Upper Queen Anne has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to substantially increase transit speeds, but it will have to push hard if it wants to make the opportunity a reality. One of the alternatives Sound Transit is considering for Ballard-Downtown light rail has a tunnel under the middle of Queen Anne Hill with a station near Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street. If this option, or some variation of it, is selected, it would result in a 7-10 minute travel time from Queen Anne to either downtown or Ballard. That’s at least twice as fast as the current downtown buses, and would enable a direct connection from Queen Anne Hill to Ballard.

Queen Anne was where my love for urban neighborhoods began, as a junior high kid in 1980. I had grown up in Bellevue in the land of hourly buses, the nearest supermarket a mile away, and nothing but houses and a few apartments in between. One day I encountered a friend whose family had moved away to Seattle. I followed him on Bus 2 to its terminus, and found another world. I was floored by the half-hourly buses, whisper-quiet trolleybuses reminiscent of streetcars, his apartment next to the bus stop, a grocery store a few blocks away, the ability to walk to his friends’ houses all over the hill, Seattle Center just fifteen minutes away (where the kids went on Friday and Saturday evenings), and the shops and restaurants of Queen Anne Avenue just six blocks away. I had never heard of “urbanism” or “walkability” or “transit-oriented development,” but I saw the concepts in action, and decided this was the kind of environmentI wanted to live in.

I never did live on Queen Anne, but in later years at various times I worked there, ate at the restaurants, shopped at the tea shop, visited a church, volunteered at the food bank, and attended house-based bible studies there — all on the bus. Nowadays I, and many other transit riders, tend to avoid living or shopping in upper Queen Anne due to the inconvenient transit options. Instead, we’ll choose to shop in Fremont or Northgate. That’s money we’re not spending in Queen Anne businesses, and cultural contacts that aren’t happening. A Queen Anne subway station that made it quick and easy to get to the top of the hill would change this situation dramatically.

Of course, a station on Queen Anne Hill would be one of most expensive stations on the Link network, requiring a tunnel even deeper than Beacon Hill’s. That’s where the voices of Queen Anne residents and stakeholders are critical. Do you want this station? How much do you want it? Do you want it enough to rally around it and tell Sound Transit and city officials that it’s important, and to tell them repeatedly until they listen? Because upper Queen Anne, unlike Ballard and Seattle Center, is not a must-have station.

If Sound Transit doesn’t hear loudly that a Queen Anne Hill station has widespread public support, it would be easy for the agency to save millions of dollars by simply omitting it and routing the line around the side of the hill. Not many stations present such a stark choice between cost and benefit. It would be very easy for the anti-growth voices to crowd out those who might favor a station but don’t speak up.

Queen Anne is a former streetcar suburb, with a walkable center and a lot of potential as an urban village. A rapid transit station would complete the picture by providing fast, frequent all-day access. This decision will affect not only the current generation, but future generations who will live, work and shop on Queen Anne. Future generations may wish we had built the station so that they could use it, much the same way many now wish we had built the 1972 subway. Will Queen Anne rally around the opportunity, or let it pass by?

94 Replies to “Queen Anne’s Unique Opportunity”

  1. I too lived on the flank of QA for a period, overlooking the space needle and walking distance to a Sonic game or pizza – now those were the days! My favorite pick was the 3/4 and knew most of my regulars by first name.
    I don’t think a tunnel or deep station is in the tea leaves, but remind myself I didn’t think Beacon Hill rose to the occasion of needing a deep station either, so thanks for the memories, and keep trying Mike.

    1. If you don’t mind my asking, when you say “I don’t think a tunnel or deep station is in the tea leaves,” do you mean that 1) you support it, but don’t think it will happen, or 2) you don’t support it and don’t think it will happen?

      I’m curious because I hear that kind of response to transportation projects fairly frequently, and never know what is actually intended. It seems to me that people people would interpret your statement as not being supportive, and therefore you (inadvertently or not) actually spread negative feedback. Or, do you disagree?

      1. In my experience the world of transportation is not a black or white as some people make it out to be and this is a good example. The cost/benifit of an UQA station on its own would probably be low and I don’t see any other compelling reason to do it. Beacon Hill station and to a lesser degree Roosevelt Station made sense because they really were the only ways to get from point A to point B. So I would way “reading the tea leafs” usually means an idea likely has some level of merit but likely doesn’t pass most people’s test with relation to feasibility, cost/benifit, popular support, institutional/political support, etc.

      2. Upper Queen Anne is directly between downtown and Fremont, and in line with Phinney and Greenwood. There’s a logical corridor there, so a tunnel beneath the hill is more than just a benefit to the neighborhood.

        Maybe that corridor isn’t worth having a line, at least not now (I think it is, but the cost is high enough that it will require a push). That’s where residents of the neighborhood can make a difference by adding the weight of their support to that corridor (or withholding it). The alternative is Interbay, which isn’t a very high-priority destination on its own. The only reason to go that way is lower cost. I think we need to stop building the light rail system on the cheap.

      3. If we decide to skip Upper QA I’d rather still go with the same routing to hit Uptown and Fremont/SPU. Those areas have much more potential than Interbay. Upper Queen Anne mostly makes sense because it’s on the way, there’s real potential with the current zoning, and because in my dreams we’ll have highrise towers on the top of the hill in a century (blocking nobody’s view, since it’s at the top of a hill).

