Thanks to Mayor McGinn’s work collaborating with Sound Transit for the Ballard Rail Study, we now have alternatives for rail to Ballard!

Four alternatives for High Capacity Transit (Sound Transit) and four for rapid streetcar (Seattle DOT) will be unveiled on Thursday, June 27th, from 5-7pm, at the Ballard High School Commons.

From what I’ve heard, you’ll like what you see. We’ve been told the HCT alternatives include a 2nd Ave underground alignment, through Belltown, Uptown, and under Queen Anne hill. If that alternative gets through the initial screening, that opens up amazing opportunities – we could build a line fast enough to continue on to Northgate and Lake City (and beyond), and we could even work to automate it!

We’ll get more information on the alternatives at a press briefing on Wednesday, but for now, I’d just like to ask you to make the time to come, and be ready to submit comments at the meeting. Please RSVP on Facebook or by emailing me. I’ll see you there!

48 Replies to “Want a Subway? Comment at the Ballard Rail Open House!”

  1. The 2nd ave line would be ideal. I can only imagine how many billions though… Ben you mention automation, are you supporting a dfferent system than link?

    1. We should definitely look at the option. Cabless means more seats per foot of train, and it’s cheaper to operate. If we build a new line, we’ll need a new maintenance base, so it would be foolish not to consider!

      1. London’s automated Docklands Light Railway “has expanded faster than any other UK railway”. It’s speculated that London’s proposed Crossrail 2 will be automated: “You can forget TfL ever again building a tube line with train drivers.”

        At the rate technology is marching along, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Link retrofitted to be automated within my career at Metro. Quite frankly, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t “retire” from Metro as a bus driver – I’ll likely be made redundant by technology. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but screaming into the wind isn’t going to help.

      2. Velo, I *hope* that something like grade separated automated rail trunks just mean more demand for feeder services you’ll be driving. :)

    2. Regarding the “different system than Link” you mention, my understanding is that this would still be a part of the Link network, but not necessarily using the same technology.

    3. Interoperability would preferred for sure, but I agree that we don’t necessarily need that so long as what we end up with is both grade separated (or at least completely out of traffic) and fast.

      So far as I can tell, street cars are neither of these, so I would never vote to take that as a replacement. Both would be acceptable though if having a street car does not slow down the construction of grade separated rail to other parts of town.

      1. SDOT’s “Rapid Streetcar” is not mixed-traffic like the SLU or Broadway streetcars. They’re modeled on european tramlines with reserved right-of-way and boulevard speeds, just running primarily at-grade.

      2. @Lack Thereof They are still in the streets and still have to stop at stoplights. I don’t even really trust the political process to get us completely protected right of way or optimized traffic lights without grade separation.

        Grade separation also grandfathers in the speed increase.

      3. @Lack Thereof

        The Transit Master Plan leaves a lot of wiggle room in its definition of “rapid streetcar”. Exclusive right-of-way is optional, not mandatory, and the Transit Master Plan allows the possibility of “rapid streetcar” sharing lanes with car traffic in several segments of both the Loyal Heights-Ballard-Fremont-SLU-Downtown and Roosevelt-UDistrict-SLU-Downtown Corridors”.

  2. Yesterday, I got to see firsthand why a real subway is necessary. I was walking up the hill down Queen Anne Ave.. Going the other way, traffic was a complete standstill, and I walked pass numerous buses that got stuck in the mess, including 3 RapidRide D’s, 3 8’s, 2 4’s, and at least one 13. Unlike driving, where a traffic jam only affects people who are actually going through that area, bus delays like this ripple throughout the entire system. For instance, anyone wanting to go from downtown to West Seattle or Capitol Hill to Ranier Beach would have to spend who-knows-how-long waiting at the bus stop.

    (BTW – I couldn’t see how well the Elliot Ave. bypass was moving, but I’m curious if people like d.p. have ever been tempted to actually get off the D-line before the left turn to Mercer and transfer to a bus from Magnolia, simply to avoid a mess like this).

    1. Oh – another thing I noticed was that if we were willing to forego parking on Queen Anne Ave., we could have actually built a bus lane that would have bypassed most of yesterday’s congestion. It would not have been nearly as good as a subway, as the buses would still have to merge with regular traffic at Denny, which was still backed up, not to mention all those right-angle turns and stoplights, but it still would have been a lot better than the current situation.

