This Thursday, December 5th, “Sound Transit and the City of Seattle are hosting the third and final open house to present updated concepts for new rail transit between Ballard and downtown.” Link.
Staff and decision makers from Sound Transit and the City of Seattle want to hear your comments and answer your questions. By attending and commenting, you can help to make sure that all options are as fast and as reliable as possible and to facilitate future expansion to other neighborhoods.
Ballard High School Commons
1418 NW 65th Street, Seattle, WA 98117
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm, Thursday, December 5th
Opening remarks begin at 6:30 p.m.
Transit Routes: RapidRide D, 15 Express (Peak Time/Direction Only)
More from the Press Release:
“Five conceptual routes are currently under review as part of the Ballard to downtown High Capacity Transit study, which will help inform updates to the City of Seattle’s Transit Master Plan and Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan. The plans identify priorities for potential future transit expansions.
Sound Transit and the city hosted open houses in March and June and used online tools to gather feedback on potential rail routes connecting Ballard and downtown. The technical team refined the alternatives down from eight to five potential routes for either light rail or streetcars. The project team will have detailed maps and information at the meeting.”
“Construction of any future transit extensions would be subject to Sound Transit and City policy decisions and identification of funding sources. Voter approval is required for potential Sound Transit investments.”
After the meeting, some members of Seattle Subway and possibly some writers from Seattle Transit Blog will be meeting up for drinks at the Essex (1421 NW 70th St) . This is not any kind of planned/organized/official meetup, there will be no guests or even event space, just some people you might know grabbing a drink or two before taking their bus home.
14 Replies to “Last Ballard Study Open House This Thursday”
I assume that folks will be able to comment on the plans if they don’t attend the meeting, right? I’ve always wondered about this — do comments from the meeting carry more weight than comments after the meeting?
The big advantage in being at the meeting is the face-to-face interaction with staff. People instinctively put more weight on things they hear in person than on anonymous written comments.
+1 This is exactly why I spend the effort to show up to these in person.
Ahhh, schmoozing huh? I’ve heard of that. :)
Seriously, that makes sense. I was just wondering if there was anything from a legal standpoint that binds them to particular responses to particular comments. My guess is there is nothing. The representative can show up and completely ignore every comment made by participants, as well as every online comment if he or she chooses. It is just like Congress :)
Most likely they won’t, of course, which is your point. By the way, my comments to public officials are never anonymous — they include full name and address. I can see why you would make an anonymous comment on the web, or in the newspaper, but I’m not sure why you would make an anonymous comment to a public official. It will carry less weight.
In any event, I’ll try and make this meeting. It looks pretty interesting and it is certainly important. Meeting the Sound Transit folks, as well as the good people of this blog would be the highlight.
I will most certainly be there. Let’s do everything we can to advocate for the best grade separated options… hopefully done as soon as can be managed.
I look forward to having the opportunity to talk with ST staff as well as anyone from this site that has the time to swing by.
The blurb says the number of options being studied has been reduced from eight to five. Does anyone have any info on which ones made the cut? I see no new information on the web page for this study.
They’d previously said they’d go forward with two light rail options and two streetcar options. Now we will get five options that ostensibly could be either. I don’t believe that – I expect to see two routes obviously intended for streetcars up Westlake, one using the existing bridge and one building a new one.
For light rail, I’m expecting the cheapest possible option…at grade all the way up 15th (corridor 4), and some version of Corridor 2, hopefully with an upper Queen Anne stop added in the tunnel and a high bridge subbed in instead of a risky tunnel under salmon bay. Not sure what the fifth option will be, perhaps ‘option 9’ developed enough momentum to be considered? I would think they’ll want to include one version where Fremont gets higher capacity transit, but I think the lure of basically unused port land for a maintenance facility makes an interbay route hard to beat. I guess we’ll find out Thursday.
I’ve thought a lot about the Ballard light rail proposals. I’m not sure where to share those thoughts, but I figure this is as good a place as any. Of course, a lot of my ideas and estimations may be out of date after Thursday, but hopefully all of this is relevant. This is a ridiculously long post, but it compares various options, as well as various possible stages of an overall system. Hopefully folks find it useful. If you are in a hurry, you can skip to the last paragraph.
It is difficult to weigh the options, because Sound Transit does not break down the pieces into cost estimates. For example, I don’t know how expensive a tunnel under the ship canal is compared to a bridge. But given the information in the presentation, I can make an educated guess.
