83 years later...

In a move that earns Mayor McGinn credit for successful inter-agency planning, Sound Transit and City of Seattle are finally working together to start studying high capacity transit through downtown and to Ballard – the first steps toward any new rail.

Ballard to downtown is in both the draft Seattle Transit Master Plan and Sound Transit’s long range plan, and voters funded planning in this corridor in Sound Transit 2 in 2008. Working together here prevents some duplication of work between the city and Sound Transit, and helps them determine which agency should build in the corridor, what kind of rail they want to build, and what corridor it should be built in.

This isn’t just a streetcar study – because the FTA has provided funding, it will study a range of modes. It will likely show a preference for streetcar in the downtown portion, as there would be a cost savings from leveraging the investments we already have in South Lake Union and that we’re making on First Hill, but it will be more open-ended for a Ballard to downtown connection; the FTA requires a full alternatives analysis with more range than the work done in the Transit Master Plan.

That’s actually where we come in. Once the money is committed, lobbying the city to ask that this be higher capacity rather than low can have an impact. The monorail project found that grade separated transit had fantastic ridership potential between Ballard and downtown, and we’ve only grown since then – both in population and in congestion. We should be involved – the city has to consider not just what provides the most bang for the buck today, but what we’ll need in 50 years.

There is some criticism of this plan. Some voiced concerns about the impact of Seattle going to ballot alone, as Sound Transit ballot measures need city voters to make up for majority anti-transit votes in some suburbs. But with Sound Transit unlikely to go back to ballot before 2016 or even later, it’s unlikely that the city and ST would go to ballot close together – and as Sound Transit and the monorail showed, Seattle is more than willing to go to ballot several times to build a comprehensive system. Some also worried that this would leave the city competing with ST for federal funds. But ST, Seattle and King County compete for federal funds regularly, and that’s OK – the feds fund the most effective projects, helping guide our choices of what to invest in, and frankly, giving us more chances as a region to win funding. Having one local agency lose out to another is much better than losing out to another state.

For a subway line, this is a great first step. Any modern data in this corridor is better than no data, and identifying the differences between transit via South Lake Union and Fremont vs Belltown and Lower Queen Anne is important to deciding where Sound Transit puts their investments in ST3. The key is to ask for something that will pass at the ballot – which is all about how excited voters will be for a commute better than what they have today.

78 Replies to “City, Sound Transit Working Together to Plan Rail”

  1. I’m not too thrilled about having to take the SLowUS as part of any train trip to Ballard.

    But if that does happen, it makes a certain sense to remain at-grade along every stretch of waterfront that the streetcar would run along, since there is no arterial cross-traffic to slow down the streetcar. The disadvantage, of course, is automatically cutting the walkshed in half.

    There is the additional disadvantage of essentially bypassing the Seattle Center, a major destination that is one of the justifications for building a local passenger rail line to Ballard.

    So, yes, take advantage of ST’s expertise in studying all the modes and grades, including subway, tunnel under downtown/Belltown, gondolas (seriously), and real BRT. Of course, there is a certain Tao to building BRT in the states: The BRT system that can be implemented is not real BRT.

    And reassess the headway in the existing tunnel. If the Duwamish line on the SeattleSubway map is built, I just don’t see South King County and Pierce County commuters taking the scenic route along MLK that much. The DSTT could then conceivably support more throughput if headway is controlled better. Having one tunnel, rather than two, should add significant ridership to both the existing and new line.

    Kudos to the Mayor and ST for working together on this study. I’d like to see the City kick in some money to help maximize the scope of the study, but letting ST conduct it is the way to go.

    1. The Mayor knows he needs a few “wins” in his camp while going into the elections in 2013…

      1. I don’t think moving an already funded ST study forward a couple of years is going to save the Mayor’s hide — he’s pretty much toast. Transit supporters really need to work more with people who have a little more longevity or we risk being on the outside looking in.

        And I’m actually concerned that if the Mayor supports rail to Ballard then the idea will get killed at the polls..that has been the recent history at least, and I don’t see things changing anytime soon.

      2. lazarus: The recently Families & Education Levy passed by wide margins, and was massively supported by the mayor.

        Yes, Prop 1 failed, for a million reasons, most of which have nothing to do with McGinn. Can you point to any other evidence of policies/programs that he has supported which have failed a public vote?

      3. His position on the DBT was massively rejected by the voters.

        And I don’t give him much credit for the Families and Education levy – it wasn’t new, wasn’t controversial, and was already pretty much assured of passing before the mayor even got involved.

