Councilmember (for now) Richard Conlin, writing this week on his blog:

The Sound Transit Board has identified the light rail alignment and station alternatives to be studied in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the extension of light rail to Federal Way. The Board advanced two alternatives for the alignment, one following I-5 and one on SR99. A final alignment choice could also be a hybrid of the two. The most significant decision, however, was to add two possible stations at South 216th and South 260th Streets, each of which would offer significant opportunities for Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

You should read Mike Orr’s analysis of the various alignments between Angle Lake and Federal Way if you want to get a good sense of the options on the table. Sound Transit’s summary presentation is here (PDF). It’s important to note that these proposed infill stations, estimated at about $40M each, are not currently funded as part of ST2. However, they need to be included in the EIS to even have a shot at existence, so the board wisely included them.

So should we build them? It seems like a no-brainer.  The distance between Angle Lake and Federal Way is about 9 miles.  Having just two stations in that span, three miles apart, isn’t enough.  The added minute or so of dwell time is a worthwhile trade. Additional stations also increase the potential for TOD and strengthen the case for a SR-99 alignment, where TOD is more likely to occur.

In some ways, the Federal Way extension is a mirror of the Lynnwood Link SR-99 vs. I-5 debate.  This time around, though, we have a chance to make a better choice that brings more riders, more development, and fewer park-and-ride highway stations.  And who knows? We might even convince these guys to ride.

48 Replies to “Sound Transit Studying More Stations for the South Corridor Extension”

  1. I’m not sure if it makes sense to “fix” central link by putting all new stations along 99 or if it would be better to save that alignment for a future line that could also come down the 99 corridor through downtown.

    If there are going to be large park and rides along this line, I would rather it be along I-5 so we can have the pedestrian accessible stations along a future 99 line.

    1. Please, no more future talk. We’ve been future talking for decades now. We have one shot to do this correctly now.

      Building parallel lines on I-5 and SR99 wouldn’t make sense as they’re so close together and such a project would be a terrible use of precious dollars that could be used elsewhere. The plan is to have P&Rs at KDMR, 272nd, and FWTC. 216th and 260th would be station-only.

      1. Agreed. While I don’t like P&Rs, I’d rather accept them and push for the better alignment – it’s a lot easier to replace a P&R than it is to move a poor alignment (or build another alignment right next to it).

  2. Rapid Ride A currently does a great job of serving the Pacific Hwy (99) corridor. It’s fairly ‘rapid’, has adequate station intervals, and doesn’t seem to be overloaded. An I-5 Link alignment would do a great job complementing that service, and I’m definitely not opposed to the outer suburban stations being at P&R freeway nodes.

    1. Wasn’t RR A intended to build ridership and serve as a stopgap until Link went in? Just another reason not to chase Link ridership with RapidRide lines. Well, unless they’re as shitty as RR C and D.

    2. RR A was chosen years before they knew whether Link would ever go south of the airport. It serves a completely different purpose than Link; i.e., the local stops in the area. If RR A had been made as a limited-stop overlay like Swift, then Link would replace it, but not in this case. RR A is currently taking taking half an hour from Federal Way to SeaTac in the off-hours. That’s OK for a trip to the airport but not so good if you’re transferring to somewhere further, because it’s essentially a half hour added to every trip. I think RR A has too many stops, but that would be less of an issue if there were a limited-stop overlay, which Link would be.

      1. In my opinion, having ridden 174 and the RR-A, RR-A is 174 in a fancy wrapper. Link would be lightyears faster than the Rapid Ride 174 line.

      2. You didn’t notice the transit lanes and RR A going full speed in them, and not waiting to merge in and out of traffic?

  3. The best possibility of getting South King County residents out of their cars is TOD on SR-99. The best way to get TOD is by rail stations and alignment.

  4. WIth Rapid Ride already in place, Link should go after speed, rather than slowing down to pick up passengers.
    also to make Link any useful for long distance riders, ST should build a single track bypass along Airport way S/I-5 from the Maintenance facility in SODO to just south of Boeing field where Link comes out to the west side of I-5 again. Then they could run peak express trains on weekday rush hour, and 30 min interval express trains on off peak hours and weekends.

    1. Beetle,

      If you search you’ll find a post from about two years ago in which I detailed the physical geometries possible to do exactly what you’re saying. The flying junction at the MF provides a perfect junction at the north end and something similar dipping down like the underpass for the east to north flyunder to Airport Way would do the same thing at the south end.

