Option C
Option C

Zach’s summary and analysis of the Tier 2 alternatives arising from Sound Transit and Seattle’s Ballard HCT study is excellent, and if you’ve not read it yet, you should do so. There are some good ideas and some less-good ideas among the options, and I’m sure by now, our regulars will have thoroughly digested them, but in this post I’d like to point out one option that I was hoping would have made it into the final analysis but didn’t, a variant of Corridor C.

First, I’d like to explain my criteria for a sensible downtown Seattle rail line, beyond the obvious ones of being frequent, direct, reliable and focused on areas of high ridership potential:

  1. It needs to be no worse than an existing express bus trip, including transfer time. Ballard’s express services are massively popular, but express service is expensive to operate, both in terms of operations (lots of deadheading) and capital (lots of buses that sit at the base twenty hours a day). Riders will revolt if we try to cut their service without offering them something at least as good. If we can cut the 15X, 17X, 18X and maybe the 28X in favor of better connecting services, that’s a shedload of buses we can reallocate to better all-day service at minimal cost.
  2. It needs to be grade-separated south of Denny. Lots of people worry about the top speed of transit service, but it’s not very important for in-city services (say, typical trips of less than ten miles, stops about every half-mile), because even a fully grade-separated train spends much of its time accelerating or decelerating for stations; frequency and reliability matter most. Assuming any of these lines will be both very frequent and reasonably reliable, the most important factor to minimize trip time is to avoid extended periods of very low speeds, e.g. slogging at-grade through the city center.

To the first point. The current scheduled time from 15th/Market to 3rd/Pine on the 15X is 19-21 minutes inbound in the AM peak. Supposing train headways of 10 minutes (i.e. a five-minute transfer penalty) and a couple of minutes of added walking, we need Market to Pine travel times below 15 minutes if we’re going to build a rail line worth getting out of bed for. Option C currently fails that test — but I think it could be fixed through much smarter design, at a plausible cost.

More after the jump.

I’d like to enlarge on the second point with some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic. Consider the section of 15th Ave between Harrison and Dravus, which is about two miles long, has a speed limit of 35 mph, and only one arterial crossing that’s not already an overpass, at West Mercer Place. Suppose that a train gets to spend 1.5 miles of that at or near its top speed, and that it’s capable, on an elevated guideway, of 55 mph. The travel time difference between grade-separated and at-grade is then about one minute*. North of Dravus, there is a median with no crossings, which could be fenced off to provide a fully-exclusive right of way until the train became elevated to connect to a new bridge. So when evaluating travel time on 15th and Elliott, between Uptown and Ballard, the additional cost of two miles of elevated or tunnel construction likely buys us only about a minute.

The section between Harrison and Pine is very different. Here it becomes very difficult to estimate the difference in travel time between grade-separated and at-grade, because an at-grade alignment is so complex to evaluate. We can, however, look at a proxy: the difference in travel time between buses in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and surface-running buses traversing downtown on 3rd Ave (both about one mile with five stops). Metro staff have previously told me that the downtown transit tunnel saves about five minutes per trip versus the traveling on the surface. Belltown and downtown are similar environments — full of cars, lots of signalized intersections, and chronically congested in the peak — and 3rd Ave is a busway in the peak period, which provides similar transit priority to an exclusive lane.

It seems to me, based on Metro’s experience, that four or five minutes is about what a passenger would save on the 1.5 miles (and two stations) between Harrison and Pine, if instead of running on the surface, Corridor C had a portal just south of Harrison, at the intersection of Western and Elliott, and ran in a cut-and-cover tunnel along Western, Denny and 2nd Ave. The current configuration of the Western/Elliott intersection includes an undevelopable sliver of land that could be used to provide space for the portal. I will put in a request in to Sound Transit to get more detail on travel times on the various sections of these corridors, but if this turns out to concur with their estimation methods, then the upshot is that this “Corridor C2 (15th At-grade/2nd Ave tunnel)” would significantly narrow the travel time gap (currently about six minutes) between Corridor C (15th At-grade) and Corridor B (15th Elevated), at a much lower cost than Corridor B.

Additionally, a tunnel in this area would make the alignment politically far easier to implement. The fate of general purpose traffic should not be a primary concern in designing exclusive transit rights of way, but the street grid around stations does need to function well enough to get reliable connecting bus service in direct contact with the station. The west end of Denny is already a traffic bottleneck (even more so than everywhere else on Denny!), where Western’s three lanes taper to Denny’s two, and several major roads converge at awkward intersections. The disruption caused by reducing Denny to one lane at the west end may render connecting transit service unreliable, and will create enormous political pressure to run the train in mixed traffic through this section.

I should be clear that this “C2” would not be my ideal rail line. I agree with Zach that Corridor D, a completely-separated alignment that serves Seattle Center, Queen Anne, Fremont and Ballard (especially if operated using driverless trains running every couple of minutes until late at night, a la SkyTrain) would be utterly revolutionary for this city, I think it is the best alignment on the merits, and I intend to advocate for it.

But, sometimes we have to make difficult choices, like whether to build N miles of awesomeness that will last forever, or to build 3N miles of something that gets the job done — for thrice as many people, for the next 50 years. If we’re going to contemplate thrifty at-grade options (with vehicles that require drivers), we should be smart about them. That means running at-grade where roads are wide and speed limits are high, and running underground in the city center, which is where surface transit goes to die. While I hope it’s not the final result of this process, I’m a little disappointed that such an option has not made it this far in the analysis, and frankly slightly scared that downtown at-grade options, which will not get the job done, are still on the table at this point.

* 3600 seconds/hour * 1.5 miles * (1/[35 miles/hour] – 1/[55 miles/hour]) = 56 seconds.

71 Replies to “Some Thoughts on Ballard Option C”

  1. I was told again at this meeting that it’s still “mix and match” with respect to these options, so I don’t think this is off the table. 15th is a better corridor for at grade rail than MLK, for sure. That 2nd/4th couplet is crap, though. We can and should do better than Portland.

    I was also told that automated driverless trains are not going to be considered for this line, so that particular advantage of full grade separation isn’t applicable anyway.