      4. People vote for the future of the city, not on what the mayor supports. Even if the mayor is reelected, he’ll be long before the consequences of these votes have died away. Pro-tunnel and pro-car people have always been against McGinn, and the only thing that would satisfy them is if he became pro-tunnel and pro-car. They may vote against a proposition like Prop 1 because the mayor supports it, without looking at whether it’s really the War on Cars they imagine it to be. But others wouldn’t vote against Prop 1 simply because the mayor supports it. They voted against it because they didn’t like what it would do, or what they thought it would do.

    2. Ben said earlier that a rapid streetcar in SLU would include upgrading the tracks and signal priority to MAX level. So it wouldn’t be the SLUS stopping every block at a traffic light.

      It’s 100% certain that a Duwamish bypass will not be built until the Ballard-downtown and Ballard-UW lines are underway. I expect that the Lake City, West Seattle, and even Aurora lines are also ahead of the Duwamish bypass. Voters will not countenance a Duwamish bypass when entire quarters of the city have no HCT. Why would somebody in Ballard or Lake City or even Greenwood vote for a Duwamish bypass? So they can get to the airport twice a year, saving 20 minutes the entire year, while they lose 50 HOURS per year on their other trips? Federal Way may want the bypass, but they’d have to get North King’s agreement for it.

      1. Just so you know, MAX does stop at almost every light in downtown Portland. There is very little signal priority.

      2. From West Seattle, I’d like to conveniently get to the Seattle Center and the University District too, not just the Airport.

      3. Yes it does, unfortunately. But it zips along like MLK after it gets off the Banfield and approaches Gresham.

  2. Leveraging the SLUT would be a horrible idea. We already almost have a grade separated system (East Link, North Link, most of the South Link minus RV), it would be a massive step backwards to make the next essential component of our system at-grade, or even worse, in shared ROW.

    I’m all for building upon existing infrastructure, but only if that existing infrastructure is actually a good long term thing. The First Hill and SLUT are really nothing more than glorified local busses that can’t avoid broken down cars, not backbones of a regionwide transit system.

    1. Using the existing SLUT line would be a bad idea, but using the corridor is not. I’m also not a fan of a system that will be at or near capacity within 20 years. It takes us so long to build anything I’d rather this generation commit to a 100 year system. This is obviously an elevated or tunneled system with Link capacity. The “Ballard Spur” isn’t a bad idea either as it leverages (soon to be) existing infrastructure.

      In any case, I’m glad this is being studied now and the city is on board. Aren’t elections great for getting stuff done??

    2. SLUT is the best example of what not to build. Slow, expensive, inflexible and only medium capacity.

      1. But it got us the right of way. Extending it would mean revamping it, making it faster – something that is very hard to do from scratch.

      2. Would the tracks have to be ripped up and replaced? Or just the signal priority fixed? Would it be possible to fix the bicycle-safety hazard at the same time?

      3. To give it any kind of speed or capacity would require such a total tear-out (including a likely concrete re-pour for great load-bearing ability) that it wouldn’t be much different than starting from scratch.

        Sorry, but the cost estimates that market the line as “adding to” and the time/capacity sales pitches that market the line as vastly improved fundamentally contradict one another.

        I’d bet money the multi-articulated, “high capacity” streetcars that were cited to sell the streetcar option last time around can’t even fit on many of the irregular blocks between Stewart and Denny.

    3. The kind of rapid streetcar they’re talking about for the Ballard extension has little in common with the existing SLUT. The HCT report went to great lengths to strongly emphasize that.

      Rapid streetcar means higher speeds, larger vehicles, and mostly reserved ROW with only brief segments of street-running (which MUST have signal priority). Systems like our existing streetcar is what they’re trying to rebrand as “local streetcar”.

      My understanding is that very little, other than the actual ROW, would be reused.

    4. The First Hill and SLUT are really nothing more than glorified local busses that can’t avoid broken down cars, not backbones of a regionwide transit system.

      Read pages 3-5 and 3-6. The rapid streetcars being proposed here are quite different from the local streetcars we have now, anywhere in the US.

      1. It still seems a bait-and-switch: market your line (and cost it out) as a simple extension, while highlighting the kind of improvements that can only result from a costlier from-scratch rebuild.

        Also, I can’t help but note that the document defines “rapid streetcar” as the default mode for outlying lines, while defining “local streetcar” as the default for central-city segment on which the Ballard line would be totally dependent for its reliability.