      It wouldn’t cost very much at all since it could be 90% at-grade.

    2. if you are going to the trouble of building a “bypass” … double track it from the beginning. The cost of doing so would be minimal as compared to doing it at a later date.

    3. We can build a bypass AFTER we build lines to Ballard, West Seattle, and Lake City. We shouldn’t give SeaTac and Des Moines TWO ways to get to Seattle when hundreds of thousands of people in denser neighborhoods have no rapid transit at all.

  5. The 99 route seems like the best alternative. Although, I’m still amazed that a station may not be located at Highline CC. I suppose the is some room for station location at KDM Rd. When I worked for Kent, we did an amazing amount of planning for the Midway area. Hopefully some of that subarea plan will come to fruition on 99 instead of failing due to an I-5 alignment.

    1. Don’t be misled by the “Kent-Des Moines” name; that’s simply a placeholder for a station which could be located anywhere between SR 516 and S. 240th Street. (I shouldn’t have to point this out, but the graphic at the top is VERY schematic in nature.) HCC is one of the most important destinations in this area and a station proximate to the college is highly valued by stakeholders.

      1. It may end up being the station for the CITIES of Kent and Des Moines even if it’s not at KDM Road. The road does not have a monopoly on the name.

      2. Hah! Yeah, I was reading the station names, not the legibility of the schematic map. The light grey on a small screen isn’t very helpful. Sorry! But go to know it’s actually closer to HCC/240th.

      3. But conversely, to have a fast bus from the station to Kent and East Hill, the station would have to be near KDM road. That collides with the interests of 240th, which is a more walkable area and I think closer to the college.

  6. The comments indicate the futility of even building this. We have a Rapid Ride that’s working and isn’t overcrowded. Why again should Link be extended this far? Oh, right, subarea equity. Which will allow this subarea to fill the Link trains coming into my subarea before the get to it.

    1. If link gets extend to the subarea it will be fast, more reliable and more rapid compared to Bus Rapid Transit.

      1. It’s been shown time and time again, that people prefer rail to buses. Rail has been shown to stimulate actual Transit Oriented Development. Density goals are met with rail versus buses. Cities make the needed long term infrastructure investments to support density when rail enters the mix. RapidRide is really only a placeholder for a future rail corridor.

        And lastly, Having rail on 99 isn’t going to replace buses. They’re still needed for in between station transport as well as last mile transport.

      2. If you put the stations a reasonable distance apart (about a mile between stations would do nicely), there would be no need to run a bus along the same corridor for “in-between station transport.” That way, even if your destination is halfway between the stations, in most cases people would rather walk half a mile than wait ten minutes for the next bus to show up. If we do that, we’ll be able to redeploy the buses to places not served by rail at all.

        If you leave these stations out and keep the three-mile stop spacing, you save a bit of money when building the line, and everyone riding all the way to Federal Way saves a couple of minutes on their train trip. The downside is that everyone who’s going somewhere halfway between the train stations has to spend an extra 15 minutes waiting for and riding a bus to get to their destination, and you have to spend millions every year to keep the buses going along the same corridor that we just spent billions to serve with a train. If that’s not the definition of madness, I don’t know what is.

      3. Like it or not, given the choices we have today, most people are simply not going to walk a mile to get to a train station. Especially over hill and dale. They might walk a third of a mile from their house to get to an arterial if the grade isn’t too steep. Some hardier folks might walk a 1/2 mile.

      4. Right, a mile is farther than most people will walk on a regular basis. That’s why I suggest putting the stations about a mile apart. That way if your destination is near the train tracks you never have to walk much more than a half mile to board the train. If your destination is not near the train tracks you will still have to ride a bus to get you to a station. But because we wouldn’t need to run buses along the exact same route as the train, we would be able to run more feeder buses from more places.

      5. How far people will walk is dependant on how pedestrian friendly the environment is, along with the general topography.

        The over hill-and-dale part, for instance.

        There are communities surrounding rail stations where 1/5 to 1 mile distances are easy, protected, and just as importantly pleasant enough, but by at least 3/4 of a mile, feeder buses become the preferred method.

        Station siting must be tied into the local environment to attract both types of riders, the local inhabitants, AND users of the park & rides.

        It isn’t an either/or choice.
        The Tukwila Int’l Blvd. Station is extreme example of how to discourage any meaningful TOD.

