One Option For Ballard to Downtown

As part of partnership more than a year in the making, on Thursday the Sound Transit board approved $2 million in funding to study rail transit connecting downtown to Ballard. This is joined by up to $800,000 from the City of Seattle. Sound Transit’s funding will go to study of modes in exclusive right of way, like Link, and the City funding will consider streetcar options, although the funding will be together in one contract. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated there’s no need to study buses further in this corridor.

The last time this corridor was studied, there was no updated Transit Master Plan, nor was there a Seattle Streetcar, so the outcomes will likely be different. The cost-effectiveness of extending the existing streetcar to Fremont and Ballard in its own right of way will be higher, and because of new development, the Interbay corridor will likely also look even better for more completely grade separated rail.

This planning will inform rail in both corridors, so regardless of exactly how the study work shakes out, it’s going to be beneficial for fast rail through Belltown, Uptown and Interbay, and slower rail through SLU, Westlake and Fremont.

During the board meeting, board member Paul Roberts (Everett city council) voiced concerns about Seattle “going it alone”. Before considering further projects, he said, we need to ‘finish the spine’, and build light rail to Everett. Most of the board, though, recognizes that in order to build to Everett, we need projects in Seattle in the next Sound Transit package – due not only to the need for Seattle’s high pro-transit voter turnout, but also because subarea equity requires that the revenue in each of Sound Transit’s five subareas goes to fund projects in that subarea. You can’t build in Everett without building in Seattle, Federal Way, Redmond (and maybe Issaquah), and Tacoma as well.

With that in mind, this makes a lot of sense. The more planning work (and even design and engineering) that can be out of the way, the shorter the timeframe can be for Sound Transit 3, and the better it will fare at the polls.

As for Seattle actually funding major rail construction by ourselves – that’s honestly unlikely. There’s need for rail transit throughout our region, and Seattle has plenty of smaller transit projects that very much need to be funded, like connecting our two streetcar lines together, improving our electric trolley bus system, and rebuilding our road infrastructure to prioritize transit. We’ll definitely help accelerate Sound Transit, but the grassroots groups who support transit expansion in Seattle want to do it in partnership with the region, not by ourselves.

135 Replies to “Sound Transit Funds Ballard Planning Partnership”

    1. How about 2025. If a ballot measure funds everything to make the project shovel ready before 2020, an ST3 package then could start construction immediately.

      1. Honest question related to ST 3…where would the funding come from? I assume it will still be some time before the bonds from Sound Move and ST2 are paid off, so I am assuming a new package would need a new revenue source. Isn’t ST’s sales tax capacity already fully used?

      2. My source at Union Station says the bonds for ST2 will be paid off by 2025 at the latest.

        ST3 will have another .5% sales tax for transit, and there will be plenty of bonding capacity at that level.

      3. Bonds: funding sources:

        Whatever happened to “pay as you go?” I mean instead of borrowing forward and having to pay both the cost of the system and the debt on it, we just build it as the revenue comes in?

        Alternatively: State Bank Loan
        Start a state bank, and take out a loan. Interest rates are near zero and even if ST paid +1% over the Federal discount rate it would be less than bond payments and the state of WA would be the beneficiary instead of the bond holders.

      4. Pay as you go doesn’t pass at the ballot box. It says “pay for this for 15 years and THEN we’ll start building it.”

      5. Ben’s right about that . . . like with ST2, you’ve got to call it Mass Transit Now even if East Link won’t be operational for 15 years.

  1. With this proposed corridor and the east lake streetcar extension, it would be foolish to not consider connecting the two across the north edge of Lake Union. This would effectively create a loop around lake union with spokes radiating outward to the u district, Fremont/Ballard, and south to downtown. More spokes could be added as needed: north along Stone Way, out to Children’s Hospital and maybe further to Mgnuson in the generous ROW of Sand Point Way.

    1. I think we have to get to the point where there is support for the eastlake extension at all before we can realistically consider that. But sure, a cross-town route makes sense.

    2. I think the idea is that all of the lines would be connected along 45th/Market by a new rail line.

    3. I have long seen a streetcar triangle like this. The Ballard-Fremont tracks would be shared by both the westlake and crosstown lines, and the U-district tracks would be shared by the eastlake and crosstown lines, so there’s only that 1 1/2 mile gap in between.

      I don’t think a single ring route would be feasable since it would require a lot of backtracking in both Ballard and the U-district, and if it didn’t backtrack it wouldn’t go to the neighborhood centers which would sabotage its primary purpose.

      However, a Gasworks Park streetcar would not be a replacement for a 45th subway. It could complement it but no replace it.

      1. I agree. It’s a good local, but we’ll still need a primary route (that I think should also go to Kirkland and Redmond).

      2. Please, please, please explain why you would want to shackle a 3-mile segment with excellent ROI to 14 extra miles with terrible ROI?

  2. I think this is a good development and this line is promising. However, I don’t want planning for this line to take funds/energy away from what is really a higher priority: a full-scale link line through Queen Anne and Interbay.

    1. If the SLUT is extended to Ballard, via Fremont, you’ll see zero chance of Link doing what you’re suggesting in any of our lifetimes.

      1. I remember several commenters on this blog saying the D-line would postpone rail investment in the area, yet here we are, looking at funding research for a streetcar.

      2. CascadianBlue is right.

        Also, this money IS the initial study for full scale Link. It will result in alternatives for both corridors.

      3. For what it’s worth, Ben, I agree with you that having ST in charge of a full study/cost analysis on potential grade-separated alignments gives us a greater chance of setting ourselves on the path to one.

        I’m just very, very wary of the potential for the “either/or” discourse that Zach and many others also fear, in which the two modes are posited as serving the same purpose (one at a fraction of the cost). Such an outcome needs to be explicitly prevented, not just hoped away.

      4. d.p.,

        Thanks to math, ST is going to have to build something really expensive. The board really wants to build to Everett, Issaquah, and Tacoma. That’s going to generate a ton of tax revenue in North King that has to be spent in North King, more than could possibly be spent on rapid streetcar.

        Now it’s possible that Seattle leaders (or Seattle voters!) say that the streetcar is enough. But that means they’ll either have to fund a crosstown line or go to West Seattle, or both. And of course, that judgment will depend in part on how crappy the streetcar is.

