A Subway To Queen Anne?
A Subway To Queen Anne?

Tonight will be our first chance to comment on alternatives (PDF) from Downtown to Ballard. The first thing I want to say is that none of the eight options are perfect – and that’s okay. While the handout at tonight’s meeting (PDF) will ask people to “pick an option”, SDOT and Sound Transit pointed out yesterday that these are “mix and match”. For any given part of the corridor, there are many options, and they were arranged into eight examples that represent different levels of service and cost. They offer a range of outcomes in the evaluation matrix, which I highly recommend perusing, as it also shows how each option serves the various urban villages and centers. Four of the options go through Interbay, and four through Fremont. The handout link above has a great page with all eight together. I’d say open that up and have a look. I know a lot of people looked at these last night – thanks everyone for the great twitter conversation!

And there’s something here finally in writing:

Planned light rail extensions to Lynnwood and the East Side will increase train traffic in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), leaving no room in the tunnel for a Ballard rail line to safely operate. If the Ballard rail line used a separate parallel tunnel to enter or exit Downtown Seattle, underground walkways could connect passengers to the DSTT.

So, let’s have a quick look at each option. Open your maps! :)

Option 1

This includes a 2nd/3rd surface couplet downtown, and surface rail that passes Uptown and doesn’t stop until somewhere near Amgen. This doesn’t seem like a particularly workable downtown alignment, especially considering bus traffic on 3rd, and I hope we can do better than that. Onward to Interbay, it makes an interesting jog – going west of the railyard entirely, stopping at Dravus, and then using a 140′ bridge to Ballard, where it finally turns east. I’d imagine there would be opposition to such a bridge.

The last bit – turning east at Market – is part of Sound Transit’s original consideration of the Ballard-Downtown corridor as part of a Downtown-Ballard-UW line. Personally, I think this would be a poor plan, as it misses the Crown Hill urban village and doesn’t plan for Ballard to grow north in the coming decades. It appears in some of the alternatives here, but not others.

Option 2

Here we have the first appearance of something I hope happens faster here than it did in NYC – Seattle’s 2nd Ave Subway. Stops at Pike/Pine, Bell, and then under Seattle Center, but then curving under Queen Anne without a stop in trade for a station at the Magnolia Bridge. I can see wanting to serve Magnolia, but I think this is a symptom of a common problem this early in building a transit system – there are too many corridors here to serve with just one line. Just as Sound Transit was under pressure to build both 99 and I-5 alignments, we’re going to see pressure both for Fremont (and Phinney) as well as Queen Anne and Interbay. This option returns to a tunnel under Salmon Bay. I think this is the riskiest place to put a tunnel – the bay is naturally deep here, unlike near Fremont. It also has the curve to the east, but this time underground.

Option 3

2nd Ave tunnel, to Elliott Ave and 15th elevated. A new 140′ bridge right at 15th, and a turn to the east at Market. I think elevated would be a poor choice for Ballard as it expands its core to the east, but this is basically the same map everyone’s been drawing since the 50s or 60s. This version omits a jog to the center of Uptown.

Option 4

This is “the cheapest thing Sound Transit could possibly build in the corridor”. Surface in its own right of way through Interbay, with a couplet downtown on 2nd and 4th and a movable bridge at 15th. The option’s gotta be in there, and yeah, it would serve a lot of people if we absolutely couldn’t get anything else, but this is not what we’re fighting for!

Option 5

This option is fascinating. Up to Queen Anne, I think this is exactly what we should build – fully underground, serving Uptown. But then, in order not to be more expensive, it goes to a movable bridge in Fremont. This is the option that’s most clearly “mix and match” – I hope we would be able to prevent a fast, grade separated line from being hamstrung by a bridge.

This option then goes to at-grade in its own separated right of way up Leary, like the Rainier Valley. This is the first of the “options that serve Fremont”, and it’s also the middle ground that makes it painfully obvious that there need to be two lines here, not one. Whenever a transit line goes west, then east again, it’s a good indicator that it’s trying to do too many things at once.

Option 6

This is the shout-out to freight and car mobility, or the “Rob Ford Option.” It also brackets the range of where a tunnel could be on the east. There used to be a bridge at Stone Way in about the same place. This is the first ‘rapid streetcar’ option, and we see the SLU streetcar being upgraded to Rainier Valley level of separation. If you look carefully, this shows both lanes of rapid streetcar on the west side of Westlake, greatly reducing crossings.

Option 7

A totally new Dexter streetcar in mixed traffic. Please no. Except for one thing – this suggests using the Fremont bridge. If, only in addition to a fast, grade separated line to Ballard, this were to happen along with pedestrianization of Fremont and a new car bridge at 3rd Ave W/NW, I would fashion a cheerleading outfit. Bruce, I’ll make one for you too. On second thought, build it *or else* I make them.

Option 8

When we got to this point in the briefing, I tried to put in an order for parts of 2, 5, and 8, but they were apparently out of order forms, or I’m low on credit, or something. This option assumes extending the existing SLU streetcar, in RV-style right of way, on a new movable bridge. Their bridge location is actually at Queen Anne Ave / 1st NW, which I think is a better option than 3rd. SPU students are a captive audience (muahaha) – seriously, college students are willing to walk farther than the general population, as they tend to be younger and less fat than the rest of us. You need to be a little further east than 3rd to really be in the Fremont urban village and serve its core.

Option 9 (haha)

Going over all of this, mix and match really is the phrase of the day, and that’s what agency staff are asking us to do – sure, say which one you like best, but point to the aspects of each that you want most. Some of these aspects are great, some of them look like value engineering. And Sound Transit, today, doesn’t have money for any of this. To me, value engineering an option before we even negotiate our financial constraints is silly – it takes away bargaining chips we need during that negotiation. Here are my recommendations:

  • Option 5 from downtown to Queen Anne. Yes, it misses Interbay, but Interbay isn’t an urban village. Queen Anne is, and Uptown is an urban center. Missing these two would limit TOD, as noted in the evaluation matrix
  • A tunnel crossing at Queen Anne Ave / 1st NW. We should not take a short term cost savings to be hamstrung long term by an opening bridge. With eight potential new crossing locations, we need the ship canal crossing study to provide a better understanding of how this can serve pedestrians and bicyclists, and how we should reconfigure our existing bridges. Right now, that’s still planned for 2015, but yesterday I heard from council staff and the Mayor’s office that the study should be back on the table for 2014 in the next few weeks.
  • A station under the canal. This was suggested by Alan Hart, the designer of Vancouver BC’s SkyTrain and Canada Line stations. In Option 8, it takes two stations to do this job, increasing travel time. In option 5, there’s no access south of the canal. Here, with one station, you would get a south entrance serving SPU, a north entrance serving the Fremont urban village, and if we can’t have another bridge crossing, a mezzanine (or just a wider station box) that provides pedestrian and bicycle access across the canal. Considering this is another reason we need the ship canal crossing study.
  • Continuation of the tunnel to Market St. The Ballard urban village is on the cusp of becoming an urban center. Ideally, I’d like to ensure that the future pedestrian center of Ballard not have a train overhead. Past Market, elevated may make more sense on 15th, but let’s get out of the retail core first.
  • Option 8 from SLU to Fremont, with Bruce’s bridge configuration. Looking back at the evaluation matrix, there is no single option that connects both the Uptown/Belltown and SLU urban centers to the rest of the city. Any option that serves Ballard well misses the heart of Fremont, and while it’s outside the study area, Phinney and Greenwood (another urban village) are growing as well. There is more than one corridor here, and we should be careful to fight for both, rather than pitting them against each other. It also seems like side-routing for this, as seen in option 6, would keep service fast. In addition, the portion from SLU-Downtown, while marked as in traffic in option 8, should be separated Rainier Valley style. It was pointed out at the briefing that the downtown connector recommendations may say the same thing – so this segment of track could be upgraded as part of that project anyway!
  • Automation. Last, but not least, if we’re going to build a fully grade separated line to Ballard, we should look to our neighbors to the north. The Canada Line pays for its own operations and maintenance through fares, because it’s operated by software. Eliminating cabs at the ends of cars means more capacity at the same platform. And in the long run, when we want 90 second headways between trains, this means we can have it. I believe now is the time to start putting it in your comments.

These recommendations are expensive, of course. But that’s where we should start – ask for the best, so we give Sound Transit and the City the community support they need to negotiate with the legislature from a strong position. Perhaps we won’t end up with all of this – but perhaps we can have this, and West Seattle too. I look forward to seeing many of you tonight. Ballard High School Commons, 5-7pm.

238 Replies to “Alternatives For Ballard”

  1. Thanks Ben for this, as well as everything else you’ve done to help make this happen. This is exciting stuff. I commented on the previous thread last night (when I saw that the Seattle Times had a link to proposals). I’ll repeat some of the thoughts here, but split them into different comments, because they are certainly controversial and it is easier to respond to individual ideas instead of a bunch of them squished into one comment.

    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. I think they would be worse than not building anything right now. I’m afraid that we have to get it right the first time. Look at how many mistakes we made with Link so far, and no one is talking about correcting those. We are simply talking about adding new lines.

    So, with that in mind, I like Corridor 3. I’m a big fan of elevated transit. It is a lot more fun to ride, which I believe adds ridership (look at how many people ride the ferry for fun). It is also a smidge cheaper and faster than Corridor 2. The only possible trade-off I see is with the two stations on lower Queen Anne. That might be a wash, though. There are a few big office buildings right on 15th there, as well as a nice pedestrian bridge connecting it to big apartment buildings. I would have to see the details to weigh in on that. I also think elevated could be built faster. More about that with my other post.

    1. Yes! Just remember:

      At the briefing, they said these are mixes and matches of a lot of small choices. Each of these “corridors” is not a plan, it’s a bunch of options stuck together. You don’t have to pick one.

      I really wish they hadn’t been presented this way, because it anchors people badly. Hence my recommendations for comments, and also, look carefully at the handout I linked to, hence the kinds of questions asked for in that form.

  2. As mentioned by folks on the previous thread, 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 has a history with that sort of thing.

      1. I know, that is why I think they shouldn’t ask for comments for this area until the other study is complete. These two areas overlap and are intertwined so much that if you only present one (as is the case here) you will get a misguided view of what people want (or will accept).

      2. If we wait for the other studies to be complete, we don’t have enough data soon enough to consider, say, building part of Corridor 8 in a 2014 ballot measure. :)

      3. So, you are saying that a Ballard to UW system can’t be part of the next Sound Transit ballot measure? I was assuming it would be.

