As Frank initially covered on Saturday, Sound Transit has released a slide deck summarizing a new study of possible high-capacity transit options in a large, roughly L-shaped area connecting downtown, West Seattle, White Center, Burien, Tukwila, and Renton.  Sound Transit’s study doesn’t restrict itself to a single corridor, particularly in the West Seattle/White Center part of the study area.  Instead, the agency presents a wide variety of options for HCT throughout the entire study area, parts of which could presumably be mixed and matched to form more refined options, just as SDOT and Sound Transit intended with the first public draft of their Ballard proposals (later refined).

Everything from slow, low-cost semi-BRT to long, extravagant light-rail tunnels is on the table, and the route between Burien and Seattle could serve Morgan Junction, South Park, or just about any neighborhood in between.  To avoid duplicating Frank’s post, I won’t resummarize all of the options here—I’ll just reprint Sound Transit’s table, and add more specifics where needed below. (Please note that ST made a typo on Option A5 in this table — it is LRT, not BRT.)

Sound Transit's summary of HCT options.
Sound Transit’s summary of HCT options.

As could be expected in an area as confusing and topographically difficult to serve as this one, the options reveal competing, dramatically different ideas about the goals of major transit investments.  And Sound Transit’s evaluations of each option, which are on the last page of the study presentation, tip the agency’s hand about which goals its planning process is designed to serve first.  While it is wonderful that ST has finally given detailed study to an area it more or less ignored for many years, I would argue the agency is much too focused on new and speculative regional connections, and not focused enough on speeding up existing trips with extremely high demand.  As a result, I think it didn’t put together the best combination from among its menu of options.  Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to mix-and-match our way to the best option.  More below the jump.

The “tell” of excess focus on new regional connections is the heavy emphasis on the east-west Burien/Renton corridor.  To put it mildly, this is not a corridor where existing demand suggests a need for true high-capacity transit.  Route 140, currently serving this corridor, sees 3500 daily riders today.  (In a few weeks Route 140 will be replaced by the RapidRide F Line.  If ridership improves consistently with past RapidRide conversions, it may become 4500 or so daily riders.)  Some of Route 128 will also be improved by this east-west corridor, helping another 2500 or so daily riders (those south of Alaska Junction).

By contrast, the Burien-Seattle portion of the corridor has the potential to replace most or all trips on the RapidRide C Line; Route 21 local and express; Route 55Route 113; Route 116Route 120; Routes 121, 122, and 123Route 125; Route 131; and, depending on the routing ultimately chosen, possibly Route 132.  These lines, added together, represent somewhere between 28,000 and 34,000 existing daily riders, depending on how you do the math.  In other words: one of these corridors is not like the other.

ST would argue that the 140 comparison is inapt, because downtown demand from Renton, Southcenter, and Tukwila will also shift to the HCT line.  Depending on how you count downtown demand,  that could add another 15,000 or so existing daily riders to points along the south half of the line.  The ridership estimates for options A3, A5, B2, and B4 seem to have those riders baked in, and ST’s presentation refers in multiple places to serving downtown demand.  The two options without a somewhat speedy downtown connection from Renton and Tukwila, A4 and C5 Hybrid, are dinged in ST’s evaluation for “poor rider benefits.”

But ST’s assumption that people will use these options to get downtown from Renton or Southcenter seems unrealistic.  The fastest of ST’s options assume travel time of roughly 40 to 45 minutes between Renton and downtown.  This is between 8 and 15 minutes slower than existing Metro Route 101.  Similarly, travel times between Southcenter and downtown are likely to be significantly slower than Metro Route 150.  Even with the huge speed advantage of grade-separated HCT, a West Seattle route is just not an efficient way downtown from those points.  And a transfer at Tukwila to Central Link is not going to be significantly, if at all, faster, given the transfer penalty and Central Link’s indirect routing.  I think it’s fair to assume that a Renton-Burien HCT link will serve almost exclusively crosstown ridership — ridership which is simply not in the same order of magnitude as north-south demand between Burien, West Seattle, and downtown.

Option C5
ST Option C5 Hybrid

There is one option, C5 Hybrid (pictured above), which appears to recognize this reality.  C5 Hybrid would build excellent HCT to many West Seattle neighborhoods with strong transit demand.  It would invest in the Burien-Renton corridor commensurately with demand there, retaining surface BRT but substantially streamlining the baroque RapidRide F Line route.  Still, C5 Hybrid has significant weaknesses.  Unlike other options, it does not improve Burien-downtown service, and could not replace Route 120 or the Burien freeway expresses.  It would also not serve Delridge, and not provide any good transfer point for Delridge riders.  In West Seattle, it would be elevated rather than tunneled—likely generating much local controversy.

But a combination of the ideas from C5 Hybrid and A5, the most expensive light-rail option, can solve the problem.

Part of A5
Part of ST Option A5 between Burien and Renton

I would urge ST to study a rail line similar to A5 between downtown and Burien (as in the partial picture of A5 at right), with a tunnel between the end of the West Seattle Bridge and White Center and surface running in exclusive lanes between White Center and Burien.  But between Burien and Renton, I would suggest replacing expensive rail with the much cheaper BRT option from C5 Hybrid, matching investment with likely demand and recognizing the reality that crosstown HCT without transfer options cannot hope to compete with express bus service directly from Renton or Southcenter to Seattle.

With part of the savings from eliminating rail between Burien and Renton, I would urge ST to add a station at north Delridge to the A5 rail line, allowing bus riders in the very busy Delridge corridor an easy and fast connection to rail.  With that addition, you would have a line functionally very similar to the one I suggested in December, that would serve the vast majority of downtown demand from west of the Duwamish, and a substantial amount of intra-West Seattle demand as well.

Of course, even with savings, the financial case for a West Seattle rail line remains problematic.  Based on the options from ST’s study, I think my A5+C5 suggestion would probably cost between $5.5 and $7 billion, for a likely total of 50,000 or so daily riders.  As I discussed in that December post, the cost per rider associated with this option—and, frankly, any other West Seattle option worth doing—is likely to be higher than for Central Link, U-Link, North Link, Ballard Link, or even East Link.  Meanwhile, West Seattle already has the most effective quasi-BRT in the city (counting both RapidRide C and Route 120), which could get even more effective yet with a few strategic investments: a last-mile solution inbound into downtown, much more aggressive TSP along California and Delridge, bus lanes in and around White Center, and possibly priority ramps between the West Seattle Bridge and Highway 99.  Given the persistent capacity shortage on existing Duwamish crossings, and extremely strong growth projected in West Seattle, a new line and its additional capacity could still be worth the cost — but both Sound Transit and voters in ST’s Seattle subarea should consider the cost carefully when looking at these options.

127 Replies to “ST’s “South King” Study: The Hazards of Regionalism”

  1. To put it mildly, [Burien-Renton] is not a corridor where existing demand suggests a need for true high-capacity transit.

    Yes, this. BRT is perfectly capable of meeting capacity needs on this segment, if it’s necessary to build rapid transit at all.

    If ST really wanted to connect Renton well, they’d study LRT down Renton Ave S, from Rainier Beach Station to downtown Renton and up to the Landing, mostly at-grade with a couple of elevated sections, built for two-car trains. This would be more expensive per mile than the average LRT project, as it would require building sidewalks and widening the Renton Ave S ROW, but it would be worth it, as that 101/102/106/107 Renton-RV-Seattle corridor is where the riders actually are in Renton, not Renton-TIBS-West Nowhere.

    1. Does 4500 riders a day really even justify a BRT conversion? It seems to me that if the goal is to increase speeds over the route for those traveling longer distances, just having an express route that would stop only at the most significant locations would work OK. For that matter, considering how slow RapidRide is, local + express bus service might wind up being better for many riders.

      1. I wish they would have a kind of RR express that stopped at half or less of the stops of the regular rapid ride… passing the “local” RR buses while they are picking up passengers at in-between stops.

      2. I just on the Kent-Des Moines Rd crossing International Blvd (99).

        I saw a RapidRide waiting for the light.

        I think it’s a must that something defined as BRT control its right of way on a lane, same as light rail, either physically, or virtually by triggering traffic lights.

    2. You are right about the ridership.

      With regard to costs, the chart above has projects in the $6~9 billion range, in he end that would still be way cheaper than this.

      1. I assume you mean on the existing freight trackage. That would work great as a downtown Renton-Link express connection, but that’s a rather different thing than rapid transit connecting all of Renton and Skyway to Link. You’d also have to persuade BNSF to give us the room on their tracks, which is probably easy on the Renton branch, but seems expensive on the mainline.

