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Last year I was in Olympia for transportation lobby day and I heard something absolutely stupefying. A State Senator advocated for light rail on the Sammamish Plateau. My thought at the time was that a streetcar would be more than enough to serve all of Sammamish transit needs for the foreseeable future. Since then I have learned a great deal about different transit technologies and how the geography of Sammamish makes implementation difficult.

How steep the hills are, both going up to the plateau and internally in the city of Sammamish, precludes all streetcars and cheaper surface light rail alignments (many steep areas are over a 9% grade and some points over 15%). The alternative in my view is a gondola which would uniquely serve trips between Sammamish and Bellevue.

Why Serve Sammamish?

At first glance Sammamish seems to be the exact opposite of the kind of community one would want to serve with transit. It is not dense, nor walkable, bikeable, transit dependent or lower income. People tend to live in houses with two car garages and drive everywhere. An aerial picture of Sammamish could be in the dictionary next to the word sprawl.

The problem is that Sammamish is not going to go away anytime soon. Right now they have a surplus, “AAA” rated bonds and host national events at Sahalee CC (Most recently the 2010 U.S. Senior Open). Furthermore they are part of Sound Transit’s tax district and will feel entitled to some transit in the future. Indeed the Eastside members of the Sound Transit board are already advocating for them to get better coverage in the long range plan.

It’s a matter of opportunity costs in my view. Assuming that people continue to live there and we must serve them with transit, then we want to serve them with high quality transit, so that they won’t feel the need to advocate for more expensive options like Light Rail or high quality BRT.

What are Sammamish’s Transit Problems?

Immediately the problem is that the current transit situation is awful. The 927 was providing the only midday service to Sammamish and only served the center of the city on 2 hour headways because of having two tails. It was the kind of slow, circuitous and infrequent route that gives transit a bad name. However now that it is gone there is a gap between 10AM and 3PM, and on weekends, where there is no service at all. This is a problem because it strands the young, poor and transit dependent people of Sammamish. (I know they exist because I was one.)

Other buses currently serve the area. The 216, 217, 218 are peak expresses to Seattle via I-90. The 554 operates as an early morning and late night alternative for those moving in the peak direction. The only local is the 269 which goes between Microsoft’s campus in Overlake and Issaquah TC. As the core bus service in the area the 269 ought to run all day at reasonable frequencies. However 269 improvements won’t satisfy Sammamish residents. (Also the 269 must be a hard route on the buses due to the hills involved.)

The alternatives to local buses are constrained by geography. The grades are a problem I’ve already mentioned, another problem is the lake. As the crow flies Crossroads mall is the closest to central Sammamish. But Redmond and Issaquah are faster trips because Lake Sammamish creates an over 7 mile gap in east-west transportation.

So what Sammamish needs is a transit system unconstrained by steep grades, that can hook it into Link and Metro’s frequent bus network (such as Rapidride B), and ideally provide a way to bridge this transportation gap as cost effectively as possible. I think a 3S gondola on the route shown above could do that.

Benefits of a Gondola

The proposed gondola would travel from Sammamish, with a station around NE 8th ST and 228th Ave, to Crossroads Mall, with a station at about NE 8th ST and 156th and from there it would continue to Downtown Bellevue going few degrees south at each tower in order to get to Downtown Bellevue Link Station.

The station vicinity in Sammamish has a grocery store, several apartment complexes (one being the only current mixed use area in Sammamish), a teen center, and even some townhouses.

Along the way the gondola would cross Lake Sammamish requiring a span between towers of slightly less than 3 KM (about 1.85 miles); which while an impressive distance, is slightly shorter than the tower distance on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola at Whistler.

Because a 3S gondola is required for the cross lake span, you also get the benefits of the higher speeds. The travel time from Sammamish to Crossroads (assuming a gondola run at 18 MPH) would be cut down to 15 minutes and Sammamish to Downtown Bellevue would be 26 minutes.

Compare this to the current fastest bus trip of 49 minutes from Bellevue TC to Sammamish with most trips being closer to an hour. Also compare 46 minutes from Crossroads mall to Sammamish with most trips taking an 1 and 10 minutes or more. Even the Crossroads to Downtown Bellevue time of 9 mins is faster than the B Line which is can get point to point in 15 minutes and usually takes around 20.

In simpler terms it doesn’t matter how much faster the buses go (in a potential Sammamish BRT system) because they have to go around the lake. Even against driving the gondola is faster between Sammamish and Crossroads Mall and time competitive to Downtown Bellevue and probably faster if there’s traffic on I-405.

