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! :)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.