      4. Politically, it doesn’t seem possible. Why build that before building Ballard to downtown, which has *many times* the ridership potential and can connect to West Seattle as well?

        People have to vote for this stuff – if you only offer an area that just got transit more transit, it looks bad and people say “WTF”.

      5. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on which is more politically feasible. A short line from UW to Ballard versus a long line from Ballard to Downtown. This is why cost is such an important factor. For all we know, we could build a line from Ballard to the UW, plus a line from West Seattle to Sodo and a starter line from downtown to Lower Queen Anne for the cost of a line from Ballard (more) directly to downtown. I think the voters would agree that the little detour and transfer for the folks traveling from Ballard to downtown would be worth it. I seriously don’t see how ridership (at least from Ballard) would be reduced in the least by forcing people to transfer at the UW. But again, it is obvious we disagree about this point (and yes, it might crush the poor little system, but that sounds like a good problem to have).

  3. I fail to understand why 24th is ST’s preferred route to reach 65th and beyond.

    The VAST majority of the routes suggested by the public trace 15th, which is presently a clogged and heavy-traffic route. 24th is much, much calmer and does a very poor job of serving the greatest majority of Ballard. Furthermore the majority of development seems to be happening along 15th.

    There’s some argument I’m sure that they want to serve “downtown” Ballard, but an anchor station below ground at 15th and Market would be a natural transit hub and would help the East end of Market develop.

    1. What gives you the impression that either agency conducting the study has any preferred route at this point in time? The city’s TMP includes a line up 24th, perhaps because Metro service has gotten worse there and 15th got Rapid Ride.

      1. There just seems to be a preference given the number of suggested corridors that are running 24th (or to downtown Ballard near 24th) versus 15th. Only #4 and #7 show alignment with the growth predicted at the Crown Hill Residential urban center.

      2. Cut it out guys, you both have lots of good points and this is about policy, not personality.

    2. In the utopian future, 15th should serve as the trunk line with a spur at the canal going up Leary and up 24th, similar to the 18X. They can then share the same tracks in to downtown from south of the canal.

      1. I’m not thrilled with most of the routings that use 15th. You’re just serving the endpoints and not most of the markets between Ballard and downtown.

    1. The link above for “alternatives (PDF)” contains maps. Not great maps, but OK maps. My preference would be for lines drawn on top of a Google or Bing map, but for whatever reason, planners seem to prefer PDFs.

      1. Or… maybe it is because professional planners have access to more powerful tools than Google Maps and way more data than Google Maps offers?

        Google Maps looks nice and is very good for what it does, but I have access to data on my city’s internal data systems about utilities, road classifications, tree canopy, critical areas, impervious surfaces, 2-foot contours, etc., in more exacting detail than anything Google has. I can scale things properly and not by eyeballing. I can control line weights, colors, style, etc. And best of all, I can then produce maps of varying size, scales, and showing a variety of information, for print or online.

  4. Couldn’t we just take lanes away from cars, have dedicated light rail separated lanes with complete signal priority, and build all of these lines, plus, say, the Central District and Georgetown and Lake City for the same cost? Other US cities have built 4+ lines within a decade for less than the cost of any one of our tunnel stations. Dedicated surface routes (not shared with cars like Portland) are just as fast as tunnels or bridges. Is it really worth over 10x the cost and at least an additional decade to save a couple car lanes?

    1. Yes, we could. that is the main feature of corridor #5. It would occupy exclusive surface lanes on Denny, Elliott, and 15th, with a new bridge next to the Ballard bridge. This makes a lot of sense to me: a lot of performance at an economical price.

    2. “At-Grade: Exclusive Lane” referes to exactly that, which is Corridor 4. Corridors 6 and 8 have some exclusive and some mixed traffic.

      Dedicated surface routes are not as fast as tunnels. Surface routes are dictated by car geometry, traffic lights, and adjacent road traffic. Even Link gets gummed up at grade crossings and in the Rainier Valley. It’s also limited there to 35mph due to the car speed limit. On the aerial guideway, it can hit 55mph. A tunnel or aerial guideway separates trains from all interference and can be built with more favorable railroad geometry. It’s also safer and can deliver low single-digit headways much more effectively. It would be worth 10x the cost if the system is able to move 10x the people as an semi-exclusive-lane system.

      1. Yeah, what Mike said. You have cross streets and street limits, even if you can manage to get the city to give up lanes (and my guess is you can’t — you can’t win every battle in the war against cars).

        The area where your idea makes a lot of sense is Highway 99. Aurora and West Seattle should be linked via BRT with stops in a couple of underground stations downtown (as well as a bunch on either end). This would provide a lot of very fast service for very little money. Personally, I think the city should be working on this sort of thing instead of streetcars.

    3. The busier the environment, the more impossible “complete signal priority” becomes. It would be unworkable downtown or in lower Queen Anne. Even along MLK, which is the best case for it, aggressive TSP is very good overall but suffers occasional hiccups.

      1. And eliminates automation as a possibility, costing millions per year forever.

      2. I could give you napkin sketch numbers.

        $100k per driver or manager (including load)*
        An average of 10 minute frequency from 4am to midnight*
        A round-trip time from Ballard to the south end of downtown of 40 minutes*
        One manager per 4 employees
        Same station security staff needed for either option

        That leads to 4 trains, 3 shifts, 15 employees, and therefore $1.5M per year.

        * Frequency will go down over time, the length of the system will go up over time, and wages will increase over time. This has been ignored for this calculation.

      3. Matt, note that with automation, a two car train at 10 minute all-day average costs about the same as a one car train at 5 minute average. So you also see higher service quality.

        Also, $100k is low. More like $150k. I’d say $3m/year is closer.

      4. Of course then we double that when we extend to W. Seattle, then again when we extend north and south… At-grading any section of a line locks you into drivers forever.

      5. I just blinked and realized you only counted 15 employees. Link today has like 70?

      6. It’s all based on my wild assumptions. 40 minute round trip is a guess. At 10 minute frequency that’s 4 cars. 4 cars means 5 employees (1 manager). Three shifts and we get to 15.

        Of course a round trip on Link is probably 80 minutes, so using my numbers we’d get to 30 employees. Are the rest management and security? How many trains does Central Link run on average?

      7. You can’t work with average frequency, because you need to have enough vehicles out at peak for peak frequency, so you need more shifts because shift length has a minimum. :) It doubles, I think.

      8. I don’t understand why a Link driver should get paid $100k per year, and why you would need a $100k per year manager for every 4 employees. As you don’t need a PhD to drive a train, these figures seem very excessive.

      9. While I’d hardly argue in favor of running the train to Ballard at-grade for any part of its length, it’s probably not true that at-grade running eliminates automation “forever”. Computers aren’t quite driving cars unsupervised en masse on city streets, but they’re doing it with supervision on freeways, and driving a train is somewhat simpler than that.

      10. @asdf That includes load. Taxes, health benefits, retirement, overtime, an ORCA pass… I agree with Ben that $100k might be light. And remember these are union jobs.

        @Al Sure, but putting in cabins now means designing for cabins, and having to at least buy all new cars when you automate. Add in that at-grade will always limit your speed and reliability.

      11. Again, this was a back-of-napkin level analysis. I figured dividing the 19 hours of operation into three shifts left each shift at 6 hours and 20 minutes. So I just used that for all week. Sure, in real life you need to be more creative with scheduling and this might turn into more employees.

  5. The truth is, I’d be just fine with either of Corridors 2 and 3 as is. 5 isn’t horrible from the perspective of getting to Ballard but it will make expansion beyond Ballard less productive, because the capacity of the at-grade section along Leary will be restricted. My preferred solution would be something rather like Ben’s but without all the extra cash and accessories: just #5, but with a tunnel under the canal.

    Any corridor with at-grade running anywhere near downtown (even in an exclusive ROW) is not worth the money, because you can’t make downtown TSP nearly aggressive enough to keep it fast.

    1. I do want to point to one thing.

      Once you build a tunnel under the canal on #5, the marginal cost of staying fully separated is small. So small that the cost of operators would eat it in a short time. If you stay separated, you can save tons of money in the long run.

      And because automated trains can run higher frequency with fewer vehicles for the same dollars, you get a LOT higher service quality.

  6. I love the idea of the station under the canal… While surely expensive it’s got to cost less than two stations as well as reducing stops/speeding up service and reduces disruptions due to construction of separate stations.

    So sad I am out of town and going to miss this, finally the project I’ve selfishly been waiting for if it serves LQA properly. But I also think it’s the most important corridor being unserved by hct with LQA, Ballard and Fremont involved.

  7. If there is not a direct connection into the existing tunnel, then they will need another storage yard and mechanical shop.

    1. With the Forrest St. OMF being at capacity at this point (thus the new East Link OMF), one would be required anyhow.

      1. Even if they can’t interline, it would be incredibly shortsighted to not build a connection that could be used for non-revenue moves and emergencies. Even if there’s no storage capacity at Forest St, it would mean the difference between building separate shops vs. just building a storage yard.

      2. Matt, I’ve been told we would need new shops and maintenance bays anyway. Those have capacity too, and that was designed for the yard.

      3. I think it would be shortsighted not to allow both the Ballard and Central Link lines to run the same stock. The time to insist on automation was when Central Link was being planned and built.

      4. I don’t get it. Canada Line and Skytrain don’t use the same stock. The Paris Metro uses like three kinds. London Underground too. Why does this straw man keep coming up?

  8. Ben, keep in mind a 70′ high moveable bridge is more than twice the height of the existing Fremont Bridge and likely would have the same peak-hours restrictions as all the existing draw bridges. It would only need open a few times daily for marine traffic during off-peak hours. If it meant saving a ton of money to build a bridge by adding 5 minutes to a handful of daily trips, and avoiding the risk of a deep subway station under Queen Anne and the Canal, then we could move the line farther north, perhaps to 65to or even 85th!

    Personally, I’m a big fan of Corridor 5. But would rather see stops on 15th with the line aiming north (saving the east-west line for another day, or a possible east turning spur at Fremont). Ballard and Crown Hill are incredibly ripe for massive levels of development.

    I’ll see you all tonight!

    1. I agree with your point about the 70′ bridge. I am curious as to the cost savings (over a bigger bridge). It would also be more popular to the nearby residents than a bigger bridge (although this is a pretty urban area, so maybe a cool looking bridge would be just fine). It would no doubt be much cheaper than a tunnel.