      6. This is a suburban area, the connectivity is generally bad. In-between transit is still a necessity. Plus, as I’ve been pointed to recent. People will generally walk a mile from home to transit, but they won’t walk more than a half-mile for their place of work or destination (except in exceptional circumstances, particularly the case for “choice riders”). Not all things are equal in transit walksheds.

  7. I agree with Beetle.

    Having an at-grade rail on SR-99 would most likely be similar to the current operation on MLK (which, by the way, I’ve noticed has become a tad slower). The Link can only travel a maximum of 35 mph. If it were to travel the 8 miles on Pacific Hwy at that speed, plus stop to pick up passengers, it won’t be an appealing commute option for South County riders.

    If the SR-99 alternative is chosen, then an express track must be built somewhere (which ST will unlikely do).

    1. I should have been more clear. the SR-99 option will be mostly elevated in the median. It won’t be at-grade like MLK/Central Link.

      1. Frank, I can’t find the documents that detail a mostly elevated alignment via SR-99. Could you provide a link?

      2. See my earlier article linked above. All the alignments on Pac Hwy or 30th are elevated. The freeway alignments are partly at-grade, but that’s not a problem because it’s in the freeway ROW so there are no intersections to slow down the train.

      3. An elevated line down the median of 99? Yuck! That reminds me too much of the Canada Line in Richmond as it towers above No. 3 Rd. The CL structures act as a barrier between the two sides of the road and emulate an “Alaskan Way Viaduct-esque” concrete bohemith. I’ll pass. WSDOT also owns a bunch of real estate to the west and east of SR 99 for the 509 extension just South of Sea-Tac. Why not schmooze WSDOT to use a portion of it? After KDM it could follow Military Road to I-5 near Star Lake/S 304th. Then shoot straight to Fed Way TC to the West of I-5 (but E of 28th Ave S) via 317th.

    2. Then I’m forced to change my opinion! All this time I was under the impression that the Federal Way extension would be at-grade. SR-99 would be a smarter choice!

      1. Check out the PDF Sound Transit Summary Document linked in the post. Page 12 shows the alternatives that advanced to level 2.

  8. At what point should replace the A-line with South Link rather than just supplement it? There is only so many stations you can add until you have basically both a bus and train version of the same route.

    1. Ideally they would complement each other. the bus would stop at the light rail station, take transferring passengers to their local bus stops that are spaced out inbetween stations, having both branded services if setup right could well complement each other.

      1. There would be a lot less people on the “Rapid” Ride after link comes to Federal Way, so after this is done, it might actually become rapid.
        Still, I think it would make sense to have enough stations on South Link to get within walking distance of anywhere on 99, then discontinue the A-line entirely. The amount of service hours that could be recovered from the A-line would be an immense help given the magnitude of the service cuts necessary.

  9. Highway 99 is the better option, a lot more accessibility and a lot more density around 99 than around I-5. If I-5 gets rail it should be a BART like system.

  10. Given that Federal Way Link will be entirely useless for people commuting from Federal Way to Seattle (Link will take 50-55 minutes, as opposed to 25-37 minutes on the 577/578), I suppose it is a good idea to focus on the intermediate points by building more stations. For a line that already cannot function as a fast regional/commuter line, it seems quite pointless to still have ~3 mile station spacing on an urbanized corridor: more stations are necessary to provide access.

    Of course, given that Federal Way Link only slightly improves mobility for trips along Pacific Hwy, as well as some random intermediate trips such as Highline CC-Rainier Valley and Federal Way-SeaTac, I’m still questioning whether there will be enough demand to warrant rail here. Well I suppose if the mayor of Federal Way is willing to sacrifice additional mobility for shiny trains, then it’s probably not feasible to dump Federal Way Link, even if the money could be used to implement BRT on I-5 and Pacific Hwy, as well as to increase local route frequencies to every 10-15 minutes, which could probably benefit more people. Or are there more people going from Federal Way to the airport and from Pacific Highway to Rainier Valley than I anticipated?

    1. Josh F,

      Everybody is so concerned about getting to Downtown Seattle in the fastest possible way. I didn’t realize that DT Seattle was so popular and so important to so many people in the outer burbs. Reading comments like yours would lead one to believe that all regional transit should be a direct shot to DT Seattle because getting there, and getting there fast, is the highest priority and only priority of everyone in the region.

