Ballard-Downtown via UW. Map by Oran.
Ballard-Downtown via UW. Map by Oran.


[Update 3/30/2015: the author has published an update to this article.]

Keith Kyle wrote a very good article suggesting that we build a Ballard spur with added stations (which he calls “A4”). I would go even farther than Mr. Kyle and suggest that a Ballard-UW line would provide much greater value than anything Sound Transit is in the process of studying or proposing.  In fact, it should be the highest priority corridor for ST3.

Why Ballard?

Take a look at this interactive census map and zoom into Seattle. Keep in mind that the darker the area, the more densely populated it is. I think it should be obvious that almost of the dark (populous) areas are in the Central Area, downtown or the U-District.

Of course, population isn’t everything. People travel for various reasons, including employment, education and recreation. That criteria is harder to quantify, but since the UW is a major university, Capitol Hill has a lot of nightlife, and downtown is by far the biggest employment center in the area, all three rank really high on those standards as well. Given all that, it is no surprise that Sound Transit calls downtown, Capitol Hill and the UW the “three largest urban centers in the state of Washington”.  The UW in particular is growing, and will grow substantially in the coming years (even with current zoning).

Additionally, we must consider how light rail will interact with other forms of transit.  Looking at the census map again, it is clear that if we only serve the areas with really high density, we won’t have much of a light rail system. On the other hand, it is fairly easy to find contiguous, broad areas of Seattle that could be considered moderately high density (for this state).  While, most of these areas are not likely to be served by high-capacity transit for a long time, buses can serve these areas quite well.  Therefore any proposed light rail lines should provide good connections to the bus network.

Superior to the Queen Anne Routing

For decades, the default assumption in Seattle is that Ballard would connect to downtown via Queen Anne or Interbay.  Indeed, there are some great ideas in Sound Transit’s study for HCT from Ballard to downtown via Queen Anne, but most of them are either slow or expensive. None of them, not even this route, provide the value that a route from Ballard to UW can provide.

If Ballard-UW were modified, per Keith’s “A4” suggestion, to include a lower Fremont stop, it would provide many of the same benefits of a Queen Anne route and also provide an excellent connection service for bus riders coming from anywhere in the Northwest part of the city.

The difference in speed between a Queen Anne or UW route is marginal. As should be obvious, the big gains in speed come with avoiding traffic, not by taking the most direct route. For example, Corridor D is less direct than Corridor B, but saves at most a minute end to end. For inner city travel, the easiest way to compare trip time for grade separated lines is by comparing the number of stops. A route via the UW would have the same (or roughly the same) number of stops as a route that includes (or skirts) Queen Anne.

The fastest, most expensive Ballard-Downtown option, Corridor D, is expected to cost $3.2B to $3.6B. A3 would cost $1.4B to $1.9B (A4 would cost a bit more). In other words, for a bit less than $2 billion you get two stops on Queen Anne (Queen Anne Ave @ Galer and 2nd N @ Republican) and a stop in Belltown (2nd @ Battery) while losing a stop in Wallingford as well as a fast ride from Ballard to the UW. It isn’t worth it.

Complements the Bus Network

Buses in Seattle tend to travel much faster going North-South than East-West.  North-South buses – such as the 28 on 8th NW, the 5 on Greenwood/Phinney, and RapidRide E on Aurora – have average speeds in the double digits (in MPH).  On the other hand, the East-West 44 averages less than 8 MPH in the middle of the day (and worse at rush hour).  This leads to some surprising conclusions. For any riders in Northwest Seattle headed to/from downtown, transferring from a bus to the Ballard Spur would save time versus a direct bus downtown.

This means that the “bus catchment” area of a line like A3/A4 would be huge, covering almost everything North of the ship canal and West of I-5. For example, with a Wallingford Avenue station, buses in the area could be funneled into a stop at Wallingford while spending a minimal amount of time on 45th (see this re-routed 16 for an example).

But it isn’t all about downtown, of course. Everyone knows that if you are trying to go downtown, the buses are great. If you want to go just about anywhere else, they can be slow and unreliable. For riders going from Ballard to downtown, there is very little difference in speed between A4 and Corridor D.  For riders attempting to get around North Seattle, A4 is far superior.  Getting from Ballard to UW or Northgate via Corridor D means transferring downtown, meaning that Metro would probably need to keep a lot more buses to serve Ballard and Fremont from the East.  Redeploying that bus service elsewhere would improve the entire system.

Mixing Lines

Ideally the Ballard-UW line would mix with North Link at or near the U-District. Both the lines heading East and South have limited headways. The Southbound line is limited because it runs on the street through the Rainier Valley, while the Eastbound line is limited because only one train is allowed on the I-90 bridge at a time.  The section between Husky Stadium and the International District, however, might be able to run trains as often as every two minutes (with a bit of work).  Therefore you could interline a Ballard train and have 2-minute headways between UW and downtown.   Should interlining prove unworkable, a simple transfer in the U-district would be an alternative.

There is the unlikely possibility of crush loading at the UW station. The nice thing is that we will be able to see this coming. If we ever start getting close to maximum capacity, then we have several ways of dealing with it. The first is to build the ventilation shafts so that we can lower headways to two minutes [Ed Note: Sound Transit does not concede that this would allow two minute headways]. If we still have too many people on the line, then we can build another line. This could be something fairly economical, something fancy, or maybe something even more expensive, like a line serving Queen Anne, Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Greenwood. I don’t think we will need such a line to deal with crush loading for many, many years. In the meantime, we should build the “A4” now, as it will provide the greatest benefit to the area for the least amount of money.


U-Link will soon connect the three biggest urban centers in Washington – Downtown, UW, and Capitol Hill. A line coming from Ballard would connect all of these stations with all of Northwest Seattle. Good East-West transit service — service that would be faster, in most cases, than driving — would be transformative. That itself makes it a huge winner. The fact that it can be done much more cheaply and just as fast as a route via Queen Anne makes it the logical choice for the next light rail line in Seattle.

Ross Bleakney was born in Seattle and now lives in the Pinehurst neighborhood.

190 Replies to “Ballard-UW Should Be The Next Light Rail Line in Seattle”

  1. And hey! The route in your diagram would justify putting the cross over track at the international district instead of putting a center platform there!

    1. I agree. I also think it would be worth looking at the possibility of ending the “green line” (or basically any line coming from the UW that doesn’t go to SeaTac or Bellevue) at SoHo.

      1. Well it may not even be possible for Ballard-UW to turn south onto U-Link. If it were, ID station is the wrong place to turn trains. Trains would be clogging the main line while the driver changes ends and the security sweep takes place. This would interfere with in-service East Link and Central Link trains.

        Stadium has a pocket track; it would work much better.

    2. Oh I missed this post… I suggested below that I’d extend the line one station south to Stadium Station. Just south of there, there is a third tail track that could easily be used to reverse trains. Also, the reversal process wouldn’t affect East Link. Without redesigning International District Station, a train reversal there would freeze trains traveling in both directions and would be an operational nightmare.

      1. I think t needs to go at least to Royal Brougham, as that will be the logical point for the bus routes that get kicked out of the tunnel to terminate.

      2. You are profoundly right, Glenn! That’s actually where Stadium Station is! Of course, Seattle riders have this one-seat ride obsession so that they would rather continue all the buses slowly moving through Downtown rather than take advantage of the efficiency like that (as opposed to the Houston and Boston bus system designs). Pulling even a third of the north-south buses off of the streets of Downtown Seattle would of course be a huge operational cost savings for Metro and would really boost rail ridership.

  2. This article demonstrates exactly why the Ballard Spur should come later. It’s full of comparisons between the routes and saying why we need to build this one *instead* of N-S line. I believe we need both, and it’ll be much harder to get both if we build this first.

    “In other words, for a bit less than $2 billion you get two stops on Queen Anne (Queen Anne Ave @ Galer and 2nd N @ Republican) and a stop in Belltown (2nd @ Battery) while losing a stop in Wallingford as well as a fast ride from Ballard to the UW. It isn’t worth it.”

    See what you’ve done there? You’ve argued that one of our most dense neighborhoods (Belltown) and one of our neighborhoods with the most potential (Uptown) “isn’t worth it”. We have enough people fighting against good transit. We don’t need transit advocates helping them.

    The N-S line absolutely is worth it. As is the Ballard Spur. We don’t have to choose which one we do, just which one we do first.

    1. I had trouble in getting this page under the suggested limit. In general I’m a very verbose writer. I’m sure one of my versions had the words “right now” attached to “isn’t worth it”. I try to make it clear in here that I am open to building additional N-S lines. The last paragraph before the Conclusion says it right there (Corridor D is under “something fancy”). I’m not happy with that wording, by the way — “fancy” might imply frivolous. I think I should have used the word “outstanding”, but even that is not right. In my opinion Corridor D would be extremely valuable, but also extremely expensive. I’m not sure if I can come up with a word for that (as I said, I was trying to condense my thoughts — if I was a better writer, I’m sure I could have done so without confusion).

      In this longer version, I do a more detailed comparison on the stations (see The last paragraph of that section explains why Belltown would be a good station, but not a great one. (Even this version is much shorter than my original)

      As to your overall argument, people are already fighting over particular alignments. A supporter of Corridor D is implying that Interbay “isn’t worth it” or “isn’t that good”. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who supports Corridor D is ruling out the possibility of light rail serving Interbay, or South Lake Union for that matter. They are simply saying that Corridor D is better. It is the next line we should build. I am saying exactly that with the Ballard Spur.

      I don’t have a very strong opinion as to what we should build after we build a Ballard Spur; I only know that of the proposals on the table, it should be built next.

    2. Sorry, Matt. $6+ billion for additional mediocre connectivity and not much additional ridership isn’t worth it.

      There’s something really perverse about some STBers tendency to argue we must waste money as quickly as possible, lest smarter-value investments prove too successful in the interim.

      1. I know you care only about Ballard, but there’s a lot of good ridership to be lost if we abandon this line. Belltown and Uptown aren’t “additional mediocre connectivity”, they could be amazing nodes and represent not only a very large existing and potential residential population that lives close to downtown, they also contain a large number of amenities that other neighborhoods could benefit from.

        Yes, to some extent this is true for the north-of-cut neighborhoods. And I strongly support the Spur. But you’re drawing a very thin line between what transit is worth it and what’s not – be careful you’re not fueling arguments about why your multi-billion dollar project serving the suburbs isn’t worth it either.

      2. We’re already looking at building an exclusive ROW streetcar in Belltown, which I really thing should be extended to the Seattle Center.

        Lower Queen Anne is absolutely blanketed in trolleybus service.

        Really, the big attraction of the Queen Anne routing of the **Ballard-Downtown Corridor** (remember, Sound Transit’s study area is defined by those endpoints!) I’d the connection of Upper Queen Anne to downtown and to Fremont. That’s a huge accomplishment that we’d be foolish to miss out on.

        But as Sound Transit agrees, the area of the city in most desperate need to a grade-separated high-capacity transit alternative is Ballard.

      3. The three proposed stations below the Ship Canal (Belltown, LQA, UQA) each have moderately strong walksheds, but fail to achieve any “complete corridor” penetration, and have flatly awful perpendicular-transfer potential.

        This limits their reach and their effectiveness: only some in the “served” neighborhoods will ever find it useful, and only for a scant set of purposes. By comparison, the east-west line manages to put all of North and Northwest Seattle in its connective catchment, and is thus useful for exponentially more destination-pairs and types of trips.

        But don’t believe me. Believe the ridership estimates, which were surprisingly weak even for the $3.6 best-of-best options.

        I know it isn’t all about numerical comparisons and dollar signs, Matt. I have gone to bat in the past for including an UQA tunnel if the north-south gets built, regardless of mediocre walkshed or of demographic considerations, for the simple reason that it accesses a central yet topographically difficult plateau that is otherwise permanently slow to ascend or descend.

        But when the whole of the line in question proves mediocre for the cost? When as many riders and significantly more trip-permutations can be served by building a cheaper project nearby? It becomes hard to argue for spending thrice as much to only achieve slightly more.

      4. Re: What’s wasteful?

        In 1915 or so, there was so much interurban trackage that theoretically these lines could have been connected between both coasts and both borders. Early start in 1905 met the fate of our last monorail effort- budget couldn’t cross a bridge in Ohio.