Based on that guess, and based on my analysis, I prefer Corridor 3. I know a lot of people want the train to go through Fremont. I do to. But if you compare the costs and look at the big picture, I think Corridor 3 makes sense as part of other improvements to the area (including rail to Fremont). I’ll compare Corridor 3 with Ben’s Option 9 (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2013/07/01/option-9/). To get a cost estimate, I’ll look at a modified version of Corridor 5. Like Ben, I think a rail line should be completely grade separated and continue north up 15th on an elevated route. For the sake of this discussion though, I will refer to Option 9 as everything south of Market, and ignore the piece north of there (since both proposals would eventually have it). To get an estimate of how much that line would cost, I’ll compare it to Corridor 5, which is fairly close. A quick look at the costs:
Corridor 3 – 1.5 to 2.0 Billion Dollars
Corridor 5 – 2.0 to 2.5 Billion Dollars
For the sake of this discussion, I’ll use the lower estimates. I’m also going to start calling these “Options” instead of “Corridors”.
Option 5 has two obvious weaknesses. It is at-grade from Ballard to Fremont and it has a drawbridge. At-grade transit is cheap — really cheap. My guess is that it costs about the same to replace the drawbridge with a tunnel as it costs to build the at-grade section. Actually, I would guess it costs more. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume they cost the same. That basically means that running a grade separated line from Fremont (via a tunnel underneath the ship canal) costs as much as Corridor 5.
But that is just a line from Fremont to downtown. You still need to build a line from Fremont to Ballard. Call that piece FTB.
In the long run, a line from Ballard to UW is also really important with either line. I’ll call that FTUW.
So, for a complete system, with direct service from Ballard to the UW and downtown you have:
Option 3 + Ballard to UW = $1.5B + FTB + FTUW
Option 9 + Fremont to UW = $2.0B + FTB + FTUW
Which one is better? That is certainly debatable. But let me add one thing to consider before I get into that. One of these two routes should be our long term goal. However, each route can be built in pieces, and is likely to be built in pieces. But the West side route has more flexibility. For example, you could build it in this order:
1) Ballard to downtown via Interbay (Option 3)
2) Fremont to UW (FTUW)
3) Fremont to Ballard (FTB)
4) Half billion dollar project(s)
With the central route, you have really two steps:
1) Ballard to downtown via Fremont
Now consider the costs of a couple scaled down pieces:
Option 9: $2B + FTB
Option 3 + FTUW: $1.5B + FTUW
Got that? A line from Fremont to UW (FTUW) would have to cost half a billion more than a line from Fremont to Ballard (FTB) for these two scaled down projects to be equal. My guess is that FTB and FTUW cost about the same. So, in other words, you could build Corridor 3 and a line from Fremont to the UW for much less than just building Option 9. Obviously this type of system is less than ideal. But it gets us quite a bit while we wait for the rest of the system to be built. If we have to live with this for years (which is quite likely) then I think it is much better than the alternative. Compare these two interim plans (FTUW + Option 3 versus Option 9):
Fremont to Downtown — Option 9 is faster, but not that much faster. The alternative involves taking a train from Fremont to the UW, then downtown. If the transfer is fast, this would be about the same, since you would involve just as many station.
Fremont to UW (and places north) — Option 9 is slower. It involves either transferring downtown, or taking a bus from the U-District.
Fremont to Capitol Hill — Option 9 is just a bit slower. You have to go downtown, then back north again. There would be fewer station going the other way (via the UW).
Fremont to Ballard — Option 9 is faster. However, the bus service from Ballard to Fremont is pretty good. Obviously, the buses will change as we put in light rail. But I don’t think the bus from Fremont to the UW will ever be as fast as the bus from Fremont to Ballard. The UW is just more congested than Ballard. Furthermore, it would make sense to have a streetcar from Ballard to Fremont. This could speed things up a couple minutes while we wait for the grade separated rail to be built.
Ballard to the UW — If going exclusively by rail, then it is the same. If you decide to go via Fremont, then Option 9 is a bit slower, for the reasons mentioned in “Fremont to Ballard”.
Fremont to Belltown — Option 9 is faster, since there would be no transfer.
Ballard to Belltown or downtown — About the same.