    3. I think it’s a valuable corridor but only if there are feeder lines…so it’s basically an interchange between key South King destinations; however, you are still left with the issue of getting people to those destinations.

      Tragically, Southcenter isn’t on a fast rail line. Maybe this is a way to hook it up to both Seattle traffic, LINK and Sounder?

      You’re still left with the issues of how to get people from further South up into this corridor…still no rapid transit from Kent except for the in frequently running Sounder.

      1. At least the 150 bus can get folks from Tukwila station to Southcenter for the time being. They do need to work more at making these quality connections though. The stop at the mall is really horrible.

      2. It’s completely insane…I see people sitting at the 168 Bus stop all along Kent East Hill…many of them simply want to get to Southcenter, but that means making all the stops on the 168, then waiting at Kent Station for the 150, then making all the stops to Southcenter.

        The distance from 132nd and 256th on Kent East to Southcenter is 11 miles.

        11 miles.

        The time to get there by car, right now, according to Google is 17 minutes.

        Time to get there by bus…1 hour!

    4. I understood (from comments given back to me in a prior post) that Link was designed to accommodate an infill station along SR 599 at 133rd Street. Wouldn’t this also be a viable LRT transfer location connection strategy (using Interurban Avenue) — as a stand alone feeder LRT or a branch route (assuming some new track crossings?

      1. It would be useful to truncate the 150. It’s not clear that it would be useful for any other route. It would also be in the middle of nowhere, which is not an ideal place to transfer. So that’s the benefit. The cost is the construction cost, some millions of dollars, and 20 seconds of travel time. ST has not said anything about infilling stations in ST3 (133rd, Boeing Access, Graham), so it’s not in its priorities. We could make it in its priorities if we made enough noise. But 133rd station would come out of South King’s budget, and South King already has a lot of needs and little money, so it would mean deprioritizing something else. Alongside Burien-Renton and Des Moines-Federal Way Link, there’s potential Sounder runs and a Kent-Seattle ST Express, although ST hasn’t said much about those either. So it would have to be weighed against those.

      2. Re travel time, 20 seconds is basically insignificant, although it could be a psychological barrier for stakeholders. South Link is already destined to be slower than the 577 or Sounder, so it can never be as expressful as Lynnwood Link or East Link. It will function best for mid-county origins (Des Moines, Redondo), and for a slow-but-frequent Tacoma/FW trips. So adding another station would just make it more so.

        South Link’s travel time will raise an interesting issue for ST Express. Will ST delete off-peak runs and say that Link’s frequency makes up for its speed? Will it keep peak runs because commuters are more time-sensitive? Or would it delete peak runs too? We’ve seen some willingness to truncate all buses at Lynnwood and Mercer Island, so maybe ST would be bold. But it would impact south end riders more than north end or eastside riders.

  2. Don’t forget that the options studied to date saddle LRT to West Seattle with the cost of a new tunnel across downtown, which would likely be tied into any rail extension to Ballard, etc. It would make for fairer comparisons if the 2nd DSTT was discussed as a separate project.

    1. I wonder how easy it would be to separate that out. I also wonder realistic any of these elevated options downtown are. My guess is that many people won’t go for that.

      1. If this line were to be elevated, it wouldn’t be able to tie into any of the Ballard options. That line is anticipated to be at-grade or tunneled in downtown.

        And judging by how people lost their minds during the monorail discussion, it wouldn’t fly.

      2. Rubbish, there’s no reason why an at-grade LRT line couldn’t connect to an elevated line. Central Link already does this!

      3. It’s certainly feasible to connect the two, but it’s far from desirable. Doing so would involve building a 700′-900′ long concrete wall to transition between a 25′ tall elevated guideway and at-grade. Said wall would either have to be around 2nd & Pike where Ballard Link is to terminate to take full advantage of aerial structure (great for tourism), or in the Sodo area (forcing at-grade LRT through the city core).

      4. Yes — we need the new DSST broken out for analysis purposes. Also we need some better segement information. Example: Downtown to West Seattle with a station that is actually next to the stadiums and only one stop in West Seattle. Winner? Close?

      5. Anything downtown will be tunneled.

        In reality, yes. In these materials provided by Sound Transit there are elevated options listed.

    2. It’s quite fair to include the 2nd DSTT as part of the project. Otherwise, where do the trains go once they get to the other side of the Duwamish? It’s also more likely the Ballard line would be built first with it’s terminus and forced transfer at Westlake to Central Link. Therefore, continuing the Ballard tunnel south as part of the West Seattle extension becomes a logical part of the project. Yes, it adds a billion or two, but the last thing Link needs are two forced transfers on either side of Downtown when it’s 100% complete and full of commuters.

      1. Given the combined pricetags of the Ballard subway and W. Seattle LRT, it ain’t all going to happen in ST3. A first step toward both could be to build the downtown tunnel with a connection at the south to Central Link for a path to the OMF. Then extend the tunnel to the north as far as allowed by the available money.

      2. A forced transfer at SODO for passengers from the southwest would probably work better than a forced transfer for people coming from Ballard/northwest Seattle. The line from the Rainier Valley / SeaTac won’t be at capacity anytime soon.

      3. A forced transfer at SODO for passengers from the southwest would probably work better

        That would involve significant re-work, though, when the tunnel did get finished.

      4. Given the combined pricetags of the Ballard subway and W. Seattle LRT, it ain’t all going to happen in ST3. A first step toward both could be to build the downtown tunnel with a connection at the south to Central Link for a path to the OMF. Then extend the tunnel to the north as far as allowed by the available money.

        It makes no sense to build the tunnel until one of the lines exists. A tunnel to no where is not especially useful.

      5. @AW

        Building a 2nd rail-only DSTT first would be silly. It wouldn’t go anywhere and it would duplicate service on an existing corridor (the first DSTT). However, a new LRT-friendly, bus-only DSTT under 2nd with portals handy for the C,D,E Lines*, and other routes to use, might make sense. Basically, repeat what we did with the Bus Tunnel. Connecting to the existing O&M isn’t doable; it’s at capacity.

        @Andrew Smith

        It wouldn’t require too much reworking. Just a couple new switches to point north wherever the new tunnel alignment intersects the line. Nothing more than a weekend project on ballasted track. Shoot, it could even be built in to the original project. Then simply abandon the forced transfer platform at Sodo Station. And this has all been done before.

        *All 3 Lines easily convertible to LRT in the future as well.

      6. A rail-convertible bus tunnel could make sense, hopefully with the experience with conversion of the DSTT we could figure out how to do this one right the first time. Clearly, if the LR system gets expanded, there will be a need for a maintenance facility. Whether that happens by an expansion of the current OMF, or by building a separate facility will need to be figured out when the plans get further along.

        I’m not sure where you would put a northern portal for another bus tunnel through downtown.

      7. It wouldn’t require too much reworking. Just a couple new switches to point north wherever the new tunnel alignment intersects the line. Nothing more than a weekend project on ballasted track. Shoot, it could even be built in to the original project. Then simply abandon the forced transfer platform at Sodo Station. And this has all been done before.

        Oh I see, you want to route the line permanently through Sodo station. I don’t know whether the existing tunnel could handle that traffic long-term.

      8. @Andrew Smith.

        There wouldn’t be a physical tie-in with Central Link, just a platform transfer of some sort. The physical modification I was referring would be tying in the new Downtown LRT tunnel with the West Seattle-to-Sodo Station line. My bad.

        Although, sharing Sodo Station and breaking off somewhere around Holgate to hit a new tunnel wouldn’t be too terrible of an idea. Might be tricky w/ ST’s aerial guideway.

      9. Aw “Given the combined pricetags of the Ballard subway and W. Seattle LRT, it ain’t all going to happen in ST3.”

        It really depends on what we are talking about. They are looking at expensive options in the other subareas. For them to get the money they need to build, we would have a boatload of money. If we are talking about just making it over to West Seattle and doing a cost/value version of Ballard to Downtown (Essentially Alt A without Upper QA and a 70 ft drawbridge) and Ballard to UW it seems totally possible. ST2 is building from UW to the county line north and from the ID east to the water in Seattle. ST3 will have to be even bigger if they want to get to Everett and down to Tacoma.

      10. Although, sharing Sodo Station and breaking off somewhere around Holgate to hit a new tunnel wouldn’t be too terrible of an idea. Might be tricky w/ ST’s aerial guideway.

        It would be cool (though maybe confusing and difficult to implement/schedule, etc.) if you could have a train that went from West Seattle->U District (Northgate) using a line switch at Sodo (or whatever), and a possibly a sea-tac -> Ballard line or whatever.

