Our Vision has been well publicized so Seattle Subway focused on three other areas in our public comment letter:

Seattle Subway Logo

To: Sound Transit’s Board and the entire Sound Transit staff

Re: We need fast, reliable, transit that is both economically sustainable and designed for future expansion.

Seattle Subway is thrilled to see that Sound Transit has begun the study work for ST3 corridors – which, within Seattle, include Ballard to Downtown, Downtown to West Seattle, and Ballard to the U-District – and that Sound Transit is aiming to run a 2016 ballot measure. Congratulations are also in order for U-Link, which is on track to be both under budget and ahead of schedule. We are writing this public comment letter for Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update to urge Sound Transit to: (1) use driverless technology for all new rail lines, (2) design and construct all future rail lines prioritizing further expansion and (3) select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology.

1. Use driverless technology for all new rail lines

Funding for operations is critical to the economic health of any transit system and the direct Return on Investment (ROI) case for rail projects. The former is demonstrated by the current funding shortfall for King County Metro’s operations. Though the subsidy for each ride on Link will be far lower when U-Link opens, current fares pay for less than 30% of total operating cost per trip. The driverless system in Vancouver, BC covers its entire operating budget via fares; possible due to their low cost per trip. In 2011, Vancouver’s driverless system’s operating expense per trip was $1.97. Using Vancouver’s 2011 expenses per trip, Sound Transit’s revenue per trip in 2011 of $2.05 would have covered operating expenses completely. Such driverless systems convey three immense benefits: 1. Massive savings to taxpayers through faster ROI on rail system investment; 2. A more flexible system, which does not incur cost penalties to run a 1-car train every 2.5 minutes instead of a 4-car train every 10 minutes; and 3. Permanently removing partisan politics as a threat to funding operations of new rail lines.

2. The design and construction of all future lines prioritizing further expansion

These new rail lines are desperately needed and must be built for expansion. Seattle began building rail late, missing an opportunity in 1968 to begin design and construction; when the ST3 lines are finally built, demand for expansion will be overwhelming. The two most pressing opportunities for expansion are: 1. The line from Ballard to West Seattle and Burien, via a new tunnel in Downtown Seattle, must have the potential to fork at both ends of Downtown Seattle. This will enable expansion north from the Commercial Core Urban Center Village through booming South Lake Union Urban Center and north along Aurora, one of the highest demand transit corridors in the state. This will enable expansion south to employment centers in SODO and at Boeing Field in the Greater Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center, to nightlife in Georgetown, and allow for the long-term need for trips to the airport and points south unencumbered by at-grade sections of track. 2. The new rail line being designed from Ballard to Downtown must include the option to expand northward from Ballard Hub Urban Village towards the Crown Hill Residential Urban Village and points north. Seattle Subway believes it is crucial to consider the future of all potential corridors when designing new rail lines for the region.

3. Select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology

The faster our rail system is, the more useful it will be. Light rail vehicles are a prudent technology choice when designing for both at-grade crossings (such as in the Rainier Valley) and elevated grade-separated sections (such as from Tukwila to the airport). Because travel times and capacity will become increasingly important as the region’s rail network grows, we encourage Sound Transit to consider faster rail vehicles and entirely grade-separated alignments that enable faster speeds for all future rail investments. Light rail vehicles have a top speed approximately 40% slower than other rail vehicle technologies. Due to speed limitations, a faster technology should be selected for the future rail lines that will take full advantage of our investment in entirely grade-separated rail.

Again, we write in support of the work Sound Transit has done for Seattle and the Region.  We are passionate fans who urge Sound Transit to build a system free from unnecessary compromises.  Our city and region has only one chance to do this right. Please, build new lines in Seattle using the fastest possible driverless technology and ready for future expansion so that we can realize our shared vision:  A city and region fully connected by fast, reliable high capacity transit.

Thank You,

Seattle Subway

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Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer organization that advocates for drade-separated rail transit in Seattle.

109 Replies to “Seattle Subway’s Thoughts on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan”

  1. Any chance Seattle can push something like L.A.’s measure R or Denver’s FasTracks to pay for any of the Seattle lines that might not make it into ST3? That would definitely put an end to the I’m paying for something I’ll never see in my life argument.

    1. I’m not as well informed on FasTracks as I would need to be to discuss it intelligently, but LA’s Measure R is a local (county level) sales tax. Seattle would need taxing authority from the State Legislature to raise sales taxes. I know people in the Seattle transit community are working on getting that authority for the City of Seattle *and* King County, but we’re not there yet.

      1. Don’t use any tax! Shut down metro and build more roads. That’s what Seattle needs above all else. We are an automobile city, and the last thing we need is empty buses and million dollar wasted trains!! End metro and sound transit! Give us back our roads!

  2. I fully concur that automation would be the right choice for select future lines. They would have to be distinct systems from Link with no interface between them, requiring entirely separate O&M, rolling stock, and obviously complete grade separation. Automation would guarantee tunneling in West Seattle and many other places, while likely giving us SkyTrain-esque elevated tracks through low elevation areas such as SoDo and Interbay, etc.

    I really hope ST studies this thoroughly, and makes it clear how soon and under what conditions the added capital costs and lack of interoperability would pay off in lower operating costs, better reliability, higher ridership, potentially double the frequency, and speeds >55mph.

    1. We know that ST can’t interline the new line with the old line – so new O&M, etc is necessary even if they stick with Light Rail. Its not clear what the economies of scale are for sticking with LR… Mechanic training and spare parts? Relative peanuts when compared to the upsides.

      1. East link is going to be interlined with central/northlink. If future expansion is to be a different technology then the opportunity cost of balancing fleets among lines is lost. As long as the operational savings pay for it, it may be worthwhile.

      2. Charles – correct, sorry – my head is way in the future. I was speaking only of the new line that is being studied now in Seattle. Fungibility of rolling stock is a loss, but a pretty minor one considering the huge savings in operations from driverless.

  3. Thanks for speaking for me! I put in my comment, but you have captured the essence of what we are looking for going forward.

  4. Just a note that top speeds in an urban setting will likely be governed by station spacing and acceleration and deceleration profiles rather than the theoretical top speed of the vehicle. So unless there are significant places with very wide station spacing the vehicle choice will not make a huge impact on top speed (which really is only important as a proxy for travel times anyway).

    1. Absolutely – There are some relatively long sections in city where top speed could be achieved… But its really all about picking whatever improves travel times the most within the likely system.

    2. I think alignment type at-grade vs fully grade separate really is where we’ll get the speed advantages we want. With that said some elevated segments of Link are painfully slow due to tight turning radii and track design (Which I hope someone can explain. Why can’t Link gun it by the O&M facility?)

      1. Adam, ST will likely tell you it is because of all the switches (false) and the presence of staff for driver changes at “The Hut” (a function which ought to be happening at SODO, in an ideal world.

      2. I’ve had people tell me it’s because of the switches but regular trains and even high speed trains go over switches at full speed all the time…. and don’t even get me started on driver changes.

    1. “Heavy rail” vehicles can hit 80 mph or more. Below Anandakos points to BART as an example of this.

    2. MARTA goes 70, CTA is theoretically capable of 70, though I’ve only ever ridden one that’s gotten to 63.

  5. It’s important to note that SkyTrain cars have a top speed of 55 mph (90 km/h) and a normal operating speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). Most driverless systems are actually slower than driver operated ones.

    BART has a top speed of 80 mph and was originally designed to be driverless so it’s certainly possible to have higher speed driverless technology. It just depends how much electricity you want to use.