It is hard to say which line is better overall for stations that are in common. Both routes have advantages. The worst time penalty for Option 3 is Ballard to Fremont. The worst penalty for Option 9 is Fremont to UW. As I mentioned, I think the Option 9 penalty is bigger. It also effects more stations. It effects people who are coming from the UW, as well as people coming from places to the north (Roosevelt, Northgate, Lake City, Lynnwood, etc.). All in all, I would say that Option 3 + FTUW is better overall than Option 9. Keep in mind, it is probably significantly cheaper. With the extra money, you could probably build a nice BRT station for Fremont, so that you could connect the Fremont rail station with the BRT via an elevator or escalator. This would serve everyone to the north of here quite well. Obviously you would want to do the same with Option 9, but there would be less money to do so.
Back to the long range plan. At some point, we should have high speed rail from Ballard to the UW. So, again, here are the two long range plans:
1) Ballard to downtown via Interbay (Corridor 3)
2) Fremont to Ballard (FTB)
3) Fremont to UW (FTUW)
4) Half a billion dollar project(s)
1) Ballard to downtown via Fremont
First I’m going to look at the shared stops (for the sake of argument, I’ll consider a Belltown stop to be the same as downtown):
Fremont — Option 9 is faster to downtown.
Everything else is about the same. Now a comparison of stops:
Interbay — I think this stop is often underrated. The area has grown in recent years. This stop serves Magnolia really well. The most densely populated area of Magnolia is close to Dravus. Magnolia is also an isolated peninsula. This means that everyone who commutes by car or bus shares the same congested corridor (15th). This suggests that Magnolia ridership will be fairly good, despite the fact that much of the area is sparsely populated. Feeder buses will send lots of people onto the trains. The west side of Queen Anne also has plenty of apartment buildings, and would benefit quite a bit from this station.
Grain Elevator Station — Not a great station. There are a few office buildings in the area, but that is about it. The good news is that making this station should be cheap.
Western Uptown — This is one of those stations where the devil is in the details. Done right, and the station is in an extremely densely populated area, while allowing folks to walk a few blocks to the Seattle Center a few times a year. Done wrong, and d.p. will talk about it for years. Actually, the good news is that this area is growing almost as fast South Lake Union, so unless you do something stupid (like put it inside the Seattle Center) this should be a very popular spot.
Now the stations for the Corridor 5 option:
Uptown — This spot is tricky. The Seattle Center is right in your way. The Seattle Center is an OK location, but only great a few weekends out of the year (Bumbershoot, Folklife, etc.). A station (like the previously mentioned one) should be a few blocks away from the Center (preferably by a corner) not adjacent to it (and certainly not in it). You could put the station to the southeast (e. g. 6th and John) but that puts it really close to Belltown. You could swing further east, to SLU, but that involves a lot of back and forth, zig-zagging (I consider that option later). To the northeast of the center is OK. Even at that, I don’t think it is as good as a station as the previously mentioned one. I think the best you can do is match the station that the other route has.
Center Queen Anne — A great station. There are plenty of people who live close to here, and plenty of folks who will walk a ways to get to this station since it fairly flat on the top of the hill.
So, from a station perspective, you have to consider whether a top of Queen Anne station is better than the two stations at Interbay and the Grain Elevators. This is a tough one, really. I could go either way. But to me, the added advantage of a single top of Queen Anne station is not worth the extra cost (half a billion). For the difference in the routes, you could probably build a spur line from downtown to South Lake Union. Or at the very minimum, fix all of the little things that are wrong with our system. Build a nice ramp from a Fremont station up to a BRT stop. Build the station at 130th. Build a bridge crossing the freeway at Northgate.
So, enough with the stop comparison. Let’s compare the ride. In the case of Option 9, it is like most of our system — underground. On the other hand, Option 3 crosses 140 feet above the ship canal. That is a world class view. It then continues much of the way above ground. The views on this ride will be spectacular. In other words, it will be fun to ride the train from Ballard to Belltown. There are probably dozens of examples of why this is an important factor to consider. People pay good money to ride the Monorail or sit on a Ferris Wheel. This will be better. Imagine date night from Belltown to Ballard (or the other way around). With an elevated train, it is romantic. With an underground train, you just look cheap (maybe you should splurge on a taxi). Thousands of people move to Bainbridge Island, despite the inconvenience, in part because they have such a great, fun commute. Not only will this line exceed the ridership of a similar underground line, but it will spur growth in the area. You could have a commute that rivals the ferry, but with much greater speed and convenience. Every spot along there will become much more popular as a result. This will spur development. You might not be able to afford a house with a million dollar view, but you can enjoy that view while you get to work.
An elevated train also is great advertising. Just as many suburban residents got out of their car after seeing the bus speed past them every morning, you can bet that someone who is stuck on 15th will reconsider the train as it soars above them.