    1. Automation isn’t the only reason to avoid at grade lines… running in the streets at grade means you have to obey posted speed limits and stop at stoplights (when the priority timing fails). Imagine how much more useful central link would be if it didn’t have to do that in the Rainier Valley segment.

      1. Charles, if you actually read the post, you’ll see that the travel difference between running at the speed limit and running at 55 mph is not that high. The difference is real, but has to be weighed against building more (if less awesome) rail, and what’s politically viable and financially sustainable.

        The most important thing about fast, reliable, urban transit service is that you need to spend as little time as possible at zero mph.

      2. I did read your post Bruce, and I disagree with the premise of scaling back for at grade rail is worth the bargain to get more at grade rail elsewhere. I understand you can get reasonably fast segments at grade (especially where you can avoid intersections) but once we start putting these corridors back on the streets, we will be pushed during the funding stage to make even more concessions. We may lose most if not all of the grade separation we fought so hard to get in the first place.

        Why have we been advocating for anything at all if we want to go and give it all back now?

      3. Who says you have to “get more at grade rail elsewhere”. Maybe you get more grade separated rail somewhere else. This has grade separated rail, just not on all of it. What if this costs half as much, and with the extra money we add some grade separation from, say, Westlake to South Lake Union. Or over to Yesler Terrace and on to Seattle U. Maybe Fremont to the UW. There are plenty of places where surface transit just won’t work. In this line, that is the part that Bruce has underground. On the other hand, there are plenty of places where surface transit pays a small price – and that is where he has this line going.

        That being said, one of the places where surface rail is really bad is Queen Anne. There are trade-offs, for sure, but even if you think we should spend, say, 4 billion on the Seattle part of the next Sound Transit proposal, I’m not convinced that Corridor D is the best way to spend most of that money.

    1. Either D or A, and I lean towards D as you do here.

      I was under the impression that options C and E were more for SDOT than they were for Sound Transit. We’ll still have to see if the new mayor and council are still in the mood for that kind of thing after the election.

      1. Exactly. The Ballard-downtown streetcar and Ballard-downtown subway are really McGinn’s babies, so I expect priorities will change in the next administration. That could mean emphasizing the 45th line and the West Seattle line more, and the Ballard-downtown line not as much in front. It could also mean deemphasizing the Westlake and Eastlake streetcars (also McGinn’s babies) in favor of more Metro enhancements.

        I don’t think the new mayor and council will actually reverse direction and give up on transit improvements, but I expect the emphasis on particular lines will change somewhat.

  2. Its my understanding that the surface options were all devised for potential SDOT projects (which is less likely to happen now that we have a new mayor). This is why they contain almost no grade separation at all (Seattle has apparently ceded that to Sound Transit).

    I can’t see any good arguments for hamstringing what should be regional lines by running them along the surface… all we would get in return is more surface lines somewhere else. If we build these spine lines properly and give them good circulator bus connections, we won’t need so many surface rail lines.

    Running the Ballard Downtown line on surface anywhere along its route might not detrimental to Ballard users themselves, but it will significantly slow the line down for any future connections to the North and/or East of that line. We would end up with another Rainier Valley segment on our hands, which would have a significant effect on both the ridership and the investment value of any future segment.

    1. I think in the grand scheme of things the alignment of Central Link through Rainier Valley isn’t exactly the best analogy because Central Link is the core of a regional system as were Ballard will always be a branch of the system without a significant pass-through ridership.

      1. Yup, including if this line were extended to LCW. North Link will be very frequent, more direct, and very fast, due to its very wide stop spacing. For riders headed to Westlake or points south, it will probably be worthwhile to transfer, even if we build gold-plated subway all the way.

      2. @Bruce I fundamentally disagree that it is worth reducing the grade separation to get more street rail elsewhere through Sound Transit.

        If we want streetcars, we should do that through SDOT, not Sound Transit.

      3. Charles, a train that:

        * Has a tunnel downtown,
        * Runs on a big fat expressway of a road,
        * In a median with only one arterial crossing,
        * Uses full size LRVs and can run in two or three unit consists,

        Is not a streetcar, as the term is used on this blog and by SDOT. It’s basically Link. It’s not perfect, but it has the fundamentals. I’d burn my keyboard before I advocated streetcars.

      4. A train with all the characteristics Bruce describes is middle-of-the-road light-rail, certainly the kind of transit worth having in Seattle. There’s basically nothing that could be cut from it without really hurting reliability — if this is what we build I’ll be pretty happy but if it’s where we start I’ll be scared.

      5. @Al Dimond I agree with the concern you have with choosing this as a starting point. I keep imagining a situation where funding runs tighter than expected and we lose additional grade separation.

  3. If this option isn’t at least grade separated through downtown, they might as well just spend the money on more Rapid Ride buses. It would probably be slower than a bus since a streetcar/light rail can’t maneuver around obstacles.

      1. I agree with this sentiment completely. I think options C or E are salvageable if and only if they have grade separation in the city center. I would go a step further. If better variants of C or E had such grade separation in the city center, these would be my favorite corridors, barring a radical change in state and federal willingness to invest in transit. We need to stake out dedicated surface ROW where it makes the most sense and for all the difficulties that entails, it is completely within our control as a city. Our sources for billions of dollars in capital investment are not nearly as easy to control. The reality is that not only will the physical infrastructure we build have effects on the next 50 years, our decisions will impact our financial capacity to invest in transit for 50 years. I think there is an idea that investing in top notch grade separated transit will beget more funding for more investments of that nature. The truth is that we will run the risk of exhausting our legal capacity to raise regional funds and be completely at the mercy of state and federal sources. We absolutely need more grade separation than C or E currently have. But complete grade separation is excessive, given our state and federal government’s willingness to invest in public transit.

  4. Would have liked to be at last night’s session, but had commitment to a client I couldn’t break.
    Can somebody give me good link for last night’s minutes?

    I liked the idea of a Fremont Station directly under the drawbridge and well below the bottom of the Ship Canal. While a route past Interbay has the advantage of being wide and empty, it has the disadvantage of exactly the same things.

