Northbound Bore to Capitol Hill Station by Bruce
Northbound Bore to Capitol Hill Station by Bruce

Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey published an anti-rail piece in yesterday’s Times ($), implying that light rail is such a waste that Sound Transit spends the same amount of tax authority as Metro while serving 13 times fewer passengers:

Seattle progressives love rail. They don’t have much of it, though, because it is so expensive. Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail, which is 13 stations plus about 20 more under construction, uses up most of the agency’s 0.9 cent addition to the sales tax. Coincidentally, King County Metro, which serves thousands of bus stops all over, also costs 0.9 cents on the sales tax. The difference is that Central Link Light rail is running at about 9 million boardings a year, and Metro runs about 115 million.

Ramsey’s conflation of capital costs and operating costs is highly misleading here. According to the recently released 2014 Service Implementation Plan, Central Link accounts for only 27% of Sound Transit’s operation and maintenance costs, a share that expected to rise only to 30% by the end of the decade. Its costs per boarding ($5.83) have consistently declined ever since opening in 2009, and are now 13% lower than ST Express Buses ($6.50) and 53% lower than Sounder ($12.44). This is despite an overcapitalized fleet — its 107% spare ratio will decline to 48% after ULink and even further after North Link — and sunk costs that will diminish with economies of scale as each new extension opens.

Ramsey also omits Sound Transit’s overall ridership number of 28 million, and that ST operates far more than just Central Link, including Sounder, Tacoma Link, and 26 ST Express routes. And of course, as Ramsey mentions but seems to dismiss, much of ST’s authority is bonded to capital funds to construct 3 simultaneous extensions of Link to Des Moines, Lynnwood, and Overlake.  Taking the sum of all this expenditure and comparing it only to Central Link’s 9 million annual boardings is highly misleading. Criticizing capital expenditures on the basis of existing ridership is equivalent to faulting an agency for lacking riders on services that do not yet exist.

It is of course technically true that ST’s ridership of 28m is only 24% as large as Metro’s for the same tax authority, and ST’s 2019 projections of 44m annual riders will still only be 38% as large as Metro. But that figure is with just 3 new stations at Husky Stadium, Capitol Hill, and Angle Lake. Extensions to the UDistrict and Northgate in 2021, and Des Moines, Lynnwood, and Overlake a couple years later, will bring that comparative share even higher. If after Link’s full buildout ST still doesn’t quite approach Metro’s ridership numbers, maybe Ramsey and similar commentators will have a valid quibble. But even if ST matches but never exceeds Metro’s size, overall transit ridership will have doubled in Central Puget Sound and we’ll all be better off for it.

107 Replies to “Bruce Ramsey’s Misleading ST/Metro Comparisons”

  1. Well said.

    Once U-Link gets finished, it’s going to be huge. Metro could off load much of their service hours away from routes that run between downtown and the university, and invest those elsewhere, and Central Link will get a huge jump in ridership.
    Just to clarify, will northbound South Link trains continue north to the U-District once they get downtown?

    1. Yes, the lines will be interlaced from Lynnwood to International-District Station. ST will run the trains from Lynnwood-SeaTac/S 200th/FWTC and Lynnwood-Overlake once the ST2 system is built out in 2023.

      I’m excited to take the 44 or bike to Link to get Downtown. It will be epic.

    2. In 2016, you should expect most trains to run end-to-end. Trains going in and out of service would be an exception. They might add extra trains for event service. Peak headways will go down to 6 minutes.

      They say a bit about this in the Draft 2014 SIP, pp. 109-110.

      1. I’m surprised that the 2014 SIP calls for train length to remain at 2-car consists through 2019. I ride LINK from Westlake to Beacon Hill, and between 4:30 and 6:00 the current trains fill all seats at Westlake, with several passengers standing. Often I count 20 or so standees per half-car by the time we’re at ID/Chinatown. What’s going to happen when UW comes online and those 2-car trains are no longer empty when they roll into Westlake Station?

      2. Upgrading peak headways on ULink from 7.5 to 6 minutes wouldn’t compensate for a reduction back to 2-car trains. 6 minute service on 2-car trains is 20 cars/hour/direction, whereas 7.5/4 would be 32 cars/hour/direction.

        My guess is that they’re planning to introduce 4-car sets once the buses leave the tunnel in 2019, or have occasional 4-car sets before then but have the peak standard mostly remain 2-car sets.

      3. Pete, I’ve suspected for a while that ST’s equipment may be slightly undercounting riders.

        If you look at current and projected ridership numbers, the 2-car consists make sense when taking into account the improved frequency.

        But ST’s current ridership numbers look very different from my personal experience for 10 months as a Link commuter. From their numbers, you’d think trains are not that full after 7 p.m. I usually commuted home between 7:30 and 9:00, and trains were standing-room-only more often than not. There is a bit of bias in these sorts of observations because a rider is more likely to get on a slightly delayed train, which will be more full, rather than an on-time train following the delayed train, which will be emptier. But even so my experience makes me suspicious. I think some 3-car consists may be necessary to avoid severe crowding.

    3. That all makes sense. Since the speed of link trains are predictable and well controlled, and mostly traffic independent, I could see them reliably running the entire Lynnwood – Tacoma line.

    4. ST seems to have settled on an initial operating plan of Des Moines – Lynnwood full time, Redmond – Lynnwood peak hours, and Redmond – Northgate off-peak. That’s what has been on the segment update maps for the past two years at least. Earlier there were other scenarios, both two-line and three-line (Lynnwood – Stadium), but those seem to have gone out the window.

    5. There’s no turnback between Intl Dist and Northgate, so all trains that go downtown will have to go to north Seattle too. Conveniently, that’s exactly where the highest capacity need is anyway.

      1. I wonder if they could the Convention Place Station into a turn back? Not that they should…just wondering. It makes me sad that beautiful station doesn’t get any train love.

  2. Mr. Ramsey seems to forget that Link will be immune to any roadway meltdown, like the one we had yesterday. The massive blockage on EB I-90 effected hundreds of buses and tens of thousands of commuters all over the region. It effected even my northbound 16 bus since it couldn’t get down 3rd easily or across Denny. Link will be separated away from all that interference whereas Metro and ST Express are delayed. There was no mention of the “very successful” RapidRide or Swift; our best attempts at rapid bus (albeit, Swift rocks). We could give RR even more priority treatment, like 100% dedicated lanes, but even then the Times’ would scream “war on cars”. We’ve grown as much as we can on buses, we need rail. Yes it’s expensive, but doing nothing will cost us even more.

    1. This morning, a single broken-down car in the left-lane of NB Montlake and Hamlin backed up cars, trucks and buses well across the 520 overpass, which meant that people couldn’t get off 520 efficiently to get to UW/Capitol Hill, backing traffic all the way to I-5, meaning that people wanting to go to the Eastside from I-5 were also screwed, despite the empty road from Montlake on.

      One badly maintained/fueled car stuck at one light.

      This is why we need rail with dedicated right-of-way, why we need real bus-lanes through choke-points like this, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure which is basically immune to this sort of thing.