      But I must say, I hate Corridor 5. Here is why:

      1) It is slow. It travels on the surface through a congested area that is only going to get more congested. Even if that entire section was grade separated, it would be slow because it zig-zags too much.

      3) It is expensive. With a bit of engineering and a little bit of money, you can provide many of the same areas with high speed transit via Aurora.

      2) Fremont is better served with a system that goes from Ballard to the UW.

      In other words, if you want to go to eastern Queen Anne from Fremont, take the BRT. If you want to go north on Aurora, take the BRT. If you want to get to the UW, take the train directly to the UW. If you want to get downtown, take the train to the UW and transfer. If you want to go the north end of town (Lake City, Shoreline, Lynnwood, etc.) take the train to the UW and transfer to a northbound train (and maybe transfer again to a bus).

      4) It leaves out Lower Queen Anne. As I mention below, Lower Queen Anne is likely to be one of the most popular stations in Seattle (up there with Capitol Hill and the UW). I think it will be more popular than Ballard. It will certainly be more popular than Fremont (and I love Fremont) or the Seattle Center.

      5) It leaves out Interbay. OK, my weakest argument, but still.

      Sorry, but I just don’t see Seattle Center (the big beneficiary of Corridor 5) to be worth all that.

      1. 1) It can be given a reasonable amount of priority treatment in this area and operate like Link along MLK. Or we could decide to keep it elevated as it comes out of the tunnel. If it does run semi-exclusive, then once it gets to the Ship Canal, it’s in a tunnel, away from traffic. Most of the delays in our transit network occur south of the Ship Canal anyways.
        3) Of course it’s expensive. It’s a transit system delivering a high level of service. Aurora is above Fremont and between several neighborhoods and at best can only deliver medium-capacity solutions (in the form of RapidRide). Then the whole problem of anything coming into Downtown will have to do battle with traffic in the Triangle.
        2) Do you have any numbers or evidence to back this claim up? The Transit Master Plan identifies no need for service improvements between Fremont and the UW. And according to the maps provided by Sound Transit, granted this was done by 420 people, there are very trips from the Fremont/Ballard area to the UW. Then, there are dozens of buses going from the study area to downtown, and only a couple going to the UW. I simply fail to see how a Fremont to UW train makes any sense over a Ballard/Fremont/Downtown line. By any chance, your commute wouldn’t happen to be from Fremont to the UW?

        4) These station locations are not final, they’re just ideas. A station could be moved anywhere. There isn’t any reason why a station couldn’t be put in more to the west. Plus, LQA is already very well served by bus transit. As you said, if you wanted to get from Fremont to QA, take the BRT ;-)

        5) Interbay could be served by improved bus service. The Transit Master Plan suggests this and adds some electrification. They also have RapidRide.

        In general, RapidRide is not BRT, nor can it deliver the capacity needed for the growth that has occurred and will occur in North Seattle. RapidRide, in all honest, is barely an improvement over the old service. It really is a line with enhanced bus service. There is minimal off-board payment, few dedicated lanes, it still has post stops, the stations don’t feature any extra amenities when compared to a standard bus shelter (and IMO the standard ones protect from the weather better), and signal priority is still potty. Then it’s still a free-for-all Downtown.

        To Ben) Not necessarily. As the ST document said, Fremont, at 31’ opens 12 times daily on average. Anecdotally, most of that traffic is small sail boats. If a 70’ bridge opens once or twice daily for taller traffic, it, IMO really become difficult to justify the money to extend the tunnel and build another subway station. A 5 minute delay a couple times daily during off peaks is an easy pill for me to swallow. And a system could still be 100% grade separated and fully automated with a moveable bridge. Convince me that a bridge makes sense! :-)

      2. Mike, that 5 minute delay means you pile up three trains behind you if we run an automated, high frequency system.

    2. I agree it could be more expensive. But it wouldn’t just increase travel time for openings – it would severely limit the long-term operating headways of the new tunnel downtown.

  9. So, with these real proposals, as well as an imaginary one I’m about to mention, let me share some of my thoughts. My imaginary proposal is to link Ballard to the UW via Fremont.

    With that in mind, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we could only choose one proposal. Here is a breakdown as I see it.

    Ballard Station via UW versus Ballard Station via Interbay:
    Via UW to Downtown — A little slower because of the transfer and a bit more distance
    Via UW to Capitol Hill — A bit faster or a wash (as far I can tell)
    Via UW to UW — Much faster
    Via UW to Stations North of the UW – Much faster
    From Ballard to Additional Spots — I think you would see more people going from Ballard to Interbay and Lower Queen Anne versus Fremont, but not that many more.

    Generally speaking, I think gives the edge to the train that goes via UW for the Ballard station. But wait, there is more! A lot more.

    Interbay Station — This serves East Magnolia directly (where most people in Magnolia live) and makes for a great feeder system for Magnolia. This gives us another chance to do Magnolia right. Suddenly it wouldn’t be such an isolated little peninsula.

    Lower Queen Anne — I could see this station being huge; definitely a top five station. I think it could easily surpass Ballard for popularity. Ballard has a lot of apartments, but very few businesses. This means that not that many people will head there in the morning. Lower Queen Anne has both apartments and businesses. It will get plenty of action all day long.

    Fremont — Fremont has a little bit of everything. There are some offices as well as apartments, but it is no where near as big as Lower Queen Anne. Nor will it ever be (in my opinion). It is growing, but lots of areas around there are popular because they are funky old architecture. Unlike South Lake Union, people will fight to preserve the one story buildings (I don’t blame them). However, the areas around there will continue to grow, with or without good transit. The 36th/Leary corridor will add a bunch more apartment buildings in the next few years. As the same time, Fremont sits right next to a major highway (99) well suited for BRT. This suggests that Fremont will be both a good feeder station as well as destination station. For example, it wouldn’t surprise me if ten years from now, the fastest way to get from Ballard to West Seattle is to get on the subway in Ballard, get off at Fremont, take the elevator up to 99 and then catch the BRT headed towards West Seattle.

    So, with all of that in mind, and with limited financing, this is what I would propose:

    Phase 1: Build the subway from Ballard to Fremont to the UW. At the same time, start the Corridor 3 proposal, but only do the part from downtown to lower Queen Anne. Phase 1 will therefore serve Ballard, Lower Queen Anne and Fremont for around the same price as Corridor 3 just by itself. The trade-off is that folks going from Lower Queen Anne to Ballard will have to go around (and Interbay has to wait). To me, getting Fremont as well as a faster route from Ballard to the UW (and places north) is worth it.

    Phase 2: Build out the Corridor 3 towards Ballard. This is another reason why I like elevated. Once Lower Queen Anne is complete, you really don’t have to do much to continue the line north if it is elevated. It will be fast and reasonably cheap. My guess is that you could get to Interbay a couple years later and it won’t require much money.

    Phase 3: Complete the missing section from Ballard to Interbay. By then, Interbay will be bigger, as will Lower Queen Anne. The Ballard section will start showing strain. Not only will the section to the UW be a bit crowded, but the main line will be full by then. This makes the request for an alternative, redundant route through Seattle easier to push.

    Somewhere along the line (maybe with Phase 2 or 3) you push the line south towards West Seattle.

    1. So, some problems. Phase 1, a downtown to LQA wouldn’t be feasible. It’s too short of a route with too little ridership potential. Right now, the biggest issue facing us is moving people from geographically challenged areas like Ballard, Crown Hill, and Fremont to Downtown. The rest of it simply takes too long and is based on bringing too many strange pieces together.

      Some extra thought on the UW transfer: there has to be a forced transfer from the East-West line to Link. That’s annoying and takes time. The trains also cannot directly connect to Link since anything north of IDS will be at capacity once all the Link lines are operating. A number of years ago, STB had a great post discussing a forced transfer from a 520 LRT line to Link. The issue is trains become crush-loaded from UW Station to Downtown. The ridership from Lynnwood to Northgate is expected to be quite substantial, so the Link line will need all the capacity it can get. We really need as many crossings as we can get across the Canal.

      The Ballard/Fremont area really needs to get downtown quickly on new infrastructure, not east then south, while waiting another decade. Plus, if we build to Downtown Seattle from Ballard, we’re in a much better place to move the line south to West Seattle, Georgetown, etc since things will be much better connected.

      1. A number of years ago, STB had a great post discussing a forced transfer from a 520 LRT line to Link. The issue is trains become crush-loaded from UW Station to Downtown.
        Thank you! That is the one and only good rebuttal to the Ballard-UW line proposal that I’ve ever heard!

      2. I don’t buy the idea of LQA having too little ridership potential. It is, as I mentioned, one of the few places in Seattle that really feels like a big city. There are very big apartment buildings along with big office buildings. There is also room for growth. Unlike some areas, the old buildings are two story buildings and parking lots. These remind me of South Lake Union ten years ago. Just ripe for the picking. Even if the area doesn’t change much, I think has the potential (right now) of equaling a station in Ballard. As I said, Ballard has some big apartment buildings (although not as big as lower Queen Anne) but is has essentially no office buildings.

        The idea of crush loading is a very good point. But I say, let it happen. Nothing builds support for more trains than full trains. If you start the way I propose, then extending it becomes that much easier (politically). There are things the system can do to improve throughput right now, but they chose the cheap way, because, well, it was cheap. So build in demand and then we can spend the money to improve the main line. This will benefit everyone with more frequent service.

        Go the other way and it is highly likely that Fremont and Ballard folks ride the slow bus to the UW for the next fifty years.

        As I mentioned, how is it better that Ballard folks have to go south, then north, rather than east then south? In other words, why should the folks in Ballard have to wait ten years before they have a fast route to the UW (or places north). A transfer east, then south is a logical route (a lot more logical than the other way around).

        I don’t think this changes the idea of moving the line south at all. Transfers are part of a real subway system. I’ve never ridden a system in any city (except Seattle) that didn’t involve a transfer.

      3. Yeah, Uptown is an urban center. It’s already getting built out with 65′ buildings and likely to go farther than that.

      4. Problem solved: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67869267@N07/9152772373/

        During peak hours (when the transfer penalty is negligible), the east-west line runs as a shuttle. The rest of the time, it’s through-routed. The direct connection means no separate maintenance facility is needed.

        Even if you believe that the central tunnel will be at vehicle capacity at peak, there is little to suggest it will be at human capacity anytime in the next 50 years. By the time it gets anywhere close to that, political support for uncompromised additional north-south lines will be assured.

      5. I’ll agree that problem is solved when Sound Transit considers it. :)

      6. With regards to crush loading, I see the link, but I don’t see the study. In other words, the (excellent) analysis in that post simply states that crush loading will be a problem, but it doesn’t point to a study stating why.