      5. The board does seem to very much wish to build to Tacoma and Everett — all transit geometry, population distribution, and global precedent that points to this being an awful idea be darned!

        I’m not quite as convinced that the voters region-wide will sign on to such folly, in which case the money for real transit will not magically appear as you expect.

        It will be curious to see how this plays out.

      6. Except that building to Everett and Tacoma is relatively inexpensive because it’s elevated and it can mostly fit into public ROW with fewer land acquisitions. In some places along the freeway it can even be “at grade” without suffering the usual intersection problems of at-grade alignments. So don’t expect the extensions to generate a lot of money for Seattle’s tunnels.

      7. I’m not quite as convinced that the voters region-wide will sign on to such folly, in which case the money for real transit will not magically appear as you expect.

        Well, maybe. But in that case, nothing is getting built unless Ben finds some buried treasure or something. But that’s a different concern than the idea that Seattle will build something cheap the next ST package.

      8. Mike Orr,

        Except that building to Everett and Tacoma is relatively inexpensive

        Sure, it’s cheap per mile, but it’s 14 miles from Lynnwood to Everett via I-5. Even if it’s $200m/mile you’re talking $2.8 billion. North King generates much more revenue than Snohomish so you’re talking a smallish multiple of that.

        The entire Seattle Streetcar network would cost about $800m to complete, and that’s assuming two lines downtown. They’re going to have to either tunnel something somewhere, or build rail friggin’ everywhere in Seattle.

    2. It appears from Ben’s write-up that this study will benefit both corridors. I’m ok with having a back-up plan in case we don’t go forward with Interbay, or find a way to pay for both.

      1. I think both are feasible as long as we don’t let the endpoint fallacy become the opposition’s talking point. The more we talk about these (correctly) as two distinct corridors that each happen to end in Ballard, the better off we’ll be. If ‘either/or’ framing gains currency, the “prudent” voices will ditch LQA/Interbay in a hearbeat. I can see the Op-Ed now: “We’re still building to Ballard, just for 20% of the cost! It’s a no-brainer for overstretched taxpayers.”

      2. Zach, Sound Transit won’t pick Fremont as far as I can tell. It’s not a big enough project to pull up ST3.

      3. If only the “prudent” voices would ditch Westlake in a heartbeat instead of LQA/Interbay… (Of course, the ideal solution would be for the Link line to go through Fremont rather than Interbay, but still.)

      4. Martin’s comment could remind us of a paraphase of Rep. Everett Dirkson, R-IL.: even at $200 million per mile, pretty soon you are talking real money; money ST does not have; ST3 may be decades away; the ridership figures show the Everett and Tacoma extensions to be poor investments.

    3. A link line though Queen Anne and Interbay would also pick up the east edge of Magnolia, which is totally ignored by these proposals.

      1. Well… sort of.

        Magnolia residential only -starts- at a quarter mile from 15th, and that’ best case along Dravus, otherwise it’s at least half a mile. and you’re talking several hundred feet of vertical to much of the ridge. True or not, local perception seems to be that Dravus and north are unsafe at night. I take the bridge and pick up a bus half-way up if I can, but I doubt I’d get a stop there in any rail solution…

      2. I’d imagine that long-term a bus would connect Magnolia to the subway instead of downtown.

      3. It’s only 20 minutes from the bottom of the bridge to Pioneer Square on the far end of downtown. 10 minutes to Pike/Pine. A transfer plus having to get to street level from wherever the downtown end would go (if tunnel) or still going through street traffic (if not) wouldn’t really provide extra value.

      4. Andrew, what do you mean by “totally ignored by these proposals”? This contract studies Interbay.

      5. I full well know the pain of walking the half-mile to Dravus or Nickerson/Emmerson to catch transit. Really what is needed is a circulator to move people to a hub location such as 15 & Dravus.

        The proposals highlighted in the above the fold map do ignore Magnolia.

      6. heh, try 1.8 miles up the bridge… I suspect, as a 19 rider, that any ride to downtown involving an Interbay rail line would end up less convenient to me for commuting purposes than the present set-up. On the other hand, the idea of a Ballard spur gets me really excited because that would add a lot to my ability to get over in that direction by transit.

  3. This planning will inform rail in both corridors, so regardless of exactly how the study work shakes out, it’s going to be beneficial for fast rail through Belltown, Uptown and Interbay, and slower rail through SLU, Westlake and Fremont.

    That’s too optimistic. No one except Ballardites will vote to fund two separate projects to Ballard. It’s going to be a choice of one or the other. We need to raise awareness of how one of these projects is a game-changer and the other is a worthwhile but very modest improvement to the existing 40 bus.

    1. Promote the Interbay option with underground stations along 1st downtown, with the potential to expand the line to West Seattle. Then we get West Seattle on board potentially.

      1. Wouldn’t a tunnel down 1st make transfers to central link a bit difficult, since it would be pretty far to connect stations directly?

      2. It would likely be a tunnel down 2nd, not 1st. There’s also not as much space under 1st to work with.

      3. I would think a pedestrian tunnel at Pike and Pioneer Square would be very feasible. Like Schiendelman says, 2nd is probably the better alternate. Although the question is do you transition to 1st or 4th at the Stadiums? And how you get to West Seattle is beyond me, although a tunnel might be the only choice.

      4. In response to the comments here, why Second Ave? The existing Transit Tunnel connects well to Second Ave at both University and Pioneer Square. Because of pedestrian barriers, the Fifth Ave corridor seems like promising new territory–unless the Downtown Streetcar Connector along 4th/5th Avenues is extremely effective. First Ave is going to have its own local streetcar at some point, right?

  4. I still prefer d.p.’s Ballard spur suggestion. It addresses trips E-W trips to UW and trips to downtown with one line. Such a line would almost certainly have to be subway, whereas what is being studied here I suspect will end up being sub-par, aka surface and only somewhat dedicated ROW.

    1. It’s a fantastic idea and needed just by virtue of the extremely high ridership and currently dysfunctional transit in the Ballard – UW corridor. But it’s an open question whether even a full subway in that corridor would result in faster trips to downtown than a fully operational RapidRide. If we assume stops at 15th, Phinney/Auroraish, Wallingford, and 8th NEish, then it’s fair to expect that a trip from Ballard Station to U-District Station will take about 13-15 minutes. Then it’s another 11 minutes or so from U-District Station to Westlake. That’s marginally faster than today’s RapidRide (OK, quite a bit faster at peak hours), and would be a much nicer experience, but would it be faster than a RapidRide line with fully operational TSP and enough frequency for the volume of riders? It’s unclear.