    2. I take the 71/72/73X southbound in the afternoon, and a few times a year Stewart-Denny blocks up so much it takes half an hour to get from John Street to Convention Place station. Northbound in the late morning (I-5 regular lane) the bottlenecks are less severe but more frequent. Those who say we don’t need Link are completely ignoring these delays, which result in hours of unproductive time for people. Oh, and did I mention people getting passed up by full buses?

  3. You hit the nail right on the head with this rebuttal. Bruce brings in facts, but that is a narrow view of the larger picture. Within five years, the investment into the Central Link system, the completion of new stations for more demand, and bringing all the unused LRVs into service will bump ridership up to comparable levels.

    … and that’s nothing to say about the different transportation mode that Mike B. brings up above. More grade separation please :D

  4. Using his logic, Community Transit, which has the same tax rate as King County Metro, should be shut as well.

  5. Yeah, this claim is obviously BS–in 2030 when ST2 is actually built out Sound Transit alone should be getting 109 million boardings per year, or 358,000/day. ( p. 21).

    For me, I guess the more concerning thing is that Seattle in 2030 will only have 246 million transit boardings total per year (among all agencies), according to the above link. This is far less than what Vancouver achieved in 2012 (366 million on TransLink and West Coast Express), even though Seattle will have 4.5 million people in 2030 while Vancouver had 2.1 million. I guess this shows that we need far more transit investments, better transit network planning (i.e. timed connections, more legibility and improved frequencies) and land-use improvements in order to truly bring about a large mode-shift.

    1. We can’t really catch up to Vancouver in this regard. They have twice the density and no inner-city highways.

      1. If Seattle really wanted to catch up, Seattle could remove the inner-city highways…. just saying.

    1. Yeah, but better to email him directly: The post is a day-old, buried at this point, and didn’t generate many comments besides the usual yahoos anyway. Emails from from real accounts by readers using real names are far more likely to do some good.

  6. I wouldn’t think boardings would be the appropriate comparison between a commuter transit service and a city transit service since each SoundTransit boarding, I imagine, represents a much longer trip than each Metro boarding. I wonder how they compare in say passenger miles.

    1. You shouldn’t get started down that road.

      From east-coast commuter-rail agencies to federal bean counters to ideologues pro- and anti-transit alike, everybody abuses “passenger-miles/dollar” as a way of masking the true subsidies inherent in longer-distance transit services.

      One person making one (linked) trip is still one person making one (linked) trip.

      1. On an intercity basis, passenger-miles are useful, because we presume that people have a reason to travel to the specific city they were trying to travel to, a reason which is not going to change quickly and would have taken airlines or cars there instead; accordingly it measures some degree of “environmental efficiency”.

        On an in-city basis, we think differently; because it’s easier for people to move homes and businesses *within* a city, “passenger-miles” can reflect sprawl rather than mode-shift from car. Hence, passengers (linked trips) is better…

        Passengers (linked trips) has its problems as a measurement too, of course, because it doesn’t tell you how much of that ridership is induced demand, how much would have been done by walking if the transit system weren’t available…

        All of these metrics are useful to look at. None of them should be taken too seriously.

    2. Measuring transit performance in boardings per dollar tells you how many people the transit system serves.

      Measuring transit performance in miles per dollar tells you how fast it goes, and nothing else.

      One of those metrics is much more useful than the other.

  7. I agree, the editorial is sloppy. It compares apples and oranges. Perhaps it’s biggest weakness is that it provides no analysis. Link light rail has many weaknesses; hundreds of paragraphs have been written about the various problems, including:

    1) We started with the wrong line. We should have started with U-Link, which, according to Sound Transit, “will serve the three largest urban centers in the state of Washington – downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District.”. Who in their right mind doesn’t start with that system first?

    2) It should have included First Hill. It might have been expensive, but it would have been worth it.

    3) Station placement is often terrible. The worst is probably Mount Baker. Generally speaking, the Central Area is the most densely populated area in the city, but somehow, we managed to find a spot that is far away from where anyone lives, or is willing to walk. In the meantime, we make it hard to transfer from buses to the station.

    4) There is a slow, winding route to the airport. I don’t mind a slow, winding route if we expect lots of folks to ride the train along the way. But in this case, it just seems slow for no reason. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what the point of “Central Link” is. It is too slow to get us to the airport, but doesn’t provide enough stops to link together various communities — linking Beacon Hill, Mount Baker and Rainier Beach would be a fine goal if it weren’t for the fact that the train is really slow between there (and the stations are poor).

    I could go on (I’m sure d. p. could write for days) but in short, I think Ramsey has a point — the number of light rail riders is very small for the money we have spent. But he neither criticizes the particulars of the system nor shows how we got there. I think the latter is just as important as the former. This issue has come up a lot lately (discussions about Conlin, or a new line from Ballard to the UW or Kirkland) and I think it is very important. Here is my take:

    1) In ancient times (Forward Thrust, etc.) Seattle tried and failed to pass light rail proposals (even though it was largely going to be federally funded — ah, the good old days).

    2) In 1995 we failed to pass a light rail proposal. It passed overwhelmingly in Seattle, but failed in the suburbs. It wouldn’t have mattered if it passed by 90% in Seattle, since the system required a majority for each region.

    3) Another proposal passed. This proposal was scaled down dramatically from the original.

    4) Financial problems soon ensued. The federal government didn’t kick in much money, and the line was projected to be way more expensive than originally thought. The line was scaled down again.

    5) The line was built, and under the revised budget.

    There are several key political items here that are worth mentioning:

    1) Seattle loves transit, but the suburbs don’t. Given the current system, we have to do as much as possible to please the suburbs. This means building things that don’t make much sense from a priority standpoint (such as staring with a line that goes south to Tukwila).

    2) People think in terms of miles and not value of service. This sounds stupid (OK, it is) but voters are often stupid. It is hard for some to wrap their head around the idea that if you provide good service for only a few miles in certain areas, it benefits everyone. At the same time, they can look at a map and see miles of new rail line and get warm and fuzzy.

    3) When the 1995 vote failed, folks complained about a “Cadillac” system. They wanted a “Ford”. Unfortunately, in many cases, we’ve built a “Yugo”. We’ve been penny wise but pound foolish, especially with regards to the stations.

    4) Suburban voters (or just about anyone outside of Seattle) tend to be hostile and suspicious towards Seattle and Seattle projects. If you proposed a new, publicly funded university in Seattle, I’m sure a lot of voters from the suburbs would reject it (i. e. “let Seattle build it”). It should be obvious to everyone from Lynnwood to Kent that the UW has benefited everyone in the region immensely.

    5) A shift has occurred in regional employment while this has been going on. Forty years ago, many (if not most) people worked downtown. The buses worked great, because they were focused on downtown. In the 1990s, Eastside employment increased dramatically. Neither our roads, nor our transit could keep up. As a result, folks from Seattle as well as suburban areas wanted light rail to cover the entire region. In the last few years, employment throughout Seattle has increased substantially. South Lake Union could be considered “greater downtown Seattle” but it certainly stretches the definition (e. g. it was never part of the free ride zone). Likewise, Fremont now employs hundreds, if not thousands. There are numerous other examples that are happening now, or likely to happen very soon. This has put tremendous strain on our roads and our transit system. In short, our system, and perhaps our politicians may not have caught up with that.