      4. Not true, they would block my view of the top of the Space Needle from Upper Fremont. And we all know how important it is to protect views of the Space Needle at all costs…

      5. Yes, more Space Needles!!! And we could connect them to each other with gondolas!

    2. Cheaper Option- millions of mirrors refecting the space needle. Any developer who blocks a view must incorporate mirrors for mitigation.

    3. To be consistent, I err on the side of cost/benefit and biggest bang for the buck. I would have put the Forest MF at one of the Metro bases and ran Link out Dearborn to Rainier for the transfer intercept of Eastsiders wanting to go south. Bus bases are movable. Beacon Hill ridership does not merit a tunnel and deep station unless money is not a consideration. Sorry.
      I suspect QA would come a lot closer to meriting a station on it’s own accord, but see municipal projects in general hitting the ‘Crumbling Infrastructure Wall’ in the near future. Power, water, roads, sewers, bridges, and even transit are all competing for finite bags of cash.
      But like I said, I was wrong on BHS, so let er rip for UQA. That’s a better deal.

  2. Mike, great post. Upper Queen Anne does indeed have tremendous potential. But I think current zoning, which is all SFH except for a very small area right around Queen Anne Avenue, just doesn’t allow for the population to justify a deep station. I expect that if Upper Queen Anne neighbors indicated a willingness to consider even mild upzones — townhomes in the SFH areas, and small multifamily or rowhouses in the few current townhome areas — that would go a long way toward making the ridership projections for an Upper Queen Anne station justify its cost.

    1. I would personally put the station closer to Galer than Boston. Boston is near the northern tip of Queen Anne’s commercial district, surrounded mostly by SFH zoning. Galer, on the other hand, has a decent mix of low-rise, mid-rise, and commercial zoning. Parts of the low-rise area around Taylor would be within reasonable walking distance of the station, and Kerry Park would also be nearby.

      1. A stop at Boston would give better access (via 3 or 4) to all those apartment buildings along Taylor in east QA.

      2. A stop near Galer would give better access (via feet) to the densest part of upper Queen Anne. It would also make a shorter walk to the station for most people living along Taylor, though the walk would still be around half a mile. Those who don’t wish to make the walk would be able to ride the 3/4 northbound from the Seattle Center station and get home just as fast as taking the 3/4 southbound from a Boston Street station.

      3. We’ll get neither if you don’t submit a comment in favor. :) Note that the station might be long anyway, and ST will have many years to figure out exactly where would be best!

        I think that zoning will probably change again before it’s built, and again, and again, and again, through the lifetime of the infrastructure.

  3. UQA might be zoned for single family housing, but it is a rather large area at the top of a big hill that has a lot of problems when the wx is bad, accessibility wise. A station here would also help spur more up zoning in the future.

    1. No! The upzone needs to be a condition of constructing the station. Otherwise, as Beacon Hill and Roosevelt taught us, construction of the station will start, and the neighborhood will balk at changing the zoning.

  4. Does the benefit/cost calculation really provide a positive return for the investment in a QA tunnel? Timewise it seems to be of no impact on most Downtown to Ballard trips, but the QA station would be an immense engineering challenge, it would delay the line opening by a significant time and be enormously expensive. Could that money be spent more productively on other projects?

    I’ve lived on QA and I know that transit service can suck, but would the underground tunnel really provide an improved trip to downtown? Most riders will have to walk or use a surface bus to get to the QA tunnel station, then have to take an elevator to the platform, wait for the train and then make another transfer at Westlake to reach their ultimate destination versus the current option of taking one rather slow and infrequent trolley bus from hilltop to downtown.

    If the QA neighborhood embraces greater density in the vicinity of the station and accepts refocused local surface transit service, then the QA tunnel plan might be able to move ahead, but there are a lot of hurdles to leap before a QA tunnel will make sense.

    1. Just the fact that a neighborhood that essentially borders downtown needs an express bus to downtown in the peak should tell you all you need to know. It takes nearly a half hour to get from the 2’s terminus on the hill to 3rd and Pike. A subway could do it in what, 5 min?

    2. This right here, you win the comment competition. I think the best that they can do for the time being is plan the station, route the tunnel where it needs to go and somehow make it so they can retrofit a station at a later date, if that is all even physically possible.

      But if Queen Anne really doesn’t want light rail or density, we shouldn’t spend an extra couple hundred million dollars to shove it down their throat. Would it be more worth it to route the tunnel under Dexter or Interbay, where density is at least happening, even if the theoretical potential isn’t as high as Queen Anne?

      1. (Almost) every single person who’s on QA today and doesn’t support density will be dead in 50 years, and this infrastructure will last 150 or 200 or more, depending on how it’s maintained. Don’t think short term like that!

      2. Ah…the gentrification mindset. The mindset is wrong and sickening. You feel it is OK to mow down historical homes and buildings that emanate the legacy, the past industries (Melrose Building/Bauhaus), the elegance of the rich back at the turn of the century (Weatherford Mansion), or the cultural values of the early residents in the area. …all to build more density. Queen Anne has some amazing greenspace along some of its neighborhood streets and boulevards. With the development of these horrific apartment buildings, the green spaces and setbacks from the adjoining roadways are disappearing! Forcing density on QA will ruin its charm. The charm that many of you are eluding to is conducive to density of 30 years ago. Are you sure that this charm should be violated in large part with lifeless gray cubes rather than apartments that match the charm and design of the entire neighborhood with a setback to give pedestrians a nice neighborhood feel?