      1. Sadly, we’ve seen that Seattle has zero gumption for “Real TSP,” which still would not be able to deal with the reality that there are just too many effing cars heading towards I-5.

      2. If Sound Transit stands by its “6 minutes to UW, 7 minutes to Brooklyn, 13 minutes to Northgate” statements, then I stand by my extrapolated estimates as well. 14 minutes, end to end.

        The east-west segment has but a single station more than UW-Westlake, and it is a full mile shorter! The entire Ballard-downtown line is identical in length to Northgate-downtown!

        but would it be faster than a RapidRide line with fully operational TSP and enough frequency for the volume of riders?

        Believe it or not, an empty 44 bus at 1:00 AM on a weekday can already drive this entire segment in 10-12 minutes, arriving far ahead of schedule. It is not very far! A subway line should and will do it in 6.

        RapidRide, as routed, is a >20-minute journey even late at night. (And that’s when it can even bother to be on-time for “scheduled service”.) It’s 30 minutes most of the time, especially when it’s being “headway managed” to death.

        “Fully operational TSP” has nothing to do with this: it’s the routing.

        That LQA deviation is a minimum 5-minute time suck even when empty. And TSP will never take care of the lack of lanes on Mercer, the crosswalk at Queen Anne Ave, or Denny backups. Belltown has no plans for signal priority, and is an 7-10 minute drag itself.

        RapidRide will forever spend longer on these two bottlenecks than an entire subway trip east and south. (And I haven’t even mentioned the Mercer Place signal, which Seattle could fix but apparently won’t.)

        There is nothing standing in the way of this spur, except for stubborn insistence that junctions are evil and that Northgate needs the same volume of trains as Brooklyn does. Both positions are abjectly false.

      3. Heck, even if the line terminated at Brooklyn and forced a transfer it’d have value, and then it could probably be automated…

      4. DP,

        Level junctions are evil. However, if the Brooklyn station were stacked there would be no need for a level junction or the long looping undercrossing for the north to west move. I know it’s very late in the game to get it into the North Link design, but it would be a very wise thing to do.

        I agree strongly that Ballard-Phinney-Wallingford-U-District is a fantastic potential transit route. It’s really a “three-fer”: Ballard-Downtown/Capitol Hill, Ballard-U-District, and I think it has potential to attract a significant ridership from North Seattle-Eastside riders by missing the U-district congestion and the I-5/520 interchange mess with a transfer at Husky Stadium.

        So eventually that east-west line will be needed, and doing the flying junction underneath the campus would be a serious non-starter. Not to mention it would require a basement station at 45th and Brooklyn for Ballard-north end transfers. So ST would end up with a “stacked” station that was a hell of a lot harder to build.

        Do it now or weep a leisure.

      5. I’m not saying that level junctions are preferable. All I’m saying is

        (Pardon the oft-repeated link. Point being: level junctions can still allow operations seconds apart. We could build 4 spurs and still not really have a problem.)

        Everything else I agree with. ST’s obsession with “the spine” — the 60-mile spine with the guaranteed terrible ridership — will destroy useful transit forever.

      6. Technical observation about the Lemonnier video: there’s only one train which takes the “inferior” routing, and it’s NOT crossing the “superior” line.

        This is a four track junction so that train A moving to the branch routing waiting for opposing main-line train B doesn’t block the progress of following train C.

        Plus these are low-speed trams in the center city, not 60 mph Light Metros.

        Yes, it can be done, but it will always be a bottleneck.

      1. It had better.

        The study that was approved in ST2 — the very study being expedited here — included the cross-town alignment.

    2. If a Downtown-Ballard Line will eventually reach Northgate, does that mean we’ll have plenty of DT-Northgate capacity then? That seems to be the biggest objection to the idea. If that’s the case, I’d support a Ballard branch from the U District Link main line first.

      1. A very good point, Oran.

        I’ve never bought the “Northgate needs 3-minute service” claim, which really boils down to “the central UW-downtown segment needs 3-minute service, and we intend to turn those trains around at Northgate”.

        But if Northgate ever needs such high capacity, it will be decades from now.

        So if Seattle Subway really believes the red and purple lines will both someday happen, then it cannot cite “consolidated Northgate demand” as a reason to oppose interlining and prioritizing the 45th corridor.

      2. Oran: in the first third of the 20th Century, the Ballard streetcar network had a line that turned to NW 67th Street to avoid the steep hill on 24th Avenue NW between NW 67th and 70th streets. if it extends to Northgate, would it have to be rubber-tired to climb that hill?

        Ben writes in the original post, “The Federal Transit Administration has indicated there’s no need to study buses further in this corridor.” how did they do that? they usually like complete alternatives analysis.

      3. eddiew: I don’t know how steep that street segment is nor do I know what would eventually be built in that corridor but there are ways of dealing with steep grades. One solution for an at-grade light rail line would be to regrade only the trackway. I’ve seen it before but can’t remember the city, LA maybe? This is workable since it’s an exclusive transit ROW unlike a shared lane streetcar.

        It isn’t as big an issue for a subway or elevated line. I think the climb on Link up to TIBS is the steepest section on the line and I know that sections of U-Link and North Link have 4.5-6% grade sections.

        Not sure where in the AA process they’re at, maybe the city’s study had already ruled out plain old buses but they do have to study a “No build/TSM” alternative, right?

    3. ST has shown no interest in the Ballard Spur. ST is treating Ballard – U-District as a separate corridor to be studied later. We can certainly tell ST that a 45th shuttle or spur should be included in the study because it would kill two birds with one stone: improve Ballard-UW trips (immensely) while simultaneously improving Ballard-downtown trips (almost as fast as the 15X even with a transfer). It’s a cost-effective way to address two transit markets until the full suite of lines is built.

