Seattle Subway's Vision

For a long time, I’ve been writing about what should come next, how it fits into the big picture, how we can take steps to get there now, how we might fund it, and how we can be successful in the long term. I’ve delved into smaller topics, like what happens in the downtown tunnel and ideas about how to approach city-level expansion. We’ve talked a lot about what to do, and when.

Today, we have a vacuum. Sound Transit is well under way, and relatively safe from attack. Seattle has done some transit planning and has identified corridors where high capacity transit is necessary. This is a great time to start!

I’ve recently collected a small group of activists to show what Seattle’s mass transit could look like in the coming decades – and to campaign for it. Will you join us to help? You can sign up at Seattle Subway to get updates, and let’s start talking about it here.

237 Replies to “Let’s Build a Seattle Subway!”

  1. Ah, so you’re the one behind

    Sounds good to me. It’s time to think bigger than the so-called “rapid streetcar” being evaluated in the Transit Master Plan.

    1. Exactly.

      The way to change from compromising down to a streetcar is to ask for something real, something exciting, and get support behind it.

    2. This is great, and if Ben supports it, I have to think it’s the right thing. The point isn’t as much whether we get exactly this, or whether the blue line should be on Phinney or Aurora, or whether the purple line should dip down to Fremont. There’ll be plenty of time to discuss that when the EIS is started. The point is to begin negotiations at a high point, like a bargainer in a bazaar. You won’t get everything you want, so you have to ask for more than you expect to get.

  2. Oh, so you’re behind this!

    Okay, well now I can ask my questions.

    Why two west lines? The Red and Blue lines look like they’re made to take advantage of street-running on 15th NW and Aurora (respectively), at the expense of directly reaching population centers. This has a number of consequences:

    – Important connections become awkward. Ballard/Fremont requires separate service. We still need to send a fleet of buses to Upper QA.

    – Frequency is split across two lines. Whatever our operating budget is, we could get more for our dollar by running a single line.

    – Double the lake crossings. (And rail over the Aurora Bridge would probably require a rebuild anyway.)

    There are also political ramifications, since the two lines become separable. If you live in Fremont, you have no reason to care about the Red Line’s existence (and vice versa). So there’s a chance that one could get funded and the other will not. If both are the same project, then you have a greater number of constituencies fighting to keep it alive.

    Why the bottom half of the Blue Line? It’s unclear what you’re planning (given that it trails off into nowhere), but adding an extra express line to SeaTac hardly seems worth the money.

    1. Please don’t assume this is all to be built at once!

      I also don’t see how you’re assuming something called “Seattle Subway” would be street running anywhere. I think most of your criticisms are based on a faulty assumption. Consider this, as a first line – and as a subway, not a streetcar:

      In the long run, we need to serve Georgetown, and we do need faster service south of Sea-Tac. A fast route through South Seattle will help us get commuters in from Federal Way, and even Tukwila, and let us put in things like a Graham Street station and S. 133rd without making the inbound commute slower.

      1. Too bad the money to do all that is now committed to operating subsides and Link will for decades terminate at S. 200th; just like East Link will dead end at Overlake. The North Corridor, being built last is a blessing in disguise. It’s the only one that will actually fulfill it’s promise.

      2. Forgive me for making faulty assumptions, but you haven’t really given us much to go on here. :)

        Given that, let me restate my question. As pictured, the Red Line appears to mirror RapidRide D. But why would you do this, when a small modification would allow you to serve Upper Queen Anne and Fremont as well — arguably the two most important destinations on the Blue Line (based on current transit use and service hours)?

        As far as the southern Blue Line goes, I’ll echo what d.p. always says. If we build this as pictured, then during peak, it will be almost as fast (if not faster) to get downtown from Federal Way than from certain parts of Upper Queen Anne. Is that really the most effective use of money? Is that going to encourage the kind of land use we want to see?

        I’m not saying that a Georgetown bypass isn’t worth building. I’m just saying that I think it’s lower priority than some things which aren’t on your map (like serving Upper QA).

      3. By the way, when I said “street-running”, I meant like Link on MLK, not like the SLU streetcar. My apologies if that was unclear.

        If you truly want the whole project to be subterranean, then I’m even more mystified as to why you picked the two corridors in west central Seattle which have virtually no residential or commercial density at all. If you’re going to tunnel anyway (rather than using the medians of Aurora/15th NW), then why not tunnel under somewhere that actually has ridership (i.e. Upper QA)?

      4. Aleks, RapidRide might not even run every 10 minutes, given what’s happening with planning for C right now.

        Why go through Interbay? Because you can’t put a maintenance facility anywhere else if you’re starting with Ballard.

        As far as the blue line goes, since we probably aren’t going to push for that one until after red and purple are built (note that they’re in order from hot to cold :) ), it’s likely Sound Transit will have funded further service to the south by then. The main point of having blue on the map is to show that a new tunnel downtown would have capacity for more than one line – and we DO need to go up 99, it’s one of the easiest places in the city to develop more density.

      5. In terms of being street running, grade separation is definitely better, and we’ll need it to get across the ship canal in Ballard, too.

        I see you’re very interested in upper Queen Anne, and maybe that would end up making sense, but for now, the transit master plan identified the interbay corridor, and we’re basing this map on the work they’ve done to identify demand. I do agree that queen anne needs real transit as well, but there’s no place for a maintenance base there, and there’s by far the most demand for Ballard.

      6. So, to be clear, you are proposing that the line be street-running but grade-separated, a la MLK but better? That makes more sense, though I think my original arguments still apply.

        The maintenance base argument is interesting. My intuition is that you could enter QA hill from the south (portal near QA+Mercer), stop at QA+Boston, head diagonally NW to 15+Dravus, and still have some room to build a O&M facility in Interbay before crossing the canal. But that isn’t something I’ve spent a lot of time looking into.

        The thing about the Transit Master Plan is that it was forced to deal with a very hard constraint, which is the street grid. Running a bus from downtown to Ballard via Fremont and upper QA would be a nightmare. But similarly, there are no buses which follow U-Link exactly, and the closest equivalent (the 43) is absolutely not the fastest way to get from its origin to its destination.

        Subways free you from these kinds of constraints. Rather than running on convenient streets, you can directly connect all the demand nodes.

        (Having said that, on page 3-2 of the TMP, figure 3-1 shows a Blue Line that looks just like your Red Line except with exactly the Queen Anne diversion I’m talking about — including the Interbay stop for the O&M facility.)

        As far as the monorail goes… it was elevated! Of course you’re not going to build an elevated transit line over Queen Anne Hill. I don’t even think you could if you wanted to — the grade is way too steep. But Link went right through Beacon Hill just fine, and it could go through Queen Anne Hill as well.

      7. No, Aleks, I’m proposing we build a SUBWAY. Under the ground! :) Sure, bits of Interbay might be at-grade. But for the most part, think like we’re building between the ID and Northgate.

        Maybe Queen Anne might end up being better, but here’s the problem:

        We, as activists, decide that we want something to be perfect before we ever go start talking to normal people about it. As long as we do that, we don’t actually do ANYTHING. So for now, we start with this, we fight for it, and once we pass a measure to fund it, we let the professionals figure out exactly where it should go.

        Quite simply, if we can’t stop arguing about minutia and actually DO, we have already lost. I’m done with that. :)

      8. Aleks nails it regarding Upper Queen Anne and the TMP.

        Ben, I can all but guarantee you tunneling through QA on the way to either Ballard or Fremont was outside the consultant’s parameters due to a directive to consider only at-grade treatments in existing right of way. There just wasn’t funding for analysis on non-ROW options, and they weren’t considered politically viable—remember that they mayor was looking to coordinate the completion of the TMP with an immediate push for a rapid streetcar to Ballard. That shouldn’t constrain this plan moving forward.

        While I haven’t looked at it either, I have hard time believing we couldn’t find space for an O&M base somewhere to north/northwest of the hill before crossing the water.

      9. I just don’t understand why you think Upper Queen Anne would be cost effective. It would add a deep station like Beacon Hill, and you’d lose your maintenance facility *and* add a mile of tunnel where you could be separated and at grade. Nobody studies it because it doesn’t meet back of the napkin calculations long before study work really starts!

      10. I just don’t understand why you think Upper Queen Anne would be cost effective.

        Funny stuff, cost effective?

      11. I think QA will be better served by Streetcars/Cablecars. Keep the subway as it is and connect into QA through these cars. Among the other problems QA will never support high densities that would take proper advantage of the subway but if we made an easy way to connect through and deal with the hills it would be golden.

      12. I would combine the red and blue lines as follows: Have the line go up through Belltown, Seattle Center, Upper Queen Anne, Seattle Pacific University, Fremont, Zoo. At the Zoo, it turns westward, merging with the east/west line, and that station could be a center platform station with easy transfers for those heading for Wallingford. Anyway it can then head to a Market/15th station, where the line will split off again and go north.

        After crown hill, don’t follow the 75 route just because a bus already servest that route. 85th is a denser corridor and has at least as good of a ridership potential. Anyway you can hit Greenwood, Oak Tree, NSCC, Northgate, then continue east from there.

      13. “Nobody studies it because it doesn’t meet back of the napkin calculations long before study work really starts!”

        No, Ben. Nobody else has studied a Queen Anne subway because nobody else has planned a subway network. Obviously, a Queen Anne tunnel doesn’t make sense if you’re trying to build a Fremont (SLUS extension) or Ballard (mayor’s rapid streetcar) surface line as quickly and cheaply as possible.

        But a subway system absolutely has to explain why it would serve Georgetown while bypassing the Upper Queen Anne urban village in favor of the Dexter/Aurora and Interbay corridors. I’d also like to see a single survey, poll, or other piece of evidence indicating Queen Anne would be opposed to rail.

      14. This “maintenance base” thing ends now.

        Ben, you’re clearly arguing to prioritize the Ballard-serving north-south line in the medium-term. This clearly can’t happen without passing through downtown (in fact, you’re arguing that a new downtown tunnel is necessary for any capacity-adding branch anywhere).

        So build the maintenance base in SoDo. Where there’s ridiculous amounts of space. Where there will be even more space once the first phase of 99 construction concludes. Where you could easily mirror the current Link maintenance facility and/or run a connection between the two lines and facilities.

        You can’t simultaneously argue for the high-density redevelopment potential of Interbay and also argue for filling that skinny strip with a new brand new railyard. (The current Link facility in SoDo would fill 1/4 of the Interbay strip.) Especially when there’s such an abundance of space available at the line’s southern end.

        Maintenance base in Interbay was clearly a brain-fart, and therefore not a justification for any 100-year decision. (And as I say more calmly below, I’m agnostic about whether QA tunneling is really a good investment proposition!)

      15. We need to serve Interbay and Aurora but Queen Anne and Greenwood are skippable? However friendly the zoning is it’s going to be difficult to turn either of those corridors into pedestrian friendly neighborhoods. Upper Queen Anne and Greenwood already are.

        Interbay and Aurora are great candidates for surface or elevated transit because they are wide corridors that continue across the ship canal, but regardless of how tall the buildings get they’re not going to be that transit friendly when it’s impossible to cross the street.

        If I were going to build two n/s subway corridors, I’d make them Greenwood/Queen Anne and 24th/somewhere in Magnolia not immediately next to the railroad tracks.

      16. Explain to me why you couldn’t have a red line going QA-Fremont-Ballard and support the Aurora option for the North Corridor. What are you missing, Phinney and Green Lake? Is that really that big a loss?

    2. I get what Ben is saying here. The other side of that coin is if you propose a first line that goes Downtown->Belltown->Seattle Center->Upper Queen Anne->Fremont->Ballard that is going to excite a lot more people than going via Interbay.

      As for the O&M base issue there are a few possibilities if the line doesn’t run through Interbay. The most obvious would be to tie into the existing Link O&M facility in SODO, assuming the new line uses Link compatible rolling stock. Capacity issues at the Link base can be solved by giving ST the money to expand the current base or build an additional O&M base elsewhere along the Link ROW. Something near the South or North Metro bases would be a possibility. Another option would be to build an O&M base somewhere in the SODO area. Finally there may be appropriate space in the Leary Way corridor.

