Screenshot 2013-06-20 at 10.57.14 AM

When Sound Transit released its West Seattle/Burien/Renton conceptual study earlier this month, most of the discussion understandably centered on West Seattle. David Lawson sifted through the West Seattle options and found the hybrid that would make the most sense there, but dismissed Burien/Renton as “not a corridor where existing demand suggests a need for true high-capacity transit.” I agree that current 140 ridership is not spectacular, but the question of what “needs” HCT is a subjective one. The corridor is in desperate need of better transit right-of-way, ties together several adjacent areas with municipal enthusiasm for development, and is competitive with its peer projects.

ST’s study says the best of the Burien/Renton options would attract 42,000-51,000 riders. My simple attempt to parse the segment costs by distance suggests this segment would cost $2-3 billion. It’s in the ballpark of Central Link in both respects, although considerations of network effects and study years makes this comparison complex.

Potential All Along the Line

David is right that this proposal is more about potential then current ridership, but then there aren’t many South King corridors with existing robust all-day boardings. Meanwhile, this corridor has potential, west to east:

  • A modest town center in Burien.
  • A superior connection at TIBS between the Rainier Valley and its mall, Southcenter.
  • Dramatically improved movement through Southcenter (on which more later).
  • Robust development plans for Southcenter that will largely eliminate easy surface parking, add traffic generators of all kinds, and make the existing road network hopeless given that driving there is already painful.
  • A connection to Tukwila Sounder at one end of the new development, providing high-quality peak and event connectivity between the heart of Renton and Downtown Seattle, and between South King County and the Boeing plant. The time for trains to go from Renton to downtown through West Seattle is largely irrelevant given this connection. It will be superior or equivalent for the majority of riders: King St. to Renton TC, 19 minutes on Sounder plus about 4 minutes on Link, vs. 30 minutes plus traffic for the 143*.
  • Between downtown Renton and Tukwila, big box, car dealerships, light industrial, and office parks — not single-family neighborhoods.
  • An old-style suburban downtown Renton, with the imperfect-yet-walkable Renton Landing area beyond.

Flow Through Southcenter

It’s no mystery why ridership on the 140 is lackluster: TIBS to Renton Transit Center takes up to 32 minutes, a 10-minute drive according to Google Maps, before considering wait time and the overhead of getting to the station. The light rail options would take 10-12 minutes. Aside from the fundamental advantages of easy boarding, off-board fare payment, and traffic separation, the rail options (along with bus option “B2”) fix the way that transit approaches Southcenter from the West:

Spot the Difference
Spot the Difference

The difference is subtle, but important. The lower picture follows approximately the current 140 routing: through all the I-5 traffic on Southcenter Blvd, followed by a series of left turns through the shopping centers. As this is a “BRT” option, there is at least some grade separation, though large sections of this line are in mixed traffic.

The top map has a better idea: by constructing a transit offramp from Southcenter Blvd, buses or trains can take Klickitat Drive and approach Southcenter from the West, avoiding right angles and the most congested segments. BRT option “B2” also does the right thing here. It is the least inadequate BRT option, even if it runs in traffic in other segments.

Alternatives to Burien/Renton

There is going to be another large-scale HCT project in South King County. No one knows what the enabling legislation for Sound Transit 3 will contain, but it’s unlikely that the package will have a significant transfer of resources from South King County to high-ridership projects in North King. Even if subarea equity disappeared, high demand/low revenue South King is a natural complement for low demand/high revenue East King, and the idea of relatively poor South County residents funding giant projects in Seattle is probably a loser at the ballot box.

The other large-scale possible projects are extending Link to Federal Way and Tacoma, or significant expansion of Sounder with much more investment in North/South BRT. It’s inconceivable that ST would fail to fund the segment to North Federal Way that voters already approved in 2008. Although getting to Tacoma is of great interest to both the Pierce County and South King delegations, the development potential is low, the travel times to Seattle are uncompetitive with alternatives, and much of the path is not climate-proof. ST estimates daily ridership at 14,000-17,000 for $2.3-2.6 billion, a third the people of Burien/Renton at roughly the same cost.

Whether massive Sounder expansion is feasible and cost-effective  is a matter for negotiation with BNSF, currently flush with freight traffic. Cities along the Sounder line are keen to fill demand by providing more parking rather than upzoning, which places practical limits on ridership growth.

Note also that the entire Renton segment is in the East King subarea. After East Link reaches downtown Redmond, a trivial expense given the fiscal capacity of East King, the remaining possible capital projects amount to freeway-running rail on 520, I-90, or perhaps I-405. Doing something for Renton while also supporting underfunded South King County is a politically and morally appealing option.

A Long-Range Project for the Long-Range Plan

Sound Transit 3 is unlikely to fund the full range of rail ambitions in the region. We don’t yet have all of the segment cost and ridership breakdowns to definitively trade off the alternatives, but the long-range plan should encapsulate the long-term vision for the Puget Sound, not just what’s affordable in the next package. A high quality Burien/Renton corridor solves a number of difficult transportation problems and enables laudable development ambitions in our inner suburbs. It deserves to be part of the long range plan, if not the signature HCT project in the South King subarea.

* And 46 minutes for the more frequent and better-known 101.

79 Replies to “In Defense of Burien/Renton”

  1. A couple of corrections:

    high demand/low revenue South King is a natural complement for low demand/high revenue East King

    After East Link reaches downtown Redmond,

  2. “A high quality Burien/Renton corridor solves a number of difficult transportation problems…”
    That’s a good place to start the discussion, but not a conclusion of fact by any means. The toolbox has lots of tools to fix problems, as eddiew and d.p. point out, but reaching for the sledge to hang a picture would not be my first choice.
    The 140 is being replaced next week with a RapidRide bus, which is slower by 3 minutes. (RapidRide was billed in the original ordinance as BRT, with expected 25% faster travel times). Serious discussion of replacing a BRT line with the next LOS service in the toolbox, LRT, is truly foolish, and distracting to current discussion of why our basic tool, bus service, is going down the shitters as we speak.