      It’s unlikely though. ST has announced a direct Ballard-downtown line and that’s what people’s expectations are. It has also indicated it will study Ballard-downtown before Ballard – U-District, so even if it includes that alternative (which I hope it will), it’ll have a hard time selling it to some people who won’t believe a Ballard-UDistrict-downtown trip will be fast enough. Also, ST is already designing U-District station, so if it wants to build a spur it had better design it now. But Northgate and Lynnwood are ST’s higher priority than Ballard no matter how much it makes DP sulk, and ST won’t jepordize the downtown-Northgate capacity even if some estimates say it can accommodate a spur.

      The conceptual 45th line will have to transfer at U-District station so I hope ST is designing the station with that in mind. I wasn’t quite convinced when talking to an ST rep at a station meeting. He said vaguely that a crosswise platform would have to be underneath, but I don’t know if they’ve fully planned for it and verified there’s space.

  5. [corrected]

    If Sound Transit stands by its “6 minutes to UW, 7 minutes to Brooklyn, 13 minutes to Northgate” statements, then I stand by my extrapolated estimates as well. 14 minutes, end to end.

    The east-west segment has but a single station more than UW-Westlake, and it is a full mile shorter! The entire Ballard-downtown line is identical in length to Northgate-downtown!

    …but would it be faster than a RapidRide line with fully operational TSP and enough frequency for the volume of riders?

    Believe it or not, an empty 44 bus at 1:00 AM on a weekday can already drive this entire segment in 10-12 minutes, arriving far ahead of schedule, in spite of the hills and lights. It is not very far. A subway line should and will do it in 6!

    RapidRide, as routed, is a >20-minute journey even late at night. (And that’s when it can even bother to be on-time for these “scheduled services”.) It’s 30 minutes most of the rest of the time, especially when it’s being “headway managed” to death.

    “Fully operational TSP” has nothing to do with this: it’s the routing.

    That LQA deviation is a minimum 5-minute time suck even when empty. And TSP will never take care of the lack of lanes on Mercer, the crosswalk at Queen Anne Ave, or Denny backups. Belltown has no plans for signal priority, and is an 7-10 minute drag itself.

    RapidRide will forever spend longer on these two bottlenecks than an entire subway trip east and south. (And I haven’t even mentioned the Mercer Place signal, which Seattle could fix but apparently won’t.)

    There is nothing standing in the way of this spur, except for stubborn insistence that junctions are evil and that Northgate needs the same volume of trains as Brooklyn does. Both positions are abjectly false.

    1. I’m not going to wade into the details of what you wrote but I think it does highlight an important point.

      Because of U/Northgate Link’s speed and planned 4-minute headways the fastest travel patterns could be different in the future, especially if your destination is outside of downtown. This mean that backtracking or indirect routeing that doesn’t make sense now, might make sense in the future.

      So with that said I would like to see this study use a travel demand model in addition to the GIS based, corridor demand generation model used in the TMP. They asses different things and I think it’s important to understand both.

    2. I understand the need to have a junction, since it would be hard to justify a 4-5 mile standalone route, but what if we keep the line separate from the Northgate/Downtown line, with the idea that it would go east after 520 is built and stays afloat for a few years? It could share the Brooklyn -> Stadium route, with a temporary spur ALA the temporary Westlake Spur, but just south of the Stadium. Ridership should be pretty high. There’s the problem of how to get from Stadium to above ground in a short distance to cross the 520 bridge though.

      1. Believe it or not, the line as drawn is only 3.1 – 3.4 miles! Thus its inherent rapidity.

        I drew that map up a couple of years ago, aiming for minimum expense.

        The problem with hypothesizing about tying it to Laurelhurst or Sand Point or 520 is that you start doubling, tripling, quintupling its length for surprisingly minimal ridership or mobility gains. Your ROI heads down the allegorical tubes.

        But yes, I continue to endorse interlining over a shuttle connection. If you want to fix service not only for people on this corridor, but for people north of it on the 5/16/etc, a speedy two-seat ride to Capitol Hill and downtown is much more appealing than a 3-seat ride.

      2. Here’s crazy idea I’ll throw out. What if a rail line (Rail Light or Rabid Streetcar) went up 15th, Holman Rd, Northgate Way and connected to Link there? Advantages; no water to cross or hills to tunnel under, Northgate is a major destination for Ballardites, a major arterial route would get the deluxe make-over treatment that MLK recieved, no capacity issues with the DSTT. Downside; adds 15 minutes to a trip DT, the airport or eastside. OTOH, it would be great for people commuting to Ballard whom I’ll assume are mostly coming from the north. Consider this the starter line for rail extending through Lake City to Bothell.

      3. There’s a limit to the amount of backtracking penalty for which a speedy service can compensate, and you have far, far exceeded it. You just turned a 3-mile crosstown trip into 8.5 miles.

        Northgate is a major destination for Ballardites

        Not really.

        people commuting to Ballard whom I’ll assume are mostly coming from the north.

        Also not really.

        Rabid Streetcar

        I will start using this, though. ;-)

      4. Well, if it was a good idea people probably would have brought it up before.

        There’s a limit to the amount of backtracking penalty for which a speedy service can compensate, and you have far, far exceeded it.

        Yeah, but if Ballardites are used to that 3 mile trip taking an hour on the bus then 25 minutes via Northgate seems pretty good. I’d guess the time would be comparable to a streetcar to DT in mixed traffic and a damn site more reliable. I only threw it out there because it looks like it would be a billion dollars cheaper than a tunnel to DT. An even greater savings would apply to a UW connection which would still have a transfer and be a dead end. That is it would never go up Sandpoint Way or past the shore of Lake Washington whereas a Northgate connection would be the natural point to extend around the north end of the Lake. I see that as much more likely to happen someday than a line to West Seattle.

      5. Nah. You can walk from Ballard to the U-District in an hour. We’re talking about literally 3 miles here.

        The 44 ain’t fast, but it’s faster than that.

        Northgate is twice as far from downtown as any of the urban-corridor neighborhoods flanking the ship canal are from downtown.

        Northgate may be a prominent outpost, but it’s an outpost.

      6. The Seattle Subway map has actually made this proposal — the red line would go from downtown to Lake City, stopping in Interbay, east Ballard (likely 15th Ave), Crown Hill, and Northgate on the way. It also proposes an east-west purple line that would connect central Ballard to the U-District via Fremont.

        I would love to see both built eventually, but the purple line is a much shorter line that connects more densely populated areas. Build that one first.