    My own preference would be street reservation down Leary from Ballard to subway starting at Fremont, and subway with one or two stations under Queen Anne. Subway under Second through CBD- or reserved street lanes ’til CBD subway opens.

    Or some other plan that lets us transition steadily from good operations present and short term to the grade-separated system of the future. Really tired of what I see as current political habit of using the future to excuse lame operations in the present.

    Too many years too close to the Downtown Tunnel, I guess. But still don’t expect present national economic depression to last forever. We live in a rich region in a rich country. What’s politically inflicted can be politically corrected.


  5. That section of corridor C that runs at grade on Denny is just…insane. I don’t understand how that would work at all or why it was even suggested.

  6. Ridership numbers are mathematically volatile, mainly because of the access assumptions made. If it’s hard to get to a platform or hard to make a transfer (often an issue not well scrutinized in these kinds of studies), then ridership will be lower. If parallel routes are eliminated or their frequency is axed, the ridership will be much higher. The question of ridership benefit should be examined from a district-to-district trip table as much as the actual line ridership. Consider how dropping bus route segments and forcing transfers to rail lines can greatly inflate ridership yet to the rider their trip can take langer. So the question shouldn’t focus on the line ridership number exclusively when it comes to an urban environment with an existing, rich transit network.

  7. Excellent post Bruce. I agree with all of your points. There are trade-offs with all of these, and it is important to recognize that, as opposed to just picking “the best one”. We essentially want to get the most speed and the most coverage per dollar we can. In this case, your modified C (or C/B hybrid) sounds like a very good value. I’m afraid, though, it might not be that much cheaper than B. My understanding is that elevated rail is not much more than surface rail. I’m still trying to figure out why B is so expensive, and suddenly jumped in price by about a billion dollars. It would be nice to get an answer from Sound Transit. If the answer is “that much elevated rail costs a lot more than we expected” then I would sure like to see how much your proposal costs. If the answer is “building a bridge and building a tunnel is way more than we originally thought”, then we are probably back to square one.

    1. Miles of elevated, no matter how straightforward they are to build, would most certainly be costlier than at-grade.

      That said, the primary issue with the latest “B” seems to be the presumption of a non-grid-following deep bore across Belltown and LQA. So you shoulder all the costs of boring equipment and preparation, for barely 1.5 miles of actual tunnel. Then you get to spend hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring real estate and building each of Sound Transit’s trademark behemoth stations — one of them appears to be replacing Key Arena!

      By contrast, the “C2” posited by Bruce presumes a straight-shot cut-and-cover along only the most crucial 1.2 miles of the line.

      Still sort-of costly? Maybe. Temporarily disruptive? Sure. LQA station in the wrong place? Yes, but no more so than any station at 15th & Market.

      But you’d also get shallower, easier, cheaper, and fundamentally better stations out of the cut-and-cover deal. And that’s not a bad trade-off compared to B’s ultimately pointless bore.

      1. Thanks d. p. I came to the same conclusion as you did, and posted at the same time.

        I would really, really love some hard numbers on all of this. It is very frustrating. I would really like to know that elevated costs X dollars versus surface, or that this kind of tunnel is much cheaper than that kind of tunnel. I think we can make pretty good estimates, but if Sound Transit has trouble getting their numbers straight (Corridor B goes up about a billion despite having a cheaper bridge) than I guess it is too much to ask.

      2. I also want to say that regardless of what plan moves forward, we need to fight against a station close to or in the Seattle Center. The center already has a spur line to it — it is called the monorail. The center is dead 90% of the time. For the other 10%, folks don’t mind walking a few blocks. If you attend Bumbershoot or Folklife, walking a few blocks before you then continue to walk around is hardly an imposition. If it is, take the monorail.

      3. The Center is also the largest destination in Seattle after downtown. A station on the west side of the center will serve it and Uptown and be a good transfer point for Queen Anne buses, so it kills three birds with one stone. (And I think a station at 1st & Denny is still “close enough” to Seattle Center and Uptown, even if others disagree.)

      4. “That said, the primary issue with the latest “B” seems to be the presumption of a non-grid-following deep bore across Belltown and LQA. So you shoulder all the costs of boring equipment and preparation, for barely 1.5 miles of actual tunnel.”

        If you’re going to mobilize a TBM anyway, maybe it makes sense to keep going to extend the tunnel from the south terminus. It’s hard to figure out where to put an extraction pit though. Occidental Park? CenturyLink field parking lot? Or continue along Occidental Ave. under Safeco Field to pop up somewhere near Atlantic Street?

        This might make sense if the Ballard line is paired with one going toward W. Seattle.

      5. “The Center is also the largest destination in Seattle after downtown.”

        Wait, what? Seriously, where do get that? According to Sound Transit, the top three are downtown, UW and Capitol Hill. Not many people live or work in the center, so the area is very quiet during the day. The coliseum (sorry, Key Arena) lost its biggest client, and it is never coming back. If the Sonics do move, then the Storm will move with them. Seattle U plays there, but they rarely sell out (just like the Storm). I forget, is the stadium station, which serves games that are much, much bigger for many more times a year a really popular station? No, it isn’t. Like I said, they already have a spur line — it is called the monorail. That is more than enough.

        For those rare summer weekends, folks can walk a few blocks. Really. I attend the occasional Folk Life festival and find the bus service to be really frustrating. I would be overjoyed to be able to take a train downtown, then backtrack via either the monorail or a station several blocks away.

      6. But only if the monorail is integrated with Orca! I’ve got an Orca pass, and I never take the monorail because I don’t want to pay so much extra for it.

      7. Just to follow up on my feisty remarks (sorry for jumping on you Mike) I don’t think a station at 1st and Denny is very good. It isn’t horrible either, though. On the negative side, it sits in the armpit of the Seattle Center. If you do locate a station close to the center, you want to be by a corner. That way, you don’t effect the walkshare as much, but still allow folks to walk to the center (they really don’t need to walk to the middle, just the edge). In this case, you are two blocks from one side, and two blocks from another. Both would hamper your walkshare. To the southeast, you start overlapping with the Belltown station. To the south and east, you hit the water very quickly. And a park.