        I would assume a study would look at the fact that lost of people would be going the other direction and look at alternatives. In other words, some people would be getting off the train and head towards Fremont and Ballard, just when lots of folks are getting on. If this is not the case, then where are all these people going? Downtown? Fine, then we keep the express buses from the suburbs rolling. Trying to get to downtown from Lynnwood? Take a bus. Trying to get to Ballard from Lynnwood? Take a train, then transfer. With the BRT I mentioned, then you would have faster service to West Seattle as well (although at some point the BRT gets crush loaded from Fremont rail riders :)).

        Plus, if I’m not mistaken, I remember folks saying that North LInk headway is limited because of some sort of tunnel venting issue. Sorry, I can’t find the link and can’t remember the details. But if I’m not mistaken, we didn’t buy out the rights to something and the end result is fewer trains per hour. Well, crush loading can force people to do the right thing and spend the money.

        We aren’t arguing policy here, just politics. We all want the same thing, and Seattle Subway is it. But politics is politics. Right now, we are lucky that people support Link given all the mistakes that have been made (quick fact — more people exit the Tukwila station than board in the morning — who knew we were building a commuter rail system for the folks working in Tukwila?). Seattle voters can be cheap. They are quick to find cheap, stupid “compromises” instead of listening to the experts. That is the main reason the original Link proposal failed (and was replaced by a cheaper proposal). That is why there is no tunnel through the Rainier Valley.

        As I mentioned, there are only two grade separated proposals (although, as Ben mentioned, we could always mix and match). Either one will due just fine. But both are expensive. Grade separation is expensive, and the overall cost sends cheap voters looking for alternatives. The alternative we all fear is a surface system. I propose an alternative (which I assume will be cheaper). It also gets our foot in the door with regards to the direct Ballard to Downtown section we want.

        People will vote based on what they see on a map and what they see as a cost. What I propose will get people from the north end excited. They won’t worry about crush loading, they will just look at the map. If you live in Lynnwood, then getting to downtown is easy; getting to Ballard or Fremont is hard. An east/west link would make it easy. Meanwhile, the foot in the door part will be relatively cheap (as tunnels go) because it isn’t that far. Crossing the canal is a lot more expensive. People in other parts of the region will be OK with it, because the cost is relatively low, and the lines on the map are relatively short. It seems to leverage the existing system well, which suggests that we know what we are doing. If we vote on a Corridor 2 type system I’m sure a lot of people will whine about the cost and question why we don’t go the other way. Telling them that it is because of crush loading suggests that we really didn’t think through the system very well when we built the previous pieces. They have a point.

      7. Wow d. p., I spend all this time trying to articulate my point and you just up and make it in a couple paragraphs. Thanks.

      8. You guys, I get it, but… Sound Transit isn’t studying that. It got no traction. You have to get out there and organize, and Keith even realized we’re going to get downtown more easily.

      9. Couple thoughts —

        LQA-downtown — the Monorail’s project’s ridership studies showed that most of the ridership from north of downtown came from LQA, not Ballard. ST’s studies of this corridor are likely to show the same — that stopping at LQA would get you most of the riders you get by going to Ballard. The real reason this line is too short is because there’s nowhere to put the maintenance base. Also, we’d save a lot by buying the Monorail instead or otherwise get it to use ORCA with free transfers to Link.

        Forced transfers — All the options shown end at Westlake, forcing most to transfer (and walk further to do it) and the trains are pretty full there too. And before you wave hands about a second downtown tunnel, that is a very expensive proposition and it will be difficult to sell politically because it looks like a whole lot of money spent to put transit where there already is transit. I really do believe that a new Ballard-downtown line will terminate at Westlake, at least for a substantial interim period, for political viability reasons.

        Ridership potential for UW-Ballard — Don’t underestimate the potential due to the fact that a subway on this corridor will be substantially better than any other alternative including driving. While overall travel demands may be larger between Ballard and downtown, Ballard to UW will capture a higher fraction of those not already using transit, and it will also serve a large number of trips that people choose not to make today. I suspect that new transit riders per dollar spent is far higher with this corridor.

        Option 9 — Would you consider extending the line north to either Fremont&46th or the Zoo before turning west to Ballard? That way the Ballard-UW line and the Ballard-downtown line could share the tunnel west of here.

      1. Building any at-grade-hobbled option to downtown inconvenience downtown riders just as much… and triply inconveniences riders to anywhere else.

    2. All this “I propose stuff” is great, but it didn’t get into the study.

  10. I like Ben’s option 9. Make the whole thing a tunnel, automate, and suddenly we can run frequent and fast trains without caring about operating costs. (sorry drivers, there will always be buses)

  11. As a wild suggestion, has anyone considered repurposing the Seattle Center Monorail and running Link-style trains above Fifth Avenue? That’d get us a great fully-separated right-of-way from the Seattle Center to Westlake, eliminating the need to dig a tunnel there. We’d probably even be able to add an intermediate station in Belltown.

    Of course, this could be completely unworkable; I’ve no idea whether the pillars in Fifth Avenue would even be able to support anything like this. But has anyone looked into it?

    1. They wouldn’t be able to support it, no. You’d be starting from scratch.

    2. They won’t be able to support it? Okay, sigh, it was a nice idea. But could we take a leaf from the monorail anyway and run elevated lines above downtown streets? We wouldn’t need to convince SDOT to give up a lane, and the cost would have to be lower than tunneling.

      1. It would have been cool! But even the monorail was going to have to rebuild it. :(

        And from the political side, we’d have to convince people to accept an elevated rail system downtown. That alone would probably cost more in advocacy than getting the money for a tunnel. There are zero elevated options for downtown proposed in this study for a reason.

      2. Really? Has anyone actually come out against it, or has it just never been proposed so we don’t know what people would feel about it?

      3. Yes. During the monorail campaign you found out who was against it. And the fact that it wasn’t an alternative AT ALL makes it pretty clear Sound Transit has no interest in fighting that battle.

        Elevated stuff is bad for pedestrian areas.

  12. A movable bridge, even at the height of the Fremont Bridge and especially at the higher heights some of these proposals include, isn’t a big problem as long as long as you’re not mixed in with car traffic or waiting at stoplights anywhere near it. Avoiding stop lights and sitting behind traffic is a much bigger win than avoiding bridge openings.

    1. It’s a big problem when you want to interline another route in the same new tunnel.

      1. How big of a problem could it be? I don’t have the numbers on this, but I’ve lived in Chicago. There’s no way in hell the trains all enter the Loop (on the north and east edges, from four different lines) according to a precise schedule. They occasionally suffer minor delays when two trains from different directions arrive at the junction at the same time, but it’s far from a system-killing delay. It doesn’t create a massive backup on the tracks because the number of vehicles is not that large and the dwell time is not that long.

        Whether there’s a bridge or not there will always be random reasons trains get delayed. Even automated trains will handle this just fine. A fixed ship canal crossing is better than one that opens, but a ship canal crossing that opens is not as bad as at-grade traffic intersections or bad station locations. It might even be better than delaying the opening to wait for funding or construction.

  13. I suspect including a 70′ bridge in Corridor 5 has more to do with geometry than cost. The peak elevation of Queen Anne is 456 feet. Even if you built Queen Anne as deep as Beacon Hill, that’s still 300′ in elevation over a very short distance.

    I’m sure there are some creative solutions that could work, though.

      1. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. A 35 second elevator ride (the current is 20 seconds) is not an inconvenience compared to taking a bus down the hill.

      2. At Beacon Hill, 165′ is 20 seconds. And elevators can go faster than that – there are examples of faster elevators in buildings downtown. :)

        It takes more time than that to get down two escalators with a mezzanine between for Capitol Hill or UW stations.

      3. I seem to recall there were some challenges with the depth of the Beacon Hill station, something about the rock not being that solid, which led to various cave-ins during the tunneling process. The deepest subways station in the world (afaik) is 120 meters in St. Petersburg. We’d be pushing a world record here :)

      4. Well it would be kind of fun to have the deepest underground transit station in the world right here in Seattle.

        That said, Sound Transit is rather allergic to building deep mined stations after their experience with Beacon Hill. Part of the reason for re-aligning U-Link was to avoid the technical risk of 2 deep mined stations on the line. Similarly the fact that the First Hill station was deep mined played a role in getting it dropped from U-Link.

    1. Skip the upper QA stop and connect Uptown to UQA with a gondola or counterbalanced streetcar. It’s not worth designing the system around upper QA unless we can get them to upzone.

      Actually, I’d love to see neighborhoods bid for their rail station by seeing who will upzone the most. Upper Queen Anne would be an ideal location for tall towers – they wouldn’t block anyone’s view.

      1. They are upzoned. The available TOD on the top of QA is higher than Interbay or Westlake, by a lot. And they’re an urban village, so they’ll upzone more.

  14. I’m liking option two! I know this a stupid thing to even bring up at this point but will there be any meetings about a west Seattle line in the near future?

    1. There will be, that study starts July/August!

      But please don’t just ‘pick an option’. As I noted, these are mix and match, hence my comments!

      1. Yeah, mixing and matching sounds good, but for me, personally, I like Corridor 3 just fine as is. Looks like a great combination of elevated and underground transit. Seems like a great value.

        I think that the problem with mixing and matching is that it is hard to know how much that will cost. For example, Corridor 3 is about a billion dollars more than Corridor 2. I don’t think that the difference is worth it (and I’m afraid a lot of voters would agree with me). But what about it makes it more expensive? The tunneling, obviously, but which part? What if Corridor 3 was amended a bit to tunnel right after crossing the canal (via a bridge)? Would that add a lot of expense? Is that even practical?

        In other words, I would support Corridor 2 from Ballard to Dravus, but then switch to Corridor 3, but only if it cost a little bit more. If it costs close to a billion dollars more, then I’m back to supporting the Corridor 3 option as is. My guess is that this is the case, which is why I’m going to support Corridor 3 as is. In general I think going above ground is OK for 15th, but coming from the east it is a different matter. I think that should be underground the whole way.

      2. We don’t know how much these cost either. I forgot to mention this – these aren’t really cost estimates. They’re just estimates of proportion between the options.

      3. So, if I understand you correctly, basically the estimates are in dollars, but we don’t know whose dollars (could be American, could be Canadian, could be …).

        OK, but at least that is a starting point (if I understand you correctly). In other words, if option X costs 3,000 and option Y costs 6,000, then options Y is expected to cost double the amount of option X. Is that correct?