      7. The one advantage of a Ballard to Northgate line is that it could be elevated. From a political and geographic standpoint, I think the Ballard to UW line would have to be underground. This means that it might actually be cheaper and faster to build the line to Northgate. Surprisingly enough, this route is not that far either (less than four miles). Northgate is no where near the destination that the UW is, but there is a college there, and there are some big apartment and medical buildings, along with plenty of room for growth.

        Parts of the route from Ballard to Interbay to Downtown could also be elevated (over the existing train tracks). The problem is the canal. This adds considerably to the cost (no matter how you do it). Thus, my guess is that the Ballard to Interbay to Downtown route is more expensive than the Ballard to UW route (because of the canal and because there are more miles).

        I would love to see a breakdown of the prices and expected dates for completion. I’m not sure which one I would pick to build first, but my guess is that it would be the Ballard to UW line (for the reasons mentioned earlier).

      8. If the Ballard->U-district is entirely underground and separate from the mainline, perhaps it can be made driverless. That would save a ton of operating costs, negating some of the high capitol costs.

        Ballard->Northgate, however, doesn’t make sense. It ignores Fremont and Wallingford completely and takes too long to get from Ballard to downtown to be competitive with the existing #40.

      9. I’ll admit it is a stretch, but a fast train from Ballard to Northgate, followed by a transfer to a train to downtown would still beat the 40 during rush hour (or almost anytime the bridge is up). I’m thinking 7 minutes to Northgate, followed by a 5 minute transfer and then 13 minutes to downtown. It would probably add about five minutes to a similar trip involving a Ballard to UW tunnel (since the distance of the two possible new routes is fairly similar and you only add a couple stops on the main line). Of course it would add way more time for folks trying to get from Ballard to the UW. Since way more people will want to get to the UW (or places south) rather than Northgate (or places north) the Ballard to Northgate train only makes sense if it is much, much cheaper than tunneling. The more I think about, the more I doubt it would be. You would still get public opposition to an elevated line, even it follows a major roadway. It might probably impede the roadway, which would cause more opposition. It would also be clunkier, if it followed the major roadways or expensive if it tried to weave its way through old Ballard. So, yeah, I doubt it will pencil out. My guess is that a Ballard to Northgate line is the last one to be built (after a Ballard to UW and Ballard-Interbay-Downtown line).

        Good point about an automated train, too.

      10. It all hinges on cost. A five mile surface running route ala MLK could be completed for $75-100M. Elevated would be more like $250M. A four mile tunnel from Ballard to UW complete with underground stations would be more like $800M to a Billion. Personally I don’t think a Ballard UW tunnel will be built in a million years 30 year time frame. A feeder route connecting Ballard to the Link spine at Northgate at a tenth to a quarter of the cost might.

      11. I could maybe contemplate Ballard – UW via Northgate. It would be about 15 minutes travel time (including 5-minute transfer), which is still better than the 44 and more pleasant. But Ballard to downtown via Northgate wouldn’t happen because this line would never be built in isolation but only as an extension to a downtown-Ballard line. In that case, the issue it really raises is Ballard – UW via downtown. If the Ballard – downtown segment is grade separated or relatively zippy in Interbay, it would just be the inverse of going via Northgate. In other words, if Ballard-Northgate-UW is acceptable to passengers, then Ballard-Westlake-UW would be too.

      1. Hi, Kellen,

        When that map was first brainstormed a couple of years ago, I was aiming to demonstrate maximum return on minimum expenditure, minimum construction impact, and minimum political resistance.

        I came up with the idea of siting a shallow-level western terminus immediately beneath 56th or 54th (or, with slightly greater construction impact, beneath Market) and building entrances at both 17th and 15th.

        The entrance at 15th would allow for easy transfers to and from buses up and down that corridor, while the entrance at 17th would allow reasonable access to and from central Ballard.

        This isn’t a “perfect world” solution, of course. I myself live near 24th and would love something closer! But it is worth noting that 17th is where the small shops and restaurants that enliven Market Street begin, and where the grid changes to the Old Ballard 45-degree alignment with shorter blocks and more foot traffic.

        In spite of the new residential behemoths, the block between 15th and 17th is notoriously deactivated — it is monotonous, and flanked with dry cleaners, banks and cell phone stores that all close up by 6:00. That block is the worst part of the walk from the RapidRide. At 17th, Ballard truly begins.

        A stop at 17th would therefore guarantee a shorter and more pleasant walk than RapidRide, to a transit service infinitely better than RapidRide.

        Again, I’d love for the line to continue to 24th. But you’d be adding an extra 1/2-mile of intrusive cut-and-cover digging, the cost of an additional station, and NIMBYs abusing Historic District protections to delay the project. So I chose to leave it off the “greatest return-on-investment map”.

        I hope that helps to illuminate my thought process for you!

  6. Why does the streetcar have to go all the way to Ballard?

    If ST is able to build Light Rail through interbay to Ballard, why not stop the streetcar in Freemont. Should make the line much more affordable. Both neighborhoods get good connections to downtown. We could keep running a bus along Leary to connect them, IIRC traffic on Leary is not that bad and bus could be made reliable.

    Also this has the benefit of keeping the projects separate. Since these are two separate corridors. We could always expand the streetcar all the way to Ballard in the future if needed.

    1. murradus, I’ve argued the same.

      Now that we have the 40, truncation of the streetcar corridor at Fremont is an even better idea, especially when coupled with an Interbay alignment for Link to Ballard.

      1. Not at all. Much of our job growth is in SLU, meaning Ballard-SLU will be important and needs a direct route.

      2. Kyle, a bus really isn’t good enough for that corridor. That’s why it’s the highest priority in the TMP, and why the feds just said “don’t bother studying buses there”.

      3. In all seriousness, what is the actual advantage of rail over buses in that corridor, if Westlake or Dexter had been designated for the RapidRide treatment? Would a streetcar be bigger? Would it be able to run at higher frequency?

  7. Split the difference…extend the line from downtown, through Bell Town, across Lower Queen Anne, under Upper Queen Anne (yes, tunnel through that mofo) out across the water in Free-Lard and then bore through to Woodland Park, make a left and hit 15th all the way up as far as you can go before hitting Everett.