    Those are the political realities. If we elected a regional board, and that board had been given a pot of money to spend anyway they saw fit, then I would vote for a new board. For example, as I count it, we built nine stations south of downtown and added several miles of rail. I can’t help but think that we could have built something much better for that amount of money to serve the areas south of downtown. Maybe it wouldn’t have gone to the airport, but it would have a lot more riders.

    But that is not how the political system works. Given our current system, we have to build things that please suburban voters, even if they don’t make a lot of sense overall. They might not even make sense for the suburban voter, but we build things that will get the vote, not necessarily things that make the most sense. If suburban voters want rail, we will give them rail (even though, in many cases, they would be much better off with lots of good bus service).

    Personally, I think the system is less than ideal, but worth continuing. The light rail plans to the north look pretty good. I’m excited about connecting Ballard to downtown as well as the UW. At the same time, I can sympathize with folks that might want to have Seattle just “go it alone”. The employment shift mentioned in point 5 above is a real challenge for our current system. I can think of several lines that would make a lot of sense for Seattle workers and residents, but I’m not sure if suburban voters are willing to pay for them. If not, then what?

    1. On 4, unfortunately, the utility of the stations suggests that we may have been penny wise but pund foolish; but in practice, we haven’t been very good at controlling station costs, so we’ve really just been foolish.

    2. So billions spent on a line that meanders through the South End and doesn’t move that many people…

      And you wonder why people (ahem) called it L00t Rail from the beginning…


    3. Re: First Hill Station

      The track geometry currently being used is difficult enough. The line is about 4.9% from Pine Street to Cap Hill and Cap Hill is already quite deep. It would have been impossible to have a First Hill Station at a reasonable cost, as has been concluded several times. A station needs 500′ of tangent track on a 1% grade and long vertical curves on either side to transition to a 1%. Trying to build that sort of geometry into the alignment would have pushed Cap Hill station down in depth and changed construction style to mined, like Beacon Hill, or changed the location. This would have further effects on the tunnels from Cap Hill to UW. First Hill also was going to be 300′ deep and cost hundreds of millions due to its high risk. We engineers don’t just make this up. It’s been studied to death, literally.

      1. Nobody said you “just made it up”.

        But “risk” here was synonymous with final expense second, and fear of some dumb federal algorithm first. Rather than work to make the case for the importance of this one-time opportunity, the ST board threw First Hill under the proverbial crappy surface-transit vehicle.

        This wasn’t about engineering. This was about cowardice.

        So instead of spending hundreds of millions on the station, we’ve spent the same hundreds of millions on a mixed-traffic streetcar that accomplishes exactly nothing. And getting on or off of First Hill remains terrible… forever!

      2. It’s the design capabilities of a light rail vehicle and the ability to dig such a tunnel and station within reason. We’re spending half of the station money on a streetcar. It’s $134M. The station was projected to be $350M. Perhaps you should read this since you have no idea the engineering required to construct such a station. It outlines ST’s decision to drop the station based on the engineering completed at the 30% design phase and 6 years of work:

        You may think the algorithm is dumb, but if it’s violated (which includes projects that are too risky and not just efficient use of funds), then ST loses the federal dollars needed to build the project. Without that money, ULink would not be under construction right now.

      3. Gee… $350 million for something with “irreplaceable benefits” — something which will now never exist — or $134 million for a useless piece of poorly-routed, mixed-traffic shit that will add as much as 25 minutes to the “last mile” of any trip?

        Oh, and so as to throw good money after bad, we now “need” to “connect” our two streetcars with another mile and a half of zig-zagging track to nowhere via everywhere. There goes another $130 million. Still serving no one and improving nothing.

        Meanwhile, we don’t know how the Feds would have adjudicated the request, because we didn’t bother to make our best case. Forget having a Plan B in our pockets — we jumped straight to Plan F. An own-goal of immense proportions.

      4. “Rather than work to make the case for the importance of this one-time opportunity”

        This was in an environment of anti-tax people who were trying to find any reason to cancel the project, and a public that was so stingy they wouldn’t allow a tunnel in Rainier Valley, and nothing like Link was running anywhere in the state yet so it was a harder sell. So you wanted ST to fall on its sword for First Hill station? What about all the other HCT needs we have?

      5. I’m sorry, but no.

        Central Link was less than 3 years from completion when the board voted to cancel First Hill, and U-Link already had dedicated funding. It was not going to “get cancelled”. There was no political thin ice. You’re just making that up.

        It was a terrible decision at the time, and it only seems dumber with hindsight. Stop making excuses for the agency.

    4. 1) “Who in their right mind doesn’t start with that system first?” Yes, and that’s exactly what ST intended, 45th to SeaTac. But further engineering determined that the ship canal crossing was in risk of cost overruns, and they didn’t want that to scuttle the entire system. So they built the less risky part first, hoping that the Ship Canal issue would resolve itself later, as it did when a less risky alignment was found.

      2) First Hill was also intended, and was going to happen until the engineers found the angle to be unfeasable.

      You may ask, why didn’t ST determine these before it wrote the ballot measure? Because doing that level of engineering would have cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, for a line that wasn’t even approved yet.

      3) Mt Baker station is at THE crossroads of Rainier Valley, and the neighborhood will be the largest urban village in south Seattle. Of course the transit center location is substandard, but that’s a matter of one block distance. The Central District was never raised as an issue when the line was being decided, and it’s not the densest anyway; it’s mostly single-family. The densest part of Seattle is the Summit – Minor part of Capitol Hill/First Hill. (And yes, a Pine/Bellevue Link station would have been good, but it wasn’t compatible with a First Hill station, and when First Hill was dropped, additional stations weren’t considered.) The Central District’s transit problem is that it’s not between downtown and anywhere; you run into the lake.

      4) “ldoesn’t provide enough stops to link together various communities inking Beacon Hill, Mount Baker and Rainier Beach would be a fine goal”

      … but it helps those people get in and out of the valley. That’s important too.

      “if it weren’t for the fact that the train is really slow between there (and the stations are poor).” It’s not slow. It’s not 55 mph, but it’s not 10 mph either. People in Rainer Valley don’t need to go 55 mph through the valley, it’s only downtown-airport travelers who desire it.

      Regarding your last section, #5 is the most significant, the growth of Eastside employment, and then the subsequent growth of Seattle employment. There hasn’t been anything like that in South King Couny or Snohomish County or Pierce County. Their growth has mostly been residential. There’s also the rise of downtown Bellevue as an urban center.

      So, that argues for East Link to connect the largest urban centers.

      My recollection is that in Sound Move, suburbanites weren’t expecting light rail and weren’t ready to pay for it. They were excited about the regional bus routes and Sounder. (Regional bus service was much worse then.) In the run-up to ST2, they liked light rail enough to extend it to the 1990’s suburban ring. After Link opened and people saw it on the ground, everybody and their parrot wanted it, or as Mayor McGinn says, “Everything I hear about Link in the city and suburbs is, ‘When is it coming to my neighborhood?'” That is actually a success, because it shows that people want it.

      DP may be unhappy about extending it to the burbs, and there are legitimate arguments that the city network and regional network should be different things at different scales, but the fact that they want it shows that they see it as beneficial, and that they believe it will improve their trips and their communities.