      As Ben pointed out though this is one of those very wonky details best worked out after you’ve at least come far enough to fund some real alignment studies.

      1. Honestly, I think a lot of the people on Queen Anne would oppose rail, similarly to what’s happening in Roosevelt. That’s another reason we’re avoiding it. Ballard, Belltown, Interbay are receptive.

      2. Well there is Fremont to consider. Fremont loves transit and would want Link bad. Though Fremont could be served via the 99 corridor, especially if the ship canal crossing was via a tunnel rather than a bridge. But if you do that you might as well swing over to serve Upper Queen Anne on your way between the East side of Seattle Center and Fremont.

        Roosevelt doesn’t oppose Link. Remember they fought with Sound Transit to get the alignment moved from over by the highway to the middle of the business district. They weren’t even necessarily opposed to an up-zone as they asked DPD to update the urban village master plan. What they opposed (and it was only some in the neighborhood) was an up-zone above and beyond what was in the DPD proposal, especially as applied to the Sisley blocks.

        I suspect the situation with Upper Queen Anne would be similar. They want the transit access but will only be willing to accept limited upzones.

      3. I honestly only want to fight for transit to neighborhoods that are accepting higher zoning right now. That means Belltown, Ballard, Interbay…

      4. Do humans live in Interbay? At all? I think the only thing I’ve seen there is a few bums and a stray dog. Upzoning would include allowing old refrigerator cardboard boxes as opposed to only allowing boxes for dishwashers and big screen TVs. I understand going through Interbay because it’s cheaper and the destination is really Ballard but to go BY people (Queen Anne) without asking them if they want a ride and stopping where there aren’t people is probably not the best policy.

        Since we’re only dreaming here we might as well spend another 400 million and tunnel through QA.

      5. Ballard is willing to support upzones? All I ever hear from Ballardites is whining about all the new apartments and condos (which they tend to assume are all condos, suggesting they’re not really paying attention)

      6. There’s 120′ zoning in Ballard? Where? I think there’s some 85′ zoning just west of 15th, but in the real world, 85′ is barely better than 65′, since about half the developments on 85′-zoned lots are 6-story 5+1 buildings anyway (as in the new proposal for 47th and 12th in the U-District).

        I remember some talk of 120′ zoning for Interbay, but I think the council compromised on that.

        Ballard currently has a lot of buildable lots (mostly around 15th and Market, I think), so a subway could certainly draw and centralize development, but I don’t get the sense that the neighborhood is itching for taller buildings.

    1. Why not Magnolia, or the Central District, or Wedgwood? Because for now, these are the things that give us the most bang for our buck, and we can add to it as we build more. :)

      1. Can you elaborate?

        Magnolia, the CD, and Wedgwood would all represent significant diversions and/or extensions from the proposed lines. In contrast, Upper Queen Anne is “on the way” between downtown and Fremont/Ballard. Especially if you’re tunneling, it seems like you’d almost have to try not to go through QA hill. (I almost wonder if a tunnel under 15th NW would be below the watershed.)

        It sounds like you may have done some analysis of ridership/costs for different alignments, and found that Upper QA wasn’t worth it. Could you share that analysis? I’m obviously not expecting anything EIS-quality, but even some back-of-the-envelope calculations would be nice.

      2. Well, yeah, but a QA stop would be more or less along an already-planned route, currently demands tons of bus service, and is already densifying rather quickly (by Seattle standards), whereas someplace like Magnolia is remote and generally circumspect at best regarding transit and growth. I just hate seeing two lines run through fairly desolate corridors while bypassing a bustling and growing urban village.

      3. Jason, every breath we waste trying to come up with The Perfect System before going and getting people excited, at this point, is a vote lost on an actual project. We need to stop doing this.

      4. Don’t get me wrong, Ben. I signed up and am happy to support the initiative. But you can’t show a bunch of transit nerds and policy geeks a map of potential routes and expect anything but a pretty robust discussion, man. And telling people they’re wasting their breath (and worse, costing votes at the ballot box!) if they want to discuss alternatives is over-the-top and not the best way to generate support.

      5. Jason, I don’t know what you want. We *have* looked at space north or northwest of Queen Anne for maintenance. There isn’t any, and there are other technical problems with trying to portal there, because you need a long tail to get under the water to get to Ballard. Interbay makes the most sense for a Ballard line – if you want to talk about why, email me!

      6. More important than even Upper Queen Anne is you can serve central Fremont by going under QA Hill. I mean if we’re gonna dream, dream big right?

        As for an O&M base how about the Leary Way corridor? Another alternative would be somewhere in SODO.

      7. Central Fremont is really in a different corridor. I think letting the city do a streetcar extension there makes a lot of sense, more than building a subway line.

      8. Well if the primary purpose of the proposed corridors is marketing and getting people excited, then you really want people in Fremont to get behind this. Even if the transit planners later decide against serving the neighborhood it can help for getting the study money and tax authority to build something.

      9. I’d say if you were trying to do a surface light rail you’d want to skip QA but if you’re already paying to tunnel it would be ridiculous not to just move it to the right about 200 ft and service another neighbourhood. Put the maintenance facility south of the ID. Done.

      10. Grant, Interbay could likely be surface (or at least elevated) and remain grade separated. Queen Anne is NOT free.

    2. I have considered both the QA and Interbay alignments for a Ballard subway line. Initially I was excited about serving UQA with a deep subway station similar to Beacon Hill. Now I think Interbay is the best bet:

      – It is unlikely that UQA will ever accept buildings much over 4 floors. It is a very charming and historic district, unlikely to change greatly. Its density is best suited to streetcars (the 13 and 3 could be converted to 5-10 minute frequency conterbalanced streetcars).

      – Interbay, almost a blank slate, is the best bet for Vancouver-style tower clumps anywhere near the City’s core. These neighborhoods actually produce ridership suitable for a subway. Its not politically feasible yet, but in 30 years? In the meantime the train can express through to Ballard.

      1. Forget the counterbalanced street-cars. WHY is everybody so ga-ga about streetcars? They’re MUCH slower than buses and are no more environmentally friendly that the ETB’s.

        The only reason the counterbalance ever existed is that when it was built there were no internal combustion engines smaller than a house with sufficient power to drag a bus up QA Avenue. Do you REALLY want to go down a 20 degree grade on rails held back only by a cable? I don’t.

      2. Trolleybuses are a perfectly good mode for Queen Anne. Stop trying to re-invent the wheel.

        No articulated ETBs have regularly run on QA. If capacity becomes an issue, after upping frequency you can put these in service. If that’s not enough, call the Swiss for some of those 3 segment ETBs and tell WashDOT and USDOT you need a waiver to the 61-foot rule.

      3. After reviewing Ch. 2 of the TMP I have to agree with Ben that routing via Interbay makes a lot more sense than trying to serve Upper Queen Anne.

        Even if the BNSF isn’t going to redevelop any of the current Interbay yard there is plenty of other underutilized land in the area including a lot of Port property.

        If BNSF decides to close the yard then that frees a huge amount of space. We’re talking an even bigger opportunity than False Creek up in Vancouver.

      4. Anandakos,
        Streetcars aren’t necessarily any slower than buses. It is just the Skoda/Inekon cars Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma are using are geared for a low top speed and are underpowered. There is no reason a streetcar can’t accelerate just as fast as a Link car or a NYC subway. In fact Hiroshima uses cars very similar to Link as surface trams.

        The reasons to select a streetcar over a bus are twofold. The first is capacity, a 200′ long tram has way more capacity than is possible with buses alone. The second is mostly political as it is easier to get priority treatment and reserved ROW for rail than it is for buses.

        As for Upper QA I think a 60′ ETB every 5 minutes can meet demand. Remember much of the load on the QA routes comes from Belltown, Seattle Center, and Uptown. If a subway is built these destinations will be served with grade-separated rail. Furthermore the transit time for those on Upper Queen Anne is vastly improved as they only have to get off the hill and to the nearest Subway station. Most of the delay in getting from the top of Queen Anne to say Westlake occurs in the portion of the trip between Mercer and Pine.

      5. Supposedly, no artics go up Queen Anne Hill because the grade is too steep. The same is true for Madison (i.e. the 11/12). This is why the TMP calls for Madison HCT to have 40-foot ETBs coming every 5 minutes.

  3. Perhaps make the Purple Line also go through Interbay-Downtown-West Seattle and forego the westernmost station. Otherwise the line might end up resembling the Green Line in Los Angeles where awkward transfers are required to go downtown. If those arguments don’t hold water, then timed transfers or specifically designed transfer stations are a must.

    This plan includes the Second Avenue Subway correct? Or would it branch off of the Transit Tunnel?

    LACMTA Metro Map:

    1. Yep, this means a 2nd Ave. subway.

      It’s possible that the purple line might do that – but I’m leaving that to the professionals. This is just a concept that’s good enough to get people excited. If we argue about exactly where we want it to go, we’ll waste our breath before we ever get support for a ballot measure, and then the planning professionals will tell us where it needs to go anyway. :)

      1. Well, I’m definitely excited! And I’m also an urban planner whose particular interest happens to be transportation, so critiquing the route is a reflex. ;-) The branding and presentation is definitely attractive though, so props for that. Just imagining the Red Line being built gives me chills.

        Thank you for leading the charge. I love these crystallizations of will!

  4. Love the map and concept. Have ideas of course.

    The red line could have one service as shown, plus a second that is a circle. Go south on 23rd and head to West Seattle. That would address the lack of service on the east half.

    Upper QA is a puzzle. A frequent bus from the LQA station would be a start. Better yet, I wonder if a deep bore with an elevator-accessed station a la Beacon Hill would be affordable enough. Without other QA stations, there’s no benefit to having it at the surface. Alternatively, a station around Harrison and another at Howe or so would both be well used, as Dexter has some office and residential density in its narrow corridor.

    A Boeing stop could be added south of Georgetown.

    1. I’m *so* done talking about how it “could” be. Let’s go do the legwork to get to Ballard. :)

      1. Okay, sure. Let’s do the legwork. Part of that is coming up with a route that has a good chance of being approved by the voters. Lots of people live in Ballard and would be thrilled to have a good light rail line in their neighborhood. That’s great. Few people live in Interbay. Put a station or two on Queen Anne hill and you suddenly increase the number of folks who will be excited about this.

      2. Before you come up with a route, you have to get the study work done to come up with a route. We’re not even there yet.

        I’m not really interested in fighting for rail under Queen Anne, because I have no idea where we’d put a maintenance base and I don’t think it would be cost effective. Interbay is a huge brownfield, much like South Lake Union was, and it makes a LOT of sense to build transit there before it gets built up.

      3. Grant, why don’t you email me and we’ll talk about it? There are a lot of considerations that make Queen Anne very expensive and limit the ridership it could generate. It’s

    2. I think part of why so many people are asking these “what if” questions is because there isn’t really anywhere else we can go for answers. I’d say your website is vague, but that’s an understatement. :)

      I’m all in favor of a grassroots movement to get people excited about a subway system. And there’s no question that your help on that effort will be invaluable. But eventually, you’ll need to come up with an official plan (i.e. in much more detail than what you’ve shown here), and people will start asking these kinds of questions for real.

      In the short term, I do think it would be valuable to at least provide some evidence that you’ve considered these alternatives. I think that many people will be more willing to get behind a plan when it’s clear that serious effort has gone into its design.

      1. And to be clear, I’m not saying that you need to write an EIS. :) But the many residents of Upper QA might have a hard time getting behind a 20-year proposal that would leave them behind. I don’t know about you, but if I lived in Upper QA, and someone told me “Hey, would you sign this petition for a subway that will make it faster to get to Federal Way than your neighborhood?”, I’d want to ask some serious questions before signing.

      2. Aleks, that’s not how projects like this work. Sound Transit didn’t target Upper Queen Anne. Why don’t you email me and I can talk you through the campaign plan? Right now you’re wasting time nitpicking when you could be helping. :)

      3. Nobody is saying we can’t debate the routes while we push for its glorious eventual materialization in whatever form. Maybe there should be some sort of social forum on the site. One that gathers input and allows people to show their input visually with maps or whatever.