    1. Will RR-F really be 3 minutes slower than the 140, or is that just a nominal schedule to give people an idea of how long the end-to-end trip will be? Even if so, wouldn’t headway management and real-time arrival information make RR-F a better customer experience?

      1. I picked an 8AM trip from Renton TC to Burien TC, both before and after the shake up this week. RR is slower than the 140 for that trip.
        Discouraged, I quit looking for an outlier. Help yourself!

      2. mic,

        When you say “picked” does that mean you actually rode the two trips (one on the 140 and then one on the F-line). The reason I ask is that there has long been complaint that first the 340 then its successor the 140 schedule through Southcenter was ridiculously optimistic. Neither route reliably kept schedule.

        Now that may also be true for the F-line; after all, it doesn’t have any of the amenities you mentioned that would help it. But it

      3. contd (darn trackpad!)

        if you’re just comparing the published schedules the difference may just be Metro “fessing up” and quoting a (somewhat) more accurate actual run-time.

      4. by picked, I mean clicking with my mouse in the Trip Planner. Sure, schedule maintenance could account for it, but the point is that RR-ala Metro BRT is NOT 25% faster than a regular bus route it is replacing, contrary to all the hype Sims gave it. If that were the case, RR-F would be a 23 minute trip from Renton to Burien TC, not 33.
        I suppose the FTA$$ would have went elsewhere had they not plumped up the numbers, and we wouldn’t have a bunch of new buses, but it sure doesn’t instill any confidence in what they say about future benefits.
        Voters are starting to catch on to these charades – not only for transit, but all transportation projects.

      5. Sims’ hype was before the cities started asking for a lot of stops and refusing to countenance the E not going into the P&R. So really it’s those same voters who demanded all the stations. I took the E up to Sky Nursery this weekend, which is practically an end-to-end trip, and as usual I noticed the number of stops and 45-minute travel time, but I was prepared with a book so I didn’t pay attention to it. But I realized that since the main purpose of RapidRide is for the people living in the middle of the line rather than end-to-end trips, if they’re the ones who want all those stops, then it’s serving its main constituents.

      6. the F not going into the P&R. I have trouble remembering which one is D, E, and F.

      7. mic,

        Thanks. From what I understand RapidRide doesn’t even get a “Bronze” rating. Maybe “Tin”?

    2. I don’t see why we can’t discuss 2040 and 2015 at the same time. That’s the whole purpose of ST long range planning!

      A sledgehammer is what actually fixes problems rather than applying an enhanced bus band-aid. Your priority is always low taxes, but some of us would like highest-quality transit service.

      1. Conversation heard in the Operating Room recently:
        Dr. Duke: “Knife”…… “Forceps”…..”Sledgehammer”

  3. As I asked on the Facebook group once — why was Southcenter excluded from Light Rail?

    Answer: some shortsighted tool in Tukwila’s government deep sixed it. It’s the biggest single retail space in the entire Pacific Northwest. It’s the biggest single retail space in the entire quadrant of the country The Light Rail should have rolled up to it like the monorail does into the Experience Music Project.

    1. Joe, I also seem to remember talk of “powerful downtown interests” who were opposed to providing easy access to an alternative shopping experience. Seems to me that the LR routing plans were being laid in the aspic flavored “World Class” which was being of offered as being the most desirable outcome for downtown Seattle.

      1. And, further to the above, there was fear that routing the LR thru Southcenter to the airport would potentially spur hotel development in the Southcenter area to downtown Seattle’s detriment. Lots of sludge in that routing stuff.

      2. And why would the mostly-suburban ST board do what shadowy downtown interests want? Is that all we have to do to get all of our Seattle lines and stations, just convince the downtown mafia to support it and it’ll be done? Did the downtown conspirators somehow forget that Link is going to Northgate and Bellevue Square as well as Southcenter?

    2. Actually as I recall two things killed serving Southcenter:
      1. Sound Transit simply did not have the money
      2. It would have increased travel times to the Airport and all points south. This would have also made Central Link less competitive for Federal grants given the formulas in place at the time (see First Hill)

      As far as I remember the City of Tukwilla REALLY wanted Link to serve Southcenter. They kept trying to get the alignment decision changed and fought every other possible alignment through Tukwilla. I think there may have been an anti-transit member of Tukwilla’s City government in there somewhere too. This is in part why Link doesn’t serve 99 north of TIBS.

      There were some downtown Seattle interests opposed to serving Southcenter as well but I don’t recall them having a large influence on the final routing decisions.

    3. As someone who has lived in South King for over a decade…and I mean lived “in it”, you need to understand it from the ground level, not just the bird’s eye view. It’s very spacious (what you up north call “sprawl”). I have not only ridden the buses around here (back when I did not have a working car, or one that only ran six months of the year) but have done some significant walking. (From Southcenter to Kent at 2am in the morning after attending a premier movie and the 150 schedule gave out.)

      A lot of people walk long walks around here, and a lot take buses and a lot drive cars.

      The thing is, despite it being the opposite of your Europeanized view of life, it does provide a lot of low wage jobs and housing for thousands of people.

      Are they going to benefit more by being able to take a train versus a bus. Somewhat, but it won’t be life changing.

      However, if you turn their apartments in to ones that Seattlites might move into, and you remove the strip malls and put in high tech offices (and we have a lot office space already) again, I’m not sure who benefits unless you think that retail workers will turn into javascript coders overnight.

      1. Well said, John. I think the money could just be better spent making the bus rides a lot faster and more reliable. If the Puget Sound suddenly became its own country, and then struck oil, then we could crisscross the area with light rail until the cows come home. But at best we are probably getting one more line for the south end (and that may be two more than we need). There is no large concentration of people along one corridor, so most people will arrive at a station by bus. Rather than spend our money on another rail corridor, and see once again how buses get stuck trying to get to a station, we should spend money making the bus routes better. HOV lanes lead to really popular buses. HOV bus ramps (which thus avoid forcing a bus to go from one side of the freeway to the other) can save significant time. Some of the stations need to be improved so that they can handle a steady stream of buses, and so that each rider can easily transfer from bus to train.