        Ben, when you discuss infrastructure. Do you realize the broadness of the term? There’s more to it than just roads. Are you you certain that infrastructure will last 150-200 years? I’m talking UTILITIES. Have you ever looked above your head and looked at the quagmire of power lines, fiber optic, and cable lines. Look at the condition of the poles supporting these said utilities. They’re wood…many of them in BAD shape. You sure about that statement?

        Installing underground them all may be a costly effort since gas lines, water and sewer are buried. Even if you don’t touch buried utilities, you have to contend with dated sewer and water lines. Will they handle the increased demand? Have they been clogged with fog (grease/food deposits). Now back to roads… The roads on QA are in awful condition. When I took the (not so) RR earlier in April, besides being annoyed by the travel time, I was jostled about like a martini in a shaker. Bicycles have to contend with alligator cracking of asphalt pavement (subsurface failure to you non-engineering types) and precast concrete panels that are buckling. We’ll never agree on parking so I won’t touch the issue.

      3. @Charlotte: I don’t think anyone’s suggesting mowing down QA and replacing it with crap. If we have any future as a civilization we’re going to have to build great, functional buildings again. I think we do have a future as a civilization.

        Also, gentrification… do you know what gentrification means? It is essentially impossible on Queen Anne by definition.

      4. @Al,
        Are you certain that all of those people on QA are young or middle aged people that have bought their homes within the last 20-30 years when the housing values have exploded? I’m pretty sure that there are some holdouts up on QA.

        …and like many times before, don’t lecture me. I know what gentrification is primarily a economic class issue, but this is an issue that affects seniors as well. It was explained that in 50 years the people against densification will die, it truly plays upon the same line of gentrification even if the land owner is one versus many on a given parcel. This is how I read the situation, “Once the geezers are gone, we can change this place for the better!”

      5. Charlotte,

        First of all, it’s worth noting that Upper Queen Anne is *already* one of the densest places in the Pacific Northwest. It was first settled back in a time when cars weren’t the default way to get around. Structurally, its small blocks and narrow streets give it a “human-scale” feel that is hard to find in the car-oriented suburbs, and indeed, in much of Seattle. And Upper Queen Anne is the origin/destination for a number of bus routes which, collectively, are very highly used.

        So even if nothing changed, I think a subway is justified, just on the basis of what UQA already has.

        Regarding your gentrification argument, the part that gets me is privileging the views of the people who currently live there over the people who may live there in the future. No one is “forcing” density on anyone. I’ve never heard of a “minimum height” requirement. If a property owner sells a building to another buyer, and the new buyer decides to build a 4-story building with street-level retail and condos above, that’s all completely voluntary. Why should a third party have the right to stop those voluntary transactions from taking place?

        There are plenty of people who want to live in a place that won’t change. The market already has a solution, in the form of homeowner associations with restrictive covenants and private streets. By buying an encumbered property, you’re voting with your wallet; you’re paying (collectively) for the ownership and upkeep of the entire development, as a way of guaranteeing that it will never become denser.

        But I just don’t think it’s fair to take an entire city neighborhood, and pretend that it’s encumbered, just because a small number of existing vocal residents would like it to be that way.

    3. This stop wouldn’t be for single family homes outside of walking distance to the station. This would be for the potential future dense housing at the urban village and immediately surrounding it. Sure, it could serve some SFH’s via bus, but that won’t be the main ridership.

      But look at it from the other direction as well. QA is really tough to get to, yet offers great restaurants and bars, three grocery stores, a pool, several play fields, several play grounds, Le Rêve*, a library, and a community center all an easy walk from the station. One reason it’s a great idea to tie in these neighborhoods together is that now other neighborhoods would have easy access to these amenities.

      * A good French bakery counts as an amenity in my book.

      1. I think you have much more optimism that me with regards of “potential future dense housing” is possible. As of now Queen Anne Ave is zone NC2-40 for one parcel on either side of the street ( Color me skeptical that SF zones would be rezone to anything over LR1 or 2 and the NC zones go any more than up to 65ft.

        The MR zones are all south of Galer so in my opinion the counterbalance is the most important market and a well placed LQA station might serve that better.

      2. Do you think a gondola would be cheaper, faster, and more of a draw for Queen Anne ridership?

      3. @Brent Cheaper: yes. Faster: no. More of a draw: added time would lose some ridership, added views would add some. I’m a strong supporter of gondolas as a connector to high speed rail stations, but they don’t beat high speed rail stations. If QA doesn’t get a station I’ll certainly push for this.

        @Adam That MR is up a big hill from Uptown. Seriously, look at this zoning map. The MR zone ends at Highland – that’s where Kerry Park is, with the great overhead views of Seattle. That whole MR zone is on what’s considered the top of QA hill, and an easy walk from an upper QA station (as long as it’s near Galer).

      4. I would love to see what could be done with the trolleybus network to accommodate for this also. With a subway stop on top of the hill a lot of resources could be redistributed to make a pretty slick feeder network with the existing overhead lines.