        And if you haven’t, Lack, you should probably see Angry Matt L’shilarious reaction to the TMP’s choice of photos on 3-6.

  3. A streetcar to Ballard will win a “No” vote from this Ballardite. Leave the streetcars to the close-in neighborhoods where they do the most good; Ballard needs grade-separated high capacity transit.

    1. If you believe what the monorail folks found (and that is a big “If” with me), then you are correct – Ballard would support a full high capacity system built to Central Link standards.

      However, the problem with a system of that caliber is paying for it. It will be very difficult getting Seattle voters to fund a system with that price tag, and it is doubtful that the State would let us do it even if we wanted to. The State isn’t going to be so willing to let Seattle “go it alone” after what happened with the SMP.

      That said, a streetcar type system up Westlake to Freemont and Ballard might fill a useful, interim role until a higher capacity system came along as part of an integrated ST3 package.

      But, yeah, there certainly isn’t any harm in studying it now.

      1. What we need to fund the Ballard line is the backing of a regional multi-county body, with experience in building passenger train lines. In other words, Sound Transit.

      2. Indeed, Brent. Hence Seattle Subway – whose only purpose is to raise funding to contract with Sound Transit to build new in-city lines.

        Regional voters balk at big transit projects, but Seattle voters don’t.

      3. “The State isn’t going to be so willing to let Seattle “go it alone” after what happened with the SMP.”

        You mean when a statewide initiative sabotaged the SMP’s funding source? That was the city’s fault? Mistakes were made with the monorail, in particular eliminating viable technologies too early. But nobody believes the city will make that mistake again. It happened because it was led by activists rather than ST, and it bypassed federal grants so it didn’t have to complete an alternatives analysis. That won’t happen now, and I don’t believe even the Legislators think it would.

      4. *AHEM*

        Again, “what happened” with the Seattle Monorail Project was a FUNDING problem, not an engineering problem or a popular support problem. (This is why I keep saying to work on funding FIRST.)

        As for “activists” running thing, the Project DID complete an alternatives analysis. It’s possible it didn’t meet federal standards — I’m not a consultant — but it looked at a number of technologies… and the conclusion that was publicized for the Downtown to Ballard corridor was “elevated transit.” (We never specified monorail, and we were open and honest that elevated was not the #1 option for the other half of the Green Line, with streetcar actually being competitive in West Seattle.)

      5. @Mike Orr:

        “You mean when a statewide initiative sabotaged the SMP’s funding source?”

        I’m assuming you’re referring to Initiative 776. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the car tax being collected for the SMP was *not* targeted in that initiative.

      6. I thought the MVET cap gutted both Metro’s service hours and took the SMP’s funding source out from under it. Maybe I’m conflating two separate cuts in different years? The monorail had two funding problems. One, losing the MVET, and two, (according to its supporters) misleading ads that presented its full financing cost with interest as if other bond-financed projects didn’t have the same overhead, and (according to its detractors) incomplete financing and a level that was out-of-whack compared to other projects.

  4. I think the Ballard spur idea in conjunction for a future expanded route (Seattle Subway) would be the best solution for Ballard. Yes, yes, the capacity of the DSTT is limited but the trains in theory should be able to run every 1.5 minutes with an upgraded signal system (Per ST, with buses removed)

    1. The problem with the DSTT is not the signal blocks, which, as you correctly note, could be upgraded. The problem is that when the DSTT was built, it was built with side-by-side tubes, rather than stacked, which makes it impracticable to build a flying junction given the constraints of the underground space available. The only place you could easily tap in to the DSTT is at CPS, which would require a level junction near PSST,and you can’t safely and reliably operate with 90-second headways both directions at such a junction.

      1. This also means that it’s now-or-never for the Ballard Spur, since if we want to build that we need stacked tubes at Brooklyn station.

        Even if it was built as a separate line, you would need non-revenue trackage, and I’d love to see it built as a weave in that case as well.

        And a pony, while I’m at it.

      2. actually … you could make a junction and have a line loop out through CPS … The tunnel from Westlake East is wide enough that you could add a track between the two current tracks … so the switch would be closer to westlake station … this would allow trains heading towards CPS get out of the way and cross the SB link line when clear … heading towards westlake … not a problem … just requires additional signaling for the central link line to make sure that the junction is clear.