        Eventually such a system could, theoretically, put strain on the buses, such that they can’t handle the volume. I would like to cross that bridge when we come to it, because my guess is, we never will.

      2. It takes at least five years to plan and build an elevated rail line (fifteen for an underground line), so we need to start doing it five years before the buses reach capacity or it’ll be too late… As it’s already too late on the 71/72/73, 44, 550, etc, and we’re just hanging on by our fingernails for 2, 7, 9 more years until ST2 opens. (And that still won’t address the 44.) Meanwhile people who would be on transit are driving because the buses are overcrowded and unreliable.

      3. I agree that improvements to the bus system in South King including building new ROW such as HOV access ramps when needed along with SWIFT and RapidRide A level improvements may be a more cost effective way to go than building more rail.

        The politics though say ST3 will include rail at least as far as the Federal Way Transit Center and probably all the way to Tacoma (though South King won’t pay for anything past the South Federal Way station)

        The politics further say that some portion of any additional funds will most likely go to South Sounder improvements including additional garages.

        This in spite of the fact that a couple billion in bus improvements or even a Burien to Renton light rail line would be far more transformative for South county mobility than ‘completing the spine” or dumping more money into Sounder.

    4. Yep, my recollection was it wasn’t Tukwila that nixed the light rail to SouthCenter. It would have been one of the best decisions to create urban space by reorganizing suburban shopping malls. Just like what is happening at Tyson’s Corner or Pentagon City, density is created.

  4. Currently, at 9:25 am, KING 5’s traffic map is showing solid stop-n-go/black line traffic on 405 between Southcenter and Newcastle. There’s plenty of demand for HCT between Renton and Bellevue that doesn’t sit in traffic. I think suburban voters would jump at an opportunity to build a light rail line from Bellevue to Burien via Renton, Southcenter and the airport.

    1. Indeed, traffic sucks.

      Shame, then, that sprawl-to-sprawl trains invariably prove useless, devoid of critical mass along their routes, requiring 3+ transfers and long walks to get within shouting distance of most hypothetical destinations, leaving traffic just as awful and everyone wondering why their trips still require being stuck in it while the shiny new trains runs empty and helpless.

      You can’t fix terrible geometry with a trolley-shaped tool, not even if you grow a money tree or harness all the miraculous powers of PNWers’ farts.

      1. Yes, sprawl-to-sprawl connectivity won’t happen efficiently with mass transit. But, do those suburbs have the money to continue funding the SOV lifestyle that transformed them over the last 50 years or will they move to a more sustainable mobility system? Those sprawl oriented suburbs will have to create some significant density to attract the HCT riders.

      2. It would appear you didn’t read the post, or at least aren’t interested in addressing its points.

        I’m also mystified why you hope to torpedo projects critical to get light rail to Ballard.

      3. I think what he’s saying is that if we can’t get an urban-only system connecting walkable areas with half-mile stop spacing, we should get nothing until people are desperate and angry enough to steamroll all obstacles and build such a system. d.p., is this a fair description of your position?

      4. The suburbs may have the $$$, but when the shale reserves dry up and fossil fuel supplies dwindle to a minimum, they’ll have no choice but to embrace a public “sustainable mobility system” Maybe the puget sound’s rapid population growth will facilitate the acceptance of density among the sprawled.

      5. Is it obviously wise to address the obstacles, deviations, terrible roads and right angles that make east-west transit along the corridor such an unappealing option? To employ streamlining and network integration to improve trips that travel along both the east-west and north south axes? Absolutely!

        Do I think that 40,000 people would magically appear from the woodwork to ride a train, given the paucity of worthwhile destinations it will directly reach, and merely because it is a train? Will the vast majority of those stuck in sprawl traffic see their lives or options remotely altered by the existence of even the $3 billion, 12-minute Cadillac version of the plan? Absolutely not!

        If there’s one thing the reason spate of “conceptual” studies — including Ballard’s, Lynnwoods, and the newest ones southwest and southeast — has taught us, it is that Sound Transit’s pathological disinterest in learning anything about functional transit service precedents has completely divorced their ridership estimates from reality. The numbers fluctuate wildly from one draft from the next, or between near-identical concepts. As they were for Central Link (overshoot), East Link (possible undershoot, or at least it was before ST misplaced all the stations), and Lynnwood (definite overshoot), these numbers are meaningless.

        While it’s great that Tukwila is seriously reflecting on its present and future, and proactively reorienting its center around a mixed-use project, the truth is that the “Tukwila transformation” is a (necessarily) auto-accommodating cross between the layout of a Redmond Town Center, or Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, and downtown Anaheim — okay to look at, reasonably pleasant to walk around, but only the scantest minority ever takes transit in or out. The disparate origin and destination points in the surrounding sprawl simply do not make high-volume transit feasible. Thus, parking is made super easy behind the New Urbanist façades.

        I don’t ultimately know how to fix the decades of misdevelopment that have created “the suburb problem”, but it may not help to chase Seattle’s nodal-zoning approach into that unfortunate density range where traffic is atrocious but stellar transit is unsupportable.

        The truth is that we’re all screwed for good projects as long as our twin responsible agencies refuse to learn anything about transit. If Sound Transit doesn’t enact variable taxing rates between sub-areas, and get seriously with their toolbox proposals, there isn’t going to be an ST3. And frankly, who cares if a mediocre and poorly-integrated Ballard line gets built, when Metro continues to insist it can’t be bothered with the principles of functional and integrated urban service either?


        The nonsense that has become transit-and-urbanism discourse here would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

      6. My experience is that living without a car is definitely doable in Seattle. However, the people I’ve talked too that have had success in the matter tend to walk and bike a lot, and, except in special circumstances, use transit only for trips where it is noticeably faster than walking or biking. The transit trips that are taken tend to be work commutes on Sound Transit or some other express bus. Grocery shopping is done entirely on foot or bike.

