In the Option 9 comments section it was argued by some that the Ballard Study was to produce only one option.  I decided to ask Sound Transit directly.  And the project’s Community Outreach Specialist Ryan Bianchi, answered directly:

Our goal is to refine the corridors based on input received from the public and technical analysis to two light rail and two street car options, keeping in mind that we need to balance the appropriate technology with the most feasible routes.

The project team will prepare a final report of study findings in early 2014 for consideration by the City of Seattle leadership and the Sound Transit Board for possible future action. The findings will help inform both Sound Transit and the City of Seattle in future planning decisions. The Sound Transit Board of Directors could consider options to include alternatives from this study in further high capacity transit corridor planning or Sound Transit 3 (ST3) program. The City of Seattle may use information from this study to develop a future funding program, or, if directed by the Mayor and City Council at a future date, it could be the basis to advance an alternative for formal environmental analysis and preliminary design and engineering.

Two options will go to the Sound Transit Board of Directors for ST3 consideration and two options will go before the Seattle City Council for consideration in terms of Transit Master Plan implementation.

45 Replies to “Ballard Study to Produce 4 Options – 2 Subway & 2 Streetcar”

  1. Looking forward to see what the options are. This will be a difficult project. Surface options are very limited as the right of ways are narrow and the area highly developed, but would allow for more stops which are needed in this dense area to attract commuters. Light rail would probably be more feasible as it can go underground, but light rail stations are infrequent, and would not attract as many riders..

    Whatever the final choice, no one will be happy, which is the essence of compromise.

    1. People are crying out for a 10-15 minute transit option from Ballard to downtown and the U-District. The lack of that is what makes Ballard feel isolated from the rest of the city, and is causing people to drive and to demand 1:1 parking in new buildings. It takes a ridiculous hour to get from Ballard to Capitol Hill, or over an hour to Bellevue. Grade-separated rail is the only solution. A streetcar can complement light rail but can’t substitute for it. The point of this article is that two different entities will make decisions about two different lines: it’s not either/or but both/and. If one entity decides not to build something or voters reject it, it will be independent of the other entity and the other line. To me, the light rail is absolutely critical, while the streetcar is a nice extra.

    2. If you’re talking about a streetcar up Queen Anne Ave or maybe even Taylor your comments make sense. If you’re talking about Seattle’s quest to build a streetcar on Westlake, preferably a “rapid streetcar” with light-rail-esque stop spacing, that just loses all the advantages.

      1. Seriously, the “Rapid Streetcar” concept is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard.

        Westlake is never the problem. That’s not the part that needs to be made rapid! The reliability of such a line is slaughtered by the Fremont bridge and Mercer Street. All we’re gonna do is queue up “rapid streetcars” on Westlake.

  2. Queue d.p. and Ben for our weekend speculation entertainment. I’m guessing the next Mayor will be the fat lady singing to the consultants writing the report.

  3. Could we have some working definitions of the terms “light rail” and “streetcar”?

    Mark Dublin

    1. light rail == streetcar :-)

      Yeah, I’m agreeing with you.

      The questions which should be asked are:
      (1) Exclusive right of way? (AFAIK, the answer should be yes: otherwise it’s delayed by traffic)
      (2) How much grade separation?

  4. The best option for a growing city like Seattle is grade separated rapid transit, which would not succumb to traffic congestion. At a grade streetcar would still be subject to traffic and would never be able to achieve the speeds that an elevated or underground metro system would experience.

    Even though the expense of an underground or elevated metro system would reach into the billions of dollars, it’s Seattle’s best option.


    Creation of an elevated and below ground metro rail system, using the same technology as the existing Link System. The system would provide seamless connection to the existing and expanded Link Light Rail System.

    In Downtown Seattle, Ballard Metro Rail (Red Line) would utilize existing Link Light Rail Stations, at University Station a branch tunnel would deviate trains to the new red line. From there trains would travel underground to Ballard until they reached 15th Avenue and Garfield, at which point trains would travel above ground to Ballard with several “el-like stations”

    Future Red Line Stations could be constructed to take the red line beyond ballard to Northgate and provide another transfer point to Link Blue Line Service. Once constructed red line trains would run seven days a week from 4AM to 1:30AM, with peak hour service of every four minutes.

    1. Sorry, but I think the engineers already determined that the bus tunnel has no more room after Northgate and Eastlink are done.

      We will need a new tunnel downtown with transfer links to the bus tunnel.

      1. I personally think that assessment is wrong, or at least should be dealt with directly by improving the system (rather than just throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything about it). In any event, one really nice thing about a line south from Ballard is that it will include southern Queen Anne (or lower Queen Anne, if you will). This is an area that dwarfs Ballard for density. It is doesn’t receive as much attention because it is relatively close to downtown (going six miles an hour isn’t so bad if you are only going two miles, as opposed to six). Plus, there are huge office buildings as well as apartment buildings in the area, which would make it a big stop all day long.