The last wonderful thing about gondolas is they are remarkably cost effective. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola was only $57 Million. Of course the Sammamish Gondola would be on a different scale entirely,  it would be more than twice as long, feature an intermediate station and would have to account for land acquisition costs for towers (likely over a dozen of them), air rights over property owners (including wealthy lakeside homeowners) and lawsuits from people who don’t like the idea of a gondola going over their (previously) private suburban houses.

This project would cheap enough to be done as a joint effort by the cities of Bellevue and Sammamish and cost efficient enough to be done by Sound Transit. The strengths of gondolas makes them ideal for projects that no other kind of transit can handle.

Special thanks to gondola expert enthusiast  and all around good guy Matt Gangemi for his help in writing this.

46 Replies to “The solution to Sammamish’s Transit Problems is a Gondola”

  1. How much is the cable going to sag for the crossing of Lake Sammamish?
    Would the towers on each side of the lake be built uphill a bit to reduce the tower height and get more height over the lake? If so, is that added distance included in your 3km span?
    How does the speed of the gondola compare to RR-B between Crossroads and BTC?

    1. The towers would likely be built on the hillsides to allow for some sag, but you would still need towers to get over the houses in the area. But even with towers the sag would have to be less than the peak 2 peak gondola. But I did include the hillside tower placement in the distance.

      “Even the Crossroads to Downtown Bellevue time of 9 mins (for the Gondola) is faster than the B Line which is can get point to point in 15 minutes and usually takes around 20.”

  2. Disregarding cost, feasibility, NIMBYism, etc., a gondola across Lake Sammamish would be a great tourist draw. The final approach to Bellevue (and its growing skyline) would also be great for pictures.

  3. Just because it’s shorter than the Peak2Peak doesn’t mean the cross lake span is feasible. The Peak2Peak descends something like 1000 feet in its unsupported span, so unless you’re prepared to build some space needle replicas I’d question the idea that you can cross it without some towers in the lake.

    I’d suggest as an alternative route crossing at 24th where the lake is narrower, connecting to Link in the Overlake and having a corner station on East Lake Sammamish before heading to the plateau. Ideally it would follow Inglewood from there but that may be too curvy and it may have to cut across a bunch of backyards.

    1. This idea already cuts across many backyards. That is inevitable for a Sammamish Gondola, I responded to ending in Overlake below, but in sum it wouldn’t have the travel time improvements and would be an improvement over a bus.

      As for the towers, I don’t know how high they would have to be to cross the lake; but that may indeed be the thing that stops this. Still my guess is that towers would be cheaper and more feasible than something like tunneled light rail and more politically viable than a bridge.

  4. I… can’t… even…

    Why don’t you go look up the total lengths covered by any recent gondola project in the world that aims to function as mass transportation.

    Go on, look them up.

    (Because why would anyone take a highway express-lane bus at 60 mph when one can amble in a pod at 10 mph for 30-40 minutes with a view of gas stations and Chipotles?)

    And people wonder why it’s a terrible idea to allow “long-range” dreams of massive capital projects to nowhere. It encourages theorizing-from-astounding-ignorance. The superlative Seattle pastime.

    1. But, d.p., this trip will take 26 minutes – not forty! That’s quite comparable with total trip time in a private car, ignoring traffic! (21 minutes, on Google Maps. Also compare a current 49 minutes by bus.) The thing is that anything else – express bus, car, light rail – would need to go all the way around the lake. The gondola gets around that.

      Seriously, where is our “astounding ignorance” here?

      1. Real trips are origin->destination, not station to station. The 26 minutes is in addition to however long it takes to drive from home to the gondola station, plus however long it takes to wait for a connecting bus on the other end.

      2. True, we can’t compare the gondola to a car exactly. But a car without traffic represents what an ideal bus can do if totally grade-separated. So, d.p.’s 60-mile-per-hour buses wouldn’t actually be any better than this gondola, unless they happen to stop closer to someone’s house… and additional stops will simply slow them down more. Despite its slow speed, this gondola is the optimal solution to connecting Sammamish and Bellevue.

        Now I’m not necessarily advocating building this thing. If Sammamish wants to fund it, great. Yet, since there’s hardly any reason for anyone else to go to Sammamish, I wouldn’t want Bellevue to contribute a single dollar to the thing, nor for this to be anywhere near the center of an ST package. Still, we should recognize this is the ideal in terms of travel time.

      3. I feel 50/50 Bellevue Sammamish would be fair because Bellevue would reap sales tax benefits from Sammamish residents shopping there. Especially in the Crossroads area.

      4. Given that Bellevue already has a lock on the vast majority of major shopping excursions from Sammamish, I’m sure they’ll get right on with ponying up hundreds of millions of dollars for a thing their own residents will never, ever use.

