At December’s Sound Transit Board Meeting*, Mayor Murray offered an interesting amendment to the “building blocks” section of the long range plan (79:30):

T18. In addition, as part of implementing a regional transit system, Sound Transit can explore policy and funding alternatives to address significant regional facilities, such as tunneling for future core system capacity through downtown Seattle; operations, maintenance and storage facilities; and transit vehicles.

The introduction began a bizarre sequence where Mr. Murray immediately left for another event, leaving Mike O’Brien to defend the measure; a series of board members stating that a second tunnel was an ST 4 or 5 discussion and therefore premature; and it finally going to defeat 6-8 (O’Brien, Constantine, Balducci, Phillips, Peterson, and Strickland voted yes).

This would have been the first (small) step to suspending subarea equity when funding a second downtown tunnel. This train of thought goes way back to the Mayoral campaign, where candidate Murray critiqued Mayor McGinn’s potentially city-only rail plans by saying that Seattle couldn’t afford light rail alone, and that tweaking subarea equity was the only way to build it. And in fact, if you define the minimum Seattle light rail increment as serving Ballard and West Seattle, that may be an accurate statement given the agreed revenue limits of the next package.**

In the debate, it seemed as if the groups were talking past each other. In ST3, any new tunnel would exclusively serve Seattle neighborhoods, although new suburban lines could use it in a later package. However, the new tunnel is needed because DSTT capacity, originally paid for by King County, will be filled with trains from rather far-flung places. And that begins a spiral of arguments that quickly makes you realize that every project benefits every other subarea in some way, as this is an economically integrated region. Thinking somewhat more practically, each subarea has some core objectives for ST3, and it doesn’t seem likely that the allotted funding will allow each subarea to meet those objectives and fund major “regional” projects.

Although the Mayor’s office declined an opportunity to discuss this chain of events with me, I chatted about it with Mike O’Brien last week. He said he was “encouraged” that the Mayor wanted to bring it up, and “just because it’s not in [the long range plan] doesn’t mean we’re not going to talk about it” when the ST3 package comes together.

He went on to sketch out the core objectives for Seattle, as he sees them, in the ST3 process:

My focus is something that connects Ballard and West Seattle in some way. I’m concerned about what happens if we have to pick either West Seattle or Ballard. It may be divisive with Seattle voters and politicians…

My understanding of the long term system design is that if we have light rail coming direct from Ballard to downtown and to West Seattle, we just can’t put those trains in the existing tunnel. If in ST3 we’re going to spend a big chunk of Seattle’s resources building a second tunnel so that we have the capacity 20 years from now to manage the trains, vs. somehow getting something on the ground connecting Ballard and West Seattle and figure out the tunnel later, I’m looking for opportunities to do the latter.

If we had a stub line that came from West Seattle to Stadium or Sodo, and you had to transfer to get on the other train, that’s obviously not the long-term vision I want. But if that’s what we do for now, to at least have reliable connectivity, and we’ll figure out in the future how to get a direct connection, that’s something (without a lot of technical analysis on my part) that would be in my vision on how we’d do it.

Similarly, I don’t know what a Ballard connection looks like, but a Ballard to UW line with a transfer at Brooklyn is something that has a slightly lower price tag.

Given the enormous stresses on the Snohomish, Pierce, and South King subarea budgets with respect to their core political objectives, I’m very skeptical that there is an achievable deal where they chip in towards very cost-effective projects in Seattle, even if the alternative instead dumps those riders onto an overloaded*** regional spine at U District and Sodo. Mayor Murray is obviously more optimistic — and I’m not inclined to criticize an official for advocating a correct but possibly doomed policy.

*Over a month ago. Better late than never!

**This gambit also sheds light on the otherwise perplexing Mayor Murray assertion that Bertha failure would weaken the case for a second tunnel. Without this subarea equity conversation, the marginal votes for ST3 (in the legislature, on the board, and in the electorate) will focus on suburban projects, not how Seattle spends its money. But Bertha’s troubles provide cynical partners a rhetorical reason to doubt the wisdom of regional projects beneath downtown.

*** Possibly! Predictions about the future are hard, and ridership will depend on a thousand things totally outside Sound Transit’s control.

205 Replies to “Murray Suggests Regional Funding of Second DSTT”

  1. Can someone explain to me like I’m five years old why we cannot just do the following and save a lot of cash for actual line expansion?

    1. Just extend the current tunnel and start digging into it and turn toward SLU and then on to Queen Anne and such, and then onward to Ballard?

    2. Just connect West Seattle to the main line and have it link up at SODO/Stadium?

    So your theoretical line could be, in 30 years:

    Ballard/Market -> LQA/Seattle Center -> Convention -> Westlake -> -> University -> Pioneer -> ID -> Stadium -> West Seattle/White Center stops -> Burien -> onward to points south.

    Your locations with TWO destinations then would be

    Ballard -> link to UW or downtown-bound

    UW -> link to Ballard or Capitol Hill

    Somewhere between Westlake and Convention -> link toward Ballard or Capitol Hill

    Westlake/Convention -> link toward Capitol Hill, Ballard, or the Eastside/Bellevue

    Stadium -> link toward West Seattle/points southwest or southward toward the airport and eventually Renton etc.

    Is that NOT what the ultimate goal/plan was? What do we need ANOTHER tunnel for?

    1. To be clear, for the West Seattle people before they get riled up, I’m picturing their ride something like this:

      Downtown Burien to White Center to Westwood to Alaskan Way Junction to Triangle/Avalon (if you need that extra stop eventually) to Stadium.

      Then, if you want to continue to Ballard or downtown, STAY on your train. Next stop, ID, Pioneer, University, Westlake, SLU? LQA? Ballard. If you want to go to the airport get off and change at Stadium or a downtown tunnel stop. If you want to go to Capitol Hill, UW or Bellevue, change at Westlake or something.

    2. Because in 2023 you’ll already have two lines running through the current tunnel, likely one being Lynnwood to Highline CC and the other being Lynnwood to Overlake, each running at 6 minute headways during peak for 3 minute combined headways between Lynnwood and International District. Adding a third line as you suggest would mean 3 such lines running at combined 2 minute headways between Westlake and the International District, and while that’s theoretically possible to do, the system would always be one hair trigger away from cascading breakdowns and wouldn’t be further expandable on any of the individual lines. And the MLK segment of Central Link will always require that we build in a service buffer to control for its unreliability.

      We’re building Link to be a mixed-profile system: some segments are grade separated with exclusive right of way (Northgate to Westlake), some are not grade separated but with exclusive right of way (Mt Baker to Rainier Beach), and others still are grade separated but not in their own right of way (the current DSTT, as long as buses are there). If Link were fully automated, fully grade separated, and with fully exclusive ROW, we could probably run a system like you describe. In its absence, a 2nd DSTT makes the most sense. A 2nd DSTT could do lots of things:

      * Allow a Ballard-West Seattle line to run at higher frequencies and greater capacity
      * Allow for eventual 2 minute combined headways between Lynnwood and International District in addition to whatever frequency we could achieve between West Seattle and Ballard
      * Allow us to serve the hilly financial district and library areas better (if a tunnel ran under 4th or 5th, as many think it would)
      * Open up the possibility for new mixed bus-rail operations to maximize tunnel capacity (imagine a tunnel that interlined West Link with Rapid Ride E, for example)
      * Is the only way to serve Belltown

      1. Why is there a 3 minute limit on head ways? Aren’t there tunnels elsewhere in the world that have tighter head ways? Could we automate trains just in the tunnel to get us down to minute head ways and make room for Ballard-West Seattle until we have the funding to build a new downtown tunnel?

        Also… metro built the last tunnel; is there something preventing us from making a 2nd tunnel under the same framework? We could use another tunnel for trains and buses with more capacity than the current tunnel. A new tunnel (as Keith Kyle mentioned below) could serve bus lines for multiple north/south corridors and could provide all the new downtown rail capacity we would need for many decades to come.

      2. >> A new tunnel (as Keith Kyle mentioned below) could serve bus lines for multiple north/south corridors and could provide all the new downtown rail capacity we would need for many decades to come.

        Yes, I proposed exactly that:

        As far as the 3 minute headways, I assume it is because of the twists and turns within the system. Trains need adequate stopping distance and visibility plays a big part in that (I’m just guessing though).

      3. Nothing to do with twists and turns. Plenty of subway tunnels in the world with twists and turns and trains coming nose-to-derrière (especially in the light rail tunnels of Boston or Brussels).

        It has everything to do with not having multiple simultaneous vehicles in the vacuum-esque segments of tunnel between stations and/or vent points. If it takes 3 minutes to get all the way from the Capitol Hill stop to Husky Stadium… there’s your defined headway.

        Ironically, this means that our substandard U-Link headway is yet another poor outcome directly attributable to our anti-urban stop spacing! Hooray!

      4. >>Adding a third line as you suggest would mean 3 such lines running at combined 2 minute headways between Westlake and the International District, and while that’s theoretically possible to do<<

        "Theoretically possible"?

        Vancouver's SkyTrain runs about every 45 seconds during peak times between Waterfront and Commercial-Broadway if I'm not mistaken.

        Plus there are numerous heavy rail subway systems around the world (with trains far longer than Seattle's LRT) that run at 2 minute headways during peak hours.

        It's not a big issue. And should be even easier with Seattle's small, short LRT trains.

      5. And from what I understand, East Link will only run every 10 minutes during peak times, not 6 minutes.

    3. Because the existing DSTT doesn’t have the capacity to support 3 LR lines — particularly from the North where the demand is so high.

      Adding onto the DSTT with a third line, or building Ballard-UW spur are both losers per ST because of the capacity issues.

    4. @Absolute,

      You cannot have a level crossing of a new northbound Ballard track and the southbound track at the Pine Street curve. It would produce significant operational randomness right at the heart of the system.

      Had the designers of the DSTT “stacked” the curve by lowering the northbound track and raising the southbound, resulting in a two level Westlake Station, it would have been possible to have a division of routes there, but they didn’t do that. There is not enough room between the north wall of the University station box and the beginning of the Pine Street curve for a northbound Ballard track to dive the full elevation necessary to underpass the existing tubes, and the Westlake station box ends about halfway between Third and Fourth. The geometry of a such a route division would require it to be a bit farther east by then to produce smooth curves, so it would have to get yet deeper to underrun the station box. , which is deeper than the tubes themselves. There simply can’t be a junction there.

      Perhaps such a division of routes could be accomplished east of Westlake, but as has been pointed out, to shorten the headways to two minutes in the tunnel would require grade separating the sections along the busway and through the Rainier Valley in order to make South Link reliable enough to participate in such a two minute headway operation in the tunnel. It’s probably not necessary to do the same in Bellevue because there are planned to be many fewer grade crossings on East Link than there are on South Link through the RV.

      While there is room alongside the existing trackage to build the supports for elevation between ID and the maintenance facility where South Link becomes grade separated as far as Mt. Baker, there is simply no such opportunity along MLK. That means a replacement of surface Link there would have to be tunneled. That is no going to happen.

      So, the best choice is an eventual parallel tunnel through downtown to accommodate future expansion to Ballard/North King County, although I’m of a mind that a transfer facility just north of Westlake would probably be adequate initially. Not everyone arriving at such a facility from Ballard would transfer to Link trains to travel on south. Some would choose the First Avenue Connector while others would ride circulator buses on Fourth and Fifth Avenues to avoid the hill climb. Many would walk on nice days.

      Certainly, those headed to and from buildings immediately adjacent to DSTT stations of course would change to Link trains, but there are a LOT of passengers who get on northbound tunnel buses and get off of southbound tunnel buses at Westlake today. There will be a similar pattern with Link trains when it reaches Northgate. So there will be some capacity freed for people traveling to and from Ballard to ride between Pioneer Square or University and Westlake to access their trains to and from Ballard.

      In any case, including West Seattle and the Delridge/White Center/Burien corridor any time soon is premature. Until the residents of those areas agree to allow the denser zoning that would make it worthwhile to build the very expensive Duwamish River crossing that LRT to their areas would require, it should not be built.

      So, since it’s probably not essential to build the tunnel in ST3, why not leave the problem for another day? Link to Ballard will be so much superior to RapidRide along Mercer Place that people will be happy to transfer at Westlake.

      Obviously, the decision under which street to place a future new tunnel must be made now, so that the tubes to and from Ballard can be aligned to it properly.

      1. >> So, the best choice is an eventual parallel tunnel through downtown to accommodate future expansion to Ballard/North King County, although I’m of a mind that a transfer facility just north of Westlake would probably be adequate initially.

        I agree. But by the same logic, the best thing to do (initially) is increase the headways to three minutes (spend the money to fix the ventilation shafts) and then connect Ballard to the UW. Eventually the system will be overrun. Eventually we will reach standing room only. Eventually we will be crush loaded and have to hire Japanese “pushers” to avoid disappointing all the folks that want to get on the subway. Or we simply run the buses we are running RIGHT NOW that somehow do an adequate job. Honestly (and this comment isn’t directed at you, Anandakos, but at Sound Transit) the idea that we “can’t build it that way because it will be too popular” is just insane. We should have such problems. Really, if Mr. Gates and Mr. Allen thought that way (OMG — how will we possible handle all of the money coming in!) than no one in the world would have ever heard of Redmond.

        Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for future proofing. I can’t wait until Sound Transit puts in that First Hill station and that one connecting 520 with Link. I sure am glad they built the system so that we could infill those important stations. But to ignore the obvious, cheaper, more effective solution because you are afraid that someday — SOMEDAY! — too many people will actually use your multi-billion dollar train system is nuts.

      2. I’m curious about the statement that “There is not enough room between the north wall of the University station box and the beginning of the Pine Street curve for a northbound Ballard track to dive the full elevation necessary to underpass the existing tubes”. I would acknowledge that extending a Ballard line here would involve ripping up a couple of blocks, but I don’t see why it would be impossible, and I certainly don’t see why it wouldn’t be way simpler that building a whole new tunnel. Subway cars are 12′ high, plus 6″ of rails plus a foot thick concrete slab holding it up means that the diving train only needs to dive 13.5′ at the minimum. Call it 15′ and with a 5% slope, the diving lines would need 300′ to get under the current turning lines. If the University station box ends at Union, then there is 650′ before the tracks start turning between Pike and Pine.

      3. Yvr,

        These vehicles operate in tubes which are about 19′ in diameter. You can’t have the tubes closer than four or five feet of vertical separation, so that means the track separation has to be at a minimum of 23 feet, so add another 150 feet to your computation. Total, 450.

        But, the tracks don’t start dropping at 5 degrees at the frog of the turnout. At that point they’re in the same plane as the “through” tracks. It would take at least 100 feet to achieve the five percent down gradient, although there’s an integral of additional depth gained per lineal foot which would subtract some from the depth necessary in the fully 5 percent section.

        But then, unless one keeps plunging at 5 percent past the closest point to the existing tube, there would be an offsetting addition of distance caused by flattening the tunnel. But placing the positive inflection point that far north means that the tunnel would “bottom out” somewhere north of Stewart another 25 feet deep. It wouldn’t return to the original level until at least Lenora.

        So maybe it would work, and it would probably be a fun roller-coaster, but it would would be a close-run thing at the very least. I don’t know if ST would “risk” putting a new tube that close to the existing ones under load.

      4. Ballard and West Seattle were upzoned for the monorail. That’s why they are growing denser right now. But there’s no monorail…

      5. Anandakos,

        I agree that LRT tubes are larger because they have to have room for the wires and pantographs, but third rail subway tunnels don’t have those and the tunnels can be very tight. Look at the tube in London. There is a reason it’s called the tube. And the vertical distance separators are for actual bored tunnels, but if a connection were built, the whole thing would be dug up and they would become cut and cover tunnels. There is no reason that they wouldn’t be separated by a one foot concrete slab. As you alluded to in your first post, tunnels are stacked all the time, and there is nothing between them but a one foot concrete slab. I also agree that the dive part needs to be after the actual switch, but there is still plenty of room for both here. (Check out the “roller coaster” section of Skytrain where the Expo line dives under under the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. This is clearly less than 300′ which shows what you can do if you want to. And this is the section with the 90 second headways, so it obviously doesn’t pinch operations.)

        Putting in a third rail system would indeed be a big change that would require work through the current DSTT, but it’s still true that all of this would be simpler that building a whole new tunnel.

    5. Having seen how three lines work in many larger metro areas (San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, New York, Boston Green Line), I’ve often felt that the “excuse” that we can only have two lines in the DSTT to be premature. All of the reasons given for it are based on ridership forecasts versus capacity which are based on 2000 commuting habits and commute hours today less “peaked” than 15 years ago, for example. The forecasts are also based on a bus transit feeder system that would maximize the rail demand in order to score well in the New Starts funding game. Finally, the famous “vent” problem is often given as an excuse, although I couldn’t imagine that correcting that would be anywhere near as expensive than a second line.

      Having said that, I’ll be more direct in agreeing with other posters here — the DSTT design and the light rail tracks were not designed for possible branching and it is a costly problem to fix. Unfortunately, ST is still designing the new segments as if branching will not occur — which is why we’ve seen this same issue a same problem of branching appear in discussing many of the corridor studies over the past year on the blog.

      1. Having seen how three lines work in many larger metro areas (San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, New York, Boston Green Line

        Chicago’s remaining grade crossings are on mostly relatively less traveled streets, so there isn’t a mandatory edict to provide a certain amount of traffic throughput for crossing road traffic.

        Portland has surface lines of course, but Lloyd Center to Rose Quarter parallels a vastly less busy street so there isn’t a problem with dealing with turn traffic as much. It crosses busy streets at ML King and Grand Avenue, but those are one way parallel streets so that the traffic flow is quite a bit different than on Seattle’s ML King. Even so, MAX can wind up waiting for signals because the highway people want Grand and Union to have maximum auto throughput.

        I do agree that having two parallel tunnels is a bit much, but it seems to me that the first thing to examine would be increasing the reliability of Link along ML King. For example, drop the cross streets below both ML King and Link so that there is much less conflict with Link traffic.

      2. He’s referring to the non-grade-separated crossings at the corners of The Loop itself. Whatever their drawbacks, one can not dispute the fact that they’ve handled a ton of throughput every single day of the last 118 years.

      3. There’s also a few street crossings in Chicago, and at least one median segment but the street with the median running is more like an alleyway in Magnolia in terms of the amount of auto traffic.

      4. Yes, which is why bringing them up is engaging in transit-wonk non-sequiturism, whereas the Loop example was actually relevant.

      5. ML King is brought up frequently as a reason why frequency on that part of the line can’t be very high, which impacts the whole line. Reduce the amount of road traffic crossing ML King and you don’t have as many conflicts there. You may still need to have some cross-road access, such as local left turn traffic. It’s a matter of coming up with a solution that eliminates some 90% of the interfering traffic, so that you wind up with only some local traffic crossing the line and thus less traffic concerns, or trying for a much more expensive and difficult 100% elimination of auto traffic from the lines.

        So, the relevance isn’t necessarily that you need 100% grade separation for this capacity of line, but only reduce the amount of high priority heavy auto traffic routes that conflict with the line.

      6. The junctions in Chicago carry a lot of trains — about as many enter and leave the loop through the two big junctions at peak times as the two subways combined (both total 39 in the busiest hour in the busiest direction by my count, which is not authoritative in any way) and more off-peak, because frequency drops off much more sharply off-peak on the two subway lines, which connect to long freeway segments with P&Rs. All that rail traffic extracts its cost in speed and reliability, of course. The junctions themselves are a common source of delays, and they don’t exactly help the system recover from other delays like bridge openings, but none of the many plans to replace ’em have penciled out.

        Nobody would design the Loop today, knowing its flaws as we do, but we probably overreact and build systems with totally different flaws instead. A lot of cities have spent more money and got less for it since.

      7. It’s because we don’t know how to design transit and refuse to learn. I don’t think it will get better any time soon. I remember when Link opened and they’d only let a small number of people on the platform at one time. They obviously had never seen any major metro system in the world. Now they think there has to be a 3 minute pad between two trains (even though we have 30 seconds or less between trains and buses.

    6. Three reasons have been given for the 3-minute limit: “fire regulations”, a missing ventilation shaft at Montlake, ST’s capacity concerns. The ventilation shaft may resolve the fire issue, and it would surely cost less than a fifth of a second tunnel.

      The capacity issuse is that ST doesn’t want Intl Dist – U-Dist to get overcrowded before 2040, so it’s reserving some capacity (the 3-minute to 2-minute conversion) for the ST2 lines until it’s 100% certain that capacity won’t be needed. It won’t know that until at least 2025 or 2030. Plus, if the Everett and Tacoma extensions are approved — which is top priority for several boardmembers — that capacity would also be needed. It would be ridiculous to build Link to Everett and then run parallel buses to Everett because the central tunnel can’t fit all the passengers.

      1. I’ve heard that three minutes is the headway after you do the ventilation work (not before). I sure wish someone could clear up the mystery over downtown headways (or headways in general). It is just nuts, really. I can’t think of any fact that is more important. How many riders will use light rail if we build a line to Ballard? That isn’t a fact. But what is the legally allowable headway for trains from the U-District through the downtown tunnel? That is a fact, and no one seems to know the answer. This isn’t something we should be digging out of old reports. This should be a number printed in big letters in every Sound Transit meeting. It is the critical number. Everyone on the board should know that number (by heart) and know exactly what it would take to lower it. Cut it in half after building the ventilation shafts? Great, so what is the number after that? This will effect every decision we make. The fact that Sound Transit doesn’t openly discuss this just shows that they either don’t know what they are doing, or are terrible at communicating with the public.

      2. RossB: Maybe it was 4-minute to 3-minute. In that case, “fire regulations” is the 3-minute floor, and we’d have to figure out what regulation that is, when it was enacted and at what level of government, what it’s based on and what national standards it cites, and how easy it would be to get it changed. The fact that some grandfathered systems in New York and Chicago don’t follow it may not carry weight with the regulators, and likewise for non-US systems.

      3. New York has copious ventilation points, both by virtue of age/shallowness and by virtue of close stop spacing.

        If there were three stops between downtown and the U-District we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

      4. @ d. p. Since there aren’t, what else can be done? Is it a matter of escape paths or ventilation? I agree that we should have a lot more stations, but since we don’t, what is the next step? I would imagine you could improve headways significantly by making a few (relatively cheap) steps, but eventually you get to the point where building a second tunnel makes sense. Any idea what those steps are and when you would reach that point? (maybe we will reach it the day after we add the ventilation shaft)

      5. If 3 minute headways are only for the U-district segment then the cheapest way to add a West Seattle line is to place turnback track just east of Westlake [seemingly very doable], interline the West Seattle and Rainier Valley lines and run an East Link train to Westlake in every other headway gap.

      6. My vague understanding is that it’s as much about ventilation points dividing the line into “segments” as it is about total ventilation capacity.

        So I guess an additional vent would have the same effect as an additional stop, inasmuch as it would reduce the minimum following distance to however long it takes a single train to clear the longest segment between vent points.

      7. Mike,

        IF North Link ever get overcrowded to the degree that people are turned away, it will be between the U and downtown Seattle. It will never be full in SnoHoCo.

        From what I understand a crush loaded Link car can accommodate about 200 people; four car trains operating every three minutes is expected to be the ultimate capacity to meet Husky to Westlake loads. Three minute headways imply 20 trains per hour; times 800 passengers per train we can see an ultimate capacity of 16,000 riders per hour.

        That’s not NYCTA’s 2 Line but it’s not a rutabaga sandwich either.

      8. 200 is the theoretical capacity if Americans adopt Japanese loading standards. The more realistic American limit is 130. People may occasionally board above that if they’re highly motivated to travel immediately, but generally they’d regard it as “full” and wait for the next train.

        So, you can say, that’s the passenger’s problem and they can learn to squeeze. But if it leads to chronically crowded platforms, then perhaps it’s the transit agency’s problem too.

      9. >> if it leads to chronically crowded platforms, then perhaps it’s the transit agency’s problem too.

        Right, then at that point (or well before it) you build the second downtown tunnel. That makes sense to me. Build the most productive line first, then, when capacity is reached, add a second line somewhere else. I’m pretty sure just about every transit system (or transportation system in general) has evolved that way. Does anyone know any other agency that has purposely tried to limit ridership to avoid overcrowding?

      10. 130 would mean only one person standing for each person sitting, under the current configuration. That is a very, very light standard, even for this personal-bubble-based town.

        The most gigantic waste of space in our Link cars is in the “upper” sections. They comprise nearly a third of the car, and they seat only 24 (both ends combined). Open those motherfuckers up, and you’ll quintuple the number of people comfortably riding there.

      11. “when capacity is reached, add a second line somewhere else”

        You have to approve the second line 15 years before the first line reaches capacity, or it will open too late.

  2. In any of these plans, would there be underground, walkable connections between the original and new tunnel? For example, I’m thinking of how you can just walk down a few random corridors in various connections underground between Penn Station to various subway lines, and from Grand Central to various subway lines, in New York City.

    If I had to commute from West Seattle to Bellevue on the train it would be nice, but if I had to ride to Westlake Station #1 and then climb to the street, and then go back down again to Westlake Station #2 to catch my connection to Bellevue, that would be a phenomenal pain in the ass.

    1. Here, this is what I mean – I had to ask a NYC native friend since I was blanking on the locations.

      Look at this image:

      All the unlabeled “black lines” interconnecting the colored subway lines and stations are underground tunnels for interconnecting foot traffic. Look at the blue line on the west side that has the A, C, and E subways. See the black line from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, that connects to the Time Square station that carries the 7, 1, 2, and 3 subways?

      You can walk underground from the Port Authority in the subway station on that tunnel right to Times Square, for your connection. Your feet never touch the surface.

      1. Joe,

        I very much expect that will be the case. The Westlake mezzanine almost reaches Third Avenue, so even if a new tunnel is placed under Second Avenue (not the best choice in my view, but it could be the decision based on the cost of crossing the existing tunnel), a short underground walkway from midblock Pine to a mezzanine beginning at say Second and Stewart would not be unpleasant. And of course, if either Fourth or Second is chosen for the new tunnel, it would be very easy to connect from track level of the higher station directly to the mezzanine of the parallel lower one on the adjacent street.