      2. LQA’s population is actually quite slim, with surprisingly poor utilization of its finite street grid and an overwhelmingly mediocre pedestrian experience. It is commercially unspecial, and with its destination record store falling victim to bank-mogenization, it’s getting even less special. Seattle Center’s cultural attractions go unused 95% of the year, which is true of many cultural spaces but is galling when one considers the amount of surrounding space that lays fallow with them, thanks to Seattle’s ongoing obsession with living in 1962.

        In short, I’m all for better connecting LQA, because I’m for stitching this city together better in general. But it’s not all that.

      3. I’m not sure if we are talking about the same area, d. p. If you look at this density map, you can see a solid section of high density housing in the southern Queen Anne area:
        I’ve walked around there lately, and marveled at the tall buildings (both residential and office). Right next to these tall buildings are parking lots and small where houses. This reminds me of South Lake Union ten years ago. I just think it is a matter of time before the area really fills in.

      4. I do agree with d. p. about the Seattle Center. It is not a “Seattle Commons” park. Regardless of which way the rail goes, I don’t think a stop there is justified. On the other hand, it seems like a perfect spot for a tram. It would likely be a very short distance from a rail station to the center. Such a tram would be extremely popular, in my estimation, since a very high percentage of the folks visiting the center are looking for exactly that type of experience. It could also work fine for folks visiting the center for a concert or festival (although I would imagine a lot of those people would simply walk a few blocks from the rail station to the center). The only drawback to such an approach is that it perpetuates the idea that gondolas or trams are only for tourists. The good part about it is that it gets our feet wet, and deals with any issues that would be involved in extending it.

      5. I think we should avoid all attractions that have 1 million visitors a year if we’re going to use that criteria for not having a stop at the Seattle Center. What kind of crack are you guys smoking?

      6. LQA and Seattle Center have so much potential wasted… any hope for the continuity of the urban street network is destroyed by the lousy street activation on every single block along the perimeter of Seattle Center.

        The good news is that Aurora will soon be more crossable and Broad will be gone. The new development from SLU would have to spread some distance west even just to meet the Space Needle, but there will at least be something to the east. The bad news is that so many of the institutions that make the border of the Center so lousy are public, rich, or popular.

      7. @Grant — One million people is a lot, but there are several problems with that number. The biggest is that it happens mostly during one season (the summer) as well as during big events (Bumbershoot and Folklife). To put things in perspective, the Mariners and Sounders draw more (about a million and a half) over way more time (about 70 games) but the Stadium station is a very weak station. It pails in comparison to the nearby Internation District Station. It is even puny compared to the mighty Tukwila station (which basically serves as a station for folks working in the motels and other establishments close to the airport). The other problem is that Link isn’t really set up to handle really big crowds. It is crazy, but that is the way it is. As a result, I don’t blame folks for avoiding the train, or finding other ways to get to the game. I’m sure the same thing would happen with the Seattle Center.

        Don’t get me wrong, if it was easy and cheap (which is what the Stadium station is) then I would definitely support a station for the Seattle Center. But if not, forget about it. I don’t want to spend a lot of money for that station when the money can be better spent elsewhere. I also don’t want to have the train spend a lot of time slowing down for a stop when stops along there will be a lot more popular 300 days out of the year.

      8. d.p., the only part of LQA/Uptown that matches your description is Seattle Center itself. Look in pretty much every other direction and you will find multistory, multifamily housing, interspersed with dense commercial uses, extending for several blocks from the intersection of Queen Anne and Mercer. It’s a major urban center, it has the bus ridership associated with major urban centers around here, and it absolutely should be first in line for a Link stop. Building a grade-separated Ballard line without an LQA stop would be pure idiocy.

      9. Seattle Center has events year round. They may not be million-person draws, but they’re larger than most events in regular neighborhoods. Seattle Center is also a year-round tourist icon, and the Uptown neighborhood deserves a rapid transit station. A station in lower Queen Anne would majorly improve transit access to upper Queen Anne, even if not as much an upper Queen Anne station would. There’s just no way ST will choose a Ballard – downtown line without a station for Seattle Center/Uptown. Especially since Metro had determined that Seattle Center is so important that nine regular bus routes serve it in addition to the Monorail.

      10. Sorry, but no. All of you. No.

        You’re making the classic skewed-statistics-over-evidence mistake of finding tiny census tracts that meet some arbitrary threshold and then behaving as if they have scaled to create something worthwhile in the aggregate.