        This kind of junction could also be used to access storage tracks for Central/East Link extra trains in rush hour (that don’t need to go all the way towards northgate) and/or for Mariners/Sounders/Seahawk games

      3. It would certainly be easier to tap in at Brooklyn than downtown, and it would certainly be easier to build the junction during North Link construction, but even then, a level junction is fine.

        Three words: Docklands Light Railway. Multi-car trains with very tight headways. 192,000 daily ridership (much higher than North Link + Ballard Spur in our wildest dreams).

        Operated with level junctions until just this year, and the flying junction rebuild have only to do with the much higher volumes expected for the Olympics.

        Boston’s level junction west of Copley station has trains through it about every 45 seconds at rush hour. It’s not perfect, but we’re not aiming at that kind of frequency.

        Don’t say “can’t” when clearly “can” is an option.

      4. Gordon’s Convention Place idea (posted while I was writing) is the best idea I’ve seen for making that approach work, too.

      5. The DLR is automated and has no street-running segments, so it’s not a very good comparison.

        And according to Wikipedia, the Green Line doesn’t use Automated Train Protection, rather relying on “advisory wayside signals.” (Kinkisharyo states that Boston’s vehicles are lighter and stop faster than ours.)

        I still don’t think it’s a practical option.

      6. North Link, which would have the shortest headways of any multi-branch line, has no street-running segments. The Ballard Spur would ideally have no street-running segments (though a surface alignment for its western-most mile should probably at least be studied).

        I did not actually realize the DLR was automated.

      7. Boston relies on “advisory wayside signals” that are, in a few places, red more often than they ought to be.

        They do increase capacity by allowing trains to proceed into (visible) stations by visual confirmation, even when other trains are still stopped.

        But at the junctions they actually make things slower than a good automated train protection system might.

      8. I don’t think that construction of North Link as presently designed makes a future Ballard Spur impossible, or even necessarily that difficult.

        Looking at the early engineering drawings included in the North Link EIS, your you could do one of two things. The first would be to branch off *south* of Brooklyn Station. The tunnel is running roughly E-W here and is sloping up from UW Station to Brooklyn Station. Having side-by-side tubes isn’t really a problem because you can just head off to the sides and angle slightly down, and combined with the North Link tunnels rising up and then turning north starting at 15th Ave NE, the tunnels are clear of each other quickly. The two main problems I see with this would be 1) You’d have to dig up Parrington Lawn for a TBM retrieval shaft, and also to mine the connection to the North Link tubes; and 2) It doesn’t provide as good E-W service because the Spur doesn’t serve Brooklyn Station.

        The second option is to branch off north of Brooklyn Station (as generally proposed) and rise up; the North Link tubes take a slight downward slope here to get under Ravenna, but with the depth of the tubes combined with the rise in ground level heading towards 50th there’s likely to be enough space overhead. There are even vacant lots (or at least surface parking lots) along Brooklyn which could allow for construction access. I’d be concerned about curve radii and construction impacts though. The curve just south of Brooklyn Station has an 800′ radius and is listed as a 40 mph curve; while you could turn sharper ala the turn into Westlake Station, the need to clear the North Link tunnels and operational reasons would likely call for a larger radius. This rise and the curve radius would likely take the Spur to under 50th or even 52nd, and ideally you want the first station on the Spur somewhere along 45th, so you’d need to curve back south, but once you’ve got TBMs in the ground that doesn’t matter too much.

        And if you really didn’t want to screw around with mining the connections or didn’t care about a grade-separated connection, you could just dig up Brooklyn between 45th and 47th, rebuild the tubes to a cut-and-cover box tunnel and install the switch and connection there. It’d be a PITA due to the tubes already being there, but I imagine that could be worked around.

      9. Branching south of Brooklyn would be a mistake, unless you were going to build another station (at 40th and Campus Parkway maybe). And the added cost of that station would probably overwhelm any cost savings from the southern branch.

        Having ridden the 44 many times, I can promise you that the U-District — not Husky Stadium — is by far the biggest destination. About 75% of riders clear off between 45th and Campus Parkway.

      10. Fair enough. I’ve never ridden the 44 and very rarely travel in the U District-Ballard corridor so I can’t speak to particular tradeoffs in that corridor. I’m just trying to point out how it is possible to build the Ballard Spur given how North Link is engineered; you don’t need to change the design and stack the tunnels.

