Now that the Ballard to Downtown rail study work has begun (and don’t miss the open house tonight!), I want to point out some of the best parts of the study scope of work, and reiterate what our next steps should be to achieve solutions that will last us for the next century.

First, remember that the money for this study comes from two sources – Sound Transit, which the ST2 measure tasked with studying high capacity transit to Ballard, defined as operating principally on exclusive rights of way, and Seattle, which has identified a preferred alternative of rapid streetcar (page 3-7) for the Ballard-Fremont-Downtown corridor. These are different policy goals, and they likely fit into different corridors.

As a result, the scope of work is split into two different “tasks.” Task A, High-Capacity Transit, and Task B, Rapid Streetcar. Both have some very clear direction. It will develop up to four “Level 1” alternatives for each of Task A and Task B, and four new maintenance facility locations between both. The potential for grade separation is clearly called out in Task A:

A footprint of a Salmon Bay /Ship Canal crossing for a fixed bridge, moveable bridge and a tunnel will be developed at up to two (2) locations determined in the Initial Concept Screening.

As the consultant releases their Level 1 alternatives for Task A, it’ll be our job as advocates to look at what they produce (page 9 – “Technical Memorandum: Definition of Task A Concepts”), engage in the public process that will result, and influence the two options to advance to Level 2 (starting page 13). Then the consultant will do ridership forecasting, cost estimates, running times, and even land use:

This analysis will potentially be more detailed and quantitative than in Level 1, and may include population and employment analysis and development of schematic urban design drawings.

This particular bit about land use is the outcome of Sound Transit’s updated TOD policy, passed last year. It’ll help start to rationalize transportation and land use decisions, and make it easier for us to put transit where it can have the most economic benefit over the long term, not just in the ridership it’ll generate today.

Task B is the rapid streetcar work. That’s exciting too – all the study work in the past has shown that we need rail transit in both of these corridors. But unless that “rapid streetcar” targets a level of investment as high as Link, which it’s very unlikely to, Sound Transit won’t put it in ST3. And as Bruce wrote this morning, there’s little that surface rail through downtown can do to make transit faster.

Fortunately, this study is as much about separated light rail as it is about streetcar. The way we’re going to get to fully grade separated, fast transit to Ballard will start here, and be determined largely by how well we organize. We need to ensure the highest levels of investment that result from the Task A, Level 1 alternatives are those that move forward to Level 2 so we get cost and ridership information. If we’re successful, the end of this study will have projects for which we can seek funding.

Wonky? Yes. But staying involved in this work – from understanding this study, to championing the right alternative, to winning funding – is the way Seattle Subway turns from a great idea into an inevitability.

168 Replies to “Yes, Sound Transit and Seattle are Studying Subway to Ballard”

  1. Do the scopes of work set up any competition between Task A and Task B? Meaning, is there any point in the process where the parties compare the best alternatives from each task and recommend a single project overall? Or will ST make a decision on Task A alternatives completely independently from the City making a decision on Task B alternatives?

    1. Not really. There are a couple of things that get identified in Task A and then “trickle down” to Task B – the ship canal crossing and the maintenance facility. I think that’s part of why the Mayor asked for further ship canal crossing study funding – because it’s likely to be HCT biased in this study.

      1. Great! The way I see it, these two studies are complementary. ST will determine the best way to move forward on Seattle-Ballard HCT for ST3. The City will learn the best way to move forward on streetcars in the Seattle-Fremont-Ballard corridor. Either project moving forward depends on separate political decisions and funding processes. The City electing to built a “rapid” streetcar to Fremont doesn’t mean that ST won’t include a subway to Ballard in ST3.

      2. Exactly. We get no promises from the study, but we get the ability to forge ahead on what we want to see. :)

      1. I am here with my moderating hat on, and will nip devolving threads in the bud.

  2. I’m glad to see your enthusiasm! I’ll just add something that I said in an earlier recent post: The connection into and out of the DSTT has got to be a examined in the HCT analysis. Even if the result is light rail no further than Mercer Street for a decade or two, getting the “Y” in place now sets the stage for system expansion and some rider travel time savings when destination is anywhere south of the main library.

    1. Good Idea Al. At the very least, the consultant will study the current and future capacity of the DSTT. Here’s a chance to recapture some of the capacity given up as a result of the Ulink decision to not put in a vent shaft at Montlake, or is that now referred to as the Freeman Shafting.

    2. Ah ha. From the document:

      “Confirm assumptions regarding future available capacity of Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and existing and planned rail maintenance facilities”

      I don’t know exactly what their assumptions are, but they’ll let us know whether those assumptions are correct or not.

      1. This! I do know that when asked about it at the open house last month, Joni was of the opinion that the line would stop at Westlake, and that something like a DSTT connection or 2nd Ave tunnel was beyond the study’s scope – neither of which made sense to me. She also implied (possibly outright said; can’t remember) that the technology would be compatible with Link – i.e. driver operated. For a fully grade separated line, that would be very disappointing, as the bulk of operating costs will always be paying for staff, and running automated trains reduces that significantly.

      2. Yes, she specifically said it would be compatible with Link and driver operated, not automated.

        My hope is that the new line is in a tunnel downtown, and that there’s at least a pedestrian tunnel connecting the new one to Westlake (mezzanine).

      3. Or, could the 5th Avenue Monorail be converted to run this Ballard line elevated? If so, it’s only a quick elevator ride away from the Westlake mezazzine.

      4. William – I hope not. That would mean skipping Belltown, one of the densest residential centers in the entire NW United States.

        David and Will – I don’t think she said anything absolute. I think she said probably. :) We’ll have an opportunity to fight for automation if we attach it as a string to funding and if we win a grade separated alternative.

      5. I spoke with a few people about this the open house tonight. I’m not sure why ST would choose to stick with Light Rail in its current form out of hand. There are limited economies of scale and there are a lot of very good reasons to go with a Vancouver style driver-less system. The biggest one is money (potential to operate at or near a profit) but just as large a benefit is the ability to run at faster intervals without spending more. (Example: for a driverless system, it costs the same amount to run 1 4-car train every 10 minutes as it does to run 4 1-car trains every 2.5 minutes.

      6. Leveraging the DSTT would save a ton of money by postponing the need for a second tunnel, and would extend a one-seat ride to Intl Dist or Stadium which has been one of the complaints about the D.

        The study doesn’t include south of Westlake because they’re studying the routing in segments. It also separates the debate on a Ballard tunnel and on a downtown tunnel. Even if the line terminates at Westlake it’ll still be a good start. But if it goes into the DSTT, it’ll just have to continue to Intl Dist, how convenient.

      7. It makes a lot of sense to run the Ballard line and existing line with the same technology. The real question is, how much would it cost to retrofit the DSTT and existing Link line for driverless technology?

    1. Almost entirely two things – informational boards and other materials, and organizational software (NGP). What are you worried about it going to? :)

    2. i dont know, i just don’t deem it as a worthy cause given that ST is doing the same thing. guess ill vote with my wallet.

      1. goodluck, I think I misunderstood your question.

        Seattle Subway is an advocacy group. Our pressure is part of the reason ST is *doing* this study work; we put the pressure on them to advance Sound Transit 3 planning. We go out there and build public interest in making ST go faster and build more.

        We’re not competing – we aren’t a transit agency. :) But if ST is going to take this farther than just a study, they’re going to need public pressure, and we’re that pressure.

  3. With some many areas of the city needing HCT, why is Ballard getting two trains, when places like the NE, who’s buses run crush capacity and have taken on a lot of very low income density that actually relies on transit, instead of it being simply a trendy alternative like in much of Ballard, don’t even get a stinkin’ rapid ride?

    1. The northeast is getting Link.

      If you mean Lake City, the demand (as much as it pains me to say it as a resident) doesn’t justify HCT yet. 15-minute service on the 522 and/or 372 and enhanced connections to Link will be about the best we can hope for.