      5. I gotta say, a Lower Queen Anne station with a frequent connector bus up and down the hill sounds a lot more feasible than a deep tunnel. Transit tunnels are nice – exclusive right of way! Dedicated infrastructure! – but, as we’re seeing with just about every other tunnel out there, tunnels are very expensive.

      6. More of a draw: added time would lose some ridership, added views would add some.

        I’m with Jarrett Walker on this. Nice views might attract tourists, but at the end of the day, transit ridership is ultimately driven by fundamentals.

        If the only reason to build a gondola was the view (and I don’t think it is, just hypothetically), then I wouldn’t support building it.

      7. And if the Monorail were a bus it would still be Seattle’s only profitable transit system, right?

        Don’t ignore tourists. They provide all-day ridership, come with money, and provide much more than fares to our economy.

      8. I want to remind again that current zoning is nothing when considering the lifetime of the infrastructure.

    4. First, this subway doesn’t go to 3rd and Pike, so getting to 3rd & Pike would take more than 7-10 minutes, plus add on the time to get to the deep tunnel platform on QA. Even with the pokey bus routes, is there a substantial time savings that justifies the cost–possibly near $1 billion versus other options?

      What could be done to improve the trip time from the hilltop to downtown? The City is going to have to revitalize the Seattle Center grounds in the near future. Speeding transit service through the area should be an essential part of the plan.

      Gondolas to QA? Faster/cheaper?–maybe. Would re-configuring 1st Avenue North into a 2 way street with dedicated transit lanes eliminate some bottlenecks that could get the buses through the area faster and provide a better benefit/cost ratio? Could 5th Avenue North be improved to effectively speed-up transit service at less cost than a massive underground tunnel?

      And if the tunnel is built will Metro then delete a bunch of hilltop trolley routes and turn the hilltop into another Admiral District with skeletal surface route service to downtown?

      1. “First, this subway doesn’t go to 3rd and Pike.” Neither does the current tunnel.

        From the open house:
        “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, the station would likely be closer to 2nd and Pine. Current Queen Anne buses stop at 3rd and Pine (SB)/Pike (NB). Essentially, it’s all the same.

        And, if Metro restructured transit on top of Queen Anne, it still wouldn’t turn into Admiral, because UQA would have a subway.

      2. I think it’s misleading to talk about travel time without also talking about frequency.

        Currently, the all-day base frequency for most of Upper Queen Anne is 30 minutes. You can walk to a few special stops to get 15-minute frequency, but most people aren’t willing to walk more than 1/4 mile for that level of frequency (especially given the unreliability of buses in the area). Therefore, in addition to the 20-minute trip, you also have a 15-minute wait, or a 7.5-minute wait if you’re willing to walk. That’s an unreliable 30 minutes from downtown to UQA.

        If we manage to build an automated line, you could imagine matching SkyTrain’s frequency — every 4-5 minutes, 20 hours a day. Let’s conservatively assume that the trip time is 10 minutes. Add an extra 2 minutes for waiting. Now it’s 12 minutes from downtown to UQA, and the trip is as reliable as an elevator. That’s a minimum 60% savings to total trip time.

        And that’s only talking about trips to and from downtown, which is the only place that has halfway decent transit service to UQA. Fremont would be 5 minutes away (including the wait for the train); Ballard would be 7. That’s about how long it would take to wait for a bus to take you down the hill, or less time than it would take to walk down the hill to catch the D or the 32.

      3. Regarding street configuration: I’d actually prefer if we reconfigured both Queen Anne Ave N and 1st Ave N to be 2-way, and removed Queen Anne Ave’s classification as an arterial for cars (at least south of Mercer St). That would allow buses to stay straight on Queen Anne Ave between Denny and McGraw.

    5. “Could that money be spent more productively on other projects?” That’s the question. Part of me says we should build the line right the first time, which means connecting all neighborhood centers including Queen Anne. Another part of me looks at the unusually high cost of the station vs the smallness of the commercial district, and wonders if it would be better to put the money into a longer segment elsewhere (north of Market, the second DSTT, or the 45th line).

      “the article says 7-10. That even seems a little slow.” Option #5 is 15-20 minutes Westlake-Ballard. We could make it faster by taking the Ship Canal tunnel and Ballard tunnel from #6, but ST gives no time estimate for that. #3 is the fastest at 11-16 minutes, and I assume adding a Queen Anne station to it would add 1-2 minutes to the travel time. Divide those all by two and you get 7-10 minutes, or possibly 5 minutes if we’re lucky.

      “Most riders will have to walk or use a surface bus to get to the QA tunnel station” The entire central neighborhood is within walking distance, out to at least 8th W, Raye Street, Galer Street, and 4th N. (The hill turns steep east of 4th.)

      “Galer rather than Boston.” That’s a possibility but it’s on the edge of the upper Queen Anne neighborhood. Think about walking from 7th W & Raye, and imagine the 2 has been merged into the 13. A Galer station would mainly serve the south half of the upper Queen Anne neighborhood and part of the south side of the hill. It does have more apartments, but on the other hand the top of the hill needs rapid transit more than the south side, because the south side is closer to downtown, is closer to a Seattle Center station, and has a lot of bus service. Still, having Kerry Park a few blocks from the station would make Seattle’s parks more accessible.