    1. It’s definitely better to use a bit more electricity to pull more people from burning oil to using hydropower. :)

      1. I definitely agree with that, and with your desire to have provision for a non-interfering junction built in both north and south of the CBD. It was pure short-sightedness that the bus tunnel wasn’t designed with a stacked curve at Third and Pine so a junction could be accommodated. Even if it were just going to be buses forever, having an interface to Third Avenue somewhere north of Stewart would have been a great idea.

        Plenty of trolley wire to exploit there.

        That was in the paper I gave them proposing boring the tubes in 1982 when they were going to cut and cover it. Not saying that my little paper changed their minds, but something did very soon after.

  6. I would take it 1 step further and say that the existing rail lines should be converted to driverless heavy rail at some point — maybe not immediately. The way I would accomplish this is by truncating the current North-South Link at Mt Baker station, and actually have RV be more of a rapid streetcar that adds a couple infill stations and continues to Jackson where it hooks up w/ the the First hill streetcar line.

    Since the rest of the line is grade separated, it can be converted to driverless.

    (Obviously, this assumes the construction of a separate, grade separate N-S corridor from DT Seattle to SeaTac via Georgetown — something that Seattle subway is already suggesting)

    That enforces a clear separation between the fully grade-separated driverless Link, and streetcars that aren’t grade-separated.

    1. Or, at much higher expense, after building the Downtown to Georgetown to airport grade-separated “bypass”, go back and make RV a retained cut?

      We can dream, can’t we?

      1. You’re permitted to dream of course, but making RV a retained cut deprives another neighbourhood of new, better, and faster service. There WILL be tradeoffs involved, always, and we WILL have to learn to live with our past mistakes (most notably the I-5 “free”way which should probably be pulled down before a retained cut is dug in RV).

      2. Fair enough. However, retrofitting the original portion of the network so there are no at-grade crossings is a good cause and benefits the entire system if it leads directly to increased reliability, automation, and thus SkyTrain-like 100% or more farebox recovery.

      3. TVC – It’s a beautiful dream, but there are a host of barriers at this point. I would be really shocked if that was ever even seriously considered. It’s why it’s so important to talk about this now… We only get one shot to build the best system possible.

      4. I think the point here is that regardless of the solution, Sound Transit need to look at ways to increase the speed of Link between SODO and the south.

      5. The NYC subway was elevated before it was underground. At some point they’ll see the grade crossings were a mistake and fix them. But that has to be after the other Seattle Subway lines are built. We can’t spend a lot of money in Rainier Valley or on a Georgetown bypass while Ballard, Lake City, Greenwood, and West Seattle have no rapid-transit alternatives at all.

      6. Mike Orr, I’m not disagreeing with that point at all, but it’s important to build the rest of the system the best we possibly can the first time. My “dream” in response to Stephen is eventually retrofit the “mistake” (at-grade crossings) out of the system, which leads to capabilities of automation, which leads to huge long-term operating cost savings for a *system* that should last 100 years.

    2. I like your idea. Changing to heavy rail through downtown would accomplish a very important goal: increase capacity. An automated heavy rail line through downtown would be great. I wonder how much it would cost to convert it? I think the line to the east side goes on the surface, so that a train would have to have a driver. Mixing and matching would be fine, though, in my opinion. If the Central to North line is heavy rail, and the east side line isn’t, then I think it solves our capacity problems. Can they mix? Are they different gauges and if so, can you have one inside the other? Maybe you can’t, but at worse that means that the east line doesn’t intertwine with the other line, and folks have to get off the train if they want to keep going. With the change you propose, I think what I would call the “main line” (from the south to the north) should have 2 minute headways, so transfers would be fast.

      1. By heavy rail I assume you’re referring to the gauge of track and size of cars. But it was pointed out to me that the capacity of a 4 car Link train consist is approximately the same or more than an 8-10 car CTA train consist. So what do we really get by heavier cars?

      2. Then to be more precise, it’s not so much the size of the cars but their ability to run at high speeds. For example, our current Kinkisharyo sets start to get serious sway action at high speeds and are thus speed limited to about 55 mph. What if we could use the same rated track but the trains had technology that allowed them to travel safely and smoothly at higher speeds? And what kind of speeds are we thinking? 70-80 or 90mph?

      3. If that’s the case, Charles, then I could care less about heavy rail. Capacity is way more important (I explain why in excruciating detail below), but I’ll rephrase it here. We are already paying the price for inadequate capacity through downtown. To quote Sound Transit:

        “Planned light rail extensions to Lynnwood and the East Side will increase train traffic in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), leaving no room in the tunnel for a Ballard rail line to safely operate. If the Ballard rail line used a separate parallel tunnel to enter or exit Downtown Seattle, underground walkways could connect passengers to the DSTT.”

        In other words, we can’t build a line from Ballard to the UW instead of building a line from Ballard to downtown (we can build the line in addition to it, but not instead of it).

        I assumed that heavy rail could handle more cars, and thus more people than light rail. If that isn’t correct, then I see no point in switching to it. So, I guess my point is that we should be looking at switching to some sort of train system that can handle the loads we want to put on it.

      4. @RossB: no matter what kind of rail we use, station length is going to limit the number of cars. The differences of capacity between CTA and Link has virtually nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with their seating and door layouts [and perhaps crashworthiness regulations] There are plenty of examples worldwide of heavy rail with Link like layouts and Link like capacity.

      5. Ross, I’m not sure I’m grokking your statement. What it says to me is that a Ballard to Downtown line running in the DSTT is not possible given the headways they must maintain (e.g. 2.5 minutes). But that should not preclude a Ballard to UW line that people can transfer to a ULink/Central/EastLink train.

        An East/West corridor serves so many purposes and provides significant synergy to the system that it in my opinion should be among the first choices made.

        An initial West Seattle system only has to link up to Central Link at SODO. Eventually, a 2nd tunnel can be built that would provide for a through route from West Seattle to Ballard and beyond. But for getting quick results the east/west corridor makes the most sense to me.

      6. I agree Charles. I responded to your first two paragraph on the thread below. Basically, Sound Transit won’t allow us to build a UW to Ballard line before we build a Ballard to downtown line because they think it would overwhelm the capacity of the system (if we built it in that order). Some question that, but that is the official word.

        I also agree that we should certainly explore whether a Sodo station serving the various buses along that corridor as well as frequent, top class BRT from West Seattle (with 2 minute headways) would overwhelm the system, or whether that fear is unfounded. Unlike the Ballard situation, I haven’t heard that fear expressed by Sound Transit, only by folks commenting on this blog.

        Thanks William. I don’t really know why we can’t have the capacity we want, or what we can do about it. What you say makes sense. I had incorrectly assumed that older systems (like those in Toronto or New York) have much greater capacity because of the trains they use (heavier, more expensive ones) rather than the reasons you mention.

        In general, I think this would be a great post for this blog. If someone can answer this two part question (as a blog post) I would very much appreciate it:

        What are the limits to our capacity and what can be done about it?

        This sounds pretty complicated to me, which is why I think a post is warranted, as opposed to trying to answer the question in the comments.

      7. How can a 4-car Link train have the capacity of a 10-car CTA train? That sounds impossible. How does a 10-car BART train compare, or a DC Metro train?

      8. Yeah, I’m not sure about those capacity numbers. DC Metro
        cars, for example, have about the same per car capacity as Link. In general, 3rd rail is wider than link but shorter per car. Capacity would likely go up per station using this tech for that reason.

      9. No, it doesn’t. Heavy Rail and Light Rail can not mix at the same platform. They use very different platform heights.

      10. Anandakos – we’re not talking about co-mingling light and heavy rail. The issue of capacity was brought up (on a per vehicle or platform feet basis) – earlier notes seemed to suggest Link cars have higher capacity than 3rd rail… Which they don’t. I think the difference is mostly a non issue for technology consideration for a new line.