      1. well, it was justified in 1968…. ;-)

        Don’t count Northgate as part of the NE. Very few from Lake City, Meadowbrook or Wedgwood would travel there willingly unless forced; the station is in a horrible location to get to from those neighborhoods (especially at the holidays). Roosevelt would make more sense as a transfer station from Lake City for the same reason that you drive that way to access I-5 rather than slogging through Northgate. NG’s as easy to get to from Crown Hill as it is from Lake City.

        Now, N 130th you can count as THAT would be a nice little crosstown connection!

      2. Roosevelt is where I’m hoping the 71/2/3 are terminated. But the only way that’s really feasible is if we build the Eastlake streetcar (which would go all the way to 65th) to create good local service in the U-district.

      3. The Roosevelt station would also be a convenient terminus for the 77, 306, 309, 312, 373 and 522. Maybe even the 372. A Link-oriented restructure could use the surplus hours to further increase frequency on Lake City Way.

        If only we could replace the car dealerships with TOD…

      4. Daniel, we need the 372 so that we can eventually have a frequent N/S corridor connecting Lake City, Ravenna, U-Village, and UW via 25th. You can truncate everything else off-peak at Roosevelt. Peak commuters will resist that because Link will be substantially slower than their current one-seat ride.

        The car dealerships are going to be replaced by high-density development in due course… that’s the big Lake City plan, and it can’t come soon enough.

      5. I agree about Northgate being a poor way to service Lake City. So does Richard Conlin. When we discussed the additional stations what will be added to Link (two years) after Northgate, he agreed that 130th makes a lot of sense. It serves both Northgate and Bitter Lake. Basically, the 41 can become a bus that simply goes from Lake City to the 130th station every five minutes. Then it can continue on to Bitter Lake and turn around.

    2. NE Seattle is getting four Link stations east of I-5: Montlake, U-Dist, Roosevelt, and Northgate.

    3. Biliruben, are you aware of the University Link and North Link projects under construction?

      Past that, in a couple of months the corridor study for West Seattle (just like this one) will start. We’re also fighting for streetcar service on Eastlake, and once *these* battles are won, I’d love to fight to extend the streetcar on Jackson to 23rd. There’s a lot going on. I’m not going to start putting a list of all potential projects in every blog post, but I’m always happy to discuss what’s happening around the city and what we’re working to fight for!

      1. Building the political support for that kind of thing takes years – enough that it wouldn’t be able to “go with” what’s happening there now. But it’s in the Transit Master Plan as a future high capacity corridor. If we have any influence over Sound Transit 3, the corridors I want them to look at are 1) Ballard to Lake City and on northward, 2) Greenwood/Phinney/Fremont south through Georgetown, 3) UW to Mount Baker and Rainier Beach via 23rd/Rainier.

      2. Sure, I didn’t mean that I thought there was any hope of getting it done in the near future, just that the repaving project has inspired a lot of talk about reconfiguring 23rd as a neighborhood center and not just a fast arterial – bigger sidewalks to promote local retail and that sort of thing. If 23rd Ave does end up going in that direction then a streetcar would fit right in.

    4. The NW quadrant has gotten shafted as far as ST is concerned. You’d have a point IF we had gotten a Sounder station in Ballard. How I hate to see the trains whizz by and not stop!

    5. If I’m not mistaken, ST2 included money for developing BRT along the 522 all the way from Roosevelt Station to Woodinville via Lake City. If it’s done right, with a seamless transfer to Link at Roosevelt, it could provide very good service to Lake City residents and pave the way for future light rail. Also the 41 will probably be restructured to provide frequent quick shuttle service between Lake City and Northgate.
      One thing that I don’t think has been talked about with ST3 is that I’m sure it will include money for planning studies for a future phase another 8-12 years down the road, just like the ones funded by ST2 that are laying the groundwork for ST3. And yes, the Bill Pierre black hole is going away, making that an even more attractive corridor for real HCT.

      1. Great news on Bill Pierre! Thanks Alex. :)

        I’ve been starting to talk about those planning studies, but we’ve got a couple of years to work it out. It’ll depend on what comes out of the studies that are starting (this one and the others).

        As I mentioned to Mars above, so far I really like:
        1) Ballard to Lake City and on northward
        2) Greenwood/Phinney/Fremont south through Georgetown and perhaps to Sea-Tac on 99
        3) UW to Mount Baker and Rainier Beach via 23rd/Rainier

        What do you think of those as a place to start the discussion? Am I missing anything?

      2. Number 2 should include north to Lynnwood along the interurban right-of-way. Stops similar to the interurban (about every 10 blocks or so).

    6. Thanks all for piping up and having some solid ideas beyond the condescending “you are aware that there is something called Northlink, and this Northlink will be tremendously useful to Lake City because we transit experts know the East-West Metro lines are so speedy-fast. And as a bonus, we will make sure you can get to Ballard at lightening speed by 2040. Sorry you might not be interested in going to Ballard. But I love it and you will too!”

      No, Northgate is a horrendous idea. It takes longer to get to Northgate than to get to downtown. I don’t go there unless I need to see my proctologist so I can forget about one pain in the ass that is transit while I focus on the other.

      130th would be okay, but Roosevelt is preferable.

      There is a reason that Lake City Way was the original highway going north. It’s relatively flat and very direct. Why try and screw with the obvious?

    7. Ballard is the highest-density, most transit-using part of the city that’s furthest from a Link station. That’s why it’s being addressed now. The HCT and the streetcar serve two different markets. The HCT serves Ballard-downtown trips. The streetcar is mostly for people going to/from Fremont from both directions. It’s just like the 71/72/73X vs the 70/43/49. If you’re going from UW to downtown you take the express; if you’re going to Capitol Hill or Eastlake you take the local. If we can only afford one, we should build Link now and postpone the streetcar because the 40 is a fallback, whereas nothing existing compares to Link.

      Lake City does need rapid transit, but Ballard needs it more urgently and can more fill a train. And then we need to focus on a 45th line, which can bring in Wallingford and possibly Fremont. Then we can start thinking about Lake City.

  4. i think bilirubin has a good point here. while its true that Lake City may not support it alone, it would attract riders from points north and east. Ballard is a relatively island and would only attract riders from points north, many of which will already go toward Link…so is the bang for the buck as good in ballard?

    1. Ballard is far denser than Lake City, and will be until the current Lake City plan is fully built out. Ballard and Uptown can support a line on their own, whereas Lake City would need a lot of feed from the northeastern suburbs and, even then, would be a very peak-heavy destination.

      Lake City is just not there yet. What it does need is a better bus network; let’s concentrate on that.

      1. Now that sounds like an interesting discussion worth having – looking at the walk-shed of the two areas. It could be a Manhattan vs. LA comparison – which makes more sense for a subway. Or you could be right.

        Unfortunately, you keep saying sit down and shut up, so I guess we won’t be having it. I understand that Ballard is the “chosen one”. I don’t really care. Lake City has no political clout. We are poor. I get it.

      2. Okay, I really hate seeing this.

        When you say “we are poor”, you’re passive aggressively claiming that transit planners are so biased that they will consider income before they consider ridership.

        First, check out Metro’s Spring 2009 ridership by route. Sure, it’s old, but the proportions aren’t any different now:

        As you can see, both the 15 and the 18 have higher ridership than the 72. You don’t have to look at walksheds to see that transit ridership from Ballard is higher than that from Lake City already.

        I also linked to a census map that showed one very specific thing – growth in each neighborhood:

        As you can see from that, Ballard is growing more quickly as well, especially in the dense central area.

        Claiming that this has to do with income when that’s clearly not the case not only throws all that out the window, but it also erodes trust. It makes others who aren’t paying as much attention as you and I do think that the processes we create with our governments, in order to *be* neutral and to be equitable, don’t work. That’s irresponsible – it’s things like that which destroy the value of all the work done by a ton of people who care deeply about equity and cost effectiveness.