      5. Bellevue doesn’t have a lock on “the vast majority of major shopping excursions from Sammamish”. Routine shopping for groceries or drugs can easily be done on the plateau. For Home Depot, go to Redmond or Issaquah; for Target go to Redmond; for Costco go to Issaquah. Clothes shopping can be done at Redmond Town Center unless you have to go to a high-end shop in Bellevue Square or the Bravern. One possible reason to go shopping in Bellevue is for car shopping, in which case you’ll drive both ways (or at least one).

        I don’t think Bellevue would gain a lot of sales tax revenue from this. There won’t be any reason for Bellevuites to go to Sammamish unless Sammamish gets more and better restaurants. I don’t see why Bellevue would be interested in contributing to this.

    2. This post is like confusing the 8 with a real BRT system. An S3 gondola would be more expensive then the systems used in South America, but it would also be real transit solution that at 16 to 18 MPH would be faster then a psudo-BRT, such as Rapidride.

      We need aspirational transit posts to consider unusual possibilities, to inspire new transit activists and eventually to get the best ideas turned into a better transit system for everybody.

      Gas stations and Chipotles is the urban part. The pretty part is over the lake. Take a 554 out to Issaquah sometime and spend a little time on Lake Sammamish. I think you would find it rather pretty, but there is no accounting for taste.

      1. I’ll second finding Lake Sammamish pretty. I was actually out there just this afternoon biking around the lake, and coming down SE 26th St was gorgeous.

      2. Lake Sammamish is very pretty. I could probably rent a Zipcar to drive in a loop around it every day for the rest of my life for a tiny fraction of what this “S3” would cost.

        (More expensive than the South American version, which is generally extolled for its cheapness rather than its quality, is a good thing now?)

        So where along the lakeshore do you intend to plop the massive, hideous parking lot to which you expect every Sammamishianite to drive every day?

      3. According to the map, the Sammamish station would be near NE 8th & 228th NE, nowhere near the lakeshore. There are already a couple of large parking lots there, although I doubt the shopping centers would appreciate commuters using the lots.

        If Sammaish has a center, this intersection is probably it.

      4. aw, You would have to get land to build a Station in the first place so I imagine that the P&R would be built right into the station. WIth some parking reserved to compensate local retail.

        d.p., You could probably rent that Zipcar for the cost of this, but that really misses the point of Public Transportation, instead of the private benefit you you seeing Lake Sammamish every day, there are thousands of people would go across the Lake everyday for both work and shopping.

        Indeed over a thousand already work in Downtown Bellevue.

        A cheap Gondola wouldn’t be able to do what an 3S gondola does in terms of speed and distance between towers. It’s only the recent technical advancements that make this idea possible at all.

      5. Read my essay-length response below.

        It doesn’t matter what the improved technology makes “possible”, if your route is a solution in search of a problem.

        The whole point of urban-peripheral mass-transit gondolas has been to transport tens of thousands of otherwise-disconnected people relatively short distances that topography has made difficult to otherwise bridge.

        A thousand Sammamianishers, meanwhile, can easily fit on a dozen rush hour buses plying roads that already exist. Buses that actually do a better job of collecting them nearer to their homes.

  5. While line on a map look great on paper, given the larger distances involved (not to mention extreme nimbyism), I would be shocked if a gondola there would ever prove feasible.

    I agree that residents of Sammamish pay taxes to Sound Transit and deserve something for their money that doesn’t involving driving 5-10 miles just to get to a P&R with bus service. However, a gondola seems quite excessive for the ridership it would produce when we can’t even get a gondola built between South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, where it would be infinitely more useful.

    A realistic transit goal that Sammamish should be aiming for more is getting more 554’s and, perhaps, a few peak-hour 545’s, extended to serve the city. That and getting the 927 restored, but in a modified form to make it more useful. The prior 927, before it was cut, had horribly timed connections with the 554 that often required 25-minute waits at Issaquah Transit Center in both directions. On top of that, it took a circuitous route between Sammamish and the transit center, and squandered a good chunk of its service hours through Issaquah, south of I-90, a corridor that already has service on the 208, 271, and 554. A bus route that is set up to treat it’s customers like crap is, not surprisingly, going to get extremely crappy ridership.

    1. I agree that this would be over kill for most of Sammamish’s needs. The technology is mandated by the route. A less capable gondola wouldn’t span the lake. So the tech options are bus or 3S.

      The 554 and 545 are exactly the wrong type of route. Sammamish needs a better local.

      The 927 was about the worst possible route. It turned a 30 minute peak ride from my house to Bellevue College into an over 2 hour slog. Long, circuitous, infrequent, slow. Any new route should be different enough from the 927 to warrant a different route number.

      An all day, frequent (15 min headway) 269 with an all day parallel Sound Transit express hourly would be a huge improvement.