      4. N.M. , we really really don’t want to do that, because every time someone thinks “I have a good idea” and gets told “no”, they get uninterested. That’s how things like Prop 1 happen – everyone gets “involved” and has to be happy before it goes anywhere, and enough people are unhappy that it doesn’t.

        There will be plenty of time for the professionals to figure out exactly where things should go after it’s funded. Remember, that’s what Sound Transit does. The best way to kill this before it starts is to talk about minutia.

  5. All these subway routes are pie in the sky for Seattle but I was talking with my mom this weekend about the neighborhoods she grew up in. Born in High Barnet they moved to the suburbia of Southgate on the Picadilly line when she was seven. One stop short of Cockfosters; the end of the line back then. Big advantage of being close to a tube station is you had a place to sleep during the Blitz.

      1. Right now we’re tunneling just about the only part of Link light rail that makes sense; connecting the Seattle CBD to the U-District. That’s two major demand centers with geography that precludes any other solution. Well, OK Washington would have built cement barges and just paved over Lake Onion and the ship canal but in this case the feds saved us from our self ;-)

      2. In the long run we’re all dead. It’s about the here and now economics that matter. As I tried to relate in my little story about London, a subway really can work in suburbia. But you can’t build suburbia with a highway system fueled by cheap gas and expect to add a subway after the fact. And you really don’t have to try and be a fortune teller. Subways can and would be built in a couple of years if they again become the most cost effective solution.

      3. Bernie, if you’re only thinking about short term, you’re screwing the next generation. I’d prefer not to do that.

      4. We’re tunnelling the very least amount that we can and it’s till hugely expensive. A Seattle Subway will never ever happen. It’s fun to sit around and chat about it though.

      5. Current estimates last I checked are over 10 feet of sea level rise in the next 100 years. Estimates have only been going up over time.

        (BTW, forget that Seattle Waterfront plan — very short term, that….)

        Tunnelling is OK, but remember that *every tunnel* must be treated as being under sea level, even if it isn’t right now.

      6. Nathanael, every tunnel is already treated as if it’s under sea level! Even under Beacon Hill is under the water table.

  6. By “subway”, does it mean that it will be running with a third rail underground? Or something more like Link today? I see that it’s going through the DSTT.

    If it means 90+ mph trains, I would be all for it.

    1. It’s not going through the DSTT – we’ll need a second tunnel downtown to have the red and blue lines. The DSTT can’t take more service than Sound Transit will already be putting in it.

      Ideally, I’d like to be technology-compatible with Link, so that trains can be swapped between systems, but only if that makes sense in the long run. If third rail makes more sense, then so be it. :)

      1. Third rail is pretty much incompatible with running at-grade, so unless you’re planning to elevate on 15th NW and Aurora, you’re stuck with catenary.

      2. You mean 4th tunnel. We already have the Seattle Bus Tunnel and the Great Northern Tunnel and we’ll soon have the Deep Debt Tunnel.

      3. A lot of things are possible, but it would be more expensive to build a dual technology system than to build a standard system.

      4. 5th Ave would be a good location for a second tunnel if you want something that is 1) not redundant and 2) provides transfers at Westlake and King Street Station.

        3rd rail would rule out sharing any part of the corridor with buses or emergency vehicles, but it shouldn’t rule out at-grade crossings — trains could have ultracapacitors to get them past a gap in the electric rail or simply have connection points at the front and the back such that it isn’t necessary to be connected everywhere.

        I believe the upside of third rail is that it allows for smaller tunnels than an overhead catenary system. If you want to be primarily tunneled and never share tracks with Link it may be the right way to go.

        Yes, dual mode trains exist, and dually electrified track can be done too, so choosing a different technology from Link need not commit us to never sharing tracks.

      5. The anchor of downtown is moving closer to the waterfront after the Viaduct comes down. I’d rather have transfers at every station.

        Also, 2nd is a hole right now. It has parking garage structures and empty land. This would help with a lot of that.

  7. This is pretty much my dream proposal. Here are my concerns and quibbles:

    * Making this a subway for the entire length might not be cost-effective. Questionable sections include downtown to Ballard with only one stop between Lower Queen Anne and Market Street, West Seattle south of the Alaska Junction, and the blue section south of SODO. As a vision the idea of subway throughout the city limits is appealing. In reality, other kinds of grade separation might be appropriate in these areas (and elsewhere), and it would be better to focus on a core area for the Subway. I’d personally make anything south of 65th or so and north of Seahawks Stadium a subway.

    * By giving this a distinct brand, it suggests a separation from Link service. To work best, this should use Link technology so that trains and other operational assets can be shared.

    * I’m curious what the challenges of working around the Deep Bore Tunnel to put in a second transit tunnel will be. I assume the red and blue lines share a single tunnel and alignment between Seattle Center and the industrial district. In my ideal world this would roughly go along 2nd, and the stations would parallel the DSTT stations for easy connections between them, possibly including underground walkways. The south portal would be at the north parking lot of Seahawks Stadium to serve the planned development there. The north portal could be as far north as Green Lake. But at both ends of the DBT the new tunnel would have to thread across it.

    * How would this be financed, given that Sound Transit has used up the existing sales tax limit for transit? I know you addressed this before but it seems like this is a big limiting political factor up front that has to be solved before any serious plans for a subway can proceed.

    1. * We’re not designing it, we’re suggesting corridors. It’s years before professionals will work out where stations are and exactly what parts would be subway and what elevated. I can’t repeat that enough.

      * That might make sense, it might not. Depends on what happens after some study work is done.

      * The deep bore tunnel is much deeper than what we’d build.

      * Our job is to say “we want this” and then to get enough people to demand it that we can lobby for a funding source. Again, if you worry about that before you have a lot of people excited, you’ll just scuttle it instead of finding a solution.

      1. Once ST2 is built out won’t ST have some money left over after debt service and operating costs? While I know it isn’t enough to build this vision in a reasonable time frame it still is a fair sized chunk of change.

      2. I like the vision.

        However, I liked the vision of the Seattle Monorail too, and that didn’t turn out well. The things that tripped it up were 1) tying the vision to a technology in advance and 2) not carefully thinking through the financing.

        It turns out that elevated monorail throughout the city doesn’t make sense. If the vision had been in-city transit without any preconceptions about technology, and if the work for funding had been done in advance, we might already have a train to Ballard. And as for funding, it seems like funding might require a state Constitutional amendment and that’s a multi-year effort all by itself.

        In any case, I’ve signed up for the effort and I’m willing to help out. Thanks for getting this started.

      3. Cascadian – you bet. You should shoot me an email ( if you want to help out!

        I think it’s clear from the monorail’s failure and Link’s success that we need to have conservative financing, and to use technology that isn’t limited to being elevated. A subway can be anything – but we know we need to go under downtown.

      4. Ben,
        Yes, I agree, build on Sound Transit’s success. The particular technology choice should be punted to the stage where you have professionals doing alternatives analysis. Though if I had to bet, I’d guess something compatible with Link very likely will be chosen. That goes double if it is handed to Sound Transit to build. After all they know more about building subways in Seattle than anyone else.

        Even more important is conservative financing. No repeating the mistakes of the Monorail or the early years of Sound Move that nearly killed Sound Transit.

      5. “and to use technology that isn’t limited to being elevated”

        Monorail isn’t limited to being elevated. There’s little difference between third rail and monorail outside of tunnel height. Third rail could have smaller tunnels but monorail runs elevated much easier. Neither are running in the street which is good.

  8. It’s always good to look ahead, Ben. Really interesting thing is to imagine what Seattle will look like- and be like to live in- when a system of this caliber really becomes necessary.

    Would love to get a soils map, and the rest of the topography, geology, hydrology, and seismology for the whole place too.

    Only “off” detail: a system of this size would likely have one or two stations for Downtown Seattle, maybe one with a vertical connection to the quaint antique DSTT.

    Maybe we could run the Melbourne cars through there.

    Mark Dublin

  9. What’s the purple-line stop east of Brooklyn? Is it up on the hill or down by U-Village? As I’m sure you know, east of 15th Ave NE is sort of a transit desert, with the major E-W routes (the 44 and 48) going through UW instead of continuing east.

    This looks like a deliberate decision, as it doesn’t just follow existing bus routes. Compared to the Ballard Spur concept, this leaves higher frequencies and capacities on North Link all the way to Northgate and off to, you know, Vancouver or wherever. This comes at a cost in efficiency, since you’re running much more bi-directional capacity than is needed north of Brooklyn and east of 15th NE. Any comment on this? Do you picture the U-Village area growing into its service levels?

    1. It’s a dot, on a map intended to suggest where a line should go. I’d say it’s U Village.

      If you want a line there at all, the first step is to demand it, then to figure out where stations should go. :)

  10. Ben, any back of the envelope estimates on how much to build the ‘map’ and time to do it?
    I’ve gone to the website but there doesn’t appear to be anyway to navigate off the page that comes up. I’m on Goggle Chrome. Thoughts?

  11. I believe it is mis-named to call that system a subway. For example, a spur from the SODO Link Light rail Station to West Seattle could and should be above ground. It could easily have its own grade separated right-of-way, with few roads adjacent to it crossing the Duwamish. The doggone ex-Northern Pacific Railway still crosses the Duwamish into West Seattleand terminates darn near Salty’s and passes right by the Steel Mill.

    I hope for a spur from SODO Station to West Seattle Junction(s) before I am dead.

    1. A spur from Link would not be an operationally effective design. It will never happen.

      A new line that goes to West Seattle will almost definitely happen. :)

      1. “A spur from Link would not be an operationally effective design.”

        For the sake of STB’s credibility, stop claiming such things with authority.

        The optimistic projection of 75,000 for North Link does not mean “30 4-car trains per hour through the central subway.” That’s a totally bullshit assumption and I’m sick of seeing other valid ideas shot down on the basis of it.

      2. …I mean, we’re looking at an ambitious, long-term, city-remaking project here. We’re not going to arrive at the precise routing and service details in a day.

        Not all ideas are good ideas, and I’m all for pointing out flawed ideas before they snowball into something problematic (see: single-tracking sections of urban rail to save money).

        But the refutations had better be impeccable. The “maxed-out central subway on 75,000 passengers” — for the umpteenth time, that’s less than 1/3 of what Boston’s Green Line handles with older tunnels and older vehicles — is nowhere near the iron-clad argument STB principals make it out to be.

      3. d. p.:

        You’re making up two numbers, and then going “see? see? These numbers don’t make sense!” It’s a straw man. The central portion of the system will have upwards of 200,000 riders per day in 2030. The North Link number you’re using is just the new riders North Link will add to the total, not the systemwide ridership.

        All you need is 15 1-car trains per hour to not be able to add a new line to the DSTT.

        Like I keep saying – with East Link and North Link, we’ll have trains in the DSTT every 4 minutes (8 minutes each line). In order to add another line to that, you’d have to interline another train with those – and the moment you add *anything*, then you have situations where trains come every 2 minutes, at the absolute capacity of the tunnel.

        This would mean that you can never, ever run East Link or South Link any more often than every 8 minutes.

        I swear if you actually think about how many trains would come, in what order, with what timing between them, you would figure out that I’m right. Could you try that?

      4. That’s not what’s happening here, and with all due respect, you’re the one citing a baseless number.

        That “200,000 riders in 2030” statistic gets bandied around the comments section of various blogs, but it is not rooted in any official document (or even an unofficial itemized calculation.

        The most optimistic numbers I’ve seen are 75,000 for North Link, 50,000 for East, and 40,000 for Central/South. That would only add up to 165,000 even if their were zero throughput.

        ST’s own pre-recession documents tend to peg 2030 total ridership at a mere 115,000-125,000, even with a complete ST2 build-out.