  15. I don’t really like any of them as none of the options go all the way through downtown. I think a second bus and rail transit tunnel should be built under second ave. Allowing buses and rail allows transit from many more places to use it. We could renovate the existing battery street tunnel so Aurora rapid ride could use it. the south end of the tunnel would allow buses from 1st ave and sr99 to use it as well. This proposal would provide grade separated transit though downtown for the entire west side of the city from Des Moines to Shoreline.

    1. *waves arms*

      The study area was to Pike/Pine. The West Seattle study will consider extending this.

      1. Ben, I understand what the study area is. I don’t agree with the study area used. The first core study should have been additional grade separated transit through downtown seattle serving areas to the north and south.

      2. You’re letting the perfect (in your opinion) be the enemy of the good.

        If you wanted that, you should have kept engaged with Seattle Subway and convinced us you were right.

      3. The danger with including downtown in the study is that the second DSTT cost might cause officials to dismiss the line prematurely. But if ST first decides that a Ballard-downtown grade-separated line has overwheiming public support and is a must-do, then it will be looking at downtown in a different way. Not, “Should we build this Ballard line with an expensive downtown tunnel?” but “What can we do downtown to best serve this Ballard line which we’re going to build anyway? Shall we just terminate it at a second Westlake station and force people to transfer, or can we possibly afford a tunnel to Pioneer Square.”

    2. Until the rest of the system is built, get off the train and walk one block to the DSTT or a 3rd avenue surface bus. Picking up toys and going home because the line stops at Pine Street for now is nonsensical.

    1. Look at the quote:

      Planned light rail extensions to Lynnwood and the East Side will increase train traffic in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), leaving no room in the tunnel for a Ballard rail line to safely operate. If the Ballard rail line used a separate parallel tunnel to enter or exit Downtown Seattle, underground walkways could connect passengers to the DSTT.

      Whether or not it’s true, that’s what they’re convinced of.

      1. That’s a pretty definitive statement of fact, which leaves only a couple of options. A multi billion proposal from Ballard the CBD, plus tunnel extension to SODO for more billions to West Seattle,
        a mostly traffic separated surface/aerial route costing under 500 million.
        Largest strawman ever constructed or ‘Ultra Lightning Fast – Streetcar – complete with Bistro (did I mention cup holders and wifi) yet to be built on the planet.’ ™ still standing at the end of this beauty contest.
        Call me cynical, but I’m guessing the streecar makes it into the lightning round.

      2. I agree with you Kyle. There are plenty of light rail systems in the world that have at least three lines in a subway tunnel. San Francisco and Boston carry four (Green Line). There are four lines in Dallas, four lines across the river in Portland and five in sections of Denver. Putting out things like this just smack of arrogance on the part of Sound Transit. How stupid do they think the public is?

      3. Hell, the 1968 plan (IMHO far superior to anything being cobbled together with Link) had three lines running under 3rd downtown–NW-SE, NE-SW and Eastside.

        Guess they had no idea it couldn’t be done.

      4. Of course you can carry three rail lines through a tunnel, IF YOU DESIGN THAT TUNNEL TO CARRY THREE LINES. The DSTT only has two tracks – no stacked tunnels and platforms, no E-W connection like in DC, etc.

    2. The study area ends at Westlake. A second DSTT would be a separate study. ST is studying all these corridors separately to see what is best in each one, and then will address how to connect them. So it doesn’t have to study that now, but it does have to study it before the Ballard line goes to the ballot. There seem to be four choices: terminate the line at a separate Westlake station, continue in a 2nd Avenue DSTT, merge into the DSTT from the northwest, or go into the DSTT through Convention Place. ST has rejected the latter two, so that leaves the former two. (I’m not including any downtown surface options because I think those are non-starters for the Link line.)

  16. Just a quick correction. All the Skytrain lines in Vancouver are automatic. The Canada Line, the most recent one was built as a public-private partnership and both operating costs and capital costs are lumped together in an annual fee, so it is difficult to ascertain just what its operating cost coverage is. However, for the original Expo Line the fare revenue slightly exceeds the operating costs, so the line has been slowly chipping away at the capital cost. The Millennium Line has an operating cost coverage of something like 70% but I don’t remember exactly.

    1. I haven’t had time to write about it due to all this organizing, but Translink recently provided me with a lot of their cost documents and yeah, canada line is doing really well. Better than the previous skytrain lines.

  17. “Whenever a transit line goes west, then east again, it’s a good indicator that it’s trying to do too many things at once.”

    You mean, like the original plan for what’s now U-Link, or for that matter what’s now Central Link? I’m not being sarcastic; that Central Link tries too hard to be a “spine” that’s all things to all people has long been one of my big problems with it, especially on the north end where Snohomish County and Shoreline should be served on 99, not I-5.

    If we intend for this line to go further north than Ballard, it has to go west, then east again, anyway. You could make a case that it isn’t really doing so if it hems pretty close to 15th for its entire length, but if you want to serve Uptown anyway, I would much, much, much rather stick to the rough line of Queen Anne Ave until hitting Fremont. If we want to serve Magnolia the way Option 2 does, it should be on a Ballard line. Sound Transit has never been good at thinking long-term from a system perspective, something the monorail understood a lot better.

    I suppose we can build up to Fremont and swing over to Ballard, and think about possibly long-term building a Magnolia/Interbay line and convert the Fremont/Ballard segment into the first part of a crosstown line.

    If we must extend a streetcar north of SLU, I’d much rather it be Option 7 with the same caveats you have.

    Where is the “Crown Hill urban village”? If it’s anywhere north of 65th, I’d much rather turn east and serve the Greenwood urban village. Unless a line continuing straight north from Fremont is sticking to the Phinney/Greenwood corridor to at least 85th, but there’s very little on Holman/105th from 8th to Meridian if you’re sending that route to Northgate.

    1. Yep, just like Central Link. U-Link is a little different because the land actually does that. That also applies for going east at Holman Road.

      Option 7 for a streetcar is mixed traffic, which is why I pointed to Option 8, which is not. I propose Option 8 just to Fremont because the Greenwood urban village is VERY north-south. An east-west alignment would not serve it well, and I believe we could extend it north at least to 85th, if not much farther.

      Here’s the comp plan map with urban villages (R and H): http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cms/groups/pan/@pan/documents/web_informational/dpdd016652.pdf

      I think we’ll serve Magnolia later, with an E-W line that goes under Queen Anne, SLU, and Capitol Hill and continues on to the CD.

      1. Wait, are you advocating a streetcar to Greenwood?!? Or are you talking about a future northward extension of a Queen Anne Ave line?

        You’re REALLY optimistic and forward-looking when you start talking about a Magnolia-SLU-Capitol Hill line…

      2. >> You’re REALLY optimistic and forward-looking when you start talking about a Magnolia-SLU-Capitol Hill line…

        I agree. Generally speaking, I think this is it for Magnolia. If they don’t get an alignment that goes by Interbay, they are out of luck for the next century. That’s why I favor a west side alignment. I think you will make fewer enemies. Someone from the east side of Queen Anne and Fremont would might get left out initially, but feel like the next system would pick them up later (this is more true for Fremont than east Queen Anne of course). Plus, they always have BRT via Aurora (which would require a lot of work to be really effective, but not billions of dollars worth of work). On the other hand, if this doesn’t go along the west side, then the folks on the west side (who voted for the monorail several times, for example) would feel totally screwed. Maybe that won’t matter (the whole reason people are considering skipping it is because not that many people live there) but I fear it could get ugly.

      3. Magnolia isn’t even an urban village. There’s just no way it’s transit performant. I figure that changes in 20 years when we’re building ST5.

  18. If you’re going to have total automation, you’re going to have to drastically increase security. If something bad happens on a train now, there’s an emergency button you can push to alert the driver. No driver=no one to alert in an emergency. Add to that the fact that cell phones don’t work in tunnels (making all those “call 911 in an emergency” signs that also feature ST’s emergency number somewhat laughable), by eliminating the driver, you’ve eliminated a major safety feature of the existing Link system.

    Also, don’t expect the Metro union to take the loss of dozens of jobs without a fight.

    1. The ATU endorsed the monorail plan with automation. They realize this increases transit demand across the entire network.

      As I’ve mentioned before, even with the operational cost of station staff for security, Canada Line is operationally profitable. Some Link stations already have security, and this would be similar. Operators generally do not get involved in security situations anyway – you’d just be calling the security staff at the next station, just like Canada Line.

      I know you’re uncomfortable on transit sometimes, but this is solved in Vancouver already.

      1. This isn’t about me being uncomfortable on transit — as you know, my main squeeze is the 7! — but about the fact that there have been security problems on trains and at stations (mostly thefts), and that issue needs to be addressed, especially if you want to get people who AREN’T already riding to make the choice to take the train.

      2. Yeah, but doesn’t it make sense then to pay for cops who are cops, instead of drivers who sometimes have to act like cops, but aren’t really good at it and spend most of their time driving anyway.

      3. Exactly. With Link, drivers don’t act as cops anyway – security is taken care of by cops. Like Canada Line.

    2. Emergency buttons should go directly to 911 anyway. It’s not (or at least shouldn’t be) the driver’s job to stop the train, leave the driving compartment, and deal with violent or annoying passengers.

      1. Exactly. And they don’t, anyway. It’s a false premise. The drivers get to the next station and the police deal with it.

    3. When the Skytrain was brand new there was an attendant on every train partly because BC Transit thought that people would be spooked by a driverless, totally automatic train. This was 1984 after all, the year that the first Apple Macintosh was introduced, and fully automatic metros were something of a novelty back then. However, those attendants were eliminated as unnecessary, and now there is only roving police on the trains. Each car also has an intercom system that opens two way communication with Skytrain control. There is even a strip that runs along the full length of the car that is supposed to be like a silent alarm, but I don’t know how well this works. Skytrain is also eliminating the “honour system” of fare control and installing turnstiles partly as a mechanism for keeping troublemakers off the trains. However, with all of this, security really isn’t a problem on the trains and it is only a mild problem at the stations.

      1. +1 – scary things don’t usually happen, especially if you build a line with high ridership. :)

    4. Also forgot to add that tunnels can be equipped with cell antennae. Certainly in the Canada Line tunnel there is full cell reception.

    5. Erica, all the driver does is call for assistance anyway. Just skip that step and have the passenger call directly for assistance.

  19. A few comments:

    1) Automation is a great idea. I’d rather spend more up front to make the operational costs sustainable in the long run.