  6. We need more out-of-the-box ideas, and even if this line isn’t literally feasable, it helps get people thinking of alternatives. And that’s part of what Page 2 is for. As for this gondola, I’d suggest making Sammamish to Crossroads the primary segment, and Crossroads to downtown Bellevue as an optional extension. Because in Bellevue it overlaps with RapidRide B and seems redundant. Not everybody is going to downtown Bellevue. In fact, downtown Bellevue is probably less of a universal destination for the Eastside than downtown Seattle is for the west side. But this line does need a strong western terminus and transfer connections, so how about turning north to Overlake Village Link station? Can gondolas turn? If not, just angle to Overlake and skip Crossroads, because it’s not like Crossroads is much more of a destination than Overlake.

    1. Gondolas can turn just fine at stations using a double bullwheel.

      I thought that Downtown Bellevue would be a stronger destination and would allow transfers straight to Link. Sammamish residents that wouldn’t care to go to Crossroads would have their interest piqued by the amenities in Downtown Bellevue.

      Overlake also offers Link transfers, but would already be the destination of an improved and/or ST express version of the 269 and doesn’t offer shorter travel times then a bus or car.

      Again with traffic this Gondola is the fastest way to Downtown Bellevue every time, even over cars and that advantage is significant enough to get people to shift to using this IMO. Even if it means a P&R at the Sammamish end.

      If I was going to expand this Gondola I would expand it to terminate at South Sammamish P&R by heading south at the Sammamish end to capture more of the city. With intermediate stations at City Hall, and Sammamish Town Center (if that ever gets built)

      From the Bellevue end you could head East and cross Lake Washington to Capitol Hill. Though if you do that you might have to skip out on Bellevue Link Station.

    2. Peyton, Mike, William,

      I’m not trying to be an STB Ogre here. I mostly ignore Page 2 because it’s fringe/”aspirational”/bounds-of-logic-testing exercises are so tangential to the real conversations the region needs to be having, and I wouldn’t have even noticed this post had it not tracked back to the Regional Insanity Map and posited itself as an extension of such thinking.

      It’s not that we don’t need and can’t apply creative ideas — the Ballard Spur sprung into many independent minds as an alternative to the presumed radial approach to the NW Seattle problem, and studies have now confirmed its advantageous metrics; meanwhile, I genuinely believe the Route 8 Gondola has a shot at becoming a sensible proposal. It’s that new ideas have to exist in conversation with reality, or else they’re basically children playing with crayons. Anti-transit forces don’t need to be given more reasons to treat functional transit as antithetical to the world of grownups.

      What steams me enough to invite my maelstrom into the comments is thinking like this:

      The technology is mandated by the route.

      No. It isn’t.

      You route is mandated by your craving for technology. Because even if the lake vanished in a freak evaporation tomorrow, there still wouldn’t be any reason for any sort of high-capital-cost mass transportation to Sammamish’s glorious undulating sprawl.

      But you drew a straight line, called it a “route”, and then miraculously “found” that this “technology” would be “competitive” as long as you wore massive blinders about the diffuse points of origin at one end and the paucity of directly-served destinations at the other.

      Except sometimes you barely lifted a finger to defend your skyward tunnel vision: Riders to Bellevue College, a likely destination for many of the “young and transit-dependent” of Sammamish, and one that is perfectly easy to reach by going around the lake on an improved bus system, would gain nothing from having to backtrack to the Sammamish Highlands Starbucks, crawl across the lake on your “advanced, expensive” technology, and then snake down to the college on the same crappy buses that exist today. (Their crappiness being as much the College’s fault as the transit agencies’, and easily fixable.)


      Lake Sammamish creates an over 7 mile gap in east-west transportation.

      Yes it does. The lake is there. The lake has been there since the Late Pleistocene era. The lake was there when all those people decided to buy into their woodsy suburban dream on the hills of its eastern shore. The lake is why their suburban escape exists as it does, and why it will never be encroached upon by the City of Bellevue.

      Mike has similarly claimed that Kirkland would just be natural continuation of the Madison corridor if Lake Washington didn’t exist. And he’s claimed that our geographical constraints make 25-mile-distant suburbs to the north and south “equivalent” to 10-mile jaunts in the absence of the lakes.

      Well, our other bodies of water exist too, and decades of development history and travel patterns and sub-regional commerce relationships and realities of distance can’t just be summarily ignored because you can kinda-sorta imagine those miles of water being squeezed like a sponge and effortlessly connected with the technology of the week.

      So to summate, if you’re a sprawling exurb with essentially no center of gravity, and defined by your lake, the trade-off just might be having to go around the lake! Sometimes on buses! That then get in express lanes and go other places quite fast!

      It’s just not really a problem that needs to be solved.