        Also: “American Road” by Pete Davies: Just after WWI, the Army sent a convoy of about a dozen trucks, chain drive in those days, from New York City to San Francisco to investigate ability of nation’s highways to handle military traffic during a two-front war.

        Army didn’t like transportation industries’ general performance during recent one-directional war. Trip west was worse. Outside cities, average road was a wallow a hog would’ve had to swim. If the convoy hadn’t contained a huge caterpillar tractor, recently pulling cannons out of very deep mud, not one truck would have made it.

        Three decades later, one convoy officer became President- with memories of miles his truck got pulled by the tractor. So here’s my question, d.p.

        Would the money he and his successors spent on the Interstate highway system have been better spent upgrading the local roads? Or if Teddy Roosevelt had fully funded the very early Bullet Train project? (Train sets would have resembled consist of George Benson streetcars.)

        Also: by the 1960’s, hadn’t this country managed to have local and state streets and roads mostly paved in addition to the Interstates? Waste vs. value? Like a giant old brass scale- sometimes the Sheet takes a long time to Balance.

        Mark Dublin

    3. A 45th line kills two birds with one stone. It’s competitive for both east-west and north-south trips, and addresses the most desparately-underserved corridor (45th). A Ballard-downtown line serves only one of them. It may be competitive for Ballard-UW (by turning the triangle on its side) but leaves out Wallingford, Fremont, and Phinney Ridge. Uptown and Belltown have many alternatives. How do I love Uptown by transit? Let me count the ways. 1, 2, 13, D, 8, 3, 4, Monorail, 32. Wallingford and Fremont don’t have even a third of that. Upper Queen Anne would lose, but as DP said a Queen Anne station is more about solving a geographical problem that can’t be solved any other way, than about the large number of riders it would produce. The trolleybuses are not good in upper Queen Anne: they take a long time to get downtown. But that has to be weighed against UQA’s population size and number of businesses, which is something but not big.

      There’s a moderate argument for two lines. But there’s a very large argument for an east-west line. It would serve two riderships rather than one, and it would address the most underserved corridor in the state.

    4. A hidden benefit of building the Ballard spur instead of Ballard-DT in ST3 means that there will be over $1 billion saved, which could be spent on an Uptown-Downtown subway line. As it is about 1.6 miles from 1st/Mercer to 2nd/University (University St Station), that could likely be constructed for less than $1 billion. As mentioned above a major problem is that a transfer would be required to get many places due to the line’s short length; nevertheless, this is no different from the Ballard-DT plan for Belltown and Uptown.

      Of course, such a line would still skip Upper Queen Anne (a bus connection would be required) as well as Fremont-Uptown or Ballard-Uptown, which would have to be done by bus. However, as previously mentioned, the Ballard spur has extensive benefits that outweigh these drawbacks.

  3. Thanks, Ross. But as we decide on a routing, or routings, a few things to remember.

    1. Underground, speeds for any route can be fast- so time difference between two routes can be equal or
    very close.

    2. For everything underground, soils, rocks, and water flows are critically important. A route could easily be a straighter line on a map, but hard or impossible to tunnel. Didn’t a station at Swedish Hospital get suddenly converted to a streetcar line?

    3. Depending on above, your cost estimates could easily be on the low side- both for linear tunneling and stations. Most of all, connection with the north-south line now under construction, will be tricky. Breaking into an existing underground structure, tunnel or station, looks to be complicated.

    4. So for all reasons above, this project could be both be extremely important and also take a long time to complete. Might be good to choose a route and construction method that can be done in pieces, with each piece designed to make the next one easiest.

    For instance, segment like Ballard to Phinney Hill could run light-rail style on surface, and cut and cover tunneled later. And tunnel and station could be “mined” under the north-south line, with elevator and escalator transfer- to be extended east if necessary.

    5. Almost seven post-WWII decades show me this about public budgets in this country: decisions are based a very low percentage on accounting, and a high one on politics. I’m not being sarcastic when I keep adding the word “Defense” to the title of the act that got us the Interstates.

    What chance does anybody think this project would have had absent the word- honest, I think, for defense needs between cities, both war and natural disaster, flat lie re: commuting. Both surprised and infuriated by pro-transit side’s reluctance all these years to call their enemies’ bluff on this one. Urban, intercity, and interstate.

    If likes of I-5 and I-90 are part of a transportation network vital to the defense of our country, so is all the tunneling under discussion here.

    Mark Dublin

    1. 1 — Yes, exactly. That is one of my key points. Stop someone on the street in Ballard and tell them they can go downtown via the UW and they will say it will be too slow. But it isn’t.

      2, 3 — Yes, but the same thing could be said for any tunneling. I prefer cut and cover ( and that would probably be the only route that makes a case for your argument. That would be less risky than just about anything else. But a Ballard Spur is probably in the middle of the proposals as far as tunneling risk, just because there is less of it (Corridor A has more, Corridor B has a little less, Corridor C has none, but is really slow, Corridor D has lots more, Corridor E has very little and is really slow).

      4. I have no qualms with building this piece by piece, but I think it would be tricky to do so. As I said, digging east to west is no more risky than north to south. As I think I’ve made clear, we shouldn’t build a north-south line (AKA Queen Anne line) before building a line to the UW. So, if we can build cut and cover along Market and 45th, I would be game. But good luck with the politics of that one (since it would mean closing down Market and 45th for several years). You could do the Market piece cut and cover while the other part is tunnel, but I’m not sure if that gets you much. Generally speaking, I’m not worried about this tunnel. It isn’t particularly long (compared to others we’ve built). Nor are there particular challenges (like digging under a ship canal).

      5. I agree, but I think “best bang for the buck” is great politics.

      1. I haven’t been able to find proper geology maps of the area, but a “Ballard Spur” line looks like it would have particularly easy geology — much easier than anything which goes under the Ship Canal.

      2. When has “best bang for the buck” ever been actual good politics as opposed to a talking point with no correlation to its application to projects that actually get the best bang for the buck?

  4. No one has even demonstrated that a junction at Brooklyn Station is feasible. The Ballard “spur” makes more sense as a spur off the Downtown-Ballard line (call it the Wallingford spur to avoid confusion). Design it from the start with a junction that permits going north and east from the Ballard terminus.

    1. First phase of east-west line could be tunneled somewhere close to Brooklyn station, with walkways and or elevators and escalators between platforms. Rail line could then be continued eastward as need or budget dictates. In transit discussions, unlike cowboy footware, spurs can cut two directions.

      Fast, easy passenger transfer between these lines is the important thing, non necessarily the interlining of trains. Building-basements can be used, or even better planned to include them. Airport style moving walkways also possible for longer tunnels- still many times cheaper and easier than train tunnels.


      1. Right. This line has better potential as eventually continuing east across a transit-ready 520 to Redmond.

        Interlining more trains into the “future existing” tunnel at UW seems extremely unlikely.

      2. I could go either way on this. If the trains don’t interline, then it makes sense to build the stations next to each other, so that transfers are easy. As I mention in more detail here: the transfers could be optimized so that riders wouldn’t have to wait. In some ways, this would provide the best of all worlds. We could, theoretically, run trains every two minutes from Northgate towards downtown. Half of those trains would end downtown. Then run trains every four minutes (or two if it was ever justified) from Ballard. This would mean better headways from the north, and very fast service from Ballard, at the small cost of a one seat ride from Ballard to downtown.

    2. No one has even demonstrated that a junction at Brooklyn Station is feasible

      Nobody has demonstrated that one is infeasible, but we’ve got over a century of experience showing us that level crossings work just fine.

      And even if it doesn’t work here, forcing a transfer at U District doesn’t significantly harm the attractiveness of this line.

      1. I agree completely with your last sentence and hope that my post didn’t imply otherwise.

      2. Above d.p. talks about the benefit of this line being that it collects bus transfers to boost ridership. Wouldn’t we then be talking about a 3-seat ride to downtown? Having grade separation helps this a lot – if nothing else your transfers will be easy – but I’m not sure “doesn’t significantly harm the attractiveness” is a good assumption. I haven’t read the study itself yet – does it assume a transfer at the U Dist or an interline?

      3. I believe the study assumes a transfer, because Sound Transit refuses to acknowledge that tight-headway branching exists in the universe.

      4. Purely anecdotal, but I’ve commuted to various places over the years. In all those cases, I would take a five seat ride if it meant that I could get to work in a half hour. Just as important is reliability and frequency. Everyone I’ve ever met feels this way. Those that drive do so because it is faster and more reliable (even with really crappy traffic).

        Two trains, one that is grade separated from the north, and the other that is grade separated the entire way could easily optimize their transfers. Trains coming from Ballard would be timed to arrive a little bit before trains coming from the north. Trains from UW to Ballard would leave right after trains coming from the south.

        We could, theoretically, run trains every two minutes from Northgate towards downtown. Half of those trains would end downtown. Then run trains every four minutes (or two if it was ever justified) from Ballard. This would mean better headways from the north, and very fast service from Ballard, at the small cost of a one seat ride from Ballard to downtown. In such a world, transfers become practically meaningless. Someone, from say, NW 68th and 8th NW would take a bus to the station at 8th and Market, then transfer to a train. For plenty of people, this would be enough (as mentioned, this is the second most popular destination). Those that want to get downtown (or to the east side or to the sound end) would transfer. This is no big deal and would be much, much faster than anything that is available now.

        As I said below ( if we are worried about a lack of interlining, then we should be worried about it with one of the Ballard to Queen Anne to Downtown corridors. Without it, Belltown only becomes useful as a stop for those that are coming or going to Ballard or Queen Anne. That’s a much bigger deal than having a transfer here.

      5. “forcing a transfer at U District doesn’t significantly harm the attractiveness of this line.”

        It depends on how easy the transfer is. At best, with a shared center platform or a short passage without stairs, it would attract most of the potential transferees and they would rave about its convenience. At worst, with a separate station a block away and a trip to the surface and a traffic light in between, it would attract much fewer transferees and they’d be perenially grumbling.

        A medium situation would be a “Chicago El” configuration with an elevated line meeting an underground line with several escalators or an elevator in between. But on the El every line goes several miles from that point so the transfer is a minor part of most trips, whereas here the only transfer would be maximum three miles, so the transfer would be a more significant part of the trip, which would dissuade some riders.

      6. Mike, considering the proximity of the UW Tower to the under-construction Brooklyn Station (still by far the superior name), I would imagine that the only alternative to an interlining solution would have to be an offset box at a lower level than the existing box.

  5. I’m not opposed to doing the Ballard Spur first, but this article raises more questions than it does answers.

    1. Too often the way this choice is framed in this article is “which one should we build?” rather than “which one should we build first?” Both a Ballard to UW and Ballard to downtown via Fremont/Queen Anne route are essential to solving Seattle’s transportation woes.

    2. Nowhere is potential ridership mentioned, but it’s actually the main issue that should decide which gets built first. Would Ballard-downtown carry more riders than Ballard-UW-downtown? If so, that’s a pretty compelling argument for doing Ballard to downtown first, and Ballard-UW after that.

    3. As others have mentioned, there could be some significant operational issues here. Interlining is a great idea, but the challenges could negate the perceived advantage of building the Ballard spur first. If a transfer is required at the U-District Station, then that might well reduce ridership (as tends to happen when you go from a single-seat ride to a two-seat ride).

    So I’m not opposed to this idea, but I disagree with the way it’s being analyzed in this article. Hopefully a better discussion can unfold in the comments.

    And ideally, we’d build both at once…

    1. 1. Keep shaking that imaginary money tree.

      2. Nope. Only the platinum-plated north-south option nets more riders than the east-west, and the differential is within the margin of error, per the studies. That’s at nearly twice the price.

      3. I like how people forget that a massive from-scratch subway tunnel into downtown is a slightly greater “challenge” than an interchange or a connection point at a wide-open staging area in the U-District that is just barely in the digging phase.

    2. 1. Ballardites have had mass transit dangled in front of them for a very long time. We’d love to have both lines yesterday, and definitely understand the importance of both. So, if you have the option of a Ballard-UW-Downtown line now, we’ll likely throw our support behind that, rather than waiting for a direct Ballard-Downtown line that may never come.

      2. Especially if the Ballard-UW line continues directly downtown with no transfer, there will be plenty of ridership. Less than 20 minutes (to Pike-ish Street), grade separated, reliable, frequent, plenty of capacity? That’s comparable to cars, even in the non-rush hour periods. And when you compare to the transit options RapidRide D (~25 on paper, but in reality, longer both directions and not really reliable going north) and the 15X (~20 minutes, which is usually accurate, but obviously peak only), it’s a clear winner.