  8. The Fremont Bridge is really a problem. Obviously nothing operating in mixed traffic across that bridge would be a disaster for reliability, and there isn’t room on the north side of the bridge for a dedicated lane, either. At the same time, the Fremont Bridge really is in the right place, and a bridge at 3rd Ave W would put stops in the wrong places. The problem with accessing a stop on the south side of the bridge from Fremont isn’t just the walk across the bridge, but the Dexter/Westlake/Fremont/Nickerson intersection, which really isn’t very pedestrian-friendly. If you’re already going to go around Fremont, you might as well run down Nickerson all the way to the Ballard Bridge.

    I think we should really consider running elevated across the bridge and at least part-way down Leary. The bridge openings themselves are a minor reliability issue, the real problem is the traffic backups they cause.

    1. “and there isn’t room on the north side of the bridge for a dedicated lane, either.”

      Sure there is. You’d end up with one driving lane each way, but that’s viable.

      Of course, there’s more room on the Aurora Ave. Bridge, but it would require a rather different plan for the entire line layout, due to its very long approaches.

      1. The problem is that if you cause traffic to back up beyond the point where the streetcar has its own lane you’ve extended your problem backwards. Dexter usually isn’t too bad today, to the extent that a Dexter streetcar wouldn’t be totally ridiculous. With backups extended down Dexter from the Fremont Bridge, it would be totally ridiculous.

        Really, this whole line should be elevated. Especially the SLU part and anything that goes downtown. Tunnels would be cool, too, but tunneling is expensive and slow and disruptive.

      2. “The problem is that if you cause traffic to back up beyond the point where the streetcar has its own lane you’ve extended your problem backwards.”

        Point taken.

        Aurora Ave. then? I wonder if the bridge is strong enough without retrofitting. It would have the correct level of grade separation.

  9. Funding a streetcar (‘Rapid’ of course has to be in the name of it) is a really smart move by ST.
    If they are to put something on the ballot for ST3 in 2016, it has to have enough pizzazz to gain a large majority in Seattle, but cheap enough to use ST3 north subarea surpluses to help recover the cost of ST1&2.
    Do the math.
    FHSC was ~150 mil for 3 miles
    Slut to Ballard is ~4 miles, so maybe $300 mil counting the bridge.
    Link to Ballard in subway/elevated via LQA is ~6 miles, so maybe $1,500 mil or more.
    Now which route would you choose?

    1. I would choose Link to Ballard. What problem is the streetcar to Ballard going to solve? We already have buses running along that corridor. A streetcar would run marginally faster at best, at a hypothetical cost of $300 million. A Link line could run much faster than existing buses. It would be an actual improvement in mobility. Yes, it’s more expensive, but the improvement per dollar ration is still much higher.

      Once we have a good network of fast, grade-separated rail, then we should consider upgrading bus corridors to streetcars for better comfort. Not before.

      1. I think Mic is agreeing with you here. He’s worried that ST is adopting this as an “either/or” in order to wriggle out of their (expensive) obligation to actually build something useful, like they did at First Hill.

      2. I would too Eric, and run the Ballard trains onto Redmond after leaving the DSTT. That gives about 10 additional station pairs for Eastsiders on a true E-W route, than going to UW. The trade-off of skipping Broadway is more than compensated for by going to SLU, SeaCtr, LQA, Magnolia, and Ballard. Using Link from Bellevue and beyond to UW is better suited to buses on SR520.
        Once ST has bought into a RapidStreetcar to Fremont/Ballard, you can forget about Link to anywhere north of Seattle CBD.

    2. “but cheap enough to use ST3 north subarea surpluses to help recover the cost of ST1&2.”

      There won’t be any ST 1 + 2 surpluses. Unless you know something we don’t . . . .

      1. I was referring to the debt piling up from ST1 & 2 for the N. sub area. Having more revenue coming in from ST3 than going out the door for projects will help retire the debt.

      2. ST1 did have a surplus. It funded the University Link extension so that ST2 didn’t have to pay for it. It’s also giving us an opening date of 2016, which wouldn’t have happened if it had to wait for ST2.

        It’s way too early to tell whether ST2 North King will have a surplus or a deficit. The opening date of North Link and East Link have slipped, and South Link is truncated. Those are all “deficits”, but we don’t know if they’ll come in under/over budget in their new deadlines. The Lynnwood Extension, it is assumed, may have to be delayed or truncated at some point but it’s also too early to tell.

      3. Lynnwood is certain enough in ST’s eyes to be considered as a location for a MF. Redmond/Marymoor however was eliminated from consideration. At a neighborhood meeting last week a ST representative said it would cost $200M to extend the tracks the four miles past Overlake to Marymoor.

      4. There was no surplus from ST1 save for the fact they didn’t build anywhere close to what was promised and they’ve been collecting taxes for several years longer than the entire system was supposed to be operational (2006) from S. 200th all the way to UW. Because of the failure to deliver U-Link was rolled into the ST2 budget. If it wasn’t for generous Federal grants UW would be even more than a decade late and a billion dollars short.

  10. i still dont get streetcars…how are they better then busses? they get stuck in traffic, cost a million times more than busses, can’t alter their route if something goes wrong or demographics change…seems like a colossal waste of money…would rather put in more grade separated light rail instead of wasting any more money on streetcars. leave the trollies for mr. rogers neighborhood.

    1. Grade-separated light rail is better than streetcars, sure.

      But streetcars are in turn better than buses because they attract *way* more choice riders. There are three reasons for this: 1) they’re “cool,” unlike “loser cruiser” buses, 2) people understand the routes better, and 3) they’re more comfortable, especially when you’re standing.

      1. Rumors of the “choice rider” appeal of streetcars are grossly exaggerated, especially over long distances and multi-leg journeys.

        Is it still 1/3 the speed of driving? Are your connections still awful? Will you still get stranded with minimal or nonexistent service after a certain hour? (The Portland streetcar shuts before 11.)

        Does it still suck for getting around the way you’d want to?

        If so, then people will not “choose” it.

      2. But 12,131 people per day (spring 2011) use the portland streetcar. That is 3,111 boardings per mile, better than most light rail systems. People like to ride streetcars much more than busses.

      3. Actual on-the-ground experience proves you wrong. People choose mixed-traffic streetcars in huge numbers even though they are very slow.

        Portland’s streetcar is *slower* than a bus, and closes early. Yet it still attracts several times the ridership of the two bus lines it replaced.