      1. D.p.

        Page 2 isn’t completely insane. I did a cost per average weekday boarding analysis for corridors Sound Transit has studied recently ;-)

        I agree a cross-Lake Samammish gondola is insane for any number of reasons. Issaquah to Issaquah Highlands would make much more sense as a potential gondola route if you are looking for a place to deploy gondola technology in that part of the county.

        That said I can think of much better places to try out gondola technology. The 8 corridor for one.

        There is also that proposal to build a privately funded gondola between the Waterfront and Convention Center in the Union Street corridor.

        I agree fundamentally Samammish is likely to remain a sea of cul-de-sacs and single family homes for the foreseeable future. The residents wouldn’t have it any other way.

        I may be a bit more optimistic than d.p. when it comes to the potential TOD and the prospects for HCT serving distant suburbs. However geography can’t be ignored and the geography for Samammish isn’t good, even if the lakes weren’t there.

      2. d.p., Others might call you an ogre, but I’m glad you stumbled on this post, because you have an unrelenting pursuit of perfection and a clear sense of what the areas transit priorities should be. I don’t always agree with you but I value your contributions.

        This is an original proposal because as far as I know I’m the one of the truly few that has thought deeply about transit on the Plateau. I’d much rather have this considered then the multi-billion dollar Sammamish Light Rail that politicians (and what few pro-Sound Transit voters Sammamish currently has) are currently thinking about.

        No doubt that BRT is a better alternative than Light Rail. But I’m not so sure the quality of BRT that Sound Transit wishes to build would be cheaper then this proposal. While I’m confident that this will spur a pocket of density that doesn’t waste resources serving sprawl like a BRT station would (this proposal has 1 Sammamish Station vs at least 8 for a BRT through Sammamish + others north and south in or on the border of Unincorporated King County)

        I want to stop anti-transit forces from getting huge boondoggle proposals in Sammamish (and my standard for boondoggle is much higher than yours) when this could be a distracting scaled down alternative.

        I was referring to how a 3S system is necessary to even think of crossing the lake as opposed to cheaper gondolas. The straight line is necessitated by having a gondola. Matt the Engineer took me to task for having a curvy gondola route on my first attempt.

        The technology came first since I was exploring alternatives to Buses. Then the route. The diffuse points of origin aren’t any worse than other alternative for Sammamish, on the other end Crossroads and Downtown Bellevue are as strong a pair of endpoints as I could ask for. You end up with fast transfers from Crossroads or Downtown Bellevue to a surprising number of places.

        For instance that trip from Sammamish to Bellevue College takes about 45 mins by express bus would take about the same amount of time by this gondola and the local bus assuming the transfer averages 10 minutes or less. Except this would do it all the time instead of only at peak.

        The young and transit dependent of Sammamish don’t have any options at all right now during midday. The substantial infrastructure here would insure the system runs, with some frequency, even in dire economic circumstances.

        I don’t think we should let the lake be a gap if we can bridge it with minimal impact to the natural environment. The lake is still there and it adds to travel time, but it isn’t an impassable object and shouldn’t be treated as such, especially in a purely speculative work.

        Sammamish recognizes its own lack of a center of gravity and has made plans for a town center. Which the center of which will be around Southeast 4th St and 228th Ave.

        I’d dispute that it is defined by the lake anymore than it is defined by the plateau. But I’d agree that Sammamish shouldn’t get high capital infrastructure yet. But if and when the time comes I hope that this is an option that is explored further.

      3. “Sammamish Light Rail”

        What Sammamish light rail? The closest thing I know of is the Issaquah Highlands extension. Sammamishites may be dreaming but they’re not getting it until Issaquah and Kirkland do, and it’s not certain that even they will.

      4. I must admit, Peyton, that your response above is about as thoughtful an exposition as I could possibly have asked for, given that the proposal it expounds upon is still fundamentally fanciful, and also given that I was needling you pretty hard (as is my wont around here).

        Unfortunately, your premise is still fundamentally unsupportable, as even you admit:

        The technology came first since I was exploring alternatives to buses.

        You had no reason to explore those alternatives.

        This is an archetypally, intentionally low-density suburb splayed across undulating topography. That’s what Samammish is, and that’s what Samammish will be. Trying to concentrate tens of thousands of sprawlitizens at a single arbitrary gondola portal is as much a fool’s errand as concentrating them at a foot ferry is as much a fool’s errand as concentrating them at a (fantasy) light rail station.

        The way to serve low-density areas is with buses. Samammish has a longitudinal spine at 228th, and any buses traveling that spine will be in infinitely easier reach to the majority of Sammamisherinianites than any version of a “high-capacity” mode. That’s just one of the reasons that no high-capacity mode will ever be needed or be justified on the plateau. Your plan fails at “door-to-door” trip comparisons, and so would any plan predicated on drawing a Sharpie line and pretending it represents future concentrated demand that far exceeds the evidence.