      1. Most of that time is the average for that bridge opening and the surface track, I think.

  5. I’m against anything that could potentially negatively impact A&J Meats. Lose that and we lose one of the great Seattle institutions.

  6. I agree upper queen anne needs a station. As someone suggested above, I think galer street is a more practical location, though. The old trader Joe’s will soon be vacant, and a stop there would serve the upper flank of the south slope, which is fairly dense, as well as the central hill.

    My suggestion to ST was for a tunnel to there, then turn west to the interbay route (maintenance facility on port land ftw) and the high bridge to Ballard. Would offset the cost of the qa tunnel somewhat, and that route could also provide a bicycle superhighway between the downtown waterfront and Burke Gilman. Add a Westlake streetcar to Fremont and call it “option ten”

    1. I like the way you’re thinking. I think the right stop location in upper Queen Anne is around Garfield or Blaine — that could serve both the dense area immediately around Galer and the commercial core a bit further north. The only issue, of course, is that you can’t serve any of Fremont with the true high-speed transit.

      1. I think that exclusive lanes for the SLUT as well as taking the almost-no-grade-crossings “westside of Westlake” route would give Fremont vastly improved transit in the interim, and eventually connect to a, say, 38th & Fremont crosstown station in the next phase.

      2. I don’t think it’s correct to say that Option 9 doesn’t serve Fremont. A station under the canal would be about 1/3 of a mile from SPU, and 1/3 of a mile from 34th and Fremont. It would be a shorter distance to the shops and homes along 36th St, which (not coincidentally) is where a lot of new development is going.

        In fact, this is about the same distance that separates 15th NW from 24th NW.

        I believe that people will be willing to walk 1/3 of a mile to use a transit service that is reliable and fast. An automated train would be much faster, and much more reliable, than any transit service that currently reaches Fremont.

        The other thing is that serving Fremont more directly means that you have to compromise elsewhere:

        – Follow a route more like Option 5, which means no service to SPU, and a circuitous route to Ballard.
        – Follow a route more like Option 6, which means no service to Belltown or Lower Queen Anne or Upper Queen Anne, all of which collectively probably generate more demand than Ballard itself.

        As someone who frequently goes to Fremont, I would happily walk 1/3 of a mile, in exchange for getting automated, grade-separated trips to Belltown/LQA/UQA.

  7. The placement of a station on top of Queen Anne faces a problem similar to that of Beacon Hill Station: It gets riders from the very north end of the densest part of the neighborhood to the very south end of the densest part of the neighborhood.

    The counterbalance is where the action is. The counterbalance definitely needs a station.

  8. A station there would be amazing but, as others have pointed out, existing zoning would render it inefficient at best. I lived on Queen Anne during the Urban Village debates, which has resulted in several new developments on the hill. Having endured the NIMBY brigate doorbelling to fight Urban Villages as well as the [slow, conservative, and careful] expansion of Seattle Pacific University’s campus, I can assure you that a fight to upzone upper Queen Anne would be bloody and contentious. I wish you the best – Good luck.

    If we’re going to do this right, rip out the Safeway and the low brick building on the corner of Boston & Queen Anne. Build a station there as part of combined development on that corner. The bus routes would need to be tweaked in order to connect to the station better. Perhaps a route that loops the top of the hill and goes down the back side to Ballard, Fremont, or the UW and connects to RapidRide lines going elsewhere?

    I hold out zero hope this will ever happen, but that’s your best shot.

    1. I have often thought of combining the 1,2,3,4 into a loop from 1st N & Mercer (subway station), Taylor Ave N, Boston St (subway station), up to 10th & Fulton, and back down 10th to the beginning. Keep the 13 running and you have the entire hill covered with two routes.

      The 13 could be extended to Fremont but you’d have to extend trolley wire or dieselize it. I’m not in favor of dieselizing.

      I have also sometimes thought about a route from Queen Anne & Boston going west to Magnolia. That would open up a grid corridor, although I worry it might be low-ridership. On the other hand, you have to establish a route in order to build up the ridership and allow people to gradually discover it exists and change their trip patterns.

    2. Existing zoning has no real impact on what 2100 will look like. :)

  9. It seems pretty clear that the QA tunnel option is very much tied to the land-use discussion with QA being an Urban Village now and possibility of greater density in the future. Building the tunnel and a station on upper QA is a much more sound “future planning” move than having the rail go through Interbay where future growth is fairly constricted by the enormous train yard and existing industry. I see it as not terribly different to building HCT stations next to Freeway (like in the Bellevue station decision). So from a land-use decision QA tunnel is better for higher density.

    But then you get the NIMBY doorbell ringers going around making people feel bad about HCT on QA because they know that land-use changes will undoubtedly come with a light rail station at some point.

    What if there was a provision to only be allowed X-units built per year for 10 years or something like that in the land-use code if NIMBYs put up a huge fight? What other ideas are there to add something to the negotiating table with SFH owners that might make them feel better about HCT and helping the city grow sustainably? Something that NIMBYs could feel better about but still allow for the long-term vision of an HCT corridor through prime land for density long-term?

    1. In case it wasn’t clear, I am definitely in support of a QA tunnel. As it is now, I will not go to QA because it’s such a challenge to get there. Even biking there is brutal… that hill.. you know you’re going to get to the top a sweaty mess.