      11. Hey @MikeOrr,

        I had remembered a thread sometime in the past few years where the capacity of a Link LRV was compared to a CTA car, but after nearly an hour of google/site searching I haven’t found it. So, I did my own research and came up with this:

        Current CTA trains are described here: http://goo.gl/MNcENL
        Car Length: 48 Feet Width: 9.3 Feet | Seats 34 Total 123 | Weight: 57,000 lbs (empty) entirely one floor.

        Link LRV vehicles are described here: http://goo.gl/ASfVYD
        Car Length: 95 Feet Width: 8.7 Feet | Seats 74 Total 200 (per Wikipedia) | Weight: 102,000 lbs (empty) 74% low floor.

        From this data it is interesting that the “heavy rail” CTA cars are actually shorter/wider and lighter than a single Link LRV.

        A 4 car Link LRV consist would be approximately 380 ft in length (obviously plus couplings) have a capacity of approx 800 people and weigh approximately 408,000 lb empty.

        An 8 car CTA train consist would be approximately 384 ft in length (plus couplings) with an approximate capacity of 984 people and weigh approximately 456,000 lb empty.

        From my experience using CTA, the typical configuration are 6 and 8 car consists with 10 cars used during peak periods. Some platforms on some lines could not accommodate 10 car consists during the time I lived in Chicago. Passengers can move between cars via “emergency doors”.

      12. Charles, CTA does not have 10 car trainsets ever. No single line has platforms long enough throughout it to handle that. (which is very sad – because the red line desperately needs longer trains – it’s maxed out on frequency many hours a day and capacity). RPM (Red/Purple Modernization) though is supposed to extend Northside Red line platforms to 10 car long making it possible though – if it ever gets funded…

      13. Hi Alex, the statement about 10 car trains had been based on my anecdotal experience of counting train cars on a platform thinking it a bit odd there were 10 and not 8 cars and when on board them announcing that at some platforms that not all cars would all fit.

        I am a middle aged, and as such my recollection could be fuzzy and mistaken. So, I’ll withdraw my statement about 10 car consists. (since we don’t have an edit function, this will have to do).

      14. Well, hopefully in the next few years they’ll fix the north redline, and there will be 10-car trains, and we can pretend you were right all along! ;)

      15. Link’s theoretical capacity is 200 but that’s packing people like Tokyo sardines. I remember ST was assuming a practical limit of 130 that Americans would tolerate.

  7. Probably not true, but every time a new line opened in L.A., it felt like a transit strike followed within weeks or months.

    Seems like automated vehicles require grade separation, but how long before the labor costs exceed the money saved with an at-grade solution?

    1. TV – it’s critical that the new line be grade separated for a whole host of reasons – speed/reliability/etc. this post assumes that battle is over (I certainly hope it is.)

    2. Why hasn’t Seattle had the transit strikes other cities have? I don’t think there has been a transit strike here since before I was born.

  8. I very much agree with the first two points. The first one saves us a bunch of money over the long run. The second is essential; we should be thinking about the future with each decision we make. When the bus tunnel was dug underneath Seattle, it was designed so that it could be converted to a rail line some day. That was smart.

    However, I disagree with the third point. Capacity is way more important than speed. As noted above (by others) the biggest gain is speed (and reliability) occurs when you separate the grade. The stations should be close together, so maximum speed, and even acceleration, really isn’t that important. We are talking about a few seconds, which can be more than made up by designing the stations better, spending less time at each station, etc. Maximum speed is more important for long distance systems, like Sounder.

    On the other hand, capacity is critical. We are going to spend billions of dollars on our already expensive system because we don’t have adequate capacity for the existing line. Simple, cheap enhancements to our system get rejected (perhaps wrongly) for fear of overloading it. I like the idea of an additional line from Ballard to downtown, but I think it is crazy that we don’t just build a line from Ballard to the UW first. Unfortunately, we can’t, because our system can’t handle it. A line from Ballard will be nice, but crossing the canal is expensive. So expensive that some of the plans involve using a drawbridge instead of a tunnel or high bridge. Nuts. Meanwhile, no one is talking about serving areas in the Central Area like Seattle U or Yesler Terrace; or running rail to Lake City or Bitter Lake. We have a spine rail system (or will shortly), and our city really isn’t that wide, but we can’t seem to connect to it because it lacks capacity. This is nuts. It will cost us billions of dollars and will degrade the experience. Getting from Ballard to Beacon Hill (or any place south) will mean walking from one station to another. Hopefully the stations will be close to each other, but these are not crossing lines, but lines that will be right next to each other much of the way (until the capacity concerns are allayed). This isn’t cheap, it is isn’t pleasant, and should probably be dealt with directly, instead of simply asking everyone to chip in to buy additional lines.

    1. ST is currently studying UW to Ballard to Downtown to West Seattle as three separate corridors. Its possible all three will be included in ST3. They will likely be a single line to start if that happens with their own separate O&M, etc.

      Regarding item #3: Capacity is #1, sure – but speed becomes more important as the system scales. If we can improve speed by 30% for a marginal additional investment – why not? It will make short haul trips feel effortless and long haul trips seem like less of a big deal.

      1. Yeah, I know they are studying each route as separate corridors. But we can’t have UW to Ballard only. It would be the cheapest, easiest improvement you could make to the system, but our system can’t handle it. If you built that, then a second line from downtown to Ballard drops way down in priority (way behind the ideas I mentioned as well as many others).

        Meanwhile, West Seattle shouldn’t be above the others either. There is an obvious alternative for West Seattle — BRT. I’m not talking about the half ass BRT called RapidRide, but real BRT. Separate grade the entire way, off board fare collection, etc. Build a tunnel through parts of congested West Seattle if you want and build the tunnel so that it can be converted to rail someday. Build a new ramp from 99 to a new transit center at Sodo. That wouldn’t be that expensive. But for heavens sake, reuse the existing freeway. That thing cost a bundle. Building a new bridge (or a tunnel) to support rail would cost a lot. The folks in West Seattle begged for a freeway (and threatened to secede if they didn’t get one) so use it.

        Oh, and make all the buses that travel on 99 (or on streets nearby) use the Sodo transit center. Turn those buses around so they can run more frequently. The only concern I’ve heard about all of these plans is (you guessed it) capacity. Just as our existing light rail line can’t handle all of the people who would travel from Ballard to the UW (unless we build a second line from Ballard to downtown) the existing line might not be able to handle all of the people who would now be using the Sodo station. Nuts.

        Again, I like the idea of all these extra lines that go from here to there, but we have to understand that we don’t have unlimited money here. We see that with our existing system. There are so many examples of decisions made based on trying to cover a wide area, but being cheap about it. We have to fight just to build a bridge from a community college to the station. A bridge! We still aren’t sure if we are going to get a station at 130th, that would connect two dense areas (Bitterlake and Lake City) that won’t get rail of their own for the foreseeable future. In other words — sorry Bitterlake, sorry Lake City, you can’t even get a good bus connection to the system. Meanwhile, we have to build a new, rather redundant line. Oh, and if you think the new line will be everything you ever want it to be, you are dreaming. We are a small city. We can’t spend the money to build everything we want to build. So compromises will have to be made to these lines, and it means they will continue to be built cheaply. It is like we want to buy a few extra cheap cars in case one of them breaks down instead of getting a good reliable one. Nuts.

      2. Oh, and I don’t see how you can improve speed by 30% in the system when the stations are a half mile apart. Wait, they aren’t a half mile apart. Why don’t we have more stations? Oh yeah — they are expensive. Seriously, though, even with our ridiculously large station spacing, making the trains faster would have a minimal impact. The only sizable gap occurs in the south end. That line suffers from slow speed because:

        1) The trains zig-zag like crazy. Not only does this add distance, but trains can’t take the corners that fast. Buying faster trains is like buying a Ferrari for city driving — yes, accelerating onto freeway speeds is fun, but you aren’t to get there any faster than me.