    2) The stop spacing on most of these proposals is atrocious. In an urban environment, we should not settle for consecutive stations more than a mile apart. I would personally shoot for 0.5-0.75 mile spacing between most stops as a sweet spot. Take corridor 4 as an example. It has no stops between Market and 85th Street. That’s a 1.5 mile distance. That kind of stop spacing means that you need to run buses down 15th Ave forever in addition to the shiny new train. Even though fewer stops means you get from 85th to Market a minute (or maybe two) faster, that probably doesn’t even come close to making up for the time the average passenger who lives in between those places needs to spend walking or busing to the nearest station. If the line is running up 15th Ave, there should be an additional stop at 65th St in front of Ballard High School at an absolute minimum. Driving right past the high school without stopping makes approximately zero sense. Another stop at 75th St would be ideal.

    3) I like the southern half of Corridor 5. Queen Anne absolutely needs a Link station more than Interbay does. North of Queen Anne, Corridor 5 is less nice. It has a “Fremont” stop that is several blocks to the west of what most people consider to be central Fremont, and it takes a bit of an eastward deviation even to get that close. Might be better to wait on a future line for good Fremont coverage–this one can’t go everywhere and still maintain fast service. Running on the surface on Leary is also bad, both because it’s slower and it prevents automation. Ben’s “option 9” sounds much better in this area, both because it serves SPU (which is a much bigger destination than the outer limits of Fremont in my opinion) and because it continues underground to central Ballard. This option will be spendy, but think getting this line right and waiting a bit longer to work on the next corridor is a much better option than blanketing the city with a bunch of half-assed slow human-operated street-running Link lines.

    1. Also, Corridor 6 looks all right in that it actually serves Fremont properly, and connecting SLU to Link would be nice as well. I don’t think we should settle for at-grade running between downtown and the Ship Canal, though.

      I think I would still opt to have the Ballard line go through Queen Anne and SPU, and leave Belltown/SLU/Fremont for a future line.

      1. I’m glad we agree about Queen Anne. Please echo my comments! And yeah, I think closer stop spacing would be better, but really, I don’t see anywhere else I’d put a tunnel stop south of Market that isn’t covered.

      2. How is your line getting from downtown to Queen Anne without going through Belltown or SLU? And how do you reconcile your desire for closer stop spacing with a line to Fremont further east than Queen Anne Ave, where at best you’re serving the linear corridors of Dexter or Taylor better served by buses or streetcars?

      3. Ben,
        I think if you have a cross-canal tunnel stop at SPU, then another one at 15th and another one at about 22nd/Market, that would be pretty good spacing in the tunnel. If the “Fremont” stop is located around Phinney Ave as in the Corridor 5 diagram, another stop halfway between there and 15th might be nice to have. There’s a fair amount of light industrial zoning in that area, much of which could probably be replaced with higher-density housing without much outcry from neighborhood groups.

        The stop at upper Queen Anne is still a bit far from its neighbors even with the SPU stop, but that’s probably okay given that it would have to be pretty far underground and there aren’t any really compelling spots to put intermediate stations.

        The line is going to Belltown regardless, sorry for any confusion. You can see Corridor 5 definitely doesn’t serve SLU in any meaningful fashion. I think if this line to Ballard takes a more direct path and avoids Fremont entirely, another line that follows the general path of Corridor 7 from downtown to SLU, Westlake, and Fremont (then north through Phinney/Greenwood) would make a lot of sense in the future.

      4. After 15th, I would go north on 15th. E-W would be better served with an E-W line, not with terminating the N-S line that we need (see the TMP) to go north.

      5. I could definitely get on board with heading straight north on 15th if the east-west line serves the actual center of Ballard. North of Market, the 15th Avenue corridor makes the most sense.

    2. The stops are just conceptual at this point, the sine qua non stations. First ST has to narrow down the alignments, then it can get into how many stations and where. The Lynnwood Extension was still taking input on stations after the I-5 alignment was chosen, and it still hasn’t announced the final stations.

      1. +1 – and well after it was past a funding vote! We have years to talk about this. I just want to ensure we ask for enough money.

  20. I like everything about Corridor 5 until it exits the north end of the Queen Anne Hilltop Station, then it starts to get terrible. After the Queen Anne Hilltop Station the best corridor is 2 with a SUBWAY in BALLARD! It should be pointed due north up 15th avenue, however. If they move the market street station west ever so slightly, they can do that.


      1. Haha, both QA and Interbay?

        I can see that. Interbay to Ballard, and QA to Fremont and up Phinney. Expensive, though!

      2. I would be ok with a street car or something from Ballard, through interbay and to downtown at a later date… after we have a solid grade separated north/south line through the city (North Seattle, through Ballard and Downtown to West Seattle).

        Having this line wiggle around through all points west though would really slow it down.

        Maybe an Interlake – SLU – Capitol hill spur would be in order in ST4 or something…

      3. I was thinking the corridor 5 station under Queen Anne Hill and otherwise corridor 2.

      4. Charles B: there’s already a rapid street car planned from SLU to cross the Fremont bridge from westlake. That’s why I think the Interbay service adds the most I’m all for Corridor 2 with the addition of the Queen Anne Hilltop station from Corridor 5.

      5. A branched line? I assumed TvC was talking about curving left instead of right at QA, serving Interbay and Ballard via elevated (or tunnel). Fremont will have to settle with either streetcars or wait for the Ballard –> Kirkland line.

      6. Matt, something like that came to mind as well, but Fremont West gets you more passengers than Interbay, and it’s much easier to cross under the ship canal over there too.

      7. I agree. SPU would provide really nice ridership. I’m just sketching out TvC’s thoughts. This is the time to explore all options.

      8. Matt, yes! Thank you. Add a blowout panel to head towards Fremont before the Queen Anne Station. Also, I’d settle for the 140′ elevated bridge from option 1 or 3.

    1. Also after Fremont, I’d send it up Fremont Ave to Phinney Ave and Greenwood Ave. Elevated or tunnel somewhere. Think Seattle Subway’s blue line. Alternatively, I’d use the SLU street car extension from option 6 and parlay that into Seattle Subway’s blue line after making a tunnel under the ship canal. We’d still need E-W, but we’d get three N-S trunk lines. That’s important to me.

  21. At the moment the comment thread here is tl;dr, so I’ll post what I think for the record.
    1) The surface options are crap
    2) I don’t like the idea of abandoning Queen Anne, but I also don’t like the idea of skipping interbay or going surface streets after the canal.

    I would like a somewhat balanced approach on the cost though… spending countless billions to get us subway on both sides seems counterproductive to getting our city connected within the next two decades.

    I want grade separated, but I am willing to take elevated over tunnel if it accomplishes the task. It does look like downtown to Queen Anne needs us some subway though.

    Also, what kind of penalties are we going to suffer from having a movable bridge? Will it significantly slow down traffic across the canal? There must be some reason why only one of the options here (almost completely a surface option) is the only one that actually goes under the canal… I am guessing because it is the most expensive and costly tunneling per mile possible on any of these?

    1. Given that we voted 2/3 for the last round of ST, I think let’s push harder rather than make compromises with ourselves.

      The movable bridge permanently limits headways.

    2. Yeah, what Ben said about the movable bridge. It just doesn’t make sense. Almost as short-sighted as surface street options.

      For what it is worth, I agree that elevated is just as good as underground, if not better in some ways (nice views for the folks who ride it). It tends to be cheaper. As I mentioned earlier, part of the problem with the study as it is presented right now is that we are encouraged to pick pieces of it, but we have no idea how much those pieces cost. It is as if we are presented with a menu at a pizza place; the Hawaiian costs 2 bucks more than the Margarita. We can create our own pie, but we have no idea what the toppings cost until we get the bill.

      That’s why I am just going to support Corridor 3 as is. It is pretty cheap and fast. Plus, I think the stop on the southwest side of Queen Anne is greatly underrated. It will be huge. Connecting to Magnolia and west Queen is not a big gainer, but it is something. Right now Interbay is relatively small, but it could change. It’s just the biggest bang for the buck as far as I can tell. Like I said, though, it is too bad I don’t know how much some of the a la carte options cost.

      Meanwhile, the folks on Fremont will connect to the system through BRT and a line from Ballard to the UW. The folks on Queen Anne will eventually get a spur; in the meantime, hopefully they will get a gondola. Anyway, that’s my thought on the whole thing.

      1. Are you really worried about the cost of each option? Let’s worry about that AFTER we have legislative authority. This is going to change a lot – today is about drawing a line in the sand so that we show community support for Sound Transit to the legislature and they start with a high ask.

      2. Yeah, I probably worry about cost too much. I just know that Seattle seems to be penny wise and pound foolish. I just can’t see us spending big money to do the right thing, so I believe we will somehow compromise and build something half ass.

        I think your strategy makes sense, though. Ask for what is ideal, then compromise to something reasonable. I think asking for Corridor 2, for example, might get us Corridor 3. That makes sense and I’ll have to mull it over.

        I’m afraid that asking for what you are suggesting would just get us a mix of surface and underground (and maybe even a drawbridge). At least with Corridor 2, the fall back is simply more elevated rail. I don’t see any elevated rail along the east side routes. I see only tunneling and surface. In other words, if we propose Corridor 2, and then folks say “we like the route, but can you do it cheaper”, we can say “Corridor 3, it was actually fairly popular”. On the other hand if we say Option 9 and they say “cut a few corners”, next thing you know we have a surface line from Ballard to Fremont, a drawbridge, and a bit of tunneling after that. Better than nothing, of course, but not nearly as nice as Corridor 3 (in my opinion).

      3. If we only ask for Corridor 2, the fallback could be surface on 15th. The eastside routes won’t be built by Sound Transit – they don’t meet Sound Transit’s corridor plan needs.

  22. I also favor corridors 2 & 3 the most.

    People live on Queen Anne/Magnolia because it’s exclusive and removed, so I don’t think worrying about them is necessary right now.
    I don’t really know much about the logistics of it, but both options favor a stop on Dravus St.; during a recent trip to NYC I discovered that some underground stations are actually stacked on top of one another, perhaps if either corridor 2 or 3 were to be built a supplementary line could be set up underground perpendicularly to service Queen Anne and Magnolia from the Dravus stop?? I’m thinking make a sort of “loop” to serve those neighborhoods more directly than 2 & 3 suggest currently; maybe have it go from Dravus left under Thorndyke right under under McGraw and a stop for that busy area, right under 34th, use that abandoned school as location for a stop, a stop at Emerson or thereabouts to include more northern Magnolia residents, maybe pop out on Government Way/ Gilman Ave, continue back to the Dravus stop, continue on to Nickerson, and then… I’m not sure, I avoid Queen Anne like the plague, way too confusing and hilly for me.