There is the time it takes to build this thing. An elevated line can be built much faster than an underground one. This line is a combination, so I don’t know how fast it can be built, but if it is built two years earlier, than that is an extra two years of service — an extra two years where everyone in the area can enjoy the light rail. Ballard has been promised rail of some sort for a long time. But like West Seattle, it is losing its appeal because the traffic is so bad. Ballard is booming now, but a lot of people think we are in a bubble, and that we will soon see property values plummet, and the development come to an end. The faster this line can be built, the longer we can keep Ballard (and every other spot on this line) growing.
Finally, let’s consider a serving South Lake Union as part of a route from Fremont to downtown. This sways from Ben’s Option 9. Personally, I think he got it right. If you are building an underground line from Ballard to downtown via Fremont, then Option 9 is as good as you can get. The main drawback is the cost (and lack of fun) as I’ve mentioned.
But what if you swerved a bit, to add a South Lake Union station? The Ballard proposals have a few options that include “South Lake Union”, but I think they are misleading. For example, the picture for Corridor 6 has a label called “Belltown”, and a circle right next to it at 5th and Stewart. In other words, the Westlake Station.
If you have a Belltown station like the one shown on Corridor 3, (roughly at 2nd and Battery) then it is hard to get to South Lake Union. The line coming from Ballard should intersect the main line at Westlake. If you go from Westlake to Belltown and then over to South Lake Union, you would have to make a very sharp turn. To get to the center of South Lake Union (e. g. the spot where a single station makes the most sense) you would have to make a turn of over 90 degrees. The train would then be heading to the east as much as it is to the north. Then the train has to head back to the west, to avoid digging under the lake. You could make it work, certainly, but it would involve lots and lots of curves, which would add to the costs and slow the train considerably. You might be able to cut corners (so to speak) by putting the station towards the east end of South Lake Union. But such a station would be less than ideal, since it would be very close to Aurora. In other words, I don’t see how you can have a really good Belltown station and a really good South Lake Union station.
You could, of course, not worry about Belltown, and serve South Lake Union instead. You could add a stop for the Denny Regrade area as well. So basically, instead of serving Belltown and Lower Queen Anne, you serve Denny Regrade and South Lake Union. This might be a good trade, but I’m not so sure. I see advantages and disadvantages either way. I don’t think it changes the overall calculation.
Give the cost advantages and overall quality of the ride, I think Corridor 3 makes the most sense. We should push for it, along with other parts of the system, such as a line from Ballard to the UW via Fremont along with a connection from a Fremont BRT station to a Fremont train station (as well as all the other little things that we have trouble funding). If we have to do this in phases, then we start with Corridor 3 along with a line from the UW to Fremont. Eventually that line should continue to Ballard — not only with a stop at 15th and Market, but a stop further west as well (i. e. 24th and Market). Corridor 3 would be elevated from the Grain Elevators all the way to 15th and Market. We should push for that line to continue being elevated up 15th as far as we can take it.
I agree with many of the points that you raise, but I think you’re missing something important.
For the very reason that Corridor 3 is cheap, it’s also the perfect corridor for BRT. I mean real BRT, not RapidRide. 15th West is so wide that grade separation is almost redundant; aside from the possibility of automation, it doesn’t buy you very much. Imagine if you built a new bus tunnel downtown, underneath 1st Ave, with a stop at Seattle Center, and a grade-separated flyover junction at Elliott and Mercer. You would get 90% of the benefit of Corridor 3 at a fraction of the cost.
And don’t forget that if you want to get from 15th and Market to 3rd and Pike, and you’re not taking the express bus, you’re going to spend over half your time south of Elliott/Mercer. We could speed up the route by 25% tomorrow, for free, simply by changing the D’s route.
The best corridor for a subway is a corridor that simply can’t be served effectively by buses. So, to me, the single most important stop is Upper Queen Anne. That’s the place where buses go to die. It’s got huge transit ridership, including some of the buses with the highest ridership (and farebox recovery) in the entire system. But it’s also got some of the slowest speeds in the entire system. A stop at Upper Queen Anne on a N-S line would open up that part of the city. It would lead to stratospheric ridership improvements, and huge operational efficiencies, because of all the buses that could be deleted.
Heading north from Queen Anne, the most important place to go is Fremont, which is emerging as the transit hub for the western portion of North Seattle. From Fremont, you can go just about anywhere: Ballard, Greenwood, Wallingford, Northgate, the U-District, Magnolia. So by connecting Upper Queen Anne (and Lower Queen Anne and Belltown) with Fremont, we connect those neighborhoods to all of North Seattle. And we also provide a grade-separated connection to downtown, which is key for improving system reliability.