        However, the area that overlaps with the Belltown area is fairly dense, and far enough away from the other station to provide some benefit. As you said, there will be folks that walk down from Uptown. There are plenty of apartment buildings in between and some room to grow (parking lots that could easily become high rises). There are also a few big office buildings close to the water.

        All in all it wouldn’t be a great station, but a pretty good one. The difference between it and a station up the hill isn’t worth half a billion, that’s for sure.

      8. I agree, William, the Monorail should take Orca. But if the fair isn’t worth the hassle, then it isn’t worth spending hundreds of millions on a station for that destination. I would pay an extra $3 a trip if there was a monorail from the UW to Fremont (or Fremont to Ballard). I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel the same way about a line from downtown to South Lake Union, or the top of Queen Anne, or West Seattle, etc.

      9. Those large events are precisely what high capacity transit is designed for. It’s the same reason Link goes to the airport and stadiums shopping malls — because that’s where the largest concentrations of pedestrians are. (Bypassing Southcenter is the exception that proves the rule.) It’s not like we’re talking about a train to Vashon Island because Seattle Center is way out in the isolated boonies. We’re talking about a few hundred feet between a station that’s convenient to Seattle Center (and simultaneously Uptown and Queen Anne buses!) and a station that’s inconvenient to it. What single destination between Elliott Ave, Aurora Ave, Denny Way and Mercer Street is as major as Seattle Center? How is a station at 1st & Republican inconvenient to non-Seattle Center Uptown residents? Fine, put the station at Queen Anne & Mercer if you want it closer to “the neighborhood”, it’s just as effective there. But having Link bypass Seattle Center is totally ridiculous. “Uh, we don’t know where our rapid transit should go, we forgot that a lot of people go to Seattle Center.”

      10. If a gigantic, mostly empty expanse of 1960s landscape design, with a handful of moderately-used part-time cultural centers and thrice-yearly major events, is the only thing in your city capable of creating a critical mass for high-capacity transit, then you might seriously consider that your city sucks at being a city.

      11. And it’s not like 90% of the US is doing any better.

        Why haven’t you gone back to Boston yet, where they have real transit and neighborhoods?

      12. We already know our city sucks at being a city. But we want it to suck less.

        Well then perhaps the best plan isn’t to double down on this as the defining “demand center” of our present and future.

        Anyway, the people stuck in traffic on the 8 and the 44 all day every day might beg to differ about how demand is generated and what “high capacity transit is designed for”.

      13. Come on Mike, you are smarter than that. Let’s start from the basics. Most people sleep in their own home. This means that the starting point for many, if not most trips is home.

        The number one destination is work. Most people drive, or take buses to get from home to work. Look at all the traffic that clogs the freeways (freeways with lanes and lanes of uninterrupted roadway capable of handling cars going 70 MPH hour). Are these folks trying to get to the Opera House? Or catch a plane? Or get to the mall? Of course not. These are people trying to get from home to work.

        So, home and work are the biggest factors. Now, we can’t dismiss entertainment either. You are right about that. But again, look at the numbers. Sound Transit trains are a small percentage of the overall Sound Transit ridership and an even smaller percentage of the overall transit ridership. But even for Sound Transit, the station that serves the three major sports teams in the city (The Sounders, Seahawks and Mariners) is a weak station. It pails in comparison to other stations, like the downtown station. Even the airport station is more popular. But just to be clear, the fact that the airport station is one of the better stations just shows how pathetic our current rail line is. We aren’t Honolulu or Las Vegas. We are Seattle. The airport is not a major employer or a major destination. Way, way more people use the downtown stops than the airport. Way more people will use the Capitol Hill station than the airport. Way more people will use the UW stations than the airport. By the way, the “Husky Stadium” station is there because it serves the UW as a whole and the UW hospital. If they tore down the stadium and replaced it with an extension to the hospital, ridership would go up. So, just to summarize:

        Downtown Seattle > UW/Capitol Hill > Airport > Stadium Station > The Seattle Center

        Its always good to look at home/work/entertainment. Downtown has a very high concentration of employment. Capitol Hill has a very high concentration of housing as well as entertainment and some work. The UW is high in all three. So is Belltown. Ballard is basically a smaller Capitol Hill. The Seattle Center, like the stadiums, is only high in one, and for far fewer times a year. It is pretty much dead 9 months out of the year, except for the occasional concert or game (and even that isn’t that big). Between the professional teams, you probably have around 100 or so games.There is no way you have that many major events for the Seattle Center.

        Furthermore, it isn’t an especially concentrated form of entertainment. If it consisted of the Arena, and nothing more, then you might have a decent spot that could be combined with other spots (the way that UW entertainment combines with employment and housing). But you don’t. The arena sits surrounded by lots of buildings that sit mostly empty most of the year. In comparison, the entertainment on Capitol Hill is way bigger. Walk around Capitol Hill and it actually feels like a big city — there is nightlife. The only time the Seattle Center feels like that is during festivals like Folklife, Bumbershoot, etc. (which happen half a dozen times — if that — a year).

        Finally, I don’t know how many times I have to say it — but there is a spur line to the Seattle Center. It goes right to the middle of it. I’m sure it is just packed with people tonight, just like 41. Perhaps we should add some cars to the Monorail to prevent the crush loading. But seriously, a station at the center only makes sense a few times a year. For those times, folks can walk.

      14. RossB, what would be so horrible about a station here? Ignore the thing off to the east that has giant festivals three times a year, three museums, opera and ballet companies, a ballet school, a couple of sport facilities, two or three theaters, and minor events about every weekend from February to November. Imagine that the two nearby parking facilities intened to handle the crowds from the high impact events were redeveloped. Look to the west, north and south. Medium density buildings with perhaps too much parking, but how would that change with high quality transit?

      15. “Most people sleep in their own home… The number one destination is work.”