        Gondolas-as-mass-transit is about connecting large numbers of people where they already are, but have been isolated by physical and/or economic topography. Your plan connects gondolas to where there is almost no one, except very indirectly. That can’t be fixed with a faster gondola.

      5. d.p.,

        The only reason I need to explore an alternative is that it exists and has useful properties not shared by the status quo.

        A gondola has many properties a bus does not, such as steep slope climbing and the ability to cross ground based obsticles, and as such is worth exploring.

        Futhermore this exploration has proven fruitful. Thanks to Eric and Matt I have found that sag would be a serious issue requiring exceptionally tall or lake based towers. This makes the proposal much more expensive and more likely to engender opostion.

        Whose door do you want me to use when I make such comparisons? My Dad’s old address, 15 minutes walking away? A house 5 minutes drive away?

        I used my old work address of 704 228th Ave NE, which is in the strip mall next to the Sammaish station for all travel times and assumed that people would figure to add what ever travel time is required to get to the station.

        I can’t be reasonably be expected to know what distance people will be willing to travel from when they might literally have no other option in walking range.

        If you have a preference or know a best practice please tell me so that I can use it in the future. I aspire to provide the best analysis I can and would like to meet your high standards for travel time estimation if at all possible.

        I don’t know anywhere in the area as isolated by physical topography as the Sammamish Plateau, especially for it’s size. If a gondola isn’t worth considering there then I don’t what physical topography would justify one. Unless you are insistent on ly serving poor highlands or replacing critically overburdened buses.

        One of the goals of this post was to get the wheels turning in the heads of the STB community about transit in Sammamish. Which it has accomplished.

        I have even heard it has reached actual local officials in Sammamish. They of all people ought to be considering all the possibilities to serve their constituents with appropriate mass transit. Even if it ends up being an entirely different route and a cheaper monocable gondola more appropriate to the amount of use it would get.

      6. Bainbridge and Bremerton are easily more isolated for their combined size and flying-crow proximity to Seattle. And believe it or not, a massive cross-Sound causeway+bridge was proposed for them in the ’60s. It was mercifully rejected as likely to induce sprawl (much the way I-90 has in Sammamish).

        I don’t begrudge you your thought experiments. But the fact that you had to use the strip-plaza that is the sole thing in Sammamish resembling a center of gravity in order to find competitive trip-times is telling. That plaza is a significant hike for 95% of the Sammamish population. By contrast, most of the Sammamish population is within easy reach of 228th… where the buses already go, and could stand to go more much often.

        I-90 is the reason a significant population resides in Sammamish. For bus transit, I-90 can easily be made very fast. Thus the source of the problem is also the solution!

        And if rush-hour access to I-90 is unbearably congested, it appears that only tiny sections of 228th and of SE 43rd Way would need to be widened for full-time (or reversible, since travel is so rush-focused) bus lanes. No major purpose-built infrastructure required.

        Any Sammamish pol who envisions a “mass transit” system — be it rail or gondola or any BRT with significant new physical infrastructure in Sammamish proper — is kidding him or herself. The geometry of this bedroom community’s built environment is simply wrong, and geometry is the deciding factor in whether or not high-capacity modes of transit can garner the demand to work properly.

        p.s. I’m just as skeptical of the gondola fetishists as I am of any fetishist for the mode-of-the-week (mixed-traffic streetcars, monorails, self-driving taxis, unicycles). Successful applications of the mode exist, but these successes are defined by the specificity of their situations and service demand. This is real demand. Perhaps this might be too. But the London Olympic Boris-Brand Olympic Gondola is a laughing stock, and the Seattle Garage-2-Ferris Express is fucking offensive.

        And — I truly am sorry — but the Sprawldola is a non-starter.

  7. If you want a direct cut across the lake, how about a 2-3 times an hour ferry run? I could meet buses on the other side.

    1. Ferry terminals would face the same problems as a bridge in displacing lakefront homeowners.

      I have learned to be very cautious in doing anything effecting those people, they have the money to employ very annoying lawyers and tie up projects they don’t like in litigation for years.

      The bike trail is was in court the entire 14 years I lived in Sammamish. It might still be.

  8. I love creative solutions to transportation problems, and I think there are a lot of geography base problems that gondolas can solve. I’m not convinced this would be a great application for gondolas, mostly because I’m not a fan of pushing transit out to the far suburbs (easy transit = more sprawl, whether that easy transit is from roads or gondolas). But if Peyton’s concern about the area spending far more resources and bringing fast transit to them anyway is real (and I haven’t followed this in the slightest), then I’d consider supporting this.


    1. I’d change “gondola expert” to “gondola enthusiast”. I probably don’t qualify for “expert” in many ways, but the lack of a gondola-based paycheck would be a large one.