        If Fifth Avenue is chosen, however, I would expect that the only physical connections would be at the “end point” stations: Westlake to the north and ID to the south. The difference in elevation between them would make direct connections less likely. They would have to have some long escalators. Now that might be very nice from a hill climb perspective.

        A Fourth or Fifth Avenue tunnel has serious problems at Westlake, though. Either alignment has to underrun the existing station box which puts its platforms at least fifty feet below the mezzanine level. It does have the advantage that either alignment could have the “central CBD” station between Seneca and Madison and the south CBD station between James and Yesler, producing a very nice filling in of the walkshed of HCT in downtown Seattle.

        Just as a note, a Second Avenue tunnel would make the First Avenue Circulator fairly redundant.

      2. Clarification. “The difference in elevation between them the two pairs of midpoint stations…”

      3. The New York walkways are very long. Long enough it makes you wonder what’s the point, especially off-peak. In the days of tokens they provided a free transfer, but now with Metrocards and smartcards you get a free transfer anyway. In any case, we don’t have the millions of people that NYC has, so our maximum plausable tunnel lengths are shorter. But our blocks are shorter too than the west side avenues, so that partly makes up for it.

      4. From what I’ve heard the current preference is to have the tunnel partially under 2nd and partially under 4th. The new tunnel would cross the DSTT north of University Station.

      5. Chris,

        That’s interesting. It would avoid the problem of under-running the Westlake station box. I wonder if they plan to over or under the existing tubes. I expect under, because if they’re going to diagonal through blocks (as they would have to do in order to change streets) they’ll need to be deep enough to pass well under the foundations of buildings.

        There’s an opportunity cost to Second Avenue to the north, though. That cuts off any possibility to serve SLU/Denny Triangle directly.

    2. There is no alignment or stations yet, much less transfer passageways, or any criteria about what these must have. There’s only conceptual ideas about alignments under 2nd, 4th, or 5th Avenues. When ST gets to locating the stations, I’m assuming it will recognize that underground transfer walkways are a necessity. We’ll have to make sure they do so.

    3. >> In any of these plans, would there be underground, walkable connections between the original and new tunnel?

      One would hope so, but Sound Transit has made such profound, stupid, ignorant decisions in the past, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did so again (and failed to make this connection easy). I say stupid because even folks that have never used a subway wouldn’t make some of the mistakes they made (you can just figure it out). A good example of this is the lack of a connection between SR 520 and Link. I say ignorant because a lot of their decisions seem to be based on a lack of experience with transit systems throughout the world.

    4. ” it wouldn’t surprise me if they did so again”

      It’s a future decision that will be made over several months, with public hearings on the segment as a whole and each station. So at the very end ST may do it to “save money’ or for some other reason, but it won’t happen in just the blink of an eye. The most urgent thing to focus on now is to make sure the segment’s budget (whether in ST3 or later) is enough to cover the passages. If ST shaves corners on the tunnel’s budget to squeeze it into ST3, then it may not be enough for underground walkways. The specific decision on walkways — whether to have them and where they should go — would be made a couple years later when the stations are designed.

      To short-circuit this process and guarantee walkways, we’d need to get ST to issue minimum-quality criteria for the tunnel now. ST would probably not want to tie its hands this way, but it would be the most effective way to guarantee that any tunnel would have these features.

  3. For ST3 – a new rail convertible bus tunnel tuned to serve West Seattle:Balllard:Aurora should be very high on North King’s priority list. We’re calling it the West Side Transit Tunnel (WSTT.).

    The WSTT plus the Ballard Spur gets you the highest value rail line and a major transit upgrade for all three corridors ST studied (Ballard/DT – West Seattle – Ballard/UW) and mitigates Bertha and the DSTT closing for buses.

    Its a must for ST3 – those on the board that think its an ST4 thing just havent been presented the evidence properly. We’re working on an article to start turning that around.

    1. We do need to emphasize improvements West Seattle will be getting specifically from this project or I fear we will lose a lot more support than you might think. West Seattle is well organized now and is focused on improving their transportation issues.

      Note that key allies on the Sound Transit board (Dow Constantine for one) are likely to be less supportive if we are seen as cutting out West Seattle.

      That is not to say that I think we should cut out the tunnel for a West Seattle bridge, but there need to be very specific outlined improvements to the West Seattle transit lines that are seen at a minimum as “on the way to having rail” or “rail upgradable”

      If we could manage two transit initiatives in the city (ST3 and a rail friendly monorail initiative) we might be able to manage enough of a down payment on all of these systems:

      1) A Ballard to UW subway line with urban stop spacing
      2) A new downtown Bus/Rail convertible tunnel (the WSTT you mentioned)
      3) Bridge Improvements for West Seattle:
      – At a minimum transit lanes need to be combined with exclusive on/off ramps for getting buses to the SODO bus way.
      – We may want to consider building a new transit only (rail friendly) bridge to West Seattle.
      This addresses the primary concern a lot of West Seattle residents have had (lack of bridge capacity) while allowing us to be more flexible on the biggest problem of serving West Seattle (it needs multiple, high frequency BRT lines more than it needs a single LRT line that skips some parts of the peninsula). We could convert C Line to a real BRT by adding its missing features and convert other lines (such as the 21) to a full BRT as well. This would help build ridership in the area to a level that would fully utilize the eventual LRT expansion.

      1. I wholly agree with Keith’s framing here, and with everything Charles has written as well.

        Fixing the WS Bridge ramps is indeed vital, and won’t be nearly as expensive as everyone seems to think. Doing it 100% effectively would be a drop in the bucket compared to the big-ticket items under consideration.

      2. @d.p.

        Fixing the West Seattle bridge is only step one. I think we may need a new bridge in the pipeline (both for capacity and political reasons).

        As a sign of good faith, we may want start before ST3 by fixing he relatively inexpensive bridge access problems (bridging the gap anyone?) and have a full new transit only bridge on the short list of ST3 project punch list as funding allows.

        This short list also includes Ballard to UW and the WSTT of course.

        We want rail to all corners of the city, but making rail convertible shared bus space first may be the bargain we need to make this happen soon enough to relieve growing traffic and mobility problems we have now before our city becomes even more paralyzed by a major catastrophe (like a viaduct collapse).

        Oh by the way… if the suburbs don’t to pay a dime for this new tunnel, then I say we consider a toll for out of zone buses that want to go through it. They can pay that toll off in bulk with ST4 if they like of course…

      3. I agree with all three of you guys. This is it right here. This is ST3.

        OK, you will have to do just a bit more for the suburbs. But exclusive ramps for Tacoma buses to the SoDo busway, followed by a tunnel that moves those buses through downtown means that someone can get from Tacoma to just about anywhere in downtown Seattle in about a half hour (after the state changes the lanes from HOV2 to HOV3). A similar set of ramps and additional lanes for West Seattle means much the same thing (Seattle to anywhere in downtown in less than ten minutes). That is “retro time”™. This is how long it used to take someone (back in the day) to get there (in a car). This is what people expect (rightly or wrongly) out of their multi-billion dollar transit system.

        I look forward to your article, Keith. Keep up the good work.

      4. Well, your corollaries are more suspect than the initial writing with which I agreed above.

        The West Seattle Bridge is a massive freeway and is not full. No ifs, ands, or butts. Especially not in the free-flowing (westbound) direction or in the eastbound bus lane. The backups are all about the bridge’s access points, and connections to the various roadways through SoDo to downtown.

        Not Wasting Money 101: Don’t build a new bridge when the old bridge isn’t the problem.

        And no one “wants rail to all corners of the city”. People speak of “rail” longingly because they see it as fixing our intractable mobility problems. But building it to where the development patterns fundamentally cannot support it does nothing useful even for the clamorors themselves. The best way to fix our mobility is to fix our mobility. That necessarily means junking the proposition that a one-size-fits-all solution exists, and the false impression of the city is an evenly-weighted “X” shape.

      5. Some sort of right of way public transportation options are much needed for West Seattle. More Rapid Ride bus frequency won’t help if the capacity of the bridges remain the same resulting in those buses remaining stopped queued one behind the other if some momo has a car stall–e.g., last night on 99N.

      6. @d.p.

        I am not arguing that we build a new West Seattle bridge right away, just that it be on the list of projects, after the two bigger problems are solved. If it turns out we have not actually exceeded the bridge capacity by the time everything else is built I would be surprised. It is possible though.

        I stand by my argument that West Seattle needs more than one BRT Line though, one line cannot possibly solve the needs of the peninsula. They are spread out too far. (I don’t sense you disagreeing with that one though)

        Its here where we could first run out of capacity on the existing bridge. As more increased bus lines are run across the bridge we may eventually exceed what you can do with a bus lane in each direction.

        Regardless, the best part about upgrading the existing bridge is it gets off the ground fast. Getting C line an express route to the SODO bus way before the viaduct comes down (one way or another) should be one of our highest safety priorities.

      7. Indeed. Anywhere that a single car could cause a complete collapse of roadway capacity needs a dedicated lane. This is certainly true of 99 (or any future “last mile” downtown access), in both directions. It is certainly true of the eastbound WS bridge and its access points.

        It does not appear to be true of the westbound bridge, which has the advantage of coming after all of the primary bottlenecks, and also of diverging in three directions when it touches down in West Seattle. There is a great deal of excess free-flowing capacity headed that way.

      8. And Charles, yes, West Seattle’s layout makes it an ideal candidate for “open BRT”, with multiple frequent routes receiving the benefit of dedicated infrastructure past all the bottlenecks between the bridge and downtown.

        That said, even with multiple routes converging, West Seattle will never need the dozens of buses-per-hour that it would take to exceed capacity on bus-only infrastructure. West Seattle just isn’t that populous, and it just isn’t that dense.

      9. I agree with d. p. He makes points that might not be obvious. West Seattle has some very nasty traffic, but very little of it is westbound. In other words, there are enough lanes to handle everyone trying to get to West Seattle (during rush hour). This means that there really aren’t huge number of people heading to West Seattle and overwhelming the freeway. It is more like Magnolia after the Ballard Bridge goes up (I forget, is Magnolia part of the ‘X’ — seems like it should be, by looking at the map).

        The big traffic bottleneck for the West Seattle freeway is caused by folks from other parts of the city entering or moving around the city. Specifically, it is because of I-5 and I-90. Add a dozen lanes to I-5 and I-90 and West Seattle freeway traffic disappears. Poof! No backup from I-5, no backup onto the West Seattle freeway.

        That doesn’t make the traffic problems in West Seattle any less challenging. We aren’t going to add a dozen lanes to I-5 or I-90 (thank God) so that will be backed up for a long time. The West Seattle freeway is there, and just needs some additional work. There are already HOV lanes (that flow freely during those congested times) but they are only in pieces. These pieces need to be completed. We also need a new ramp to the SoDo busway. Basically, you want an HOV lane from the edge of the freeway (if not before) all the way into a tunnel. This won’t be cheap, but it won’t be as expensive as building a new bridge.

        I completely agree that there need to be more BRT routes. That is what makes sense for West Seattle. It is a very spread out area that happens to converge on a freeway. This is where BRT makes sense. The essential part of BRT is level boarding and off board payment. That means it moves just as fast through a tunnel as a train. Other fixes can be done piecemeal, although I think you have to make a solid investment in the bridge, since that is what people can relate to. Once you enter a freeway, there is an expectation that travel will be fast. We should be able to do that without breaking the bank, and if we do, it would be very popular.

      10. The need for a bridge is part of what makes serving West Seattle with rail so damned expensive. Frankly there are many better ways to spend that kind of money in North King.

    2. How do we prevent a second rail-bus tunnel from having the same reliability problems as the first? ST and Metro are so sour on combined rail-bus operations that they don’t want to do it again, and it would take a ton of convincing to get them to consider it.

      So at minimum, this tunnel would have RapidRide C, D, and E — until/if these are converted to rail. I’m assuming the C and D are split. So that’s, what, 3 x 8 buses/per hour peak? That’s 2.5 minutes per bus. That’s much less than the existing bus usage, where two buses come at once, but it’s beyond the 3-minute train limit. If the D were converted, it would essentially replace its buses, but the total number of vehicles would remain around the same.

      Putting the C in the tunnel raises the issue of how it would get to SLU, which has been publicized as its desired terminus. Would the tunnel have an exit in Belltown or lower Queen Anne? How would the bus get from there to SLU without getting caught in congestion?

      1. Why does anybody think one would build a billion-dollar piece of infrastructure and then keep the system structure exactly the same.

        SLU isn’t “the desired terminus” for the C Line. There no more West Seattleites heading to SLU than there are people headed to SLU from anywhere else.

        Breaking the C/D — in the present, when on the surface — is about having a better C and D. It It is also about adding significant additional capacity to SLU, and to a lesser extent about providing some easier one-seat trips through SLU and down to the Stadiums that do not presently exist on our highest-frequency and most legible lines.

        A billion-dollar tunnel changes all of these calculuses. And would in any sane iteration provide access to Aurora and have a stop at, say, Thomas and “7th Avenue North” as well.

        Jesus, Mike. Your comments aren’t just putting carts before horses. They’re placing the carts on pedestals and using the horses for glue.