    Option 2 would also offer up a station near Seattle Center which would probably be a gold mine in terms of tourist ridership; and while I kind of drool at the idea of a futuristic above ground super scenic railway like in corridor 3, I just don’t think putting massive concrete support columns in the middle of 15th/Elliot Avenue is going to do a lot of good for this already frustrating corridor; there are also a lot of over passes that would have to be passed over, and that just seems comically high up in there air.

    Option 6 is really interesting to me. I’m really into the idea of the Light Rail popping out from under ground and running along Westlake that sounds like a really pretty idea you get to see the sights and not be underground the whole time and touch base with the SLU Street Car if you need to. This option also connects you to Ballard and Fremont in one go and those two neighborhoods go hand in hand in my opinion. I wonder if there would be a way to have it go back underground and unobtrusively pick up/ drop off more passengers downtown?

    1. You can modify any of these. As I mention, they’re just mix and match – none of them are baked “options”.

  23. We need to balance long-term needs with getting across the Ship Canal as quickly as possible to build the support needed to implement the most complete and effective network.

    Option 3 is the cheapest grade-separated option. Do that, with the following modifications:

    * Change the routing to the LQA/Seattle Center stop to be more like option 2, which has a better situated station for the neighborhood and an eventual Queen Anne tunnel. It would add a bit more tunneling than in option 3.

    * Design that station with a stub to the north for a future Queen Anne-SPU-Fremont-Phinney line, but don’t build that until later.

    You could probably do the whole thing for about $2.5 billion. Automation would still be possible, too.

    When you get around to the QA-Fremont line, put the station at SPU/Fremont under the canal as suggested. That’s a brilliant idea. This would split frequency between Ballard and Fremont but that probably fits the traffic and development patterns better in any case.

    1. If we negotiate ourselves down before going to the legislature, and then they negotiate us down further (which they do), we could lose grade separation entirely.

      1. I get that we need to ask for more than we’ll end up with. I just don’t think it’s feasible to push for two subway or high-bridge crossings in one package. I guess if I had to pick one crossing regardless of expense I’d say do a full tunnel from downtown to Belltown to LQA to Queen Anne to SPU to west of Fremont, where you could branch at the under-canal station toward both Ballard and Phinney. I imagine you’re talking something like $5 billion at that point, though.

    2. I’m not a Queen Anne resident and really like option 3 also, but serving the top of Queen Anne Hill like option 5, then using the option two exit to elevated and continuing as option three allows more people to use the system to being with. Also Queen Anne Ave is a good place for a blow-out panel as the SUBWAY turns west on Galer street towards Interbay.

      1. I don’t think you can just put a blowout panel 450 feet underground like that and use it later.

      2. I’ve heard of them in other deep bored tunnels, but I’m not entirely sure about 450 feet. Alternatively I’d use Seattle Subway’s blue line routing but start with Corridor 6. Get a tunnel under the ship canal and head north on a separate N-S trunk line.

  24. I really don’t like the way this study and the upcoming w. seattle study are being done. The primary study should be a 2nd ave transit tunnel that serves buses from SLU, Queen Anne, Magnlolia, Ballard, freemont, Greenwood, Greenlake, West Seattle, Burien and Des Moines. Spending all of our money and time on one fixed grade separated rail line is not what seattle needs right now.

    1. Why don’t we just build rail to all those places? Seattle has some of the lowest unemployment in the country, and some of the fastest growth. This is the best time to build major infrastructure.

      1. Sure they do. If they have people, they need something faster than driving, or else they continue to emit enough CO2 to destroy our futures.

      2. Huh?: The time to build infrastructure is when unemployment is _temporarily_ high. Once unemployment goes low again, labor becomes expensive again.

    2. So you’d spend billions to have the same half-hour trip to Ballard as ever, just saving 3 or 4 minutes on the trip through downtown? Now that’s wasting money.

      1. No, I’d send Billions for a transit tunnel to serve downtown and dozens of neighborhoods, not just a couple with rail.

      2. While I’m not specifically endorsing this option, it seems like a proposal to accelerate a 2nd avenue transit tunnel from Chinatown to Seattle Center could be feasible. During the interim, you could run buses from West Seattle, South Seattle/South King County, Ballard, Queen Anne, and Magnolia through the tunnel while providing true rapid transit service to Belltown and Uptown. Later, you could build out rail to Ballard, West Seattle, and other destinations through this tunnel, and eventually kick out the buses (like what’s happening with the current DSTT). I’m not sure if this is the best option, but it doesn’t seem like a waste of money.

      3. How would your tunnel “serve” any neighborhoods? It wouldn’t speed up the slow parts of any trips. Again, you might save a few minutes through downtown, but the bulk of the lines are the same slow slog as ever.

        The Ballard line would meaningfully speed up the single two highest-demand trips out of downtown to the northwest. It would leave open the option of also speeding up the single two highest-demand trips out of downtown to the north (Fremont and Aurora) and either of the two to the southwest (Delridge and Alaska Junction), should the money arrive to build additional lines.

        The way the DSTT worked out was not ideal. It’s badly overbuilt for rail, and doesn’t really save much time for any buses except those accessing the I-5 express lanes on the north end and the I-90 express lanes on the south end. A 2nd Avenue tunnel wouldn’t even have that direct freeway access, and would be permanently compromised for rail if initially built for buses.

      4. I’m not saying I completely agree with Fil’s thinking, David, but RapidRide D does, in fact, spend >50% of its running time from Market to downtown just on Belltown and the LQA detour. In estimating the time savings of a tunnel that eliminated surface running on those parts of the route, Fil is right and you are wrong.

        That’s why the multiple proposals that would build a surface train into downtown are insane.

      5. d.p.
        I’m amazed at how much slower buses are getting through Belltown or LQA as compared to the “core” part of downtown between Jackson and Stewart. This is particularly noticeable for routes using 3rd.

        Stewart is also really bad and buses using it between Stewart/Denny and 3rd are insanely slow at all times outside of evenings/nights.

        I’d love to see SDOT and Metro focus on fixing the various chokepoints for buses in Seattle with a combination of transit lanes, bus bulbs, re-channelizing intersections, signal priority, etc.

    3. If we’re going to dream about a second Downtown Tunnel, why not take the opportunity to criss-cross the current tunnel in two places, like at Stadium or Sodo and at Westlake stations and have an east downtown tunnel. The east downtown tunnel could run under 6th or 8th Avenue (serving First Hill highrises and medical centers and a redeveloped Yesler Terrace), before turning westward to eventually cross the current Link line. I realize that the First Hill streetcar project is supposed to provide some “backdoor” access to this area, but I’m hard pressed to see much travel time benefit from that project since it jogs out of direction at Yesler and the vehicles are going to operate in mixed-flow traffic. A First Avenue streetcar proposal is already floating to the top anyway so the lower hill portion of west Downtown would then have many rail transit options with a Second Avenue tunnel, while those east Downtown riders above Fifth Avenue won’t be close to any of them.

  25. I just shake my head at this “one line” mentality. If we’re going to pay for a subway or an elevated line and a new Ship Channel crossing, it should be carrying two lines that branch in different directions. As it is now, these alternatives simply make a rather unfair choice between a Fremont/East Queen Anne versus Magnolia/East Queen Anne — and that’s not fair. It doesn’t have to be this way! Who are the clowns that won’t let a two line alternative come forth!

    I also am rather disheartened by the dismissive comments about not tying into the DSTT. There are plenty of subways around the world that carry three light rail lines. I feel lied to.

    1. I don’t have a one line mentality. I just would prefer to keep the piece under 2000 words.

      But it’s not fair to the rest of the city to build two lines to NW Seattle before we deal with West Seattle.

      1. Oh I would agree Ben. West Seattle options should also be considered.

        Given that this is a “pre-vote” proposal, I actually think that the best thing that Sound Transit could do is to grapple with the ballpark costs and visualize the entire expanded system once all of the corridor studies are in. Having said that though, I think that there are two completely different angles that should be evaluated, though. 1. The angle of improving the farebox recovery for both Sound Transit and Metro in all of the corridors. An alternative could be worth it if rail could serve twice as many people at half of the operating cost and selling productivity to the public is attractive to all voters rather than those just in the corridor. 2. The angle of establishing benefit strategies for entire districts rather than just around the stations again increases the attractiveness of voters to feel like they would gain from a system if they don’t live within a short walking distance to a station.

      2. Or NE Seattle.

        Northgate is hardly NE–it’s centrally located and it’s much more time consuming to get from, say, Lake City to there than from Fremont to Ballard.

    1. If all that matters is a quick connection from Ballard to downtown, then it sure makes a lot of sense to go around the hill. Lots cheaper that way. But that would ignore the fact that upper Queen Anne is a pretty decent population center in its own right, is currently very painful to access on public transit from the north, and has a lot of room to grow in the event that it does get a subway station. All those factors make a tunnel serving Queen Anne on the way to Ballard something that’s worth serious consideration.

      1. Queen Anne is an urban village, specifically. It’s where a lot of growth is going.

    2. Eric and Ben, I would agree that Ballard is a place where a lot of growth is going, and has a lot of room to grow. I don’t believe that’s the case with Queen Anne, especially if you’re talking about the top and sides of the hill.

  26. Maybe someone could explain why this is, but I’m having a hard time believing that the two grade-separated options (Corridors 2 and 3) will only be 1-2 minutes faster than the at-grade option on 15th (corridor 4), which is well within the margin of error for these alternatives. This is surprising given:

    1. The at-grade option would be limited to the speed limit of the road, while the grade-separated options could reach top speeds of 55-65 mph.
    2. The at-grade option would probably be stuck behind stoplights downtown where there are numerous street crossings. Yes you could implement signal priority, but if this line is going to operate at high frequencies, you would probably still have to stop somewhere given the frequent grade crossings in downtown.

    If these estimates are true, however, then spending $1-2 billion extra just to save 1-2 minutes and to improve reliability might not be worth it, even though I am strongly in support of grade-separated transit. I still feel that these time estimates are BS and that it’s better to grade-separate, but I could be proven wrong…

    1. The real hit of at-grade running isn’t necessarily in travel time, but reliability.

      If there’s an incident above-ground (like, say, an 11-mile backup on I-5 that turns Mercer, Broad, and Stewart into a box-blocking parking lot), then you’ve disrupted the entire line.