        We can’t build an HCT line from everybody’s house to everybody’s workplace because they’re scattered all over the county. We can build an HCT line between the largest concentrations of pedestrians, which is downtown, the neighborhood centers, stadiums, airport, Seattle Center, and shopping malls, and I forgot universities and colleges. All of these except neighborhood centers and colleges have one thing in common: a lot of traffic going to them at various times, which causes a bottleneck affecting miles around. Voila, that’s why HCT is called HCT, because it cuts through bottlenecks (i.e., places which need high capacity) and mitigates them. Another factor about these destinations: there are already a lot of pedestrians, and a lot of those who drive aren’t carrying heavy/bulky loads, so they could readily switch to HCT if it’s available. And as for those people going from home to work, we hope they’re living in TOD near neighborhood centers, where they’ll have a station anyway, so they get to participate too!

        As for the airport, one person goes to the airport once or twice a year, but the aggregate effect of many people makes the airport the largest transportation hub in the northwest. And a major employer.

      16. “the people stuck in traffic on the 8 and the 44 all day every day might beg to differ about how demand is generated”

        Where are they going to? The largest number of them are going to the U-District, Uptown, and Broadway. Exactly the large pedestrian destinations I was talking about.

      17. In case it isn’t clear, you can’t separate Seattle Center from Uptown because they’re the same place. Any more than you can separate UW from the U-District or SCC from Broadway. Any station that serves one also serves the other, unless perhaps it’s on the far opposite side of the institution (e.g., UW Station).

      18. Sorry Mike (and aw) I wanted to start with the basics. There is a mix of considerations when it comes to these locations. But in general, if you can gather a large concentration of residents, then you will have a more successful, more cost effective system. The same is true, although to a lesser extent, for work places and entertainment places. The reason residential considerations are more important than workplaces is because people always start out there (and end there). For example, today I will go from my house to the store. Yesterday I went from my house to work. Furthermore, we have already covered the most important employment center (downtown).

        But entertainment centers (as well as more employment centers) are definitely worth considering, and should be included. I have no problem with including the stadium site, even though it is one of the weakest stations we have. As the rest of the system builds, and we add a lot more residential areas, it will build as well. But mostly I like it because it didn’t cost us much. There aren’t that many residences or employment centers nearby that would work better.

        To get the most residences or work places, you want to maximize the number of people who can comfortably walk to the station. The further away people are from the station, the fewer will walk there. Hills can also effect the number. Obviously if you have a higher concentration of people, then you will have more people who want to go to the station. One way to look at this number is to draw a circle around your station (of a few blocks) and see how many people that includes. That is why folks talk so much about “population density”. But employment (and yes, even entertainment) density count too, just not as much. This answers your question, aw. If you draw that circle around 1st and Harrison, then a good chunk of that circle includes the Seattle Center. This makes it very bad for residential density.

        This is why I suggested that if you are close to the center, you want to be close to the corner. The circle will include greater residential area, since the Seattle Center is essentially a residential desert (and mostly an employment desert as well). You could argue that being closer to the Seattle Center includes more “entertainment density”, but again, the Seattle Center isn’t that popular. Like I said, the Sonics are gone — if they come back, they won’t play there. The Mariners never played there, and they played twice as many home games. Even at that — even if you count all the sports teams, they don’t play every night. Here it is, Saturday night, the biggest entertainment night of the week, and the Seattle Center will probably have fewer people in it than Capitol Hill. No ball games, no big concert, not much except for some holiday activities. My guess is that there will be more people at the zoo.

        Furthermore, it probably makes no difference how close you are to a particular side of the center, since people think of it as “one area”. It is like Greenlake. No is begging for a stop next to Greenlake, despite the fact that it draws way more people around it than the Seattle Center on most days. I don’t think you are going to have people look at a Seattle Center stop and say “that stop is at the west end of the center, but I need to get to the east side — I think I’ll drive”.

        Which gets back to what I said earlier. You really aren’t going to lose many people if you put the station a few blocks away from the center. For those few times of the year where the Seattle Center is really popular (Bumbershoot, etc.) folks will gladly walk a few extra blocks, since parking is hellish during those days. Likewise, folks will walk extra if they are just planning on visiting the glass museum or the Space Needle in the summer. Actually, like I said, those folks will just take the Monorail.

        As a destination, the Seattle Center is not horrible, but it is nothing special either. As Mike said, this will “serve” the Seattle Center. No one is arguing that. What folks are saying is that because the Seattle Center is such a horrible employment and residential desert, and because the surrounding neighborhoods are reasonably dense (in the case of the area just northwest of the Center — very dense) we should try to move the station as far as possible away from it. Don’t put a station next to it — don’t put a station in it (we already have one) — put a station several blocks away, and put it towards the corner.

        Like I said, though, this particular proposal is a compromise. I’ve already explained how a stop here would never be as good as a stop that is possible with Corridor B or D. But even a mediocre stop here would be way better than a stop inside, or next to the Seattle Center.

        But of course, that is just one consideration. We also don’t want to put the stop next to the water, because, well, people don’t live there. The same is true for railroad tracks, freeways, etc. Plus you have to consider feeder lines (buses that may drop people off at the station). All of that should be considered. But basically, the Seattle Center should be treated like a park. Or the water. A nice place to visit on nice summer days, but you don’t want to locate your station there.

    2. It occurred to me that you may be correct, and my guess on the cost of this proposal may be very pessimistic. Corridor C has the same bridge as Corridor B. So, basically, the additional cost of the Corridor B has to be due to either:

      1) The difference between elevated and surface
      2) The cost of the tunnel

      My guess is that it is mostly 2, but either way, it looks good. The really good news about your proposal is that your tunnel might be a lot cheaper than the tunnel for Corridor B. You lose a little as far as stations are concerned — a station at say, 1st and Denny is not as good as a station at 1st Ave W and Roy, but the difference in cost might be enormous. If a cut and cover tunnel costs 750 million (which sounds conservative, really) then your proposal is as cheap as the original Corridor B (AKA Corridor 3). That is, 1.5 to 2 billion dollars. That puts it at about half the cost of Corridor A or D. For the difference you could run a grade separated line from the UW to Ballard via Fremont — especially if that line managed to be elevated. You might even be able to add service to South Lake Union.

      I’m very, very curious about the cost of this. It sounds very promising.