      2. I think it gets a bit more challenging if you mix buses and trains, but as I said before (, it shouldn’t be that hard. The Seattle downtown transit tunnel was built as a bus tunnel. It was designed to eventually be converted to a train tunnel, but it was never optimized to handle both. If anything, the changes we made (e. g. getting rid of the free ride zone) made buses slower in the tunnel.

        But this tunnel should be designed from the very beginning to handle both rail and bus service. To do this right means you have off board payment and level boarding through the tunnel (for both rail and buses). Design it from the very beginning to handle both at the same time with maximum throughput. That doesn’t seem that difficult to me (I’m sure other systems have done it).

        For what is is worth, I think the south end will always have bus service, while train service makes sense from the north. The destinations from the south end (including West Seattle) are just too spread out. The pattern is a lot more like commuter rail. Someone in Tacoma wants to go downtown, which is why Link will never be popular coming from Tacoma, if it gets there. It will be too slow, with too few worthy stops in between. The same is true of West Seattle. There aren’t even any stops for West Seattle to add (Harbor Island, South SoDo?). There is simply nothing there until you get to SoDo. Meanwhile, a Ballard line adds Belltown (the most populous part of Seattle) as well as parts of Queen Anne. Then there is the possibility of a branch line from the Ballard line. This would mimic the Metro 8. It would connect the Central Area with South Lake Union, then curve around and connect to Belltown and the rest of downtown. All of that means that light rail from the north end is easily justified, but rail from the south is not.

      3. One big problem I see with the current downtown transit tunnel is that there is no way for anything to pass anything else. If it is going to be a mixed bus and light rail tunnel then if it is possible it should have stations that are four lanes wide rather than three lanes wide and space for passing at the platforms. Or, give light rail a dedicated space and use “left side” platforms for light rail and on the “right side” for buses so that one slow boarding doesn’t delay a dozen vehicles worth of passengers.

      4. So what about a crazy idea of this new downtown tunnel being essentially “4 lane”: 2 for rail only and 2 for bus only? Is that the solution?

      5. @Glenn — How often do trains need to pass trains? Not very often, in my book. That is because trains keep moving. All the doors open, people get in and out, the doors close, the train moves. There is no reason why buses can’t work exactly the same way. They don’t for several reasons. The solution is fairly simple:

        1) Off board payment. Like I said, this was actually the case originally (which explains why there are no turnstiles in the stations). Back in the day, downtown was a “ride free area”, so they never checked the fare.

        2) Level boarding.

        3) More doors (so that it works like a train car, and people can enter and exit very quickly).

        The only significant difference is that trains carry a lot more people. This is an issue. But buses can have significantly smaller headways, and arrive in pairs. This might reduce the overall capacity a bit, as well as the frequency of a train, but I doubt it would be huge.

      6. What if the new tunnel can be just rail but give the buses their own space in some other real estate waiting to be bored. Olympia is in need of a fix and a justification for some cost overruns with the existing DBT project. Change orders are still possible. Killing it is unlikely, though a daily more plausible outcome…
        The proposal is simple (assuming the bore can be completed, which definitely is not): A jersey barrier down the middle on both levels separates the lanes. One side is tolled for free flow at 50mph. The other side is transit only.
        The problem with tolls on the current project is that the tunnel plus surface capacity is overbuilding outside the peak of peak given the decline in VMT. Shifting the excess free flow capacity to transit while still pricing the other lanes for free flow could capture a lot more value and pay for some of the tunnel costs. It could be expensive at peak, but at all other times, freight will love it. :) On the transit only side (RR?)stations can be built just beyond the south and north entrances and in downtown alongside the tunnel, at least 1, ideally 3-4 bus stations. They would require good ventilation, but less if we used battery electrics. KCM will have 2 of those soon. It’s just 2, but there’s an option for 200… Luck finds the prepared. This would work very well with branching BRT. Implementation can be done with change orders right now. We can give Bertha new purpose, new funding, and maybe soon, a new face. How about a nice comeback story Seattle?

      7. 4 lanes is what TriMet does on the transit mall (granted, it’s spread between two streets due to the one way grid).

        You’d only need to have passing in the stations. However, as the primary need is for the train to pass buses it would have to be something along the lines of splitting light rail tracks off before the station and have them use a center platform, and have the buses use the curb side boarding as they do now.

      8. Assuming FHSC/SLUS are ever connected and made reliable (haha I know), wouldn’t that be a far better way to add capacity than leaving the C extended all the way into SLU?

      9. Not really. The zigs and zags simply make it too awkward of a choice for regular cross-downtown commuting, and the intended frequencies on the SLUT segment remain too crap to handle serious commuter needs or to provide a non-laborious last-mile option off-peak. (RapidRide frequency is already better than the streetcarp, and is set to improve this summer.)

  4. I would like to see them begin to design infrastructure that can be converted to accommodate larger, wider rolling stock in the future (one that isn’t a large tram). Eventually we’ll need capacity beyond what’s offered by our narrow rolling stock, even with 4-car trains. And if we continue to design our infrastructure specifically to fit our current trains, we lose a lot of flexibility in the future.

    The decision to spend all this money, and end up with limitations like tight curve radii is, in my opinion, not acceptable (for example, such as right outside the maintenance facility, in the planned tunnel in downtown Bellevue, in the DSTT between University St and Westlake, etc.). These are perfect examples of giving up at the last stretch and compromising the whole system and its flexibility in the future.

    Not to mention, throwing in tight curves like these require specially-designed trains and wheels that can’t really go much faster than 50-60 mph without introducing some serious dynamic forces. We’re already seeing some of the problems (instability and oscillations) on the elevated section between Tukwila and Rainier Valley…

    For a system that we want to one day connect to Tacoma and Everett (where we may want to go faster than 60 – 70 mph), having this speed limit essentially hard-coded into our infrastructure is quite limiting…

    What I’m suggesting:

    – Second DSTT should be designed to accommodate wider, faster and longer trains that may one day run regional services (Tacoma to Everett, Seattle to Issaquah). It doesn’t have to accommodate those trains now, but there should be design considerations that make the conversion possible and easier.

    – Keep the current DSTT for local Seattle services and our current trains

    1. Sounds like an even more explicit BART del Norte to me. And until you prove that the Puget Sound region is going to have nine million people in it, BART del Norte is a non-starter.

      Heck, even with nine million people BART del Sur is pretty lame.

      1. You do know that all of the corridors I’ve listed are being considered in the long-term right? They’ve already been mentioned by ST from time to time.

        Also, I’m not saying build it now. I’m saying build it in a way that it can be accommodated effectively in the future. I see some design decisions that are limiting the potential of the system in the long run, and those should not continue as the system expands.

      2. What an interesting day. I find myself agreeing completely with all the regulars, even though I often squabble with them. Anandakos is right. Top speed isn’t important. We aren’t talking about a high speed, intercity system. There will be no bullet trains from Everett to Seattle. Light rail works best as an urban system, where average speeds of even 30 MPH is really fast. Want to get from Ballard to the UW at an average speed of 30 MPH? Better have a helicopter. Really. Unless you are trying to make the trip at 3:00 in the morning and hit all the lights, you can’t do it. This is why underground (or elevated) transit is so popular. The trains in Chicago (or New York or Boston or Toronto or Montreal, or [I’m tired of typing]) are way more popular than BART. They are extremely fast compared to driving. Smoking fast. I still remember a cop movie (or maybe it was a TV show) where there was an incident that happened at the other end of Manhattan. The cops needed to get there as soon as possible. They debated for several critical seconds, whether it made sense to drive their police car (lights blazing, while yelling at everyone within earshot to get out the way — yes, drive up on the curb) or take the subway. The slow, old, subway.

        That is why top speed is unimportant. An urban transportation system will always be a bit slower than traveling in the countryside. But it makes sense for a city. That is what is cost effective. That is what will be important 100 years from now, not what will be the top speed of a train while it goes from a station in Tacoma to a station in Federal Way.

        But you did mention “longer trains” and I can support that. Or better yet, very low headways (which accomplishes the same goal). That is actually better, really, and I think everyone supports that (two minute frequency is really nice — folks don’t chase after the train).

        So, low headways in the new tunnel? Absolutely!

    2. The problem is that the widest trains need to be in the primary corridor — downtown, U-District, stadiums, SeaTac — but that’s precisely the corridor that can’t be expanded. If you put a higher-capacity corridor up the west side, you run into the irony that the highest-capacity line doesn’t go to the U-District, the second-largest destination. And depending on the configuration, it may not go to SeaTac, the third-largest destination.

      This is actually the same dilemma as driverless trains. With driverless trains you could have ultra-frequency full time (Skytrain has 5-minute headways 11pm). But then you get into the irony that Ballard has more frequent trains than the U-District does, which is the opposite of ridership and trip patterns.

      1. That would be a very good situation. We should absolutely expand capacity on the primary corridor – but we shouldn’t use constrained capacity there to excuse over-constraining our capacity elsewhere.

        Driverless trains on 5-minute overnight headways to Ballard would be a very good thing. It doesn’t suddenly become a bad thing because they aren’t going elsewhere as well.

    3. Interesting, would make sense for the Everett-Tacoma line way in the future to eventually become an EMU Regional Rail line in the future with improvements, of course independent from the national railroad network to avoid the BS FRA rules.

      1. Yes that’s my point :) But with how our current infrastructure is designed, it’s unlikely to happen.

    4. You guys are missing the point. I’m not asking for high-speed rail between Everett and Seattle.

      The Everett – Seattle line can hardly be categorized as an urban train. It’s by nature very suburban. Our system is closer to BART and the German S-Bahn than it is to the NYC subway.

      We’re serving lower-density suburbs with very large stop spacing. These lines converge in a city center to form a high-frequency, high-capacity stem. I think it’s a very good concept. Outside of the cities, they frequently stretch over a mile (Rainier beach to Tukwila = More than 2 miles; Tukwila to Sea-Tac = 1.7 miles; Rainier flyer stop to Mercer Island = more than 3 miles).

      Top speed doesn’t really matter in urban areas (between Rainier Valley and Northgate). However, in the outskirts between Northgate-Everett, or Rainier Valley-Tacoma, Seattle – Issaquah, it should act more like a suburban train than a subway system. Reason? Because it does become a suburban train. In this case, top speed and acceleration does have quite a large influence on travel times due to the distance and time between stations.

      For now, the design of our trains were originally limited by the existing infrastructure, but now we continue to build infrastructure that specifically fits the design of our trains. Which means we will not see longer trainsets, we will not see wider trainsets, we will probably not see full-automation, we will not see faster trains and we will definitely start feeling the effects of these compromises once ridership grows in the next few decades.

      1. “The Everett – Seattle line can hardly be categorized as an urban train. It’s by nature very suburban.”

        It has a suburban tail, like London Underground lines whose last three stops coincide with mainline train stations. That doesn’t mean the entire line is suburban, just the tail. Try telling somebody going from Roosevelt to Capitol Hill that it’s not an urban train, because it is to them.

      2. It has a suburban tail that starts north of Northgate and south of Rainier Valley. “Just the tail” in this case means that the majority of the line is a suburban train. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it. We have an S-Bahn type setup. It’s just we’re adding constraints throughout the system that’s going to limit its potential.

      3. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it. We have an S-Bahn type setup.

        Yes there is, and no we don’t.

        S-Bahns offer significant intra-urban cross-connectivity — copious interweaving lines with dozens of mile-or-less-spaced stops — before stretching out no further than 18 miles or so to serve places like this.

        They have no desire and no use for “high-speed trains” on them.

        We desire, for some inexplicable reason, to send our trains 35 miles in various directions, though places that mostly look like this.

        Not equivalent in the slightest.

        Again, if your “local” “high-capacity” service can even begin to consider the possibility of getting up high speeds between stations, you’re fucking doing transit wrong.

      4. Lol 18 miles?

        No. The Munich S-Bahn routinely meets and exceeds 25 miles from the city center, to places like Otterfing or Freising where it’s so suburban and insignificant I can’t even show you Google Streetview. Take the S2 from Central Station to Altomünster (just electrified a few weeks ago) and you’ll be travelling 30 miles.

        And yes, outside of the city center, there are S-Bahn stations with large spacings (and park and rides) where the train reaches 87 mph. That’s nearly 60% faster than Link’s top speed, and a good 10% faster than Amtrak Cascades will be doing in the foreseeable future. When combined with the central stem where they converge to form high frequency service (2 minute headway) in a single tunnel, the entire system averages 30 mph.

        The purpose of the S-Bahn isn’t just to connect the suburbs of a city, but also the satellite cities around it, within a reasonable travel time. Distance matters less than the travel times in this context.

        A proper planning process for a rail network would be to define:
        * We want X travel time between A, B, C, etc.
        * We want this frequency, this schedule, these transfers at these locations and these service modifications to existing routes
        * We want X capabilities from our infrastructure and this flexibility in the future
        * Plan, design, then build

        Instead, we built a train because we wanted a train, and we picked one without a complete technical and planning understanding behind what we were doing.

        That’s why we ripped out the original tracks in the DSTT (no one thought about electrical insulation). That’s why we have side-platforms in the DSTT (no one thought about cross-platform transfers for East Link). That’s why no one can tell us for certain what the actual speed profiles and time tables will be between Seattle and Redmond. And yes, this blog has mentioned it several times, but we still don’t have a definitive answer for what the service changes will look like once the UW extension opens. These are things that should have been done in the planning process from the very beginning.