      3. If interlining is not possible, and you have a transfer that requires going to the surface and even crossing roads, then yes, you’d probably lose ridership, because you then lose a significant amount of time as a rider. But even so, unless it requires crossing Montlake, I don’t see it losing significant ridership, because it’s still more reliable than surface transit. But in reality, if they don’t interline, they’d hopefully have some direct transfer option that would hopefully take no more than a minute. And with headways of four minutes, on the U-Link, I think you’re still ahead on total time.

    3. 1. I’m sorry if I implied that once the Ballard to UW spur is built, we will be completely done with light rail in Seattle. As I explained above ( I had trouble getting this post terse enough to fit into this blog’s guidelines. I cut corners with the wording, and this added to the confusion. So, let me be clear: Of the proposals that Sound Transit is currently considering, the Ballard Spur is by far the most important, and provides the most value. It should be the next thing we build.

      Now, after that — I’m not sure what to build. Replacing the Metro 8 with underground light rail would be my first choice, but it isn’t on the table. I would love to see this ( studied, just so we can see how much it would cost. But I’m open to all ideas, both really expensive, as well as cheap. For example, a Corridor D that simply went north after Fremont (to Phinney, Greenwood, then east to Lake City) would be magnificent, but it would be really expensive. I would love to discuss such options after we agree to build the more important, and less expensive line connecting Ballard.

      2. I mention ridership all over the place. It is the core of my argument. Here are some key points:

      * Faster service to UW, which is a major destination (second only to downtown)
      * Compliments the bus lines better than the alternatives. Much of that part of the city is well suited for bus to rail service (it lacks the density for a light rail stop, but has enough density for frequent bus service). This is a key point, and worth emphasizing. We simply don’t have the density to support light rail everywhere in the city. The last paragraph under “Why Ballard?” is key. We are either going to have a very small light rail line in the city, an under performing one, or most of the riders will arrive by bus. This becomes a virtuous cycle. As bus routes are changed to support the rail, they become shorter. As they become shorter, they become more frequent and more reliable. This is the difference between someone a mile away from a station taking a bus (and train) or driving.

      I do a more detailed station to station analysis here:

      3. I wouldn’t give up on interlining yet. But anyway, single seat rides are overrated. It is only when you have a really crappy system (with horrible headways) that people obsess over single seat rides. Furthermore, as I mention in that more detailed analysis (under “Making a Transfer”) the transfer could be optimized even when the trains coming and going from Roosevelt aren’t traveling very frequently. Really, I don’t see it as an issue.

      Besides, if it is such an issue, why aren’t we complaining about it with a Ballard to Downtown line? It doesn’t interline at all, which means a Belltown rider has a one seat ride … six blocks. OK, they also have a one seat ride to Queen Anne and Ballard, but for most destinations, the rider would have to transfer. If they want to go to any other stop downtown, or to the stadiums, or to Beacon Hill, or to the airport, or Capitol Hill, or the east side, they have to transfer. The argument for interlining here is much stronger than it is at the UW. No one who lives a couple blocks west of Wallingford will decide to just walk to the UW station because of a transfer. But everyone in Belltown will. The lack of interlining there dramatically cuts into the value of the Belltown station, and thus the entire value of that line. This is simply not true with a Ballard to the UW line. With or without interlining, the line is a much better value.

      1. “If they want to go to any other stop downtown, or to the stadiums, or to Beacon Hill, or to the airport, or Capitol Hill, or the east side, they have to transfer.”

        This is not a concrete line! It’s a study area. You make it sound like a decision has already been made to terminate it at Westlake. That’s just one of the options under consideration.

      2. Well, in the “final report”, I see nothing about the possibility of interlining the Ballard line to Central Link. Maybe I missed it. The last stop is (at best) next to Westlake Station. So, either they interline going south, or add stations to the south, or they just end there. Interlining would make sense, but — I’m guessing here — they are worried about it, for the same reason they are worried about interlining at the UW. But like I said, Belltown depends on it (to add substantial value to Belltown as a stop) while a line from Wallingford does not. No one next to Wallingford is going to walk that distance just to avoid a transfer, while plenty of people next to Belltown will (or they will take surface transit or just walk the whole way). So,yes, if they interline, then Belltown becomes a great station. If they just run a parallel line, then we end up spending a lot more money, and the east-west line becomes an even better value. Why spend hundreds of millions on an extra line downtown when we can spend that money elsewhere? Hell, we could just build an extra transit tunnel, just for buses (seriously).

      3. I think the implied option for all of the Ballard/Downtown LRT alignments is to continue the tunnel through downtown to at least the ID and King Street Hub, similarly for the streetcar alignments the central connector would extend the line further downtown.

        Just because ST has studied corridors separately doesn’t mean they won’t link them together. With a through line to at least the ID any Ballard/Downtown line increases in ridership and the Belltown station increases in usefulness,

      4. Irrespective of what the corridors studied for the Long Range Plan are, the projects offered as part of an ST3 package will probably be bits and pieces of the corridors. I wouldn’t be suprised if the major ST3 project in ST3 for North King were a portion of Ballard to Downtown combined with a portion of Downtown to West Seattle, say LQA to SODO.

      5. How would yet another project squarely within a mile of downtown fix anything for anyone, or earn any votes?

      6. I suspect ST will propose Ballard/Downtown with the addition of a downtown tunnel and possibly SODO. Given the popularity of Corridor D in public comments that stands a good chance of being the option chosen.

      7. That’s not going to fly, electorally, if the package is less than $2 billion and only covers the most redundant 2 miles of the line (as you suggest).

        Reaching very little for lots of money was not what made D popular on poster boards.

      8. First I don’t think the budget for North King will be only $2 billion. If it is ST won’t likely be so silly as to spend it all on just a downtown tunnel (or if it is it will be be a bus tunnel that serves all N/S bus routes)

      9. Well, we’re getting into Nostradamus territory here, but my strong hunch is that we’re not going to see an expensive regional ST3 pass. The potential suburban projects simply aren’t that compelling to a preponderance of the three-county electorate, and wouldn’t be even if they looked like they’d work (which the studies thus far say they won’t).

        You know what’s less important than Uptown? All-day trains to Issaquah Freaking Highlands!

        Check back with me in 2016 for a whopping “I told you so”.

        At that point, it will be worth having a fast-trackable, Seattle-fundable, shovel-ready list of projects that maximize cost-benefit, rather than continuing to dream of willful overspending courtesy of the withering money tree.

    4. “Keep shaking that imaginary money tree.”

      A good transit network starts with the region’s mobility needs, or “abundant access”. First map out what lines you need for optimum mobility and greatest leverage of our urban villages. Then prioritize based on the money available or other constraints. But it’s important to map out the needs first. Seattle Subway is one opinion, Seattle’s TMP is another, and ST’s Long-Range Plan is another. The vision makes it more possible to get to the goal. The goal should be frequent/fast transit between all urban villages. Don’t prematurely cut off neighborhoods because they don’t meet a medium-level urbanistic sandard. That’s a society-wide problem, not the fault of the people who live in those areas. The proper place to deal with less-dense-than-ideal neighborhoods is in the prioritization of projects, not in blanket writing people off.

      1. Right. So, first priority for the Northwest area of Seattle (everything west of I-5 and north of the ship canal) is to build a line from Ballard to the UW (for reasons mentioned). Then we can talk about how best to serve other areas, like Queen Anne. For Queen Anne, I suggest Corridor A as a good compliment. This serves all the same stops as Corridor D, but adds stops in Interbay (Fremont will be served by the Ballard Spur). Basically, once the Ballard Spur is built, Corridor A is cheaper and has more coverage (and is — dare I say — a more enjoyable ride).

      2. The problem is some here are so obsessed with the idea of a UW/Ballard line that they are dismissing neighborhoods with higher density, more residents, and more jobs than Ballard, Fremont, or Wallingford. Not to mention dismissing the importance of transit access to a major regional cultural destination.

      3. @RapidRider
        Oh just Belltown, Uptown/Lower Queen Anne, and Upper Queen Anne you know places as important to serve with rail transit as Milton and Fife.

  6. The merit arguments for Ballard-UW here are spot-on, but the either/or framing is unfortunate.

    1. I didn’t mean to imply either/or. I meant to say that this should be the next thing we build. I think the first paragraph says that fairly clearly. Once we build that, I’m open to building other things. But this provides the best value (by far) for the region. Just as Corridor D doesn’t rule out the possibility of ever serving Interbay or North Ballard, neither does this line rule out the possibility of ever adding another line to the area. I mention other routes as a way to deal with crush loading, but I wouldn’t mind other routes for their own sake. What I don’t want is two crappy lines going to Ballard. I would much rather have a very nice line, with very good stations and complete grade separation. I believe the line to the UW has the best chance of achieving this.

  7. So Sound Transit “does not concede” that its own engineering documents are truthful?

    1. Would you share those engineering documents? I’ve been trying to find actual documentation of this comment thread rumor for a very long time.

      1. As much as I dislike sending Mr. Niles web traffic every time we have this discussion, I find it telling about Sound Transit’s internal agency culture that its archival documents seem to vanish whenever they might refute today’s chosen narrative.

        The document in question is ST’s Central Link Operations Plan, circa about a year prior to the initial segment’s 2009 opening, which describes the signal systems that have been installed to shrink minimum headways on the highest-demand section of the line, i.e. the downtown tunnel:

        …is designed for a 90-second design headway, to enable an ultimate two-minute operating headway (page 24 of the document, page 29 of the PDF)

        2 minutes is what Sound Transit trains can be expected to do, with the signaling system that has been designed for them, with leeway already accounted for, and in the absence of further restraints.

        Even back when contentious Bensplaining dominated STB discourse, the only further restraint that was ever proffered for the U-Link segment was the shortsighted — and supposedly reversible — deletion of the Montlake vent structure.

      2. And yes, I know that is an operational summary, and not the underlying engineering documents. I’d love to see those too.

      3. At the risk of “realitysplaining”, South Link headway is limited both by the MLK alignment and by demand, and East Link is not predicted to need better than 9-minute peak-of-peak frequency into the distant future.

      4. An earlier version of this post discussed this point in more detail:

        It has a link to the same file d. p. linked to, as well as Ben’s comment, saying that if we rebuild the vents we can get North Link to two minute headways. I could never find a more official document for that though, although I have no reason to doubt Ben.

        My understanding is that East Link is limited to 8 minute headways, not 9. That makes the math easier. For example:

        8:00 Northgate-Bellevue
        8:02 Ballard-SoDo
        8:04 Northgate-SeaTac
        8:06 Ballard-SoDo
        8:08 Northgate-Bellevue (etc.).

        I put in SoDo, even though I don’t know the technical issues involving that. I know the turnback at I. D. has been discussed, but how hard would it be to add one at SoDo? I really like SoDo (for other reasons) and I think extending the line that far would be really valuable. For example, someone could take a bus to SoDo (from, West Seattle, Georgetown, Tacoma, etc.) and be able to get to any of the downtown stops, or Capitol Hill, or UW (AKA “three largest urban centers in the state of Washington”) after, at most, a two minute wait.

        But if SoDo doesn’t work, then this ends at I. D. (as the map shows). If we are limited to 9 minute headways, then add 15 seconds to the second run, 30 seconds to the third, etc., meaning the second run from Northgate to Bellevue runs at 8:09. A fairly trivial change, really.

        As mentioned above, I don’t think that interlining is essential. For political reasons, as well as practical ones, I could see doing away with it, but just making sure the transfer is smooth and fast. For example, it would work like this:

        8:00 Northgate-Bellevue
        8:02 Northgate-SoDo
        8:04 Northgate-SeaTac
        8:06 Northgate-SoDo
        8:08 Northgate-Bellevue (etc.).

        These trains would be fairly empty from Lynnwood, but would get pretty full once they leave the U-District. This would be immensely popular for folks to the north, especially if they arrive by bus. Now a rider from Lake City doesn’t have to worry if a red light at 15th NE will cause her to miss her transfer at 130th. It also means that a rider from Ballard might actually have a shorter transfer wait time if the rider is headed towards the east side or south end.

      5. The suggested minimum East Link headway was a function of long-term demand, and not of technical limitations. I presume that 9 was chosen simply as a multiple of 3 (our post-vent-debacle U-Link minimum), where 12 minutes at rush hour might be insufficient.