        Nobody said to “sit down and shut up” – and claiming that also hurts this conversation, because it implies that no one is trying to help you understand the real reasons why Ballard is next, when all these people are spending time trying to explain real data and show why they understand this themselves. I want to stand up and talk to you about why Ballard makes more sense!

        And there are a lot of reasons. The 2000 Intermediate Capacity Transit Study in Seattle showed Ballard to be pretty much the highest need corridor even before all that growth. That’s part of why Sound Transit included Ballard in Sound Transit 2’s planning corridors.

        If you want transit in Lake City, put away the “poor” and “sit down” comments. They don’t help get it. Right now, the way to get transit to Lake City is to get involved in the Sound Transit 3 discussion, really to join with Seattle Subway, as we want to see any Ballard line extended to Lake City next, and make sure that the corridor study work for Lake City is included in the 2016 vote.

        And now that I’ve taken 20 minutes to type this out when I should be getting ready for work, please do me the favor of not ignoring it! :)

      3. Yes biliruben,

        That’s why all us moneybags down in the Rainier Valley got Link first – because we’re not poor like Lake City.

    2. We’re building a subway that gets close to Lake City – North Link will DRAMATICALLY improve transit service there, especially if we can get Metro to increase the frequency of service from there to Northgate Station.

      In addition, the Transit Master Plan identifies the corridor to Ballard as the best way to get to Lake City. We prettied that up for the Seattle Subway map here:

      Our intention is to fight for fast, grade separated transit to Ballard, and extend that to Lake City. Because Sound Transit already had the voter approval to study from downtown to Ballard, getting that moving helps us get closer to a complete system. They do *not* have voter approval to study to Lake City.

      Originally, Sound Transit intended to study Downtown-Ballard-UW, so service would turn in Ballard and an extension to Lake City would be unlikely. Getting the city to partner with Sound Transit on the Ballard to downtown work helped separate the two and make a future Lake City extension more likely.

      There are only so many people fighting, and only so much bandwidth. Hitting the pitches that are already coming toward us gets us a lot more transit than trying to force a change mid-process, and with both the Transit Master Plan and ST2 identifying Ballard next, we’d probably only slow things down by trying to fight for Lake City instead.

      Plus, seriously – Ballard is way, way, way bigger and more dense than Lake City. Look at an aerial view:

      1. Ok point taken, but being the devils advocate, why not just provide increased rapid ride service between ballard and the U-dist/Northgate to access link.

      2. Quite simply: barring a major shift in voter attitudes toward transit-only lanes, there’s no east-west route between Ballard and the U-District where a RapidRide bus could possibly run without getting stuck in traffic. The “Ballard Spur” underground line would have a chance of getting people downtown faster than existing bus service; RapidRide to the U-District would not.

      3. Eric’s right on. There’s no way to create right-of-way between those points for a bus. I didn’t mention this in the comment, but West Seattle and UW-Ballard will both see similar studies in the next few months, thanks to McGinn pushing on Downtown-Ballard and thanks to all the awesome folks who helped put pressure on through Seattle Subway.

      4. No, no, no. That (Northgate) station is horrible to access from Lake City. 130th will solve the connection problem once it opens as that’s a quick crosstown ride, but better service to Roosevelt would be at least as useful as NG before then.

        I lived in that area for over 40 years and believe me, I only went to NG to catch the 41 when I worked early enough to ensure a parking spot. The 75–no thank you.

        LC also has a lot of relatively flat area where density can be added without blocking views or having a lot of NIMBYs around. It also eventually opens up NE King County should there ever be desire to do so. There’s a reason the 1968 line went that way, and Bothell, Woodinville (and UW Bothell) are much larger than they were then.

      5. Scott, yeah, then Roosevelt will help solve it. North Link in general will help immensely. I thought of Northgate because the 41 goes from Lake City to there, but you’re right, it takes an age.

        The overall point though is that Ballard is like an order of magnitude bigger than Lake City, and it’s closer to downtown. Plus, of course, that’s the endpoint fallacy (as usual), as a line to Ballard will also serve Belltown and Uptown.

      6. Ben, I think the best thing we can do for Lake City in the short term is try to make sure that a 130th station makes the cut for Lynnwood Link.

        Northgate, as others correctly point out, is a disaster. NTC is in exactly the wrong place for access from literally anywhere other than Northgate itself, and to make matters worse the street network in the area is completely dysfunctional.

        But turning the 75 into a 125th/130th crosstown route terminating at 130th and 3rd NW, and serving a 130th Link station would add a whole new dimension of fast mobility in North Seattle.

      7. I’d say Ballard is maybe… maybe twice as large and about comparably as dense as Lake City. Does that mean you get 2 trains and we get none?

        Plus, you can freakin’ walk downtown in like 38 minutes. You don’t need a train, you need a personal trainer and Cupcake Royal to declare bankruptcy.

        Stop whining and get off your butts, and let those get a train who actually need a train.

      8. Biliruben, you’re dreaming if you think Lake City is remotely as dense as Ballard. Lake City is a few blocks of six-story apartments surrounded on every side by SFH on large lots. Ballard is two mile-long corridors of multifamily surrounded by a combination of townhomes and SFH on lots half the size of those in Lake City.

        And the bus ridership bears that out. You could replace RR D and the 40 with rail today and have sufficient ridership. The 522 and 372 only fill buses at peak hours (and outbound at night, in the 522’s case) and can’t even fill one bus every half hour much of the rest of the time.

      9. Lake City is 30 blocks of density 5-10 blocks wide. Have you ever been here? Have you ever seen the massive level of ultra-low income housing between 140th and 145th? Have you noticed 2-3 new huge complexes going in every year for the last 10 years? And the townhomes are right behind those on all sides.

        And these aren’t yuppies in market-rate housing who have a choice about whether to own a car, but decide to take transit because they want to look green. These are ultra-poor who can’t afford cars, who’s kids stand in the gravel and puddles waiting for the bus, because we don’t have sidewalks. These are disabled veterans pushing their wheelchairs down the middle of the road, dodging speeding cars, because that’s Lake City. These are the elderly too afraid to leave their retirement homes because of the traffic or the crime, and can’t even get to the bus without taking their life in their hands. And you want them to transfer and Northgate.

        Lake City has been neglected for far too long. We have no parks, we have miniscule police presence, we have no sidewalks or community center, and you are insisting we be chipper about getting the dregs for transit too. Maybe ST4, we’ll toss you a transfer across to Ballard so you can see how the other half live. Screw that.

      10. Here is a map someone made of Seattle’s population density, derived from 2010 census data. Maybe someone more knowledgeable can point towards the raw data, but it seems to confirm that Ballard has more continuous density than Lake City.

      11. I don’t deny that the lots in Ballard are zoned 5000 sf, which is basically what those maps show.

        I tend to like this map best, however, which shows peak density of Lake City to be the highest of area north of the ship canal other than the u-district.

        I also owe David L an apology, as looking back, he lives in Lake City. I am not sure how he gets his perception of Lake City density as just a few blocks, but he’s certainly been here. Dunno.

      12. Biliruben – the peak density in a small area isn’t as important as the overall higher density in the full walkable radius around a station. Ballard really will create twice as much ridership, and because it’s closer to downtown Seattle, it’s also lower cost.

        As I now keep mentioning though, Lake City wasn’t a choice. Sound Transit was authorized by voters to study Ballard next…

      13. Let’s go over where there is high-density housing in Lake City… there are just 3 places, all of them small. Two are single-block-wide stretches along the west side of LCW: between 113th and 117th, and between 135th and 145th. The other is a square bounded by LCW, 35th, 120th, and 130th. And none of those places are exclusively high-density housing — there are SFH and exclusively commercial lots scattered through all of them. Everything else in the area (including the area where I live) is extremely low density: SFH on large lots or commercial lots.