    2. I check OBA for potential 24 or 33 connections every time I ride the D, and I make the switch frequently.

      Sometimes I’m lazy and I stay on the big red bus, even when such a connection is coming; I always regret doing so. Half the time we eat the 24/33’s dust while still waiting for the damned turn signal.

    3. Big events like Saturday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon are always go to mess surface streets because they close streets. QA Ave is usually not a problem for the buses, Denny is much more of a headache. It would be nice to have dedicated bus lanes on QA Ave, but probably not worth the cost to upgrade the parking lanes to handle the weight of the buses.

      1. Queen Anne Ave approaching the Denny turn is a multi-block problem every single afternoon.

  3. Ben, you really don’t understand how these things work, do you?

    The most expensive option is simply there to look expensive, thereby making the other options look like the “middle way”.

    The only way the highest-cost version would ever get built would be if its attributes were written into the mission statement and set in stone, such that it became the only viable option (e.g. New York’s 2nd Ave Subway). The existence of seven other plans here demonstrates that this is not the case.

    That said, I am relieved to see such an expensive plan used to set the outer benchmarks, as it serves to make the other real subway choices more politically likely. As long, of course, as people stop flogging the “awesomeness” of streetcars or the “inevitability” of getting both.

    1. I look forward to your comments at the open house in favor of the highest cost option. :)

    2. What I really don’t want is a relatively more expensive option weighed down by cheap pieces. There have many little decisions made to save a few bucks that have really hampered the system. I would rather have a smaller system that is higher quality than serves more areas, but is flawed.

      For example, I would rather have a completely grade separated system going from Ballard to the UW (with a couple good stops along the way — Fremont being one of them) than a sloppy half underground, half surface system to downtown via Interbay. I’m not suggesting that these will be the choices, but I’m speaking hypothetically. The thing is, we can always extend a line later, but if you make mistakes in the first place (as we did with Central Link) then you are pretty much stuck with it. It is pretty easy to get a “more light rail for more people” proposal passed by the general public. Good luck with a “let’s redo all the things we should have done right the first time” package.

      1. See, Ben?

        Everyone who actually lives up here and spends any time thinking seriously about the “most bang for buck” options reaches the exact same conclusion, almost inch for inch.

        It’s almost uncanny.

      2. I would also second RossB’s suggestion– it also allows Ballard folks to go to Cap Hill fairly quickly.

      3. Ben or whoever knows about this stuff –

        Will this presentation be presenting the results of both the Ballard-Downtown and Ballard-UW studies? If not, when will we have a chance to weigh the conclusions from the studies against each other?

      4. William, the Ballard-UW study won’t start until at least July. This is only Ballard-Downtown. I’m not sure what you’d weigh “against” each other in any case – they’re different corridors.

      5. In the Interbay corridor, half grade-separated and half surface doesn’t have to be sloppy. Finding a way to make it at grade in the BNSF right of way but with no grade crossings would make it a lot cheaper while not sacrificing service quality.

      6. Putting Link in the BNSF corridor (where there is no room anyway) would completely cut it off from anything on 15th.

      7. Thanks, Ben. I was thinking that, given the possibility that some Seattlite voters (or councilmen) might be willing to fund one project but not both, we might as well emphasize the better corridor of the two, which I’m convinced is Ballard-UW.

      8. Sooooo about negotiating…. It is very important to not negotiate YOURSELF down.
        Tell your elected officials that you want both a good dt-ballard line AND a good ballard-uw line. Tell them that they should both be efficient and effective. If they cant live up to the publics needs, thats their problem and its up to them to negotiate our expectations down. Dont do that job for them.
        Always ask for a lot. You’ll always get more than if you ask for a little.

      9. +1

        Moving east/west in this town by car or bus is a joke. Lets try to mitigate lousy inter-neighborhood with lateral lines below 45th and denny.

      10. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The important thing is to keep moving forward. Doing Ballard-UW first would have had some interesting advantages: it would have solved the 45th problem in one stroke while also serving Ballard-downtown trips almost as fast as the 15X. But what the mayor chose and ST emphasized was Ballard-downtown. At some point we need to encourage the process along rather than insisting it meet all our armchair ideals. it’s even worse to expect the buildout to suddenly change direction, again and again as we come up with new ideas. The important thing is to keep moving toward ST’s long-range vision and Seattle Subway’s vision, without getting all caught up in exactly which order things happen. ST3 is unlikely to be written before all these corridor studies are done, which means that just because one is studied first doesn’t mean it’ll be approved for construction first. We could start building everything simultaneously, or we could ask for the 45th plan, when it’s finished, to be built before the Interbay plan. (Although DP would probably start worrying that the Interbay plan would be cancelled in that case.)