        2) It runs on the surface.

        3) It spends way too much time at each stop.

        I agree, though, we should look at it. If it turns out that we can spend a little bit of money and make the ride from SeaTac to downtown 30 seconds faster, then sure. But lets not kid ourselves into thinking faster trains is the problem, or that getting faster trains should be a priority. I think it is a big mistake by such a prestigious organization like Seattle Subway to list it as such.

      3. Haha… Yeah, I’m a big fan of the Ballard to UW spur, but like you said – it isn’t possible and is 100% off the table at this point. So… Moving on.

        Ballard to downtown would probably beat Ballard to UW in an FTA sponsored corridor fight anyways — because of LQA and Belltown.

        Regarding West Seattle: Which corridor would you build before them? I think they are hard up for transit choices and really want rail (though their land use isn’t as rail conducive as it could be.). Its hard for me to see any realistic plan that jumps them in line.

      4. Before West Seattle, I’d go to the Central District, Fremont, LQA, and maybe parts of Capitol Hill outside the one station currently planned. Unfortunately, only two of those are even on the Long Range Plan right now.

      5. Ballard to UW with the possibility of continuing to the eastside seems like a no-brainer. I don’t believe for one moment that there would be capacity issues. Our aim is to get people out of their cars.

        Yes, it may in the short term affect a Ballard to Downtown line, but it should not affect a West Seattle to downtown line.

        If I had to choose between a UW to Ballard and a Ballard to Downtown line, I’d choose the UW to Ballard line.

      6. Ross B- If we’re going to make a 100-year investment in transit, we should be seriously considering the fastest vehicle possible so that we can send it all the way to Tacoma from Everett and make those trips as quickly as possible. I agree with that point Seattle Subway is making and think it’s an important one to make. Sure there are constraints, but this is for the LONG RANGE PLAN. Sound Transit should be urged to make smart long term choices for Seattle and the whole region, not just pinch pennies today… again, these comments are for the long-term thinking. So, let’s think long-term.

      7. Not to beat a dead horse, but top class BRT makes sense for West Seattle. Generally speaking, I think folks would be thrilled to get this. It has several advantages over a new rail line.

        1) Cheaper. A rail line would entail another bridge and way more elevated or underground infrastructure. Unfortunately, rail costs would be so high that we would probably see cuts in other parts of the system. For example, instead of a tunnel through West Seattle, it arrives next to the freeway, and then slowly moves through Fauntleroy. In other words, we could build a top class BRT system, with a tunnel in parts of West Seattle and a seamless connection to the Central line at Sodo for way less money than a half ass rail system which spends part of its time stuck in West Seattle traffic.

        2) Allows you to start sooner. I think the entire system would be faster to build (I would guess). The folks in West Seattle want a solution now. I think they would welcome something like this (with three minute headways) over something built someday far into the future. You could get started now (in some ways they have) and then build the system out. Run it while you add each piece (off board fare collection, the Sodo bus station, the freeway ramp, the tunnel, etc.).

        3) Other buses can take advantage of it, which means you won’t need to transfer in West Seattle. This is a minor advantage, since you have to transfer anyway (in Sodo) but a lot of folks would be transferring even if the West Seattle line connects to the Ballard line. So, for example, you could take a bus along 35th, get off at Sodo, and then head south to Beacon Hill. With light rail, that would entail two transfers (in West Seattle and Sodo) instead of one.

        4) Expandable to light rail. Not really an advantage over light rail, but merely an advantage to the system. Once you build a tunnel in West Seattle (initially for BRT) folks will assume that someday they will get rail. They may be right.

        For all those reasons folks in West Seattle would welcome top class BRT. They want rail because they don’t like the alternative they see. It is as if they have only had Coors Light and say they want wine. I don’t blame them, but maybe they should try a good brew first.

        As for alternatives to West Seattle rail, I can think of plenty, and I’m sure other folks can too. Unfortunately, some of these get mixed in with current plans, which are still not complete. Some of this might be unnecessary depending on how we build things (such as the line from Ballard to downtown). But a route that replaces the Metro 8 would be great. It would connect some very dense areas (the high rise part of lower Queen Anne, SLU, parts of the Central Area) as well as the Seattle Center. It would cross the existing lines three times; at Capitol Hill, at Judkins Park and at Mount Baker. Eastlake could use a station. So could Fremont. The U-District could use another station to the southwest a bit (where all those dorms are). The Ballard to UW line could be extended a bit, to Children’s hospital. Likewise, the “replace the 8” line could swing around to serve the V. A. Maybe build a line from Lake City to Bitter Lake, or an elevated line above Bothell/Lake City Way. Those last few are lower priority than my other (rambling) list, but still probably a better value than a line to West Seattle.

        Mainly, though, I would make sure that we spend the money to make sure the system is a good one. We need a station at 130th and a bridge over the freeway at Northgate. There are dozens of other examples of little improvements we could make that would lead to much higher ridership and a much better overall system than a very expensive line to West Seattle.

        I also think we should look into expanding the capacity of our “spine”, rather than building another one. It seems crazy that we are basically saying “well, we didn’t put in the right kind of trains (or something) so we have to build extra tunnels somewhere, and you can’t connect to well to the first one because it will overload the system.

      8. @Charles, I agree, but Sound Transit doesn’t. We’ve actually discussed this, and the statement I copied confirms it. Basically, we can’t ONLY build a line from Ballard to the UW. It will put too much stress on the system. So, we have to relieve the stress by building a second line. Once this second line is complete, then we can we build a line from Ballard to the UW. That is the official word from Sound Transit, and it bugs people (like you and me) a lot. When you consider how much money we have to spend on things, it is very frustrating. It won’t be cheap or easy to build a line that goes downtown. Who knows how it will all play out. But I think when it is done, we would all look back and know that we could have a built a better system for that amount of money if we only had better capacity.

        @TransitVsClimate — I think you are missing my point. If it turns out that it is very cheap to get faster trains, then fine. Actually, what is probably most important is acceleration. But most of the stops are so close together that it really doesn’t make any difference at all. Light rail is all about lots of stops. If you want something where speed makes a difference, then commuter rail (like Sounder) is what you have in mind. But the other decisions we make regarding light rail will have a much, much bigger impact on the speed of the system than speeding up the train. If I have to spend three minutes waiting for the cross walk and then another two walking up the stairs to get on the train, I could care less about the 5 seconds I save with the new trains. The little things surround a station will save way more time than faster trains.

      9. Ross: Speed: The speed of the trains is not a primary issue, its part of the whole: “rethink which rail technology you use.” My understanding is that there is rail tech that operates much more quickly than light rail even given urban stop spacing: ST should look at that if they are going fully grade separated already.
        BRT: No one is building real BRT here anytime ever. Look no further than rapid ride for evidence of what that gets watered down to in practice.

        Charles: Regarding Ballard to Downtown and Ballard to UW – we won’t have to choose, those corridors are clearly #1/#2 and will almost definitely be included in the next package. As will (very likely) West Seattle – which ST has indicated as #3 (by their actions.)

      10. “#1/#2 and will almost definitely be included in the next package. As will (very likely) West Seattle – which ST has indicated as #3”

        It completely depends on the three-county tax rate. Maybe it’ll be enough for three lines, maybe just one. And I don’t think the order of lines is as decided as that.

        Ballard-downtown planning was accelerated under the Seattle/ST agreement. But ST hasn’t indicated that 45th is #2. It may put West Seattle #2, especially if it envisions a Ballard – Burien line.