        By contrast, those who frequently travel outside a narrow area and don’t want to ride a bike or walk more than 1/4 mile tend to get quickly frustrated with the transit system, and often end up surrendering and purchasing a car.

        I have also found that between OneBusAway, Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, CarGo, and Zipcar, a smartphone and data plan have become almost essential for any middle-class person to seriously contemplate living car-free.

        The Seattle Times has an interesting article where they ranked 6 modes of travel from Ballard to Capitol Hill during afternoon rush hour by cost and travel time ( Not surprisingly, the bike rider arrives quickly and happily, actually beating the driver of the personal car by about 5 minutes (travel times included searching for parking). Meanwhile the user stuck with transit comes in dead last, nearly a half-hour later than everybody else.

      7. When I read the article, I couldn’t help thinking exactly the same thing. If a grade separated line connected Ballard to either the UW or downtown, even if a transfer were required, transit would have gone from last to first.

        63 minutes from Ballard to Capitol Hill is downright pathetic, enough to make me do a thought experiment as to whether there is any plausible way a person with a transit pass, but no bike, could have done better. 40 or D-line to 43/49 would probably take just as long. An athletic person could probably break the hour mark by riding the 40 to SLU and running hard up Denny the rest of the way, but that would be about it.

      8. 63 minutes from Ballard to Capitol Hill is downright pathetic

        This is what I’ve been saying.

        When I moved from the Central District to Burien, A transit trip from my front door to Ballard became faster.

        In the CD we tried all kinds of variations. 48/44, 8/40, 14/D, they all sucked. Sure, every now and then the stars would align and you’d have a magical 30 minute trip, but on average? Over an hour. Once a week at least it would be over 2 hours… so you have to leave an hour early every day just in case.

        WSDOT publishes what they call “95th percentile travel times” for auto travel between cities.

        By allowing for the calculated travel time, commuters can expect to arrive at the end of the route, on time, 19 out of 20 working days a month (95 percent of trips).

        I wish Metro would publish something similar. Under our current situation, when planning a trip for an appointment or new job, you’re screwed. You look at trip-planner or a schedule, calculate the travel time, and then double it to give yourself a cushion. So you you plan that cushion and leave early, maybe you make it on time once or twice… then on day 3 you’re 2 hours late for work. You don’t know if that was an outlier or if you need to just budget that much extra time. So you start leaving 2 hours early instead of 1 hour. Maybe you’re just wasting your time leaving that early… or maybe it’s not enough, and you’re still gonna be late once a week. There’s no way to know!

        They have to have the data now, with all these ORCA cards flying around it should be easy to get some statistics together about origin/destination pairs and routings, complete trip times, etc. Can we get some of that?

    2. I think they would also be thrilled if there were HOV lanes on the same freeway. Add in some HOV ramps, and you have a winner. Really.

      Why do people assume that the only way to avoid traffic is to build a train, even though we built one that interacts with traffic. I’ve been watching buses cruise right past crawling cars for many years now. They are quite popular. It only makes sense to build light rail when there is no alternative, or the regular route is really crowded. South King County is awash in freeways; 509, 518, 599, 405, I-5, 167, and part of 99. It shouldn’t be that hard or that expensive to make the buses faster. Will we then get into a situation where bus travel is so popular that it overwhelms the capacity of the bus? I doubt it. There are plenty of buses that just crawl along, at speeds well below an average Burien to downtown bus, but they are plenty popular. For example, for the Ballard to UW section, the 44 maxes out at 14 MPH (at 5:00 in the morning). By 8:30 it is going half that. Yet the bus is plenty crowded. The south King buses aren’t that popular because they aren’t that many people there, or because the rest of the system, in Seattle, is very slow. Either way, let’s build out the HOV system (I hate to call it BRT, because that is misleading) and then see what happens. If it really reaches volumes that the buses can’t handle, then it makes sense to add light rail. But my guess is that we won’t get to that point, any more than we are even close to that now.

      1. Out of the clouds and onto the streets. This isn’t something that could be solved by painting diamonds in freeway lanes. There’s no reasonably direct way to get on and off 518 for TIBS, so that connection requires some construction no matter how you cut it. Southcenter and TSS always will require a large deviation from 405. Renton will, too, even if you sensibly skip South Renton P&R.

        If we’re going to rely on HOV lanes we need to choose between median lanes and outside lanes. Median lanes are more often insulated from merging traffic, but not always, as some SOV traffic would have to merge across them at the I-5 interchange. In order to be useful at the stop spacing we’re talking about for this route we’d need new median exits or platforms in a bunch of places where they don’t currently exist. Outside lanes might be able to avoid some of the construction, at some cost to speed and reliability (with outside lanes I figure you’d access Southcenter via Klickitat and go through to TSS on the surface, so the fact that 405 already has median lanes wouldn’t really matter). Either way that’s a WSDOT project, so our transit agencies would have to coordinate with them better than they have on other projects so far. And either way, the whole route is probably on the surface east of Southcenter because the entrances and exits to do otherwise just aren’t there.

        The more general point behind this specific stuff is that freeway HOV lanes are often really useful for point-to-point transit service, but when there are intermediate stops either through travelers or people making intermediate trips are penalized. Consider even the freeway routes we have that, on the ST map, appear to make useful intermediate stops and use HOV facilities in between. 512, 550, 578… maybe the 532 and 535, maybe the 566. Those stops, but for a very few, add a significant amount of time for through travelers — minutes per stop. And, but for a completely different few, bring very little to the route’s walkshed but parking lots and bus loops. Every stop serving even a marginal destination requires a significant deviation. Maddeningly, most of the stops that don’t even serve a marginal destination require significant deviations. This is the curse of essentially all freeways, and the curse of essentially all development that’s sprung up around them. All the traffic on 405 (and all the traffic on 101 and 880, and all the traffic on the Tri-State Tollway, and all the traffic on the Beltway) just doesn’t add up to very much demand for transit down the median.