      6. You raise another good question here, Ross! What are the station-to-station loads expected on U-Link and Northgate Link? Would it make sense to build an operational branch or perhaps turn back some of the trains or not? We’ve read that ST says that it needs to take all North Link trains to Lynnwood at peak hours, but I’ve not seen the detailed presentation of that need.

      7. d.p.,

        Thanks for the link. It specifically says that the signaling system from Westlake to Stadium is designed for 90-second headways. It doesn’t say what the U-Link limitations are, and whether a vent shaft may or may not have anything to do with it.

        I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying I would like a verifiable source. I had a long discussion about headway limitations with ST last summer and never got a satisfactory explanation. If I were ever able to step back from day-to-day requirements for running the blog I would have a little more time to dig into it again so I could actually write a post about it.

      8. @ d. p. — My understanding is that East Link is limited to 8 minute headways because they only want one train on the bridge at one time. Sorry, like the ventilation shaft issue, I don’t have a source.

        @Al – Lots of people wonder why that many trains would “need” to go to Lynnwood. Frankly, I don’t care. If we end up building a system as in the second example (trains running every two minutes from Northgate) then why not go to Lynnwood? It might be a little more expensive (to pay for the operator) but turnback stations aren’t cheap either. Regardless, we would have plenty of options. Unlike downtown, where we really don’t. As long as we find some cheap land up north to turn the train around, I’m OK with sending the trains up there a ways. As I said, for political reasons, it could be a big win. Someone in, say, Shoreline or Lynnwood might think they are getting nothing out of a Ballard to UW line. But if they are told that the deal comes with two minute headways (during rush hour) and more frequent service the rest of the day, you just got yourself another yes vote.

      9. Assuming only one train is allowed on the I-90 bridge at a time, is an 8-minute headway really going to be reliable? At 55 mph, you’re looking at about 3 minutes to traverse the bridge one-way, which puts the theoretical best possible headways at 6 minutes (assuming trains cross each other at precisely the two endpoints of the bridge). 8-minute headways gives each train a two-minute window where it can cross the bridge, but if it misses the window and the train going the other way is already on bridge, it now has to wait an additional 3 minutes for the bridge to clear, thereby delaying next train going the opposite direction, and so forth. Given that EastLink is planned to have an at-grade segment in the Bel-Red neighborhood, I’m not convinced that a 2-minute cushion is really sufficient.

        Another question that is worth asking – if the structure of the I-90 bridge can really one handle one train at a time anyway, what is point of having Link double-tracked as it traverses the bridge. Single-tracking it would save money, and possibly open up additional roadway space so that heavy trucks don’t have to be zooming by within two feet of trail users trying to walk or bike across.

      10. Entering Sound Transit URLs that come up dead into sometimes finds life. That was how I found the engineering consultant’s report from years ago that implies a train on a floating bridge is not such a good idea.

        On that point about only one train at a time is to be allowed on the future I-90 bridge (if the East Link track crossing passes U.S. DOT muster and is allowed), my next comment is, ST has never released a computer-art drawing of light rail on the I-90 bridge without showing two trains on it passing each other, starting with the now suppressed drawing that moved the location of downtown Bellevue for dramatic effect.

        The exception to this trend is PB’s recent which has the wrong number of lanes (3 not 4) configured on I-90!!

        I’ve complained after doing the arithmetic that seeing trains pass each other on that short stretch would be a relatively rare event with the headways likely, but now you are telling me that two trains at the same time are not going to be allowed? Why not?

      11. Could South Link support 4-minute headways, either based on demand or based on the physical constraints of the MLK segment? If so, I’d rather switch SeaTac and SoDo in Ross’s explanation above and add frequency and rider clarity without additional capital investment. Of course, given the choice I’d rather not have turnback trips at all (hence why I support running every Northgate train to Lynnwood regardless of demand), suggesting we might want to run another branch off the current transit tunnel to West Seattle or Georgetown.

    2. Let’s keep pushing ST on this! Just looking at Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and Boston LRT systems (which have at least three lines operating for portions today AND some of these carrying loads much heavier today than the two Link lines would carry), I think that this “assumption” should be able to be disproved as d.p. suggests. I just don’t see how every other multi-line, heavily used LRT system in the US can operate multiple lines yet ST can’t. It might take some system upgrades, but that upgrade package would have to be way cheaper than a few billion for a new line.

      1. In the case of Portland, the interlining is made complicated by the busy at grade road crossings at each end of the Steel Bridge, which this line shouldn’t have to deal with.

        Also, while I realize that it is best to “future proof” a line to some extent, once ridership gets to the point where the line is at maximum capacity, then maybe it is time consider capacity expansions. Imagine the screams if, say, Seattle’s Fremont Bridge had been built with the capacity of Portland’s Fremont Bridge.

        I don’t oppose planning ahead, but there comes a time when building too far ahead is a mistake.

        1 train every 5 minutes is 12 trains an hour. At 200 passengers per car and four car trains that is 9600 passengers per hour. At 4 minute headways that turns into 12,000 per hour.

        Just how big is that park and ride lot at Lynnwood anyway?

        At some point, you need a second north-south line, but to get to the point where Ballard – UW – downtown trains have to be displaced you are looking at a time in the future when peak Link ridership is what? 8 times what it is today? By that time more north – south corridors will be needed anyway.

      2. The branching in Dallas and Denver leads to horrible headways out on the branches even during peak. Sure the demand may be low, but every 20 minute service can hardly be called frequent.

        What drives the long gaps between trains on the branches is the limits on head ways in the core. Both Dallas and Denver are limited in the core due to street running.

  8. I think the either/or framing is just in the context of ST3. The point being made here seems to be that we could focus on this line first rather then after the second N/S line is built, and that is an interesting point indeed.

    1. That is my take as well. As a relative newcomer and not fully understanding sub-area equity– would the cost of what Seattle builds have to roughly match what, say, the east side builds?

      1. No, just the tax rates have to be the same in all subareas.

        The Eastside and North King subareas generate a lot more tax dollars so the same rate than do the Pierce, South King, and Snohomish subareas. That means they can afford more expensive projects.

      2. The upshot is that North King should have somewhere between $3.9 and $9 billion for ST3. Link to Everett is the #1 ST project for Snohomish county leadership. The overall package size will be determined by what is proposed for Snohomish county.

    2. Yes, that is my point exactly. This is the most important line, and we should focus on making it a good one. If we want to add other things (such as another North-South line) then I have no trouble with that. What that means specifically from an ST3 standpoint is harder to say. If we have this line, and only this line for ST3 (in this subarea) then I would be OK with that. If we attach other goodies (such as an additional North-South line) then I would be OK with that as well. The strategy behind ST3 politics is debatable. If we are concerned about the money, then it might make sense to build only this. If we want to get people really excited, then maybe we add in other lines as well. What I really don’t want is two crappy lines, one that goes from Ballard, around Queen Anne and gets stuck in traffic downtown and another line that gets stuck in traffic getting from Ballard to the UW. Just this one grade separated line would provide much more value than that.

  9. This spur is too little benefit for the cost. The better line is still the N-S line from downtown. It wouldn’t max out the existing UW to Downtown line or create tricky timing and control issues, but it would serve more areas that don’t have service now and need it,

    The other advantage of the Seattle Subway type routing is that it builds resiliency into the system. By crossing over at Northgate it protects against any type of service disruption at an intermediate station. For example, if Cap Hill Station gets shut down due to some issue (or police activity), then everyone on the system could still get where they need to go by taking the other line and transferring over.

    That can’t be said of the Ballard Spur routing. That would be a very fragile system where any type of closure has the potential of cutting the entire system in half and stranding the riders on either side.

    1. The north-south costs twice as much, and the ridership estimates are within the margins of error of one another.

      Facts. They do a city good.

      1. Using the average cost and ridership for the N-S Option D to E-W 3A (the two we have numbers for) you get around a 30% premium on cost per rider for N-S. Certainly more, but with other debatable benefits for N-S. And not a 100% premium, as your “facts” comment suggests.

        That said, I hate that we’ve turned this into an either-or battle.

      2. How do you figure? North-south Option D anticipates only 30,000 daily riders, at a minimum of 50% and up to 100% higher cost than A3 (~24,000 riders). That’s a whole lot more than 30%.

        A4 (east-west w/Fremont) will be more expensive than A3, while still not in the same ballpark as Option D, and will easily pick up enough additional riders (if full grade-separated and fast) to make up the difference.

      3. Oh, and I forgot that the ST expected ~24,000 for A3 even with the baffling absence of any stops west of Aurora and east of Ballard. A better-spaced and connectively enabled line would likely exceed Option D’s 30,000 estimate even if you didn’t route directly down to central Fremont. Higher ridership still if you did.

      4. Here’s a twist alternative to ponder:
        What if there was a redesign of U-Link to have a fully operational “Y” between Capitol Hill and Westlake stations, combined with a two-line subway to Ballard? Every other South Link and East Link train could go to Ballard and half of the Ballard trains would go to Ballard and have would go north to UW and beyond. That would surely raise the ridership of Ballard to Downtown by eliminating the transfer problem as well as pick up riders traveling between Ballard and UW. It would also give East Link and South Link the appearance of having two lines (and even give some options for one line branching on East Link to Issaquah or Kirkland, or South Link to West Seattle or Renton or Burien).

      5. I’m sorry if this has turned into an either-or battle. Or, more to the point, I’m sorry that you don’t understand that everything we discuss is either-or. Build Corridor D, instead of a Corridor B, and you are making an either-or decision. Such is life.

        Basically, I think we should build a line from Ballard to the UW first, then we can discuss other additions. Don’t you agree?

        So, am I to assume that after we build the Ballard to the UW line, we should build Corridor D? Fair enough. Personally, I would build the Ballard to the UW line, followed by Bruce’s modified Option C. But, for sake of argument, how about Corridor B? Corridor B goes to 65th and 85th and is still cheaper than Corridor D. With the added savings, we can extend the Ballard Spur to go to the heart of old Ballard (24th Ave NW). So, basically, for around the same amount of money (if not less) you get five stops (Elliot, Interbay, NW 65th, NW 85th and 24th Ave NW) instead of one. Queen Anne looks like a great stop, but not that great.

        Heck, if we really want that Queen Anne stop, then why not Corridor A? With the elevated version, it is actually cheaper. Really. Now, you get the same stops as Corridor D (with Fremont being served by the Ballard Spur). Meanwhile, you add in (at no additional charge) stops at Elliot and Interbay. All that and a sweet ride too (70 feet over the Fisherman’s Terminal — count me in!). Since money is no object — or rather, since our budget is somehow the combination of Corridor D and the Ballard Spur — let’s spend the extra money (around 400 million) on an extra station in Ballard (north or west, I don’t care).

        Really, in many ways, supporters of Corridor D are glossing over the either-or aspect of their choice. If we don’t have a line from Ballard to the UW, or if that line is really slow, then Corridor D sounds good. But if not, then other alternatives (like Corridor A) just sound better.

      6. One reason the ridership numbers for Ballard/Downtown were so low is because the line didn’t extend all the way to the ID. Of course a tunnel the rest of the way through Downtown is another billion so the cost effectiveness might even get worse if you add that to a Ballard/Downtown line.

        While I love Wallingford I really can’t believe how some are implying it is more important than:
        1. The densest census tract north of San Francisco and East of Chicago. Also a major employment and entertainment destination. (Belltown)
        2. The location of many cultural institutions, festivals, and a dense neighborhood that is an entertainment destination in its own right with a not insignificant amount of employment as well. (Uptown)
        3. A denser neighborhood than Ballard, with nearly the same population and major topological issues with transportation access (Upper Queen Anne)

        Option D provides nearly the same connectivity for N/S transit as does A3. While the trip time for Ballard/UW, Ballard/Northgate, or Balllard/Capitol Hill is longer than with A3 it still is much faster than possible today via transit or even than driving for much of the day.

        Sure Wallingford loses out if Option D is built without a Ballard/UW line, but in the grand scheme of things Wallingford just isn’t that important. (OK more important than Milton or Fife, but nobody outside Wallingford really cares if they can get there easily or not)

        As others have pointed out consider the politics of baking a ST3 cake as well. Somebody outside Seattle (or even in Seattle outside the North End) is probably going to be more interested in grade separated transit to Belltown and the Seattle Center than they are Wallingford or even Fremont and Ballard.