Despite being called a “Ballard” line, Ballard is far from the most important stop. It’s just the terminus. But even in Ballard, the most important destination is between 22nd and 24th. That’s where people actually want to go, especially people who are going there to work or play. Corridor 3 would provide a stop at 15th, which is exactly the wrong place.
Choosing Corridor 3 is like deciding to build Central Link along the I-5 express lanes. (And it’s also like deciding to build Central Link at-grade along MLK instead of above or underneath Rainier, a decision that I hope we revisit someday.) Let’s build a train where we actually want it to go.
I think the idea behind 15th as a stop is that there is more available land for a station ( especially if it is not underground, not as many homes/condos thus fewer eminent domain issues ) and close to Swedish. If a Ballard spur/UW line is built, I could see a 24th ave stop (along with 15th)
I’m a big fan of BRT — real BRT (as you put it). I think it makes perfect sense for West Seattle (and I have a bunch of ideas for that) but I think first class BRT from Ballard to downtown would cost almost as much as grade separated light rail. If you think of it in sections, south to north you have:
1) Tunnel under downtown and lower Queen Anne. I would guess this is the most expensive part of the project (whether you are talking BRT or Corridor 3).
2) Elliott from the tunnel to the Magnolia Bridge. If the tunnel emerges before Mercer, you would have to do something special to deal with Mercer. Either way, you would have to eliminate some of the pedestrian lights and build pedestrian bridges. I’m not sure why there is a light at the Magnolia bridge, but it would have to go.
3) Magnolia Bridge to the canal. This is where your idea makes a lot of sense. There aren’t any cross streets here (so far as I know). (Dravus is an overpass).
4) You would have to build a new bridge over the canal.
5) North of the canal things aren’t bad until you get past Market (where the bus would turn around, having met the rail line). You would still have to carve extra lanes through there.
As I see it, first class BRT would cost almost as much as rail. The bridge and the tunnel are the most expensive parts of this by far.
I agree that if you had to choose between the various spots, and cost was no object, than Corridor 3 gets laughed off the table. They could have half way decent bus service (not what I would call BRT, but better than what they have now) and it could serve that corridor reasonably well. As you said, bus service to Queen Anne is extremely challenging (and will remain so). The top of Queen Anne is also a very good spot (as I mentioned).
But cost is an object. I too believe that Fremont is important, but I think connecting it to the UW is just as important as connecting it (directly) to downtown. I’m afraid if we ran a line like Option 9, we would not have any money left for connecting Fremont to the UW. Nor would we have any money left for the dozens of other places we need to connect (South Lake Union, Eastlake, the Central Area, West Seattle). In an ideal world we would have all of it, but I don’t think we will.
I have to quibble with you with regards to Ballard not being the most important stop. What makes the most sense is to simply build a line from western Ballard (24th or so) to the UW via Fremont. That would be the best value. But Sound Transit said that if we built only that, it would overwhelm the system. We need a fast way to get folks from Ballard to downtown. Along with that, we should have a line from Ballard to Fremont to the UW. If my calculations are correct, building both costs about as much as building only Option 9. The drawback is that the top of Queen Anne isn’t served. Given the cost, I’m afraid that is just an unfortunate sacrifice.
“A stop at Upper Queen Anne on a N-S line would open up that part of the city. It would lead to stratospheric ridership improvements”
I wrote an article about this after the last Ballard open house: Queen Anne’s Unique Opportunity.
Re the other corridors, I think I favored 2 and 3 because they were the most grade-separated, along with Ben’s #9 that would bring in Fremont and allow a complementary streetcar to go Westlake – Fremont – Greenwood. I disagree with Aleks that 15th W is a bad choice because we do have to think about the total cost, and if there’s an opportunity for MLK-style cost-savings on 15th we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. But I’m not going to get worked up about alternatives 1-9 now when they’re about to get superceded.
The north half of corridor 1 still works (north of Mercer) as long as they can design a 15th Ave NW northbound expansion. Corridor 2 works if they move the stop west, out from under Seattle Center, AND they design a 15th Ave NW northbound expansion option. Corridor 3 works with the 15th Ave NW expansion option.
Corridor/Option 9 – Queen Anne to Fremont would be great, but the opportunity cost is high ($500 million extra?) and skips the obvious maintenance base location: Interbay… at least until sea level rise precludes it.
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