        NYC has some lines like this: most BMT lines go through just a couple of spots between Brooklyn and Manhattan and then fork on both sides, but that’s a whole different beast.

      11. On a 2nd downtown tunnel. I definitely second the notion that a 2nd downtown tunnel should be studied separately. It’s not directly tied into the West Seattle project and moreover, there are simply too many potential options for that corridor to not have a separate study.

        In particular, I think what would make the most sense long term would be to interline West Seattle Link and Central Link, while building a 2nd downtown tunnel between Ballard Link and East Link serving Westalke, Madison, Little Saigon/Yesler Terrace and Rainier/I-90. At what I suspect would be similar costs, you could enhance coverage, increase frequencies in SODO, avoid the logistical hurdle of starting a tunnel near the International District, and (in my opinion) enhance the utility of East Link by having it go towards Ballard and QA as opposed the U-District.

        The fact that such an alignment is almost certainly out of the scope of this study shows how imperative it is that we get a complete sense via of what the second downtown could look like.

      12. ST has promised the Eastside a one-seat ride to UW and Lynnwood. It’s not likely to reroute East Link to Ballard. ST’s policy is to avoid contradicting previous voter-approved plans or previous board decisions. Minor board decisions may be one thing, but reconnecting voter-approved segments would create significant winners and losers, and the losers would strongly object.

      13. Mike Orr: yes it makes sense to keep the promises made to voters in the past, but at the long-range planning stage, it also makes sense to consider line interconnections that could enable different service patterns in the far future. Perhaps someday, there will be enough Eastside demand to support both Redmond to Lynnwood, but also Issaquah to Ballard. Maybe even a few trains toward the south.

      14. Certainly political inertia represents a problem in making a change. But it should by no means preclude the study of different options. Indeed, regardless of the decisions they make, it is imperative that public agencies do their due diligence and at least study various possibilities. This is especially true considering that not studying such alternatives for connecting the “northern” lines with the “southern” lines would be at the expense of a least one neighborhoods chance to get light rail service.

      15. My first choice:

        Run a line from Ballard to the UW, which then goes south to downtown, then to the airport. The other line goes from Northgate, through downtown, then to Bellevue. At peak, each train runs every six minutes. This means three minute headways through the highest demand, most urban part of the state (UW-Capitol Hill-Downtown). Create a SODO transit center, with real BRT from the south and southwest. Buses from West Seattle, White Center, Burien and other areas will travel as much as possible in their own lanes. The nice thing is, there already is plenty of freeway infrastructure in these areas (99, 509 and the West Seattle Freeway). Quite a bit, when you consider how many people live there.

        It is quite likely, though, that we will build an additional lane from Ballard to downtown. The only justification for this line is that the core part of the city (downtown to the UW) will have ridership such that it will overwhelm our system. That being the case, then the Ballard to downtown line should continue all the way through downtown. There is nothing special about any particular single spot downtown. Employment is spread throughout the area. There are four stations in the downtown tunnel and another at the Stadium, which could easily be considered part of downtown. Even SODO, which is largely industrial, has some demand, and could easily go through the same transformation that South Lake Union did. Long story short, a Ballard to Westlake line would force as many, if not more transfers than if you only ran a Ballard to UW line (assuming both lines ended, rather than continuing on). That being the case, the logical end point for a Ballard to downtown line is SODO. This would enable more flexibility within the system, especially if a turnback system is added there.

        Forcing riders from West Seattle or Burien or South Park to a SODO station may sound harsh, but it would actually be beneficial. Under the first scenario they will transfer to a train that travels every six minutes (if they do transfer). Under the more likely scenario, the trains arrive more often (since there will be two lines there). On the other hand, a West Seattle train will run at best every ten minutes. When you consider that the vast majority of riders on a West Seattle train will arrive to the station by bus, a transfer at SODO (instead of a transfer in West Seattle) will save significant time. Riders from some areas (like Burien or South Park) will save even more time, since detouring to West Seattle would be considerably slower.

        But, as to the original comment, I completely agree. That is one by biggest complaints with these estimates. They don’t break down the pieces, but provide us with “complete packages”. I want to shop a la carte, and want to be able to see how much each piece costs. From West Seattle, I would like to see how much it would cost to connect LRT to a station at SODO (which would be my pick for the Ballard to Downtown terminus) or even the Stadium station (another logical pick). Even if you just selected one, and based the numbers on that, it would be fine. Likewise, I think you could do the same with BRT, and assume that it will go to SODO (not downtown). But ideally, we would have a breakdown of costs that address the last paragraph of this post. I want to know how much the “few strategic investments” to BRT cost. My guess is that they don’t cost that much, and yet the benefit could be enormous.

  3. ‘A chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage’
    I’m astounded that serious consideration in round two HCT studies have come to these conclusions.
    The lead statement in the results slide pretty much say it all.
    “Strong overall ridership within the corridor” Really?
    And this is based on the current crush loading of existing buses in the corridor, or just another wet political dream that keep giving us services to nowhere for nobody.
    The ST560, at half hour service in the peak, along this same corridor was only put in because Seattle demanded ‘something’ for W.Seattle as part of Sound Move. How did that work out?

    1. The 560 doesn’t serve this full “corridor”, which is actually two corridors mashed together for this planning process. It barely serves West Seattle now, going no farther than Westwood Village, with lousy connections to the rest of West Seattle.

      1. “Lousy connections”? Connections to the C-Line, 120, 21, 125 and 60 at Westwood Village aren’t enough for you?

      2. The 560 did originally serve this whole corridor, but it was progressively cut back due to terrible ridership, and even that would have happened faster without political meddling.

        By contrast, if you ran a limited-stop, all-day Ballard express that didn’t make the Uptown deviation, people would die of asphyxiation trying to stuff themselves into it.

      3. Also note this is touted as the ‘South King’ study, which by your admission would be a nice amenity to W.Seattle and do practically nothing for S. King.
        I drove the entire 560 for a shakeup just to take a well deserve break off trollies. You know, as in few if any passengers to distract my quiet ride around the HCT corridor between W. Seattle and Renton.
        Bruce nails it below!

      4. The 560 never served Southcenter, which, in fairness, is the single most important destination in the 140/RR F corridor.

        I drove the old 570 just once. Was a nice way to spend a day without talking to any pesky people. And it shows how important the details are — the reason it had no riders is that it didn’t quite get downtown, terminating in Pioneer Square.

      5. Chad the connection between the 560 and the 21/C is lousy because of the distance between the stops. The C especially because they tend to discharge passengers about a block west of the stop, which is already a block and a half to two blocks away from the 560 stop. The 120/560 connection is a bit better, southbound more so than northbound.

      6. Bruce +1. If you really look at these studies closely the pattern emerges that in city transit has a huge advantage and serves more people. Who knew?

      7. David: Details are important, and I didn’t know the 570 missed Southcenter. But still, looking just at the WS-Downtown segment, I don’t buy that terminating in Pioneer Square killed the route. If you ran an all-day Ballard express that turned around at Westlake, it would be packed.

      8. Well, the original 570 nearly duplicated the routing of the 22 at the time between the Junction and Pioneer Square, but with fewer stops. And it had the same frequency, if I recall correctly. Yet way more people rode the 22, which continued into downtown, than the 570.

        Westlake is really the central destination — a better analogy would be a Ballard express that dumped everyone at 1st and Cedar.

      9. I think there is a danger in basing the potential of a route on the existing bus service. In many cases, (and Bruce gives a good example) the bus service is bad, so people find other ways to get there (they drive). Furthermore, even when the bus route is a good one, it may suffer from a lack of infrastructure (Metro 8 is a good route, but traffic is terrible there — build a tunnel along there and you would have volumes big enough to justify a train). But if you look at the number of people in a particular area, and where they want to go, you will probably find that transit demand often matches population and employment patterns. I agree with Bruce, a fast way to get from Ballard to downtown would be immensely popular, and probably way more popular then any route that you could ever imagine in Southwest Seattle. There are simply more people in Ballard than any neighborhood of similar size west of the Duwamish.

  4. I don’t see how the Burien-Renton segment gets done in ST3 when South King will need most of it’s funds to complete Link to Pierce County. Maybe they could afford the BRT option but there’s no way the LRT option is affordable.

    Or is my math way off?

    1. It’s worth noting that through some weird ST quirk, Renton is in East King, not South King.

      1. Not weird, just politics. Renton started off in S.Sub, until city fathers/mothers decided E.Sub was a better deal (it is BTW) for future funding, so the JRPC/RTA moved them to stay ‘ahead of the curve’.