        Also, the Ballard-downtown priority was McGinn’s baby. With him leaving the city and ST Board, its priority may be erased. That would give an opportunity for 45th to emerge as #1. Just because the Ballard-downtown study started first doesn’t mean it will be built first, since ST intended for all the corridors to be studied before ST3. So just because the Ballard-downtown study is first doesn’t mean that it will be built first. (Although I don’t see how ST can finish all the studies in time for a 2016 vote, given that most of them haven’t had any public hearings yet.)

    2. Ross: I’m honestly not tring to split hairs – But Swift is not in Seattle. Seattle has extreme limited ROW issues.
      Also – the ROI might be there for grade separated transit to W. Seattle if they go driverless. Busses (even BRT) will always contend with an unfavorable driver to passenger ratio.
      Also pt 2: politics. W Seattle wants a full scale
      Transit solution. Watching their traffic into downtown in the am, I don’t blame them. Planning something for Ballard but not W Seattle would not be prudent.

  9. For me, one of the best parts of automation is that it basically REQUIRES complete grade separation, or at least a completely independent ROW. That in and of itself makes the system faster and more reliable.

    1. That was a lot of the argument for the Monorail, that it had to be grade-separated so it wouldn’t be watered down to street-running like practically all light rail systems at the time (Portland, San Jose, San Diego, LA). The good news is that Link does have more grade-separate segments than those other systems, and ST2 even more. (I’m including freeway at-grade as “grade-separated”.) The bad news is that the Monorail diverted resources from more Seattle light rail lines, which could have been city-funded, and would have been better integrated with Link. People lament about how Seattle needs to get out from under ST’s subarea equity so that we can build our city lines without having to support sprawly suburban lines. Well, basically we had that opportunity and we spent it on the Monorail.

      However, I also think the timing was unfortunate. ST wasn’t really ready to take on city-funded line at the time, and it didn’t have the experience of actually completing and operating a line yet, and there wasn’t as much buy-in from both city and suburban politicians for multiple lines. So what would have been ideal would be to have the situation we have now (ST ready and experienced, with proven grade separation, and politicians more ready), back in the early 1990s when the Monorail plan was formed.

  10. Why are so many of you a fan of Ballard to UW? Are you all UW students? Personally I have no desire to go to UW and would much rather have ballard/freemont/greenwood to downtown. The only reason I could see doing ballard to UW would be if it then crossed lake Washington to the east side.

    As for the speed vs capacity debate that has started here I agree capacity is important however I don’t see how current link capacity is an issue. Yes bus capacity is an issue but not link at the moment. I believe we need to make our system as fast as possible while hitting the most populated locations. It needs to be 4x faster than it is now as it is currently much faster to drive than take public transit. Some of this has to do with link technology but a large part has to do with rail placement (e.g. No one would drive through Rainer valley on the way to the airport from DT). Make our new lines more straight and create a gridded system. Make it fast enough and automated so that that transferring will not incur more than a few minutes of a wait.

    1. One more thing: we have to build rail faster. We can’t ask people to pay for something that they will never see. We can’t wait 15 years to get a train to Everett. Boeing Everett will start building the 777X in 3 years not 15 so if Boeing wants better transit they mean now not in 15 years.

      We absolutely must do something like what LA did when they admitted they were behind on rail and started a campaign to build 20 years of rail in 10 years. The faster we get rail the more people use it the more people will support it.

      As I said above it also must be fast because as we get more people on trains there will be less traffic and we will have to fight harder to keep trains the faster transit choice.

      1. umm, there is a strong possibility that the 777X will not be built in this state. Boeing execs didn’t seem to learn anything from the outsourcing fiasco of the 787 production.

      2. 777x in Washington or not doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it as a reason to get the state to ponney up some money to pay for it. Chances are they will accelerate it in an effort to get the 777x deal more than accelerating some other train line.

    2. Why are so many of you a fan of Ballard to UW?

      1. Cheaper to build.
      2. Faster to build.
      3. Less invasive to build.
      4. Connects more places to more other places, and into the main Link spine.
      5. Does #4 faster than a north-south line would.
      6. Connects with half a dozen busy north-south bus routes, giving all of those riders and the entirety of North Seattle easy access to the Link system, in a way that another north-south train categorically does not.

      The U-District is almost never my final destination, but the ability of an east-west line to achieve better results for less money is crystal clear.

      1. Hi DP! Yes. Ballard to UW will rule for many reasons which is why it will almost certainly be in the next package.

      2. You had me at #1. Seriously Ben, cost is a huge issue. We dream about all the great things we want to build but at the end of the day, we have to pay for it. Compromises will be made one way or another. If not by building shorter lines, then by making the long lines slow, or building fewer stations, or putting the stations in stupid locations, or failing to build proper infrastructure around the stations (like bridges) or any number of things that make our system second rate, and pale in comparison to the slight detour required by a Ballard to UW to downtown run.

        As for UW itself, let’s not forget that the UW is the second largest urban center in Washington state (second only to downtown Seattle) according to Sound Transit, making it an important destination in its own right. Fremont and Greenwood are small, small potatoes in comparison.

        But 4, 5 and 6 is also critical. Who will ride from Northgate, all the way downtown, then back to Ballard?

      3. Ross – based on a few of your posts I think you might misunderstand what ST is studying now. It will ultimately be a single new line from UW to Ballard to Downtown to W. Seattle crossing the original line at a station somewhere. The big questions regard the details (route, etc) and whether or not it can all fit in one ballot measure. There will not be a Ballard to Northgate before there is a Ballard to UW – for many of the reasons you and DP mention.

      4. A cross line generates more ridership than a parallel line because it serves more trip pairs. From Wallingford you can go to Ballard, UW, Children’s, Roosevelt/Northgate/Lynnwood, Cap Hill/downtown/stadiums/SeaTac/Bellevue. From Roosevelt you can get to both downtown and Ballard easily. With two parallel lines, one line starts to cannibalize ridership from the other, and crosstown trips are not addressed at all. 45th is the main east-west travel pattern in north Seattle, and has the largest number of dense walkable and pro-transit neighborhoods along it.

        Downtown, UW, and Ballard form a triangle. So in one sense it doesn’t matter which two sides you put Link on; it would still be faster to take Link along two sides and transfer in the middle, than to take a bus along the third side. A Ballard-UW train running every 5 minutes and taking 5-10 minutes would still be faster than the C for Ballard-downtown trips even with a transfer, and almost as fast as the 15X, enough to qualify as an “all-day express to downtown”. It would also serve this critical need for Ballard-Wallingford-UW service in a congested corridor with no room for bus lanes. So we’d effectively get two lines for the price of one.

        A Ballard-downtown line would still be OK for Ballard-UW trips due to the triangle effect, but it wouldn’t have all the other benefits a Ballard-UW line would add.

      5. @Kylek — I know what they are studying, and I know what is possible. I never said there would be a Ballard to Northgate line. I said that someone coming from Northgate would benefit from a fast line from UW to Ballard. This is just one example of what d.p. said.

        Just to be clear here: We don’t have much money. So wonderful, beautiful, best of breed systems don’t get built. We build cheap systems. Again, I don’t know what will be built, nor do I know what should be built given the ridiculous constraints we are under. But I do know what could be built. Here it is:

        1) A fast, underground line from the UW to Ballard. This is relatively cheap and provides just about everything we want. Fast service from the UW to Ballard. Fast service from areas to the north of the UW (like Northgate) to Ballard. Fast (enough) service from downtown to Ballard. Unfortunately, you can’t build this, and this alone. It would overwhelm our fragile little system.

        2) A subway line from downtown to South Lake Union. Maybe someday it goes further.