        So instead of just saying we want a second DSTT, we need to be thinking details of what we want from the tunnel (technically, service-wise and planning-wise), what kind of future flexibility we want in our system, and NOT build a tunnel just because we want a tunnel that can link A, B, and C with a few trams.

      5. Hand waving and insults from [ah] on the STB are effective.

        It’s a sign of weak transit support.

        But it’s a lot harder to get deep into the politics, and work right amongst those who currently make the decisions making the seemingly illogical choices, and figure out how to change minds.

        It’s more fun for transit supporters to bite each other’s asses here….

      6. Wrong again. I don’t know Munich well, but even a 2-second look at Google reveals that the longest S-Bahns top out at 28km, a.k.a. 18 miles.

        And while German commuter towns are more suburban-feeling (thanks to our post-war infliuence) than, say, most French villages, the Munich S-Bahn still serves exclusively walkable places arranged in linear fashion. The exact opposite of the crap along our “manifest spine”.

        Also, dollars-to-donuts says the outer-segment S-Bahns are running half-hourly or less, because even in planned German communities there isn’t “rapid transit” demand on spindle rail.

      7. p.s. Jason, the latter part of your comment makes a good point (setting goals and choosing tools and physical arrangements to meet those goals, rather than the other way around).

        But the fact remains that there are no “87 mph” trains on the Munich S-Bahn. When you have a dozen stations in less than 20 miles (on your most spread-out line), such a thing wouldn’t begin to make sense.

      8. And Jim, if you were remotely in touch with reality, I would respect your ambition to “change minds”. But since you only care, in your own words, about the inherent “benefits of rail”-to-everywhere (note: there are no inherent benefits), you are not a worthwhile contributor.

        The first step to improved transit outcomes is to actually understand the mechanisms by which transit outcomes improve. Otherwise you’re “advocating” up the wrong tree.

      9. I rest my case.

        It’s why the chatter between faceless, nameless blog posters is a waste of time.

        Some here are actually posting some factual data, (which I can tell is from a reliable source), but unfortunately the data that I’m familiar with and how it gets translated here has told me my efforts are better spent where it counts.

        I look forward to the day the decision makers will say “Oh yeah, [insert real person’s name here].has a good argument”

        But the posters here don’t seem to have the where-with-all to challenge the transportation status-quo (the COMPLETE transportation picture, not the Seattle Transit Bubble).

        Ask Mike McGinn which rings you need to approach, (and whether they’re kissable or not).

      10. @d.p. Top speed of S-Bahn München is 140 km/h (87 mph) on the outskirts. That’s information straight from my colleague who does signalling for Deutsche Bahn. It’s only with those speeds that you can achieve the pre-determined travel time requirements into the city center on alignment lengths exceeding 25 miles (because ya know, trains don’t fly straight-line distances).

        @Jim, it is a complete waste of time. That’s why I rarely comment on STB, and I don’t think I’ll be doing this again for a while.

      11. Hilarious how the foamers always claim to have “insider info”, but all that ever means is that some equally deluded German basement dork fed you some bullshit that reinforced your detachment from reality.

        Show me the stop-pair on the Munich S-Bahn between which trains are getting up to 87 mph. Seriously, just try to pick two stations where that would be physically possible, much less necessary!

        Ludicrous, you guys are. Just ludicrous.

        Anyway, Jim, good luck on your crusade to fix Puget Sound mobility while chained in protest to an abandoned railway depot in Orting.

        I’ll be here (stubbornly, often against my better judgment) trying to influence the dialogue toward rational outcomes.

      12. Alright this is my last comment, just to lay out the facts. The following sections are where the S-Bahn reaches 140 km between stop pairs. These stop pairs are very similar to some stop pairs on the Lynnwood extension and East Link. Even Rainier Beach to Tukwila is about 2.5 miles.

        S1: Almost all of the stop pairs between Feldmoching and the Airport
        S2: Riem to Marktschwaben
        S3: Deisenhofen to Holzkirchen
        S4: Aubing to Grafrath
        S6: Gauting to Starnberg Nord

        The rolling stock (ET 423) are high-powered EMUs, running on 15,000 volts, not your typical American rolling stock. These things have enough power to accelerate up to 140 km and coast their way to the next stop, even if the spacing is about 2 miles.

        Reasons for reaching 140 km/h, even for less than 20 seconds:

        (1) Faster travel times. Achieve the timetable, and the promised service requirement during the planning process. These were defined during the planning process.
        (2) Make up for lost time due to dwell times at station, i.e. higher average speed
        (3) Get out of the way and keep up with the regional express trains

        Note number 3. The S-Bahn shares tracks with regional express trains, because unlike Link, the outskirts are built to mainline-track standards so other services can use them. That means if the S-Bahn comes every 20 minutes, the capacity in between can be used by regional trains. That’s made possible with signalling that accommodates different train profiles, as well as headways down to 2 minutes. Systems in use include ERTMS or LZB.

        On the other hand, unfortunately, Link’s infrastructure was/is/will be built specifically to Link vehicle standards even in the outskirts, with Link-specific signalling, loading gauge, no sidings, etc. By not building to mainline track standards, that means even when the FRA weight restrictions are lifted (imminent), there is no possibility of running Sounder or Amtrak Cascades services on Link tracks. Therefore, in between Link services, each cross section of our multi-billion dollar infrastructure will be sitting empty for 15 minutes. How’s that for return on investment?

        In my opinion, that is a huge oversight, because that was our one chance to completely bypass the mudslide prone alignment that Sounder North/Amtrak Cascades runs on. Instead, we’re spending a few billion dollars to build a new Link alignment, and God knows how many more millions on an unreliable parallel route next to it that we all know is practically worthless for passenger traffic.

      13. Oh, Jebus. Yikes.

        You love commuter trains so very much. Have you ever actually been on one?

        The S-Bahn is not reaching 79 mph between dozens of stop-pairs less than 2 miles apart, never mind many of the 1-mile stop-pairs on the segments you just listed.

        That is not happening. Not for 20 seconds or for 1 second. That is fiction. That is pulled from the deepest reaches of your (or your “colleague’s”) ass.

        And no, we shouldn’t be building our million-mile Link to “even higher regional standards”, because — again — there is no money for something of such little demand. Your thought process is astounding: “We’re getting such little value at the current level of overbuilding. We should totally overbuild in a way that is even more out of touch with our realities of land use!”

        You mention dwell times. That’s actually hilarious — German subways, in my experience, have unusually long dwell times, for no good reason other than a mechanistic insistence on leaving exactly at the :00 second mark from every single stop. This can often result in 50-second dwells, and a line that runs slower than the same service in, say, France.

        But it’s okay, I suppose, because basement foamer troglodytes think they’re making that up by shooting to 79 mph ten seconds after the doors close!

        Well, Seattle has followed Germany’s lead on the needlessly long dwell times. Shame we can’t follow its lead on urban coverage, right-sized service patterns, and ignoring foamer dipshits who don’t know what they’re talking about.

      14. Out of interest I checked the s-bahn schedule at:

        And it appears the some trains do haul it. The express train leaves Markt Schwaben at 7:32 and arrives in Riem at 7:41. I measure that distance at 15km which means that the train is averaging 100kph on that section. A top speed of 140 kph is quite reasonable.

        Not that this is an argument for Link to Federal Way, but it does show that Munich has a very comprehensive system of urban mobility.

      15. What it actually shows is that some “outer” segments of their S-Bahn — despite being not half as far from the city as what we propose to build — have little to do with “urban mobility” in the first place.

        Locals running every 40 minutes, if that. Occasional high-speed expresses. That’s commuter transit.

        But of course the foamers think it is remiss not to design Seattle’a supposed urban-ish connective lifeline so that we can send 80mph trains every 10 minutes to Stanwood.

        Riders? Human people trying to get to non-fictional destinations? Real needs and behaviors? What are those!?

      16. I personally don’t agree that trains should be running to Federal Way or Everett yet. But the politics for doing that is apparently there, whether we like it or not. In some ways or another, it’s probably due to sub-area equity and “Why does Seattle get it and we don’t?” sort of mentality. I also don’t see this community vehemently opposing Everett/Federal way rail like I see for the SR 99 tunnel.

        I’m not saying it’s a good idea to extend rail to those places and I’m not saying that it’s necessary, but I’m saying if we’re building that system, we should build it with flexibility to get more use out of that system while ridership from Everett and Federal Way languishes. And in general, Sound Transit should see whether it makes sense to continue building our infrastructure to serve only Link-type vehicles.

        Trust me, if I had my way, the first segment of Link would never have gone to the airport in the first place, it would have linked Northgate, DT Seattle and Bellevue.

        And d.p., you’re right. The S-Bahn doesn’t serve purely “urban” corridors. That’s what the U-Bahn is for. In fact, most S-Bahn stations on the outskirts have (gasp!) park and rides. Yet it manages 800,000 trips per day (not gonna happen in Seattle).

  5. That’s great and all, but as has been mentioned, the Bertha mess right now may really scare people away from boring another hole through downtown. I know Bertha’s tunnel is substantially larger than a would-be rail-only tunnel, maybe the concerns aren’t applicable to a smaller bore?

    Ballard-UW would be nice to start seriously talking about too. Not only would it be cheaper, but it works towards a grid which is/should be the ultimate goal in most transit systems. What happens when both Ballard and the U District build up and an increasing amount of people need to travel between the two? Having a direct link is a natural choice, and on top of that it provides fast and reliable connectivity from Ballard to Downtown.

    1. A grid with only one line running through DT Seattle is not a grid. It’s the forced transfer of large numbers of riders onto 2 LR lines that are already at (or at least near) capacity that is the problem. This is why ST wont’ build the Ballard-UW spur.

      1. Yeah, I’m certainly not saying a direct line shouldn’t be built, it’s just a question of in what order. I guess I feel impressionistically like the Ballard-UW spur would be of more use in the short term.

      2. Ballard-UW won’t be built. It would exacerbate the problem with capacity in the DSTT.

        It’s not so much the number of trains in the tunnel as it is the number of people riding. Forcing riders to transfer onto the existing SB line doesn’t solve the problem. From ST’s POV is it much more advantageous to satisfy the main demand (Ballard/Freemont to DT) directly, then have the UW bound riders transfer at one of the DT stations and head back north. This balances out the ridership on this stretch instead of unbalancing it and creating artificial capacity issues.

      3. The east-west line has the best ROI of literally anything in the ST quiver, and would be the first (maybe only) subway segment in Seattle line to expand its mobility impact beyond the immediate vicinity of its individual stations.

        We will have huge trains. No matter what idiotic limits are placed on vehicle throughput, we will not have trouble with human throughput for the forseeable future.

        The entire comment above is grade-A know-nothing bullplop.

      4. Only if you think people can’t ever stand for eight minutes.

        Sadly, Seattle is full of idiots who think people can’t ever stand for eight minutes.

      5. >> Ballard-UW won’t be built. It would exacerbate the problem with capacity in the DSTT.

        What capacity problem? We aren’t even running the trains at capacity (meaning four of them) and they aren’t full! Seriously, you are just theorizing (OMG, if we build something that might actually work, then it will become popular, and then too many people will use it. Oh No!). Here is a crazy idea: How about if we come even close to capacity, we add more cars to the train. Better yet, run it more often.

        Holy smoke, I really don’t get that. Maybe this explains the bus routes for the city (if we ran more of a grid, then people would get out of their cars and ride the buses, then the buses would be really, really crowded). Aaach!

        Speaking of buses, you do know that we aren’t going to sell all the buses once people switch to using trains, right? If push comes to shove, we could always use a bus. Really, if UW to downtown ever gets just too damn busy for huge trains running all the time, we can always supplement them with the system that carries 100% of the riders right now.

        Or else (call me crazy) we build the system you want (a second downtown tunnel). That is the way that the big boys do it. I understand your confusion (given what we have built) but most cites build the really popular lines first, then add in the other lines once ridership becomes very large. I know — crazy huh. It means that the billion dollar investment actually gets used. It means that instead of nice, pretty trains traveling almost empty through the countryside, you have lots of people almost immediately taking advantage of the system. Then, if and when the numbers become too large, you expand.

      6. Or to put it more simply, if there is a capacity problem, it will presumably only be a peak capacity problem, which means you can simply raise the peak fare so that demand matches the constrained supply. Then your capacity problem is solved and your U-district line has incredible efficiency.

      7. (slaps own head) Why didn’t I think of that? We can just raise peak bus fares to $5 and the overcrowding will be gone. Never mind that people won’t be able to get to work, or will have an incentive to drive, or will pay 10% of their income in transit fares.

      8. @d.p. – Don’t we already have people standing for 5 times that long on the 44? I know I have. I dream of only having to stand for 8 minutes in a stinky, crowded metal cage.

      9. @Mike Orr. Obviously raising fares isn’t ideal. But if there is risk of overcrowding [I do believe it is a small risk, not guaranteed], raising fares can mitigate that problem, so as to avoid queuing, which would be a worse outcome. I also think your analysis of what would happen if fares were raised is off point. Yes, some people may choose to drive, but lots of people would move their trips to a little before peak or a little after, or choose to not make the trip, just as happens with congestion pricing. See
        for details on that idea.