        By the same token I’d be careful about throwing cost effectiveness around. The Lynnwood to Everett extension beats even Ballard/UW by that metric. Some of the options for Downtown/West Seattle/Burien/Renton may as well, especially when sub-segments like Burien/Renton are looked at.

        Remember the North sub-area budget for ST3 is likely to be in the range of $4.5 to $7.25 billion. This is enough for at least option D and both D and A3 at the high end. Of course there is the possibility that ST gets no additional tax authority from the legislature in which case I’m not sure what a realistic budget for the North sub-area is over say 15 years after interest and and operational expenses are paid.

        But rather than try to “value engineer” ST3 to death before it has even left the gate I’d prefer to at least try to get the taxing authority to do it right. If ST fails to get the necessary taxing authority then we con look at what is reasonable and realistic to build with available ST revenue and whatever the City of Seattle can contribute in addition.

      7. @Chris — I discuss a lot of these issues here:
        That covers the Belltown stop, as well as a comparison of other stops. For example, did you know that the Seattle Center already has grade separated transit? It is called a monorail. I also mention “going around”, and the loss of time savings. It would not be clear cut for many scenarios (such as Northgate to Fremont) which means Metro would have a hard time getting rid of many routes. Likewise, the 44 would still live (and slog) under your scenario, while we would use all those trips to gain frequency elsewhere in mine.

        It makes sense to look at the most cost effective means to serve areas, then move from there. The most cost effective way to serve the entire northwest section of Seattle (and by that I mean everyone north of ship canal and west of I-5 is to build the Ballard spur). If we have money to burn after that, then we can talk about spending it on a number of great projects.

        We could, for example, spend it building the southern half of Corridor D (which is identical to the southern half of Corridor A). Eventually, that line would become Corridor A. Now, with just the southern half of that line (and the Ballard Spur) you have all the stations you wanted. The cost to riders on Queen Anne is that they don’t have as quick a ride to Fremont or Ballard, but that is about it. Once Corridor A is complete they will have a quick ride to Ballard as well as Interbay. Until then, that connection isn’t nearly as common as the one from Fremont (or Ballard) to the UW (or places to the north of there).

        Want a complete Ballard to Downtown line, but Corridor A or D too expensive? Then Corridor B gets you Uptown, but without Queen Anne. But you gain Interbay, and a second line to Ballard (with stops at 65th and 85th). Or maybe we build a line from Westlake to South Lake Lake Union. It could swing a little into Belltown (say, 4th and Bell) then go to a station in South Lake Union, then head north (as money allows).

        Or maybe, instead of that line, we start replacing the Metro 8 with a train in a tunnel. For a lot less than the difference between Corridor D and a Ballard Spur you could do a cut and cover under Denny. Too disruptive? Fair enough, how about a tunnel along the same general path. Add a station in Uptown and one in the middle of South Lake Union (e. g. Westlake and Harrison). I still think that is cheaper, which means that we could throw in Seattle U. Now, basically, for the cost of Queen Anne and Belltown, we get South Lake Union and Seattle U. I like Belltown, but I would take that trade any day.

      8. Ross,
        First I don’t see Sound Transit building Ballard/Downtown without including a tunnel all the way to the ID. This isn’t going to be an easy thing to add later so there is a fairly strong incentive to do it the first time.

        Even with the transfer I think you greatly underestimate the attraction of a Belltown stop. One reason many will walk between Belltown and Westlake has to do with how unreliable and slow the current service can be. On paper this isn’t an issue but in reality you may be looking at a 20 minute late bus that takes 10 minutes to go 1/4 mile. A train eliminates all of this hassle especially if there is a pedestrian tunnel between the downtown station and Westlake.

        As for the Monorail it really is more of a tourist ride than real transit. The station is on the wrong side of the Seattle Center to serve Uptown anyway, Look at the number of people using bus stops around the Center as opposed to taking the Monorail. True, some of this is due to the lack of fare integration between the Monorail and ORCA, but due to the contracts with the city I doubt we will be able to get much more than the ability to use e-purse to pay Monorail fares.

        Do recall that a fair number of Metro service hours are tied up in serving Belltown, Uptown/Seattle Center, and Queen Anne. Now those routes do go on to serve other destinations and there are intermediate corridors that would need to still be served if for no other reason than to provide feeder service. Still proper restructuring could free up a number of service hours.

        As for service hours North of the Ship Canal the only real difference in being able to recover service hours between corridor D and A3 is the 44. Without at least 3 more stations being able to eliminate the 44 is doubtful. Similarly if C1 (or a grade separated version) is built the 44 doesn’t go away (though to be fair it could be restructured). I’m not sure Fremont would be happy with truncation, elimination, or frequency reduction on the 26, 28, or 40 between Fremont and Downtown unless there was a lower Fremont stop. In any case no matter what is built local stops along Aurora, Dexter, and Westlake (15th W too for that matter) would still need to be served.

        While travel to Northgate from Ballard or Fremont would be easier with an E/W line it doesn’t mean service could be eliminated along those corridors. The route of the 40 between Ballard and Northgate would still need service as would the 16 between 45th or Fremont and Northgate. Again frequencies might be reduced but people would stil want access to the transit system from the intermediate stops.

      9. You can’t have your argument both ways, Chris.

        You can’t claim that north-south ridership estimates were lowballed due to a transfer presumption, while ignoring the significantly more robust ridership/$ and ridership/mile (not to mention ridership/station) of ST’s initial A3 study, which also presumed a forced transfer.

        You can’t claim that Metro will be forever forced to run a 44 shadow, even if “A4” is built with urban spacing (averaging 2/3 mile and with no gaps over 1 mile), and then claim that subway stops at Bell and Mercer (just over 1 mile apart) and a single stop under the multiple-square-mile sprawl that is Queen Anne Hill will eliminate Metro’s trolleybus soup.

        And you do your point no favors by suggested that ST will need to spend an extra billion or 2 crossing downtown in order to make the north-south proposal feasible. That just renders the north-south cost:benefit even weaker.


        Listen, I know I’m on record saying Uptown’s importance is overblown. This happens to be true — Uptown is significantly smaller, less populous, less busy, less multifaceted, has less commercial activity, and (aside from a skinny strip between Roy/W.Mercer and Aloha) is much less dense than commenters here tend to believe — but it is also beside the point…

        Of course Belltown rapid transit is a good idea. Of course Uptown rapid transit is a good idea. Of course overcoming north-south topographic barriers and connecting these places and QA Hill to Fremont and points north is a good idea.

        I find it incredibly frustrating that the DSTT wasn’t originally built with a branch toward the north/northwest; it could have been saving in-city riders Belltown-crawl hell for 30 years now. But like ST today, Metro’s DSTT ideal was all about shooting great distances from downtown as quickly as possible, and favoring suburban needs over urban transit. It was all about I-5 and I-90.

        But the lack of a pre-existing Belltown tunnel is a cost-hinderance today, and north-south transit to the immediately downtown-adjacent neighborhoods simply isn’t bad enough to double or triple the price-tag on our next urban investment… while simultaneously screwing over multi-directional mobility to and from the entire northern part of the city, for which the ill-connected north-south plans do surprisingly little.

        It’s not about playing favorites. It’s about comparative value. Which is crucial. Really.

    2. “max out the existing UW to Downtown line”

      Two minute headways won’t max it out. Adding service simply justifies it.

      “tricky timing and control issues”

      They aren’t that tricky. Even if they totally screw it up, we are talking about a two minute wait. Have you ever taken a real subway? Transfers are a fact of life, and they work really well.

      “but it would serve more areas that don’t have service now and need it”

      Maybe, but just barely, and at a really high cost. I go into more detail here:
      Basically, because this serves the UW better, and adds a station at Wallingford, it more than makes up the loss of Queen Anne. As I’ve said in several comments, Belltown isn’t as good as you might assume, because a Queen Anne line doesn’t interline with Link (it is only good for people coming to and from Queen Anne and Ballard).

      The argument for resiliency seems a bit silly. So, if Capitol Hill station is shut down, now all the riders from Northgate are supposed to take a bus to Ballard? Huh? Won’t they just take a bus downtown? Oh, I suppose the riders in Ballard can now get right to downtown without a problem, but really, how ofter are we expecting the system to fail?

    3. “The other advantage of the Seattle Subway type routing is that it builds resiliency into the system. By crossing over at Northgate it protects against any type of service disruption at an intermediate station.”

      The Ballard-Northgate segment was not studied for ST3, and I don’t think it’s in ST’s Long-Range Plan. So it’s useless to discuss it as a viable alternative for ST3, or to forego another segment because we’re hoping for this in ST4. ST has decisively deprioritized it. Instead what ST added to the draft LRP is the Northgate – Lake City – Woodinville segment; i.e., east of Northgate. You can argue that Ballard – Northgate is a long-term ideal, but it plays no feasable role in our ST3 discussion.

      1. No, the connection to Northgate was not specifically included in the Ballard to DT study for a very good and simple reason — because Northgate isn’t between Ballard and DT. But my comments weren’t about the Ballard-DT study, they were about the Seattle Subway type routing, which makes very good sense for the reasons stated.

        But hey, I’m sure it would never occur to anyone that if you terminate your Ballard line at 85th St. pointed NE along Holman Rd towards Northgate, that maybe it would make sense to actual extend it to Northgate and make a connection. Yes, most great mass transit systems throughout the world have these sort of line crossings, but this is Seattle after all and we are unique………

        But interlining 3 lines in the existing tunnel isn’t an option anyhow, so the Ballard Spur really isn’t an option either. Yeah, there is a big fan club, but the facts aren’t there.

      2. So your idea of a best course of action is to spend an additional $3 billion on extra canal crossings and new downtown tunnels, rather than to creatively address a tricky situation at Brooklyn?

        Wastefulness has a surprisingly big fan club in these pages too.

  10. Thanks again! We need to keep pointing out to ST that branching is a vital part of our light rail track investment.

    Operationally, I’d suggest a very minor change to the southern end point of this line – extend it to Stadium Station. South of Stadium Station, there is a third tail track which could easily be used to turn around trains. It would be a major engineering and operational challenge to turn around trains at the International District Station (and the International District station desperately needs a special redesign study no matter what happens), and going just one more station south to this tail track solves many, many operational problems that would affect this line if it actually opened.

    This would of course leave the “big elephant” in the room about switching trains north of the U-District station. Typically, high volume rail lines are designed like freeways, and it’s not really advisable to have one busy active track in one direction cross a busy active track in the opposite direction. It would make sense to really push for a design modification NOW to the Northgate Link to have the tunnels offset in elevation with an actual tail track being constructed to the west from the northbound tunnel – so that one track could eventually be built under the other if the line ever gets built. If we ever plan to build the Ballard-UW line (in ST3 or ST4 or whenever because this is a 100 year investment), we should push for this because it could have many, many uses beyond a Ballard-UW line. At some point the tail track will be needed for UW events, for emergencies like trains taken out of service, and lots of other operational reasons that occur.

      1. There is no way in hell that Sound Transit is going to build a level crossing in the main North Link line. You can sing paeans to the El until the cows come home, but they will never agree to it. Full stop.

        The only possible answer for interlining is d.p.’s sub-UW junction which has some potential difficulties, but at least provides for uninterrupted switching.

        Oh, and just FYI, Chicago right now is embroiled in a huge kerfuffle about rebuilding the north separation between the Brown and Red/Purple lines at Clark Junction to be a flying junction. At this time the level junction is saturated; no more trains can run on any of the three lines because of the level crossing. Now replacing the level junction with the flyover is a big PITA for the El because of the adjacent property impacts, but at least it’s up in the air. If you build a level junction and need at some time in the future to replace it, it’s a mega-PITA to do underground.

  11. If Ballard spur trains continue to downtown, is there capacity on the downtown-to-UW segment? I recall this being an issue.

    What about an alignment from UW west under 45th to Aurora, then straight-ish across to Leary in Freelard, and up into Ballard, sort of a combination of A3 and C1?

    1. The capacity issue is due to lack of adequate ventilation. We can fix that problem.

  12. I like the idea of Spur first, but there are some problems to deal with:

    – The interlining is probably never going to happen. The best we can hope for is a service only connection to send trains down to the yard.

    – The train yard is already basically full. In order to have trains to run on this line we are going to have to get another yard to store them in (just as Lynnwood/East link are having to do).