        The reintroduced Philly streetcars, which are almost comically slow, have seen the same pattern.

        The SLU streetcar was drawing from a corridor that had near-negligible ridership on the 17. It’s a bit apples and oranges because of all the growth that’s taken place there, but for all the weakness of the streetcar’s ridership, it attracts several times the ridership the 17 did (or the 40 does) in that segment.

      4. d.p., what makes me scratch my head sometimes is that you (correctly in my opinion) are very hostile toward projects to build slow streetcars in Seattle… but then you’ll always go to bat for the Green Line in Boston, which is just as slow when it’s above ground (D excepted).

      5. There’s a huge difference.

        The Green Line is underground where it matters most. The C and E are, in fact, underground for well over half their lengths! The D is grade-separated completely, and the rest are median-stripped in their entirety, with the exception of one remaining 1/2 mile of mixed traffic on the E.

        And for all that exclusive laneage, and in spite of the four tunnel portals that precede the worst road junctions the B and E lines can still be total clusterfucks thanks to the many cross-streets and other remaining conflicts.

        (The tunnel and the C Line, despite your protestations, work very well at extremely high demand 95% of the time. Give or take an ill-advised and hopefully short-lived experiment in screwing up egress.)

        But thank heavens the Green Line doesn’t have to stay on the surface through the center city, like the streetcars of yore or the streetcars of very dumb proposals!!

        12,131 people per day [and other protestations of Portland and the SLUT]

        The overwhelming majority of Portland Streetcar usage involves short trips to and from the Pearl, much the same way that people use the SLUT. NW ridership is middling. The South Waterfront gets some commute usage, then meanders empty the rest of the day. The new Inner Eastside loop — as of this past Thursday, when I was there — is a freaking embarrassment.

        When you’re traveling less than one mile, speed doesn’t matter so much. Then your “streetcar bias” holds some water. But when the distances involved are 3-6 miles and the time wasted on slow transit will palpably add up, people will laugh in your face and keep driving.

        How’s the New Orleans streetcar’s modeshare?

      6. Streetcars makes sense when lots of people make lots of short trips along the line. A streetcar in downtown makes sense. A streetcar replacing the 44 makes sense.

        For this route, it may be that the only part of this that makes a lot of sense for a streetcar is the section from Ballard to Fremont. Much of Ballard and to lesser extent Fremont already has the mix of business, retail and housing that makes sense for a high capacity, low distance (for the rider) line. The area between Ballard and Fremont is also filling in. There are more and more buildings going up along this section every day. There are also lots of destinations along here (I think there are 8 breweries along this path).

        My only fear (stated repeatedly) is that this becomes the alternative to what is really needed, which is a fast way for folks to get from Ballard (and Fremont for that matter) to downtown (or South Lake Union, which is essentially becoming north downtown). This won’t do it, but provides something of value anyway.

      7. Ross, a Ballard-Fremont-SLU streetcar won’t come close to handling the demand from Ballard as a whole, and will be difficult to fund, because Sound Transit likely isn’t going to – they’ll fund Interbay. I wouldn’t worry too much about one option cannibalizing public opinion from another. RapidRide will still be full and unreliable.

      8. Ben, you “wouldn’t worry” because you are irrationally optimistic about the public appetite for rail projects.

        Those of us who have observed the “sub-standard is hunky-dorry” mentality that pervades this city are right to worry that a “hey, it’s on rails” streetcar option would prevent us from ever seeing the rapid transit we need.

        (And at the other extreme, we’re right to worry that a “$10-billion or nothing” slate of projects will fail to persuade our inertia-bound electorate either.)

  11. The Everett spine argument highlights my complaint about so-called subarea equity from day one. Completing a line from Everett to Lynnwood that will carry a tiny fraction of what a line to Ballard would carry. And it only makes even the smallest amount of sense because of the investment that the Seattle subarea made in building the line it connects to and the investment King County (really Metro of old) made in the bus tunnel, neither of which were Snohomish County’s doing. And apart from an odd lawyer who might have a case at the Snohomish County courthouse, it will be essentially a one-way commuter line, duplicating the one-way commuter line that is North Sounder (with fewer landslides). The idea that any public policy dictates finishing that before undertaking a line to cover an area with a huge population boom that is dying for additional transit is laughable. The triumph of pure politics over any rational policy.

    1. And yet there it is, with a seat at the table.

      Perhaps we should have reserved a more sensibly-shaped table.

    2. Breadbaker – without subarea equity, Seattle wouldn’t have been able to get the taxing authority to build Link. We needed a lot more legislators than just those in the city to get Sound Transit’s existence and revenue approved by Olympia.

      If you want to change it, there are two ways. One, get involved with Seattle Subway, so that we can use Seattle’s population boom to actually get our parts built faster. Two, fight HARD for increased density in the city so that we can shrink our legislative boundaries enough to have more oomph in Olympia. Both are necessary.

    3. One of the arguments that representatives from Snohomish have made is that Link should eventually have a spur that connects to Paine Field, since it is one of the largest employment centers in the State. That would require building out the spine to Everett. Not saying I agree, but it is an argument that has been made. Personally, I think Paine Field would be better served by commuter rail.

      1. It doesn’t have to be a spur. The route could simply detour from Ash Way to the Mukilteo Speedway, Payne Field, Boeing, and back to Casino Road & Broadway. As a bonus it would cross Swift twice, allowing direct transfers. With grade separation it shouldn’t add more than a few minutes to the trip, and the only ones affected by that would be those at the very end of the line in Everett.

        A spur is highly unlikely because it would wreak havoc on the schedules. Would every other run go to Boeing? That would overserve it most of the time when it’s not a shift change. Would every fifth run go to Boeing? That would underserve it. Would arbitrary runs be diverted around shift changes? That would leave Everett with random gaps in its headways. And if the spur comes from Seattle, it wouldn’t address Everett – Boeing trips at all.

      2. Another bonus, Mukilteo would have a station, although on the outskirts. But close enough for a short local trip to the ferry terminal.

      3. The irony of Snohomish County’s “spine” argument is that it would have been FAR better served connecting to a Ballard-Greenwood line along 99. And if detouring to 99 from Northgate hadn’t come along too late in the process to move any Snohomish County stops and been saddled with unfairly low projections, it might have still made a detour to Paine Field make more sense in the long term. Much like Tukwila, Snohomish County has only screwed itself.