    2. Sag. At this distance you’d have around 400m of sag (p.15 here). I don’t know the geography of the lake, but that would either be some massively tall towers or tall hills. Another option would be to put towers in the lake, but again I don’t know the depths involved.

    3. Ridership. Limiting this to a park-and-ride would guarantee you a fairly small ridership (even a massive 1,000 car lot only gives you around 1,000 riders). If this was going to happen I’d push for a complete reworking of the area into a dense village. I dislike the idea of dense suburban villages (residents are either completely stuck in their village, or drive everywhere anyway), but I guess it beats a massive parking lot. I suppose you could add a circulator bus to bring people to the station, but using Google Maps it looks like you have a lot of bus-unfriendly cul-de-sac style roads.

    4. Travel time. This would normally be beyond what I’d like to see in a gondola line, since it’s usually only part of the trip and even at 3S speeds that’s a long trip time. That said, it seems like this is faster than the alternatives.

    1. “I dislike the idea of dense suburban villages (residents are either completely stuck in their village, or drive everywhere anyway)”

      Dense suburban villages are better than complete sprawl. At least residents have the choice to walk to some businesses and friend’s houses, and visitors can park in one place and do multiple things in the village. In sprawl you can’t do either of those because it’s too far to walk to anything.

      1. Oh, I’d certainly prefer living in a suburban village than a suburban cul-de-sac. But when deciding how to spend our resources and design our land use I’d much rather put the dense stuff closer to where the jobs are. There’s no real benefit of a Sammamish village over a Bellevue village or better a Seattle village, and even if we can serve this commute well with transit we’re still locking everyone into this commute.

        Then there’s the future, where eventually these villages grow enough to have jobs, and people move even further out into the suburbs of the far suburbs and commute in because land there is cheaper…

        Anyway, there are much, much worse land use choices we can make (and are making) than suburban villages, so I tend to just let these go.

    2. That sag was much worse than I expected.

      The elevations of the tower locations I was using are about 86 meters on the Bellevue side and 70 meters on the Sammamish side. Assuming you want at least 15 meters (50 feet) of clearance off the lake you are looking at a pair of towers that are 340 and 355 meters high respectively.

      For reference Space Needle replicas wouldn’t cut it at 184 meters, you would be looking at something as tall as the Macau tower and the Stratosphere in Las Vegas (from the top of the antennas) respectively. These towers would not only crush the record for aerial lift pylon (113.6 meters) by about 3 times the height of the current record holder but would be among the top 20 towers of any kind in the world.

      Such tall towers would engender political opposition and huge expenses. perhaps triple the original budget estimate I had in my head.

      The lake is up to 18 meters deep in the section this crosses, which now looks pretty trivial, but I think lake pylons are a non-starter for the same reason I think their would be intense opposition to a bridge. It would more strongly affect Lakefront homeowners (though less than a bridge) and break up the lake visually.

      Perhaps this all makes the idea not viable for now. But even triple my original budget would be way cheaper then any Light Rail. So perhaps it should be studied and made ready as an alternative to that. As mentioned in the lede, thats what Senator Litzow (if I recall correctly) was thinking of, perhaps to pander to the part of his constituency in South Sammamish.

      As for ridership I imagine that much of the ridership would come from transfers from the 269 and bikers and pedestrians. For bikers the gondola would be down hill in the morning which would make biking to work much easier. I imagine that many of the pedestrians would Middle and High School students.

      1,152 at Inglewood Middle School
      1,568 at Eastlake High School
      2,027 at Skyline High School
      922 at Eastside Catholic School

      5,669 Students many of which would be daily gondola rides (call it gondola bias) for the spectacular views and malls with theaters at the other end.

      Similarly I’m not worried about ridership on for the Crossroads or Bellevue stations.

      I’ll edit the post to enthusiast.

      1. Andrew K, is that the depth under the line or the deepest depth? The former is the useful number since Lake Sammamish is a natural lake and not a pool with uniform depth.

    3. “I don’t know the depths involved”.

      Deep. Lake Sammamish was carved by the same glaciers fanning out from the Ice Age cap to the north as was Lake Washington, Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

  9. I read this entire post thinking it was a parody or some kind of April-Fool’s-Day-in-November joke. Something along the lines of the RH Thompson freeway post a few weeks back. Imagine my surprise when I turned to the comments to see the gag unveiled, only to discover it was serious. Wow.

    A gondola along Denny Way? That’s a creative, outside-the-box potential solution to a challenging and dense transit corridor. A gondola from Sammamish to Bellevue? Umm…..

    1. I think the analysis of Sammamish current transit situation and potential problems with other nodes was level headed even if the solution has turned out to a bit unrealistic.