    – North/South bus service through downtown will still need to be addressed eventually for the parts of town not served by this line (Queen Anne, Belltown, West Seattle). Perhaps you’re right and they don’t need light rail immediately, but all of the N/S runs through downtown hit a big crunch when they get to the downtown core. At a minimum we will need to address express bus service for these places.

    – Politically it may be difficult to pull off this vote in the city when we are essentially giving nothing to significant voting blocks that were starting to expect something from this (Queen Anne, Fremont, West Seattle).

      1. Yes, that is why I feel like we need to start at least some part of the Ballard to Downtown/West Seattle to Downtown corridor at the same time of this. Folks need to know relief is at least coming on the horizon. If you tell the rest of town to pound because their line is not as efficient as the Ballard to UW line, you are going to find the city is a lot less supportive than you thought.

      2. I’m now in my second hour of trying to figure out how a Queen Anne subway is not a train for white people.

      3. Unfortunately, I think both DT-Ballard and UW-Ballard will be seen as trains for white people by some.

        Here’s my bigger worry: ST3 seems like less than a 50/50 proposition to be on the ballot in 2016. We’re then left with a tough battle to win a Seattle-only rail measure. If we’re thinking about a Seattle ballot measure, the most important question is probably which of these two lines has the better chance of getting 50%+1 from Seattle voters.

        The reason I am leaning toward Ballard-UW now on that question is simply cost. As Charles mentions, other parts of the city may need some perks included in a citywide measure – maybe some planning money or BRT upgrades at a minimum. If Ballard-UW “A4” comes in around $2 billion, we *might* be able to afford those perks. But it seems very unlikely Seattle could afford anything else if it is paying for a $3.5 billion Ballard-Downtown line on its own.

        I agree that it’s really unfortunate we’re sitting here arguing over scraps. We need both lines. Hopefully something good and unforeseen will happen to make that a better possibility.

      4. I’m 100% certain they don’t let you build trains for just one race of people these days. The notion is absurd. It’s obvious that the comment suggesting it was trolling and should be deleted.

        If we’re going to entertain the notion this much, I just rode Central Link from Pioneer Square to Westlake, the racial makeup of the passengers was as diverse as can be. Suggesting a rail line along 45th and Market Streets with a transfer in the University District, or from Ballard to Downtown, could only be trains for any singular race is trolling bullshit and all of you know it.

        Give me a break. Someone get this blog a moderator.

      5. @ d.p. I agree that the race comment is weird and not applicable here. Its about the neighborhoods being left out, and the effect that could have on getting this passed.

      6. d.p. I’ll give you Ballard/Downtown isn’t much better other than maybe by making access to the Seattle Center easier.

        There is a longstanding history in Seattle of inter-neighborhood resentment over various issues. One common complaint is well-to-do white neighborhoods get all of the amenities while the more diverse neighborhoods get all of the things nobody else wants dumped on them.

        See the debate over putting Central Link on the surface in Rainer Valley vs. in a tunnel North of Downtown. It doesn’t matter that topology and density were the primary factors in the decision some people STILL feel it was a deliberate slight to SE Seattle.

      7. @Chris Stefan:

        The correct response to that is never reinforcing the ignorance. Nor reinforcing the stereotypes. In reality, we wouldn’t need everyone on board to get 50%+1 of the vote to make this city a better place for ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE who lives here. I would go so far as to include the fact that we don’t need West Seattle or Rainier Valley to vote in favor of the city’s broader interests, which will in fact benefit them directly, to make it happen.

      8. Ben S: This line would improve access to jobs and attractions north of the ship canal for everyone who lives along the central line. Train goes both ways, man.

        Regarding politics: We both know this would win on the ballot. The hardest part is getting it to that point the right way.

      9. “I’m 100% certain they don’t let you build trains for just one race of people these days. The notion is absurd. It’s obvious that the comment suggesting it was trolling and should be deleted.”

        Isn’t that exactly why the comment is relevant? In any EIS, they will examine the social justice aspects of a project and it would potentially be a black mark against this project.

      10. They would discover that this project is great for social justice just as any rapid transit project that provides a network effect at a single fare is.

      11. I agree with Jesse. For example, this + the station at 130th + bus improvements for West Seattle sounds pretty good (for this area) to me. Not everything we want, by any means, but a definite step in the right direction. I think it is an improvement for most riders in the north end over the more expensive Corridor D (I think more people work in Fremont or Ballard than in Queen Anne). Adding 130th makes it great for Lake City. It is, in my opinion, simply the best value, which means that you are likely to get more voters that way. At the same time, it isn’t crap. I just don’t see anyone, except a very self centered Queen Anne voter (and I doubt there are many) who would reject this proposal because it isn’t everything they wanted.

        On the other hand, I see plenty of other scenarios that would fail. Build West Seattle light rail and lots of people (myself included) say “wait a second, that is too much” or, at the very least ask “why are you building light rail to West Seattle while the Central Area, including Seattle U, gets nothing?”. Build Corridor D without West Seattle light rail and folks in West Seattle (and Burien) complain that “they get theirs, but we don’t get ours”. Build any combination of surface rail and plenty of people (myself included) wonder why we even bother. But if you build this combination, then at the very least you can say it is the best value; so while West Seattle doesn’t get light rail, Queen Anne doesn’t either, and it is only because it isn’t worth it right now. It is always a good idea to leave open the possibility of future enhancement (of course) but by proposing to build the best, most important value next you are more likely to succeed. I can honestly say that building this would be the best value for the area. I really can’t see that with any other combination. A line replacing the Metro 8 might come close, but it isn’t even on the table.

      12. Ben/Chris,
        “One common complaint is well-to-do white neighborhoods get all of the amenities while the more diverse neighborhoods get all of the things nobody else wants dumped on them.”
        Don’t dismiss this as “ignorance” – its not made up (even if it doesn’t explain the example you cited). E.g. yesterday I ran some errands/picked up a friend that took me in a loop thru N Cap Hill, Montlake, Madison Park, Madrona and back to my house in the CD. Couldn’t help noticing (not for the first time) that EVERY street I took in those neighborhoods was in far better condition than ANY street in my CD neighborhood. Just one example, but dismiss that reality at your electoral peril.

        That said I will absolutely support whatever Ballard spur/line option that comes to a vote, even if it won’t do much for me personally. It would be good for the city … but so is equitable investment in infrastructure.

      13. Tito,

        The CD is a very nice, convenient location. Full disclosure, if you haven’t googled me yet, I’m a white guy who lives in Magnolia. Magolia’s roads seem forgotten too. I don’t mean to compete with you, I’m sure you win, I just bet that the whole city needs a serious repaving.

        I don’t pretend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Seattle social justice history. Transit-wise, I’d agree with anyone that the longterm travesty is that there wasn’t a retained cut trench or elevated LINK route built through the Rainier Valley in the first place, but that’s history now and I was in LA when that choice was made.

        For the foreseeable Rainier Valley has some of the best transit in town. If there’s going to be anger that Ballard gets a subway from whatever direction, how would you alleve that tension? Personally, I’m bad at that kind of thing, but I would say that we can’t stop until we get a subway to every neighborhood.

        My feeling, albeit prejudiced as anyone’s, is that diversity of station area will be less of a possibility outside the Rainier Valley and since Rainier Valley will continue to have excellent transit for the foreseeable future, that’s ok.

        Most people in the CD I would assume naturally like the Madison Street route from downtown to MLK that the City of Seattle has identified. I’d like a route to Magnolia. If Corridor D and Ballard to UW are built before either of us get any attention, I’m ok with that too because we need to serve the most riders we can for the lowest cost we can as soon as we can.

        Sorry for the novel. I’m curious about your detailed thoughts about all this.

      14. Tito,
        I did lot say there wasn’t a truth to the feeling. One only needs to travel around a bit to see differences in things like the condition of the streets and sidewalks, the amount of street cleaning, infrastructure investment, and where things one might not want next door are located to see there is a real issue there. It doesn’t matter if there were good reasons for the decisions at the time, the perception is further fueled with every decision that is made.

        The CD, Rainier Valley, Pioneer Square, the ID, South Park, West Seattle, Magnolia and the far North of the city all have complaints about being ignored or dumped on by the powers that be. All have their roots in real issues but for some in those neighborhoods the real issues color the perception of every other issue.

      15. You listed most of the city’s neighborhoods, and I think all the others have complaints too. Capitol Hill, U-District, and Ballard residents all think (for better or worse) that they are being force-fed all the city’s growth with a firehose. Fremonters think the city let the tech empires take it over. Downtown powers-that-be think the neighborhoods get all the love. It goes on. I think inter-neighborhood resentment is just a political fact of life and doesn’t affect the politics of one neighborhood more than another.

      16. Thanks for thoughtful replies.

        Ben – I can’t say I followed the Rainier Valley alternative options (vs. at grade) particularly closely at the time (or I did and have forgotten it all). While tunnel or other would undoubtedly be ideal, I don’t have any particular issue with it as a cost effective option for a largely flat area.
        And yes, would love an MLK to downtown option, but fully agree it doesn’t make sense as top priority near term vs other needs.
        Chris – exactly. Just saying that at least some of the perception is merited, and while there are some who’ll apply that to any issue regardless of validity, the underlying sentiment also can’t be ignored entirely. That’s all.
        David – respectfully disagree. Not sure I’d equate downtown powers-that-be” pushing their growth agenda on neighborhoods with long standing disparities in investment in basic infrastructure, parks, school renovations, etc

  13. I think it is not necessary to interline an e/w connection onto the central spine. But it should connect with Central/North/ULink via the U-District (43rd) station via a connection from a separate station box. The line should continue east to Sand Point and be ready to cross the lake to Kirkland if warranted.

  14. I think Seattle Subway has the best long-term vision, but political and financial realities mean choosing what to build first. Whatever choice is made, the longer-term vision should be in line, and each segment needs to be built in a way that makes future expansions and connections feasible.

    I think it’s worth considering interlining for the time being while building the line to eventually require a connection to downtown if future operations demand it. So put in a new U-District/Brooklyn station box that will allow for easy connections, but interline the rest of the line assuming that it’s not feasible to make the line go further east in this stage. Probably you’d want a tunnel stub facing east for just such an eventuality, so that you could extend the tunnel if necessary without disrupting operations during construction.

    Similarly, for the Zoo/Upper Fremont stop, site and build it so that a connection with a future Aurora/Fremont/Downtown line would be possible. Do the same for the 15th/Market stop and a future Ballard-Downtown line.

    That said, this route alone probably isn’t enough politically. Other areas will need noticeable improvements. I think it’s important to think creatively about what projects can provide this political need while building toward a more comprehensive future network. West Seattle needs something, though maybe light rail isn’t cost-effective. Lower Fremont ideally should be included, but is poorly situated for the Ballard Spur option and too expensive to reach otherwise. Belltown, LQA, and UQA are important long-term, but not good value right now (the same is true of SLU). I do wonder if it might be possible to temporarily branch the DSTT both north and south to begin to serve these other areas without building a second tunnel downtown until ridership makes it necessary.

    1. +1 @ political realities. We probably need at least something new downtown that serves the areas that are not going to be served by this…

      With the DSTT closing to buses in 2018/2019 though I think we may need something more substantial than just a branch on the existing tunnel.

      1. I hope that the DSTT stations get considered for better access upgrades. Seattle is the only major new subway system that I’ve seen that refuses to put in down escalators to the platforms, for example. Keep in mind that DSTT activity is expected to really increase when all the lines get built. Funding a good network of escalators and walkways to get people from the platform to City Hall or Columbia Center or the Public Library would be profoundly valuable too. (In my utopia, there would be underground escalators/walkways from Pioneer Square to Harborview.) If ST was smart and wanted to engender support from core system riders, they would look at spending a few million to improve DSTT station access to show benefit to the existing riders.

      2. Very good suggestion, Al. This is exactly the type of thing that makes sense, and would be very popular with people. A small light rail section, plus a bunch of little improvements. These “little things”, like a station at 130th, actually make a big difference for people. A down escalator might save a minute or two, which helps a lot.

      3. I wonder if another transit tunnel, or even two, coming off of Westlake makes sense, especially if we don’t build a line from Ballard to downtown. One heading straight north, along Westlake and one heading southwest, along 2nd or so. That doesn’t completely solve the “last mile” problem, but helps immensely. Now buses from Eastlake, Westlake, Aurora, Queen Anne and Magnolia are much faster and more frequent. This means areas closer in, like Belltown and South Lake Union would have fast, frequent service as well. Both could be built so that they could support future rail. I think that would be popular (I certainly like that idea). Solid improvements now, and hope for the future for something even better.