      2. Well, Renton is also in the 425 area code. I remember that Almost Live ‘new area code’ skit when the woman from Bellevue says they made a mistake by putting Renton in the 425 with Bellevue…

      3. I guess the good news is that E.Sub area can pay for 1/3 of this rail line for the S.Sub Area.
        And N.Sub pays for everything in the city limits around White Center.

    2. Mark. Bingo. Anything on this plan in South King is likely window dressing. Manifest Destiny for Central Link has always been to connect Tacoma to Everett. Right or wrong, I’ll not comment. South King Will need every bit of its money to make that happen.

      1. 240th is already funded. 320th is just four miles further along a wide, straight right of way. An elevated line in that environment is not that expensive.

  5. I support the modification to add a North Delridge (Youngstown) stop to a West Seattle light rail, if this scenario can be completed:

    (1) Direct escalator/elevator transfer from the 120 to the rail line under the West Seattle Bridge
    (2) 120 truncated at that transfer point
    (3) The eastbound bus only lane on the West Seattle bridge could be sacrificed (along with shoulder width) to allow 2 light rail tracks across the existing bridge.

    Re-using the existing bridge would be a major cost-savings. Note that the bridge is striped for 7 lanes only across the high-rise portion of the bridge. West of the Delridge exit, the viaduct is much narrower with only 4 lanes. The light rail line would need to transition from “at-grade” in the existing bridge to its own elevated structure around the Delridge exit.

    If light rail can’t use the bridge for an engineering reason, then the bus lane could remain and the 120 could continue running into downtown and not having a Youngstown stop would be acceptable.

  6. Very nice post. A note on this: “Given the persistent capacity shortage on existing Duwamish crossings, and extremely strong growth projected in West Seattle”

    Building the entire rail line from Downtown to West Seatle to Burien clearly doesnt pass the sniff test for cost benefit right now. However, adding a Duwamish rail crossing that has only one LLR stop in West Seattle (then changing West Seattle bus service to connect to it) could make sense. Particularly if you add in 10 years or more of development to the analysis.

    There is nothing that says we have to serve all of West Seattle in one shot. Having an additional Duwamish crossing that doesnt get stuck in traffic would be a huge win for West Seattleites. Therefore, what I really want from ST is some anaylisis that helps us identify the cost benefit of doing what I suggest.

    1. How much of the cost estimates for West Seattle are the downtown tunnel?
    2. How much would it cost to build one stop in West Seattle and upgrade the existing BRT and bus service to connect to it?

    I have the strong suspicion that, armed with this knowledge, West Seattle could make a decent case to get rail within the next 15 years. Without it, these options are just WAY too expensive considering the population of West Seattle.

    1. I view these corridor studies as long term corridors myself. I suspect we will get started on the highest priority portions first and put off the outer edges until more funding becomes avaliable.

      Getting to West Seattle and Ballard would be a good start (with Ballard to UW being added to the mix). We can then start discussions on how to expand further south toward White Center/Burien and further north toward Lake City Way.

      What South King should do with their money is a good question.. Pierce wants to see the spine completed, but ridership might be better served by something like what ST has proposed here. We should be able to compare the studies when they are complete to see which alignments are the best bang for the buck.

      1. Charles — yes, defintiely. These are long term planning. But they are also the basis for the next package… which is really what I’m focused on. At some point this needs to be something that average people (not us!) can understand and get excited about. Hopefully we will see more from ST that does this.

        Regarding South King. My guestimate is that the south route will beat on $/Rider. There are a lot of connections that have nothing to do with Seattle that they can bake in and strong express bus ridership that could be replaced.

    2. Really we need to know two things:

      1) What’s the cost of the downtown TUNNEL. Elevated downtown is silly.
      2) What’s the cost of a West Seattle line that stops at Delridge Way, 35th Ave SW, and Alaska & California (West Seattle Junction).

      If they can just tell us that, we can get on with it. South 200th to South 380th-ish is all South King can handle.

      1. 1. Yep. Elevated there isnt happening, next topic.
        2. Yes – if that number make sense, great. I stuck with a single stop because I’m worried its the only way it makes $ sense. I’d certianly like to see the three station option as well. If its possible in ST3, fantastic.

      2. Are you expecting a station at 380th? South King’s responsibility is only to its last station. The corridor study is to 320th, and I haven’t heard the same clamor for a 344th station like I did for Alderwood Mall or Ash Way, or for Madison BRT to 30th or the First Hill Streetcar to Volunteer Park. I don’t know enough about south Federal Way to say whether a 344th station would have any potential, but it hasn’t been in ST’s studies. That would suggest Pierce funding Link directly from 320th, and no station between there and the Pierce County border.

      3. Are you expecting a station at 380th? South King’s responsibility is only to its last station.

        No, that’s my fault then, the difference between 340th and 380th in my frame of reference is a couple miles of freeway. Whatever it is. It seems like South King is just barely funding that route.

        In the case that they do fund all of it, some BRT would be good, if they can afford it.

    3. I wish when we talked about this we would consider the potential population (in 10 years or so) as W. Seattle is growing very rapidly – a huge number a buildings are rising as we blog.

      1. West Seattle’s hurdle to getting transit is that there appears to be resistance to an elevated LINK line through the major arteries. It’s not an uncommon issue in this city, but it is an issue for West Seattle.

        It’s likely also an issue from Ballard to UW.

        An elevated line in Interbay to Ballard is also the more affordable option and likely few(er) people will have an issue with their sight-lines there.

      2. @Doug we are taking those into account. West Seattle is growing, its just that Ballard and the Ballard – UW corridor are growing an order of magnitude faster. The only neighborhoods growing faster than Ballard in the city are already going to get light rail.

        Its not to say that we all think that West Seattle shouldn’t get service, but I think most of us think that getting the light rail to the peninsula would be a good start. We can worry about expanding it south as further growth demands it.

        Having a bus transfer to a nearby LRT station would not be a bad place to start, and its what most of us in north Seattle (Bitter Lake, Greenwood, Lake City Way) are going to see for some time yet.

        Growing population centers along the future planned alignments will help boost the argument for extending the lines further out.

      3. Between 2000 and 2010, the population of the Southwest District of Seattle (the west half of West Seattle, west of 35th) grew by by 4.6% (2,122 people). During the same period, the Ballard District grew by 9.2% (3,717 people). That is not an order of magnitude (10×) difference in growth rate.

      4. @Paul thanks for population growth numbers. I was referring to the amount of construction specifically. What population numbers that will turn into in the next few years is an important question and one that has not been answered yet.

      5. Regarding the possible elevated portions in the major arteries in West Seattle and Ballard, would they actually tear down the homes and businesses on each side of the street to do elevated (a lot of eminent domain payouts potentially), or simply extend the girders to the sidewalks?

      6. Your welcome for the numbers Charles, but there still isn’t an order of magnitude difference between the rates of growth in Ballard and West Seattle.

      7. @Paul Three things: The numbers stop in 2010 and do not reflect recent changes. Even your numbers show roughly double population growth on Ballard vs West Seattle. Also, your numbers also do not reflect new construction at all.

        As I indicated before I was referring to the previous commenter’s position that the amount of new buildings in West Seattle was indicitive of significant new population to come. Ballard has quite a lote more new construction going on than West Seattle has been seeing.

        I accept that the exact statement “order of magnitude” may possibly be incorrect, but I think we would need to get raw numbers on actual new housing units to confirm this.

        I stand by the position however that the new unit construction in West Seattle is much lower than what has been going on in Ballard.

        Take a look at Stephen Fesler’s google map of new construction in Seattle and you can see some of what I am talking about:

        Though the dataset may not be complete yet, I think you can see the number and size of new projects in Ballard are significantly higher than those in West Seattle. Not shown here is the amount of infill going on where a one house is being torn down to be replaced by two to four new ones. There is also quite a lot of that going on all over Ballard.

      8. I would also add that not only is Ballard growing faster, but it is already way more dense. Give me a 50 meter head start, and I’m confident that I can beat anyone in the world in the 100 meters. Such is Ballard to West Seattle. Except Ballard is growing faster. So, basically, you have Usain Bolt with the 50 meter head start, and I’m back there trying to catch him. Not gonna happen. Ballard will be more dense than West Seattle for the next 100 years, if not for all eternity.

        One quibble with this statement, Charles: “The only neighborhoods growing faster than Ballard in the city are already going to get light rail.”

        I am fairly confident that South Lake Union is growing faster (or has grown faster) but there are no plans (of yet) to provide light rail to the area.