        LQA is barely a square mile, counting all of its dis-contiguous fringes. The part that most people think of (west of Seattle Center, and a bit to the north), is not even half a square mile and contains only about 30 square blocks. Aside from the handful of older buildings between Mercer and Olympic (the area that reads high-density red in Ross’s link), these blocks contain buildings that are monuments to poor urbanism and poorly used space. The six-story residentials attract quasi-suburban types for a reason: they are monuments to parking, with repellent frontage or none at all.

        LQA’s commercial areas are small and lackluster. It is notoriously hard to keep a non-mass-appeal restaurant or shop open in LQA, because the nearby population fails to reach the critical mass that would support interesting options, and the event crowds are too sporadic. Thus: one Greek place, one Thai place, one diner-ish place, and so forth — all mediocre, because there isn’t the competition to demand better.

        Aside from a handful of culture-oriented attractions — I can’t deny these; On The Boards is one of my favorite things in Seattle, but again, these are sporadic draws — LQA has little in the way of special appeal. If I’m not headed to a movie or a show, I have little incentive to stop off in LQA ever. There’s just not much to do!

        Why? Because the entire population is barely 6,000 or so, up to about Highland. Plus a moderate number of low-ish density office workers.

        Are you shocked to read that? I wasn’t. Because I’ve actually been there, and I know how freaking empty it feels!

        By comparison, Ballard has about 17,000 people within casual walking distance of its center, despite no single census tract that claims the extremely high density that all of you falsely believe gives LQA some special magic that it very clearly lacks the critical mass to live up to.

        David, I would never argue to skip LQA on a grade-separated north-south route, just as I think there is a strong argument for an UQA stop (actually a much larger population, but less compact). The argument for both is the same: connectivity in places where bus connectivity is inherently hard, to the benefit of those who might come or go there for any reason.

        But you all falling over yourself to talk about how “dense” and “important” LQA is? You all need to get out more! It speaks to how lame Seattle is that LQA might actually be our 5th or 6th busiest district. In a city like San Francisco, it wouldn’t be in the top 50.

      11. Seriously, people. Do you actually think this is what “density” looks like? Behold the setbacks! The dead in-betweens! The asphalt in, around, behind, and sometimes on the very corners of each block!

        I marvel at the wastes of space that define LQA. Even the full-to-the-lot-line office buildings and ugly condos manage to utilize their space inefficiently. The area isn’t lackluster by accident!

    2. The feasability of using the DSTT should be determined at the time of doing the DEIS for the proposed new line. If it can’t work and they need a new maintenance facility, they should also determine whether there’s an advantage to choosing a different type of rolling stock. By making it independent of the current line, maybe it makes sense to use high platform trains or automated operation.

  5. If the do it right, we’ll end up with tunnel vs high bridge on the west side (grade separated) and two streetcar options to choose between on the east side (up Westlake).

    If the connector study is any guide, we can probably expect an exclusive and mixed solution on the streetcar route as well as connected to the SLU car vs disconnected.

    Though as a Greenwood resident I would be happy to see some rail come up this way as soon as can be built (via streetcar) I still think the Ballard grade separated line needs to take priority if we ever have to choose between them.

    Ben, are the two options going to the council the ones you wanted to push for in a 2014 ballot?

    1. There aren’t any options yet. Just the promise that there will be two and two. We don’t know whether the light rail proposals will be excellent, OK, or unacceptable. Which segments of the eight previous options will ST choose?

    2. The fact is that a Fremont streetcar would be a nice amenity but is no substitute for the grade-separated line to the north that we need. It’s not the first priority, because bus service works a bit better there than it does in Ballard, and because the areas are not yet as well developed as Ballard, but in the end there needs to be a Link-style line serving Fremont, west Green Lake, Greenwood, and Bitter Lake.

      1. Yeah of course there needs to be link level service in the Greenwood/Fremont corridor eventually, but I suspect that is so far down the line that something would be needed in the mean time.

        Link/grade separated out to Ballard and West Seattle still are highest priority though.

  6. As discussed in our prior private communication — initiated by not me — this provides helpful but hardly revelatory explanation of how ST sees itself transitioning from the first round of study tasks to the second.

    As ever, eight options will narrow to four, and will be handed off for unspecified further considerations. None of this is news.

    However, as previously noted, Mr. Bianchi takes great pains to avoid offering any prescriptive follow-through. He promises no inclusions in ST3, he guarantees no design-build decisions, and he in no way pledges a process that will yield a Link-style result irrespective of actions taken by the city.

    Meanwhile, let’s not forget that multiple iterations of the “Link” routing under consideration would crawl across Belltown at-grade, so we should hardly be pleased to see such options “advanced”.

    Instead of following my advice to press Mr. Bianchi for actual specifics, you have instead chosen to publish the same unsupported, presumption-laden interpretation of his carefully noncommittal text that you attempted to impress upon me.

    Due diligence has clearly ceased to be a priority at STB. It’s quite disappointing.