        For the south end, I think a turnback station after SoDo makes sense. SoDo could also use a bunch of improvements, and could easily serve as the main transit center for buses coming from the south. That way, the buses come in, and within two minutes, a rider can get anywhere downtown, or all the way to the U-District (and from there either to Ballard or Northgate/Lynnwood).

      4. If either downtown/Ballard or downtown/West Seattle are built there most likely would be a new DSTT along 2nd North of Pike and 4th South of there. This would provide better access to the library, city hall and Columbia center.

  15. This is great. Along the same thought pattern, this new Green Line could have 2 additional stations on the southern end (via SODO): North Delridge and West Seattle Junction.

    In both Ballard and West Seattle (and everywhere else for that matter), let’s focus on increasing connectivity 1-2 stations at a time, and of course keeping the long-range plan in mind.

    I am aware that there is a South King Study corridor study, which would call for a complete line on the WS peninsula. Waiting 2 years for another ballot measure, then another 8-10 years for design and actual construction of the entire line is not a feasible option. There are thousands of new apartment/condo units opening in WS in 2014-2016 and the current RapidRide option is not cutting it.

    1. For the record, this is a different David L than me, and I disagree with a couple of the points in his comment.

      In particular, I don’t think there’s any realistic chance of West Seattle rail before the mid-2020s, and I think it is both possible and amply warranted to improve bus service to and in West Seattle in the meantime. It can get faster, much more frequent, and more comprehensive — particularly if people are willing to transfer between frequent lines.

  16. Maybe I have not read enough material about this, but there seems to have been some confusion over the roles of new trolly-cars vrs. light rail trains. Also, did sound transit ever identify future “hubs” (in terms of transfer stations)?

    1. I think the Ballard-UW vs. Ballard-Downtown issue can be resolved if we identify the purpose of the trolly-car vs. light rail trains.

    If light rail is meant to be FAST with few stops inbetween end points, than a Ballard to downtown Seattle line (option “D” for example) would make the most sense to be built FIRST. With that, a grade-level (but seperated from traffic) trolly could theoretically connect fremont to UW (assuming option “D”: fremont-gas works-wallingford-UW District).

    However, IF the Ballard-UW line were to (with 100% certainty) eventually travel across Lake WA than it should definitely be a light rail line (Ballard-Zoo/Aurora-Wallingford-UW District-East side). IF that is the case, than it should be built SECOND (depending on 520 bridge construction times, etc).

    2. The above opinions depend on station “Hubs”. If two light rail lines are built (Ballard-Downtown and Ballard-UW-Eastside), than the Ballard station and UW station(s) will need to be constructed in order to quickly accept transfers (whether two stations are built next to each other with connecting pedestrian tunnel, or just one large station).

    I have a general feeling that Sound Transit may have “skipped” over the station “hub” analysis. I am probably misinformed, but it seems they are having a hard time deciding on how to correctly orientate the International Tunnel Station to accept transfers from East Link (passengers from MI/Bellevue wanting to get to the airport for example). A center platform seems to correct many of these problems.

    1. Sound Transit is interested in light rail; i.e., grade-separated or at minimum exclusive lane. Seattle is interested in streetcars to supplement the light rail network. Seattle is most interested in Westlake and Eastlake streetcar lines, not Northlake.

      I think all stations should be center-platform, especially transfer stations like Intl Dist. But ST doesn’t think there’ll be enough Eastside-to-airport riders to justify the cost of a center platform there, and is planning a non-revenue turn track that would preclude it. I think that is shortsighted.

    2. 1) Trolley cars are mostly higher capacity street running bus replacements. They don’t get out of traffic but can be useful for some kinds of local service. A surface option will simply not work for the Market/45th corridor. We use “light rail” around Seattle to mean dedicated corridor vehicles.

      The value of the Ballard to UW corridor is not related to its connection to the East Side (which would be nice, eventually) but as to its ability to take a high demand, hour long rush hour trip and turn it into a very high demand, 10 minute (or less) trip.

      The biggest thing you are missing here is not just fast, but fast and the ability to move a lot of people. d.p. is correct when he says there will be a lot more bus transfers that will be facilitated by the spur line, simply because most Seattle bus routes run North/South. The spur line would basically provide a fast link to almost anyone who lives in NW Seattle.

      The problem comes in when we have to consider the other parts of the city left out of this. We would need to build the east-west line in a way that would allow additional north/south lines and we may need to begin some of that north/south treatment at the same time (at least in the downtown portion).

      2) ST tends to be required to study these corridors in isolation, but the study teams to speak to each other. No joint station is being built at U-district because it was not in the design scope of the project. We need to advocate strongly to make sure that is not the case in the future.

  17. If we’re going to fight out which line to build first, let’s make it interesting. Whatever line can come up with the most buildable capacity through upzoning around stations wins.

      1. You won’t know until you ask. Want a subway to downtown? Then let the main street, and a block to each side, grow tall. It doesn’t have to even effect most SF homes – since Phinney is at the top of the hill it won’t affect views.

      2. There are many, many places around the city where asking that question first would have been huge. A certain neighborhood named for a former president and housing the place where I went to high school comes to mind.

  18. Building the ballard spur first would create a much greater chance for ST to afford some portion of the light rail line to West Seattle in ST3, would it not?

    And further you could then run ballard-W.Seattle trains via the 3rd. ave. tunnel and need no new tunnels downtown. you get a train every 6 minutes from ballard to W.S. and back. Seems pretty reasonable. (maybe just make the new stations 5 or 6 cars long as your frequency limits will long term cause capacity problems.

  19. Out of curiosity, why exactly would you have to interline with north link at all? Just build C3 as a subway with a transfer from North Link with expansion possibility to Corridor A or D and, hopefully, expansion possibilities to points north along 15th Ave W and Aurora. Oh and build it in any order you want, as long as you do it NOW.

    1. We will still have to find a place to store the trains. Not to say that means we should actually interline these, but finding a place to store trains is a problem that needs solving for the east-west line.

      1. It’s my understanding that despite not being on the maps, each corridor including, Ballard to UW, was studied with separate O&M facilities. The Central Link facility is scheduled to be at capacity with the current number of vehicles for the under-construction lines.

      2. Where does this understanding come from? I saw no such indication anywhere in the studies nor from anyone at the open houses. Nothing at all was said about O&M facilities, and yet they will be required and could derail any one of these projects if a reasonable location for one cannot be selected.

      3. I specifically overheard a Sound Transit employee discuss possible locations in the Fre-lard industrial area as a likely O&M facility sites for Corridors D & E at the Ballard Open House, and Interbay as one likely O&M facility location for Corridors A, B, C.

    2. an east-west line only needs to have a non-revenue connection track to Central Link … then the trains themselves can be stored in any of the other yards.

  20. I still support C1 over any of the A options.

    Comparable price, hits 2 more important pedestrian centers, still fully reserved ROW, higher ridership, and only a 2 minute time difference. 11 minutes Ballard to UW is really damn good – screwing over Fremont in order to make it 9 minutes is just getting greedy.

    It’s not underground so it’s not as sexy, but it’s not sharing lanes with cars anywhere so it should be just as reliable.

    Someone needs to sell me on why the A options are inherently superior to the C options.

    1. i like the C1 routing. I just would prefer if it were underground so it doesn’t run into the same issues as Portland MAX eventually. It should be a 100 year investment, not a band-aid.

      1. My understanding is that the MAX issues are mostly related to unnecessarily short stop spacing, shared ROW segments, and limited train length on their tiny downtown blocks? Someone can clarify if I’m wrong. If we do the surface-running segment Sound Transit style, allowing cross-streets to be blocked at minor intersections, keeping the train moving anywhere there isn’t a significant ridership demand, and never sharing a vehicle lane, we should avoid all those pitfalls in perpetuity.

        I would also advocate for gating the crossings at intersections, because it would ease regulatory hurdles for increased train speed and eventual automation.

      2. “Allowing cross-streets to be blocked at minor intersections” is always tragic for pedestrian travel.

      3. We did it all over on MLK, but I don’t think it’s actually necessary anywhere except if a stop is located on a short block where the train would hang out into an intersection. Good stop placement would avoid this entirely… I’m just pointing out there’s a reasonable design solution to tiny blocks that does not involve MAX-style 2-car or 1-car trains.

      4. Right, but I don’t recall hearing that MLK was an extremely walkable, thriving neighborhood commercial zone with parades, shops, restaurants, bars, etc. You want to bisect that without keeping a connected street grid? It’s ok if you do, we can agree to disagree. I think it’s a awful idea, but it’s possible.

      5. No, no, no, I’m not saying bisect it and disconnect the street grid.

        I’m saying in the unlikely event that we end up with a stop located right on a block too short for a train, we obstruct one single street crossing to make it possible, rather than go the MAX route and shorten the trains.

      6. It’s either bisect most of 36th street like LINK on MLK or Portland MAX style transit where there is a traffic crossing every block. Both options are awful for a 100-year investment.

    2. Its not about speed from Ballard to UW, its about inter-modal connections. made possible by going north of Fremont. You can obtain access to the zoo, north Fremont and have access to two major bus lines (5 & Rapid E) by going with the north routing. It also follows a well established bus route with existing ridership.

      Fremont will still have a very fast bus connection to the Ballard line and we would likely also build an additional N/S line of some kind in the future that would also serve Fremont more directly.

      1. It seems to me that there are equally important inter-modal connections to be made right at/near the Fremont Bridge (although how the Murray SDOT handles the TMP and potential new ship canal crossing could change the ideal location for a Fremont intermodal transfer). I will also freely admit that I don’t see a whole lot of value in zoo access, but seeing the right numbers might sway me on that.

        And I am just as upset that the 5 & E don’t have a downtown Fremont stop as I am that the A options bypass downtown Fremont

        However, perhaps the 200 million price difference (plus whatever more for A4) between A1 and C1 could go towards widening the Aurora Bridge for bus platforms on Aurora above 35th, with elevators to the street below. That would actually FIX the E-line Fremont access problem, instead of doubling-down on it by diverting the rail line to an existing E-line stop.

        I also feel the future additional N/S lines would benefit from having existing trackage in Fremont and on Leary or Stone – it might help get them built faster.

    3. Elevated on 45th won’t fly. Wallingford and the U-District will fight any such notion hard.

      If C1 is to be built it will have to be in a tunnel between Wallingford and the U-District. I’m also skeptical of the ability to get an exclusive lane through Fremont or that the train won’t be held up substatially by traffic from bridge openings.

      The “a4” alignment under discussion by some here would be C1 but in a tunnel. The oration west of central Fremont could be on the surface but I’m not sure there would be much cost savings.

      1. If elevated can’t be done, then it can’t be done and that’s that. Tunneling under 45th on C1 would probably be a budget buster, since the surface portions of it are already substantially expensive. I am curious exactly how hard they would fight it, and how effective their opposition would be – I feel like their need for rapid transit and an alternative to the hellishly slow/unreliable 44 might trump any appearance concerns. The Rainier Valley fought surface running pretty damn hard, but it still got built in the end.

        The ROW is there for dedicated lanes. If we lose the street parking and the center suicide lane, we have almost all the room we need. The rest of the space needed can be purchased, most of the narrow ROW areas and cornering areas have older parking-oriented single-story retail structures bordering the road that are easy acquisitions.

        A4, from my look at it, seems more like A1 with infill stations rather than C1 in a tunnel. It never goes south of 45th, turns to the northwest above Fremont, and completely ignores the zoned-for-redevelopment node in SE Ballard.

      2. Elevated on 45th would bring out the pitchforks and torches. UDPA, merchant’s associations in both Wallingford and the U-District, Wallingford Community Council, and a fair number of individual residents and businesses would all oppose a surface or elevated alignment on 45th. I doubt the UW would be pleased either. The politically well-connected owners of the Neptune aren’t going to be happy with an elevated station blocking their marquee. Wallingford has a number of politically well connected residents you don’t want to piss off either.

        As for alignments I was thinking ‘A4’ was the tunneled option with a lower Wallingford stop. Perhaps we should start calling that ‘C2’.