        I’d also note that if their was more ridership under this scenario then if we built a counterfactual line, it would still be a better outcome.

      10. I agree with Mike on the fare point. Urban residents around here have long overpaid for substandard transit by any reasonable peer comparison.

        Finally offering almost-good transit (usefulness still hobbled by a lousy access-shed) is not an excuse to start similarly overcharging for the almost-good transit.

        But we will have years of warning before capacity becomes a genuine problem (as in, people actually left behind, rather than just having to stand for three stops), and if that situation ever nears, it will be so obvious to everyone that the political and public consensus for a second north-south line will be unprecedented.

        That kind of transit success (involving an order of magnitude more riders than any existing transit corridor today) is thus far unprecedented in this town. We should be so lucky to be that successful in the future.

      11. That is basically my sentiment as well d.p. But some people here have treated the risk of a capacity problem as being as being an untenable risk to take on, as if we would be totally screwed if something like that came to fruition. If it were to happen it would be a good thing and evidence of the massive success of Link, or at least that portion of it. Moreover, I think you are probably right that we would have years of evidence and enough time and political will to plan a second N-S line before capacity became an issue.

        But if for some short period of time there was a capacity problem then changing the fare structure would be a reasonable way to address the queuing problem in the short term. That could mean raising the peak fare, lowering the off-peak fare or some combination of the two. Obviously in the long term you would want to build a second N-S line.

    2. I’d like to see the Ballard-UW line and West Seattle – Downtown lines built as part of ST3. If the other ST subareas refuse to chip in for a second DSTT, then their riders can have a transfer. If only 2 lines can go through DSTT, we should be able to force the matter that Ballard/West Seattle trains get priority over other subareas that refuse to pay for regional infrastructure.

  6. But U Link already being at capacity is a good point, if that’s actually the case when it opens. That wouldn’t accommodate the spur passengers easily.

    1. Link won’t full when it opens to Northgate. It probably won’t be true when it opens to Lynnwood, at least not initially. It’s good enough to build Ballard-UW and Ballard-Westlake (or “Pike Place” if a Second Avenue alignment is chosen) initially and punt on the tunnel until South and Southwest King catch up to North King in densification.

      If they ever do.

    2. Clarify:
      U-Link is so far under capacity that ST states that it only plans to run two-car trains until East Link & Northgate Link are open.

      This’ll create artificial crowding at peak, but there is clearly plenty of capacity.

      The discussion about Ballard-UW creating capacity constraints on Link seems to be an example of taking the most optimistic forecasts possible, and multiplying by a large integer. Be interesting if there is actual data suggesting there is a real problem.

      1. I don’t buy the capacity problem. I also don’t buy the argument that we can’t run a line to Ballard through the DSTT under current demand. Everyone seems to accept this without any hard data showing this to be the case.

      2. Wow. Two car trains. Also, this does not include the increase in headway (thus increasing frequency) that could come with a minor investment in ventilation shafts. In short, trains can carry lots and lots of people; these trains can travel very often; we don’t have a capacity problem.

      3. I believe U-Link frequency will increase, from 8 to 6 minutes peak, and 10 to 8 minutes all-day. That’s how they’ll fit more people. And the technical impediment to 3- and 4-car trains won’t be there. First it was the wall in the tunnel, then it was the mandatory testing period for U-Link. Both of those will be gone when U-Link opens, so it will only take an ST decision to add cars if 2-car trains get full. Which they will undoubtedly do if overcrowding occurs peak or weekday when it’s most “visible” to the public.

      4. By the time North Link trains are full enough to cause a bottleneck in 2030 or 2040, we can re-route Ballard-UW trains to that they continue east across the Sand Point Way or 520 crossing, rather than heading downtown. There are lots of creative ways we can push a 2nd downtown tunnel into ST4 in order to maximize the number of new stations we can add outside downtown in ST3. I know we want to build the system to accommodate future growth, by the ST board members are correct when they say the new downtown tunnel doesn’t need to be in ST3.

      5. New rule:

        The first time anyone says the words “Sand Point” in a discussion of the logistics of future high-capacity service implementation, all reasonable people shall abruptly abandon the sub-thread in which those words have been uttered.

  7. Sounds like Mayor Murray knows what he’s talking about – more than he’s been given credit for in the past. This highlights yet again how difficult it will be to accomplish out goals without any help from Olympia.

  8. Given the great expense of a second DSTT, I again wonder if a surface option concept using Third Avenue as a enter-running LRT line should be considered. If so many people are going to shift from bus to rail, the number of Third Avenue buses will drop to the point where a conversion is possible, especially if a restructuring occurs that terminates many of the remaining bus routes on the edges of Downtown or onto the east-west streets (soon to have less traffic with AWV ramp closures). The surface option, while certainly adding a few minutes to the rail routes using it, is going to have to be considered as an option if any outside funding is going to help pay for the line anyway — so we should be sketching it out now to see how it works.

    1. The many examples of surface LRT throughout the country have shown it adds more than just “a few minutes”. We should avoid surface rail at all costs, especially through downtown.

      1. No kidding. Holy smoke, that would be a bad idea. The best thing this city did was build a transit tunnel (long before they put trains through it). Doing the opposite would be crazy.

    2. Portland is just three hours away; you can go see how MAX is doing downtown. Very slow, and the block length limits the number of cars so it’s not stopping in intersections.

      1. NW Glisan & 5th/Portland Union Station to Portland State University/SW 6th & College Street: 1.5 miles (Google maps driving directions)
        Time required on MAX: 12 minutes (TriMet trip planner)
        Average Speed: 1.5 / (12 min / 60) = 7.5 miles per hour

        International District Link station to Westlake Link Station: 1.2 miles
        Time required on Link: 18 minutes (Google Maps Transit planner)
        Average Speed: 1.2 / (18 min / 60) = 4 miles per hour

        (Do these numbers for Link really reflect reality? I remember it seeming like the tunnel was horribly slow, but I didn’t think of it as being THAT slow.)

        Having the line on the surface also saves time over a deep tunnel because you don’t have to descend or ascend 4 floors of stairs. The train station is right there on the street level.

        This is not saying that Link in a tunnel is bad. However, it must be operated in a way that takes advantage of being in a tunnel to be worth the time required to descent and ascend all those stairs.

      2. Those Link times can’t be right. The 550 is scheduled at 9 minutes from International District to Convention Place. Google is telling me the same right now, so I don’t know where your numbers are coming from – maybe they include the layover in the Pine Street Stub Tunnel?

      3. I get 10 minutes on Link daytime, from leaving Westlake to leaving Intl Dist; vs 3 minutes after 7:30pm, from arriving Intl Dist to arriving Westlake. I have never seen 18 minutes except when there’s a tieup.

      4. That was what Google Transit was telling me. It was probably including the walk time from the surface or something.

        8 minutes definitely sounds better.

        However, it isn’t stunningly faster than what MAX is doing on the surface. Granted, Link should be doing much better, but unfortunately it isn’t.

    3. I think you guys are missing my point about a “center-running” option. The slow transit malls in Portland and in Downtown San Jose are because the tracks are adjacent to sidewalks. I’m talking about a design more akin to MLK (although probably more like north of Downtown San Jose) where the trains can operate faster because there is a lane of traffic between them and the sidewalk and there is a disincentive (like an iron fence) next to the tracks to eliminate jaywalking. That’s why I’d suggest Third Avenue here, because any other street would probably have the transit lane next to parking and/or the sidewalk.

      1. Fair enough, but if you are going to do that (build a fence along third avenue) than just build the fence and allow buses along there. The big reason that buses are full is because they are stuck downtown. The buses run fairly well along 15th. Either you address the bottlenecks as best you can (I’m not sure how you cross Denny, by the way) or you spend money on a tunnel. If you spend money on a tunnel, you build it where it will do the most good (downtown). Really, you can build this:
        But building the opposite makes little sense.

      2. The MAX tracks in the transit mall are adjacent to the curbs only at the stations (and for a short transition to the north and south). Between stations the trains run in the center lane at a good clip. Were it not for the horrible transition between the Steel Bridge and the north end of the Transit Mall, the Yellow and Green line performance in downtown would be reasonably quick.

        Grant that on the old east-west Yamhill/Morrison couplet they do run next to the sidewalk but that’s not “the mall”.

        The biggest problem with surface running downtown is the randomness of it all. Idiots continue to be born and continue, somehow, to pass driving tests. And they continue to stop in front the trains or run lights in front of them and get T-boned. Now that occasionally results in a Darwin Award, but not often enough to help the problem. /snark

        It’s not “real” transit to have LRT on the surface in a dense CBD like Seattle’s.

      3. Were it not for the horrible transition between the Steel Bridge and the north end of the Transit Mall…

        Surprising anecdote time:

        Around the time the north-south downtown MAX line was under construction, I was down in Portland for the TBA Fest. (I have an art-geek side to complement my transit-geek side.)

        As I was poking around a map to figure out how to get to and from TBA’s late-night Eastside venue on existing transit, I ran into the adorable but very young performance artist from the piece I had just seen. She was headed over there; she offered a ride.

        Driving over the Steel Bridge, she pointed to the construction staging site for the new connection, and she mentioned that she was acting as a construction forewoman on the project. In addition to her work in childcare, at a record store, and part time in an office somewhere. Plus the performance art. I’d heard that everyone in Portland has six jobs at 4.5 hours/week each, but this was dilettantism in extremis.

        She was lovely, and her zeal was inspiring, but the encounter did not suggest to me that the MAX project was necessarily being implemented at any level by those with significant experience or expertise.

        My first time on the Yellow line a year later, the abject ludicrousness of these three blocks confirmed my suspicions.

      4. The even worse thing about those three blocks is that Union Station now has worse transit service than it did before MAX was added. 77 used to stop right in front of the station, and 14, 33, 35, 54, and about a dozen others stopped on the street between Greyhound and Union Station. You could get off a train and get on a bus route headed to pretty much any core corridor in the urban area. It’s now a two block further walk to get to transit from the station and only a few directions are options.

        However, poor execution of surface light rail by one operator doesn’t mean that surface light rail is necessarily a bad thing.

  9. I don’t think there will be any modifications to sub-area equity, and nor should there be. Remember it was the burbs that voted down the original poposal because they were sure the RTA (now ST) would take all their money and spend it in DT Seattle. The voters had the sign wrong on the normal direction of cash flow, but their fears are what gave us sub-area equity and those fears still exist.

    What ST needs to do is flesh out what a WS-DT-Ballard line would cost with a new tunnel, then see how close we could get under reasonable ST3 options with an intact sub-area equity rule. Once we know how close we are we can see if we cant’ close the gap with, 1) Federal/other funding assistance, 2) ST3 truncations, 3) additional (uneven) tax rates in the ST3 enabling law.

    But we need to know what the plan is first and how close we can get. And if Seattle residents have to pay a little extra for a Ballard-DT line, then I’m certainly not against charging a little extra to those out of city users who end up using it.

    1. It’s not modifying subarea equity, and Martin was wrong to say “suspend” or “tweak” because it confuses people and give ammunition to the opposition’s false argument. Subarea equity is defined as “benefitting” the subarea, not being physically in the subarea. So this is exactly what subarea equity is: deciding whether the second DSTT sufficiently benefits all subareas, to justify them contributing it. Murray is right, and Martin’s description is right starting at “taking past each other”; it’s just the violence to subarea equity that’s overstated.

      1. In all likelihood there wouldn’t be a second LR line built in SnoCo as part of ST3. The more likely build option would be to extend the existing ST2 Lynnwood line north to Everett, in addition to funding some other non-LR projects in SnoCo.

        Effectively this means that SnoCo wouldn’t benefit directly from an investment in a second DSTT under ST3, although they could benefit from a DSTT2 in a later ST build (ST4?).

        Thus asking SnoCo to invest in DT Seattle under ST3 probably would take a modification of sub-area equity.

        And of course the voters aren’t likely to follow the interpretation of the rule close enough to understand the nuances of what “benefiting from” actually implies. If your fear is that your tax dollars will be taken over by Seattle and used to fund projects in DT Seattle, and you see a ballot proposal that actually spends your tax dollars in DT Seattle, then you will assume the worse and vote “no”.

  10. There is precedent for considering a downtown tunnel a regional project.

    In Los Angeles, the 2nd downtown subway line, connecting 2 light rail lines at each end, is branded as the
    “Regional Connector”, because it will allow trains from 4 suburbs to interline through downtown Los Angeles.

    “This new Metro Rail extension will also provide a one-seat ride for travel across Los Angeles County. From the Metro Gold Line, passengers will be able to travel from Azusa to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica without transferring lines. The Regional Connector will improve access to both local and regional destinations by providing continuous thru service between these lines and providing connectors to other rail lines via the 7th St/Metro Center Station.”

    This is perhaps an easier sell as a regional priority because the lines to the suburbs had all be built or were ready to build when the connection was proposed. Originally this subway was supposed to be part of the initial north-south light rail lines from Pasadena to Long Beach, but it was cut due to cost.

    I hope that Seattle won’t make have to wait to finish a 2nd Downtown tunnel until after the outer lines are built. It would have been cheaper and more effective if Los Angeles had built the “Regional Connector” when the light rail lines were first constructed.