        You’re absolutely correct that 2-minute headways are the tightest the central subway should be designed for. We agree on that. (Trains can really run 75 seconds apart without backups, so a 120-second buffer compensates amply for the lack of perfect spacing inherent in interlining.)

        But 3 interlined services, run at a peak frequency of 6 minutes each, are more than adequate for Seattle’s needs. We’re not Paris and we’re not Hong Kong; no other city our size in the world runs multi-car services more frequently than that on non-central-city segments. (Not even Boston, my most frequent source of comparison and a city whose density and transit capacity Seattle will never even approach.)

        It is vital that the segment between downtown and Brooklyn be able to run at 2-minute frequencies when necessary. Fortunately, any 3-line interlining scheme you could possibly envision does so!

      5. Wow, 160 comments and this is the first time you’ve appeared, Oran!!

        Thanks for your citation-finding as always.

        So there it is, I guess ST has indeed made that kind of highball claim. Even though the chart exists in a total vacuum, and it totally contradicts their own individual-segment numbers. :-(

        Another reason to be incredulous about that table: 280,000 daily riders for Link out of only 544,000 total regional transit trips in 2030.

        Given how little Link as presently designed does for urban mobility, I find it flatly impossible to believe that more than half of transit trips will use be using it!

      6. …When most of Ben’s map exists in the real world (overlaid on ST’s regional map), then we can start talking about 50% of regional trips being taken on rail.

        Until then, I’m prepared to call out that ST chart as either a massive typo or a fraudulent claim. (Hope it’s just a typo/math error, especially inasmuch as it’s Link total is nearly twice as high as its combined individual segment estimates.)

      7. Central Link can’t have headways below 6 minutes due to the need to allow cross traffic through Rainier Valley, so you can’t really make full use of the DSTT *without* 3 lines.

        Whether trains can be added through SODO I’m not so sure, but at a minimum we could elevate the southbound tracks so that traffic only has to stop for northbound trains. The other benefit this would bring is that at the split points there would be no interference between northbound and southbound trains, which should help with scheduling flexibility.

      8. Eric, if Central Link has headways of 6 minutes, and you have East Link with headways of 6 minutes, where exactly does the third line get its capacity?

      9. By getting headways in the DSTT down to 2 minutes. Anyway Central Link has headways of 7.5 minutes, so you may only need to get headways down to 2.5 minutes. That’s certainly doable. Because of the need for both lines to play nice with traffic it’s a pretty safe bet that future capacity increases are going to come from longer trains, not shorter headways.

        Also, the capacity constrained part of the system is U-district through downtown — we don’t want to be limited to a train every 3 or 4 minutes in those tunnels when they cost a lot to build and can support 50% more than that.

      10. The capacity constrained part of the system is U-district through downtown — we don’t want to be limited to a train every 3 or 4 minutes in those tunnels when they cost a lot to build and can support 50% more than that.


        Don’t overserve Lynnwood just to underserve UW & Capitol Hill.
        Don’t underserve UW & Capitol Hill just to overserve Lynnwood.

        When demand patterns support it, the logic of branching is self-evident.

    2. “I believe it is mis-named to call that system a subway.”

      The NYC “Subway” has elevated parts in Brooklyn. The Chicago “El” has underground segments. The London “Underground” has a surface line, as does the Moscow “Metro” (a term most people consider identical to “subway”).

      1. Metro is identical to subway? Metro means metro, subway means under. Having said that though the Paris metro has several lines that run above ground at least part of their length.

      2. People think of metro as “That’s what the French and Spanish and Russians call their subways.” Why does San Francisco have a MUNI Metro rather than a “Muni Subway? Because it connotes European refinement, which San Francisco has always fancied itself as being.

  12. This pushed me to finally finish the Angry Transit Nerd post I started working on after Prop 1 failed.

    I think the smartest way to move forward is to push the City to conduct an alternatives analysis, including a fully grade-separated mode, and preliminary engineering for these corridors. That would give us a much better idea what the costs would be and would let us go after federal grants.

    1. Metro level transit planned on federal grants is inherently flawed. Stop the stupidity and build only systems that local money will support.

      1. That’d be fine if we could stop paying taxes to the Feds. In the meantime, why not get something in return?

      2. That’s the root of the problem we have today. Everybody wants to maximize the “free money” instead of cutting off the DC mafia that holds total control and extracts their cut. Sending money to DC and accepting less that 100% return with huge restrictions on how it’s spent is stupid.

      3. Bernie,
        Infrastructure is a core government function. There is a reason national governments typically get involved with urban transit systems within their borders.

        It is just as important to the national economy as highways across the Great Plains and vast stretches of the rural West. If the Federal Government were to kick highway maintenance completely back to the states, Nebraska deciding to stop maintaining I-80 wouldn’t just hurt Nebraska but the entire country.

        Similarly major cities not building or maintaining their transit systems hurts the national economy.

      4. Well put, Chris.

        Sometimes, being the outlier (the only place in the developed world where this isn’t a given) is not a good thing.

  13. I’m with Ben. It’s seems to me that the first battle is to get people to agree that they want a Subway. A proper Subway, underground practically everywhere, no grade crossings, faster than christ, all that sort of thing. Anyway once we’ve got momentum on our side we can work out routing details and things like that, but at this point building enthusiasm seems to me like the first order of business.

  14. I’m all for it. Do it quickly, cheaply and effectively. Cut n’ Cover where possible. Focus should be on laying as much track possible for the buck instead of the weirdly grandiose stations & deep bore tunnels we see today. Construction pain would be worth the long term benefit.

    1. You bet.

      Downtown and Belltown would probably be cheaper to bore than to cut and cover (as was done between stations with the DSTT as well) because of the impact to the businesses, but we’ll see!

    2. Due to construction impacts and the cost of utility relocation bored tunnels can actually be cheaper per-mile than cut-and-cover. Furthermore the cost of bored tunnels has come down by quite a bit compared to what it used to be.

      The construction impact varies with the neighborhood, utility relocation costs depend on what exactly is buried under the street, and the difficulty of building a bored tunnel depends on soils and the water table.

      1. Since we have a fairly good idea how much it costs per mile to tunnel in Seattle now and we could look at the subway map and see how many miles we want to do it do we have a not-so-random dollar amount?

      2. It looks like according to Google maps you’re planning about 40 miles of tunnels. At the cost that other cities have put in subways (150m a mile) it would cost about 5 Billion dollars. That is probably doable. However Seattle can’t seem to do a mile for anything less than 500 million dollars bringing the total to 20 Billion. That will never happen. Seems we need to find a cheaper way to tunnel.

  15. I like the idea, but I’m concerned that getting mainstream people to vote to tax themselves to pay for it will be difficult. In order to get it approved, you first have to convince the general population that transit is for more than just home->work trips for people who work downtown because this is way too expensive to build just for getting downtown.

    I like the map, though, especially the purple line which allows it to really function like a a grid.

    The only think I find a bit questionable is going from downtown to Ballard through Interbay. If you have a subway, I’d just as soon go to Ballard through Fremont and get the biggest ridership points with less track.

    1. Fremont doesn’t have space for a maintenance base, and Interbay is expected to develop a lot more. Plus, Interbay gives you Lower Queen Anne, which you miss with Fremont.

      Mainstream people voted overwhelmingly for ST2, before Link had even opened. Don’t worry!

      1. 500 people over the next two decades is hardly “developing a lot more.” It’s an industrial area dominated by a huge rail yard.

        In contrast, East Queen Anne is expected to add between 6,000 and 9,000 residents in that same time. See page 2-11 from the Transit Master Plan Briefing Book.

        I think serving the top of the hill has merit, depending on the cost.

      2. Matt, BNSF is abandoning the rail yard. Things there are going to change a lot.

        I think serving the top of the hill would be great, but I think they’d fight it.

        East Queen Anne will add more residents, but a lot of people want a rapid streetcar there. The ‘blue’ line could also serve that. Much like Link in 99 vs I5 corridors, this is more than one corridor, and we shouldn’t try to serve it with one line.

      3. Do you have a source for your assertion that BNSF is abandoning the yard? This is the first I’ve heard of it.

        The City’s Comprehensive Plan certainly doesn’t see Interbay becoming a major population center.

        Maybe it does make sense to serve Queen Anne on a different line or with a different mode. But let’s not write it off from the beginning based on a flawed assumption that Interbay will be adding more residents, or worse, out of fear of NIMBYs.

      4. You could do Lower Queen Anne to Upper Queen Anne to Fremont. It would require a slight jog back to the east but it’s not really that far out of the way (about a third of a mile from Queen Anne Ave to Fremont Ave, and less than that out of the way because you’re traveling on the diagonal.)

        At 2nd & Denny there’s a little triangle that could easily be reworked with a subway entrance. That’s your Seattle Center station. 1st & Mercer is your “Lower Queen Anne/Uptown” station (and a 2nd Seattle Center station) half a mile away. You wouldn’t want either station any further west because you waste potential walkshed to the bay.

        Then you put a station on top of the hill on Queen Anne. From there, the tunnel goes under the Ship Canal on a northeast heading to a station with an entrance at “Waiting for the Interurban” in the heart of Fremont. From there you can ease over to Phinney near Woodland Park and then back to Greenlake (where you’d stop the tunneling, likely).

        That said, it’s still probably better to get to Ballard via Interbay, which also helps out people in Magnolia. It’s just that you would branch at Lower Queen Anne/Mercer station instead of before.

      5. Matt, I think the decision was made before the comprehensive plan, but nobody knows exactly when. It’ll still be before we build more rail.

        The big reason to branch before Lower Queen Anne is to serve East Queen Anne, which is hugely dense compared to Upper Queen Anne.

      6. I don’t think it’s safe to assume that because people voted for ST2 they would vote for this.

        First, the recession hadn’t really hit in 2008, so people were more willing to vote to tax themselves period than they are today. Frankly, if ST2 were on the ballot in 2011, I’d give better-than-even odds to say it wouldn’t pass, even though it got 60% support in 2008.

        Second, in the era of the Monorail and Mike McGinn, lots of voters don’t trust our elected leaders to follow through on their promises. If this proposal ever comes on the vote, there will be a genuine fear that they will be seeing their taxes raise to fund studies which will disappear in a dustbin, and the line will still never get built. The I-forgot-how-many-millions-it-was to “study” a streetcar line was a big factor in people voting down Proposition 1.

        Third, there is a finite amount of money that people here are willing (not to mention legally allowed) to spend on transit and I fear that with ST2, that limit has already been reached. Maybe when the ST2 tax expires in 30 years, we can convince voters to accept another tax to pay for a Seattle subway system. But until then, I think we’re taxed out.

        To be clear here, I would like to see a real subway line get built that forms a real network. I especially like the proposal for the #44 route. It’s just that right now, the whole thing feels like pie in the sky.

      7. It got 60% across the county. It got more like 75% in Seattle.

        If you don’t want it to be pie in the sky, come out and help us build support and excitement. If you do that, we’ll get there.

        I don’t think there’s anything like a limit to what people are “willing to pay”. Seattle acts like Scandinavian countries in terms of public goods. If we could have a city healthcare system, I bet it’d pass. :)

      8. I wouldn’t bet on BNSF abandoning the rail yard. A lot of planned rail abandonments have been… quietly reversed, in recent decades, as railroads realize that they have growing demand.

  16. This is really similar to a plan I’ve been messing with only I have the blue going down to stops past gtown at north Boeing field/South Park then south boeing field/ MoF then down to southcenter or tukwila light rail and then to renton

    1. The big point of having the blue line be a straight shot is to get farther south, out of the city. It’ll help cause businesses to locate in downtown if they can get a lot more commuters.

      1. What’s different about having the Blue line “be a straight shot to get farther south” and a Link mostly at-grade express track along Airport Way which you vociferously oppose?

        Oh, I forgot, five or six hundred million dollars for a subway through an industrial district.

      2. You’re asking what’s different between the blue line and an at-grade express? The blue line wouldn’t be at grade. I’d imagine it would be elevated, and then connect to Link in Tukwila to keep going south.

        What are you saying I oppose, exactly? In this piece, I even linked to earlier writing where I say having an express is a good thing.