        Contrast that to Ballard, where there is high-density housing throughout a large area encompassing both “old” Ballard and the area bordered by Market, 8th, 60th, and 26th. In addition, high-density housing is present for another mile or so up 24th, and is scattered here and there throughout much of the rest of Ballard. And on top of that, there are far fewer commercial properties and the low-density residential properties are on smaller lots, sometimes multiple properties to a lot.

        Lake City won’t be ready for a train until 1) the Pierre dealership complex is redeveloped and 2) quite a few of the close-in, older SFH are replaced by townhomes. That is all going to happen, but not before 2020 or 2025. Ballard is ready for a train today.

      14. David, I definitely wouldn’t say Lake City “won’t be ready” for a train until other things happen. It’s cheaper to build it now and let that help development happen, and it’s definitely more environmentally friendly to build in advance of development rather than waiting. But we’ll fight for it next. :)

      15. Plus, you can freakin’ walk downtown in like 38 minutes.

        This is demonstrably insane.

        From Market and Ballard to the Northernmost areas we might plausibly call downtown is over 5 miles. I’ve done the walk more than a few times, you need to be moving at a pretty brisk clip to keep it under 90 minutes (google maps says 102 minutes). You’re making up complete nonsense, and nonsense that’s easily verified as such.

      16. Just glancing at Google Earth… and I see that Lake City will be about 7000 feet from a North Link station assuming the 130th station is built (further if it isn’t), and Fremont will be about 9000 feet from the U District North Link station (much sooner when the 130th station would open). It would appear to me that a claim that North Link serves Lake City can be countered by a claim that North Link serves Fremont.

  5. If they opt for subway in Ballard, please, please let it be under some street other than 15th when it crosses Market. Even if the route selected is along 15th West and 15th NW, let’s all advocate for a swing west at least to 20th and ideally to 22nd at Leary.

    Doing so makes a tunnel almost essential. It would be faster, more reliable, and get closer to the actual “CBD” of Ballard. A station at 20th would have the intersection of 15th and Market well within its walkshed.

    1. Personally, I’d advocate for 17th, with the station box just south of Market. Coming from the BNSF corridor in Interbay, it’s easier to get to 17th. I think it would be a mistake to go as far west as 20th, as much of the new Ballard development is at (and will keep going past) 15th, but shifting a little west of 15th makes sense.

      But here’s one of my mantras – it’s not up to us for the moment, it’s up to the professionals. :)

      1. Yes, there is slightly less development at 17th (7-11, one story real estate office, parking lot, dry cleaner, dr’s office) than at 20th. I think folks would want to be close to a major artery.

        Sorry for posting this again– but here is a link for folks who want to weigh in (and even design a route)– just click next to begin.

      2. Ben,

        I’d be fine with 17th if that’s more in the centroid of development, which you certainly know better than I do. Anywhere but 15th and Market, which is a seven lane street crossing a six lane street.

        Hardly any room left for the people who will be riding the train, no?

      3. It might be easier to build under 15th *because* it’s such a stupidly wide street. I mean, it’s wider than any street should be – far too wide for humans. But yeah, construction underneath it would likely be unpleasant.

      1. I’m sure ST will be happy to once they decide what their priorities for funding are. That’s why they’re doing this study.

      2. You’d think you’d have a rough idea where you’re gonna find $20-30 billion? Car tabs?

        But keep chasing those windmills.

      3. Personally, I can’t wait for the ‘Clibborn Transportation Package’ to manifest itself as a public Referendum.

      4. At this point the answer is “wherever the state will let us.” That’s up to the state legislature, not ST or me.

        My personal answer would be a combination of property tax, car tabs, and a local gas tax, but that has precisely zero to do with what the state legislature decides in the end.

      5. Roger, you’re Roger Rabbit from Horsesass, yes? You use the same sentence structure.

        The ST2 plan was $18 billion (depending on what you count and over what time period). We passed it, 57-43, a year before Link even opened.

        It seems to me that it’s likely going to be a similar percentage, especially considering University Link will be open before ST3 is on the ballot.

        It will take work from all of us to get taxing authority from the legislature. But they’ll provide it if they want to keep getting re-elected.

  6. Please. Do whatever you can to ensure the route chosen is the SCENIC route.


    1. The fastest route should always be preferred to the scenic route, IMO. We aren’t looking to build some trolley for tourists, this is for people who live in the neighborhoods and are trying to get to and from work, events, retail areas, etc.

  7. I am going to state this as neutrally and as dispassionately as I possibly can.

    The scoping document indeed outlines an intention to study two separate corridors, separately.

    That is all that it says. That is all that we know.

    Anything else — descriptions of outcome, expectations of political action, hypotheses about expansion — is pure conjecture.

    It should be noted that there is no single document that states a need for both corridors, much less an expectation of both corridors. Moreover, it should be noted that these studies, per the scoping document itself, are to be conducted in total isolation; their ridership estimates are not to take into account any simultaneous construction that may siphon the demand from one point or increase the demand to another point. Nothing about the way the study “tasks” are to be accomplished suggests that they are to anticipate the construction of both.

    It is therefore misleading and problematic to suggest that “all the study work in the past has shown that we need rail transit in both of these corridors” as if any unified study has done so in any unified way. It might be nice, but it’s not what has actually been said.

      1. Yes, I’ve seen that document. Yes, functioning high-quality transit along all the pretty colored lines would represent a sea change for the experience of living in this city.

        But no, that document does not imply that rail will be pursued in every corridor, independent of pursuing rail in neighboring corridors.

        Do you know why the more recent document didn’t address the Interbay corridor? Because RapidRide was considered to be existing “high-capacity transit”. Laughable, as we both know, but that’s the non-rose-colored read of documents such as this one.

        No claims of rail1 PLUS rail2 have ever been made, except by you. Continue to presume that ST and the city share your presumption at all of our peril.

      2. “Do you know why the more recent document didn’t address the Interbay corridor?” Yes it does, it’s in the study area. Task A is agnostic through that entire study area.

        “RapidRide was considered to be existing “high-capacity transit”” RapidRide does not meet the state definition of High-Capacity Transit that Sound Transit is built on. If it did, this study wouldn’t exist.

        “that document does not imply that rail will be pursued in every corridor” Nope, it just gives us a document to point to in order to build support for rail in every corridor. Pursuing rail is *our* job.

        “No claims of rail1 PLUS rail2 have ever been made, except by you. Continue to presume that ST and the city share your presumption at all of our peril.” Task A and Task B are developing alternatives analyses for two different rail lines – an HCT line and a rapid streetcar line. The outcome of this document will be study results for two lines. Then it’s up to us to push for both of them.

        You say “Yes, functioning high-quality transit along all the pretty colored lines would represent a sea change for the experience of living in this city.” It sounds like we both want that. Every day you have two choices before you – talk about how it can’t happen, or talk about how it can happen. There are plenty of people in this city who believe it can’t happen – adding to that does nothing to help.

        The only way we build all this is if we build enough public support that it becomes an inevitability. You can be part of that. Please join us!

      3. The “more recent document” to which I refer was the 5-corridor TMP push by the streetcar people: the one that couldn’t ignore the need for Madison BRT, but which expended most of its effort fudging numbers to “prove” Eastlake, Westlake, and downtown needed mixed-traffic surface rail.

        That’s the only document to recently claim rail was “needed” on any of the pretty-colored corridors — and unfortunately, the specifics of those claims were dubious — and that document did, in fact, ignore the Interbay corridor because RapidRide already “covered” it.

        Nothing in the current joint study scoping implies that both is even a possibility. Nothing at all. That all the study numerics will be treated in total isolation confirms that there is no intention of pursuing both.

        I’m sorry that you find this so hard to see. But you’re just wrong! You’re enabling the creation of an either/or scenario, in which one is great but the other is grossly inadequate. I fear that no amount of after-the-fact advocacy will get us off the cheap-out course.

      4. d.p.