    1. LA is the best example of what Seattle would have if West Seattle and Ballard are built as disconnected lines. LA currently has 5 rail lines exiting downtown: Gold-Pasadena, Gold-E. LA, Blue, Expo and Red/Purple. Only the Red Line traverses downtown (through a tunnel). The Blue and Expo connect to the Red Line at the southern end of downtown, and the Gold lines connect to the Red Line at the northeast edge of downtown.

      The situation is not satisfactory, so now LA is constructing a 2nd downtown tunnel, to allow the light rail lines ending at the edge of downtown to pass through downtown.

      San Francisco BART is the only US transit example that has 4 lines all interlined through a single downtown tunnel. And it doesn’t work out so well for them, capacity-wise.

      Most other North American cities with multi-line networks have 2 or 3 paths through downtown: Chicago, Boston, DC, Montreal, Toronto, etc. Even with radial-branched system layouts, by the time 5 lines exit downtown there is typically more than 1 downtown path/tunnel.

      (I focused on US cities since they generally have more transit demand focused “downtown”, resulting in radial branched networks. The best metro systems internationally have a one line-one tunnel arrangement (no branching) that allows every station to be served with the maximum frequency, but those cities have a more balanced density profile.)

    2. The LA example is a good study on how to get broad regional consensus about a Downtown project. The strategy was to get the branches funded first, and then introduce the Regional Connector once the citizens in several corridors complained about transferring.

      If we did built short lines that fed the main system, there would certainly be a growing impetus for the region to see the project happen.

      1. Actually, the Regional Connector was supposed to be built in the early 2000’s as a part of a planned Blue Line extension to Pasadena (The Blue Line was originally envisioned in the 80’s as going from Pasadena to Long Beach, via DTLA). Then the LA region had a major construction accident on the Red Line Subway, which catalyzed an already rising Anti-Rail sentiment into effectively stopping most of the remaining rail projects. As we all know, that stoppage didn’t really stick, and the surface portion of the Blue Line (which had already started construction) was spun off as the Gold Line that we know today. (The East LA section of the Gold Line originated as a part of the Red/Purple Line.)

    3. BART originally had only three lines in the San Francisco tunnel. I don’t know if Dublin was even envisioned until later. The Dublin line seems to have two purposes: one, to get to Dublin, and two, to have at least two lines running full time between Daly City and Oakland. Maybe they didn’t think enough about performance issues when they added the fourth line, but what are the problems?

      1. The Dublin (actually Livermore) extension dates back to 70’s at least, probably even further (Since BART was envisioned in the 50’s to more or less shadow the planned freeway network), likely as a form of Regional symmetry (Even though that part of the Bay Area is Rich as hell). BART didn’t have those capacity issues at the time the Livermore extension was approved for construction, as it only had like 2/3rds the ridership it has now at the time.

      2. BART isn’t a perfect system.

        The Dublin line was supposed to be diverted from the Fremont line that runs from Fremont to Richmond today. Then the Fremont segment riders got upset because they were to lose half of their service if the Richmond trains were eliminated, and Eastern Almeida County leaders wanted to have direct San Francisco service. Keep in mind that BART has a directly elected board, and each district board member is motivated to look out after their district (imagine ST with 9 districts to consider and you understand that political hassle)!

        Even so, the four lines (each only at 15 minutes but 6 to 7.5 minutes through most of Oakland because of two lines on each track) run reasonably well and there is not usually any major problem with schedule adherence. The biggest typical delay is simply is the time it takes to get passengers on and off the train at the busiest stations; BART recently proposed simply adding outside platforms to its center platform at high-volume stations to speed loading and loading.

        To this day, the biggest occasional operational problem with the four lines that BART did not build any tail tracks and has only a few crossovers in San Francisco. When a single train goes out of service because of a brake problem or door problem or a suicide event, the entire system almost collapses!

        Some key lessons:
        Three minute trains are possible (remember that full-size BART trains are 800 feet long (which means it takes longer to enter and leave the station), and the worst thing that happens with three lines are 9 minute singular headways.
        The lack of flexibility because the builders didn’t build enough tail tracks and crossovers is a disaster.

      3. Obviously the service plan never involved leaving any already-built portion of the system with no evening/Sunday service.

        The leaps your brain makes (or fails to make) sometimes, Mike… I just don’t quite understand.

      4. So the Daly City – Fremont line was going to go full time? Or there would be an Oakland – Fremont shuttle?

      5. I would guess the former, but why do you even care?

        Really, Mike, I’m just baffled by your logical process! Input billion-dollar infrastructure choice and then treat it like just another minor service variable? Every other variable is presumed immutable?

        You can’t build a new bus tunnel because it makes sense to send C Line buses to SLU under one present-case service scenario and to you that makes such a terminus forever “desired” for that particular route? Can’t devise an interline because someone made a posterboard with shiny-happy-clip-art people frolicking around the towers of Lynnwood? It makes no sense. You think you’re “appealing to authority” but really you’re just appealing to the most tenuous associations between “what we do” and “why we should do it”.

        I think this is at the root of your inability to answer my fundamental question: Why is it okay to build $50 billion and 80 miles worth of subways that fundamentally fail to offer an option better than driving?

        You have extreme difficulty seeing the holistic effects of the sum-total of smaller decisions made. Every warped defense of every bad decision justifies the next warped defense of the next bad decision, and suddenly we have Bellevue stations outside of the tunnel under Bellevue and 2-mile feeders from Capitol Hill to “Capitol Hill” and empty trains in Fife and everyfuckingbody with a brain still drives by default and you just throw up your hands, saying “it was inevitable”.

        Your forest-missing isn’t innocuous here. It gets to the root of our failures as a city.

  11. An interesting idea — using Stadium as a stub station for a West Seattle line. If the existing tunnel truly wouldn’t be able to handle that, in absence of a long-term solution (though we would be foolish for even letting it get to that point), wouldn’t our nice, underused, center-platform station be a good use of that space? There’s even the holding track nearby that is used on game days.

    1. I’ve explored that idea (or something close to it) but the long and short of it is that people don’t want to switch so close to downtown. There are technical problems, too. You would have to make a significant investment to have trains running more frequently. They can’t run south very often, so that means an extra train running from the north end and ending at SoDo. This means a turnback station at SoDo and it means weird scheduling (trains from the north end would go first to SeaTac, then Bellevue, then SoDo). Even if you pulled all of that off, it might not be very popular; people generally oppose that.

      But that would be a fairly cheap solution. Run buses from West Seattle to SoDo. You still need some investment on the West Seattle Freeway (additional HOV lanes and a ramp from there to the SoDo busway). But that isn’t horribly expensive. It would be the first phase of bus improvements for West Seattle that would (if a tunnel was built) allow for very fast West Seattle to downtown travel.

      Of course, building light rail from West Seattle to downtown is crazy, especially without a tunnel. The tunnel is by far the best part of the deal. West Seattle is simply geographically challenged. There is a huge distance from the nearest West Seattle stop (Delridge) and the next closest stop (SoDo). Building rail through there would be horribly expensive. So basically you are talking about spending an enormous amount of money for a system with very few stations (none of which are that great, either). That would be really cost inefficient, and really nuts considering that there is a freeway that can be leveraged for the same purpose. If you are going to make that kind of investment, you should do the opposite, Build a tunnel, add the other necessary connections, and run buses through the tunnel. It will be much cheaper, and much faster for those that don’t want to go to SoDo (which is just about everyone).

      1. RossB–I’ve been impressed with your consideration of transit options to WS and the serious issues that billions spent on a high-capacity rail line there would raise. Much less money would be much better spend on a serious, bad-ass trunk BRT system into WS, allowing various routes to branch from there to serve the widely scattered nodes in the area. Spend the money to provide a fully functional real BRT trunk from WS into SoDo and let’s see what the ridership does. If rail turns out to be best in time, we’ll know that and have a start.

        Keep banging that drum!

      2. Does putting BRT on the SODO busway really make the most sense? These buses won’t have access to the DSTT so they will have to do some jogging to make things work. In addition, once the viaduct construction finishes (tunnel or not) the SR-99 ramps will be at dearborn and will connect directly with bus lanes on Alaskan Way. Considering the lack of density in SODO it seems to me that using this corridor makes more sense then the Busway. If that’s so then the most important thing, other than signals on Alaskan Way and Columbia way, would be bus lanes on SR-99 and direct access between the West Seattle Bridge and SR-99.

      3. Ross,

        Sounder riders switch every day at ID station.
        It really isn’t a big deal.

        If a West Seattle(new station in SODO busway next to Sodo Station) stub line were done with some planning, it could be extended into a net-new downtown tunnel if the ridership ever justified building it.

        The SODO busway has no value as soon as South Link hits Federal Way.

      4. ID Station is not the same as SoDo. I’ve argued for a transit center at SoDo but I really don’t think it would be very popular. SoDo won’t become what South Lake Union is — it has the potential, but the city won’t let it change from industrial. The other problem is that trains don’t come that often to SoDo, and the east side trains don’t go there. So someone trying to get to Bellevue has to wait a while for a train heading north, then wait for the next train heading to Bellevue. Not the end of the world, but it wouldn’t be popular.

        I suggest leveraging the SoDo busway because that is where the tunnel would start (right next to the old tunnel). That is actually the official plan (as discusses in the tunnel documents). It arrives a little bit differently (since the new tunnel is on the east) but it still ends at the SoDo busway (even the train would start going above ground there). The other advantage of leveraging the SoDo busway is that buses could easily connect from I-5. It is actually a WSDOT project (connect the HOV lane on I-5 to the SoDo busway). That would enable a bus to travel in HOV lanes from Tacoma all the way through downtown Seattle (without stopping). If you changed the lanes from HOV 2 to HOV 3, it would mean which would mean thirty minute travel times from Tacoma to Seattle.

        A small tunnel to a second ID station is a pretty good backup. It would require some money, though (you would need to build room for buses to turn around). It would also do nothing for Ballard (or South Lake Union, or the Aurora corridor, etc.). But it would do wonders for West Seattle (and Tacoma and maybe Renton). I discuss all this in more detail here:

      5. I should add that all of this assumes that we make substantial investment in the bus infrastructure so that these buses never get stuck in traffic. This means very fast speeds (as fast as our light rail line) as well as guaranteed frequency. If you lower the bar (and the cost) a bit, and accept a little mixing with traffic, then I agree with Alex that cutting over to the west side makes sense.

        Except, of course, that it would not actually connect with the rest of the system very well (unless I’m missing something). If you connect to a new downtown tunnel, or even a new mini-tunnel to the ID, then connecting to Link (to get to Bellevue or the U-District) means a short walk through a hallway (like any connecting route between two subways). I’m not sure how you do that if you take a western route on Alaskan Way. I think it would require walking several blocks. That’s a pretty big loss of functionality. That doesn’t rule it out in the short term, of course. Maybe we add a bunch of West Seattle improvements, then basically punt when the bus gets downtown. Eventually we want that bus to connect to Link, but put that off for a later day (when we get more money). But if the whole point of BRT to West Seattle is to convince them that it is as good (if not better) than light rail to West Seattle, then I doubt a system with such a tough transfer would be very popular.

      6. @RossB
        The proposal for bus routing on Alaskan Way once the viaduct is down is: West Seattle bridge, SR-99, Alaskan way off ramp just south of SR-99 tunnel, Alaskan Way (with all day bus lanes), Columbia (with bus lanes), 3rd avenue. Link connections would be made at Pioneer Square station. I think both routing choices have their merits. The SR-99 routing is probably a bit faster downtown and provides really good service to the Ferry Dock, which is a high priority for people. But the SODO busway hits SODO and the ID better and makes better connections with link. It also may be easier to build direct access to the busway than to SR-99, I simply don’t the answer to that question.

      7. Slight correction: The pioneer square connection is more inconvenient from Columbia street then I thought. In that case most people will transfer at University Street station, especially if they are going north.

  12. No one has answered how, given the headway limitations of the University Link tunnel, we plan to run trains every 3 minutes through the DSTT?

  13. Speaking of an additional DSTT, I am wondering, would a new BUS-ONLY tunnel be practical in the future? This comes as a response to seeing Dayton’s new dual-mode (diesel-electric hybrid/electric trolley) buses by Gillig (better than the Bredas even in their heyday!), which would suit a new bus-only tunnel very nicely (not saying the current fleet of hush-mode-equipped hybrids can’t be used in the tunnel as well).

    1. I think a transit tunnel that could accommodate both makes the most sense. Both for future growth, and because rail from the north end is justified (if not from Ballard, from South Lake Union). But I think it should be designed from the very beginning to accommodate both in huge quantities. I don’t think the existing transit tunnel was designed that way. It was designed so that you could convert it (from rail to bus) but not so that you could handle both for twenty years, with very high capacity. To do that, you start by having level boarding with the buses, and off board payment. I’m sure there are other, more technical considerations as well.

    2. I’d probably also look at a rail-only tunnel and move one of the Link lines into it, with the promise of reintroducing buses into the current DSTT when finished.

      1. The problem is that the original DSTT, as with so much of our transit infrastructure past, present, and future, grossly privileged long-distance commuter trips over contributing to urban transit mobility. It has only ever been reasonably hooked up to the highways (or to highway-bound busway routes). That the 71-series wound up becoming the tunnel’s busiest routes is a near-accident of the 42nd Street reversible ramp, and even those routes have god-awful tunnel access the rest of the day.