      4. Well, it would have the dubious advantage that those people in Everett who were deterred by the “four minutes” overhead of Link going to Aurora and then back to Mountlake Terrace, could still drive to the Lynnwood P&R and take the I-5 Link quickly to downtown, bypassing the three minutes’ overhead of a detour to Paine Field.

        Of course, there’s no way they could get in their cars and drive anywhere and park within four minutes…

  12. I don’t understand the last comment that Seattle will be unlikely to build light rail “alone”. As we have subarea equity there isn’t much of an economic difference in Seattle paying for everything on our own or doing it through ST. Are you claiming that the politics will never allow us to build light rail other than through a regionwide ST tax? Or is this an economic claim?

    1. It’s a political point. Politicians outside Seattle are TERRIFIED that we would build rail with a local tax rather than a regional tax, because they can’t pass local taxes in their own cities without our help.

      1. It’s only some politicians, right? I mean, there should be some suburban politicians that would champion lower taxes and letting Seattle tax itself. And if they really meant it (if they really supported allowing the city of Seattle taxing authority that wasn’t ludicrously regressive) they’d be right to do so. Seattle should spend more on transit than the suburbs do because Seattle has more places where that money would have a real impact.

        The only thing stupider than forcing Seattle and Lynnwood to spend the same amount of money on transit is taxing everyone the same at the state level for road construction then distributing that construction money… as we do.

      2. Ben,

        Exactly which politicians in the suburban areas really want to spend money on fixed guideway transit?

        When the region was flush with cash it was a pretty bauble they could point to for their constituents. “See what a progressive person I am? See what I got for you?

        Now? Not so much.

      3. Anandakos, when I go meet with them they want light rail to their communities. Maybe you should come with me for some of this? :)

      4. Ben,

        Well clearly you know better than I who they are, since I live in Vancouver. I’m still fairly skeptical that there would be many, though, except the cadre in Bellevue who KF hasn’t succeeded in turfing out yet.

        I do know King County well because I used to answer the info phone for Metro. True, that’s a LONG time ago, but the basic route structure is still recognizable.

        Improvements have been made.

  13. I hope the ST-Seattle corridor analysis evaluates all mode-corridor combinations.

    The working assumptions are grade-separated rail along Interbay-Ballard or surface streetcar/light-rail along Westlake-Fremont-Ballard.

    Why not the reverse? Subway to Fremont & Ballard. Median streetcar up 15th and across the Ballard Bridge? What about a subway tunnel under QA Hill directly serving SPU? Maybe they don’t make sense, but we should honestly look at all the permutations before moving forward.

      1. No, they haven’t. The rapid transit proposals that litter the waste bins of Seattle history ALL presumed surface or elevated running north of about Mercer.

        Neither east-west connectivity nor tunneling below Queen Anne hill have EVER received their due evaluations. They should.

      2. Then write your council members and tell them so.
        I don’t understand what the gripe is. This is good news! Its not perfect news, but non-perfect news can still be good!
        This is the first bone ST looks to be throwing us in ST3. It a good thing when they throw Seattle bones. Lets lobby for more.

    1. The working assumptions are higher-level Link in Interbay and a streetcar in Ballard. The “higher-level Link” may be MLK-style center lanes in Interbay or it may be elevated. Downtown will certainly be a tunnel because a MAX-style surface route would just blow in Seattle’s congestion and speed expectations, so it would be thrown out in an early stage of the study if it’s even considered. So given that there’s a downtown tunnel, where should it surface? Why not go through Belltown and Uptown and Queen Anne & Boston? That would serve three major transit markets in one shot. ST has already shown it’s sometimes cheaper to extend a tunnel than to surface prematurely, as in the North Link segment between 70th and 95th.

      I would suggest continuing underground to Fremont and Ballard rather than Interbay. But it’ll be hard for ST to ignore the wide right of way on 15th and the adjacent railroad tracks, plus people like Ben are talking about large TOD potential in Interbay. I don’t quite believe the part about Interbay TOD (the Whole Foods parking lot looks very large and suburban, and I think Magnoliaites are still in that culture), but if the city gets behind growth it could happen. (And it could partly make up for the abysmal failures at TOD and parking removal on Aurora.)

  14. Fight for exclusive lanes/tracks across the ship canal, period. Exclusive lanes across bottlenecks are one of the best selling points for public transportation ever; and mixed traffic across a bottleneck is just kind of stupid.

    So, anyone involved in making comments, focus like a laser on that.

  15. One other thing we should remember when thinking about travel times on this thing, more a talking point than anything else: we have to remember to think beyond the Westlake endpoint. This is particularly true on a line that stops at the north end of downtown. Maybe the longest trip on this line in its slowest form is (a somewhat unreliable) 25 minutes, and that’s considered an acceptable commute time. But that’s only relevant if you’re going to SLU or the north end of downtown. If you work near the library you still have a 10-minute walk, so it’s more like a 35-minute commute. If you work in Pioneer Square or the ID or SODO you might still have 20 minutes to go when the train stops (your transfer will involve a bit of walking, a bit of waiting, and slow vehicles no matter how you do it). That’s 45 minutes, and at that point, people will beat it by miles driving on the viaduct.

    And lots of people work farther from downtown than SODO, or have trips where downtown is somewhat out-of-direction but they go through Westlake because it’s a big transfer node (I am one of those). The thing about commute times is that, because they eat into your free time, each minute tacked on is more important than the last. People will be more willing to make longer commutes on transit through Westlake if the ride to Westlake is fast and reliable, completely unaffected by traffic conditions. If it’s not, those commutes will be overwhelmingly driven, with all that entails.

  16. A better way to cross the ship canal than either of the mooted options is to build a new mid-height bridge just east of the Aurora Bridge structure. There is enough room to squeeze it in beside the supports along the lower Aurora North ROW from the water’s edge to North 35th. The tracks would turn onto 35th and transition onto Leary via Fremont Place North. North 35th is a lightly used street.

    This would keep the trains out of the huge traffic jams at the north and south ends of the Fremont span but still allow access to “downtown” Fremont, which the Nickerson alternative forecloses.

    Such a mid-height bridge would necessarily have a lift span for large vessels but be significantly higher than the Fremont Bridge and so be opened much less often.

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