      11. Also note that, if a Ballard-UW line makes Ballard-downtown trips acceptably fast, by the same token a Ballard-downtown line would make Ballard-UW trips acceptably fast, because it’s just two different sides of a triangle.

      12. Mike, that’s completely incorrect.

        According to Google Maps, it’s a 5 mile drive from 15th and Market to 3rd and Pike via 15th Ave W, and a 3.2 mile drive from 15th and Market to 45th and the Ave via Market Street.

        Let’s assume that the ratio of trip times is directly proportional to the ratio of these distances. Let’s also use the 4.5 mile distance from 3rd and Pike to 45th and the Ave via Broadway.

        Ballard-Downtown-UW: 5.0 + Transfer Penalty + 4.5 = 9.5x
        Ballard-UW-Downtown: 3.2 + 4.5 = 7.7

        That’s an 8.1% faster trip, assuming it takes 0 seconds to transfer downtown.

        Now, keep in mind that we’re not going to get a tunnel under 15th Ave W, and we will wind up running at-grade. This is a reasonable decision for Ballard-Downtown trips, but it makes Ballard-UW trips even less competitive.

        PLUS, consider the Second Avenue Tunnel. With an average headway of 7.5 minutes on the Downtown-UW line, and at least a five minute walk from 2nd Ave to 3rd Ave, the transfer penalty is at least 7.5/2 + 5 = 8.5 minutes.

        Kinda blows your shoddy math out of the water.

    3. @Kyle,

      You wouldn’t put many stops in Interbay anyway; the Monorail only had one at 15th and Dravus. BNSF corridor & Dravus would be fine as an alternative. Ideally the Ballard station would be at 20th and Market, which is roughly in line with the BNSF corridor.


      It depends on how far downtown you have to go for a convenient transfer. A 2nd Ave line wouldn’t be that convenient for transferring at Westlake.

      1. I’m hoping to work on a ballot measure next year that would do a few things:

        – Build Downtown connector and Broadway extension (maybe even by October 2016?)
        – Do Design/Engineering for West Seattle and Ballard (two years or more off ST’s schedule)
        – West Seattle bus corridor improvements
        – 23rd bus corridor improvements
        – UW-Ballard bus corridor improvements – enough to extend ST routes across the city

        Building the streetcar connector will make both our streetcars look a lot better (well, by making them one streetcar), and that will help build the public support we need to take the line from SLU-UW, at least. I’d rather not extend it to Ballard until we get our fully grade separated line under way, or else things d.p. worries about might come true! :)

        ST will kind of “go dark” on these lines after they update their long range plan next year – giving them two years of work to do will bring ST3 lines closer and make them look better on the 2016 ballot.

        And if we did all the little things in the transit master plan for these three bus corridors, we’d improve a lot of people’s lives and give some short term gain to parts of the city that we aren’t prepared to build rail in right now.

        So hopefully, we could speed bus service up enough now in the UW-Ballard corridor that people wouldn’t go downtown and back up again.

      2. @Ben

        – UW-Ballard bus corridor improvements – enough to extend ST routes across the city

        What would this involve? More TSP on 45th? Working with WADOT to get TSP near I-5? Converting general purpose or parking lanes to transit or BAT lanes?

      3. While recent changes to signal timing and a couple of queue jumps have done some good to relieve the 44’s worst horrors, there is a limit to what even aggressive TSP or extensive lane takings would be able to achieve on this particular corridor.

        There are simply too many skinny stretches of road, too many ups, downs, and winds in the road, too many cross streets with their own transit spines and heavy traffic volumes that SDOT will not allow the 44 to override.

        Late on a weekday evening, on vacant roads and an empty bus, the 44 still takes 14-17 minutes to travel the mere 3.5 miles from Brooklyn to Ballard Ave. That’s certainly better than the 25 it takes in the daytime or the 35-40 it could take before the recent improvements But it’s still pretty slow for such a short distance across such a crucial connecting segment, and it’s totally unattainable in the daytime no matter what additional surface changes you make.

        As the only viable east-west connection for miles in any direction, and given the services found and connections made in the U-District, the 44 also experiences a greater-than-average volume of elderly boarders, cash payers, bag-people and mentally-ill disrupters, and demand for the wheelchair spots. Thanks to the steepness of the Phinney Ridge climb, you can never use passive restraint on the route. So there are limits even to what a switch to POP on the route can do.