  17. Wasn’t the SPMA doing “next phase” corridor studies on all of these corridors (and a few others) before they imploded? We the public paid for that information — is it in a remotely usable form?

    1. It’s not that useful. Some of it exists, and you can find from it that we’d get really good ridership on grade separated Ballard rail – like, maybe 50,000 or more after a few years, tons.

  18. I don’t live in Seattle anymore, but I’ll sign up if I move back. A couple of questions for the financing side of things:

    1) In Washington State, can a subway authority recoup any of the value it’s creating? If not, is there any chance of the legislature changing that?
    2) If it’s fully built as a grade-separated subway, can it be fully automated, thereby lowering the operating subsidy? We might be able use that to help convince people the cost of digging is worth it.

    1. Tax-increment financing (TIF) generally isn’t available in Washington State. However, ST and any other rail construction agency buys land for station construction, and then sells the surplus land after construction for development. I’m sure there’s profit in that.

      1. There probably isn’t much profit in it. They buy property with buildings on it, tear them down, and then sell empty property. Generally a losing proposition.

  19. Someone competent to run the numbers needs to put this in perspective for you. We now spend 2/3 of regional transportation funding on transit, and half of that is for the Sound Transit rail program. The Seattle portion of that included substantial federal funding, which Sound Transit hopes to count on for its future extensions. The ST line has to buy the tunnel from King County, but didn’t need to pay for its construction – which cost a half billion in the 1990’s when construction costs were remarkably less expensive. Seattle’s bond capacity is limited. And the 15 year bubble period when voters approved every levy because the economy was growing and so many felt rich has come to an end. The grade separated lines you (and I) would like to see are also expensive. Given everything, this proposal seems to be driven by a determined denial of reality. We’re facing a more constrained future, at least for the time being.

    Part of the challenge here is that the region (with support from this blog and this blogger) has devoted itself to a different regional transit vision – which is to get light rail to Everett and Tacoma to cater to a trickle of peak period commuters using those end segments. This was the result of political compromise to establish the Sound Transit voting district, calling for a 70-mile light rail line, longer than any I’m aware of in the world and indefensible by any technical measure. That vision is directly at odds with the dense urban network you propose, but that’s what the region has thrown its funding support behind. We spend almost a penny of sales tax in Seattle to support our portion of that system. My guess is that the system you are hoping to superimpose on top of that would be at least two pennies more, or about a 12% sales tax.

    You can run the numbers and take them to the voters if you want, but I think that’s a waste of time. A better approach is to revisit the regional vision and step back from a commitment to get to Everett. The ST board is already stepping back from their commitment to get to Tacoma. If you step back far enough, then you will free up enough forecasted capacity in the existing tunnel to accommodate the Seattle lines you’re proposing (which, by the way, should service Delridge and Burien rather than Georgetown). Then you can start talking about a system that can be developed incrementally (starting with buses in the early years) and afforded within only a few generations, and that would promote an urban transit vision instead of a suburban one that follows a freeway model.

    1. I show you a map of a bunch of lines in Seattle with close stop spacing and an urban view, and you go look at ONE stop on my map and decide I’m talking about rail to Tacoma and Everett?

      The DSTT won’t have excess capacity as soon as we get to Northgate and Bellevue.

      I have no interest in increasing the sales tax, either. You should actually contact me and find out what we’re doing. It’s not hard.

    2. Ben, that’s clearly not what he’s saying. He’s saying that Sound Transit is a regional agency that has to focus on corridors that stretch beyond Seattle. He seems to be making the point that for Seattle to build this would require a huge amount of new taxing authority from the legislature. All of that is true.

      1. If that was what she was saying, she’d have just said that. What she’s saying is that we should be reorganizing Sound Transit instead of asking city taxpayers for new lines. She’s wrong, we shouldn’t do that, it wouldn’t work at all.

    3. ST does connect Seattle and Everett via both Sounder and Route 510. In 2021, with Link at Northgate and I-5 tolled, Route 510 could be a very effective regional express line: Everett to Northgate via center access at both Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

      ST does connect Seattle and Tacoma via both Sounder and Route 594. In the future, with I-5 tolled, routes 594 and 574 could be very effective regional express services with stops at Federal Way that was provided center access ramps during Sound Move at South 317th Street.

      Link between Northgate and Mt. Baker will be a very effective lite-Metro line.

      Someone could calculate the rough cost of the Ben subway vision and compare it with the fiscal power of the city.

  20. Great idea, Ben! This is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. My concept was an open-ended agency and funding source, that would build full-on subways slowly and surely, year by year, no compromise, pay as you go. If we had started 40 years ago, we’d have an awesome system my now.

    Rough cost estimate for the system you have mapped out:

    42 miles, $21 billion @ the prevailing US/Northern Europe cost of $500m/mile for subway construction. Costs would be less if portions weren’t tunnelled (such as to Georgetown or through Interbay). Costs would also be less if we discovered the Spanish magic for low-cost subway construction.

    This cost is a bit more than the ST2 building program, so its not “out of the ballpark” impossible.

    1. I don’t plan to get it all on the ballot at once. :)

      But yeah, it’s nothing like impossible. I think asking Seattle to do it all at once would be a big ask, but part of it would be fine.

  21. I was going to read all the comments before responding, but…well, no.

    First let me say that I too felt a jolt on seeing this as it’s something I’ve toyed with and imagined for some time and quite close to what I’d imagined.

    There may be stats that contradict this notion but my sense is that density tends to follow infrastructure. This is why highway expansions don’t solve congestion problems; development tends to fill the vacuum. Congestion is a symptom of development and also a limiting factor. If we want to limit development we simply stop expanding infrastructure, whether highways, runways, railroads, band width, visas and migration or literacy. So while I’m a fan of taking effective transit to existing centers, taking it to less dense areas will create density at those stops. If running new transit infrastructure along old increases the chance that it will be completed and serves the community then we should do it. This is the argument I see for running dedicated right-of-way rail (or “subway”–I don’t know a subway system that is entirely underground–not even a subway line that is entirely underground, except, perhaps, on Berlin’s U-Bahn) along existing transit trunks such as 15th Ave.’s railyards or Aurora’s bleak corridor of pedestrian hell.

    Most subways have their G-train (to use the NYC reference) or Green Line (for DC)–Boston needs such a line in a big way–the unreliable, infrequent, forgotten connector that goes nowhere, winding through less-fashionable neighborhoods whose residents must make at least one and usually several transfers to get much of anywhere. I’m tickled that this map includes such a line (minus the fashionability aspect), though it almost seems redundant given the red line connector to Lake City. I’ve long dreamed of a westside link between NYC’s L and 7 trains as means for making these limited lines more cohesive, perhaps (as I think someone else has suggested) the purple line could loop down to catch the east side. I think the purple line corridor is an important one and I like that it’s there, especially as it terminates at the Children’s hospital, which highlights a weakness in the overall system: it doesn’t have direct connections to the hospitals. I think connections to public services are important (have you all spent quality time on the 3/4?).
    This map also seems to follow great subway plotting tradition in that it largely skips the poor and non-white–again the purple line might address that problem. This leads me to wonder whether the Transit Riders’ Union’s focus on buses a self-fulfilling prophecy or an acknowledgment of the likely reality that, even with subways, the poor will be relegated to buses as density and wealth gather at each subway station.

    Some more questions:
    How would this map change if we allowed for he possibility–as most systems do–of branches to each of these trunks?
    How much priority do we place on providing transit access to parks? Do parks count as social services?
    What is the primary purpose of our transit system and what are its ancillary benefits?
    Does it serve commuters? Does it serve the poor? Does it serve the night life and reduce drunk driving? Does it attempt to reduce congestion? Does it reduce greenhouse emissions (or place them out of sight somewhere in our electrical grid)? Does it foster economic development? Does it provide emergency shelter?

    As for service south of SeaTac I think that’s a commuter rail scene.
    My ideal would be to see an express/local system in the city center, outside the city center stop frequency would decrease and the local give way to commuter rail, which in turn would give way to national high speed rail, all with parallel (vertical and/or horizontal) track alignments, but that’s almost philosophical.
    SeattleTransitBlog is some smart folk with a great understanding of the balance between community needs and political leverage. I’m eager to do what needs to be done to get this started–and I’m unemployed, so put my idle time to good use!

    Oh, and can we entertain the possibility of a stop at Golden Gardens? If you’re ever in NYC, take the A train, not to Harlem, but the other way–all the other way, to the Rockaways. There’s something magical about a subway opening onto dunes.

    1. I love your reaction. :)

      I’m imagining red and blue as branches of a new tunnel downtown. Past that, I don’t know.

      Showcasing the sculpture park as a destination is something I want to do. Being on 2nd also means we’ll be closer to the waterfront park. But mostly, we want to serve density – we have something of a desperate need for a way to let the city get more dense. I count parks as social services, but only when they’re in between other things. Discovery Park isn’t nearly as useful as Cal Anderson, for instance.

      I consider the primary purpose of our transit system to be a human-oriented primary transportation method, for all uses. It’s not “for commuters” or “for the poor”, it’s for everyone. I would like it to be open 24 hours a day.

      Transit does foster economic development – and that argument gets to be the center of most arguments for it. It would reduce greenhouse emissions, but the people who support it for that reason know that already. It won’t reduce congestion – transit doesn’t really do that, it just reduces average congestion among all the people in the corridor, by letting them get out of the congestion if they don’t want to be in it.

      You know when I think about this stuff, I think about how many people can use it to get to a high speed rail station. We have similar philosophy. :)

      Why don’t you shoot me an email? I think we’re going to have a volunteer meeting next week. It’s

      I would love the purple line to end up at Golden Gardens, but even just getting it to the locks would be nice. :)

  22. I have to commend Ben on his boldness.

    The lesson I drew from the monorail is not so much about financing, but that without the full backing of a governmental entity going into a project, it will get sabotaged by all the governmental entities. The legislature, the city council, Metro, and Sound Transit all did their part to undercut the monorail.

    Therefore, we need to get the backing of a government, and resist the temptation to re-invent the flat tire of an initiative. Get Seattle to pay for the first level of engineering studies, and then get ST to put one of the lines in ST3. Thanks to sub-area equity, there has to be something in ST3 for Seattle in order to build Link out to Everett, Redmond, and Tacoma.

    And if the Duwamish line is included in ST3, that will make South King County and Pierce County commuters more inclined to vote for the package.

    If the city council balks and an initiative becomes necessary, then at least gear the overall plan toward having ST take on the project.

    As an initiative veteran, I have to say, they are a last resort, not a first resort.

    1. They are a last resort – which is why we need as much help as possible in making people excited. 200 people in support at a city council meeting would seriously change the debate.

  23. Just a thought about the future: The military transportation network known as the Interstate Highway System is reaching the end of its design life. People may decide that the urban-suburban parts of the system- like everything west of the Cascades, for instance- are best rebuilt as public transit corridors.

    The ads may be well-intentioned, but they’re wrong: pavement isn’t forever. Nature starts to take it back before the cement is dry.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Very possibly. I think we’ll use the interstate corridors as high speed rail corridors eventually. :)

  24. Folks, WHERE are the people to fill these trains going to come from? Do you REALLY think that Ballard is going to look like Vancouver east of the lake at the end of False Creek? It’s not.

    Look, 15th Avenue could be made three lanes wide from the Elliott/Western split to 65th, except over the bridge by parking removal during the peaks. Since a good percentage of morning traffic is going all the way it makes sense to me that the effective capacity of 15th Avenue W/NW is really two lanes. So it makes to have bus/HOV lanes along the street and do something about the Ship Canal crossing to maximize bus/HOV priority. Eventually a bus/HOV tunnel under the canal would make sense.

    But from what I can gather, there is a morning southbound lane on the unpeopled side of 15th West that the neighborhood is moving mountains to remove.

    If Seattle can’t even agree on simple bus priority solutions like this, it’s not going to encumber itself to pay for a subway system designed for cities three times as dense.