        3) A spur line to Fremont from one of the stops on the UW to Ballard line. If money is tight, this gets axed in favor of a BRT stop and elevator for Fremont.

        4) A street car from Fremont to Ballard as well as a street car along 45th. Yes, I know, places served by both streetcars and subway. Crazy, huh?

        Again, I don’t know what we will build, but I am convinced that we won’t get anything close. Here is what we might get, given our constraints:

        1) A line that runs from Ballard to Fremont to SLU and onto downtown. The Ballard to Fremont part is on the surface. Then it crosses over a drawbridge. Then it goes underground for the rest of it. Pretty good for South Lake Union and Fremont (although reliability sucks) but bad for everyone else. Oh, and this costs more than everything I suggested earlier. I know you want this all to be underground, but there just isn’t the money.

        2) Streetcar from Ballard to the UW.

        Or maybe we will get:

        1) A west side line that is fast, fun and cheap. It basically follows the Monorail line. Grade separated, extremely high bridge, above ground for most of it, but underground in Ballard and downtown. No Fremont service. No SLU service, but service to Belltown and maybe a bit of lower Queen Anne (which is pretty good, but no SLU).

        2) Streetcar from Ballard to the UW.

        We aren’t rich. We can’t have everything. Look at what we have built so far, for heavens sake. We are still fighting just to build a bridge over the freeway at Northgate. A bridge! A bridge to the main destination in the area. But that is still up in the air. There are dozens of similar examples of decisions that were made simply because they saved a few bucks.

        A grade separated line from Ballard to the UW is by far the best value in the area. But because we lack capacity, it can’t be built unless we also build a second (more expensive) line to downtown. Once you build the line to downtown, the UW to Ballard line becomes less of a value. This is all due to the capacity constraint, which I contend should be dealt with directly. How much would it cost to make the main line capable of handling all of Ballard’s business? 500 Million? A billion? I would like to know, because when all is said and done, it might be worth just paying it so we can build a more effective system for the money.

    3. “It will ultimately be a single new line from UW to Ballard to Downtown to W. Seattle”

      That is not clear. ST is studying “corridor segments”, that may be combined into one or more lines. Originally the segments were Burien-downtown, downtown-Ballard, and Ballard-Redmond. Then the Ballard-Redmond segment was split at UW, probably because of criticism that the western part would have higher ridership and necessity than the eastern part. We’re assuming that Ballard-Burien would be run as one line. It’s not clear whether it would interline with the 45th line, or whether both would terminate in Ballard, or whether the north-south line would end pointing north for a future extension toward Northgate.

      1. Mike – I think its pretty clear for operational reasons… Plus their materials had little hints to that effect (all the ST options on the Ballard to Downtown study have right angle extension marks at the 15th/Market stop.) This matches study work funded in ST2.

      2. Half of the options (1, 2, 3, and 5) had the right angle. The other half (4, 6, 7, and 8) were shown continuing north to 85th.

        As I understood it, the open house options were intended to be “mix-and-match” between several different components — e.g., Interbay or QA or SLU, new bridge or tunnel or Fremont Bridge. And one of the choices was 85th (with the implicit suggestion of eventually continuing to Northgate, since where else would you go?) or the right-angle at Market.

        I’ve been an advocate of a Ballard-UW line since day 1. But if the first thing that we’re getting is a Ballard-downtown line, then I really hope it continues north to 85th, *especially* if it goes to Fremont before Ballard. A line that goes from Fremont to Ballard via Leary, only to turn around on Market and head back to UW, would be ludicrously circuitous. Think about how long it would take to get from Fremont to UW that way, compared to taking the 31.

        I think the most compelling story for connecting the two lines is something like Option 1 or 2. With a Magnolia routing and a stop in central Ballard (e.g. 24th), or even further west (like the Locks), you can reasonably say that the Ballard stop is as far west as you’ll ever want to go. But even with a routing on 15th, turning right means that you’ll never, ever get to have a stop at 24th and Market.

      3. Aleks – I think that first study really confused people because they couldnt tell where ST ended and the city study began. ST2 authorized study of the three corridors we have been talking about — all of that at grade north of Market stuff was part of the city study. I think that will be more clear on the 12/5. I also think it shades how people look at the Ballard to downtown study. Fremont will still get a stop (as part of the Ballard to UW study) even if we don’t go with the 4B tunnel option that cuts theough upper Queen Anne. We’ll see what ST comes back with very soon.

      4. Aleks,

        No one would choose a Downtown-SLU-Fremont-Ballard Center-Wallingford-UW alignment, for exactly the reason you said. If there is to be DT-SLU-Fremont-Ballard alignment (or DT-Seattle Center-UQA-West Fremont-Ballard), then the Ballard-UW line should share trackage as far east as possible and continue on eastw by swinging up to Wallingford. That way one gets Fremont-UW ridership as well.

        Grant, such a route does not intercept the 5 and E line well, but a station around 46th and Fremont to do so would of necessity be pretty deep. It would certainly require elevators like Beacon Hill.

        Most importantly, are you really going to get a major upzone to the rectangle from 43rd to 50th between Aurora and Phinney? That’s what it would take to make such a deep station worthwhile. Well, that and intercepting the Aurora and Greenwood lines.

        However, it is possible to run an east-west line through Fremont underneath 36th in the central area and then diagonal over to underneath the end of the wishbone and have elevators to stops above. That would require two Fremont stops, but maybe that makes sense; one about Francis for the western part of Fremont and then the one under the Aurora Bridge. The transfer wouldn’t be jump-off-one-vehicle-onto-another, but it could be worked out.

        The Aurora station could be pretty deep here too in order to have a fairly level walkway to an entrance at 34th and the street underneath Aurora, right across from Adobe. And of course, to avoid going up to Aurora and then back down for the Stone Way valley.

      5. @Anandakos — I agree in general with your last post. I quibble with your comment about upzoning around 46th and Aurora. It is already pretty dense in there, with lots of small apartment buildings. Aurora itself is on the verge of adding plenty of big buildings there. It has started, and adding good service to the area will only accelerate it.

        In general, though, it is a tricky proposition. As you said, if the route from Ballard to downtown goes by Fremont, then the route to the UW is a no-brainer (it goes via Fremont). But if the route from Ballard to downtown goes by Interbay, then the route from Ballard to the UW becomes tricky. A straight shot would be cheaper, but stations (such as the one you mentioned) are expensive, and less than ideal. You would probably only get one station along that area, and it would probably be at Aurora, rather than more densely populated (and pedestrian friendly) areas like Stone Way. That seems backwards, but otherwise you leave everyone on the Aurora corridor out in the cold. Fremont, of course, wouldn’t get anything.

        If the Ballard to downtown line runs to the west (via Interbay) then I think the Ballard to UW line should swing a bit south and go via Fremont. A bus stop for Fremont should be added to BRT (as described here: https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/04/04/connecting-fremont-to-rapidride-e/). The station(s) for Fremont could then incorporate a path to the BRT stop, as well as a path to the main part of Fremont. I don’t know if it practical, but if the train itself was midway in altitude between the two locations (lower Fremont and this bus stop) it would be ideal. From the stop, you could ride an escalator down to Fremont, or up to the BRT stop. Even if that isn’t practical, the stop could still do double duty, and serve both locations (lower Fremont and the BRT stop).

        Another advantage of a route from Ballard to the UW via Fremont is that it gives us a chance to add another station in the U-District. A station in the general vicinity of Eastlake and Campus Parkway would make a lot of sense. There are tons of people there, and it would also connect the train system with buses (or streetcars) to Eastlake.

        Along with any line from Ballard to the UW, we could use a streetcar along 45th. It is well suited for it. If a streetcar can’t make it up and down Market, then it could just end at 46th and Market. Or better yet, it could swing up Phinney and continue on Phinney Ridge.