        One last thing about growth: It is quite possible that West Seattle will grow very quickly in the coming years. But it is also possible that SODO will as well. Imagine if the North Link line included a station in South Lake Union. Imagine if an express bus could average 40 MPH from Ballard to this station (through a combination of HOV lanes and exclusive lanes). Some might complain about the transfer to light rail, and that the BRT doesn’t go “downtown” but overall, most people in Ballard would be thrilled. I don’t see why someone from West Seattle wouldn’t be likewise as thrilled, unless it is simply jealousy (Ballard got light rail, we should too).

      9. @RossB you are right about SLU not being on the light rail. Its also true that they have a streetcar. Its not really high speed rail for sure, but it does take riders right up to the light rail.

        Ballard is much further from any of the light rail, and does not appear to be in line to get a streetcar anymore.

        SLU should eventually get service (or at least have the streetcar get more dedicated space to speed it up) but it has at least had some attention in recent years.

      10. @Charles — There is functionally no difference between a streetcar and a bus. Well, that isn’t absolutely correct. A streetcar can handle more passengers. But as has been discussed many times, the problem in both situations is not volume, but speed. Put a streetcar on the West Seattle Freeway* and along the entire route of a particular bus and you would see little to no increase in ridership. Dig a tunnel underneath Westlake Avenue and put a bus in there and you would find that no one wants to ride the streetcar anymore (except maybe tourists — the same ones that ride the Ferris Wheel).

        * In principle; obviously you can’t actually run a streetcar on the West Seattle Freeway.

    4. Back to the original comment (

      I agree with most of what you said, Kyle. I also feel that frustrated that the cost estimates are lumped together. As I said in a previous post ( if you build light rail from Ballard to Downtown, then it makes sense to continue that line to at least the Stadium station, if not SODO. For sake of argument, I think the planners should assume that it will be built to SODO. Then we can see what improvements could be made to make that work. How much for a transit center at SODO? How much for a ” “few strategic investments” (as David put it) in BRT. Could you get someone from West Seattle to SODO in less than ten minutes. That should be easy.

      However, as to this part of your post:

      1. How much of the cost estimates for West Seattle are the downtown tunnel?
      2. How much would it cost to build one stop in West Seattle and upgrade the existing BRT and bus service to connect to it?

      I have the strong suspicion that, armed with this knowledge, West Seattle could make a decent case to get rail within the next 15 years. Without it, these options are just WAY too expensive considering the population of West Seattle.

      I agree that the current LRT options are way too expensive, but I fear that even one station would be too expensive. My guess is that it would be at least a couple billion (but I could be wrong and I completely agree that we should figure this out). Tunneling is very expensive, and at a minimum, you have one for West Seattle. But I think the big problem is the other part of your suggestion. Unfortunately, there is no single great spot in West Seattle for a transit station. If you put a single station at, say, the junction, it is really hard for buses to get there. The best example is Delridge, an area with enough people in it that Sound Transit considered it for the main line. It would be so much easier for people in Delridge to transfer at SODO, then it would be to transfer in, say, the junction. The same is true (although to a lesser extent) for folks in High Point (it is easier to just go down 35th and get on the freeway). If you build a single station that is meant as the transit center for the area, then it makes sense to have an area that is easy to serve by buses. It makes sense to have an area that serves as the focal point for buses. There is no area like that on West Seattle, The first area like that is in on the freeway (right after the Delridge on-ramp). But even that wouldn’t serve South Park and Burien. Besides, that is just silly. The first practical focal point is at SODO.

      BRT just makes sense for West Seattle. It is rare in that regard (in general I’m no fan of BRT). It is spread out and there is a lot of existing freeway infrastructure. Meanwhile, light rail for West Seattle is hampered greatly by the fact that on a per station basis, LRT is really expensive. There is no plan for a station from SODO to West Seattle, a very large distance (any Ballard line would have three extra stations in that distance). Nor is there much beyond West Seattle. Interbay might get light rail, but only because it is in between Ballard and downtown. West Seattle has no such luck. But as I said, the good news is that West Seattle could have first class BRT, if Sound Transit figures out how to make it happen.

      1. “I also feel that frustrated that the cost estimates are lumped together.”

        These are progress reports to the board, not formal drafts for public comments. They’re just to give a preliminary idea of where the studies are heading. I do plan to write to ST and tell them I want the formal drafts to have separate cost breakdowns for the downtown segments.

      2. Ross, I’m not sure I understand why Ballard rail to SODO matching up with a West Seattle BRT guideway (the option you’ve consistently been advocating over many threads) is better than extending the Ballard rail all the way to West Seattle. For better or for worse, we’re not building the Ballard Spur; we’re building a Ballard line that will have a new downtown tunnel. Thus the downtown tunnel cost is present for either option, as is the new or heavily revised Duwamish crossing. People are not going to want a 3-seat ride (LRT -> BRT -> local bus) to reach West Seattle neighborhood destinations; they will be fine with a 2-seat ride with frequent LRT as one of the legs.

      3. @David — I’m not sure if you understand my idea. I am not suggesting one BRT line for West Seattle, but several. That is one of the advantages of BRT, really. So basically, I am saying LRT -> BRT and that’s it. Done. Even for buses that aren’t BRT (buses that don’t have limited stops, or signal priority, or off board payments) this would be a faster system than LRT -> local bus if the local bus has to travel some heavily traveled, round about route to get to its destination.

        For example, consider a trip from downtown to South Seattle (Community) College:

        via Light Rail — Take light rail to The Junction (or some other spot on the top of the hill) and then take a bus from there (via Morgan and ?).

        via BRT (or even a regular bus) — Take light rail to SODO, then transfer to a bus that goes along the West Seattle freeway, takes the Delridge exit, and is soon at the college.

        The part of the ride from SODO to the Delridge exit (or the equivalent on the LRT) is about the same. A train and bus can go about the same speed if there is grade separation. So then it becomes a race between a bus that is on Morgan, or a bus that goes on Delridge. My money is on the Delridge bus, day or night, every time.

        It isn’t hard to find other examples of places in West Seattle where it is faster to get to the freeway then it is to get to a station or two on the top of the hill. That really is the key part.

        Then you also have the transfer time. As I mentioned, it is highly unlikely that LRT from West Seattle will have frequent headways. Sound Transit estimates ten minutes max. Central Link already exceeds that, and is likely to get more frequent as the volume increases. If the Ballard line goes all the way to SODO (which would make sense, for reasons I explained elsewhere) then it would become even more frequent. So, basically, if they built two systems, for riders going the opposite direction you would probably have one rider already downtown while the other rider waits for the next train from West Seattle to downtown.

        I could see building light rail to West Seattle if huge numbers of people lived there, it was cheap to build it, or there was a lot of good added stations along the way or further down the road. Unfortunately for folks in West Seattle, it is exactly the opposite. Oh Boy, is it the opposite! On every point, it is the opposite. Meanwhile, BRT (or just a good bus system) would be a huge improvement, and provide great service for very little money (since most of the infrastructure is already built).

        The only advantage I see to LRT to West Seattle is that buses would travel to the LRT stations, which would then do double duty. So, for example, someone from SSCC could ride a bus to The Junction with someone who just wants to get downtown. But the cost in dollars, as well as the cost in time to the other rider (the one that just wants to get downtown) just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

      4. The trouble is that you just can’t have lines crossing the bridge and screwing around in Sodo from every single point in West Seattle. That’s going to put tens of buses on the bridge at any one time, and it’s only marginally more efficient than having the lines go downtown — the scheme Metro restructured out of existence in 2012. And if you don’t have every single line going to Sodo, then you will have some three-seat rides. It is vastly more efficient to have the trunk continue into West Seattle, and have the feeder lines coalesce at just two places: 1) north Delridge and 2) the Triangle/Junction area, all without crossing the bridge. I agree there is a problem if the LRT doesn’t stop at north Delridge, but I think once the detailed study is done it will have to.

        North Delridge will handle transfers to SSCC, Pigeon Point, Highland Park, and of course Delridge itself. The Triangle station will handle transfers to High Point, Avalon, and 35th SW. The Junction will handle transfers to Alki, Admiral, Genesee Hill, Morgan, Gatewood, Fauntleroy, etc.

      5. I’m not sold on Ross’s “SoDo Transit Center” either.

        But if you get the BRT infrastructure right, then an “open BRT” of 5-ish routes converging on the dedicated infrastructure isn’t remotely a capacity problem. (And it would never be “tens of buses” simultaneously, even at the peak of peaks.)

        On the other hand, $5 billion for lousy bus transfers to a handful of arbitrary stations whose collective walksheds contain only 5% of West Seattle’s not-that-impressive population… that’s a huge problem!