    Most Americans are allergic of the Peoples’ Soviet of Washington, think we’re all insane for living in the rain, and generally prefer their vistas of “The Mountain” on postcards.

    And I say, “Thank God for it!”

    1. Where will they come from?

      Two words:

      Look south.

      The migration out of California is already alarming.

      If Sacramento and Greater Los Angeles cannot solve the fundamental/structural fiscal problems they have, you will see even more outflow of people and companies.

      We don’t have a clue what global warming is going to mean for the livability and water supplies of much of the Southwest, or do we?

      And then what happens when (less likely looking like “if”) Mexico completely collapses. Refugees need a place to settle too.

      1. “The U.S. is the only developed country that is on track to add substantial population” and is “the fastest-growing industrialized nation in the world.”

        India isn’t a developed country or industrialized nation? I don’t have figures to check the PSRC population totals but estimates of vehicle miles traveled have be way overstated. More importantly the predictions about where the growth would occur have been totally wrong.

        Right now ST Express buses average less than 25 boardings per revenue hour. I don’t have the numbers for the 550 which is undoubtedly higher but how is this going to morph into 1,600 passengers per hour? Yes increased frequency will help some but outside of the peak commute where are all these transit riders going? For population growth to fill the trains the Puget Sound region would need to grow to 270 million; seven times the size of the State of Califonia.

        Puget Sound density would surge from 576 people per square mile (less than Germany) to 809 (similar to Japan).

        A classic case of lying with statistics. The population density of Tokyo is 15,610 per square mile. The island of Hokkaido is only 188/sq-mi. Sapporo, a city of almost 2 million people has three subway lines that match what Seattle and the eastside will have when ST2 is built out.

      2. No, India is most definitely not a Developed nation.

        In poli-econ circles Countries are usually divided into three four groups:

        OECD – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – Developed
        MDC – More Developed Country – Developing
        LDC – Lower Developed Country – Basically the bottom third
        and sometimes:
        LLDC – Least Lower Developed Country – The poorest of the poor

      3. China just surpassed the US for the first time in automobile sales. I guess the list of developed nations is a pretty irrelevant statistic. Who cares if Tonga’s HDI is higher than China’s.

      4. “A classic case of lying with statistics.”

        The article is talking about the entire Cascadia region, not just the urban area.

        “For population growth to fill the trains the Puget Sound region would need to grow to 270 million”

        How the hell did you come up with that?

      5. Maybe, maybe not…Seattle’s population has been broadly stable since the 50’s, with the burbs getting all the real growth.

      6. ryan: That’s overly simplistic. Seattle’s population started dipping in the 60’s and started growing back in the 80’s. You could also say Seattle gained more than 2 Kirklands worth of people without annexing any land since 1980.

  25. Awesome.

    I like the Bold Vision. I think it’s a good idea not to get bogged down on routing or any other particulars until a critical mass has built in support of it. By that point there should be enough people to FORCE the Powers That Be to Figure. It. Out. Make. It. Work. That’s why we pay them right? And if they don’t give us a good option first time around, we tell them no, try again, and that they better get it right this time.

    I look forward to watching this campaign progress and helping out when I can. Thanks for your work!

    1. Just had a thought.

      PPPLLLLEEEEAAAAAASSSSEEEEE figure out a way to put in the measure that station siting is contingent on the neighborhood accepting ACTUAL upzones out to .75miles out from the station, to go into effect 5 years before the station opens.

      1. I’d love to – but then they might vote against it. That’s a good reason to go through Interbay – we could do 150’+ zoning there and nobody would care.

  26. We already have two tunnels downtown – the transit tunnel and the train tunnel used by freight, sounder, and Amtrak. In a few years, highway 99 will become a third tunnel. This proposal here would add a 4th tunnel, and somewhere in Belltown, it would have to cross both highway 99 and the train tunnel. Since delaying service on this line for freight trains to cross is a non-starter, we’re talking about a grade-separated intersection underground. This means some pretty deep digging in the area. Is this technically and financially feasible? Similar for where the red and purple would intersect in Ballard.

    1. The new 99 is very deep. This is no different than the DSTT, which had to go around the BNSF tunnel twice. :)

  27. Ben … it is funny how my “dream” system is similar to yours … the only difference is that I thought a TC would be perfect by the NW Rooms of the Seattle Center (where the old QFC was) w/underground rail, and would be where all the buses stop (instead of QA N. & Mercer

    I also though it would be good to extend the line North and have a Beacon Hill style station in Upper Queen Anne, and then have the line head West to Pier 91/Interbay before it turned back north

  28. This is exciting. Great plan. I could be convinced about upper QA as well, but that goes back to the old debate of whether to serve existing density or help build the future. Interbay is certainly ripe for development.

    Count me in. I signed up a while ago and don’t think I’ve seen an email yet. Should I check my junk mail, or have things not really started up yet?

    1. Yeah, I could be convinced too. I just think it’d add half a billion by itself and cause other complications. It might be worth it!

  29. This is a cool proposal, but I do think maps matter and this is a good forum to discuss them. The biggest critique I’d have is constructing a second downtown subway. I think a second tunnel should go Westlake, First Hill, Yesler Terrace, International District. If your already tunneling, those neighborhoods deserve service more than any and wouldn’t be particularly out of the way. There other more nit picky suggestions I’d make, but considering these are intended to be general lines on a map, I won’t list them all. By my estimates you could a pretty similar system for about half the 60% of the 21 million cost a previous commenter mentioned.

    I also really like the Seattle Subway logo. It’s so quintessentially Seattle! And I totally endorse dreaming big. It seems to me that voters, especially Seattle voters, are far more likely to get behind a substantial proposal that can spark people’s imagination and transcends pure cost-benefit analysis.

    1. Draw it! Where would you put stations? There are a lot of reasons I am suggesting Ballard to Downtown first – there are a lot of political considerations, and so saying “let’s build something we’re already serving with the first hill streetcar” might not fly.

  30. Firstly, let me say that I am totally thankful (see what I did there?) and totally psyched that the cryptic “Seattle Subway” has turned out to be a work of STB activism!

    As Angry Matt L writes in his excellent corollary post, it’s time for Seattleites to stop nickel-and-diming themselves for transit improvements so scant that “mobility improvement” seems a cruel joke, and time for transit activists — of whom STB attracts the most passionate and committed — to start championing the kind of project that will truly remake this city! I am heartened that so many have committed to making this the lesson of the car-tab failure, rather than slinking into a corner and letting Libertarian ideology run us into the ground.

    I mean that, Ben. Please don’t let any of the wonky disagreements that are sure to flourish on this thread undermine my confidence in your vision and commitment.

    I do, however, think that it’s important to acknowledge that this vision exists in continuity and conversation with decades of plan-making. The 1920s proposal, the urban parts of Forward Thrust, and the monorail network are all variously contained in the above map.

    Anyone with a detailed knowledge of this city’s geography and movement patterns will come to roughly similar conclusions about the ideal ways to connect and serve them. So let’s not succumb to the temptation to get really wedded to the specific manifestations that we see when we close our eyes, and start shouting down others on the basis of dug-in heels.

    (Honestly, it really worries me that the primary justification for Interbay-over-QA, more than cost or politics or rumored BNSF redevelopment, seems to be a brain-fart about where build a maintenance base. That’s a really bad place to start planning your lynchpin service concept. And I say that as someone with no strong opinion about whether QA tunneling, though desireable, could ever be a worthwhile investment. Also, the unwillingness to consider any three-service interlining concept, even as a medium-term solution that could put additional branches in service prior to building an eventual 2nd Ave tunnel, clearly bothers me immensely.)

    Basically, I love that Ben and STB are looking to start making the long-term case for this vital long-term project in the here and now. Just as I like how adamant the Ballard Spur campaign is about prioritizing the most important 3 miles of subway (with the highest potential ROI) for construction now-not-later. So let’s keep our feet bullet-free, shall we?

    1. I always try to let wonky disagreements stay wonky disagreements. We are on the same side, and this is going to be fun. :)

      The highest potential ROI in the city is Ballard to Downtown, by far!

      1. I know the point of proposing a whole network is to get the public excited about the potential that a whole network brings, so I won’t spend too much time on Ballard Spur vs Ballard-downtown.

        But the short version is that, as a Ballard resident, I used to think north-south was paramount too. And I’ve been thoroughly convinced otherwise, on the basis of:

        – Half the total length (3 miles vs 6). Heck, just Pioneer Square to the tip of Interbay involves as much tunneling as the entire Ballard Spur.

        – Less complicated tunneling (70% boring through a solid hill, versus massive downtown obstacles and a whole new canal crossing).

        – Relieves a corridor with more difficult geography and all-day gridlock (rather than just rush hour troubles), increasing appeal.

        – Only 5 minutes slower from Ballard-downtown than a direct line.

        – Provides an infinitely greater benefit to already-developed Fremont, Phinney, Wallingford, U-District.

        – Provides a boon/relief to connecting services from essentially all of North Seattle.

        – Good cross-Seattle service (North Seattle to Capitol Hill and elsewhere) for the first time ever. Much better than the north-south option offers.

        – LQA is the only major urban center skipped by the Spur proposal. And its present transit situation isn’t nearly as bad as any of the areas the Spur proposes to serve. And there are multiple proposals for LQA in the pipeline.

        Basically, the Spur is cheaper, easier, faster, and does more good for more people. It’s demand exists in the present, rather than in the hypothetical (Interbay). It’s every kind of win!

      2. Wherever you keep the trains for East and North Link.

        I’m talking about a spur, literally. Not a shuttle.*

        Nowhere is it claimed that North Link beyond Brooklyn requires even close to the same capacity that downtown-Brooklyn needs.** So you simply split the service: 2/3 of trains head to Northgate or beyond; 1/3 of trains head to Ballard. At peak, that means 3-4 minute headways on one and 6 minute headways on the other (combining for close-enough-to-2-minute headways through Capitol Hill).

        And choose your through-routing to Bellevue and SeaTac as demand dictates: presumably Ballard-SeaTac and Lynnwood-Bellevue.

        *(And if you just had to separate out the spur and force a transfer, then take a cue from Paris’ 3bis & 7bis, or New York’s various shuttle services, or dozens of other examples of shuttle trains that perform minor maintenance on-site, with an out-of-revenue connecting track to the main line for major maintenance needs.)

        **(Note: Brooklyn station is “part” of North Link and is included in the North Link ridership estimates.)

      3. Obviously, it’s good to keep thinking about the practicals like maintenance needs. But your obsession about an Interbay maintenance yard — which seems to trump every other consideration of route priority — totally perplexes me.

        Really feels like putting the cart before the horse. Especially since neither the Spur line nor the Ballard-downtown line preclude maintenance in SoDo.

        Please… I would love to hear your reactions to my 8 other line-items justifying the fast-tracking of the Spur segment.

    2. If DP likes it, it means it’s aiming high enough.

      It’s more important to get something built that resembles a subway (mostly grade-separated, stops at neighborhood centers, 10-minute frequency) than to hold out for the exact perfect system. If the stations are slightly out of the way (UW stn), that will depress ridership from its theoretical optimum but it’ll still be tons better than what we have now. And if the destinations are in a triangle (Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford), there’s no way to serve them optimally with a straight line so you have to compromise.

      The built landscape is going to change in 10,20,30 years. Look at how much it’s changed since 1990; did people then think we’d have the density we do now? The opposition to density will weaken. It’s not going to strengthen — it’s as strong as it can be right now. The young generation is not as enamored with automobile-scaled design as their parents where. The non-driving elderly will be more numerous and many will change their minds about transit.

      Interbay does sound like a great opportunity. Although I’m afraid it’ll get built up like Whole Foods: a huge parking lot and a long walk from the bus.

    3. Another factor is the example of existing urban villages. As Othello and Beacon Hill get more established, and people breeze in ano out of the U-district as easily as falling down a water slide, other neighborhoods will want the same thing. Ballard and Fremont want a subway yesterday, and how do we know upper Queen Anne won’t want one unless we ask them?