      3. @Chris. There are two options:

        -A4: (“Ballard Spur”) straight-ish line tunnel along 45th/market without lower Fremont

        -C1[B]: ([B] because it’s proposed on this blog, not by Sound Transit) a sideways S-shape tunneled line that hits Wallingford/45th-ish and 36th/Fremont-ish then takes Leary to Ballard. Favored if we don’t ever build corridor D because it provides grade-separated service to lower Fremont and 45th/Wallingford.

      4. @Ben. Exactly. I with there were an easier, cheaper way. I really like elevated transit. It tends to be cheap, fast and fun to ride. But I just don’t think it would work here. Likewise, any surface option through any of the congestion points (Fremont, Ballard, the UW, underneath the freeway, etc.) is bound to fail, unless someone can do some fancy trading. For example, take over Northlake Way and Canal Street. But that runs out of room and ends up having to merge with Leary Way. Worse yet, it gets really congested getting to a station in the U-District, which means you would have to do some tunneling. Who knows, you might be able to put a train over the Burke Gilman. I would feel better if I felt like Sound Transit discussed all of the options, and told us why ideas like that won’t work. For now, I must assume they won’t, and we should work with the ideas they have, which, in a nutshell, are the ideas you mention.

        As to which is better, it is really hard to say. The zoo (for want of a better name) has better connectivity to buses and is probably a bit cheaper to build, but Fremont is a more popular spot. I don’t have a strong preference, which is why I blurred the distinction in my post.

    4. “11 minutes” for C1 is a whole-cloth fiction. ST should be embarrassed to have included that number, as it might (rightfully) make readers suspicious of the document’s other assumptions and deductive reasoning.

      That route is 16-20 minutes with 100% signal priority, with Fremont/34th traffic blocked off in all directions 2 minutes before any train comes through, and with Fremont Bridge openings restricted to the middle of the night.

      In reality, with its many potential interference points, 90-degree turns, and an extra 1.5 miles in street-following length, C1 might be slower than the 44.

      1. Aah, the reasonable, measured, optimistic d.p. assessments I’ve grown to love.

        If you’re worried about Fremont/34th bridge traffic blocking the tracks, I have two words for you: Photo Enforcement. Problem solved.

        Your 90º turns? Adjacent to surface parking lots and old demolishable single story parking-oriented retail, easily acquirable to make graceful, sweeping turns at moderate speed.

        Slower than the 44? Now you’re just bullshitting.

      2. You haven’t ever been to Fremont, I guess, and you’ve certainly never seen a midday or 6pm bridge opening. If you want to claim 100% signal priority, you’d better be prepared to shut off traffic in all directions for minutes at a time, and to prevent — in violation of maritime law — a bridge opening anytime a train is moving toward Fremont from anywhere on the line.

        Demolishable parking-oriented retail? There’s a relatively new 3-story office building flush with the corner at 45th and Stone. And you’re basically arguing to demolish the heart of central Fremont, whose buildings are low, yet old and skinny and certainly not the kind of thing we should be demolishing for crawling surface trains.

        I’ve driven every one of those proposed C1 streets, late at night and without hitting more than 1 or 2 red lights. I know the area like the back of my hand. This would be a 14-minute proposal even if the damn train never stopped for passengers. You couldn’t follow that whole suggested route in 11 minutes if you had a flying car.

        The 44 runs for 3.1 miles along the proposed segment, with many obstructions. Your precious C1 runs for 4.6 miles along its proposed routes, with many turns and fewer obstructions, including obstructions that no amount of engineering or political will are going to prevent.

        Slower that the 44 is quite likely, in fact.

        But you clearly know nothing of the route in question.

      3. [ad hom]… In what universe can a surface route travel 1.5 extra miles, make a ton of tight turns, and only take “a couple of extra minutes”?

        I can’t believe this “11 minute” falsehood is even up for debate.

      4. @d.p combining profanity and vehemence makes the forum feel uncomfortable and disreputable. I may not be a moderator, but I think I have the right to request a modicum of respect.

      5. Perhaps the profanity went too far. The vehemence did not.

        A 4.6-mile street-adhering surface line will never run at the same average speed as a 3.1-mile fully grade-separate tunnel.

        The “C1 takes just a couple of extra minutes” position is premised on an impossibility. Lack Thereof continues to restate that impossibility, thus demanding repeated refutation.

        Sorry for the cursing/ad hom.

  21. I call myself Sirk, short for Circulator, and Wells.
    My perspective is ‘streetcar’ short-line transit arrangements, bus, monorail, horse cart (Oahu LRT ‘not named yet’).
    Link is a jinx when parking garage transit bus center ‘collaborations’ lay waste once-fertile plains.
    Sound Transit is well below world/national standards.
    Put Bertha F’n down.

  22. Thanks for the write up and shout out Ross, we clearly are in agreement on this. You should hit me up at – lots of work to do right now. Same goes for anyone else who wants to help.

    Notes: Others have mentioned it, but my understanding is that interlining won’t happen. Lots of devate about why, but that appears to be the way it is. That said – the line is still the clear winner if we have to pick a rail line that ST has studied. Hopefully it won’t come to that and ST will get funding authority for a massive ST3 package, but we need to start planning for contingencies.

    The 2016 ballot MUST have a Seattle transit package on it. The time to start work on options and to align support is now.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate it. As I said, the lack of interlining isn’t a deal breaker. It might even make for a better system overall (if we get two minute headways from the north). As I said in one of the comments (somewhere in this soup) I think it is essential, though to get interlining for a Ballard to Downtown line, if we build one. Without it, the Belltown station loses a lot of its value.

      1. Ross, interlining Ballard/Downtown with the current DSTT is even less likely than interlining UW/Ballard with North Link. Much more likely would be a separate tunnel between 2nd & Pike and the ID.

  23. Before making decisions like this and acting like the lower Queen Anne/Belltown area is well served – it’s not. That stupid Rapid Ride crap skips so damn many stops in Belltown it is virtually useless, and there are a TON of people who live and work in that area. And now with the reduced total number of stops so they can reroute Mercer, close Broad, etc., that area NEEDS better transit like no ones business.

    1. But haven’t you heard? Belltown, Uptown, and Upper Queen Anne have a lot of bus service so they don’t need rail. (by that argument Ballard, Capitol Hill, the U-District, and Northgate don’t need rail either)

      Besides those neighborhoods are less important to serve with transit than Milton or Fife. The only neighborhoods that matter are Ballard, Upper Fremont, and Wallingford!

    2. I’ve always thought that the routes that demand a lot of bus service are the places we should put rail. Call me crazy.

      1. Incorrect. If you’re just talking about the downtown routes, the 44 has about half the ridership of the 1, 2N, 13, and the part of RR D that’s attributable to LQA. If you add the 8 to LQA, the picture gets even more lopsided.

        d.p. is just plain too pessimistic about LQA/Uptown. No, it’s not Summit, but it’s a fairly busy place, particularly given its size. There’s a good debate to be had about these two corridors, but it’s just not right to dismiss a line to Uptown and Belltown as ipso facto worthless.

      2. I never said that Uptown was a bad idea, or that nothing whatsoever happens there. Indeed, I explicitly said otherwise. It is unquestionably a place of urbanity… merely an overall smaller and less dense aurbanity than many here seem to believe, and arranged around a vortex of underutilized civic space.

        The bus comparisons are a bit irrelevant, because of course we’re not talking only about the catchment of today’s lethargic and limited-purpose 44. We’re talking about all of the pent-up east-west demand that drives everywhere today, because as fucked as traffic is, the transit situation is so much worse. We’re talking about all of the various North->downtown and North->Capitol Hill trips that the 44 can’t begin to aid at its current level of quality, and that a north-south subway would similarly fail to help with its limited catchment area and poor connections.

        While LQA buses are by no means fast, market share is exceedingly high because hopping between there and downtown is not much slower than driving, and thanks to the constant stream of buses, no less convenient than retrieving your car from the garages that most LQA buildings have. (This is also why RapidRide shows disproportionately high usage on the LQA detour — RR’s shittiness as a Ballard offering depresses ridership from the north. That detour is a textbook example of an opportunity cost, and of drawing false conclusions from present usage patterns.)

        There is indeed a good debate to be had here. It just so happens that the much more expensive line, which achieves less dramatic improvements in “total mobility” while earning weak ridership for the money spent, loses that debate!

  24. If you’re going to Ballard, why not continue on to Golden Gardens (ala the Rockaway ‘A’ train in NYC)?

    I like this proposal because it’s destination oriented.

    Anyone who gets on the system…even at the furthest outreaches of Angle Lake…is “in the system”.

    Suddenly, Fremont Zoo is everyone’s Zoo.
    Bellevue is everyone’s job center.
    Capitol Hill is everyone’s funhouse.

    This is what the Urbanists and Downtown Syndicates have feared…low cost housing with access to all the amenities.

    But this is the future. This is the way it must be.

    LINK “makes more Seattle” through virtualization.

    1. In an ultra-ideal world it would go to Golden Gardens. But we have limited funding and competing transit needs. All-day buses to Golden Gardens were tried before and had extremely low ridership. Meanwhile tens of thousands of people in Ballard, Fremont, and Lake City need high-capacity transit now.

      “More Seattle” means bringing medium density to Angle Lake, Kent-Des Moines, and Lynnwood’s downtown periphery (its center should be highrise). Are you ready for it?

    2. I for one would be fine with increasing density in the city centers of our major suburban hubs. We don’t need more single family housing chewing into the farmland or forests though.

    3. My interpretation of Bailo’s statement: Don’t beef up the specific existing transit lines that are overloaded and overcrowded, instead build new lines from places where people don’t use transit to destinations they don’t go to.

  25. Closing the loop with a UW/Ballard “spur” plus a Ballard to downtown run is attractive. Glasgow has two “ring” trains – one line running clockwise, one counterclockwise. It makes it very simple to get around and also allows very frequent trains since they always run in the same direction. Having a wheel “rim” around the city with “spokes” to outlying areas would offer speedy and simple service to a large area of the city.

  26. if the spur is built … it shouldn’t connect to central link at Brooklyn station.

    Line should go from Golden Gardens/Shilshole Marina area through Ballard, Freemont, Wallingford, U District, U Villiage, Childrens Hospital / Laurelhurst, Magneuson Park.

    From there it could then be extended towards Lake City/Bothell/etc …

    Then this line would connect with Central Link / East Link at Brooklyn and could share ROW/track from Ballard to Fremont with the new line that would head downtown via Queen Anne and then continue on to Georgetown, South Park, White Center, Fauntleroy, West Seattle, etc (in whichever direction is deemed appropriate)

    That and a bypass line by Boeing field that would skip the MLK segment and connect by SODO on what is now the busway

    (either that or you have a junction from the West Seattle – Ballard line that will split off and join Central Link south of Boeing Field.

  27. Geology comment.

    I dug up the latest map of Seattle geology I could find:

    UW to Ballard is *EASY* geology. Contrast the tricky mess at First Hill, or the complications with any Ship Canal crossing.

    Technically speaking, UW-Ballard is a good place for a tunnel. It’s definitely possible to build a grade-separated junction out of the existing North Link line and it should be done ASAP.

    1. Regarding interlining:

      — Build a grade-separated underground junction. Honestly, it’s not THAT hard. One tube has to fly over or under the North Link mainline somewhere; the other can just branch at grade. Given how deep North Link is, it may be possible to fly over, but diving under is perfectly straightforward too.

      If the junction (just the junction, not the rest of the line) can be built before North Link opens, most of the construction problems are entirely straightforward. If you have to try to build it while North Link is running, it’s a pain. This means there’s some urgency about this.

  28. I agree that we need the Ballard-UW line, but not until we have a Downtown-Ballard via Belltown and Lower Queen Anne. Belltown is one of the most dense (if not densest) neighborhood in the city. Lower Queen Anne is also a neighborhood that needs to be connected with the Seattle Center nearby. A well placed station in Belltown and in lower Queen Anne/Seattle Center will add significant ridership to the lines.

    1. Except that they won’t, per the very studies done for the north-south line, and for many reasons detailed throughout this discussion.

      The ridership gains from these two stops are surprisingly weak for the extra billions that this line would cost. Only the “Cadillac plan” manages to garner more ridership than the east-west line, and not by much. (But it’s almost twice the price.)

  29. Ben claimed that LRT could get between Ballard and downtown in 9 minutes. None of the routes ST has looked at go that fast.

    I thought it was a no-brainer that a Ballard spur beats the direct Ballard-downtown line. I’m puzzled that this is news.

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