      1. I did not realize the DLR was automated.

        But the shared segment between the Bank/Tower Gateway merger and the 4-way junction near West India Quay clearly has 2-minute frequencies at rush hour: 4 minutes on Bank-Lewisham, 8 minutes on Bank-Woolwich, 8 minutes on Tower Gateway-Beckton.

        And that central 4-way junction, which until just two months ago was totally at-grade, sees Stratford trains passing through it every 6 minutes as well, pushing its usage to about 75 seconds on average.

      2. Hmm, maybe it can be made to work then, although I’ve only ridden DLR once, and haven’t seen that central junction. I will add that to my bucket list.

      3. FWIW, it does seem that I misread a bit, conflating the grade separation on the eastern 4-way junction at Canning Town (in 2011) with the work on the western one to which I referred (in 2009):

        As part of an upgrade to the system to allow three-car trains, some strengthening work was necessary at the Delta Junction north of West India Quay. It was decided to include this in a plan for further grade-separation at this critical junction to eliminate the conflict between services to Stratford and from Bank. Following this, a new timetable has been introduced with improved frequencies in peak hours. The new grade-separated route from Bank to Canary Wharf is only used at peak times as it bypasses West India Quay station.Work on this project proceeded concurrently with the three-car upgrade work and the ‘flyunder’, and the improved timetable came into use on 24 August 2009.

        That said, the more relevant comparison probably remains the Bank/Tower Gateway junction: two branches, three services, two-minute combined frequency at peak. This one remains totally level. As could Seattle’s — two minutes clearly isn’t too close for automated control’s comfort, and its significantly further apart than humans are capable of operating in Boston.

        (p.s. If you’ve ridden Greenwich to Bank as I have, which seems the most likely pre-Olympics tourist use of the DLR, then you have skirted the edge of that elongated four-way.)

  5. Of course if we “leveraged the existing elevated system” instead of the “existing street car” we’d have the SMP again. They had the right idea, elevated transport is cheaper to build than a tunnel to gain a dedicated right-of-way. They had the corridor, even the old ST planning numbers show that the second best corridor was Ballard to Seattle to West Seattle. What they did not have was a funding plan that worked.

    I would prefer that we ran an elevated system to both Ballard and West Seattle. In a world with more money, I’d elevate LINK, for most of it and dig another tunnel through downtown Seattle. With less money, I’d build the Monorail along the route and just elevate it along Western where the current viaduct is.

    1. Oh how I wish the plan would be light rail from Ballard through downtown Seattle to West Seattle.

      1. Ben,

        Yes, I have. I even signed up to receive info on Seattle Subway to my email address, but have not heard back yet.

    1. I noticed in the draft TMP that the city targeted 2014 to be able to apply for a full funding grant from the FTA for a Fremont/Ballard rapid streetcar.

  6. Ballard and the City need both – a high-capacity subway/light-rail line through Belltown and Queen, and a streetcar line up Westlake through Fremont and into Ballard. They each serve different, but critical purposes. A high capacity line through 15th with one stop in Ballard will not address the demand for shorter trips within the Ballard-Fremont area that will continue to grow as the areas densifies. Not mention, it provides a critical connection between Fremont and Downtown.

    However, the streetcar line will not be an effective way of getting riders between Ballard and downtown quickly. Not to mention, Belltown and Queen Anne – two of the city’s densest neighborhoods – need high capacity transit.

    So both are necessary. Here’s the problem, though – if we end up with a rapid streetcar to Ballard as a result of this planning effort, will it hurt our chances to get a LINK-style high capacity line to Ballard in the future, via 15th?

    1. Lindblom interviewed me about this yesterday, and quoted me saying exactly that – we do need both.

      A streetcar commute downtown will be 25 minutes. A subway will be 7 – and they serve different neighborhoods. I don’t think there’ll be a problem with one cannibalizing the other. :)

      1. Agreed. But why send a streetcar all the way up to Ballard? It doesn’t offer any operational advantages over buses given the distance.

        Ballard has already gone through the density wars. Those empty surface lots on 15th are now pits full of active construction. It’s pretty clear that Ballard is an urban growth center, and it needs the high-capacity grade-separated transit to serve its incoming residents. If Ballard has use for a streetcar, it’s to tie the rather large neighborhood together around the retail core at Market St and Ballard Ave, not to carry people downtown.

        Hopefully the result of this FTA-funded study is the realization that, like Ben says, there are two markets here. And instead of attempting to serve both with a single streetcar, I hope we decide to start pitching money behind the grade-separated transit Ballard will be clamoring for even more desperately within three years.