      The biggest example is the DC Metro stations in Virgina. One became a mini-city, then two and three, and now there are some twenty new urban villages in the DC area, and the other suburbs are chomping at the bit to build such successful centers and get connected to the Metro — including the auto-scaled basket case Tyson’s Corner, which is finally repenting of its ways. As time goes on in this region, it will become more and more obvious obvious that most new economic growth is happening in the urban villages, not in the far-flung office parks, and that the real estate that holds its value is near the urban villages.

      1. Yes but with high speed transit, I can build an urban village anywhere.

        This speaks for the low cost and rapid implementation of light rail.

        Of course under the mismanagment of local leaders, a simple surface technology that would work great in the edges of the metropolis (my proposal for a Renton to Covington line) are hamstrung by the Franensteinian transmogrification of LINK into a quasi subway.

      2. That’s the first time you’ve said “surface” for that line. So, make that your bold vision for southeast King County as Ben is doing for Seattle; and get Renton, Kent, and Covington to pay for it. A surface line like Portland or San Jose would be cheaper than Link, so easier for those cities to afford on their own. You can hire ST to build it but I wouldn’t depend on ST’s funding scheme, because ST has many other priorities in South King.

        PS. Don’t bypass Kent Station.

      3. This is what I’m saying about density: it follows the infrastructure. D.C.’s metro is a great example but you can take any form of transit–any form of infrastructure for that matter–and it still holds true. NYC’s subways were built into the countryside of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to reduce unhealthy levels of density in Manhattan, and the density definitely followed. I grew up watching the junction of I-78 and PA SR33 come together; the neighborhood around that junction fought tooth and nail against having an exit included in the plans. Now that neighborhood has the only remaining farmland on the 78/33/22 corridor. The phenomenon runs both ways.

        Don’t wait for density; build better infrastructure and the density will follow. Running the lines to places like Discovery Park, Golden Gardens, the zoo and the hospitals will increase ridership. The old private interurban companies knew this and that’s why they built amusement parks at the end of the line, otherwise no one would have taken the trains and trolleys on Sundays. Now the interurbans are largely gone and we’re left with the amusement parks as an example for our generation of transit planners.

        We need to look carefully at how other communities have done this (and not just Portland–in fact, can I declare a moratorium on references to Portland?) because it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it.

      4. “I can build an urban village anywhere [with inexpensive surface rail]”

        I missed the “urban village” part. An urban village is something like Northgate or the U-district, not East Hill or Covington. A place with at least row houses or 4-6 story apartments, all neighborhood necessities (supermarket, library, gym, park, etc) within a 20-minute walking diameter, and major employers (e.g., medical center, office building, mall) to attract workers and shoppers from outside. Are you willing to put that in East Hill or Covington? You’re generally opposed to raising the density there. Renton and Southcenter would be more suited to it.

    4. “it’s time for Seattleites to stop nickel-and-diming themselves for transit improvements so scant that “mobility improvement” seems a cruel joke, and time for transit activists — of whom STB attracts the most passionate and committed — to start championing the kind of project that will truly remake this city!”

      We need both: long term and short term. You’ll never get the final goal without championing a vision and proposing a phased approach. But at the same time, political realities require a second, incremental strategy. Amtrak Cascades has improved bit by bit, and now it’s much better than it was ten or twenty years ago. If we had put all our eggs into one basket and said “HSR only” and “new, dedicated tracks only”, we’d end up with nothing, or we’d be like Florida where one anti-tax governor scuttled the whole thing.

      These two strategies aren’t really in opposition if the short-term projects complement the long-term ones. Some redundancy is unavoidable; e.g., we may have to improve streets and add RapidRide before converting the same corridors to rail, but that doesn’t mean a 100% loss in the first investment. RapidRide stations can be moved to another line, or it can remain as the local service to complement the limited-stop subway, or if buses are removed entirely from a BAT lane, I’m sure we’ll find a use for the lane or we’ll be glad it was there for the interim period.

      There can be some redundancy if the same corridor is upgraded to RapidRide, then streetcar, then subway. But that’s unavoidable given the realities of what shortsighted voters will fund when. Ideally you can make them complement each other: the streetcar for shorter trips, the subway for longer ones, and RapidRide stops can be moved to another line if the entire line is upgraded to streetcars.

  31. I’m really interested in the “Ballard Spur” idea for several reasons. Mainly, ST has made noises that ST3 will go to Ballard, and any effort to move the timetable up seem like it would encounter less resistance than other routes. Secondly, moving east/west in this town is really difficult no matter which mode of transportation you choose, and this route helps that problem north of the ship canal.

    For this to really work, we will need the regions help in getting it done. It will be an expensive addition to Link, requiring similar engineering and construction of North Link to get it done. The funding plan for the Ballard Spur will be just as important as the actual alignment (i.e. the epic fail of the Green Line).

    So if the region has to get behind this line it needs to go places the entire region will want to go while also supporting the needs of city residents. This means compromise. My recommendations:

    1. It has to go where people live, and where people want to go. Must haves will be the Woodland Park Zoo, U-Village, perhaps Children’s Hospital and the Ballard Locks. Must haves also include population centers in Ballard and only areas that will be very receptive to rezoning.

    2. Deep Bore where you have to, surface everywhere else. Tunnels through the ridges in the U-District to Phinney makes sense, surface along Sand Point Way and NW Market.

    3. Don’t run the into downtown. This line should run east/west only, with a maintenance yard either in Ballard or Sand Point.

    I would propose a 5 station line: U-Village, Brooklyn, Woodland Park, Ballard West (15th/Market), and Ballard East (24th & 65th). The only underground stations would be Brooklyn and Woodland Park, everything else is surface or elevated. More stations could be added later If demand exists in Wallingford, for example, or the line could be extended out Sand Point Way to Children’s Hospital and eventually Kirkland.

    To get this started we need: better maps and a slick website, some money to get it on the 2012 ballot, an engineering estimate of the cost, and a funding plan. And we don’t have a lot of time. Can we take this up at the next meet-up?

    1. *(Okay, lest I be mistaken, a second look tells me that I don’t really agree with much of Jack’s post. Mostly just the starting-point logic of tackling this city’s known-yet-ignored-in-transit-proposals east-west movement problem, and the selling-point logic of speeding up an ST3 item rather than inventing a new scheme wholesale.)

      (I can’t get on board with his attempt to alter priorities to attract regional funding — why, when we’ve proven we could pay for U- and North Link from our own subarea collection? — and wish to serve occasional tourist destinations at the expense of access to urban areas where people actually live, work, meet up, and do stuff every day of the year.)

      (And what is the deal with everyone wanting severed track connections and separate rail yards for every line? Don’t overbuild if you don’t have to!)

  32. If you’re actually serious about this, then the first thing to start on is NOT where it should run and where to place stations.

    You need to start up a long-term campaign for funding. Because right now you couldn’t possibly afford to do this. And no government entities are going to back you unless they’re confident you won’t be taking money away from them.

    If you’re not serious about solving the financing question, then it’s not worth our time to debate technology or routes or anything else…

    1. That would be the establishment way to do such a thing, yes.

      Instead, Ben is trying for the exact opposite. First, convince the people that not only do we need a subway, we needed it yesterday. Get them excited. Make them wonder how they can possibly live without one.

      And then we can worry about how to pay for it.

      Your line of thinking is precisely why Prop 1 failed. Talking about taxes and fees turns people off. Talking about exciting projects turns people on. If this plan has any hope of working, it will do so because the *people* want it, not because the government thinks it can afford it.

      1. The “establishment way” of doing things? Perhaps you should go back to your Occupy Seattle rally…

        Prop 1 failed because it was a poorly written levy with a terrible campaign behind it.

        As for building a subway, it doesn’t matter how many citizens you get to back the idea if we can’t afford to do it. See things like supersonic air travel for reference.

      2. Mickymse,

        There is a difference between trying to enact a policy measure via public support (e.g. passing an initiative) and trying to enact it via institutional support (e.g. lobbying the legislature). Both are valid ways of achieving change. Belittling the former will not make it go away.

        Seattle voters have consistently shown that they are happy to accept significant tax increases, in the form of sales tax, property tax, excise taxes/fees, and even income tax (if you look at the results by legislative district, you can see that Seattle as a whole voted yes on I-1098).

        If we get the voters excited about this project, then convincing them to pay for it will not be a big deal at all.

        Bernie: In this case, it’s about induced demand. I firmly believe that a subway network like Ben is proposing would be a huge economic boon for Seattle for decades and decades. If Seattle doesn’t figure out how to provide effective urban mobility without cars, it will get left behind.

        But anyway, what do you care? You don’t live in Seattle, so you won’t have to pay anything. :P

      3. We don’t know if we can afford it until there’s engineering, cost estimates, and phases. It also depends on how interested the public is in it, and whether they’re willing to not fund something else for it. Also, people’s attitudes may change, especially if a vote is five or more years away. The generational, age, and demographic trends are good for transit, plus the increasing risk over time of an oil price spike or people getting tired of oil having a stranglehold on the economy.

      4. I’m still here in Seattle… so I do vote and pay for these things.

        To poke fun at Ben, this isn’t an “innovative idea.” Many of us have a very good sense of what Seattle voters will support, what types of taxes they will vote for and against, and what types of transportation projects they demand.

        My point is that public support for a project means nothing if we can’t afford to pay for it (see the monorail) and that we should fight first for better funding sources (see Prop 1).

      5. Aleks,
        I don’t live in Seattle and might not have to pay for any of this. But presently the eastside supports Seattle Metro service and if they dig an even deeper hole they’re going to continue to depend on sales taxes generated by Uncle Kemper and sales of Bentley and Tesla cars from Luxury Auto Row. The Bus Tunnel was built with County and Federal funds. Unless D.C. completely changes the way it does business I’m pretty sure “Seattle’s funding” would include a generous gift of federal tax dollars. Seattle rarely votes down any tax but I was shocked to learn Seattle still uses chip seal and can’t even keep up with that!

      6. Bernie, this blog has been over and over and over this. The numbers have been crunched.

        Metro sub-region revenue collection and service distribution is basically a wash. You may have fewer platform hours per capita, but the ones you have require disproportionate subsidies. When sub-region revenues (fares+taxes) are set beside sub-region expenses, you really are getting back roughly what you paid in.

        As for Sound Transit, revisions in North Link planning have been pulling it under budget, with Seattle sub-area revenues on track to cover it with a health buffer left over. East Link, meanwhile, has an unfunded downtown Bellevue ROW to figure out, with Eastside revenues flat. Remember when your cohorts started generating specious arguments for why Seattle should chip in for your line?

        Your “I might not have to pay for any of this” is as weasel-y as a Fox News anchor’s “some say violets are green.”

      7. d.p. What percentage of Central Link was paid for with Federal Grants? It’s been over and over on this blog but there’s still people that refuse to believe that the eastside provides a net subsidy to Metro; there is no sub area equity requirement with Metro. A lot of people still seem to believe Seattle is paying for all the low productivity routes on the eastside but the history is Metro became a county wide agency in 1972 to bail out the impending bankruptcy of the Seattle Transit System.

      8. Based on the 2009 performance report (which has much more data than the 2010 one), Metro ran 1.9m platform hours for West subarea service, and 617k platform hours for Eastside service. Westside fare revenue was $77m, and Eastside fare revenue was $13m. Also, in 2009, the operating cost per platform mile was $119.64. Let’s call it $120. This means that the total cost for West service was $228m, and for East service was $74m. When you factor in fare revenue, the per-region subsidy is $151m for West, $64m for East.

        Based on ST subarea revenue numbers, it seems like the amount of sales tax raised by Seattle (North King) and East King is roughly equivalent. So yes, it appears that the Eastside does, in fact, subsidize Seattle, at least with respect to Metro service.

        That said, if you look more deeply, it’s clear that what’s really going on is that productive routes are subsidizing unproductive ones, on both sides of the lake. Many of Metro’s core arterial routes have farebox recovery at or above (sometimes way above) 50%. If all the Seattle routes were this productive, then the total subsidy would be $114m — and it would be even lower when you consider that we’d be running fewer platform hours.