        Again, not sold on Ross’s particular proposal, but comparing an attempt to logic out a “converge on the spine” arrangement to having every bus in existence crawl across downtown Seattle for 20 minutes of every run is an unacceptable false equivalence, and well beneath you.

        Oh, and thanks to RapidRide’s deficiencies and the general lousiness of Metro’s last restructure, a huge number of West Seattle trip times got worse, and West Seattle’s already-lackluster transit support eroded to become the worst in the city.

      6. “5-ish” routes? To avoid three-seat rides with the Sodo transfer plan, you’d need replacements for all of the following to somehow reach Sodo (or go all the way downtown, thus negating the point of the whole exercise):

        RR C
        57 (peak-only)
        37 (peak-only)

        I just can’t see the logic in having all those buses cross the bridge, and, yes, spend 10 minutes circling Sodo (unless we build a new guideway which would cost as much as a rail guideway), when you could have one train cross the bridge and connect with all of them at three transfer points, all three of which are in ideal locations for efficient service.

      7. @David — The whole point of the plan (or any plan of this nature) is to provide the best service for the money. For a little bit of money, a lot of people will get a very fast ride to SODO, and thus a commute that is much faster. That is a huge improvement. To answer your concerns:

        1) Too many buses on the West Seattle Freeway? Really? OK. Well, cut the number of runs. Do as d. p. suggested and only have a few BRT lines from West Seattle. That will take care of the vast majority of riders. Keep a handful of local runs as well. I really don’t think you will get that problem though. A bigger potential problem (as you mentioned) is the following:

        2) Problems in SODO? As I mentioned, I would build a new ramp to SODO, as well as whatever infrastructure is needed. This is expensive, but a miniscule amount of money compared to building light rail all the way to West Seattle. Unlike light rail to West Seattle, it will serve other areas (like White Center, or any other place that is closer to 99 or 509 than it is to the heart of West Seattle).

        3) Three seat rides? Oh, the horror. Seriously, though, I have no problem with that at all. Hey, I’m really, really looking forward to North Link. A typical commute for me is Lake City* to Fremont. Here is what I hope Metro does, on the day that North Link is finished:

        1) Provide fast, frequent service from Lake City to a station at 130th. I’ll grudgingly accept Northgate.
        2) Provide fast, frequent service from the UW to Fremont.

        Three seat ride to Fremont? Hell Yes! That saves ten minutes. Better yet, it is consistent and way more frequent. The buses aren’t likely to be 10 minutes late because they are stuck in downtown traffic. The train, meanwhile, runs on its own line. This is Lake City and Fremont I’m talking about (not obscure locations).

        So, basically, if you live in West Seattle, and live in an area so remote that it isn’t next to one of the “fast buses”, then you will have to make two transfers to get downtown. More than likely, though, the buses will just run to SODO, since, as I said, a few local runs mixed with some frequent runs makes for a good combination. For the loads we are talking about, I really doubt we will have overloaded buses or an HOV lane with bumper to bumper buses.

        As to a Delridge station in addition to a station at The Junction, I think Sound Transit didn’t include it because it is really problematic. More than likely, a line that goes to the heart of West Seattle would travel way above Delridge. Once you do that, you have to add a bunch of other infrastructure to make it effective. It could work, but it would add plenty to an already ridiculously expensive project (for the number of riders).

        Long story short, I would be all for West Seattle light rail if it wasn’t for the geography and the demographics. The geography makes it expensive and inefficient (because of the distance from SODO to the first station). I think we should build good bus service and see what happens. As much as possible, we should build improvements that could be used later, even if light rail goes to West Seattle.** My guess is that it never will, but I have no problem considering it.

        * Actually, for me it is Pinehurst. But in my case, it is is even worse (and why I am even more excited about Link) but Pinehurst really is an obscure spot (and doesn’t deserve special treatment).

        ** For example, if you spend money on completing the bus lanes, at worse you end up with extra HOV lanes. No one is getting rid of those on the express lanes after Link goes to Northgate. Likewise, a SODO transit station could serve the areas too far east to take advantage of West Seattle rail, and too far west to take advantage of Central Link.

  7. I think North King’s first priority should be a tunnel all the way from downtown to Ballard via Belltown, LQA, Queen Anne, and Fremont, with room to go north and/or west from Fremont and south from downtown toward West Seattle and other points west and south.

    That’s going to be expensive and may use up all of North King’s share, but it sets up things best for the long-term usability of the Link network.

    If more money is available, then start adding in stuff from West Seattle et al. based on highest ridership for the available money. Whether that’s BRT or the start of LRT, I don’t know.

    South King is probably better off just adding more Sounder service, though if they’re committed to light rail they’ll probably run out of money trying to get to Tacoma before they consider Burien-Renton.

    Politically, it probably makes sense to give something to West Seattle and environs, but it will be hard to balance the politics with the projects that make sense.

    1. The first priority is likely to be Ballard to UW. We’ll know when we see the study work. We have no idea how much money will be in ST3, so its hard to say… but clearly priority 1 and 2 are Ballard to Downtown and Ballard to UW. It has always seemed like the manifest destiny of Link Light rail was to make it to Everett and down to Tacoma (right or wrong, I’ll not judge) — if the ST3 contains enough money to build those things, Seattle will have a LOT of money. Probably enough to build UW to Ballard to Downtown to West Seattle (1 stop.) I am guessing on that, but its an educated guess.

      1. Yeah, I forgot about Ballard-UW in my comment but that’s clearly a higher priority than West Seattle. I could live with either Ballard line going first, as long as whichever one is built is designed for the second one. The Ballard to Fremont section, the Fremont station, and ease of future connections to/from that station, are really important. The question is really whether the priority after that is Fremont to U District or Fremont to downtown under Queen Anne. But you do all that before West Seattle.

        I think getting to Alaska Junction with fully grade-separated something is the next priority. Then maybe fill out the other corridors with as much real BRT as you can buy while waiting for infill density based on current growth patterns and the earlier transit investments. The real limiting factor is going to be how much the other subareas want to spend of their money. Hopefully ST (or someone on their behalf) does lots of quality polling before putting ST3 before voters.

      2. Yep — agree on all points.

        ST2 won by a landslide and by about 70% in Ballard. I tend to think that demand for rail in the region has gone up since 2008. Also — can you imagine the pass percentage in Ballard now? Is over 90% a thing that happens in politics? On a presidential year Seattle could carry this, but considering that the outskirts want rail too, we might not have to.

        I’m really interested to see what taxing authority ST can get — hopefully it won’t all be sales tax. Keep in mind that ST2 which was .5 Sales tax got us from U Washington north to the county line all grade separated as well as East From downtown to Lake Washington. ST3 would likely need to be even bigger if they want to get to Everett and Tacoma. If that happens, we will have a LOT of money to spend in Seattle — which takes about 40% of the King County sales tax receipts.

      3. North King’s budget would be the maximum of Tacoma OR Everett, not both combined. Tacoma is presumably longer and more expensive than Everett, so that’s the starting point for the budget. But both Tacoma and Everett will be elevated and perhaps surface on wide existing rights of way. That’s the cheapest kind of Link construction, so two Tacoma miles will fund maybe one Seattle mile.

      4. The Ballard public feedback was overwhelmingly for grade-separated rail, the most expensive option. Ballard was McGinn’s priority; I don’t know whether it’s Murray’s. But that’s where citizens’ voices come in, to persuade him if it isn’t or confirm it if it is. But Seattle also made a concrete action priooritizing Ballard; i.e., the money it put into the Ballard study. That will probably have continuing resonance with the ST board.

        Transit-wise and urbanism-wise, Ballard must come next. It and Fremont are the largest urban villages the furthest from a Link station. The inner north Seattle area (ship canal to 65th) has a long tradition of high ridership, walking, and supporting transit investments. So Ballard-south and Ballard-east are clearly the most critical next lines. If we can only have one, it must be one of these, and I’m pretty sure that’s the momentum. If we can only have two, it should be these two, but that will be difficult to convince West Seattle and others of. (“Why so many lines in the rich white north end?”) If we can have all three (Ballard-south, Ballard-east, and West Seattle), then there’s no conflict.

        But given the high cost of all three, we need to think about the middle option (two Ballard lines) in case it comes down to that, because that would be the hardest to sell. One factor is that West Seattle is both the least-used line and the most expensive. But in order to convince people to forego West Seattle LRT, we need to offer substantially better BRT in West Seattle. But in the “two line” scenario with both Ballard lines, there’s no money for even BRT in West Seattle. So we’d have to come up with a plan for West Seattle BRT outside ST3. If the plan is outlined and the funding is identified, it would be an easier sell.