      2. “why send a streetcar all the way up to Ballard?”

        Why truncate the cheapest segment? Leary Way has plenty of space for tracks. It would fill a long-time hole in transit service. And the track could also be shared with a future Ballard-Fremont-UW streetcar. The important thing to remember is it would be mainly for people going to/from Fremont, not a Ballard-downtown express.

      3. I like the optimism – but, do you think if the streetcar goes through as a separate effort, it wouldn’t hurt our chances of getting a Ballard Link line on ST3 in 2016 (or whenever ST3 goes to ballot)?

      4. Mike Orr: Why spend money on the least-used and least-beneficial segment? I’m a big fan of a Downtown-Fremont streetcar via Dexter combined with Metro’s intent to route the 18 to downtown through Fremont via Leary and Westlake. That puts the 18 on the fast path once it crosses the water, provides the Ballard-Fremont service we’ve been missing, and replaces service to the close-in neighborhoods. And we can talk about building dedicated bike infrastructure on Westlake and getting the sharrows off Dexter.

      5. Metro’s proposal for the 18 follows basically the same alignment as the “rapid streetcar.” But Metro says it only needs 30-minute service evenings and weekends.

        I say run the 18 15-or-better all-day every day and then we can decide whether this is really a good corridor for a 335-million-dollar streetcar.

      6. James:

        Yes. Having one wouldn’t cannibalize the ridership for the other. But having one would definitely cannibalize voter support for the other. More here than anywhere else. Never have I seen a city so supportive of “least worst” options over really good ones, or so emphatic that “what we have” is better than what we could imagine.


        Metro thinks 30-minute evenings are adequate because they plan for kind of ridership that will venture out on the crappy evening system we have, which maxes at about 5% of the city population. They have no idea how to measure the amount of ridership that a good all-evening core network might start generating. Which is not to say that a streetcar along that segment is necessarily wise; just that Metro’s 30-minute bus intentions are irrelevant for drawing any non-Metro-related conclusions.

      7. “Why spend money on the least-used and least-beneficial segment [Ballard-Fremont]?”

        “Least-used” does not mean “not used at all” or “used as little as route 240”. Build it and they will come, especially in this kind of corridor. There’s already pent-up demand for Fremont-Ballard. As people see the HCT there, they’ll start thinking of more reasons to go to Ballard, and more reasons NOT to go to alternative places that don’t have HCT and are harder to get to. They’ll also start thinking about moving closer to stations to take full advantage of the transit available. So that’s three ways ridership would likely increase.

    2. “A high capacity line through 15th with one stop in Ballard will not address the demand for shorter trips within the Ballard-Fremont area that will continue to grow as the areas densifies.”

      Would a frequent bus route on Leary/36th?

      “Not to mention, Belltown and Queen Anne – two of the city’s densest neighborhoods – need high capacity transit.”

      Neither of which will get it with a streetcar on Westlake.

  7. I would love to have the streetcar, but there is definitely a part of me that worries that it would kill voter support for a second Link trunk (i.e. The Seattle Subway’s Red Line) since people would say “Ballard already got their train”. I think voters understand there is a need for rail transit to Ballard, and that is going to be a huge driver for that line to get pushed through the ballot. The streetcar could be a red herring for anti-Link advocates to fight that sentiment by saying the neighborhood is already served.

    Of course, in reality, the two lines serve two totally different functional purposes, cover different neighborhoods, etc. etc. But the messaging would have to really good to convey that to the voters.

    I am completely pro streetcar and subway/lightrail to Ballard. I think they are both needed and support both. I just worry that if one happens, the other will not (at least within the next few decades).

  8. I applaud the mayor’s inter-governmental efforts and wheel-greasing of this much-needed study for this much-needed transit line.

    I only ask two things:

    1. The word “streetcar,” as shorthand for the project, must be banned until the study is complete.

    Language has power. The moment media outlets began framing Bush v Gore as a presumed winner versus a sore loser, the result was a foregone conclusion (even though Gore had actually fucking won).

    If we or the mayor or the transit agency or the public start speaking of this as “streetcar or alternative,” we’re getting a streetcar even if the study reveals steep trade-offs in service quality or usefulness to riders.

    If we start with neutral language, my hunch is the higher cost of a better system will probably seem justified. But we won’t get it if we let it be seen as a “luxury upgrade.”

    2. Study the North Seattle Spur option at the same time, on equal footing, and in full public view.

    This is hardly a novel proposition; the entire L-shaped “corridor” was included in the ST2 study language for good reason.