    2. Top speed makes little difference over short distances, especially when stopping every mile or so. Even non-stop, at 35 mph a 5 mile trip is only 3 minutes longer than at 55mph.

      1. That 3 minutes makes a big difference when you’re extending the ballard line to Northgate, Lake City, and then Bothell.

      2. 3 minutes is 3 minutes no matter where you’re coming from. I was just pointing out a fact that top speed has little bearing on overall trip time on a system with close stops. Acceleration, deceleration and dwell time are the main factors. Basic calculus.

    3. I think the times are BS. As mentioned once you are at grade, you lose reliability. Once you lose reliability, you add cushion into the system, so that it appears reliable. In other words, while the estimate says it could take around ten minutes, it will take around fifteen minutes. Sometimes it waits a long time at a light, and sometimes it waits a long time at a stop (when it didn’t have to wait for the light).

    4. I think the biggest reason to argue for 100% grade separation is to allow automated operation. While this is more expensive in terms of up-front capital costs it pays huge dividends in operating cost savings. Furthermore it makes the marginal cost of increasing frequency very low. While there are still costs in terms of wear-and-tear on equipment and energy you don’t take nearly the hit in doubling frequency you would if every train requires a driver.

  27. Do we have to have Sound Transit invlolved in this? If this line is only meant to serve Seattle, couldn’t seattle vote and pay for it by itself? I’m wary of sending anything like this to olympia or to even the rest of the county. Seattle needs to do this for itself.

    1. Without going to Olympia, Seattle has no tax authority to do anything for itself anyway. And Sound Transit also has experience building real rail transit system. Seattle only has experience in building slow streetcars.

      1. Seattle does have a lot of taxing authority that I have made a point not to talk about until the time is more ripe. My partial corridor 8 could totally be city funded, and Seattle would LOVE to build faster streetcars.

        But the big grade separated stuff will be built by ST.

  28. Let me offer a more realistic proposal. From north to south, consider this:

    A line from West Seattle accesses downtown Seattle via Alaskan Way at grade but in its own ROW. At Spring, the tracks turn into a 2nd Ave tunnel north, turning west at Republican. The line emerges elevated over BNSF tracks to run at grade on the west side of the railroad tracks. A tunnel or high bridge crosses the Ship Canal and enters a Ballard tunnel that turns east under Market.

    If funds allow an extention east of Ballard, the line runs a mix of elevated and at-grade to UW, with potential for an extension to U Village, Children’s Hospital and Sand Point. A potential spur line could curve north to SR 99. This line would connect to a W. Seattle line via Alaskan Way and 1st Ave.

    Stops, from north to south are:

    King St. (5 min walk to Amtrak)
    Ferry Terminal
    University St. (direct transfer to Central and East Link)
    Bell St. (at 2nd)
    Republican (at Queen Anne Ave.)
    Dravus St. (with new transfer to/from Sounder)
    20th (between Leary and Market)

    I like Corridor 8 as-is to compliment this alignment and serve additional corridors. I do not like tunnels under Queen Anne or grade separated transit to Crown Hill at this point in time. It is too expensive and city zoning does not support the kind of dense development that this type of investment demands and is permitted in Belltown, SQA, and Ballard.

    1. Hi Jon! Nice to meet you tonight. I really don’t think that options that far outside the scope of the study options are feasible, though.

      1. Ben, I’m a Seattle native, civil engineer, and read you guys all the time. But I’m living in Memphis. Maybe someday I can actually make a meetup.

        By “realistic” I mean politically acceptable, engineeringly feasible, and providing value in terms of connections/speed/reliability for transit users. I hope the meeting went well!

      2. But I’m living in Memphis. I don’t believe you. You’ll need to send us 2 slabs of some Rendezvous ribs to prove it.

    2. I seriously doubt Wallingford would tolerate at-grade with exclusive lanes or elevated transit. Any E/W line is very likely to be in a tunnel in Wallingford and the University District unless it is a streetcar operating in mixed traffic. The latter solution is likely to be just as slow and delay prone as today’s 44.

      1. I agree, it’d have to be a tunnel through there. Same in the U Dist., but crossing I-5 is tricky due to the elevation and may require a surface or elevated alignment.

      2. I’m sure a tunnel could go under I-5 without putting either the U-District or Wallingford stations too deep for cut & cover construction.

  29. I’m confused about Option #6 – Ben says it’s Rapid Streetcar, but it looks like Light Rail on the diagram. However, it has streetcar spacing. But Streetcars don’t usually get tunnels. Which is it?

    Another thing – if this line cannot connect to the DSTT then trips from, say, Queen Anne to Pioneer Square will not be worth the hassle, because you’d have to ride the train, get off after two stops, switch to another station and then ride again for 3 or 4 stops. Doesn’t make sense. Can’t they somehow connect the terminus to Westlake? I realize a transfer will be necessary but it’d be much better if it was at least in the same station.

    1. It’s rapid streetcar because it has to interline with SLU.

      You’ll just stay on the train to go to Pioneer Square. This study’s area ended at Pike/Pine. The West Seattle study will continue south from there. It will definitely interline.

  30. It’s really exciting to see these possibilities on paper!

    I like Ben’s “Option 9” , except I feel that putting a Fremont station at 1st NW would be further from the center of Fremont’s retail core(about a nine minute walk) than is ideal.

    1. It would be further than *ideal*, but it would be better than any of the other options that would serve both Ballard and Fremont.

      It’s still within the 80% walkability case, and because most of Fremont’s growth will be in Fremont West, it will pick up more people than any other option as Fremont grows!

  31. Another thought – if a Ballard-West Seattle line (like the one drawn on the Seattle Subway map) can’t use the DSTT how will it get through Downtown? On surface streets? The Seattle Subway map has this line using the same stations as Central Link through Downtown but I don’t see how that would be possible. So another issue is transferring between lines Downtown. It’s starting to feel more and more like Ballard/West Seattle line will essentially be a different system than the other “Link”s, which means transferring will be a hassle and it will not be fluid at all.

    1. Transferring at mezzanine level between two stations is just like every other subway system in the world. I don’t understand how that’s a hassle. The new tunnel would be 2nd Ave. That’s been the assumption in basically every piece of reporting I’ve done about Seattle Subway!

      1. I think James missed that the plan is for a subway under 2nd.

        James: this piece of the puzzle was out of scope for this study, but the most rational path is to continue as a subway under 2nd, with underground connections to 3rd ave stations.

  32. I found the meeting to be very informative. One tidbit I found interesting is that staff indicated that there’s concern that some of the at-grade routings were not punished enough due to traffic/signal delays, and the times are a rough guide. And note they indicate “no openings” which tends to discount the main advantage to the tunnel/high bridge.

    Also informative was the fact that it took me a full hour to get back Downtown after the meeting on RR D. No matter what they build, it’s got to be better than that.

    1. And I could have used the 65th NE to 65th NW bus route we’ve occasionally discussed to get to the meeting.

      1. One problem is I don’t think N/NW 65 is terribly suited for transit between Linden Avenue and 3rd Ave NW. While it is an “arterial” it is very narrow (particularly where it crosses Phinney) and very steep.

  33. I really like the idea of an upper Queen Anne stop, because right now, transit connections from Queen Anne to the north are almost non-existent. I know people like to talk about the 358 like it serves Queen Anne and it’s great for lower QA. But have you tried to walk up the hill from the stop at Aurora and Galer, even as far as Taylor where the 3/4 stops? Holy cow, that’s a lot of stairs. And from Crocket, there’s just that creepy dirt trail. That hill is basically a cliff. Let’s not pretend anybody but the most fit of transit riders could be using the 358 to access upper QA. The only route that serves the top of the hill and goes north of Queen Anne is the 29, which is peak-only peak-direction. So, in the afternoon you can go from upper QA to Ballard. Otherwise, to get north of QA, you have to go south to lower QA/Belltown. Even to get to Fremont, the best you can do is take the 13, then walk across the bridge…or transfer downtown.

    In addition, car routes off of the north end of Queen Anne stink too. There is frequently a long wait to get on Aurora both northbound and southbound in the evenings. We all know what traffic is like around Fremont, and let’s not even get started on the Ballard Bridge.

    If Metro was willing to improve service north from Queen Anne, I would say that having a tunnel through the hill isn’t worth the money. It sounds crazy expensive to me…but I do love the idea of connecting Queen Anne with its neighbors to the north.

    1. This is the best opportunity upper Queen Anne will ever have to get fast transit both south and north. Going south on the 1,2,3,4,13 it can take an extraordinary 30 or 45 minutes just to go two miles to downtown. Going north there are no buses at all so you have to walk. That’s why I’ve been strongly suggesting to ST to include a subway station under Queen Anne & Boston Street. It remains to be seen how much the neighborhood will recognize its value and push for it. The station would be the most expensive one in Seattle, and the alignment under Queen Anne would also be expensive, so it’s only going to happen if the neighborhood ralles around it and pushes for it. Otherwise ST will just skirt the side of the hill and save millions of dollars in one stroke.

      Upper Queen Anne has a lot of potential as a station area, being a former streetcar suburb like Beacon Hill. But its residents are more lukewarm to transit improvements and growth than most urban villages. Last year’s 13 and 4 consolidations would have led to significant improvements in service but they preferred their spaghetti of half-hourly routes. So it’s unclear whether they’d rise to the opportunity of a Link station. If they don’t, it’ll be their loss and future Queen Anne residents’ loss, Plus those who would shop/visit Queen Anne if it were easier to get to on transit.

    2. I used to travel to the top of Queen Anne hill by bus, and discovered that the business district at the top of the hill is actually only a 15 minute walk from all the buses that go by the center of Fremont. Granted, it is a very steep 15-minute walk, but if you’re in decent shape, it’s still only 15 minutes.

      Still, though, not nearly as quick as a subway going right there would be.

    3. Yes, it’s only a 15-minute walk, or as my friend said, “20 minutes from the top of Queen Anne to Fremont”, but that’s way beyond what ordinary Americans would tolerate doing before reaching for their cars.

  34. I have an actual alternative if you realize that this is a 150 year investment that we should get right the first time. The “west” corridor has 4 options to get across the ship canal, the “central” corridor hits BOTH SLU and Fremont. Also note, these are only N-S corridors, not E-W, which we need too.


  35. Barring an entirely underground line, Option 2 is the only acceptable option that won’t interfere with either vehicular or ship traffic.

  36. Pingback: Option 9

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