      1. Cut and cover is more expensive that bored because the utilities have to be suspended and not disrupted during excavation.

        Now it’s true that since bored tunnels are usually deeper than cut and cover, the stations tend to be grander and more expensive, chewing up the savings from boring. But that’s really a choice. There’s no reason that one has to build Moscow Subway stations everywhere.

      2. Although a cocktail of situational determining factors may affect the relative cost of each, as a general rule, shallow cut-and-cover remains reliably far cheaper than boring, utilities be damned.

        This is especially true if you have a street wide enough (2nd Ave – ✔) to build mostly under one half, allowing you many options for how to reroute utilities, and allowing you to keep the street open during construction.

        Vancouver saved a veritable shit ton of money by going cut-and-cover under the east side of Cambie and part of Granville — and that’s in spite of still needing to buy and run boring machines for the False Creek crossing. Meanwhile, San Francisco is spending how many billions on its 1.5-mile bored Central Subway To Nowhere?

  8. I like this idea. Grade-separated to at least north of Denny and beyond the Uptown/SLU bottleneck, no matter what the line is. I possibly accept surface beyond that, if we decide to put all our resources into a Belltown/downtown tunnel. Although we should probably argue for a “Y”, with one branch going northwest and the other going northeast. That would position us for all potential future lines.

    1. Yes, or just east. Basically an additional line heading east on a cut and cover over Denny might provide a lot of service for very little money. I would really like to see price comparisons between cut and cover versus tunneling.

    2. The last couple times I’ve gone to Costco I took a tunnel bus to Spokane Street and walked from there (10 minutes). The busway really feels like an extension of the DSTT. That gets me thinking, what if the DSTT had been longer earlier, either initially or in a 1990s phase. The biggest bottlenecks are between 45th/Market and SODO, in the form of a “Y” centered on Westlake Station. And all these north Seattle express buses that I wish ran all day are really about bridging the bottleneck south of 45th. So, Central Link will form the east half of this Y. The Ballard-downtown line will form the west half, and if it emerges somewhere beyond Uptown to a reasonably fast surface option (i.e., no less than MLK), that could be OK.

  9. Indeed. The wide ROW, grade-separated intersections and high speed limit of 15th have always struck me as even better than MLK for an MLK-style at-grade configuration. And if you’re primarily concerned about fast travel times to Ballard and a low price tag, that may be your best option.

    But my concern has always been that, contrary to the ST guy who said last night that “Interbay might be the next Belltown,” serving Interbay doesn’t do much for ridership. With Option A at least the station would be on the west side of Balmer Yard. But either an elevated or at-grade option on 15th is across the yard from East Magnolia, and the steep grade to the east limits your walkshed there. The high speed limit on 15th also makes it a very unpleasant place to be a pedestrian.

    Plus for what it’s worth we have established urban villages in Upper QA and Fremont. If we’re to take ourselves seriously that these are the places where we are going to focus our city’s growth, then it also stands to reason that they should be the places targeted for investment in high-quality transit service.

    1. “Interbay might be the next Belltown” is an utterly crazy statement. Land use and infrastructure are intimately tied. Interbay does not have appropriate infrastructure for local pedestrian access to be “the next Belltown”.

      1. d.p.

        Not “guaranteed” if Boeing leaves and Microsoft implodes. Seattle has always been beautiful, but until the 707, 727 and 737 was a very beautiful backwater.

    2. Agreed, building this line would entail several major compromises, all of which I don’t like. It is, however, the cheapest thing we could build that would connect Ballard, Belltown and downtown with rapid transit worthy of the name, and moreover it could usefully and cheaply be extended at least as far as Greenwood/105th. As such, I think it should be the baseline for comparison of other options, rather than Corridor C, which is not worth building.

    3. It won’t be the next Belltown, but it will be a decent stop. I’ve written about it many times. Consider the following:

      1) Little to no opposition to growth. Put a six story building up in many parts of town and people go ape-sh**. They complain about the height, the traffic, the lack of parking, blah, blah, blah. This doesn’t happen here. The remaining house are pretty much gone. I used to live in one (as a tenant) and most people didn’t even know the houses existed. In my case, it doesn’t anymore. The only conflict is between industrial use and high rises. Both can live side by side for a while, and eventually more and more get converted to high rises.

      2) Magnolia residents have nowhere else to go. They have to go by 15th, and buses can funnel them to this station. A huge percentage of them will just walk to the station, just as a bunch of them walk from the 15 to the station right now. Eventually the city tells the folks in Magnolia, especially the central part of Magnolia, that they need to bend a little as far as density goes. Magnolia Village becomes more of an urban village. 34th gets lined by apartment building, or at the very least, townhouses. Buses quickly funnel all those people to the train station because, well, there is no where else to go.

      3) Western Queen Anne is filling in as well. There are way more apartments there then there were just a little while ago.

      4) It’s not too far from SPU, and you don’t have to cross a bridge to get to the station. I like Ben’s idea about a station under the canal by Fremont, but that looks less and less likely. Even if you put a station there, buses get caught up in the traffic going over the bridge. 15th can be bogged down as well, but it isn’t nearly as bad.

      But let’s not kid ourselves. I think a Dravus street station will be very good, but not great. Not sensational. That isn’t the big selling point for this line — cost is. Sound Transit has basically said that we need to build a line from Ballard to downtown before we build anything from Ballard to the UW. I think that is nuts, but if we can build a line from Ballard to downtown for very little money, and it is fast enough to satisfy the worrywarts and Sound Transit, then we can build a line from Ballard to the UW. That would connect Ballard with the rest of the system quite well.

      Having two lines provides a big bonus that hasn’t been talked about much. People want the Ballard line to head further north, to 65th and 85th and beyond. I’m OK with that, as long as it doesn’t cost much money. But heading west is just as important, if not more so. You can’t really have both with one line. But this plan could do both. It builds a line from 15th and Market to downtown, which can then be easily extended north (to Ballard High School, etc.). Meanwhile, with the money you save, build a line with at least four stops: UW, Fremont, 15th and Market and 24th and Market. You could easily add another stop in the UW at around Eastlake and Campus Parkway (which both serves the folks in the high rises there as well as people transferring to buses going over to Eastlake). If all of that (this proposal as well as an east west line) costs about the same as just the D Corridor, then I’m sold.