      6. My interpretation of the alternatives was that the surface ones could go to 85th but the grade-separated ones could only go to Market within the budget. But this will all be superceded by next week’s meeting anyway.

    4. I don’t see how you can say that capacity is not an issue, Ben. Capacity is the issue. Lots of people have said (and will continue to say) “Why not just build a line from Ballard to the UW? It is cheaper, which means that we can spend money on good stations, complete grade separation, etc.” The short answer is “We don’t have the capacity.”. Specifically, we can’t just build a line from Ballard to the UW because it would overwhelm the capacity of the system. As a result, we will do what we always do — cut corners.

      As far as speed goes, I think it is very important as well. I hope I didn’t give that impression. But I have to clarify here, because there a lot of ways to think about speed. For example:

      1) Top speed of the trains
      2) Top acceleration of the trains

      Both of those can be grouped together as “speed of the train”. But there are more factors that determine speed. Grouping those together and adding a few, we get:

      1) Speed of the train (top speed plus acceleration)
      2) Curves of the track
      3) Speed limits

      All of that can be grouped together to form something called “time spent between stations”. But of course, there is more that would determine a typical rail experience. Grouping again, we get:

      1) Time spent between stations (speed of the trains, curves, speed limits)
      2) Number of stations
      3) Time spent at each station

      OK, now we are getting closer to determining the speed of the system. All of this can be grouped into “the time spent getting from one station to a more distant one”. But of course, for the average user, there is more. Much more. Off the top of my head, I can think of several. So, grouping again:

      1) The time spent getting from one station to a more distant one
      2) The distance to the station
      3) The time it takes to wait for a crosswalk to get to the station
      4) The distance one has to travel to transfer to a train or bus
      5) The time spent waiting for a train

      And so on. I’m sure I just scratched the surface with these types of issues. Perhaps it is best to consider a typical example. Let’s assume that a student at Franklin High School wants to take a class at North Seattle Community College. This is a fair distance, so maybe the top speed of the train or at the very least, the acceleration of the train could make a big difference. But I digress. First, the student goes through a couple light cycles waiting for the crosswalk. Then walks across the street and another half block or so until reaching the station; after going up the stairs she is ready to take the train. It arrives and takes a slow, left turn to the first of several stations. Despite the fact that very few people get on or off, the station stops at each station a long time. Finally, it arrives at the Northgate station. She gets off the train, and waits for the bus which will take her to the college. Or, she decides to walk around, which takes another ten minutes. Being a good math student, and having plenty of free time on her hands, she calculates the time saved by the new, speedy trains: 8.2 seconds. Wow. Less time than it took to walk from Rainier and MLK to the actual entrance of the first station.

      I think you catch my drift here. Speed is important, but the top speed of the trains is only one factor in a subset of a subset of a subset of the factors determining system speed. In most cases, it is pretty much meaningless. It isn’t worth the cost of a bridge. Just about every factor I mentioned is more important. I want speed. We all want speed. We all want the system to be faster. But suggesting that simply getting faster trains is the answer — to imply that it is the best way to accomplish that is simply misleading. Even for the surprisingly slow part of the system (from Mount Baker to the airport) it has only marginal benefit. The line curves quite a bit and the train has to travel on the surface. A Ferrari is no faster than a train on that stretch.

      It is like a guy getting a new CPU when the hard drive is thrashing. The fastest processor in the world won’t solve that problem — you need more memory. We should consider faster trains if they are just as cheap, certainly. But if they cost a lot more, then I’m sure we could find better ways to improve the speed of our system.

  11. Why do all of the plans completely cut off Magnolia? It’s a huge neighborhood, and I would guess that lots of those folks commute downtown.

    1. Hi Lisa – The 2nd round of the Ballard to Downtown study is being released (via an open house at Ballard High) — some of the options were much better for Magnolia than others including the least expensive grade separated option. I believe they will be down to two options — it would be a good time to make yourself heard on Magnolia.

      1. I also believe we will see two “link” options move forward (in addition to some sort of Westlake or Dexter streetcar), both of which would serve Magnolia

        1: the cheapest possible option -at grade through belltown, along Elliott and up 15th

        2: a tunnel under belltown, Seattle center and south upper queen Anne, popping out to an elevated track alongside the Magnolia bridge and turning north along the west side of interbay towards a new bridge west of fisherman’s terminal

        Obviously I’m in agreement with the blog’s proprietors that a grade separated automated solution like #2 is highly preferred.

      1. Also, I think everyone in Magnolia should show up to the December 5th open house at Ballard High. The people who show up and ask stand a much better chance of getting what they want.

    2. Lisa,

      I have many answers to your question, none of which will be very satisfying.

      First, I don’t know how many Magnolia residents there are, or how many commute downtown, but I know that very few people ride its existing bus routes. In total, the 19, 24, and 33 have 4,400 daily riders. In contrast, the D, 15, 17, 18, and 40 have 19,400 daily riders in total. As another example, the C, 55, and 120 have 16,300 daily riders in total, and I’m probably not counting some other routes that would be replaced by a subway to West Seattle. Given the choice between building trains and stations where there are already tons of existing riders, or building trains and stations which might theoretically attract new riders, I’m sure you can see why the former is more attractive.

      Second, I noticed that you used the word “commute”. In this day and age, if you’re trying to provide peak-hour mobility, I don’t think that building new train lines is the best way to do it. Trains and stations are expensive, and the infrastructure that we build is available 24/7. Therefore, it makes sense to focus our spending on corridors that will truly have all-day demand (and that wrestle with all-day congestion). If most of Magnolia’s ridership is commute-oriented, then the best way to serve Magnolia is with express buses to downtown. That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a train station, even if you want to have reserved bus lanes during peak hours. (Note that I’m including the opportunity cost here. If the choice is between a Magnolia station that replaces some peak express buses, and a Queen Anne station that replaces several high-frequency all-day routes, it’s clear that the second choice is an operational savings.)

      Finally, it’s important to note that Metro tried to propose rerouting the 24 to Ballard, which would have functioned very much like the proposed train route. Magnolia threw a fit, and so instead, they ended up with reduced night service. Again, it’s hard to justify building a train along a route that didn’t even pass muster as a bus.

      For what it’s worth, there’s *already* a train that goes through Magnolia. It’s called Sounder North, and it already runs at precisely the times that Magnolia has the most transit demand. Sound Transit 2 originally proposed building a Sounder station in Ballard, but that was abandoned (and rightfully so) when people realized that nobody would want to use a station that was so far away from central Ballard. But a station at 20th and Dravus, with a park-and-ride lot, might actually be pretty useful for Magnolia commuters…

      1. I think there are a few good counter arguments for why a west side line (serving Magnolia) makes sense:

        1) It is a choke point. So, while Magnolia doesn’t have that many people, all of them cross 15th if they travel to the rest of the city. This means that ridership could be higher than one might expect if you just looked at the overall population and density.

        2) The highest density is closest to transit. Most of the people live on the east side of the hill. There a handful of apartment buildings (or condos) close to the center of Magnolia (AKA Magnolia Village) but the lion’s share of folks live close to Dravus.

        3) There is growth in the area closest to the station. The west side of Queen Anne has some new buildings, and Interbay itself has some new big ones. There is also great potential for future growth. I realize there has been some resistance (not so much from neighbors, but from business owners who want to keep the industrial zoning) but my guess is that this will eventually go away. Unlike a lot of places, I think you could see some really big buildings being built without much complaint from home owners.

        4) The west side line might be really cheap and fun. In other words, Magnolia just might luck out in the Ballard to UW sweepstakes when you consider the overall value.