      1. “Mayor McGinn says, “Everything I hear about Link in the city and suburbs is, ‘When is it coming to my neighborhood?’” That is actually a success, because it shows that people want it. ”

        People want unicorns and free lunches too.

        But hey can’t wait to see the next post on why to ride the L00t rail:

        “Come on down to the Valley and see a real KNIFE fight! yee-haw! “

      2. As ever “spendy” does not equal “unfeasible”.

        When is all is said and done, we’ll have spent far more than the cost of First Hill station building, extending, “connecting”, and generally masturbating over streetcars that will have failed to improve by one iota one’s ability to get around downtown or between First Hill and adjacent areas.

        Hindsight is now. Not building that station was unbelievably fucking stupid.

      3. My rebuttal to your rebuttals:

        1) Yes, that is pretty much my point. It is politics, not engineering, nor civic analysis. that was driving this. UW to SeaTac might be too expensive, so you go with what is safe (politically) not what makes the most sense (in terms of moving people). In other words, a board that was not beholden to misguided suburban voters would have simply cut the southern part of that route (if the UW to downtown section proved to be too expensive). Go from the UW to Rainier Beach — hell, go from the UW to just downtown and you have a better system that what we have right now. But that would have been deadly from a political standpoint. If the line was shortened again, people would have assumed the whole thing was stupid, and we couldn’t build anything. So we built something, and built it under budget (OK, under the revised budget) and it served the suburbs. Great politics, bad policy. We are right now, currently, building the most important part of the line. But we’ve had about ten years of a weak line — ten years when folks in the area could have actually enjoyed a better system. I just think we could done better and gotten more for our money if it wasn’t for the political situation surrounding it.

        2) Unfeasible only because it didn’t meet the original estimates. But as d.p. said, just spend the extra money. What are we talking about, 200 million? That is peanuts for that stop. Tell me it would cost over a billion and I’ll agree with you, but everything I’ve read suggests it would be a lot closer to my number.

        3) Who cares if it is a crossroads if nobody uses the station. A crossroads suggests it might have value as a transfer stop (from bus to train). But it fails in that regard. It fails as a transfer station because it is an inconvenient transfer and it fails as an urban stop because it borders a green space on one side and a bunch of parking lots on the other. Here is a crazy idea, but why not move it to the other side of Franklin. Put it on 30th and McClellan. The folks who live in the apartments would have a much easier walk. Meanwhile, you could draw from the surrounding neighborhood a lot more easily. Keep in mind, this is just some bozo drawing this up from viewing Google Maps (it has been a while since I’ve been in this neighborhood) but I think I came up with a spot that would be more popular than the original one. It would definitely cost more money, but that is my point. If you still want the transfer station then design it as a transfer station. Put it in a spot so that buses can stop and people can walk right up to their train. Don’t put a park and ride in there — Jeesh! A park and ride — what is this, Auburn?!!

        4) The stations are poor, and it is not really fast. This combination is probably why Mount Baker station is not doing better. My guess is that people just continue to take the bus. To take the train, it has to be convenient or it has to be really fast. If you are coming from the suburbs, and the alternative is a local (non-express) bus, then it is fast. But generally speaking, it is not much faster than a bus for just about every run. You are already pretty close to downtown, so the speed from Mount Baker to downtown isn’t a big deal (not big enough to make up for the slow transfer). It is not much faster than a bus going the other direction (because it isn’t grade separated) so there isn’t much to gain there either. The biggest benefit is because it has the promise to run all day, every day, often and in both directions. There aren’t many buses that do that — and that is a good thing. But to say this is a success based on that is to lower the bar really, really low.

        I say all this, and mention all this because we should do better going forward. For example, Northgate is a terrible spot as a transfer station. The only reason it exists as a transit center right now is because it is right next to the on/off ramp to the express lanes. This makes it meaningless for light rail. As a station serving the area, I think it can do just fine — but we have to build a bridge, for heavens sake. Meanwhile, 130th is a very good transfer station. This would be a huge improvement for folks coming from Lake City or Bitter Lake. But build it as a transfer station. Make sure it is quick and easy to get from the bus to the train (and vice versa). If we do that, then this could serve the north end really well.

        Meanwhile, the south end just has to suck it up and endure a substandard system knowing they took one for the team. Unless of course, people build something nice in the area to really serve the people who live there. But given the political system as it now exists, I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.

      4. @d.p, you’re simply wrong. Spendy does equal unfeasible as part of the feasibility of any project is it’s cost. Can we afford it, yes or no? No, ok, then it’s not feasible. And $134M for a streetcar, $350M for a First Hill Station. Pretty big gap. And I suggest you read that technical memo I linked to above. It should help clear your foggy mind.

      5. Sorry, Mike, but your document explains the “risks”, explains that they mostly amount to variable costs, and then provides the ST board political cover for the ensuing deletion. As it was designed to do.

        Anyway, my store is having a fire sale — a once-in-a-lifetime sales event! You can buy an amazing Armani suit for only $350. Or you can buy a pair of previously-worn-by-a-bum Levi’s overalls (not in your size) for only $134.

        You’re telling me that the overalls are a fantastic deal, and that’s what you’d buy. No question. No second thought.

        I find your choice exceptionally unwise.

      6. I might also remind you that you’re writing on a blog where half of the authors believe a billion-dollar expenditure to reach Federal Way (total boardings: <10,000 for the entire segment) is a very good idea, and where half the commenters think new rail-only floating bridges are coming to a Sand Point near you.

        I'm hardly the one arguing for actions with unreasonable cost-benefit ratios here.

      7. d.p., as you know, I don’t live in Seattle, and I thought you might know. Why wasn’t the FHSC built up Madison? In an exclusive bus and streetcar lane, I could see this as being useful transit, especially if it connected to the Pioneer Square station. I realize that with an exclusive lane, the streetcar does not add much over buses, but it seems so much more logical than the current route.

      8. I’m not d.p., but that’s a question with an easy answer: Madison is many times too steep for a streetcar.

        Probably the highest-priority transit project in Seattle right now other than Ballard Link is BRT with exclusive lanes up Madison.

      9. 1) My understanding is they couldn’t even do downtown to UW, it was downtown to SeaTac or nothing. They didn’t want to be potentially caught with a cost overrun because that would have been very bad and would make it harder to build any more rail. And that Rainier Valley grant is what made the line possible; or where do you think the money would have come from to replace the grant? As for political, everything governments do is political, and that’s not always bad. I assume by “political” you mean choosing the half with a poor minority district. I can’t believe you think that anybody would turn down the highest-ridership corridor in the state — the #1 reason for rail — in order to serve a lower-ridership politically correct district, unless it just wasn’t possible to serve the higher-ridership district first…. But on the general issue of serving poor minority district, so many transit systems in the country at the time had bypassed poor districts, so why not serve one of them for a change?

        3) “Who cares if it is a crossroads if nobody uses the station.” I in fact have been thinking of moving to the Mt Baker area because there are more buses in more directions there than in Columbia City. Having the 48 and 14 as well as the 7 and 8 has its advantages. And if you live within walking distance of the station and the TC, it doesn’t matter that they’re a block apart from each other because you’ll never do that transfer (well, not usually). Another thing I noticed when looking at a place north of Mt Baker: there are locations within walking distance of both Mt Baker station and Rainier station.