        I have no idea why you’re expressing so much certitude about Interbay and RR, as I was on the TMP Advisory Board and you are simply incorrect.

        Nelson/Nygaard asked the group if the TMP should also consider Interbay for HCT. I spoke up and said no, because Sound Transit was going to build in that corridor. No one else said anything and that was that.

        That may or may not have been a good judgment on my part, but it’s how that went down. Other people in other settings may have had their own ideas; other people in the room may have disagreed and not said anything. But I was there and your assertion is simply false.

      5. Thanks Martin.

        d.p., if you believe that this study creates an either/or scenario, the only way to get to the outcome you and I want – grade separated rail in Interbay – is exactly what I keep saying. Get solidly involved in advocating for grade separated rail in Interbay.

        Also, if you’re aware of another way that this study work could be done in 2013 instead of 2018, let me know. I’d rather have a five year head start and have to fight a little harder for heavy investment than to do nothing until I’m 36. Combining these studies was the easy way to get the “streetcar people” to help.

      6. Basically, d.p. is (partly) asking whether there has actually been any study SHOWING the need for both corridors (as opposed to each one in isolation), with actual evidence, regardless of who pays for either one, as opposed to the TMP hoping for both without evidence?

        I don’t think he’s concerned that an either-or scenario will result in only one alternative being built instead of both, he’s concerned that an either/or scenario will ignore opportunities to meet (most of) both corridors’ goals with a single corridor.

      7. Actually, I’m 100% terrified of the “either/or” scenario, in a city with a history of scaling back, cheaping out, getting things wrong.

        I’m also completely mystified as to why Martin has so much faith that Sound Transit was/is “going to build in that corridor”, given how many decades it has taken to get even our current lines to where they are, and given its propensity to keep/a> making mistakes every step of the way.

        Sound Transit clearly has no great plan for city service that cannot be altered or thwarted, and counting on any sort of inevitability for a particular corridor or a particular degree of speed and grade separation strikes me as foolhardy.

        (I must also admit that I’m surprised Martin was so intimately involved in the last round of TMP study, which yielded a push for more slow downtown transit and another corridor the most clearly cooked demand estimates since New Coke.)

        The fact remains that the TMP Westlake corridor was studied in a vacuum, and that Task A and Task B in the new joint study will be carried out in vacuums. The fact remains, as Morgan points out, that nothing in the scoping document anticipates or implies a “both” course of action, and that no person in any official capacity has so much as uttered the possibility of a “both” scenario.

        Those worriers among us have no reason to believe “both” is on the table. No one but Ben (and now Martin) has even suggested as much.

      8. One more thing:

        Those who anticipate and advocate an everything here plus everything elsewhere solution to all of our transit woes really need to come up with a better answer for the stopped-clock anti-transit trolls who (rightly, unfortunately) wonder where the billions will come from for dozens of miles of desired grade-separated trains.

        The only project list of remotely similar breadth and scope in North America is that being undertaken (slowly, thanks to the passage of Measure R but the failure of Measure J) in Los Angeles County. The L.A. capitol expansions are being funded by a sales tax at the same rate as ST2’s… in a county with a population of nearly 10 million.

        As it currently sits, L.A. County expects to require 30 years to collect the needed $40 billion. This will build only a single grade-separated subway; everything else will default to ROW-separated corridors with far too many grade crossings.

        How can we be expected to believe that comparatively tiny Puget Sound transportation benefit district — and the extremely tiny North King subarea — will build so many lines, with such extensive grade separation, with so much less funding? Especially when the plan revolves around “selling” the exurbs on funding-matched lines so remote that most will have trouble envisioning ever using them (not a problem for L.A., whose proposed lines all follow corridors with densities and present usage rates not found anywhere in Washington state)?

        This is why — this is the only reason why — I am constantly on here encouraging the study of carefully targeted segments of grade-separated transit with the greatest benefit to increased mobility. Not because I hate the idea of “trains everywhere”, but because I have great doubts as to the chance of that vision coming to pass.

        L.A. County is huge and populous, and their plans — less extensive than Ben’s vision — is hardly in the bag.

      9. [Typos and typos and blah… But you get the point. Blind optimism and voracious desire are not strategies.]

      10. anti-transit trolls who (rightly, unfortunately) wonder where the billions will come from for dozens of miles of desired grade-separated trains.

        Troll maybe, anti transit I don’t think so. At least no more than a chainsaw CEO trying to save a company facing bankruptcy. Cheerleader for the status quo, that I’m not.

      11. “Roger That” is definitely an anti-transit troll, Bernie. But his sum-total mileage and dollar figures aren’t wrong: Ben just happens to think it is easily doable.

        We’re a fraction of the population of L.A. County, and not even in the same universe on a density scale. You can’t just claim something on such a grand funding scale is doable; you have to prove it.

      12. Ah,.. but being Wet LA is our desire, and Judy Clibborn’s Connecting Washington Transportation package is the vehicle that will get us there.

        Curse the Supremes and their persecution of Mr. Eyman and his initiative. They’ve denied me my chance to vote.

      13. Oh, there we go, rabbit hole again.

        If you want grade separated transit through Interbay to Ballard, help fight for it. Nothing being said here changes the fact that if you want it, that’s what you and I and everyone else have to do.

        Morgan, please don’t get pulled in. That kind of question is unanswerable before doing corridor study like this.

      14. d.p.,

        You asked a few questions of me that deserve an answer:

        Sound Transit clearly has no great plan for city service that cannot be altered or thwarted, and counting on any sort of inevitability for a particular corridor or a particular degree of speed and grade separation strikes me as foolhardy.

        I agree that “inevitability” is a foolish argument to make. “Impossibility,” your calling card, is equally foolish. Of course any plan in the early planning stages can be altered or thwarted. Only political action by advocates for rapid transit can prevent that, and even then there are no guarantees.

        (I must also admit that I’m surprised Martin was so intimately involved in the last round of TMP study, which yielded a push for more slow downtown transit and another corridor the most clearly cooked demand estimates since New Coke.)

        A Westlake streetcar with First Hill levels of priority would be a real shame, although not totally without merit. One that has MAX-like qualities, which is possible given enough political commitment, has a couple of strengths:

        1) If the State refuses to give ST more authority, that’s all that quadrant of the city is going to get in our lifetimes. So it’d better be as good an option as we can get in that price range. No one ever went broke betting on intensely short-sighted decisionmaking in Olympia.

        2) I think the technical merit of a rapid line to feed into the ends of Interbay light rail is pretty strong. In fact, the Eastlake streetcar’s relationship to U-Link would be a mirror image, though I know you hate that too.

        There are, of course, dangers that political actors will decide that the streetcar is enough, or that it doesn’t deserve priority treatments, or both. I don’t know how to preclude those risks from this stage of a project planning process. If you do, I’d love to hear how. What I’m sure the answer isn’t is to crap all over the people who are trying to make the right thing happen.

      15. Regarding the feasibility of $40 billion visions:

        – Building everything in the next 30 years is not the proper threshold of success.
        – It’s not productive to send potential activists home because their neighborhood isn’t first in line.
        – Our regional GDP is something like $200 billion. Over 30 years, a $40 billion project comes out to less than 1% of that, setting aside growth and inflation. So clearly at the highest level it’s affordable. It’s just that our political priorities aren’t there. It’s not outrageous to think that gas prices, demographic changes, economic and population growth, and increasingly obvious climate change will shift those priorities over the next few decades, and it would be a shame to not have the groundwork in place to capitalize on that.

      16. Martin,
        The dilemma here is the better the Ballard/Fremont streetcar is as a project the more it “competes” with fully grade separated rail between downtown and Ballard.

        On the one hand if Olympia won’t give funding authority then the City going it alone with its own sources of funds is better than nothing. Furthermore the line that is built should be as useful as possible (reserved lanes, signal priority), especially if it is the best we’re going to see for a while.