      2. 1. While the three bridges are choke points, there just aren’t enough people going to or from Magnolia to cause the kind of congestion that would make this theory viable. A choke point only counts if there’s actual choking — but as far as I can tell, the three bridges are never, ever congested.

        2. Everything’s relative. Yes, there’s some density in Magnolia, but a stop in Magnolia comes at the expense of a stop in UQA or SLU, either of which has a lot more density and a lot more growth potential.

        3. Your argument seems to be that Magnolia might grow someday. That’s all well and good, but there are tons of places which are *already* dense, and which transit is *already* underserving. A stop at QA/Boston would probably capture >50% of the ridership of the 2/3/4/13, which is way higher than the *total* ridership of all Magnolia buses. A stop in SLU (Westlake/Republican) would see similarly high usage. Magnolia isn’t even an residential urban village (like UQA), let alone a hub urban village (like Fremont) or an urban center (like SLU). And Interbay is not an urban village either; it’s a designated manufacturing center (which I believe does include a tiny sliver of Magnolia), and so it allows some tall live-work buildings to slip in, but it’s just not the same as the places that the city has designated for major residential and commercial growth.

        4. If you’re trying to get between Ballard and downtown as cheap as possible, then I don’t see how you can do better than 15th. Diverting to Magnolia is a lot of added expense for minimal benefit. Conversely, if you’re trying to serve the west side of the city as effectively as possible, then you need to serve Fremont, which is completely incompatible with a Magnolia stop. I suppose that a line could start at UW, continue west to Ballard, and then head south to Magnolia, so that we would eventually have three Link connections across the canal (U-Link, Fremont, and Ballard/Magnolia). But then you’re building an entire bridge just for a neighborhood that can barely support a half-hourly bus today, and that doesn’t pass the sniff test, either.

      3. Sorry Aleks, I wasn’t clear. I think swerving over to serve Magnolia would be a waste of time. I think a line along 15th serves Magnolia just fine. Just one stop at Interbay will serve Magnolia really well. The largest concentration of people will be able to walk, and everyone else will take feeder buses.

        Perhaps chokepoint isn’t the best term. Or maybe 15th itself is the choke point. The bridges coming out of Magnolia are certainly stop and go around rush hour or when the bridge goes up. But my main point is that every single person who leaves Magnolia by car drives by 15th. A train along 15th can therefore serve every commuter from the area, at least in part. This is extremely rare. For example, a West Seattle resident who commutes to Burien doesn’t go over the West Seattle Freeway. This suggests that while Magnolia isn’t big (only about 20,000 people) just about everyone on the peninsula could benefit from a rail system along 15th.

        I’m glad you agree with my last point, as it is key. The cheapest grade separated way to get from Ballard to downtown is via 15th. Well, not the cheapest — the cheapest would be to run a line from Ballard to the UW — but the cheapest way to get downtown that is acceptable to Sound Transit is via 15th. It would also be elevated, which means it would be fun, which means it would be a lot more popular. I agree that spending extra money on Magnolia would be a waste — but like so many stops in our system, Magnolia lucks out because Interbay happens to be along the way.

        If you want to serve Fremont, then serving it with a UW-Fremont-Ballard line makes a lot of sense. Personally, I would just build that, and improve the capacity of our system so that we wouldn’t need to build another line from Ballard to downtown. But the combination of that, plus a line from Ballard, Interbay, Lower Queen Anne and Belltown would be fairly cheap and fast.

  12. We do not need more rail, we need more roads. This is a car city. I say shutdown all transit and give us the freeways we need. So much waste on useless buses and trains.

    1. Deanna,

      I agree with you. Enough already with using my dollars on silly projects that take decades to build. Shut down metro and give us roads!!!

      1. Kelly Mallory,

        In what part of King County do you live and in what part do you work? You don’t have to be specific to the intersection or anything like that. Just the neighborhoods.

        You may be one of the folks who is poorly served by transit, and that would explain your position. But do understand that the region is built up now. There will be no new freeways except the “Puget Sound Gateway” (167 from the big curve in Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma). I-405 and SR167 will be widened by one lane in each direction, but that’s it. There’s no more room to add more.

        The only way to add capacity is by grade-separated rail service which, it is hoped, will take the top off the peaks so everyone on the roads will have a better experience.

        The people have spoken over and over: there will be no more neighborhoods eviscerated by new freeways. Either learn to live with the congestion or seek greener (well, more likely “less green”, but likely more congenial) pastures.

    2. Plus, those buses clogging up traffic. That’s a lane of travel for my car. Not a bus stop. Crowded enough as it is without all those buses out there.

      Plus, that’s just lazy. Getting chauffeured around, sitting back and reading or working while someone else drives.

      They should just buy cars like the rest of us.

  13. Newcomer to the area:

    Can someone explain to me the rational behind light rail to Tacoma and Everett? This just seems crazy on the face of it. Shouldn’t the plan be to have a two tiered model, with higher capacity metro style system within the more urban areas around Seattle, and a faster S-bahn like services with longer station spacing to serve places like Everett/Tacoma and further afield even to Olympia? Link is slow enough as it is, I pity anyone who ever has to ride it between Everett/Tacoma.

    I think it was a real lost opportunity when the existing Link was not built as light metro from the start via SODO and Georgetown to the Airport. I have to agree with suggestions that Rainier Valley be converted to european style light rail and bypassed with a full grade separated connection for link.

    Similarly it seems like we’re making a huge mistake now if the line to Redmond isn’t designed to be changed to light-metro in the future. Most of the route is already set up for grade separation it seems. And it’s tunnels all the way to U district once it hits the city. When you bypass Rainier Valley take the buses out of the tunnels, fix up the stations and platform heights, and swap the rolling stock for light metro cars.

    1. Welcome Erentz.

      Re: Light Rail to Everett and Tacoma. I’m definitely not an expert on these points, but I’ll take a shot.

      Regarding South: LLR is an unlikely mode for the entire trip to downtown Seattle due to travel times as you suggest, however, there are other destinations along the way and point to point connections… For instance, the airport.

      Everett to downtown via Link will be a viable option. The north part of the line will be all grade separated and frequent to boot.

      If we build the new lines in Seattle fast and fix/bypass the Rainier Valley Tacoma would be a viable option as well for an end to end commute as well.

      East link will interline with the current link – so an alternate technology is not an option.

    2. ST originally chose light rail because it could go street-running and grade-separated (i.e., the most flexible). ST also thought light rail would be lower cost because of the street-running segments, and they thought it would be adequate capacity for Seattle. I don’t agree with all those choices, and I was afraid it would be watered down to all-surface-and-slow like many other light rail systems, but now it’s working and it’s faster than Portland, so I’d rather extend it than put incompatible technology next to it.

      As for S-Bahn, that’s what Sounder is, although it’s not all-day yet. The issue there is that ST has to lease time-slots from BNSF. ST2 will gradually add mid-day service on Sounder South. Sounder North is in a worse location so it doesn’t have as much potential.

      It’s not a given that Link will extend to Tacoma and Everett, but that’s what those counties want, and they have large influence given ST’s board structure. Seattle has two board positions out of 16. Every subarea has to pay for its own lines, so the board mostly defers to what each subarea wants.

  14. The inertia in the political system drives me crazy. We needed this years ago, not years from now. 2016 is excruciatingly far in the future to be talking about simply putting something on the ballot. When it’s decided it will be another decade before anything is operational. I wish I could see this stuff happening in my city sooner.

    1. @Ian,

      That’s why Seattle Subway exists, to accelerate the political process. Before we started organizing, the political system was thinking about 2020 and 2024 for a ballot measure. We demonstrated the public demand for them to move faster, and now they are. You should join us!

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