        Don’t be fooled by the suburbanesque Wendy’s and Starbucks. Those are the last gasps of a building culture that’s already obsolete, and will be replaced someday. There’s no way a developer would build one of those in Rainier Valley now when a larger building would be much more profitible.

        I don’t care if you move the station or TC a block or two to where you think is a better location, as long as there is a station in the vicinity.

      10. I think you are still missing my point, Mike. Yes, “everything governments do is political”. But sometimes a government makes the right choice. Sometimes it is the tough choice, sometimes it is the easy choice. But years later, you can see it was the right choice (e. g. LBJ and civil rights was the right choice and a really tough choice). Sometimes, the political system creates a situation that make it extremely difficult, if not downright impossible for the politicians (or non-partisan board members) to make the right choice. They make the wrong choice, because it helps things from a political standpoint. In other words, they make the wrong choice because it looks good. The voters that have power like the choice, but the citizens suffer. Link (as it stands now) is exactly that.

        The system as it stands now is really flawed. Mount Baker has terrible numbers. It is easy to guess why, just looking at a map. It borders a greenbelt. The street is full of parking lots (Lowes, etc.). It is inconvenient for bus riders. Making it a true, solid, urban stop probably would have cost some serious money. Making it work for bus riders would not have been that expensive. The fact that you don’t care where they put the station is really shocking. Little things matter. There is a limit to what people will do when it comes to transit (and the numbers show it). People aren’t willing to spend 10 minutes walking to a train when it is only 5 minutes faster than a bus.

        Yes, someday Lowes, Wendy’s, Starbucks and many other buildings will be replaced. But you can say that about almost any neighborhood anywhere in the city. The station would have made sense if building big buildings was imminent (and there are many, many places in Seattle where it is) or it served the area well. It doesn’t work as a transfer station, nor does it serve the neighbors well (which is why the numbers are so bad). It’s been ten years and Lowes (and Wendy’s, etc.) are still there.

        I don’t blame the politicians. I think you’ve given really good reasons why they made the political decisions they made. We couldn’t afford another financial failure (and downtown to the UW could have easily been one) and they had to serve suburban interests. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it was a good thing, or the right thing to do. Anyone who doesn’t understand the politics involved, but understands the population and engineering involved would think the folks who decided to build that line first were idiots. They weren’t, they were just cautious politicians.

        While we are talking about not fooling ourselves, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the people in the south end, AKA, the people of color, got a great deal. They wanted a tunnel. The UW has a tunnel. Roosevelt (freakin’ Roosevelt!) has a tunnel, but the CD has, well, a slow, poorly laid out rail system that is no better than a streetcar for much of the area that it serves. If we had a better political system, one that served the most people for the least amount of money, then we would be building the second line right now. The first line would been what is now being called U-Link (although it would include the U-District). The second line would have been a nice little looping system, starting from roughly Uptown, east to about 15th (via something in between Denny and Mercer) then south to the Rainier Valley. It would be grade separated the whole way, with stops about a half mile (or less) apart. That would have served the folks from the CD quite well (or at least a lot better than they are being served now). After that, build a line from Ballard to the UW and add a couple stations south of the “main line” (Stadium and SODO). Then maybe we can talk about extending the line north and south.

        Again, my point in bringing up this issue is to point out how important it is to get the little things right, and how hard it is to do so. Right now, the two issues that are critical are a bridge over Northgate and a stop at 130th. Without a bridge, Northgate is half a stop. Without 130th, Lake City and Bitter Lake (which are the densest areas north of the UW) get left with poor service. It’s that simple.

      11. d.p.: The thing is, it makes perfect sense to build a First Hill Streetcar rather than an overpriced, risky First Hill subway station.

        The problem is not that. The problem is the appallingly bad design OF the First Hill Streetcar, with broken connections, a dogleg, street running, etc. etc.

        Contrast the way, in Toronto, that streetcars actually dive underground at key points to provide direct transfer to the subway. Contrast any system with exclusive lanes for its streetcars.

        Why are your streetcar designers so bad at their job?

        I can envision a First Hill Streetcar with a stop directly in front of the entrance to Capitol Hill Station — without the dogleg — with a stop on Jackson St. between 3rd and 4th, or between 4th and 5th. Or perhaps running straight down Yesler Way (there’s four driving lanes and four parking lanes — plenty of room) and stopping at Pioneer Square. All with completely exclusive streetcar lanes.

        It would have been fine. (And for reference, streetcars can handle 13% grades, as they did in Pittsburgh for many years, so don’t try to use steep grades as an excuse.)

        Instead, you’re getting possibly the worst-designed streetcar ever.
        But this isn’t what is being built. Why?

      12. YVR and Nathanael,

        Both Madison and Yesler are steep. As in, really fucking steep. I don’t have the exact grade percentages at my fingertips, but any human being who had seen these streets in person knows they are too steep for the standard streetcars of any era.

        That’s why both streets hosted cable cars in their past lives. Yes, both of them. It would have been easy to discover this fact if you had bothered to do a shred of research.

        In fact, the slow streetcar will be made even slower thanks to the need to climb fairly steep grades in each direction — on Broadway between Union and Columbia, and on Jackson between 5th and 12th. These grades alone put modern Czech technology to the test, and they don’t hold a candle to the slopes found on Madison or Yesler.

        This is the problem with attempting to offer remote pseudo-advice to places whose basic topographies you fail to understand. You wind up discrediting yourself.

        Meanwhile, among those who care about trip speed, system access, and usability rather than the number of miles of steel implanted in a city, your defense of the FHSC — even an idealized version thereof, running in magically-found exclusive lanes and following a physically impossible path — fails to hold water.

        Construct a perfect transfer and pledge a service frequency that short-haul gimmick rail can’t possibly justify, and you’d still be replacing a one-minute underground journey with a slog of 5 or 10 or 15. The mere 1/2 mile between Downtown and First Hill — a 1/2 mile up that steep fucking slope — becomes a two-seat ride, more frustrating than the (awful) buses that ply it today. And a trip to First Hill’s myriad medical facilities, residences, cultural attractions, and large university from anywhere not served by Link becomes a three-seat ride, with comically short trips on two out of those three seats.

        What a shame, when the entire walkshed of this very dense acropolis could have been provided for with a single subway station, doing precisely what subway stations are designed to do: provide easy access in spite of physical obstacles.

        No, wait. It’s not a shame. It’s fucking criminal.

      13. D.P: Yesler is not steep by Pittsburgh standards. Do you know anything about Pittsburgh?

        13% grades are avoided in road construction these days. Decent streetcars have no problem with them.

      14. “These grades alone put modern Czech technology to the test”

        Maybe this is the problem. “Modern Czech technology” for streetcars is actually crappier than what the US had in the 1920s.

      15. D.P.: The thing is, I agree with your general assessment: Sound Transit seems to be going *out of its way* to do bad design. If it were just one decision, or two decisions, or three decisions, that would be different, but it seems to me like there are cascades of bad decisions on top of other bad decisions.