        On the other hand having a “cheap” option the city can fund itself may mean less political support to give Sound Transit more taxing authority, especially once the city starts construction.

        In an ideal world I want both the Seattle Subway plan for Link and the streetcar network in the TMP with the streetcars lines looking more like MAX and less like the SLUT or FHSC. (also invest in those to bring them up to MAX standards as much as possible)

        I’m inclined to ask for both, but I am worried about the politics, especially if the existence of a city alternative is likely to lead to no further ST funding authority from Olympia.

      17. Chris,

        As a matter of optics I agree that building Interbay Link first would be optimal. It would set up a similar dynamic to U-Link and Eastlake.

        It might work out that way. Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to coordinate things that well given the way we have to scrounge for funding authority. I’m unwilling to wait indefinitely for ST to get more taxing power and potentially be 50 years down the road with nothing.

      18. I agree that demographics are changing and priorities will change with them, but nearly 1% of the GDP of the entire region for three decades straight solely to transit capitol projects? Has there ever been a time or a place in history that has devoted nearly 1% of its entire regional GDP in that way?

        I can’t figure out for the life of me why no one has been willing to address the Los Angeles comparison head-on.

        The similar amount of money that L.A. County is collecting over a similar period of time represents only 0.26% of the county’s $500 billion annual GDP. For that, the city might get one grade-separated subway, plus a short list of light rail lines and extensions that are better than MAX but far worse than Link. And maybe a BRT or two.

        And L.A. has a charismatic and uncompromising (and just-departed) mayor to thank for the project list it does have. Seattle has Mayor McStreetcar.

      19. First of all that “one subway” is a really, really ambitious one, with long trains and over 10 miles of length, because LA is huge. And the light rail lines are way more extensive in space than ours would be, because LA is huge.

        But the point is that current political policies make it so that 0.26% of GDP is a huge political lift. It doesn’t have to be that way forever. It wasn’t when we built the freeways. Right now, a lot of that GDP is going to the federal government for interest, defense, and health care for old people. Locally, a lot of that GDP goes to education and highways. At all levels, we collect a smaller level of taxes than peer nations. These priorities are not locked in stone. They might change, or they might not. It’s our job to make sure they change.

        And by the way, I think it would be incredibly aggressive to build the whole vision in 30 years. If you spread it out over 60 or even 100 years it’s an even tinier slice of the economy.

      20. Your points are well-taken, but you are incorrect to suggest that the length and scope of L.A.’s proposed corridors in any way exceeds what Ben regularly and flippantly suggests on this blog.

        Yes, the “subway to the sea” is ambitious, but only because it traverses the busiest and most consistently dense corridor on this side of the country. The length is not extraordinary: The current Wilshire/Western terminus is 12 miles from the Santa Monica coast, and only 8 of those miles (to UCLA) are expected to be built in the next 30 years.

        Ben has exceeded that by the time his Ballard-New Downtown Tunnel line hits SoDo.

        And while L.A. county is indeed “huge” (with consistent density and demand for mobility), it isn’t as huge as the tri-county Puget Sound transportation benefit area (with lots of dead space and questionable demand). Sound Transit and Ben suggest criss-crossing city and region every which way — many dozens of miles of exclusive right-of-way have indeed been suggested.

        A brief tally of Measure R projects, meanwhile, adds up to 31 miles of specific light rail segments (mostly in the form of at-grade extensions), plus 4 miles of busway. Ben has vouched for far more here.

        L.A. has its projects itemized and costed. Can you not see why some activists’ vision for the (less-wealthy, sparser-demand) Seattle area might come across as stratospheric by comparison?

      21. Good points about LA. But again, I think LA is the outer limit of what’s possible only using pretty restricted political imagination. In 2013, yes, it’s the limit. The political economy doesn’t have to be exactly like the U.S. in 1965 or China today, but if it shared certain elements of those eras many things would be possible that aren’t possible now.

        I think it’s a mistake to compare the “itemized and costed” plan from LA Metro to the vision of a pressure group. The purpose of a pressure group is to lay out a vision of what would be great to have, and then push for things that move us closer to the vision. A group working on single-payer health care doesn’t give up because it’s impossible, even though today it is, but they do work on incremental improvements that bring us closer to the vision.

        Similarly, I wouldn’t expect every single new line on SS’s regional map to ever get built. I think getting 10% of it built would be outstanding success, and would have made the whole effort worthwhile. What’s the harm in building a wide tent? Anyone attracted by some of the more marginal lines on that map have no better recourse than to push for the lower-hanging fruit first.

        I think the massive network on Ben’s map would be great to have. I would differ from your critique of BART: the problem isn’t that there are too many stops in nowhereville; the problem is there aren’t enough lines in San Francisco. That’s a crucial difference, because it isn’t strictly a zero-sum game, and it affects how you view tradeoffs like building a line to Everett to enable one to Ballard.

      22. Our regional GDP is something like $200 billion. Over 30 years, a $40 billion project comes out to less than 1% of that,

        To put a little perspective on that price tag, the State currently spends ~$3 billion per biennium on higher education. So a $40B project would eat up the higher education budget of the entire State (State GDP ~$350B) for over 26 years. Most of the money would have to come from Seattle (North Sub-area). Still sound like winnable ballot measure?

      23. I do understand the impulse to “sketch big”, and I agree with you that it’s all about prioritizing the most effective elements of the larger plan and optimizing them.

        But at some point it becomes hard to swallow the prescriptions of proponents who seem oblivious to the need for careful focus. (In a different sub-thread on this very post, Ben is already talking about a train of some sort replacing the 48 bus corridor as part of ST4. Lovely idea, but so not going to happen.)

        The San Francisco example is actual quite instructive for those of us who worry about the direction the process is headed. For better or for worse, those empty-off-peak segments of high speed boonies rail exist, while San Francisco remains saddled with trains roughly akin to our so-called “rapid streetcars”: exclusive ROW in some places, but stuck at an awful lot of lights and bottlenecks along the way too. (At least MUNI trains are underground downtown, which is more than you can say for MAX or for our center-city streetcar plan.)

        MUNI’s Central Subway is illuminating too: days late and dollars short, barely a mile and half long with no possibility of extension, poorly connected to anything else. Underground or not, it’s a cautionary example of what can go wrong when you let politics trump utility.

      24. I’m more tolerant of loose ST4 and ST5 talk than you are, but I think that’s a secondary point.

        I would be interested to know more about the politics of the BART era that led to the resource decisions they made. If there was a genuine build-much-more-in-the-core alternative, the fathers of BART look a lot worse. But I don’t know anything about their operating constraints. I agree, though, that the lesson is that the most important measure of a system is how well it serves dense, central neighborhoods.

        However, I’d be more worried about the SF example more if we didn’t have subarea equity in place. The outlying subareas have very specific plans that will cost lots of money, money that implies enough spending to get high-quality rail built in Seattle. If SAE were to somehow go away, it would be time to worry, and possibly reject any package that seriously shortchanged the core.

        When the Everett/Tacoma spine is complete, or if the suburban rail dreams in those places truly die for some reason, that would be another reason to fear stagnation of the project.

        “… let politics trump utility.” There will always be politics. No consultant study is ever going to overcome politicians in the right office with deeply held objectives. It’s important to play the game to represent the interests that we both share.

    1. Thanks d.p. for saying that so I didn’t have to.

      Nor does the document even hint at a “subway” that I can see. It mentions a tunnel though.

      If they come out and say they’re considering building a subway then I’ll believe it but until then it’s probably not even on their mind.

      1. Hi Grant!

        Sound Transit is building a subway right now – North Link and University Link are a subway. Seattle Subway exists to push for work like this study, and ensure that new transit is built to at least that standard. If building more transit that good isn’t good enough for you, join us and help us fight for it to be higher quality.

    2. “Anything else — descriptions of outcome, expectations of political action, hypotheses about expansion — is pure conjecture.”

