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.