        But most importantly, none of this has to do with the Seattle Subway! The whole point is to get *Seattle* excited about a project that will benefit them. If this project happens, the funding will come from Seattle, not from the Eastside. So even if you disagree with Metro’s current allocation, the subway effort will not make it worse in any way.

      9. Oh, and one last thing. King County’s budget includes tons of expenses for things that can’t possibly help Seattle. There’s $155 mil in road projects for unincorporated areas. There’s $30 mil for sheriff services in unincorporated areas. There’s $13 mil for parks and $8 mil for conservation [1]. There’s even $30 mil for 30-foot diesel buses, which Seattle has very little use for.

        Part of living in a community is being willing to spend money on the things that need to happen, regardless of who’s paying. Seattle needs more transit; other areas need public safety and roads.

        If Seattle separated from King County, I have no doubt that we would find ourselves with extra money, or (at the very least) break even.

        The difference with the Seattle Subway is that, with regards to transit spending, much of the region (and state) have consistently proven themselves to be more interested in obstructing our progress than helping us. So it’s time for us to break out and work on our own. People who want a subway will buy one for themselves. That’s all.

      10. The [1] was supposed to be a reference to this footnote:

        [1] Yes, I realize that Seattleites benefit from suburban parks. But suburban dwellers benefit from Seattle transit. Probably much more of the latter than the former, given that Seattle has so many great parks already.

      11. The last time Oran (I think) crunched the numbers — to defend against the charge that Seattle was subsidizing the Eastside in aggregate, I might add — the sales tax collections made everything pencil out perfectly.

        Are Metro’s East King and ST’s East King subareas equivalent? Because the Eastside service area still has (believe it or not) a significantly lower population than Seattle, with many fewer centers of commerce. It would stand to reason that their sales tax contributions were at least somewhat smaller.

        Either way, I’m not particularly assuaged when I start noticing little accounting tricks like marking the 255 as an Eastside route for the purposes of measuring productivity while billing half of its costs to the Seattle subarea (as if we use it a fraction as much). Total crap.


        – King County Metro absorbed Seattle Transit as part of an attempt to unify regional bus service under a single banner after the collapse of the Forward Thrust regional rail plan. I can not find any reference to extra-ordinary financial troubles at Seattle Transit being proffered as a rationale. Link or it didn’t happen.

        – Federal grants are supporting all Link lines. In fact, over the past few years, the FTA has had such a pathological obsession with building for “new” (read: suburban, white-collar, white-under-the-collar) riders that low-productivity segments are likely to be federally subsidized at a higher rate than high-productivity ones. This is probably not a bone you want to pick.

      12. I can not find any reference to extra-ordinary financial troubles at Seattle Transit being proffered as a rationale. Link or it didn’t happen.

        Google “impending bankruptcy of the Seattle Transit System”. It should be top of the list from Take a MEHVA tour and talk to some of the old timers that were driving at the time of the switch. They’ll tell you how bad the city financing was. The whole idea behind 40/40/20 was to even out the imbalance. Turns out in wasn’t a good for anybody. It essentially meant that for every 20 cents that was needed for the gap in city transit 80 cents would be spent outside the city. But only a small fraction of that amount could possibly be used efficiently. Hence, Metro is now in the grips of a spending problem.

        $30 mil for sheriff services in unincorporated areas.

        Aleks, property taxes in unincorporated parts of the county reflect the high cost of policing. That’s why areas annex themselves into existing cities. Of course the cities only want the areas that can pull their own weight making the problems for unincorporated areas even harder. On the bright side this will help limit growth as people realize the low purchase price is offset by high costs for crappy levels of service. And it’s not just taxes, your insurance rates are higher too (except for driving where claims are much higher in metro areas).

      13. Okay, it turns out that the ST numbers I was using aren’t what they seem. Those were actually estimates through 2023.

        I’ve spent entirely too much work time trying to find better numbers for sales tax revenue in Seattle vs the Eastside, and I’ve found absolutely nothing. Does anyone else know where I could find these numbers?

  33. great idea — we need useful, that is fast, transit covering the city and this means multiple rail lines that are grade separated.

    I think in promoting this it’s good to focus on the benefit as well as the cost, with that benefit described in terms of how many minutes it would take to get somewhere. This can be estimated without precise siting of lines and stations.

    It’s the service that matters, and when it’s an hour on a bus from ballard to downtown, today and likely to not improve in the future, then the key to winning over people isn’t we like subways, we like transit or anything it’s the prospect of a 12 minute trip from market to westlake.

    this service benefit also should be portrayed by showing trip times from stations on the light rail lines (bellevue or beacon hill or northgate or roosevelt) to stations on these “subway” lines. In other words, these lines dramatically improve the payoff or benefit from the link line — you will be able to go from Beacon Hill to Ballard, from Wes Seattle to Roosevelt.

    As we proceed with DBT work this will create more congestion and delays for the western side of Seattle. Even after the DBT is built, it’s estimated capacity is only a fraction of whaqt the viaduct had. I think people will begin to realize that highways through central cities particularly tolled ones with fewer lanes than the one they replace, just don’t get the mobility job done, and yes, Seattle needs to do what so many other cities have done which is build multiple rail lines with connections and the quick travel times that come from grade separation. We should be aiming for a system that carries 500,000 trips a day or more. Our tortured geography, the lack of avenue grid, the narrowness of the arterial roads we do have, all mean that a subway style system will work and is really the only thing that’s going to let you run downtown and back for a one hour meeting or to catch a class at the West seattle community college starting at 8 pm and returning at ten — when you live in crown hill.
    (And yes, the word subway is commonly understood to mean a system that’s underground in part and above ground in many places, too.)

    You have to have big goals to generate the will and the excitement. Presently the people on the western side of Seattle don’t have anything offered to them that will provide basic, quick mobility to the city or region or link, so this is a great idea. And people on the link lines will benefit too.

  34. Love it. I personally think the Blue Line is a waste of time and money, certainly in the short term, that would be better served by redirections of the red line and the north corridor (where is it going beyond 145th? I thought I was told Snohomish County couldn’t support two lines…), but beyond that I love the thinking here.

    To avoid putting the cart before the horse in terms of route concepts, I’d distill it to a few simple messages:
    *West Seattle-Downtown

    1. Blue is long term, but if you don’t have it in your long range plan, people will come up with it on their own and ask why you’re not serving that part of the city.

      The colors are, in fact, in order of priority – red, purple, blue.

      1. [cough, cough] — purple, red, blue.

        Seriously, though. Children’s Hospital is a single medium-smallish employment destination in a sea of nothing. UVillage remains a lazy design euphemism for an auto-priority mall.

        I have long advocated an improved connection between NE 45th west of campus and NE 45th east of campus that doesn’t require long connection times or taking the scenic circle through the U. (That last 0.75 mile is presently insane.) But for the forseeable future, the solution need not be high-capacity rail.

        I nearly had a heart attack when “Jack” above* suggested skipping a stop at Wallingford in favor of getting to UVillage. We’re running trains to Pacific Place, Bellevue Square, Northgate, and Alderwood. How many damned malls do we need to serve?

        *(the principles of whose post I agree with, even if his ROW details are face-palming)

      2. *(Okay, lest I be mistaken, a second look tells me that I don’t really agree with much of Jack’s post. Mostly just the starting-point logic of tackling this city’s known-yet-ignored-in-transit-proposals east-west movement problem, and the selling-point logic of speeding up an ST3 item rather than inventing a new scheme wholesale.)

        (I can’t get on board with his attempt to alter priorities to attract regional funding — why, when we’ve proven we could pay for U- and North Link from our own subarea collection? — and wish to serve occasional tourist destinations at the expense of access to urban areas where people actually live, work, meet up, and do stuff every day of the year.)

        (And what is the deal with everyone wanting severed track connections and separate rail yards for every line? Don’t overbuild if you don’t have to!)

      3. d.p.

        Agreed that U Village doesn’t seem like a priority: It was not built in such a way that transit would naturally be well integrated, and given free parking at the mall, it’ll be hard to make transit competitive.

        But your post made me wonder: leaving aside retail as a destination, are there more jobs+housing units within 1/4 mile of U-Village or within 1/4 mile of, say, 45th and Wallingford? I’m honestly not sure — central Wallingford is almost all single-family housing, and U-Village has a lot of retail jobs.

        Which is not to say U-Village is a higher priority even if it does have more jobs+housing — you have to go through Wallingford anyway, Wallingford’s pedestrian-oriented character probably means it has a bigger functional walkshed than U-Village, and Wallingford is arguably a better place to add density. Just curious which will do better in ridership modeling.

      4. Just doing some quick eyeballing…

        Wallingford has a population of nearly 16,000. Thanks to the “pedestrian character” you cite, its mostly gentle and consistent slope, unbroken small-for-Seattle s.f. lot sizes, and at least a moderate quantity of multi-family, I’d estimate 2/3 or more of that population is within an easy walk of a station in the vicinity of 45th and Wallingford. (Only extreme Lower Wallingford would be unable to access this, and that’s the least populated part of the neighborhood.)

        And while I prefer clustered commercial centers (Ballard, Pike & Pine) to linear ones, Wallingford’s strip happens to be exceedingly well used at all hours and only a 12-minute walk end-to-end, the perfect length to access with a single mid-point subway stop. (BTW, part of the development cluster at 45th and Stone Way, barely 4 minutes from the proposed stop, is considered NE Fremont for census purposes. So that population estimate might even be low.)

        The U Village is considered part of the Ravenna census tract, and Ravenna has a total population of barely 10,000 — most of it clustered 20 blocks north and slightly west (connected primarily by pedestrian-hostile 25th Ave NE). In the immediate vicinity of the mall, there are a few hundred apartment units, with the likelihood of a handful (but not many) more in the future. Beyond that, the walkshed includes UW’s least-used playing fields, a gigantic cemetery, and some low-density, high-setback s.f. that isn’t even consistent until you cross 55th.

        A steep cliff and the Burke-Gilman separate the U Village from the student-dense NE U-District.

        There’s really no good logic for prioritizing high-capacity transit down there. An improved, un-diverted, reliable NE 45th bus connection, absolutely! But rail at the expense of skipping Wallingford or Fremont/Phinney or East Ballard*… bah!

        *East Ballard has 4000-6000 population in its immediate walkshed, despite no marquee intersection. I just checked.

      5. Whoops… forgot to address the “jobs” estimate. And I don’t actually know the answer. But I think I’m going to go with “Wallingford has more businesses squeezed along that busy stretch than you might think, while the U Village has exactly as much employee parking as you probably suspect.”

  35. One thing I would change is instead of running to Brooklyn Station I would run it to University Station so that it could eventually run across 520. I guess Brooklyn would work also, but my point is to have it run across 520…i know I’m a dreamer.

    1. I wrote about this about a year and a half ago – running across 520 really doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of basically insurmountable issues; 520 isn’t really a good corridor for transit, either.

      The goal is to connect Kirkland and Redmond, and a crossing from Magnuson Park to Kirkland would probably be easier than fighting with the University and with the state over 520.

      1. Brooklyn to Magnuson is as far as Brooklyn to Ballard.

        As I’ve written the before: this doubles the length of the line before it even hits the water, and triples the length of the line by the time you’ve hit the cute, small, not-that-important-for-high-capacity-transit town of Kirkland.

        I’m glad this proposal isn’t on the map, because linking the vital 3 miles to the patently unnecessary lake crossing (and dozen-plus sprawling suburban miles) does nothing but dilute your ROI.

  36. I love it! I would also love a line along the awful, traffic clogged Denny corridor, connecting Seattle Center/SLU/Capitol Hill. Maybe it could head east to a stop at 23rd & Madison, then south to the Rainier & 23rd station where it interlines with East Link.

  37. Wow, a tunnel I can support! Keep the purple line going to Magnuson Park. It’s not an urban village, but there are more low-income transitional housing units going in, student housing and condo units across all the streets (you should see the lines for the bus on 65th & Sand Point Way), lots of nonprofits housed there, a Seattle Children’s location and sports facilities.

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