      2. The lack of intermediate destinations that are both close enough to a freeway for a long-haul freeway route to stop conveniently and that a lot of people want to visit on foot, basically dooms non-CBD oriented freeway buses outside of limited peak commuting hours. In this case, specifically, it dooms the 560.

        The investments necessary to overcome the obstacles and build even passable east-west transit here pretty much have to come from ST because that’s where the money is (i.e. RR, designed as a way to save money, wasn’t going to result in the investment in big problems). And they’ll involve a lot of non-freeway ROW because that’s where the destinations are. If those roads were more straightforward some surface HOV improvements could help, as on parts of 99. They aren’t. That leaves us with trying to slice through surface congestion while turning (ha, ha, ha) or building new elevated routes (and, in this location, sometimes new surface routes). The latter is expensive. But, then again, access ramps to freeway HOV lanes are expensive, too, and don’t buy us much for routes like this.

      3. Ross,

        You are in the main correct, but you forget one terrible political difficulty with your solution: ST does not own the HOV lanes; WSDOT does. And they seem bent on turning all the HOV lanes into “HOT” facilities. Which is to say “another lane for cars”.

        Eventually the drivers’ team will ensure that all of those facilities are clogged with hign-income single-driver autos. Reliability will fall and travel-times rise; even with dedicated access ramps the time required to make the out-of-line station stops will once again be longer than driving.

        For trunk-line transit to be successful in the long-run, it must have it’s own dedicated right of way. It’s expensive and sad, but true.

      4. @ Al — I think you misunderstood my idea. First of all, I don’t think there is anything special about this route. The idea that 140 is unpopular only because it is slow is really optimistic. It is slow because not that many people want to go there. The 44 is extremely slow (average speed varies from 7 to 14 MPH) but it is really popular. More to the point, there are very few overlapping origin-destination points along here to really worry about a BRT line, let alone a rail line. There are really only two destinations for the vast majority of the people in the area: the airport and downtown. In both cases, people can then transfer to another bus (or train) to get where they want to go.

        Second, I am talking about spend real money here, not just painting diamonds on the ground. That is my point. Spend half the money you would on a light rail system and you will double the people. Why? Because you can spend it on way more projects than just this line ( For example, you mention that there is no reasonable way to get from 518 to TIBS. Fair enough, but they are right next to each other. You aren’t talking about miles and miles of new freeway here (or light rail). You are talking about adding another ramp. Likewise with the other suggestions. These aren’t cheap (even adding lanes isn’t cheap) but it isn’t 2 billion dollars either. Build a ramp and the 10 minute ride from Burien to TIBS is now a five minute ride. Frankly, I’m not sure if that is worth it (a ten minute ride doesn’t sound that bad) but I would definitely consider it.

        Heading east from there, things get a bit trickier. I really don’t see anything special about Southcenter boulevard. I would just get onto the freeway from TIBS. So, maybe another ramp to save some time. Or maybe Southcenter boulevard is fine, it just needs some signal priority treatment (if it doesn’t have it already).

        Either way, I think the bus should go on Klickitat Drive. Is Klickitat backed up? Then expand it (with an HOV lane). From Klickitat to Strander Boulevard looks especially problematic. But signal priority on both intersections and an HOV lane on all the segments involved (a small section of Klickitat and Southcenter Parkway as well as all of Strander).

        At that point, I’m not sure it makes sense for the bus to keep going to Renton. Maybe just have the bus turnaround in the mall and head back to TIBS. By the way, going that direction should be much easier. But I really don’t know if the bus would get bogged down after that. In any event, the next important stop is Tukwila Sounder station. If Sounder really becomes key to our system, then investing in a better 405-181 interchange makes sense. I would hold off on that until later, personally, although at worse you have added an interchange that will help any bus in the area.

        For Renton, run the bus right onto 405, and then head straight to TiBs. TiBs becomes the regional hub. I would have no problem combining a couple of these buses, to make things easier on the people who will go from say, Renton to Southcenter. But my guess is most of the people riding these buses will just transfer to Link to get to the airport.

        Actually, I think more people will just want to get to downtown Seattle. In any event, the nice thing about this idea is that you can do it piecemeal. Study how much each “fix” will cost and how much it will save and spend accordingly. Piecemeal doesn’t make sense for rail because the stations have to connect to each other to be valuable.

        @ Anandakos — You are absolutely correct. I agree that HOT lanes can be very destructive. I don’t think they are inevitable, though. The suburban locations voted for Link, and right now, way more people ride buses than ride light rail. They don’t want to see their bus get even slower. I’m not sure who decides HOV versus HOT. If it was based on legislation, we are in trouble. But if it is the governor, all it really needs is a letter writing campaign.

        To the larger issue, though, you are also right. We need cooperation from WSDOT to make this work. Again, this shouldn’t be that difficult. We aren’t asking them to pay for it (in this case) but rather, we are asking them to allow us to pay for it. Actually, at some point, we could ask them to pay for it, or rather, pay half. But that would require legislation.

      5. Unfortunately, HOT lanes are there, at least in part, as a financing mechanism. My impression is that the one place they’ve been tried in Washington, they have, at least from this perspective, been a failure, but HOT lanes (and tolling in general) are still currently the flavor of the month. Decisions of how to finance things (at least things of this sort of size) are generally made legislatively. In particular, the HOT/HOV decision will be a legislative one.

      6. Is WSDOT really setting the HOT toll too low to maintain the speed in the lane?

      7. @Ross: So what you’re saying is that freeway HOV lanes are such bad transit infrastructure that there’s no point in even trying to make a single route that goes through and serves the various permutations of trips in order.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Renton needs a ride to Southcenter before it needs a ride to TIBS.

  5. Nice write-up. Looking forward to watching this project move forward in the official discussion…

  6. The other large-scale possible projects are extending Link to Federal Way and Tacoma…ST estimates daily ridership at 14,000-17,000 for $2.3-2.6 billion, a third the people of Burien/Renton at roughly the same cost.