      I believe you have to make big transit investments now to better serve the future. These HCT lines will be here a long time, at least 100 years or more. 2 billion versus 1 billion is trivial (!) in terms of constant, sustainable use over 100 years.

      1. You rock, sir. That’s the kind of thinking I’m trying to promote.

      2. Let’s acknowledge a counterpoint for a second here, ’cause I don’t think it always gets acknowledged on this blog and in its comments section.

        “2 billion versus 1 billion is trivial (!) in terms of constant, sustainable use over 100 years.”

        2 billion versus 1 billion over somewhat fewer than a million people in the North King sub-area is a bit more than a thousand bucks per person. Not per household, not raised on the basis on income, but per person and mostly raised on the basis of sales.

        So the counterpoint: It’s a lot easier for some people to call that trivial than others. And which group is likely to be traveling on and off of Queen Anne hill every day?

        I applaud the idea that we need to make great civic investments, but we should recognize that cost does matter. (This counterpoint could go deeper/darker but I’m not really in the mood for that at the moment.)

      3. Al, that’s a thousand bucks, per person, *per hundred years*. Which makes it more like $10/year, or 3 cents per day.

        You’re quick to accuse us of classism. But do you really think that the only people who will be using an Upper Queen Anne station are rich millionaires? What about all the students at SPU? What about the people who work in all the stores on Queen Anne Ave, who almost definitely can’t afford to live on top of the hill? What about the working-class young adults who live in other parts of the city, and want to visit their elderly parents who happen to live in Queen Anne? (Honestly, I think that most of the people that you’re thinking of wouldn’t be caught dead riding a subway, even if it stopped right in front of their front door.)

        For that price of 3 cents per day — and I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty trivial — we can potentially save 30 minutes of time a day, for ~10,000 people, for every day for 100 years.

      4. First, it’s not over a hundred years, we’re talking about capital costs, which are spread out over a couple decades maybe? That’s significant.

        I’m not saying we shouldn’t study it or that we shouldn’t do it. Just that cost can’t be so easily dismissed, particularly when costs are financed as they are here. If we try to go forward with the message that the difference between $1 billion and $2 billion doesn’t matter we might lose a whole lot of people, and we might deserve it.

      5. So we should study it — we should find out what it costs and decide we think whether what we get is worth the costs, perhaps in comparison to other proposals. Cost-benefit type analysis is pretty important because we can’t simply do everything we might want. That doesn’t mean one of these rote short-term ridership analyses that seems to claim the best system is built from P&R to P&R. But it should be rigorous in terms of costs and give us ideas of benefits we can compare to other plans.

        I don’t want to sound like I hate the idea of upper Queen Anne here. I’m actually really excited it’s being studied and considered. I hope it can be done without significantly slowing down the rest of the system, because I think it could have nice impact even though I’d bet on NIMBYism remaining a powerful force up there for the next 100 years.

  10. Ha! I’m reading this post from Cafe Diablo in the heart of UQA. This is the first time in probably five years I’ve been to the neighborhood, and the only reason I’m here at all is I got too engrossed in the book I was reading and missed my stop on the 2. I’d love to see a stop here, but I agree it’s not worth the cost without a serious and clear commitment to making it worthwhile from the neighborhood.

  11. Tube-slide down, escalator or gondola up.

    Then spend the half a billion or whatever saved for places than actually need transit. There are lots of them.

    It’s nice to do in a “la la, I have ton’s of money and am looking for ways to spend it” kinda way. It’s costs too high for the marginal benefit.

  12. Originally the point of surface light rail is that it was a form of Road Diet.

    It allows the train to remake the street into a less car oriented path and add more pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

    Turning light rail back into a subway not only increases the costs an order of magnitude, but it removes the ability of rail to reshape a neighborhood. It’s a double loss!

    1. I take it you must love Portland’s surface light rail system, then. It’s suitable for a small city -not a growing metropolis like Seattle.

    2. Streetcars are great… for local transportation. The best streetcars can act like “horizontal elevators”, accelerating you along a human-oriented street.

      However, people still need to travel for long distances (where I’m using “long” to mean, roughly, “over two miles”). And the fact is, if you want to go from Ballard to Upper Queen Anne, or Fremont to Belltown, or any of the other trips that Option 9 would enable, there’s just no way any at-grade service could keep up.

      Also, it only increases the costs by an order of magnitude if you don’t include operating costs. I believe that SkyTrain has an operating profit, or pretty close to it. In contrast, I think Central Link is at around 33% farebox recovery. Over 100 years, the operating cost of running a non-automated line easily overwhelms the capital cost of building an automated one.

    3. Tunneling light rail eliminates significant risks that will ultimately result in significant litigation costs for transit agencies (KC or ST) and the City. The issue with surface (road diet) is that you run the risk of pedestrians playing chicken with light rail. Disoriented pedestrians after a concert may stumble onto train tracks mid-stop and may be in conflict. Since starting operation, SEVEN PEDESTRIANS HAVE DIED along the surface section of Link. Two incidents were deemed suicide, one was drug related. …but that collision and the elderly collision could have been prevented had the system been buried as requested back in 2004. But back in 2009, Ben berated an individual for his report advocating for limited access for light rail and giving Link its own alignment. For me, bury the damn thing. Keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe. WIth the recent paving on Broadway, I think the rails within the traveled roadway are awful. If it rains they’re slick The rails dance within the traveled lane and I have to ride my motorcycle around them. At least Link was built well at that location….underground. Down in Rainier Valley, the median application of Link is cumbersome as disoriented pedestrians or unknowing pedestrians running mid-stop across the alignment have been hit. …not to mention the numerous cars and trucks that have been hit here causing a gross inconvenience to drivers and commuters alike!