      1. Amen…I say save the tunnel for where it’s needed: getting from Westlake to 15th, and getting from Ballard to UW. If we can fit both those into the North King subarea’s share of the ST3 bucks, we’ve come out way ahead. Especially if the port and national guard’s sparsely used lands can be redeveloped.

        I agree in theory with the “this will last 100 years, let’s do it right” point of view, but I’d also like to see this done in my lifetime.

  10. I really enjoyed reading this post, and it’s following comments.
    However, I feel like I have a very different approach to these issues, and would like to hear more about why you take the approach you do.

    To me, it seems that the best course of action is to ask for the best ridership, most urban village, most grade-separated line that I really and truly want under my Christmas tree. I really don’t care how much it costs, because that is an issue decided by voters, and therefore a whole other fight. Also I think its easier to ask people for $100 and promise a great return, than to ask for $50 with a so-so return.

    On this blog, there is a lot of thought about how to get the most value for the dollar out of our transit future. Why worry about this at all? The money for this doesnt exist yet. We have to convince voters to give it. Its going to be a huge amount. Why dilute the product we have to sell?

    Or is it just that you all love playing Sim City 4 as much as I do? :)

    1. That is a reasonable approach, and one that many of the members of this blog would agree with. My concern is that if we agree with Corridor D, then other things get left off the table. This is what has me concerned. If it was a matter of promising the following:

      1) Corridor D
      2) An underground line from Fremont to the UW
      3) An underground line replacing the Metro 8 (“Subway 8”, if you will)
      4) A new bridge and new lanes for BRT on 15th, ending at the west end of Subway 8
      5) All the pieces necessary to have real BRT for West Seattle (new lanes, ramps, etc.)
      6) A station at 130th as well as a bridge over the freeway at Northgate

      Then sure, why not. This would, of course, place an enormous tax burden on everyone in the city, but hey — I’m a leftie, so go for it. The thing is, no one dares even suggest all this. Not even Ben will suggest this. Ben, who feels like we can add subways just about everywhere (http://seattlesubway.org/vision/) has basically said that if we get Corridor D, then we probably wouldn’t get a line from Ballard to the UW this time. Basically, Ballard would already have its line, so we need to promise something to somewhere else (like West Seattle).

      That would stink. It just wouldn’t be a very good value. If we go for Corridor D, I’m afraid we don’t even get item 6, which is ridiculous, considering the cost. We basically tell Lake City and Bitterlake to tough it out, while we build this super-duper colossal system somewhere else. Oh, and if you live in Lake City, you might as well drive to Ballard because getting there will take forever (twenty minutes on a bus to Northgate followed by ten to downtown, then fifteen back north again).

      Meanwhile, with this proposal, if it pans out, for the same price as Corridor D, you can probably have:

      1) This line, which is a minute or two longer for folks going from Ballard to downtown.
      2) A line from Ballard to Fremont to the UW. This could include a stop on Eastlake, so people in that area can hook into the system without too much trouble.
      3) Real BRT for West Seattle, so folks there can get to the Sodo station in five minutes with five minute headways all day long.
      4) A station at 130th and a bridge over the freeway at Northgate.
      5) If we have any cash left over, a short line from Westlake to South Lake Union.

      Corridor D sounds great, but it reminds me of the tunnel for 99. Everyone on here hates it because it spends so much money for roads, and not a dime for transit. But even if you love roads — even if don’t want to spend a dime on a bus or a train, it just isn’t a great value. Billions for an underground line with two lanes, no downtown exit and no entrances from Western. Meanwhile, drivers everyday are stuck on the West Seattle Freeway trying to leave their beloved peninsula mainly because I-5 is backed up. If West Seattle is hosed because of the backup, then the rest of the city is as well. Much of the city has major traffic problems, and we spend an enormous amount for a couple of mediocre lanes. In order for the rest of the system to match it, we would have to build lots of extra lanes on I-5, and I-90, and 520 as well as Aurora and major arterials, like 15th. We would also add overpasses on various places around town (like Aurora and 80th).

      My point is that unless we commit to a really, really expensive system, this part of it will be way out of whack for what it delivers. Underground from the UW to Capitol Hill to downtown makes sense. Those are the three biggest places in the state. But Corridor D is really expensive for the area it serves, and it doesn’t even fully serve it (since there is no line from the UW to Ballard or Fremont). It is like buying really expensive high performance tires for a Ford Fiesta.

      1. If I can chime in to throw your point back at you, Ross, I’ve never heard anyone proposing your six-point system either. Sound Transit has put the Ballard-UW line on their maps (and even split it from the lake crossing, which should reassure dp a bit), but they haven’t even started the planning process. How long do they really have to start it if they’re going to ballot in 2016, and are they really going to give Ballard two lines? The West Seattle BRT and Subway-8 are even further behind; I’ve never heard a word of them outside these blog comments.

        So if we could get your six-point system, I’d throw my hat in the air and vote for it above Corridor D. But all I’m seeing now is Corridor D versus Corridor C, in isolation.

        (Which is a huge problem, since we need to be thinking of an integrated system – but that’s another issue altogether.)

      2. While I get your value for the dollar approach, I think that it is the backwards way to approach this situation. You’re trying to get the most bang out of a budget, which is nice but… there is no budget. Meaning that none of this money is in ST’s pocket, ready to be spent. Not one dime. “Well, we’ve got $3bil, what should we build with it?” is not the situation.

        What is the situation is this: what plan is so good that voters will shell out billions for it? What plan can be sold to the city as being obviously great? What plan doesn’t have any asterixs next to its claims? When you are asking people to spend that much money, you should give them exactly what they want. It is going to be crazy loco super insane-o expensive, so it better be great when its done. Getting something even marginally worse, for only loco super insane-o expensive doesn’t really make sense.

        *using your car example: here’s your choice, $1mil for an Aston-Martin or $0.75mil for a Luxus? that’s what you have to sell.