    The fact that Burien/Renton scores 3x better than Federal Way/Tacoma isn’t so much a defense of the former as it is an indictment of the latter.

    1. Alright, how would you spend $2 billion in South King? Or would you give them nothing much to vote for?

      Do you think Central Link is worthy of indictment?

      1. I accept your argument about the necessity (or at least acceptability) of a Burien-Renton line given the realities of subarea equity. I was just pointing out the absurdity of a Federal Way-Tacoma extension. $2.3-2.6B through the least-dense area of I-5 between JBLM and Everett, all to get half the riders of Central Link on a slower trip to anywhere north of SeaTac?

        I grant you that it’s difficult to spend that kind of money without building Federal Way-Tacoma Link, but here’s a start:
        1. Finish Link to Federal Way TC
        2. Truncate the 574 to Federal Way and boost it to 7-10 minute headways with timed Link transfers
        3. Build a Highway 99 BRT between Tacoma/Fife/Federal Way, possibly even with ST/PT paying Metro to extend RR-A
        4. Buy enough Sounder easements to get half-hourly service off-peak and hourly weekend service (using the Everett trainsets off-peak/weekends)
        5. Build a RapidRide-style 10-minute headway crosstown grid that connects South King Link stations to South King Sounder stations
        – (Burien-Renton HCT)
        – SeaTac Airport to IKEA/Valley Medical Center via 176th/180th (no Sounder connection)
        – SR516 BRT, Highline to Kent East Hill via Kent-Des Moines Road
        – Federal Way to Green River Communty College via 320th, Peasly Canyon, and SR 18

      2. I would spend it on dozens of little improvements to the HOV situation. The state is already building HOV lanes for the entire I-5 corridor, from Tacoma to Seattle. So all you really need are good ways for buses to get from the freeways to the light rail stations and a good way for the passengers to switch services. Between Seattle and Tacoma, there is only one other big destination: SeaTac Airport. So, that gives you a lot of flexibility. The logical end to the south part of light rail is around Highline Community College (where 516 meets I-5). You would have to spend decent money to make that work for everyone. but not billions. The station would have to be able to handle plenty of riders, while the roads would probably have to expand (to add HOV lanes). If done right, though, that basically gives everyone south of Kent (including Kent) easy access to the light rail system.

        But that still might not be that popular. A lot of people just want to go more directly to downtown. So, first thing you do is add HOV ramps and similar things to 167, 405 and I-5. I think there is a fair amount of this anyway (I think there is a HOV ramp from 1-5 to 405). You also want to improve the SoDo station, so that it functions as a real transit center. Make it really easy (and fast) for a bus to get from I-5 to the SoDo station as well. Now you basically make it fast for any bus close to 167 or I-5 to get to SoDo, and thus the rest of the system.

        For Renton, you might want to just make Rainier Beach the transit center station. I wouldn’t mind all three stations operating that way, and buses could go to the closest one. I would probably add runs to Rainier Beach last, just to see if there really is a market for it (or if people would rather just go directly downtown (SoDo)).

        But for all of it, you shouldn’t just stop at the freeways. You need to make sure that highways are also really fast. You need to make sure that on ramps and exits are really fast. Buses should stop at the occasional stop light in town, but should never be bothered by traffic. If you did that, it would be way more popular than any combination of bus and rail (by itself). If the buses get stuck in traffic getting to the train station, then people won’t ride the buses. If they don’t ride the buses, then ridership on the train will be abysmal. People are just too spread out to expect that many walk up passengers.

      3. Buses should stop at the occasional stop light in town, but should never be bothered by traffic.

        This is an impossibly high bar. What you are asking for is reserved right of way for buses throughout South King County. The drivers’ team will simply not stand for that; if highways are to be widened — necessary for buses “never [to] be bothered by traffic” — they will demand that the expansions be for general traffic, not bus-only facilities.

        The only politically acceptable way to get dedicated transit rights of way anywhere in the United States is to adopt rail technology. That leads to many stupidly extravagant rail lines, it is true, but the lower cost option of dedicated busways is DOA in nearly every instance.

      4. if highways are to be widened — necessary for buses “never [to] be bothered by traffic” — they will demand that the expansions be for general traffic, not bus-only facilities.

        Sorry, but that is ridiculous. We have expanded, and are in the process of expanding freeways to add HOV lanes ( That is what I’m talking about.

        Adding HOV lanes to I-5 north of Seattle sent Lynnwood bus ridership soaring. Instead of buses stuck in the same crappy traffic, they cruised right past everyone. It’s been done before, and is being done now, and is way more popular than our light rail system.

      5. Alright, how would you spend $2 billion in South King?

        Does light rail through there need to be a $2 billion project?

        The reason why light rail developed as a mode anyway was to be something less expensive and less capacity than full scale metro, but better capacity than could be done with buses. For much of its route, Central Link is built more to metro standards than it is to light rail standards.

        May 1st marked the 10th anniversary of MAX yellow line. I decided to take a trip on the line yesterday, and despite the fact that there isn’t vast dense swaths of high rise apartments out there even now, the trains were comfortably crowded – at 10:30 am on a weekday. It isn’t as fast as an express bus on I-5 would be, but then C-Tran operates those. It does a reasonably good job of connecting all the busy bus routes through north and northeast Portland.

        It seems like something along those lines along Tukwila Parkway, switching to bridge as necessary to get over certain roads and highways, might be a better fit. This is especially the case as it gets closer to the core of Burien. Renton is so cut up by busy highways I’m not sure it would make a difference there.

      6. Does light rail through there need to be a $2 billion project?

        Only if you want the much more badly needed Ballard project.

        Subarea equity and all that. For Seattle to get a project, South King has to get one as well.

        There are blocks and blocks of parking lots on 150th in downtown Burien that have already been purchased and permitted for mixed-use redevelopment to 85′. Might be nice to use that South King money to give those new residents within walking distance of BTC some all-day transit links to Downtown, Southcenter, and Renton that don’t totally suck, and might actually be pleasant to ride.