      But the reality is different than what you state…..not everyone boarding Link in FW will go all the way to DT Seattle. Link serves destinations all along the line, and will serve all those destinations in a more reliable manner than Buses Stuck in Traffic. And getting from HCC to SCC will be faster on Link than on the bus. Ditto for the UW. Ditto for the airport.

      1. Admittedly, HCC is one of the more awkward parts of I-5 BRT. If we go ahead with I-5 BRT, in the long term I might envision an elevated bus guideway veering off I-5 for a bit to serve a station at Highline Community College. Still, even without this, taking a frequent local shuttle from HCC to a freeway station at I-5/Kent-Des Moines, with a timed connection to fast I-5 service to downtown (~20 min if enough priority is given), and then connecting again to Link to SCC or UW, would still be as fast and reliable as Link all the way.

        Trips such along Pacific Hwy exclusively could be served by enhancing RapidRide. Something similar to Auckland’s eastern busway, with exclusive center lanes, stations every 0.5-1 mile, offboard payment, and absolute signal priority could be effective.

        Most importantly, the savings that occur by not building Federal Way Link could be used to improve bus service, not only along I-5 and Pacific Hwy, but also (for example) making routes like the 560, 566, and 578, and local routes (if ST is allowed to give Metro money?) more frequent, thus improving mobility beyond a single low-demand corridor. Of course DT Seattle isn’t the only major destination for suburbanites, but concentrating all transit financial resources on a single corridor (while neglecting all areas that are not within walking distance of Link!) isn’t much better.

    2. People make trips both shorter and longer than downtown. If you’re going from this segment to north Seattle, the Eastside, Mt Vernon, the ferries, Amtrak or Greyhound, you have to go through downtown. So a reasonably fast trip to downtown as Link would provide would benefit a more than just commuters and stadium-goers. Federal Way has the advantage of express buses, which may or may not remain if Link is extended, but those express buses don’t do any good in Des Moines or other parts unless you go out-of-direction to get them.

      1. It seems like you are actually strengthening my argument: people going from Federal Way to north Seattle, the Eastside, Mt Vernon, the ferries, Amtrak, or Greyhound, would benefit far more by investment in I-5 express buses instead of Link, as making people making these trips would prefer a 35-minute bus ride* to Downtown instead of a 50-minute Link ride. It would be a bit more awkward for points between Federal Way and 200th St, but building median freeway stations at Kent-Des Moines and Star Lake, with connecting feeder bus service to surrounding neighborhoods, would also bring about more mobility benefits than Link.

        Along Pacific Hwy, mobility could be increased for very little cost by implementing a high-end median busway with exclusive center lanes, stops every 0.5-1 mile, absolute signal priority, high frequencies, and off-board payment. An example would be Auckland’s proposed Eastern Busway:

        *This is the current bus time during the daytime, which presumably reflects traffic. If the HOV lanes on I-5 were upgraded to HOV-3 or -4, speeds could be increased further (in the early morning, the 577 takes 25 minutes, so express buses could achieve those times with protection from congestion, with perhaps a few extra minutes for the KDM and Star Lake stations).

      2. Freeway stations are the worst. There already are freeway stops at KDM Road and 272nd and they’re horribly ugly, inhuman, and a long walk from Pac Hwy. The stations can be improved but the long walk and the inhumanness of the enviroment can’t. it’s bad enough in Shoreline which is a green neighborhood with a mostly-intact street grid, but it’s worse in the south end where everything is more highways and larger scale.

      3. When I said “freeway station,” I meant something more like Eastgate Fwy Station (but with much better local transit connections!) or perhaps Minneapolis’ 46th St Station (see a picture here Nevertheless, your point about I-5 being too far away from Pacific Highway is quite valid, even if it could be ameliorated by additional infrastructure and bus connections. Perhaps I might have to rescind my opposition to Federal Way Link if it is actually built on a ~1 mile station spacing and provides complete access for the entire Pacific Highway corridor. Nevertheless, local buses (for connections into neighborhoods) and express buses (for fast trips into Downtown Seattle and other regional destination) must continue to be improved.

      4. The Federal Way express buses will probably remain peak hours to get the bulk of people to work, but off-peak you have to question the wisdom of them. Frequency partly makes up for travel time, and if Link is coming every 10-15 minutes and the buses are every 30-60 minutes, that wipes out most of the bus’s travel time advantage unless you’re able to constrain your trip to the bus’s schedule.

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