        One badly designed transfer point is a mistake; having pretty much *every* transfer point have poor transfer quality is something else entirely, and the latter is what Sound Transit has been doing, with poor transfers at the Airport, Mt Baker, International District and more planned poor transfers at UW, U District, Northgate, South Bellevue, Bellevue Transit Center, and quite possibly other locations. And I haven’t even mentioned the poor transfers from Sounder at King St. and at Tukwila, or the refusal to build a center transfer platform at International District.

      16. Thank you for the acknowledgement. I do find it exceedingly frustrating when “national commenters” — especially those who show extreme bias toward shoehorning quantity-rail projects into as many situations as they can fathom — butt in with low-information “advice” asterisked with “and of course you’ll find six miles of exclusive lanes and wall off every cross street… that goes without saying.”

        Railfandom and ludicrous fringe precedents are, generally speaking, not helpful. They undermine those of us who both understand transit and live here, and who therefore have a stake in mobility achieved or denied. As you’ve noticed, there’s a lot of flat-out ignorance of transit geometry in these parts, and a shocking tendency to double down on entrenched bad habits and failed ideologies. It’s hard enough for those of us trying to illustrate for our peers how a reasonable, successful system could be achieved, and how it might look, without the peanut gallery ejaculating about streetcars down Yesler Way.

        For the record this is Yesler Way. And here it is 70 years ago. That SF-style cable car is on it because those awesome grade-conquering regular streetcars you say we had back then still couldn’t cut it. Because, again, it’s really fucking steep, easily besting your supposed 13%-climbing streetcars at the steepest points on its steepest blocks (as the cable car company no doubt knew).

        It also, by a long shot, bests the maximum 10% (not 13%) grade plied by the 52 Allentown streetcar in Pittsburgh, where, yes, I have been, and which, dramatic as it might have been, you can not hold up as any kind of example of direct or efficient transit worth replicating.

        The Pittsburgh streetcar is analogous in other ways, but not as you hoped:
        At the end of its life, the 52 streetcar was extremely infrequent and ridership could be measure in three digits. The route took nearly 15 minutes to travel a distance that trains through the Mt. Washington Transit Tunnel cover in two minutes. Oh, and it doesn’t exist anymore, because its staggering inefficiency could no longer be supported.

        At least the 52 served a unique walkshed that the 100-year-old bypass tunnel would never have been able to. Our streetcar serves no unique walkshed that couldn’t have been served by our brand new, one-chance-to-get-it-right subway. But thanks in part to braindead “streetcars are awesome too!” types, we screwed up our subway — and First Hill — forever.

  8. It is too slow to get us to the airport,

    WTF? Yes, when there’s no traffic issues it’s 5-10 minutes slower than the old 194. Yes, that’s not ideal. But: 1) there were often traffic issues and 2) what does “too slow” mean in this context. From downtown a cab would save you 20 minutes for $40 bucks. Very few people’s time is that valuable.

    1. Of course a smarter route would’ve been down through Georgetown and Boeing Field, but alas the “underserved” communities of Ron Sim’s political base had to appeased and the White Guilt liberals in their fleece vests went right along…

      Choo Choo

      1. Sure, Don. Boeing Field is sure a huge generator of ridership. Those airplanes love to ride the train.

      2. It might have been faster to the airport, but it would have been even worse at picking up people along the way. It probably would have been cheaper, but probably only because it avoids the Beacon Hill tunnel.

      3. We could have skipped Capitol Hill and the U-District too and just stayed on I-5 as in the earliest proposal, but that would have contradicted the purpose of a subway, to go right to the neighborhood centers.

        One point-to-point airport service is less efficient than a combined service going to both the neighborhood centers and the airport, for just a slight increase in travel time. The combined service allows people to make all sorts of trip pairs, and if they change their mind en route and want to go somewhere else instead, the odds are they can just stay on the train or turn around. It’s one simple map to memorize, rather than several bus routes to keep track of. And it’s more frequent than the 194, so less waiting.

      4. A route through Georgetown and Boeing Field would not have the ridership to justify 10-minute all-day frequency. At that point, you may as well just go back to the old 194.

      5. The number of gates is not relevant, it’s how often they have planes using them. The North Satellite (accessed from the same security screen as the D gates…) is used by Alaska and United for domestic flights at a much greater frequency than the South Satellite’s international flights.

        Want a physical indication of the north end airport usage bias? Go into the garage and see where cars are parked. Plenty of available spaces at the south end of the garage when the north end is full.

      6. You’ve replied in the wrong place, but you’re still multiply incorrect. All the parking distribution proves is that Alaska/Horizon runs flights to places business travelers might go for a day, and thus leave their cars in short-term parking. This doesn’t make them any more likely to arrive on transit than those traveling further; if anything, it makes them less likely.

        Unless you can provide hard data that the D and N gates turn over significantly more often than the A, B, and C gates, then this is a canard.

        Meanwhile, what drives me nuts is the false equivalence between the “south” bus stop and the “north” Link stop. The bus stop was 500 feet from the dead center of the airport. Link is 950 feet beyond the airport’s northernmost extremity. In an airport with a roughly symmetrical design, and with all security checkpoints within 400 feet of that its geographic middle, it’s insane to claim centrality does not matter.

        Fact: the “D” security area (centered here) is the only one that even might be closer to Link than the bus, and just eyeballing it in that hyperlink, I’m still not sure it is. At best, it’s closer by a few dozen feet. Most of the airport is further by a mile.

    2. Link is up to 5 (never 10) minutes slower than the scheduled time for the old 194. That scheduled time often wasn’t realistic.

      I drove the 194 every day for a period of time. With the Breda buses, it was physically impossible to keep it on schedule. At some times of day (and every time on Sunday) I could literally put my right foot on the floor at E-3/Spokane (where I had arrived right on time), not lift off the throttle except slightly on the I-5/518 ramp, and be 3-4 minutes late arriving at the airport bus stop.

      1. OMG a whole quarter-mile away (actually, 0.2 miles). How will people ever manage?

        Link, even with a bag or two, still beats the 194 despite being sometimes slower and including the walk. And if you go down the whole “well what if I have 7 bags and 2 kids in tow” path, you probably wouldn’t be taking the bus either.

      2. Depends what airline you’re flying. Link is closer to the north end of the airport than the 194 was. On the other hand, the 194 was very convenient to the south end of the airport.

      3. Let’s not rehash this again.

        The bus stop is closer to the center-point of the airport by the length of a football field; ergo, it was in a better location in relation to the vast majority of departure and arrival points.

        You can make all the arguments you want about why Link was built where it was built, and you can make subjective claims about whether or not distance represents a barrier to usage, but you can’t dispute facts: the bus stop was closer.

      4. The physical center point of the airport being meaningful is a bit like the Republican’s maps showing counties that voted for them in the last election. Lot’s of dirt that’s red, but not lots of people.

        Seatac has a north terminal bias because that’s where AlaskaAir focuses their flights, more passengers flying out of C and D, and the North Satellite.

        The Link Station at the north end is just fine.

      5. Oh, and the bus stop is still closer to the C concourse and the N shuttle than Link is.

        The dozen-or-so gates in D are the only ones in the entire airport closer to Link. But there are dozens of gates that are much, much, much further.