    And of course, I say this because I strongly believe the cost-benefit findings will be extremely favorable to the Spur: much faster and better than a streetcar, much cheaper than any adequately grade-separated north-south option, much better walksheds than the alternatives.

    But there’s a great deal of logic in looking at the multiple corridors side-by-side: All three serve downtown, and there’s no more overlap between the various north-south options than there is between the north-south and the east-west option.*

    If I’m correct, and the Spur option finds a 14-minute Ballard-downtown ride and the streetcar finds a 23-minute one, will anyone keep speaking of the latter as “direct”? And if the Spur study reveals all sorts of new high-volume destination pairs that will be served better than under a north-south subway, would the north-south subway still be looked at as the “high-quality” investment?

    So please: Study all three options, simultaneously. And refrain from any “presumed default mode” language until the study is done!

    *(By this I mean that you can’t claim “direct” north-south service is paramount when your two north-south corridors are 100% mutually exclusive anyway.)

  9. I’m not even slightly joking when I say this is how we should pay for rail in Seattle:

    Build a casino, take half the profits for social services (esp. police and gambler’s addiction) and spend the other half on transit. If were in the right place (Belltown or SODO maybe?) it would raise enough money to build an entire subway system in a generation, or so I assume in my fantasy world where this gets approved.

  10. Be cool if they did more a boomerang shaped route that started at the Roosevelt station (or Lake City, connecting to the Roosevelt station on its way), then crossed I-5 and continued down 45th before making a right turn down 15th, swinging by Lower Queen Anne, and continuing through Belltown on it’s way to Westlake Station, which they would have to expand outwards in a T shape.

    Hey…I can dream anyway.

  11. huh…just took a look at this blog’s idea for a subway…pretty much what id love to see, but even better.

    what are the chances it would ever be built?

    1. What century? ST and Metro are tapped out on their allowance (tax level). I think people start to draw the line when sales tax hits 10%. Us old folk remember when 7% seemed high. Motorist have pretty much gotten fed up with the “give us more, more, more”. Of course federal funds are always there since Congress is in an endless election cycle. At least we get ~90 cents back on the dollar.

    2. The only way to get it built is to build public demand, do an alternatives analysis with cost comparisons and phasing recommendations (first phase, second phase, …), and then look at the price tag and consider ways to finance it. If you start with a vague $3 billion price estimate and no grassroots movement, people will dismiss it without doing the study to see how feasible it could be.

      Also, the generational and ecological trends point to people being more accepting of it in five or ten years than they may be now. Old people not driving anymore, young people wanting to live in urban villages, oil prices, climate change, … people may have different attitudes when the ballot measure comes up (did I hear 2016?), and when a more extensive measure comes up in the 2020s… especially if there’s persistent activism for it.

      At this point, I’m even supporting ideas that I don’t think will pan out, i.e., the “Ballard spur” and the “Ballard subway now”. [I favor the UW-Ballard-downtown-(West Seattle-Burien)-(Lake City) subway instead.] But the important thing is to support the general goal of more true HCT, and there’ll be plenty of time to improve or discard specific plans in the EIS process.

  12. I’d like to see the Ballard spur idea, as it not only does Ballard to downtown, but also Ballard->U district, Wallingford->downtown, etc. Because of this, we could get more riders for less money and if the whole things were truly underground, completely separated from traffic, it would still provide a very fast ride from Ballard to downtown, even if the route might look a little circuitous on the map. The key, though, is a 45th St. route has to be underground in order to fly. Anything running in at grade would be to slow, and there’s no land available for an elevated route.

    1. I know how irritating it can be when people get one solution to a problem fixed in their minds, then can’t see any other possible ideas as valid.

      I really try hard not to do that in life.

      But regarding the North Seattle Spur,* the advantages are so many and so obvious that I can’t help but be frustrated to see it dismissed in favor of much more expensive and/or much less effective ideas.

      I couldn’t possibly have said it as succinctly as you did. It captures more riders, from more neighborhoods, and for more types of trips, does it at half the length and a fraction of the cost,** with no digging under downtown and no new canal crossings. It’s faster than any surface option could ever be.

      It’s totally doable.
      It should totally be done.