      7. As Martin points out The Seattle/North King demand for HCT is very large, certainly enough to consume the North King portion of any future ST phase.

        If downtown to Ballard or Ballard to UW are to be built then some amount of projects will need to happen in other sub-areas. There will be money to spend, the question is on what?

        From what I see Burien to Renton HCT (light rail or BRT with “rail ready” grade separation in select locations) is a much better way to spend money than on extending the “spine” any further south than Kent-Des Moines Road. Unfortunately I don’t see the politics of ST allowing completing the “spine” to be skipped in favor of an E/W project between Burien and Renton even if the ridership is comparable to Central Link. Now if there is enough money for both then we might be able to fit both projects in rather than spending say 2 billion on Sounder.

      8. Ross,

        For buses “never to be bothered by traffic” [your words] they cannot be sharing right of way, by definition. What’s more, once BRT is selected the same people who hammer away at LRT turn their weapons on the alternative and whittle it down, whittle it down until it becomes a fancy OscarMayer weinermobile.

        The politics of this are obvious and repeated everywhere tested.

      9. Only if you want the much more badly needed Ballard project.

        Subarea equity and all that. For Seattle to get a project, South King has to get one as well.

        You have to spend the $2 billion in the sub-area. It doesn’t necessarily have to be absorbed in a single line – especially if it doesn’t need to be.

        MAX Interstate Avenue (Yellow Line) cost about $250 million. Sure, it is slower than Central Link, but it is what met the demand on Interstate Avenue. Sink $500 million of the $2 billion into a line that would replace RapidRide F, and you still have $1.5 billion left over to tackle some of the other corridors through there – and there is no lack of corridors through there.

      10. We’ve had enough of slow transit. ST, to its credit, isn’t making the same mistakes Tri-Met did when planning MAX — mistakes that ensure there will never be a way to cross downtown and inner Portland faster than 6 mph.

      11. Along Interstate Avenue the Yellow Line averages 20 mph including station stop, which isn’t fast. However, it is one station every 8 blocks or so, which is the same as Central Link’s tunnel in downtown Seattle, where the maximum speed for the trains is 15 mph. If operation there was as slow as MAX Yellow Line, you would get through Seattle’s tunnel in half the time you do now. It really isn’t what is needed to attract Vancouver riders on a longer line, but it was a huge improvement over the old # 5 bus, which was frequently overcrowded and very slow.

        I’m not saying that core Central Link routes should be built like that. Central Link is mostly built to the standards it needs. However, for feeder lines the investment in $100 million per mile or more grade of light rail isn’t necessarily appropriate. For some of these corridors you need something better than RapidRide, but not as costly as full scale metro type construction that Link needs on its core route. Light rail can be that intermediate type of transit if it needs to be.

        I can well understand your frustration though. In both cities the efforts at building streetcars have produced some pretty slow and for the cost unconscionable results. That first MAX line, with stations every other block in downtown Portland, is preposterous.

        However, stations don’t need to be that close together near South Center, and some intermediate level of service seems like it would be a reasonably good solution over very expensive 100% elevated (obviously some parts would need to be elevated due to all the freeways and parking lots in the area). Among other things, elevated stations are so expensive to build I don’t think it would be cost effective to build enough of them to serve the entire corridor well, as there are a lot of places in Renton and Burien that are spread over a broad area.

  7. I guess there is an over-arching question that I have: Why is Renton and Burien linked together here? I haven’t seen any report explain the travel patterns. I can only speculate what the overall travel flows are. Without this basic background it’s hard to have an intelligent discussion of how to optimize transit in this area.

    Having said that, I can see this as TWO segments that connect in different ways:

    Would the Burien connection would be better served by an automated cable technology to TIBS like the Oakland Airport connector? Given the lack of destinations between Burien and TIBS, it seems like a whole lot of track in difficult terrain without much of a destination on the route.

    The Southcenter and Tukwila and Renton area is a dense area that needs some routing evaluation to see what routing works the best from a cost and ridership standpoint.. I’d still make the case that there needs to be a Rainier/23rd to MLK, MLK to Link, Rainier Valley (using Link), Tukwila (splitting from Link at Boeing Access Road or 130th St), Southcenter, Renton LRT corridor evaluation that would serve these areas and provide wonderful connectivity to both the Eastside and Seattle.

    Given the billions in these initial costs, some “what if” options would seem totally appropriate to consider. We should treat these studies as mere information and not obsess over the options like a DEIS.

    1. Thinking through this a bit more, I’d simply suggest that ST staff look at the one and offs at TIBS in their forecasts. If more than half of the riders are transferring at TIBS, the corridor should be split. If half of the riders are staying on the transit service, then the corridor should be thought of as one. They could figure that out in less than a day and it would really help the overall discussion.

      1. That’s what they normally look at. But not just existing riders, future riders too. Future riders may not all do the same thing as existing riders. If the new line is more frequent than the old one (as RR F compared to the 140), it makes longer trips more viable.

        If you do split the line, it would make more sense to split it at Southcenter rather than TIB. I’ve only ridden the 140 a few times, but what I’ve seen on weekends is 10-20 people getting on/off at Southcenter and only 2-3 people getting on/off at TIB. So a significant number of people are going between Southcenter and Burien, and perhaps further.

        There’s little reason to get off at TIB. If you’re going downtown, the 101, 150, and 120 are faster than Link. Few people transfer to RR A or the 128. Drivers at the P&R do not take local buses; they’re taking Link. The station is in the middle of nowhere so not a place you’d want to linger. Of course, a much faster east-west line could change the equation, but that’s how it stands now.

    2. Given that these are rail lines the value of on-seat rides is minimal. There is no sane reason to provide a one-seat ride between say Southcenter and Bellevue. Rail to rail transfers are perfectly acceptable.

      The value of a connection between East and Central Link through Rainier Valley would be minimal and certainly not worth the cost.