    3. Keep in mind, my main objection to the train going to the airport is that the airport is a silly destination. This isn’t Honolulu or Las Vegas, this is Seattle. Who cares if it goes to the airport? But my secondary point is that it doesn’t even do that very well. The fact that it is better only during rush hour compared to one (or maybe two) particular bus routes is a pretty bad metric. It should blow the doors off of the current bus system, which is what the north end lines will do. I don’t think most people take a cab to the airport (taxi prices being what they are in this city). I think most people drive to the airport or ride a private shuttle/limo.

      On the other hand, once the new line is complete, it will make the 71, 72, 73, 74 and a lot of other buses obsolete. It will be faster, more reliable and serve important stops along the way (Capitol Hill). Even the 41 from Northgate becomes obsolete, replaced by a train that serves the second and third most important places in Washington while doing so faster. That is a solid system, and one that will have plenty of riders.

      1. If you’re going Ranier Valley to the airport, Link actually does blow the doors off the previous system. Before, you got to take the slow 7, 36, 42, or whatever into downtown, then wait up to half an hour for the 194 (or, after the 174, the slower 174) and backtrack.

      2. Also, if you look at the ridership numbers, the number of airport trips is far from trivial. The airport is also an important anchor point at the south end of the line. With it, the train would just get emptier and emptier as you get further from downtown. Demand would also be a lot more concentrated at the peaks.

      3. People in Chicago, DC (National), San Francisco, New York, London, Duesseldorf etc, are glad there’s a train going to the airport.

      4. Keep in mind, my main objection to the train going to the airport is that the airport is a silly destination. This isn’t Honolulu or Las Vegas, this is Seattle. Who cares if it goes to the airport?

        This is obviously meant as a rhetorical question, but I don’t get it. It’s a important destination because it’s a common destination, as both an employment center and a place where well over a million people go every month to fly. I have no idea why Las Vegas or Honolulu are more logical places for trains to the airport–in LV the airport is very close to the area where most hotels are; if you can get your damn cabbie to stay off the freeway it’s well under $20 for most of the strip (and the strip isn’t very walkable with luggage anyway, so unless you’re going to one of the hotels the light rail serves directly, it wouldn’t do much good. And at $5 a pop for the monorail, it would barely represent savings for 2+ people. In general, the monorail is a joke; a testament to the egos and political power of a few casino owners. The economic crash is part of the story why they can’t secure funding for the airport extension, but it’s hardly the only one–the system is terrible and expanding it isn’t a good use of scarce resources. And Honolulu serves about half as many people as SEA-TAC. Why would these airports be more logical for light rail than Seattle?

        To be clear, I’m open to the argument that the airport was wrongly prioritized as a destination for the initial line. But you seem to be suggesting it’s a poor choice for a stop in the system.

        I don’t think most people take a cab to the airport (taxi prices being what they are in this city). I think most people drive to the airport or ride a private shuttle/limo.

        What do you base this on? Based on my sense of people I know, the most common form is arranging for rides from friends/spouses, followed by link. But it would be foolish to assume the people I happen to know are representative of SEA-TAC users, as there’s no reason to think my network is a randomized sample (yours probably isn’t, either). We could look at Metro/ST’s data to try and extrapolate a sense of what percent of travelers use link and the bus routes, but that wouldn’t tell us anything about how the rest of trips are made. If this has been studied I’d love to see a link.

        At any rate, what appears to be the main shuttle system, Shuttle Express, seems to combine the inconvenience of link with the cost of a taxi, at least where I live. (In North Seattle, they offer ~30% savings over a taxi, but the time savings vs bus+link are terrible. If you’re travelling in a group, even just 2 people, taxis are cheaper). Limos are more expensive than taxis.

      5. Airlines are a form of “public” transportation even though they’re not publicly owned. It makes sense to link all forms of transit together. Link is high-capacity transit; airplanes are also high capacity; so Link is the appropriate level of service for an airport, especially the main airport in a medium-sized city.

      6. Shuttle Express is primarily for people who don’t know any better. People who are used to driving everywhere and never ride taxis know that taxis are expensive, but they don’t know how expensive and don’t want to learn the hard way.

        In practice, shopping around for a taxi ride does make a difference. For trips between North Seattle and the airport, I have found Flat Rate For Hire to be best – the cost is only negligibly more than Shuttle Express, but, the service is equivalent to a taxi and, with reasonable notice, they’re pretty reliable.

        Overall, I have found the best overall value of getting to the airport, in terms of time-money tradeoffs (assuming you don’t have a volunteer to drive you) is to take Car2Go to the nearest Link Station and ride Link. Or, if there isn’t a car close enough, take a taxi or for-hire service to the nearest Link station and ride Link. By combining Car2Go with Link, it is possible to get door-to-door from almost anywhere in Seattle to SeaTac airport in under an hour, at a cost of about $10, one-way.

      7. He’s right.

        The last three times I’ve left town, I’ve car2gone all the way to Lander, ignoring Metro and bypassing downtown entirely. Even brings the Link fare down by 25 cents.

        Traveling is stressful enough; why let Metro start me off in frustration and lateness?

    4. Finding a cab downtown is not an instaneous event. Last time I needed to find one, it took me 15 minutes to hail one and get him to stop. I was told by the driver to call the dispatcher. I didn’t understand the for-hire vs. taxi laws then. The laws seem a bit obsolete, and downtown doesn’t seem to have enough cabs.

      BTW, Has anyone heard from Norman lately?

  9. Bruce Ramsey’s piece is terrrible.

    Comparing opex for 2013 you get 668 million for Metro and 57 million for Link (from the agency’s budgets — I haven’t spent a lot of time making sure that there aren’t weird line items that ought to be included, but didn’t see anything that stuck out like a sore thumb). So that’s 5.80 per boarding for Metro, and 6.30 per boarding for ST based on BR’s boardings figures. That’s pretty close, and certainly doesn’t support the argument he seems to be trying to make. Moreover, I think that Link’s double digit passenger growth may mean that his 9 million figure is a little low, which further wekens his argument.

    ST’s Capex are about three times those of Metro, but that’s to be expected at this stage of their existence. A sensible argument can be made that the return on this investment (and ST’s past investments) is poor; but Mr. Ramsey doesnn’t even try to do so.

  10. I don’t think it is anti-rail to criticize the manner or costs at which rail is deployed.

    We were promised fast, widely spread, regional rail two decades ago using a cheap, quickly implemented light rail technology.

    That was stalled out to build an expensive, narrowly build, Seattle-mostly system.

    Ramsey is thus making the same criticism as Sawant. People were misled, and the result is the same amount of traffic for most with not many true alternatives to the high cost real estate nearby.

    The “solution” ends up exacerbating, not helping the problem of meeting the desire for where people want to live with where jobs are…but it didn’t have to!

    1. John,

      What Seattle ( oh and Tukwila ) got was a social engineering project not a transit system. The system was sold as a transit project, but quickly morphed into a way to herd people into “TOD” a la apodments. Screw the worker driving in from the North , hoping for relief. Instead they are told to move into that clapboard townhouse down in the RV.

