes if it includes free P&Rs. Many people are complaining about the lack of P&Rs in south Seattle, in spite of the fact that the city said, “Sorry, Charlie, we’re planning for the future.”

      This is the starting point. Not, “Let’s delete all P&Rs and double the frequency.” That doesn’t stand a chance in h*ll of being accepted by the ST board or any government south of the 49th parallel and north of the Rio Grande.

      1. Hopefully my P&R satire drives a point home. You can’t build it big enough or tall enough to make a dent in Link ridership.
        Therefore, give up on I-5 as a dead horse and get to 99 ASAP where all the doorsteps are located. Northgate? Done deal. I-5 to Lynnwood? Highly likely.

      2. With some back of the envelope calculations I come up with ~$3k per year
        to provide structured parking (+$11/commute subsidy). Now, $3k won’t buy
        you much bus service but take the money associated with say 60 stalls
        and now you’re talking 6 platform hrs/day which nicely covers the AM/PM
        peak. If such a route can deliver more than 60 passengers it’s more
        cost effective than providing parking. Out in North Bend it wouldn’t
        work but I’d think Northgate would be a slam dunk.

  8. @ eddiew For all intents and purposes, the North Link alignment has been determined! The cities of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace have endorsed the I-5 alignment, for it provides the fastest, most-direct route from their designated city centers. The city of Shoreline endorsed the I-5 alignment, foolishly accepting Sound Transit staff arguments that travel time will be faster and that ridership will be higher with the I-5 alignment, also concerned about the visual impact on businesses on SR-99 while providing a second high-capacity corridor in their city. My problems with the arguments: (1) it’s total travel time that matters, and for most Shoreline residents, who live in central and west Shoreline, it will be longer, for the time to get to the station will be longer, with no parking being added on the two east/west streets under discussion (145th, 185th) and light Metro Transit coverage (and that’s before any cuts like the ones that were just put off for 2 years); (2) ridership estimates are always shaky, if anybody ever went back later and checked, they’d validate this fact…plus, the city has some desirable destinations that an SR-99 would increase ridership for, probably not in their estimate, such as Shoreline Community College, WSDOT, and Central Market; (3) the time difference is estimated at 4 minutes, which there was no support provided as to why that amount of time would deter folks from riding (a backup through the U-District is that amount of delay), who are more interested in one-seat rides, two the next choice, and the SR-99 routing performs far better in this realm; (4) the SR-99 corridor won’t be a high-capacity transit corridor with a “RapidRide” route that stops 12 times in 3 miles of Shoreline (compare that to 12 stops on the 16.7 mile Swift line from Shoreline to Everett), with no underlying local service; (5) the visual-and let’s not forget noise-impact for those along the I-5 alignment were never mentioned, apparently nowhere near as important as for SR-99 businesses; (6) it forfeits any economic development dollars for the city of Shoreline, whose City Center will be bypassed and which, with present Metro coverage, would require two transfers to reach from an I-5 alignment of North Link. The population of Shoreline is almost equal to that of Lynnwood + Mountlake Terrace combined, yet it’s the latter’s city centers that North Link will almost certainly serve, but at least the cost is expected to be less, which is, in this financial environment, ST’s guiding principle. Even Shoreline staff is enough concerned that ST will drop one of the two planned SR-99 stations if that alignment was chosen that the reason was part of their recommendation for the I-5 alignment.

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