    1. d.p. I think you are finally going off the deep end. How can you expect ST staff to be “committal” about what will be in ST3, when no one knows what will be in ST3? We have years of study left before the Sound Transit Board takes any action on ST3. They’re the deciders.

      1. Don’t forget that without approval from the legislature, there won’t even be an ST3. Repblicans sure aren’t going to vote for it. So, the only option left is to vote Rodney Tom (or a Repblican) out of office.

      2. Not crazy at all.

        Over the course of the entire joint-study process, Ben and Matt have been insisting that the process is designed to yield us two separate rail lines — each advanced in an independent way, preventing any possibility of future cheap-outs wherein better alignments might be exchanged for cheaper ones when all of the chips fell.

        To that end, he sought to procure a statement from Sound Transit that would back his interpretation up. This statement does not say that. All it says is that four corridors will be advanced to a second round and handed over to whichever entity might hypothetically be equipped to implement them. It doesn’t even bother to explain how the joint-study findings will be presented.

        When Matt e-mailed me to demand that I apologize in the face of this “overwhelming evidence”, I politely pointed out that this statement traffics in careful inspecifics that do not support his interpretation. But instead of pressing Mr. Bianchi for greater clarity, he has merely published his unsubstantiated interpretation on this blog.

        It’s wishful thinking presented as news.

    2. My guess is that Link presents a fast route via the west side (above the railroad tracks) and a slow route on the east side. But that is just a guess. I have no idea nor much interest in what is presented as far as a streetcar is concerned. I would rather the city improve BRT and add gondolas over more streetcars. I think streetcars have their place, I just don’t think they are worth the money. But again, I’m getting way ahead of myself here. This is all going to take a while.

  7. one option would be to extent the Monorail to LQA ( or more?) with a connection to the LR station. An added station(s?) on 5th would add above grade transit to a car packed area that has a substantial office/living density. The options for maintaining rubber tire or placing locally focused trolley as needed might give flexibility to LQA area.Bunch of other benefits might come out.

    The Monorail is already built – running it further to the NW would be an incremental expense.

    1. It seems cheaper to extend the monorail, but ours uses an old technology no longer in production anywhere. Extension probably means replacement.

      Not to mention the weird modification on the westlake end… its unusable as a bidirectional line from that point forward….

      1. Ah, a bit of steel and concrete at Westlake and the (as of yet imaginary) mid route stops, along with can-do design engineers and we’d be there.
        No doubt the monorail train sets will need to swapped out, but we’re not pushing the envelope here.

      2. We here know that the monorail is the transit version of the dodo bird, but if you listen to local media and news, you would think it’s some cool and beloved transportation option.

  8. Just a thought, but Bertha will complete her tunnel in 2015, could Bertha be refitted to bore a single tunnel under QA, not positive, but I believe that you could run up to 4 tracks through the tunnel, 2 main line, and 2 storage, again just a thought

    1. Great Idea!
      That would be big enough for 4 rail lines and double stacked platforms so that when the Ballard/W Seattle line is deemed at full capacity, Seattle won’t have to dig another tunnel under 2nd Ave.

      1. This would be great if they could do that… I am not sure if these things are reusable though. They keep buying new ones when they are done digging holes.

        Let’s hope they can be reused though. :)

    2. TBMs are designed to do one job. They are pretty much worn out by the end of that job. The expensive part are the cutting blades at the front. You really don’t want your TBM breaking down underground. No civil engineering firm in their right mind would start a job with used equipment. It would be penny wise and pound foolish. Besides, the technology is still advancing at a fairly rapid pace. Each generation of machines is significantly better than the last and are specially designed for the geology and geometry of every job.

  9. To quickly summarize my preferred light rail plan, I’d roughly follow Queen Anne Ave underground with a slight curve to the east to stop in Fremont near Phinney, then swing west to serve either “Real Ballard” or the 15th Ave corridor, not both. Ideally, the part from Queen Anne to Fremont can be extended to Greenwood or Aurora, the part from Fremont to Ballard can be extended to the U-District, and if you opt for 15th you can extend that line south across the ship canal to Interbay as well. This serves as many destinations as possible without too much recursive movement (or need for a “rapid streetcar” kludge to give Fremont any rail at all) and with an eye to a future built-out system.

  10. I guess I see “rapid streetcars” as rolling projectiles once they get above a certain speed. For example, many of the rail transit malls around America seem to require that rail vehicles travel a slow, slow speeds. Doesn’t a streetcar need a longer braking distance than a bus does given a certain speed? I can’t seem to easily find the facts on the web. If the braking distance poses a safety risk to pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles who happen to be in the way, wouldn’t the result be that some safety officer comes along in a short period of time and would require that the “rapid” part of streetcars be operationally taken away?

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