      It really puts into perspective how bad Sammamish is for transit that this is an option that deserves more study.

  10. No, you can’t build transit across that lake, because then I would have to find another lake to show that as-the-crow-flies distance is not representative of travel distance.

  11. I visit relatives in Sammamish twice per year and often stay for a month or so. While there I am a regular bus user even though living nearly 1 mile away from the nearest stop at South Sammamish P&R. Now the 927 has gone I will have to move by 9.00 am and stay out all day or wait until 4.00 pm (just before sunset in the winter). The 927 was an awful service not helped by every other bus going to Providence Point where the few potential passengers were able to access Metro or private paratransit services. This gondola is a great idea, but even if vigorously pursued will take at least a decade to come to fruition. The certain objections of the lakeside residents (and other Sammamish wealthy) have already been anticipated. A more realistic solution would be either an occasional off peak 554 (perhaps every third trip) or an all day 269. But lets be realistic Peyton S, we are not going to get a 15 minute headway, 60 or even 90 minutes would at least give a service. Incidentally the end of the 927 means no service at all for Klahanie and I haven’t seen one objection. Would the 927 have been better patronised if it had cut out that long loop?

    1. Klahanie absolutely deserves service. I think that a revised 927 could serve Klahanie by going from Issaquah Highlands P&R via Klahanie to South Sammamish P&R or Providence Point .

      A shorter 927 on both ends and one with out an a split tail would be more frequent and faster. People generally ride faster and more frequent buses more.

      Ideally this would be along side a more frequent 269. Note that many Klahanie transit riders use the 269 and 554 despite the walks on the other end. So not all service has disappeared.

      15 minute headways is a goal for the 269, 20 minute headways or even all day 30 minute headways would be an improvement on current frequencies.

      I think a ST Express version of the 269 is also likely. Especially over increased 554 service to Sammamish.

  12. If nothing else, this is a really well written article. I wish I could write this well. I really like the first paragraph following “Why Serve Sammamish?”. I think you lay out the argument against a substantial investment in transit in the area quite well. Unfortunately, I don’t think you counter that argument well enough. I think the best thing about this is that it represents a substantial alternative to the existing options and traffic flow. In that sense, it is innovative, and has the potential to be really popular. Unfortunately, unlike other, similar options, I just don’t think there are enough people there for this to make sense.

    I won’t repeat every objection, but I will mention something that I don’t think has been mentioned, and that is how gondolas fit with other forms of transportation. Gondolas are unusual in that they have fairly small capacity per car, but extremely low headways (measured in seconds, not minutes). This means that they can easily be crush loaded by a full bus, let alone a train car. Eventually the gondola will due its job (and move everyone) but it will take a while. This is why, for example, a gondola connecting Capitol Hill and South Lake Union doesn’t have to be next to the train station. If the gondola is three blocks to the north, then it serves South Lake Union just fine (being closer to the center of the area) while having enough distance to allow for passengers to spread out (since pedestrians travel at different speeds). Of course, a Capitol Hill gondola would be popular even if Link never had a train station (and since South Lake Union doesn’t, it can’t connect on that end anyway).

    But in this case, you are talking about connecting a “station”, served by feeder buses, with a moderately popular part of Bellevue. For this to be popular, for this to be worth the money (and I agree, this isn’t an enormous amount of money) riders will have to arrive by bus. There is simply not enough people in that part of Sammamish (or any part of Sammamish) within walking distance. Nor are there that many people who want to get to that part of Bellevue. It is a reasonably popular location, but it isn’t downtown Seattle, and it isn’t South Lake Union (an area that, again, has no light rail service). This means that if it is popular, people will arrive by bus, and many of those people will then transfer to a bus or light rail. This means that if it is popular, it will be crush loaded.

    I think is important to think about how these different modes can interact. A bus feeding a ferry is just fine. A bus feeding a train (in many instances) is just fine. But a bus feeding a gondola just won’t work. It can compliment the walk-up passengers, but it can’t represent the bulk of the passengers (the way a bus feeding a train station at 130th NE in Seattle can). Without buses feeding this gondola, it is doomed to failure, simply because there aren’t enough people within walking distance.

    No, the best thing for people in Sammamish is to push for light rail to Redmond, then better bus service along the main routes north and south.

    1. I meant to respond to this awhile ago. But the solution to the capacity problems is that this would be a 3S Gondola.

      3S Gondolas have large cars able to hold 30+ people. Headways are still measured in seconds so it would only take a minute or two for the bus load to be accommodated. (Perhaps 3 Gondolas worth of people are in a full bus.)

      Besides as best as I can tell light rail to Redmond is already happening and, as this posted noted, a Sound Transit express version of the 269 has been added to the Long Range Plan as an Express Bus/BRT corridor. So both of your suggestions are already in order.

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