      That’s true, but it works both ways. We can’t assume light rail is for-sure, but neither can you predict that it’s ruled out. Even if you think you know the ST boardmembers and the city are ready to dump light rail for a streetcar, a lot can happen in a year, including officials changing their minds based on the study results, public pressure, or unforeseen situations, plus the fact that they may not be the people making the decision if some of them are replaced in elections.

      1. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t work that way.

        There are infinite possible outcomes to any process — a few outcomes may be more likely than others, but until one action is taken that affects subsequent actions, anything is possible.

        It is therefore far riskier to presume that one particular desirable outcome is somehow inevitable (in the absence of evidence to support that outlook), and to base all your other expectations on that presumption, than it is to presume no particular outcome.

        As it stands, no one has stated an intention of moving forward on both corridors. No one. Not even Ben, who wishes us to advocate to make that happen, but now stops short of claiming that those in positions of authority anticipate both moving forward as a matter of course.

        Placing your faith in other actors moving toward your desired outcome makes no more sense that presuming we’ll balloon into a region of 6 million residents, or presuming that a Manhattan-esque corridor will grop up Eastlake, or presuming Lynnwood and Issaquah will blossom into bustling metropoles. All may be hypothetically possible, but all are exceedingly unlikely.

      2. What do you want then? You say Seattle Subway is too expensive, but you seem to want something even more expensive; e.g., more stations on Central Link for which millions of dollars would have to come from somewhere. You keep saying 45th needs to be underground; that would be expensive too, just like this downtown-Ballard tunnel. What would a DP plan for the whole city look like, and how much would it cost?

      3. Step 1: Build targeted segments of economical length, as grade separated as possible, with stations positioned to maximize useful walkshed and to facilitate the best perpendicular connections.

        Step 2: Expand as needed and as funding permits.

        This is how worthwhile systems have been built for decades the world over: start with the minimum crucial sections, open them as fast as you can, expand one station at a time if needed. (This is not an antiquated method, either. Subways from Prague to Shanghai continue to expand in this way.)

        People ask why I’m still so frustrated that the Ballard Spur concept was never given any sort of proper due diligence. I’m frustrated because it’s the most obvious segment in the entire city that could be build using the above process. It would be far, far less expensive than anything involving a grade-separated Ship Canal crossing, and it would avoid the need to build close to the surface through LQA, Belltown, and downtown. It would serve not just one neighborhood north of the Ship Canal, but four or five. And with good cross-transit, it would give the entire north end of the city access to rapid transit that no other plan makes possible.

        You know what would make it even cheaper? Planning for the possibility of it before the first shovels are even in the ground at Brooklyn — which is to say, right now. Advance planning is another key element of making the Boston/Paris/Prague/Shanghai gradual-expansion process work, but for some asinine reason we don’t do that. We build each project in uneditable form, then we have to tear into it again later if we want to add anything more.

        So, like every other person living and regularly using transit north of the Ship Canal who has ever thought seriously — which, notably, does not include Ben or any Sound Transit board members — I would start with the Ballard Spur. And I would allow it to be extendable. And then I’d search for similar economical-but-effective segments: perhaps you’d see a downtown-to-23rd/Jackson tunnel; perhaps one day a line to Alaska Junction (with a good transfer station for a doubled-frequency Delridge bus) might actually make sense.

        But I certainly wouldn’t continue to push multi-billion-dollar plans or nothing. Because that’s a great way to end up with nothing (or nothing good).

  8. Thanks for the update. Basically Task A is very important. Task B is a distraction. Task B is essentially the same as building a giant Ferris Wheel. Seriously, if you had asked me about rapid (or non-rapid) streetcar a year ago, I would have guessed differently. Keep in mind, I’ve ridden streetcars in big cities (Amsterdam and Toronto come to mind). I like them. But they were built before the buses. I assumed that building new ones made sense because they were cheaper. One driver for a much bigger vehicle and all that. But everything everyone has said on this site suggests otherwise. Every argument for the thing has gone something like this:

    1) Tourists love them.
    2) It makes the area more popular. It can revitalize the neighborhood — just look at …
    3) People like it because it is obvious where it goes (assuming you can see the tracks, of course).

    Nobody has said:

    1) It is cheaper to operate once you reach a certain volume.
    2) Because of all of the doors, it can operate operate much faster than a bus when lots of people are getting on and off.

    If the last two items were true, then it would make sense for downtown. Replace buses that slog through downtown with those speedy streetcars. But it doesn’t work that way. These last two items are fallacies (I now know). So, that leaves only the first three items.

    Well, this area doesn’t need revitalization. It doesn’t need a Ferris Wheel. Ballard, Fremont, West Queen Anne, East Queen Anne, Wallingford and every other place that you can possibly imagine building a streetcar from Ballard is doing just fine. They don’t need a marketing push. They don’t need a Ferris Wheel, or an “All American Neighborhood” designation, or a feature article in Sunset Magazine. And they certainly don’t need another slow way to get from here to there (which is all that a streetcar is).

    1. Ross

      I agree. Right now, my trip from 15th and Market to 3rd and Seneca takes a little less than 25 minutes on the 15X. If a streetcar can’t beat that– is it really worth spending the money for it? OTOH, a subway straight downtown from Ballard probably would take at most, 10 minutes. A Ballard spur that connects to University Link probably is about 15 minutes. HCT can also move a lot more people than the bus– which as traffic gets worse in Seattle/more people move to Ballard, we will need.

      1. With Link technology, Market to Westlake is probably 12 minutes. An engineer went over some potential travel times when we were first looking at what corridors to push.

    2. Link is very important. The streetcar isn’t. It would be an improvement over the 40, and it would have more capacity for the future, and be lower maintenance and greener. But the 40 is a reasonable fallback. Link would fill the hole that’s missing: 10-15 minute travel time from Westlake to Market that can actually compete with driving, realize the corridor’s potential ridership, and add to the neighborhoods that are convenient to live in without owning a car.

      1. We’re preaching to the choir, now, but why not? From my understanding, while a streetcar has more capacity, it takes too long for that to pay off. In other words, you are better off simply adding buses. Eventually you get a stream of buses all going the same direction, but that is still cheaper than adding rail. Of course, at some point rail will pay for itself (in lower operating costs per passenger) but that point is so far away that it doesn’t make sense.

        I would also add that we have a nice electrified bus system that is every bit as green as electric rail, so if we really want to cut down on diesel emissions, I think that makes more sense.

      2. In a lot of cases in the city, buses aren’t really cheaper anyway once you include the cost of the roads they’re using. So as you make buses better (and give them right of way), the cost of rails becomes lower than the cost of road.

    3. Ross,

      I’ll say it:

      “They (trams) are much cheaper to operate once you reach a certain volume”.

      That volume is about 4,000 riders per hour in the peak direction, with base service volumes in the 2,000 rph in both directions. If the infrastructure is well enough designed to enable four segment trams, one operator is delivering upward of 250 people where they want to go, in relative comfort, even if they’re standing.

      The great thing about low floor trams is that they’re able to do “stops” as well as “stations”, so one can afford more access points at the outer end of the line. After the primary collection area (for the proposed Ballard Streetcar that would be 24th NW Avenue and on down Leary Way), stops can be spaced farther apart and the tram can run like surface light rail. Reservation is essential to making this work with long trains, though. Little streetcars like the Skodas are required if right of way is to be shared with cars.

  9. Ben must have some idea of the total cost by now, but withholds that, instead offering to complete some 30-40 miles (didn’t say) of subway at ST prices of ~400K/mi, so let’s say it’s a $14B project (no interest).
    Divide that by 750,000 people over 30 years gives you about $1500/household per year. Tack on interest for 30 years, and depreciation about doubles that number.

    I suspect Seattle will lose its appetite for Bens grand scheme when reality sets in. Of course, Mayor McCheeze never met a big expensive rail project he didn’t go ga ga for.