      5. Mike — North King accounts for about 40% of all the tax collected in all the subareas. Meaning we would get a multiple of whatever it costs in Snoho/East King/Etc. were. Which makes sense because it would come from us — but I just want to be clear on that point. We will have way more in funds from ST3 than any other sub area however they slice it.

      6. KyleK— Murray has been openly hostile to continuing the policy of subarea equity, so we don’t really have any guarantees here.

        (also, high-five to my fellow emdash-bro)

      7. Tweetxor – Yeah, I’ve heard that, I’m hoping he evolves on this issue or that he’s not able to move the board on this issue. Subarea equity is critical to getting a lot of rail in Seattle sooner than later. I have no idea why the mayor doesnt see that or what the goal of getting rid of ot would be (for Seattle.)

      8. Ugh. Seriously hate that word. Its code word. What it means is “we are about to screw you over, Seattle, but you shouldnt care because you should be a good citizen and pretend that it doesnt matter.”

      9. The proponents would say that’s what ST was created to do, to build the regional spine and other intercity service. That’s why I told d.p. this is built into ST’s structure. Murray’s view and the Pierce and Snohomish boardmembers are just the outlying examples of that. If you want to build several “urban” lines in Seattle, you don’t ask Sound Transit to do it, you ask Seattle to. Sound Transit will do it as much as it complements its primary goal, but not in place of its primary goal.

      10. Yes, let’s all continue to uncritically shake the nonexistent $50 million money tree to build a bunch of unsupportable, unsustainable, indefensible crap, while permanently dooming actual mobility everywhere.

        We shouldn’t dare criticize (or strategize to reconfigure) an administrative and funding structure that has been ill-designed from the get-go.

        That seems totally prudent.

      11. That is just stupid, saddle in-city transit with sub-area equity when the suburbs benefit from making Seattle pay for the core of the system, but steal money from Seattle when completing the outlying ends of the system.

        Fuck that shit.

        There damn well better not be any move to raid the Seattle tax base to pay for LINK to Everett or Tacoma. I’ll personally work hard to make sure there is a high political cost for any board members from King county stupid enough to vote for such a lame idea. I’ll also campaign AGAINST ST3 if the funding is structured in a “screw Seattle” fashion.

        The only real saving grace is I suspect it may take more than just a vote of the ST board to remove sub-area equity. If I recall correctly sub-area equity is baked into the enabling legislation for Sound Transit.

        Unfortunately that is easily enough remedied when/if the legislature authorizes additional taxes for Sound Transit.

  8. Its important to do a cost effectiveness analysis while reviewing these plans, but be careful not to value engineer South King out of any more light rail or BRT. This is still a regional system, and unless you plan to have Seattle go it alone for everything else going forward, you are going to votes outside of Seattle to pass this.

    South King doesn’t generate a lot of funds for their sub area, so we are likely to see some sort of choice between the East-West connection and completing the spine. Politically the spine has more support behind it, but the ridership might not be even as high as the Renton-Burien line. Its worth discussing which would be a greater benefit to the South King sub area.

    As far as the West Seattle portion goes, I suspect trying to stiff West Seattle on any new ST infrastructure (just upgrading metro instead) while giving Ballard two new lines is going to turn a lot of allies in the city into enemies for trying to get this passed.

    While I agree that Ballard to UW and Ballard to Downtown both represent strong transit needs, trying to pit those needs against West Seattle is not very productive. I would rather see a way to address all three needs if we can.

    1. The problem is straightforward; both Ballard lines have much greater bang for the buck, even if built expensively, than any West Seattle solution that’s more than a Band-Aid.

      1. I understand that, but I can also see losing significant votes in trying to get any ST provision passed if we skip West Seattle. I am not just talking about West Seattle votes either, other neighborhoods may feel put out if all of the new light rail stays in North Seattle.

      2. Its not to say that I think that ST is the only solution to this. If we were to have some SDOT work go in ahead of ST3 (like a light rail convertable transit/pedestrian/bicycle only crossing of the Duwamish) it could take the edge off some of the costs and relieve some of the pressure to build something all the way to White Center in the first push.

      3. The commute to downtown IS the vote in West Seattle. If you are making traffic on that bridge better, you’ll get votes. If you’re making it worse, you won’t. The consensus among West Seattle residents that the bridges are beyond capacity during the peak travel times. If there is not going to be any relief for that on the horizon, then the anti-density advocates will rise to power.

        Whenever you think of West Seattle voters, just picture sitting in stop-and-go on that bridge, watching an endless stream of traffic coming up from SODO and everyone trying to merge onto a single lane for I-5 North and knowing that it will only get noticeably worse in the near future. In that moment of darkness everything will be understood.

        You could get the average West Seattlite to vote for retrofitting some old Zepplins if they thought they escape the commute that way. Just have them leave Alaska Junction and dock on the roof of Colombia Tower on the half-hour: SOLD.

      4. I agree with Cascadianone (as well as David). That is why I favor BRT (real BRT) for West Seattle. How much would it cost to get someone from West Seattle to a transit center on SODO in ten minutes? I don’t think that would be that expensive, and it would be ridiculously popular. I really hope that Sound Transit spends some time addressing this issue, instead of coming up with pie in the sky, everyone gets a pony proposals, or cheap ass, let’s just paint a few buses and call it “Rapid” crap. There is no way the first one happens, and if the second does, we will have a revolt on our hands. I really hope that Sound Transit will do their job and figure out how much it would cost to add, as David put it a “few strategic investments” to make decent service to West Seattle possible.

  9. I don’t live in Seattle, so I may be confused, but I’m wondering why none of these options try to better utilize the Sounder service (19 minutes from Tukwila to King St). For the Burien/Tukwila/Renton area, the vast majority of riders are headed downtown and local service or a route through West Seattle only detracts from that. At the price ranges (billions) being discussed, you should be able afford a drastic increase in all day Sounder frequency. Let’s say you keep the Sounder service exactly as it is; except, at least during peak hours, you buy 3 new sets of trains which ran back and forth between Tukwila and King St only. If the round trip takes 45 minutes to complete, this would get you 15 minute frequencies, plus the regularly scheduled trains operating over the whole route. In the future, maybe Sounder could be expanded with a new underground station in the middle of downtown and maybe another one at grade near Boeing Access Rd where a transfer station to Central Link could be built, facilitating local/express redundancy on the Central Link corridor. The bus system in the Burien/Tukwila/Renton area already can get you to the Sounder station in about 20 minutes, so the travel times would be comparable to most of the official options, with a lot less concrete.

    LRT in a tunnel to West Seattle makes sense, but it’s putting the cart before the horse. A second downtown tunnel should come first, with clear ideas about how it should be designed to serve both West Seattle, and Queen Anne/Fremont/Ballard.

    1. Increasing Sounder is more expensive than that. There’s BNSF usage fees, Sounder’s operational costs, and congestion with freight trains. The emerging coal/oil trains are threatening to use up all remaining capacity. Ultimately we’ll need separate passenger tracks, but that’s more than just a few billion dollars. WSDOT has already outlined passenger tracks for Sounder/Cascades/Amtrak/future HSR, but that will take several decades assuming the legislature funds construction.

      ST2 will add mid-day trains to provide almost-hourly service. (Essentially, hourly with a 2-hour gap in the late morning and another in the early afternoon.) Some people here have suggested half-hourly Sounder, which would be a great long-term goal. But that would require those passenger tracks.

      1. “BNSF usage fees, Sounder’s operational costs, and congestion with freight trains” should be in the tens of millions per year, not billions, right?

        Usually cities have agreements to use track for specific times. Could they keep BNSF off the tracks completely between King St and Tukwila around rush hour?

      2. AlexB: in a word No. Sounder uses very heavily trafficked freight lines, something not the case in most other cities with commuter rail. Past a certain point BNSF simply won’t agree to any reduction in their ability to run freight trains

    2. I also don’t get why passenger rail isn’t getting more attention. How can adding another track to existing right-of-way be that much more expensive than creating a whole new right of way from scratch? Sounder south hits downtown Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, halfway between Renton and Southcenter (perfect for an E-W feeder line to hit both), and Seattle. All are designated growth centers with great redevelopment opportunities and there’s strong existing demand and congestion issues.
      Upgrades to the track would benefit regional mobility by allowing all day fast trunk service, freight mobility (good for our industrial/warehousing sectors as well as both ports), and even intercity mobility. If grade separation is an issue, then every dollar spent on that will, in addition to making the above mobility possible, mitigate existing safety issues (always seemed ridiculous to me that freight and passenger trains run through downtowns without even a separation fence) and improve local roadway operations.
      In my non-expert opinion, seems like adding a track from King St to Tacoma, plus stations in the CBD (or at least Broad street) and Ballard would be a great use of a several billion dollars.