        Also, worrying about Option D delaying other projects is a bit too skittish for me. Sure, this project’s studies are ahead of West Seattle’s and UW-Ballard(thank you McGinn), but that doesn’t mean that if we do Option D the others won’t happen. I think of it differently, not as a zero sum game, but that those communities and constituencies will think “gee, that’s what I want too!”; and that this precedent will help more people to demand more and better transit, which leads to better funding, yada yada yada.

        Let’s do a subway line in Seattle that we can all point to in the future and say “that is a M*therF*ck’n tricked out Cadillac subway and we love it. Lets build another.”

      3. “Sound Transit has put the Ballard-UW line on their maps … but they haven’t even started the planning process. How long do they really have to start it if they’re going to ballot in 2016,”

        ST says they have started the planning process for all these lines, but it’s just started. And I met somebody from the consulting company who said these studies will be less extensive than the Ballard-downtown one, with maybe one open house each instead of three. The supplemental money Seattle put into the Ballard-downtown study is what has allowed such an extensive review and three open houses.

        I’m still concerned about them finishing in time for ST3 in 2016, and told ST so. But maybe that’s the answer; they’re less extensive so they’ll be finished in a shorter time, which I guess would be next year.

      4. “I think of it differently, not as a zero sum game, but that those communities and constituencies will think “gee, that’s what I want too!””

        I lean toward that too, although not absolutely. The public must have a limit, but we have no idea what it is. The recent limits have all been artificial, with no relationship to the public’s limit. A really good line (corridor D) would give the public an opportunity to say, “This is what we want.” And there’s a good chance they will, and that that will further lead to other neighborhoods saying, “I want this too”, and that will lead to all of them getting approved. Of course it may not, which is why I also find corridor B and Bruce’s “subway to north of Denny” acceptable too.

      5. Yeah, no one is looking at the six point plan I mentioned. I suggest it in part to show how this would be consistent with our current needs and Corridor D. In other words, if we are going to build something like Corridor D, we should go all in, and at the very least get things that are just as good a value (and to me, everything on that list is).

        But what Mike said is my understanding as well. They are still looking at these proposals, and there is still plenty of time to “mix and match”. Meanwhile, they are supposed to look at West Seattle as well as a line from Ballard to the UW in conjunction with that. This is where things will get interesting. Just to be clear, I would be fine with an expensive, full blown system. Build the following (all of which could potentially be part of ST3):

        1) Corridor D
        2) An underground line from Fremont to the UW
        3) A BRT stop at Fremont (on Aurora) with an elevator to the Fremont rail station
        4) Light rail to West Seattle.
        5) Bridge to NSCC and a station at 130th

        Even though I don’t think that is a great value, I would vote for it enthusiastically. There is some great stuff in there, even if it is a bit over the top.

        What I don’t want is this:
        1) Corridor D
        2) Streetcar from Fremont to the UW (or a streetcar from Ballard to the UW via 45th)
        3) Light rail to West Seattle

        That would be a terrible value. To me that route is ridiculously lopsided. Instead of that, I would prefer this:

        1) This proposal from Ballard to downtown
        2) Underground line from Ballard to the UW via Fremont
        3) A BRT stop at Fremont (on Aurora) with an elevator to the Fremont rail station
        4) BRT (with dedicated lanes and ramps) to West Seattle
        5) Bridge to NSCC and a station at 130th

        That is a much better value (in my opinion) than what I just called lopsided. It is possible that it costs the same amount of money or less. The only loser in that scenario are the folks on the top of Queen Anne — but there are a lot more winners.

  11. I’d really like to see more attention being paid to a Ballard – UW segment via 45th (or something similar). For all we’re doing to establish a grid system, a direct Downtown – Ballard segment just adds another radial. All three segments would be awesome, of course, but if we can only build one at a time I’d say the crosstown segment should win. Not only would it serve a huge corridor on which buses are currently crawling and packed, but it would also provide reasonably fast, high capacity connectivity from Ballard to Downtown via the UW.

    1. Add another to the tally of people who have independently reached this conclusion, but were summarily ignored by those who insist “the longer, more expensive plan must always be better”.

      1. DP – I have to agree with you. The way this study is presented, D will win by a mile. You can see why in the comments here — most people don’t get that the E/W line will exist so they think we have to build a 400 foot deep UQA station to get to Fremont.

        I’d like to see the a combination line with the best features from A (better Magnolia Walkshed) and B (more inexpensive grade separated sections) with UQA dropped.

        Why? Because this expenditure doesn’t happen in a bubble… Spending 3.5B to build this likely means we’re dropping something else from ST3 — that “something” will likely be Ballard to UW rather than downtown to West Seattle for political reasons.

      2. … And all this is Sound Transit and the City of Seattle’s fault for presenting the Ballard-Downtown study in isolation, so we’re forced to choose an option there without any assurance of when or if we’ll get anything else ever.

      3. Yeah, I agree with all of you. https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2013/12/08/sunday-open-thread-the-detroit-bus-company/#comment-394272

        Furthermore, if Sound Transit forces us to build an extra line from Ballard to downtown, then lets not blow all of our money on it (finding that we can’t afford to build the more important line from Ballard to the UW). We should find a cheap, effective way to satisfy the Sound Transit worry warts. So far, this is it. Anything cheaper is a lot more expensive (to the point of being useless). Anything faster is a lot more expensive (we assume).

        I will suggest, though, that we might have an opportunity to sway Sound Transit, despite their attempts at presenting this in isolation. From what I’ve heard, the ST folks emphasize that they want comments that explain why you like a route, as opposed to just “I like C”. This explains why the routes are so different (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2013/12/08/sunday-open-thread-the-detroit-bus-company/#comment-394277). I could easily see writing comments like this:

        I like Corridor D because it is grade separated and serves Fremont, which is an important station. But I believe that Bruce Nourishes proposal is a better value. For the money saved, I think we should build a grade separated line from Ballard to the UW via Fremont. I consider this line way more important because it connects Ballard and Fremont to the UW (and everywhere north of there) along with connecting it to downtown. This will save a lot more people a lot more time getting to and from Ballard and Fremont (and surrounding neighborhoods)

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