      Assuming riders to.from Renton or Southcenter can simply transfer where the lines cross there is no reason to have the lines join. Note this is a separate issue than one of non-revenue connections which are useful for moving equipment and accessing yards.

      1. To your original point I agree it is worth evaluating the feasibility and cost of different options for connecting Renton and Southcenter to Link.

  8. So it was a bad idea for East Link to stop on 114th Ave because it was too far from that Vision Line station to BTC, but it’s okay for rail to stop Southcenter Blvd., which is even a greater distance to the mall? Huh??

    I’ll just be blunt. I think it’s foolish for transit not to go where the people want to go in order to save a few minutes. Save minutes for who? Many people on that corridor are trying to get to Southcenter and the surrounding area. It’s one of the biggest employment centers in the region.

    The purpose of transit is to get people to where they where they want to go. To build a transit line that doesn’t get the people where they want to go, but boast that it’s efficient, is absurd logic.

    Something tells me that if the Southcenter mall was, instead, Microsoft’s headquarters, or a train station, nobody would be proposing a rail line that stops an unwalkable distance from a destination.

    1. The Klickitat Drive ramp is one of the really good ideas in the plan. As in, this connection ramp should have been built yesterday, and certainly before anything debuted with the word “rapid” painted on its side.

      The result is just as close to the mall as today’s roundabout routing, as you seem not to understand.

      1. d.p. Try again. Your argument as to why an east/west rail stop should only get as close to to Southcenter as Southcenter Blvd. is incoherent. If you want to earn my respect, you’ll have to try harder. Now start over.

      2. [ah]

        You’re also off-topic, seeing as the topic was Klickitat Drive, not Southcenter Blvd.

      3. Sam,

        The rail options use Klickitat to get to the Southcenter property from the westy. The property would then be crossed on an elevated structure with a station directly adjacent to the mall much like the plan at Northgate. There’s no station planned along Southcenter Boulevard.

        The maps are not detailed enough to judge whether the station would be on the north or the south side of the mall structure, but I personally would hope “the south”. That would provide access to all the other businesses and office buildings along Strander Boulevard without requiring a long hike through the mall building.

    2. The proposed station locations are far from exact at this stage of planning.

      As best as I can tell the proposed Southcenter station is on Strander Boulevard between Andover Park West and Andover Park East. As d.p. points out this is roughly where the current bus stops for the 140 and 150 are.

      There are destinations in the mall area other than the mall the proposed station location is reasonably central to these and to the proposed Tukwilla urban center.

  9. It really depends on the buy-in from the municipalities. If they are willing to commit to a major redevelopment around mixed-use development and TOD that includes significant upzones, Burien-Renton becomes very attractive. If a TOD-style redevelopment is successful in concentrating enough projected growth into the city limits instead of pushing people to new cookie cutter subdivisions in Covington, Black Diamond, et al, LRT on this corridor could be the most important thing we can do to slow down the sprawl in SE King County.

    Lots of its, yes. But worth considering at this stage.

    1. Both Burien and Renton have made a down payment on TOD, in the form of apartments and (ugh) a garage. Renton has also put cultural destinations near its TC (the performing arts center, a small park, and the river trail). The old small-sized blocks around the TC are still intact (in spite of the unfortunately wide 2nd and 3rd Streets), and I believe Renton wants to restore them to vibrancy. There’s not much life there now (I see fewer people at Renton TC than at the Southcenter stop or Kent Station on weekends) but it has potential if Renton does it right. The main dynamic in the suburbs is not to violate single-family neighborhoods, but growth in city centers is seen as an asset. I don’t know if there are any plans to improve Rainier Avenue or if it’s just going to remain a big-box-and-parking-and-interchanges hellhole, but a couple blocks east of Rainier it’s likely to improve.

  10. Anyone want to discuss the relationship between transit ridership and parking costs/restrictions? in this corridor, parking is basically free and plentiful. Isn’t that an indicator that many of the commuting riders will be going to destinations other than along this corridor directly (Downtown Seattle, SEA airport).

    1. There’s also an expense in having a car, using it for this trip, and the aggrevation of traffic and intersections. Some people will take transit if it’s more frequent, fast, and reliable than it is now, even if parking remains free. It would also allow teenagers to get around more without their parents driving them. Even if the vast majority of transit trips remain downtown and the airport (because the advantages of transit vs driving are greater there), the only thing holding back an increase in local transit usage is the quality of the transit.

  11. As congested as I have seen the roads through this area, I would think you would want grade separated as much as possible.

    I guess in my opinion some of this goes back to the limitations imposed by not being able to get economical regional rail type service on the BNSF / UP corridor. The Tukwila Sounder station is not that far away from this corridor, but with rush hour only service there is no point in trying to use it as part of the high capacity transportation network.

    Should it become part of the high capacity transportation network, then serving Southcenter might be done with something along the lines of an automated airport people mover shuttling back and forth between TIBS and the Tukwila station. Maybe extend that as far as the Renton Park and Ride and the Renton Transit Center?

    Right now, Tukwila station really isn’t worth trying to serve.

    Southcenter has enough open pavement around it, plus has enough freeways and major highways around it, it could become a significant park and ride structure if the structure were built over the vast existing parking lot. Then what?

    Maybe ignore the presence of Link entirely, have an express bus freeway station, and have the people mover move between this new freeway station (for cases where Sounder isn’t running), Southcenter, and Tukwila station?

    I understand why Link skips this area completely: there are too many corridors too close together for traffic to move well, and yet too far apart to serve with a single or pair of transit routes. I would love to see some sort of single transit center where Link, the I-5 buses, Sounder, and local bus routes from the area all converge and allow free form interchange. Sadly, there just doesn’t seem to be a good location for that to happen anywhere in there.

    1. Right on, Glenn! It is amazing at how Link, Sounder and I-5 buses all cross each other but there still isn’t the political will to actually have them connect. I’m not familiar with its history but an outsider would certainly wonder why such a basic idea was not configured.

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