      1. Upgrades are already on the way for the BNSF tracks as part of the Cascades service expansion. Past that, the tracks are of very little use to your average commuter who is not just going to King Street, and would not be a very good use for Seattle’s portion of the ST funds.

        The tracks in Ballard swing way out to the west, well away from the population centers and would require a subway line just to bring people from that station to useful places (like downtown Ballard, UW, the main light rail spine..). While there is an east-west line in the works, there are no designs to attach it to the BSNF tracks (by Golden Gardens I guess?).

        The bigger problem for the BSNF tracks is on the north end:
        – Mud slides along the coastal route keep reliability low (there are efforts underway to fix this, but there are many, many miles of cliff face to shore up).
        – The rail stations are very far apart, quite far from population centers and are not particularly well served by transit at this point.
        – If we are worried about climate change invalidating our investments at all, tracks along the waterfront are probably the worst place to invest billions of dollars.

    3. Some of the proposed lines intersect with Sounder-Tukwila, so I can’t think of a better way to funnel mass ridership into commuter rail, from points east and south.

  10. Mere lines on a map is interesting from a capital cost perspective, but knowing how a system will connect is what we should really be studying!

    I am wondering about these operational what-if scenarios:
    1. Would it be feasible to have a line just from Central Link (SODO or Stadium station) to West Seattle, and force transfers (and increase the number of cars on Central Link)?
    2. What is the incremental cost of expanding the DSTT capacity for another line (since we’re talking billions anyway)? Do we need to merely expand the DSTT capacity or actually build an entirely new tunnel?
    3. Would it be feasible or effective to study two lines to/from West Seattle – one to Downtown and one to East Link (a new rail connection)? In this option, the DSTT doesn’t have to absorb every train from West Seattle and thus allowing for a third line AND we would have a second East Link line that could terminate in the Eastgate/Issaquah corridor.

    I’m sure the creative minds on here could come up with lots of other what-if scenarios when it comes to interlining operations. As transit advocates, we need to not merely examine capital projects but we need to examine how things operate for decades to come. Frankly, it rather disappoints me that Sound Transit seems to think of its role to be a transit system builder more so than a transit system operator when it comes to discussing these studies.

    1. 1) That’s the shuttle option, which some of us have proposed but ST hasn’t shown any interest in.

      2) The DSTT limit is ST’s cautious policy rather than the theoretical physical limit. The physical limit is 2-minute trains I think. ST is planning 5-minute trains for Lynnwood/KDM/Redmond, and 3-minute trains if Everett/Tacoma/Redmond is approved. It won’t release the remaining capacity for a different line until it’s sure that (A) it can meet any unexpected demand on the original lines, and (B) operations don’t bog down at 3-minutes. That would only happen around 2030 (ST2’s capacity planning target) or ???? (Lynnwood/Tacoma’s capacity planning target), so only lines planned after that date would be eligible. In the meantime, a second tunnel now would be prudent to guarantee we’ll have capacity for all future lines we may want.

      3) Physically, probably. But it would have much lower ridership, so hard to justify adding the junction. And if you’re talking about splitting a 10-minute line, that’s 20-minutes on each branch off peak. I don’t believe any branch should be less than 10 minutes before 10pm because that harms its transformative potential. Only if they’re special-purpose spurs like Boeing or a stadium.

      1. Mike, I’d note that you are explaining why we need a second tunnel — but nowhere in this presentation does Sound Transit explain it. Given that this second Downtown tunnel is several billions of dollars (and thus a centerpiece of any ST3 funding strategy), Sound Transit appears terribly flippant about including this expense in this study. Instead, this segment and its cost should be the most important issue of this study! As noted in other threads, even the hybrid alternative becomes so expensive that it’s justification for the whole line becomes rather dubious — all because of this second Downtown tunnel.

        It’s part of the larger issue that I see: Sound Transit decision-makers seem to think that their main selling point is to show as much new track as possible for ST3. That’s antiquated thinking because we already have Link and Link expansion AND we have much more attentive watchdog groups looking at transit subsidies. Sound Transit would be better to have initiated a very public roll-out of their operational capacity needs and general regional travel patterns and activity hubs rather than starting off spending millions based on what-if rail line studies.

      2. These are progress reports to the board, not the final proposals for decisions. ST is not explaining them to the public at this point; they’re just available under the public-records policy. However, we should tell ST to break out the costs of the downtown segment alternatives when it does hold public hearings.

      3. The argument for a second tunnel is made by the decision to add direct Ballard to Downtown service instead of simply going from Ballard to the UW to downtown. There really is no other reason why you would do that. Ballard to the UW to downtown is just about as fast as going the other direction (seriously — I know it isn’t intuitive, but the number of stations involved is pretty much the same as is the distance). The only reason to build a second line — a bypass line, if you will — is because you believe the original line would be swamped by the extra traffic. Well, if you believe that (and I personally don’t) then you better do something with all those people from Ballard you happen to dump downtown. Just one station won’t cut it, or you would have a major pedestrian traffic jam at Westlake Station. Downtown is pretty spread out, and Westlake is no more likely to be your final destination then any other spot downtown. So, the line should continue south, but how far? It really makes sense to go through all of downtown since it is so dense. So, basically you are left with ending at Stadium Station or SODO. Either one would work in the abstract, but getting to SODO is fairly cheap (assuming you can add a second set of rail lines down there). Now you could build the mother of all transit stations at SODO. Everything from south or southwest of there could interface with it. Transfers to downtown would be extremely quick (two rail lines). Buses would travel there very quickly, since you have three freeways (99, 509 and West Seattle) that connect to it. Meanwhile, the SODO area might grow. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it became half as big as South Lake Union. Suddenly Starbucks (that decided to locate in the area) seems way, way ahead of its time. Come to think of it, that isn’t the first time I said that about that company.

        For the foreseeable future, people from many of parts of Seattle will have to take a bus to a train station. For example, the people in Lake City, which is an area more densely populated than any in West Seattle, will have to take a bus to a station. They are fighting (desperately) to make that connection be a good one. At best, they will ride from their densely populated area along city streets until they meet up to a station by the freeway. That station will never be an employment, entertainment or population center. In short, it will never be as popular as SODO is now, let alone what SODO could become. But the folks from Lake City will be thrilled to take a bus, then transfer to a train, then maybe transfer to another bus (or train) to get to their final destination. I think the people of West Seattle can make a similar transfer, especially since this transfer will be better for so many reasons.

  11. I have a job for Sam. Write an article about a superior BRT network for West Seattle. If these alternatives are inadequate, what would be better? What street improvements are required and how much would it cost? Could we fund it outside ST3? Once we have a concete alternative, it would be easier to convince West Seattle to forego LRT and allow two Ballard lines. But first they’d need to see a superior plan, and have some guarantee it’ll happen.

    If Sam is too busy being the world’s leading transit scholar for this mundane task, maybe someone else will?

    1. Just an important note about BRT technology: Given driverless technology advancements, it’s even possible today to have driverless BRT “trains” (two or three buses electronically following each other) with only one driver on-board the first bus in this train. Technology applications like these are going to be quickly much cheaper to implement. Combined with paid fare areas and multi-door boarding and platform guidance systems, BRT in the future will be much different than it is today and will feel much more like LRT. It’s going to happen sooner than anyone suspects.

      1. Wow, I never thought of that. I personally think the whole “driverless technology” hype is overdone. But what you are describing seems very plausible. It really isn’t driverless technology in the sense that “no one is driving the car”, but really more like a drone. A human being is driving the second bus, he is simply sitting in the first bus. The second bus mimics the first. There are still reasons why light rail makes sense in certain circumstances (for the same reason that trains don’t have five locomotives for five cars) but I think your point is a very good one. It means that BRT can grow substantially before we need to think about light rail.

  12. Would sound transit ever consider an elevated bus way on sr99 from the duamish river to spokane street? Avoiding the current surface street and its traffic lights would certainly help brt from burien.

    1. I would think that if traffic lights are the problem on that stretch of road, then signal priority makes sense. If it is traffic, then bus lanes make sense (if they aren’t there already). In general I really like elevated transit, but I think the cross traffic is very light through that stretch, except for maybe Marginal Way. Unfortunately, an elevated section through there would be very difficult, since it is next to the bridge. A second bridge crossing would be nice, but it wouldn’t be cheap.

      So, basically, the cheap and very effective solution would be signal priority and additional bus lanes (if they are indeed needed).

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