      1. So it’s okay to run over people in Rainier Valley, but not in Wallingford?

        (As if I had to ask…)

      2. So it’s okay to run over people in Rainier Valley, but not in Wallingford?

        No. The at-grade Rainier Valley routing was a mistake. It should have been elevated on MLK, or even better, tunneled under Rainier Ave (which is where everyone actually wants to go). I wasn’t in Seattle at the time that Central Link was planned, but if I had been, I would have advocated for full grade separation.

    4. The cost analysis should have included an estimate for the number of people killed or harmed by the surface alignment, as well as the time people have to wait to cross the street, and the extra time they spend on a speed-stunted train. Instead all those costs are just externalized. But if they were included in the capital costs, a tunnel wouldn’t look so much more expensive in comparison.

  13. Looking at the density map from 2010 ( it sure doesn’t look like the cost of an upper Queen Anne station is worth it. Obviously, things change. But, if anything, I believe that red section in Southwest Queen Anne (or Western Upper Queen Anne, if you will) seems to have grown. This suggests that this spot is one of the most important areas for the entire line (up there with Capitol Hill, the UW and downtown Seattle). From what I can tell, of the standard options, Corridor 3 seems to serve this area the best. As luck would have it, it is the cheapest standard option that is grade separated (to be fair, it it hard to say how much it will cost for a mix and match station).

    I think a line that goes from Ballard to Fremont and then onto the UW would compliment Corridor 3 quite well. Such a line would probably cost as much as the difference between Corridor 3 and a grade separated line from Ballard to Fremont to downtown. In other words, it would be just as cheap to build Corridor 3 AND a spur line from Ballard to the UW (via Fremont) as it is to include a stop on Queen Anne.(and provide direct service from Fremont to downtown).

    These are trade-offs, to be sure. The one last thing I’ll mention is that Magnolia is often misunderstood. Again, if you look at the map, you will notice that east Magnolia is pretty dense. The rest of Magnolia is not. A Dravus street stop would serve a fair number of people. Right now, some of those folks ride the 33, but a fair number of them take one of the Ballard buses and just walk across Dravus to their apartment (at least, that was the case when I lived there). Unfortunately, there aren’t that many apartments on the side of Queen Anne. But a feeder system along Nickerson could add plenty of people to that stop (including folks from SPU).

    Magnolia is also a peninsula. To get there, you have to take a boat or cross 15th avenue. This means that it works really well as a feeder area. The folks have no alternative. They will have to cross the same path that the train (and everyone else) takes. If traffic continues to be terrible (and my guess is it will) this could mean that Magnolia ridership could increase dramatically and make it surprisingly popular.

    1. If east Magnolia (which I assume means Gilman-22nd-Thorndyke) is the densest part, why is the 33 less frequent than the 24? The 33 is hourly weekends and evenings, which I assumed meant it was lower ridership and near the chopping block. Is the 24 more frequent just because it goes to Magnolia Village? (That would be akin to how RapidRide D was put on Fauntleroy Way rather than Delridge.)

      1. Magnolia is rather large from a geographic standpoint. So, I would describe East Magnolia based on topography, which means that it essentially the part of Magnolia facing Queen Anne. You can see this as the brown part of the map I referenced (or you can just see it if you are on the side of Queen Anne and look towards Magnolia).

        Anyway, that doesn’t answer your questions. I think there are several theories:

        1) As I mentioned, lots of folks just take the Ballard buses, especially the express buses (which do stop at Dravus).

        2) Metro is messed up. They don’t always prioritize based on density.

        3) When Metro tried to change the service for Magnolia, the neighborhoods complained, and Metro backed down.

        My guess is that it is a combination, but the third reason has a lot do with it. By and large, those are apartments, not condos. Some of them are quite affordable (or at least they were back when I lived around there). This means that the folks who live there don’t have as much money, and may not be as organized as the folks who live in some of the houses. Keep in mind, some of the houses are extremely valuable. The village is a very quaint spot inside a major city. Meanwhile, the west side has world class views. Those folks are willing to spend the time to write a letter or call their representative so that they (or their kid) can ride the bus.

        To be fair to the folks on the rest of Magnolia, there really is no transit alternative for them. In other words, if the 33 is cut, you can walk a ways to the 24 or the Ballard bus or the 31, depending on where you are. If the 24 is cut, there is a really big hole in the middle of Magnolia. If you cut the 19, then the folks on the west side have a really long ways to go.

        That is no excuse for not redoing the service to Magnolia. What Metro had planned made way more sense, but people objected, so they went with the status quo, but then had to cut that back. There is a lot more about all of this on this blog, but I don’t feel like piecing it all together.

  14. No fixed guideway transit should be constructed in any single-family neighborhood without the neighborhood committing to an upzone in advance. If Queen Anne seriously wants the station, they will support an upzone. If they aren’t willing to upzone, that’s evidence they don’t want the station badly enough.