        Suffice to say that after looking at the available reliability data for the 44, Sound Transit is never going to start through-routing cross-520 buses to Ballard. The 44 doesn’t have to contend with the Montlake bridge six day per week; such a through-route would be reliability death from both ends.

        Suffice also to say that the 44 corridor is never going to be a good way to get places until it’s a subway.

  4. I went down to the Fremont Street fair yesterday. Two things I noticed.

    A) After the parade, It was nearly impossible to use the streets to leave by car, bus, bicycle or even by walking. Though this is a once a year event, I think this is another strong vote for grade separation (matching closely asdf’s post above)

    B) There was no one there (at the fair) from Seattle Subway or any other pro-transit organization as far as I could see (there were people there from DOT though boosting the new floating bridge). This seems like a lost opportunity to me.

    I imagined being able to say this to the people stuck in the crowds trying to leave:
    “Tired of being stuck in crowds when trying to leave events? Tired of buses that cannot move because there are so many cars trying to move in the same direction? Imagine how much better this would have been with grade separated rail…”

    1. Hi Charles!

      We were at the U-district farmers market yesterday.

      We tend to pick markets and local celebrations rather than things as large as the Solstice Parade because the people going to markets tend to be older, more likely to vote, and more likely to live in Seattle. For a given amount of volunteer time, I think we get more value.

      1. Sure I understand the lack of resources, but I was also mostly free this weekend and could have helped somewhere…

        It seems to me that the sheer volume of people moving through street fairs vs farmers markets is an argument for having people there as well… given enough volunteers.

        Voters may skew older, but how about volunteers, do they also skew older too?

        Is there a forum somewhere I don’t know about where these things are being arranged?


      2. There are a lot of places where we could have people, for sure! I see you’ve emailed me – let me reply there.

      1. Coming back from the Space Needle on new years was more of the same. Four full buses in a row that would not stop. I didn’t get home until after 2 AM.

        It seems that Metro doesn’t respond well to big events.

      2. Metro is trying to keep the lights on. Adding additional service (without a sponsor helping pay the freight) seems unlikely in the current circumstances.

      3. Metro is not trying to “keep the lights on”. What they want more money for is to maintain the increases in transit provide by mitigation funds for 520 and 99. Really, look at the budgets from 2009 forward.

  5. For those of us living in the Northshore area that may be affected by this, I’d just like to say good luck, we’re all counting on you.

    I won’t be able to make it because I can’t fit it into my schedule, plus it’s difficult for me to get between my home and Ballard via transit. Shockingly enough.

    1. Of course – I totally understand. It’s very tough to make events like this without already having the transit we need. :)

    2. I feel your pain. I live in Lake City and it’s more time-consuming to get to Ballard by transit from my house than it is to get to West Seattle.

      1. If only someone would suggest a solution that solves the east-west/north-south connectivity problem with a single three-mile subway…

      2. the difference between the current afternoon transit trips from Lake City to Ballard and West Seattle is about 10 minutes with transfers at NTC and downtown, respectively.

  6. So, I assume that this is what will be discussed at the meeting tomorrow night:

    Basically, there are only two options that are grade separated: Corridor 2 and Corridor 3. The rest are useless in my opinion and not worth building.

    As mentioned, I would love to compare these with the set of Ballard to UW corridors. I think it is a shame that people are being asked for public comment without being able to see the other options. For example, if I owned a Fremont business, and saw these proposals, I would probably pick Corridor 6. It isn’t as fast from Ballard, but it serves Fremont fairly well. However, if all the routes were presented at once, I would push hard hard for including Fremont with a Ballard to UW line (which probably makes more sense). Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I fear that public input will get muddied, and we’ll build something crappy. Seattle kind of has a history with that.

    For example, we have two football stadiums, a baseball stadium and an empty basketball arena. Meanwhile, we tore down a dome that easily served all three sports before it was actually paid for. The reason, of course, is that we never looked at things from a big picture standpoint. We could have easily built a nice outdoor stadium that worked for both football and baseball. With the money we saved, we could have thrown some bucks at the Sonics, and been done with it. But the choices were never presented that way. We were asked to save the football team by buying a new stadium; then the baseball team by building its own stadium; by the time the Sonics came around, we were tired of sports teams begging for money and told them to bug off. So they did.

    Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’m just afraid we will do the wrong thing (yet again) because the various choices aren’t presented to folks in a way that they can easily understand. Which reminds of the viaduct …

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