      No wonder pot is legal, the urban planners have been smoking it for a long time

      1. Apologies for the troll feeding, but ‘screw the worker driving in from the North’? You do realize that North Link will provide perfectly reliable 14-minute travel times from Northgate to Downtown, every 6-10 minutes, 20-hours per day, 7 days per week, in perpetuity? And you also surely realize that there’s not a single apodment in the RV. They’re all up north, in currently bus-only neighborhoods, where plenty of organic demand for them exists. Cut the crap.

      2. What people were expecting was more like an Everett to Tacoma, Seattle to Issaquah system…with fast express service between major stops.

        What they got was a Seattle-only milk run.

      3. JB, a train system primarily focused on getting to Issaquah, Everett, and Tacoma fast from one part of Seattle would be obsolete before it opened. It would miss so many places, both within Seattle (Cap Hill, UW, Ballard, parts of the RV) and outside of it (parts of Bellevue and Redmond), that are large and growing centers of jobs and homes and are already built in a way that complements transit.

        To the extent the system we’re building serves these places, comprehensive access to them makes the system better for everyone. We’re building a system between “major stops” — if you think Cap Hill and the U District aren’t “major stops” compared to freewayside Federal Way on the fast way to Tacoma, Eastgate on the fast way to Issaquah, and Lynnwood TC on the fast way to Everett… well, I guess everyone’s entitled to an opinion.

    2. We also quickly learned that using a cheap, conventional, quickly-implementable light rail system wasn’t possible in Seattle thanks to limited land space and the topography. Tunnels and subway stations aren’t cheap. But in return we get a system more akin to light metro than light rail.

      It’s Seattle-mostly (for now) because, strangely, Seattle is where the people, density, jobs, and traffic are. By 2023, more than 50% of the system will be outside the Seattle city limits and all further growth (ST3+) on the spine will occur outside Seattle.

      1. But Seattle already had a transit system.

        People voted for a regional system to get them past the traffic coming into Seattle.

      2. If Seattle already had a transit system, then the suburbs already had a transit system. Both had extensive bus coverage.

      3. The Buses on I-5 also have carpool lanes and transit/carpool only exit ramps. There is a lot of infrastructure already to support bus transit in and out of Seattle, and it works well for bus transit.

        When the light rail reaches Lynnwood in 2023, it will definitely be an upgrade, but there options now are not horrible compared to car if all you are doing is going downtown. Making something that takes you plenty of places that are not Downtown is what the light rail system is about.

      4. And the Seattle buses got stuck in traffic on city streets. So, both Seattle and the suburbs had equally stuck transit systems!

      5. Yep, so we pony up for light rail… and the only way to get those off the streets is to spend money on tunnels and elevated track sections.

      6. JB – people in Seattle are paying for this with their taxes too and deserve to get something for their money, like a system that actually serves them, rather than simply passing through them.

    3. So ST initially understimated the costs. Since then, the board was reorganized and the current cost estimates are realistic, and another vote approved ST’s continuation and the current projects. And University Link is currently under budget. So big deal. Waah, you may have been misled on what your ST1 taxes would buy. But you weren’t mislead on ST2.

      “What people were expecting was more like an Everett to Tacoma, Seattle to Issaquah system…with fast express service between major stops.”

      This confirms my memory of ST1; you’re completely wrong. Sounder was the only “fast express service between Everett and Tacoma” that was ever proposed. And Sounder was never proposed to Issaquah. If people are expecting Link to Issaquah, well, people can expect anything, but ST has never promised it; it’s only studying and considering it. In ST1, suburbanites basically took a wait-and-see attitude on Link. Maybe if it was good they’d expand it later. But has been obvious ever since the initial line opened that ever if it were extended to Tacoma and Everett, it would never be as fast as the 577 and 594, it may or may not be as fast as the 510, and it would be just a few minutes faster than the 550.

      1. This confirms my memory of ST1; you’re completely wrong.

        You’re both confirming my statement and calling me wrong?

        Yes, this has to be….STB!

      2. In an earlier statement I said I couldn’t fully remember whether the suburbs were eager for light rail at the time of ST1, but I thought not. Your statement that they were made me remember that they were not. People were excited about the 510, 511, 522, 545, 554, 574, and 577, because they were much faster and more frequent than the previous routes. (The 550 got a different reception. [1]) They weren’t thinking seriously about light rail then. Kent and Auburn were excited about Sounder of course; people in the Sounder corridor have been more steady in their expectations.

        [1] The other routes all put freeway routes where none were before. The 522’s predecessor detoured to Northgate. The 545’s was local from Redmond to Medina. The 554’s was local from Factoria to Issaquah. The 577’s stopped at SeaTac and all the freeway stations before Federal Way. The 510’s were local all the way from Seattle to Everett. But the 550 was only a little faster than its predecessors, and no more frequent. So many people complained about paying the higher ST fare for the same service as before, that ST had to charge Metro’s fare on that route until it raised the frequency a couple years later. It’s ironic that the route that was initially considered the most mediocre has become ST’s highest-ridership and most frequent route.

      3. Mike, another factor in the 550’s initial lukewarm reception was that it didn’t use the nice new comfy ST equipment that passengers were seeing on the other routes. Instead it used the same old tunnel Bredas with the same old brown seats, just with a ST paint job.

        ST also came up with a few total clunkers in their initial planning process. Remember the 505/506 and the original 570?

  11. I have a suspicion this editorial piece is nothing but some level of poisoning the well toward the next, future vote for the next expansion of Sound Transit and rail. The more that these lines grow in usage and success, the harder it will be for people to argue against them. It’s a race.

  12. The thing is, capital costs are large but they’re a one-time expense. In 2025 people won’t care as much about the cost because the remaining debt will be smaller. In 2040 and 2060 when it’s paid off, people won’t care at all how much it cost to build but they’ll be very glad it’s there.

  13. To be clear, this is the same Bruce Ramsey who went on the radio to criticize the SoDo stadium deal, got just about every fact about the deal wrong on the air, then had to admit afterward that he hadn’t actually looked at the MOU, right?

    Glad to see standards are so consistently high over at a our paper of record.

    1. Bad comparison.

      The hundreds of millions in “in-kind” city services (laying the infrastructural groundwork for the project in a way that would be any other developer’s responsibility) and forgone tax dollars (siphoned from competing discretionary-spending revenues, and used to repay our “loan”), represented a massive taxpayer subsidy to this private enterprise, no matter what sexy euphemisms littered the MOU.

      The result of Ramsey’s lack of credibility is the same in both situations: by occupying the extreme end of an argumentative spectrum, he makes it impossible to have an honest conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of our approach to building civic amenities, about whether they accurately reflect our priorities or our willingness to set appropriate goals and achieve them. (See RossB above.)

      1. Respectfully disagree. It’s a perfect comparison insofar as he’s failing to meet the bare minimum standards for forming an argument in each case, regardless of whether he ultimately lands on the right side of an issue.

  14. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that a Times columnist published something misleading. All to common for a paper that’s quicly becoming irrelevant.

    1. If you make the effort to say Entity X is becoming irrelevant, then it disproves your own point. (This is not meant as a defense of the Times, in particular, but as a cheap plug to view the whole video from Rail~Volution, in which Dominic makes the same point, a little more eloquently.)

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