    I am sick of Seattle wasting scarce transit capital on neighborhoods that are unwilling to make appropriate land use policy changes. How many more unwalkable white elephant stations do we need to construct?

  15. While greater residential density is good for transit ridership, density doesn’t have to go everywhere. The cost of putting a station and long bored tunnel under Queen Anne is much more expensive than it would be to go under one side or the other. Besides, there will be added cars as well as transit riders and Queen Anne has horrible traffic access and is surrounded by lots of pinch points like Mercer Street and the Fremont District.

    Potential better uses for our taxpayer bucks:
    1. Follow an Interbay alignment and put in 20 story condo towers along 15th Avenue.

    2. Drop in infill stations on Central Link at Graham and/or Norfolk.

    3. Extend the Jackson Street streetcar to 23rd and Jackson and turn it south to the programmed 23rd Avenue link station.

    4. Put a Broadway streetcar extension on Rainier down as far as Columbia City to replace the 9X.

    Any of the projects would easily benefit more riders and likely have a lower cost-benefit ration than this deep bore tunnel would. Also keep in mind that SE Seattle is not proposed to get any new investment from ST3 corridors being studied. SE Seattle should be getting something if only an infill station, station improvements, Link grade separations or a streetcar extension just to cultivate more votes for ST3.

    1. Wasn’t the whole “rezone Interbay for big-time residences/retail” proposal nixed just a couple months ago?

      I doubt many people ’round here would argue about Graham, though. South of Rainier Beach Station, the cool infill station proposal is a station at Boeing Access Road, as a way to transfer between Link, buses along East Marginal Way, and South Sounder (banking on continued service expansions).

  16. Full disclaimer: Yes on I live on Upper Queen Anne and no, I won’t still be living here when Link to Ballard opens.

    Just seems absurd to bypass the chance to drastically improve service to a growing designated urban village in order to run track down either Westlake or Interbay in the name of initial cost savings. In the 5 1/2 years I’ve been up here alone, the difference in pedestrian activity and nightlife is stunning—and that’s with an extended hiatus thanks to the Great Recession. You don’t build a great system focusing on just serving your four or five biggest nodes/endpoints.

  17. Your story was a quick and wonderful read. Well done. What is the likelihood of this happening since ST did not pursue the First Hill station, which would have been, if I’m correct, a deeper tunnel than Beacon Hill. We can’t go back, but in my view, First Hill presents a true urban center that required a station regardless of cost, construction issues, engineering, etc. But they settled for a slow disjointed streetcar. A Seattle native myself, living away, I watched ST and ST2 unfold in horror. I guess ST3 will be the same, which makes me cringe. FYI my crinkle points are Rainer Beach alignment, Tukwila dis-station, First Hill knockoff, Capitol Hill-UW runaway train and no Genesee or Boeing Access Rd stations. Okay, back on point.

  18. I want that Queen Anne Light Rail stop!!!
    How do we do it folks?
    How do we rally Sound Transit to give it to us???

    1. Send your comments to You can download the PDF handout from the June 27th meeting, which has ST’s eight initial alignment proposals and a questionnaire. You can send in the questionnaire or just email your comments. Only one of ST’s alignments has a Queen Anne station. An unofficial Option 9 proposal also exists. If you like that, tell ST. Then tell all your Queen Anne friends about the issue and have them write to ST. If you live on Queen Anne you can bring it up in neighborhood organizations and/or form an advocacy group.

      The study’s main page is Ballard transit expansion study.

    2. The deadline for comments is July 5th at 5pm. Also, ST is promoting its interactive tool to provide feedback.

  19. I feel like I’m saying the same thing in all these threads but here I go anyway. What I really hope comes out of this discussion is that somebody takes a look at why on earth there’s such poor transit service from QA to points north. I mean, if I get a job at Google in Fremont and I look around at what neighborhoods are nearby so I can live near where I work, QA should be one of my options. It’s literally right across the canal…and yet, there is no bus service from QA to Fremont. The 13 stops at SPU and you have to walk across the bridge, that’s literally the best you can do. That’s just stupid. If we don’t build the tunnel through QA (and I personally think we should, because I don’t want my kids saying when they’re my age “What the hell were you idiots thinking bypassing a neighborhood that is RIGHT next to downtown?!?!”), then I hope Metro will please please please improve transit service from QA to anywhere that isn’t downtown. Like Fremont and Ballard and SLU and Magnolia, neighborhoods that are literally right next to it. Given how poorly they’ve handled connector service to Link so far, I’m not all that hopeful…which is another reason I support a station on upper QA.

    Also, I realize it’s not Capital Hill dense, but I think people aren’t giving QA credit for the density it has. There are actually quite a lot of apartments and condos, and more of those skinny houses are getting built, and many of those big old homes are rented out in pieces. I personally know a family renting one floor of a very large house near the top of the hill. I have not looked at data, but I’d guess it’s at least a dense as Greenwood or Phinney RIdge, if not denser.

  20. It would be a long term mistake of epic proportions to not invest in subway going through Queen Anne. The initial cost savings might be nice, but in 20-30 years when the line is up and running it would quickly become the biggest “why didn’t we?” since Forward Thrust.

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