    1. You are being pennywise and pound foolish. And making numbers up. How about we do the study?

    2. Where on earth are you getting 30-40 miles of subway? Ballard-Downtown is about 4 miles. Nothing else under consideration for ST3 is likely to be subway.

      1. I’m guessing he’s adding up the entire mileage of the Seattle Subway system vision?

      2. He must be. Over the next 30 years, I think it’s quite doable (as in, voting a few times over the next 30 years, which spreads out the cost a lot more than he does). He’s also ignoring federal match, which paid for half of University Link.

    3. Roger,
      A properly build system has an ROI of about 20 years – shorter if we go driver-less. A subway is an investment, not an expense. That ROI does not include downstream economic impact (huge), public health benefits, productivity benefits, environmental benefits, and quality of life benefits — which are hard to quantify in a way other than the increase in land value around stations. Also — how much is skipping the frustration of Seattle traffic worth?
      From an economic perspective — we can’t afford to not build a subway. What we are doing now is far more expensive in a myriad of ways.

      1. Andy, that’s someone who does finance for capital projects, too. He’s good. :)

      2. This is, indeed, an entire paragraph of pure sense.

        Shame that someone let the streetcar cheapskates into the room to provide a useless “middle way” that makes no sense at all.

    4. What’s really funny about all this is that half of what the Mayor says about rail is that he likes cheaper, surface options. He supports the big stuff too, but only when there’s popular support (which is fine by me, we should do the organizing!).

  10. While none of the study work is a commitment to actually build anything, corridors with study work complete are going to be first in line when it comes time to put together a ST3 package or make other transit investments.

    I’ve seen some worry that Ballard is going to have to “settle” for a streetcar rather than LINK. I’ve also seen some say they will oppose any further expansion of LINK outside Seattle City Limits.

    Do remember that due to sub-area equity Sound Transit MUST spend money in the North sub-area (Seattle and Shoreline) if it spends any money in other parts of the region. Proportionally due to the North and the East sub-areas having the largest tax base they will have the most money to spend. Anyone interested in rail to Ballard (or elsewhere in Seattle) should push for a large suburban expansion of LINK as it results in the most money for projects inside the city of Seattle.

    1. Exactly. Lynnwood to Everett, at somewhere around $3 billion, would mean around $5 billion in North King.

    2. It’s just such a shame that in order to get a Ballard rail line that will be heavily used on the first day, we also have to build wasteful Everett and Federal Way lines that will have marginal usage (buses will be faster to get all the way downtown, and there are not that many commuters or other travelers to the intermediate destinations).

      1. Everett I’m not so sure is wasteful. Federal Way and especially Federal Way to Tacoma I’ll agree.

      2. How is that a shame? Speed isn’t everything: trains offer a much more pleasant experience, and they shape development in ways buses never can.

      3. No. Not over extremely long distances with no need for spontaneous travel, they don’t. Not with zero walkshed, they don’t. Not attached to intestate highways, they don’t.

        Again, ask Fremont, California — population: 214,000; economy: much healthier than Everett’s; walkable places in the entire city: zero — what effect BART has had on development patterns there.

        (Also ask them about their BART usage, which currently stands at 6,900 passengers per weekday. In a city of 214,000.)

      4. OK, I did ask Fremont, and they are jealous of Lynnwoods 15,000 daily N.Link riders, in their NEW greenfield city center, with a population of only 35,000.
        Now, that’s MODE SHIFT.
        Kudos to Lynnwood.
        And ps, the Nimitz Freeway thru Fremont is like a back country trail compared to our I-5.

      5. Renton is so jealous, they have even given Lynnwood their city motto –
        WAAaaaayy Ahead of the Curve – to the point of being off the graph paper.

      6. He’s speaking euphemistically.

        There is almost literally nothing in “downtown Lynnwood” today. It might as well be a greenfield for the purposes of what they’re claiming they’ll turn it into.

        Mike, you should really take a research trip to Stamford, CT, which is what Lynnwood will become if it becomes anything at all. It’s basically an overgrown office park, 100% garage infrastructure at street level, horrifyingly unwalkable despite technically containing dense commercial square footage.

        Aside from the Metro-North commuter rail station, transit usage in Stamford is non-existent.

        But Lynnwood is probably spitting in the wind to think it can attract even that.

    1. We repeat over and over that this is two studies, as I’ve been doing. It’ll help.

  11. Is anyone concerned that the article in KOMO focused or highlighted streetcars rather than Hct?

  12. Really. Really? Really! A subway. What is this – LEGOS for grownups? I seem to recall several votes concerning a monorail that would have moved riders above traffic. No go – doesn’t fit with the plans of developers. Now there is a streetcar being installed between Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square – great if you’re a tourist. Of course the #7 trolley bus that has travelled up and down the untended Jackson St. since time immemorial continues to receive no attention – really old buses difficult to access for the disabled and elderly. No tourists on that bus. Why does everything in Seattle have to be a big, dramatic boondoggle? I ride the bus to and from my workplace every weekday. If it was convenient I would shop and run errands on the bus. You see, I am a little more patient than most people who would not stand for a 1 1/2 to 2 hour commute between Ballard and Mount Baker. Besides, I like to read.
    Now, as a regular commuter who would be happy to utilize the bus on weekends I can imagine a bus system that would have several hubs – not just downtown and a few suburbs. This system would have small buses and vans that would shuttle through neighborhoods and connect efficiently with other routes and ravel through neighborhood business districts. Why isn’t there a bus that runs by every Post Office and school? The buses would run on time and the area surrounding hubs and heavily used transfer points would prioritize pedestrian safety. Because this system would be reliable and convenient and easy to ride, the ridership would likely increase for reasons other than the price of gas. There would be space on every bus for riders to store large items. Commuters would not be packed in like sardines and there would be difficult to ignore messages about releasing seats in the front for the elderly and disabled. I know this is a pipe dream. And I guess it would be too cost effective as well.

    1. Disparate vans circulating people around milk routes would not be cost effective at all: the greatest cost of running a transit system is the driver’s time.

      Now if we actually had efficient, route-optimized, highly frequent trunk lines along logical grid-oriented routes between the various places people needed to go — rather than the pile of spaghetti we have instead — your Link+bus commute might already be much faster, and you might already be able to live your non-work life without a car.

  13. The Interbay area is one of the first in Seattle to get flooded in storm surges and then long range as climate change progresses. The City of Seattle has a map showing this, however that map was made before 2008, which means that it was likely based, as was the IPCC report issued in 2007, on the thermal expansion of the oceans. The city needs new maps that include more recent satellite data showing the additional and more rapid sea level rise caused by melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice.
    I hope that the city carefully reviews new data on inundation of areas of Seattle, and avoids investing in infrastructure in the areas that are likely to experience temporary or permanent inundation in a few decades due to our continued burning of fossil fuels.

  14. “Subway to Ballard”. OK, I’ll be dead by the time that opens, so…. Besides, many riders, already, are staring at the gadgets that are wired to their ears – so it may not matter that the neighborhoods they’r passing through are located in one of the beautiful spots on the planet. Perhaps tourists are inspired by the beauty to move to Seattle, but in the future could be they’ll be just as happy to bury themselves in the dark to get to work and back each day.

    If it is just “too impossible” to carve out a couple of DEDICATED LANES for buses or rubber-wheeled streetcars or light-rail or for that matter any other transit system, like extending the monorail (which would also be the savior of Seattle Center, or is that only for tourists, too?), any system, that is, that could be implemented in the foreseeable future; if reserving two lanes for TRANSIT ONLY along Elliott and 15NW is un-doable; by all means, then, let the tunneling begin.

    Only, build the tunnel for cars and trucks, for the drivers who should not be sight-seeing, anyway.

    Oh yes, first thing, we will also need to place a hold, a moratorium, on climate change.

  15. This is great! I love better changes in transportation for our economic developing regions. Keep up the good work.

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