      * I would like to formally propose a switch from “Ballard Spur” to “North Seattle Spur.” The very point of the line is that it doesn’t just serve Ballard. Part of the magic of the Spur proposal is how well it feeds all of North Seattle into our new rapid transit system; even those far enough north to need a transfer (Greenwood, north of Green Lake, etc.) will see a vast improvement over their current infinite bus slogs!

      ** Just check a map: a new tunnel from Pioneer Square though Belltown, LQA, and emerging at the earliest possible opportunity in Interbay is actually longer than the entire Spur line!!

      1. I’m on-board with the spur – I agree it should be studied along with the the other options being looked at to serve the area(s).

      2. I could not agree more. The North Seattle Spur even leaves the door open to further extension to the NE, which has the potential to bring voters in that transit semi-wasteland on board.

        Although it would be nice if the spur could interline with North Link through Brooklyn and Roosevelt—creating two transfer stations—then splitting off to Lake City (with potential growth someday towards Kenmore/Bothell/UW Bothell—this was in effect the NE end of the Forward Thrust system), if this were not operationally possible the line could continue towards U Village, turn north on 25th NE and hence to Lake City and onward. This would give N Seattle two parallel lines with widely separated termini.

        The talk of a direct Lake City – Northgate segment on any HCT line is problematic at best, and only marginally feasible for a full subway that then extends onward to Ballard as in the Seattle Subway plan. The topography is horrible for anything at grade and the ROW is minimal at best (meaning a good deal of expenditure would need to be made between LCW and Northgate). Tying NE Seattle/NE King County to the N Seattle Spur would create a true cross-town line, would serve several under-served areas with high growth potential, and would further enhance the possibility of creating a true gridded transit system in the north end by enabling large amounts of service hours to be moved from the now redundant N-S bus lines to crosstown service at 65th, 85th/80th, N’Gate Way/105th, 125th/130th and 145th–most of these lines serving two rapid rail stations. The loss of rail service to Children’s and Sand Point by turning the line north at U Village is relatively minor compared to the benefits of serving the hundreds of thousands of residents living to the NE. The Children’s end of the line only makes sense if a third lake crossing is constructed–years out if ever–and the NE area is ready to be built up now.

      3. I’d rather have a shuttle than a spur. A shuttle can be extended (Ballard-downtown, UW-Lake City-Bothell, or UW-Children’s). (Not likely: a Lake Washington bridge.) I don’t want to cap UW-Northgate or UW-Lynnwood capacity that may be needed eventually. Beware of assuming a 10-minute headway north of Brooklyn will always be sufficient. We have always handicapped our transit system by assuming “frequent service won’t be used” or “we can’t afford it” or “we won’t need more runs later”. Let’s not make that mistake when we’re **FINALLY!!!** getting HCT in Seattle.

      4. To the contrary. Under any reasonable model of land use / transportation demand, there will always be less demand north of the U-District than south. If we need 4 minute headways to Lynnwood, then we’ll also need 2 minute headways south of Brooklyn. Etc.

        Note that the same assumptions are being used for East and South Link. Even if East Link is extended to North Bend, and South Link to Tacoma, we’re still assuming that North Link will have 2x the demand and will need 2x the trains.

        The core segment — from Brooklyn to the ID — will always have the greatest demand, and I don’t see any possible way that will change. Splitting the line north of there is just as reasonable as splitting the line at the south.

        In fact, a Ballard spur naturally lends itself to having two service patterns — one from Ballard to Bellevue, and another from Northgate (or further north) to SeaTac (or further south). Two 5-minute lines, and the busy common segment will have the extra capacity it needs.

      5. Aleks said it for me: “Splitting the line north of [Brooklyn] is just as reasonable as splitting the line at the south [I.D. station].”

        Mike, I never presumed to cap North Link at 10-minute headways. I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that each branch could have 4 minutes with a good junction (and probably under 5 minutes with a lousy one).

        And just as East will demand 2x as many trains as South, there’s no reason not to give North 2x the trains of Ballard if demand so justifies.* That’s still 6 or 7 minute service to Ballard at the busiest time, which kills the streetcar or RapidRide or anything else Ballard’s ever going to see.

        *My hunch is that North demand would exceed Ballard demand at peak, with off-peak demand similar between the two branches.

  13. If they do have a link line that goes from DT to ballard, it would be nice to have a stop in seattle center. I remember when the sonics were still here, its either drive there and pay 20 bucks for parking, and tons of time stuck in traffic just to watch a game, or take the stupid monorail, then take the metro to go back home. I think seattle will get a basketball team sooner or later, if the link goes there it will help secure a team.

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