        Any new tunnel cannot be allowed to repeat that fundamental error of transit philosophy. By hooking it to 15th, to Aurora, and to the West Seattle Freeway, it can conceivably become the speed-enhanced heavy-lifter for radial routes from the entire western half of the city, which is infinitely more valuable. It’s a shame such a tunnel can’t also be configured to do good for the Central-east swath of the city too.

        Ross makes the case for sending long-distance buses from Tacoma through a new tunnel. I see the logical appeal — it’s absurd for those buses to sit in 2nd-Ave traffic that can make reaching the highway add up to a significant percentage of trip time. At the same time, saving a few minutes for a moderate number of intercity riders doesn’t hold a candle to the sea change that results from making the medium-distance connective network fast and useful at all hours.

        This may conflict with the attempted selling-point of the second tunnel as “regional” in nature. On the other hand, King County (sub-optimally) the first tunnel, which has since been explicitly usurped by the “regionalism-obsessed” forces at ST. So perhaps there’s a Quid pro quo to be found there.

  14. If a second DSTT is only feeding Ballard and West Seattle, what’s the benefit to other areas other than those?

    I actually think that the second tunnel proposal is going to have to include offers to provide direct connections to more destinations than Ballard and West Seattle if the other areas are going to buy in. The proposal is going to have to promise restoring some direct connections to Issaquah, Renton, Kent/Auburn, Woodinville in some way that will be lost when buses get taken from the current DSTT. Maybe it’s a 2- or 3-Iine rail system that feeds the second tunnel. Maybe it’s moving one of the two lines in the current DSTT to the second tunnel and restoring bus service to these planes. Anyway, if this to be a regional project, some direct benefit to other areas is going to have to be demonstrated.

    1. If it’s built as a rail convertible bus tunnel, the appeal to those other areas would be obvious. Instead of crawling along on the surface, ST Express and Metro series 1xx, 2xx and 3xx rioutes could traverse downtown quicker.

      If the downtown tunnel is built, how much LR could be built in North King in addition? Maybe not even enough to warrant operating it at low headways.

    2. The West Seattle line would theoretically be extended to Burien, and the Aurora Line to Everett (or maybe terminate at a transfer station north of Lynnwood).

  15. The first paragraph of Mike O’Brien’s comments isn’t getting enough attention here.

    The *urgency* of a second DSTT is just a contrivance of his unwillingness to say no to a West Seattle rail alignment? (ditto for Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine).

    Once we pause long enough to realize that West Seattle isn’t getting rail, and that Ballard can be better served along a Ballard-UW alignment than along a direct-to-downtown alignment, the urgency of all of this goes away.

    There are not going to be many rail lines going through downtown for decades into the future. Four-car trains, and some comparatively simple engineering fixes to allow them to run at shorter headways, buys us several decades of capacity.

    1. Not really. The number of passengers expected by 2030 between Northgate and Downtown is huge even without counting the stations further North estimates have trains full between Westlake and U-District station during peaks.

      UW-Ballard will just fill the trains faster and for more of the day. A second line between the north end and downtown is needed.

      Even if no rail is built this round between either West Seattle or Ballard and downtown a second DSTT helps for all of the corridors still using buses such as RR C, D, & E, 5, 101, 106, 120, 150, etc.

      1. We’ve done the math before, and the only possible way this is true is if 90% of Northgate-downtown ridership is uni-directional and at peak.

        That shouldn’t be the case. If that were the case, we’d have no business building a full-time subway in the first place.

      2. @Chris S,

        Exactly. Northgate-DT has huge directional demand and will encounter capacity constraints somewhere in the approx 2025 to 2035 time frame. There just isn’t enough directional capacity to take all the Ballard riders — the bulk of which are going downtown — and add them into the directional flow. This is well understood.

        And of course the situation gets even worse when the line opens to Lynnwood. This should be obvious to even the most casual of observers today just by looking at the nature of congestion on I-5 during the morning and evening commutes.

        A second downtown line is definitely needed, and it makes sense that this would be a Ballard-DT-WS line.

        It’s pretty clear…..

    2. Fully agreed. [ad hom] make the place permanently non-amenable to urban subway service.

      Then the “problems” Mike takes as articles of faith will simply evaporate.

      Which is not to say that the WSTT might not still be a good idea, given the number of bus routes near and far it could vastly improve. But it would have to be so on its own merits, and not is a billion-dollar rail connection that benefits no one but the Junction (not even the rest of West Seattle).

    3. I think Mike has a good handle of the (Seattle) politics of the situation, but he seems to be all over the map as far as a practical or political situation. He said he wants to “connect Ballard and West Seattle in some way”. Fair enough. Connect Ballard via the UW, and connect West Seattle via bus improvements. This means what Keith and Charles said here ( It does mean a bus tunnel, but that tunnel should serve Tacoma and Renton as well as West Seattle. Now West Seattle is happy (or at least happier) but so too is Tacoma and other south end residents who really weren’t that interested in a very slow train to Seattle.

      The part of his comment that is crazy is this: If we had a stub line that came from West Seattle to Stadium or Sodo, and you had to transfer to get on the other train, that’s obviously not the long-term vision I want.

      That is nuts. It is one thing to run buses from West Seattle to SoDo but another thing to run rail from West Seattle, and then not even build the most important part (a tunnel through downtown). That is nuts. That seems like a purely political “ramps to nowhere” type plan. Build one piece, a very poorly performing piece, knowing that it forces the hand of folks later. That is no way to build a subway system. You should build the most highly performing pieces first. That means light rail from Ballard to the UW, followed by a WSTT.

      1. That first sentence should read:

        I think Mike has a good handle on the (Seattle) politics of the situation, but he seems to be all over the map as far as a practical or political solution.

    4. “I’m concerned about what happens if we have to pick either West Seattle or Ballard. It may be divisive with Seattle voters and politicians.”

      He’s just stating the obvious. From a ridership-ready perspective Ballard/Fremont and Lake City would be next. But from a political perspective Ballard and West Seattle are the loudest, and were earlier promised a line with the monorail.

      “West Seattle isn’t getting rail” may be the end result, but how do you get from here to there? Meaning, how do you get the politicians to say that when they’re worried about their re-election prospects? DP can say a thousand times that the 45th corridor and the Denny Way/CD corridor are the two most worthy in the city, but a lot of politicians and voters don’t believe it, and ST3’s alignment and success depend mostly on what politicians and voters believe. If the public mood were decisively for Ballard-downtown and Ballard-UW first, then the politicians would come around, but it isn’t.

      If the budget absolutely won’t fit Ballard-downtown, Ballard-UW, and West Seattle, then ST will have to drop one or two of them, and maybe give West Seattle BRT instead. But it would likely wait until the last possible moment to decide that or even mention it, which means all three will be in limbo until then. The second DSTT is actually a simpler issue, because once ST decides West Seattle isn’t getting rail, then it becomes easier to schedule the tunnel either before or after the other projects. But if ST waits until the last minute to decide West Seattle Link, then there won’t be much time to juggle the tunnel and other rail-or-bus projects, which means they may be put together hastily.

      I really don’t see a “stub line that came from West Seattle to Stadium or SODO”. As C.S. Lewis said, you can have a commonplace girl in an odd land (Alice in Wonderland), or an odd girl in a commonplace land (Wonder in Aliceland), but an odd girl in an odd land is an oddity too much. A stub line would fail both the cost test (fiscal conservatives won’t like it) and the convenience test (West Seattleites won’t like it) — so who would like it? If ST proposes the stub, it means they’ve given up on West Seattle+DSTT LRT. At that point, it would be relatively easy to convince people to ditch the stub and go with open BRT instead. The hard part is to convince people to go from West Seattle+DSTT LRT to open BRT.

      1. I think the obvious solution is to build the new tunnel and make sure it can handle both light rail and buses. Then add BRT to West Seattle (meaning eliminate the worst bottlenecks). Then (and this is key) tell everyone that it will eventually work for light rail from West Seattle (if there is enough demand). We have a history of that, after all. This doesn’t seem like a crazy stretch. I really doubt that West Seattle will ever have enough people to justify the high cost of light rail (it is just unlucky from a geographic standpoint) but I could be wrong. If a million people move to West Seattle, then light rail would make sense there.

        Oh, and also mention to everyone that some of the bus improvements will be done fairly soon, while other parts of the system (like building the tunnel) will take longer. In other words, tell everyone that West Seattle will see a major improvement in transit before Ballard, but Ballard will see light rail before West Seattle. That doesn’t seem to be that hard, politically. Worse case scenario, you have some folks in West Seattle who feel slighted. The funny thing is there just aren’t that many people there, so they could hardly swing an election.

        By the time the tunnel is dug, you will have really fast, really frequent bus service, and folks won’t be begging for light rail. That’s the thing. People really don’t care that much about getting rail (which is why folks have no interest in the streetcar). They want fast, frequent service. If that turns out to be buses, then folks will support it. The problem is that a lot of people don’t believe that buses are capable.

      2. I’d probably observe that the most “ridership ready” segment would be a line from Downtown to First Hill to the CD. Of course, ST doesn’t want to consider that, so CD residents have a commute time to Downtown that rivals Northgate post-Link but with a fraction of the distance..

      3. @Al. I agree (although I think UW to Ballard could compete with it). There is just way too much politics involved in what Sound Transit is doing. Some of it is based on subarea equity, but some of is based on crazy ideas of who “deserves” transit next. I would love it if the city, or someone just hired a firm to come up with general recommendations for the area. A lot of people have independently come to the same conclusion (build UW to Ballard, build a “Metro 8” subway) so my guess is that it would be better than what they are planning.

      4. I don’t see how you can avoid “politics” when the plan has to (sort of) pass a legislature, a federated board, and a regional public vote.

        Said another way, incorporating values other than yours is not “politics” in the grubby sense of the word. It’s not like endorsing any of these lines is a value-neutral statement.

        A plan that just consists of Ballard-UW and Seattle Center-Capitol Hill is impossibly remote to most regional voters. Seattle Center and SLU are the only destinations that are of any relevance to anyone outside the urban Seattle bubble. If you want them to just take buses then you have to convince them that buses are truly separate from traffic disruptions, which they manifestly are not today.

        This situation is a fundamental result of anti-growth policies in Seattle over several decades. In their absence, there would probably be over a million people in Seattle today and the city could easily fund its subway needs, with both the tax base and the core of voters living in density that requires.

    5. If any West Seattlite is reading this, and is willing to consider a BRT alternative, then I’d suggest making a list of minimum-quality BRT features (e.g., transit lanes where) and promoting it among your West Seattle friends and city council reps. Then you can collectively petition ST as a credible West Seattle voting bloc and say, “We, the undersigned, accept open BRT in ST3 if it meets these minimum-quality standards.” Then the burden would be on the LRT opposition to overcome it.

      1. I think that is a good idea. There are some parts of West Seattle BRT that are pretty obvious. I would start with the “BRT” parts of bus service (off board payment, level boarding, lots of doors). Then I would make sure all of the West Seattle freeway has its own HOV lane (at least eastbound) and a ramp to the SoDo busway. From there you need a new transit tunnel. That means you have fast service from the edge of the West Seattle freeway all the way through downtown.

        But I don’t know what makes sense for West Seattle itself. There are a number of possible routes, and I’m sure each one has its own set of bottlenecks (especially in the morning).

      2. I think Mike hits the nail on the head. All of us can sit here and say that BRT can be, in practice, just as good (and I’m not there yet), but the way to actually get BRT is to convince people in West Seattle that it can be just as good.

        And step one to doing that is not to continually emphasize lower price, but instead to explain how you’re going to overcome all the fiscal and political obstacles that have hamstrung previous BRT attempts.

      3. Or that BRT would be better suited to the area as there is no single corridor there. This really is one of the cases where BRT done right could serve more riders than a rail line could.

  16. Although I see some logic in the merits of WSTT in its own right, what I have never understood and never received a explanation on is why you would, without further consideration or study, build a second adjacent subway before building a subway to First Hill when a First Hill line could fix all of the capacity problems and provide better service to a dense neighborhood with all the network effects that entails.

    In particular, a “9th ave” subway between a second “Westlake Station” and Yesler/I-5 and then continuing along the I-5 right of way to East Link, would have about the same amount of tunneling as a second DSTT would have (a mile or so), while also including one or two stations in very dense mixed use areas lacking in Link service. And by diverting East Link trains the capacity problem would be solved. How is that not preferable to a second DSTT?

    1. Your plan makes perfect sense. The folks who demand another tunnel, before we have riders to fill it, are ignoring all the alternarives that would accomplish the same thing (like re-routing half the East Link trains to ballard or many other alernatives. It’s funny how many pro-transit readers admit that eliminating one-seat rides downtown, by forcing a bus transfer, improves the entire system. Yet the same people refuse to transfer on a train. Transfers help us increase service to the entire system, and its worth the tradeoff. People transfer on subway systems all the time, and its no big deal if your system is frequent and reliable (and ours should be both). Demanding another tunnel in ST3 would be great if we had the money to pay for it, but don’t. We’d have a downtown tunnel going nowhere until ST4. We can serve more riders, sooner, by building the spurs first and the tunnel second.

      1. Transfers are fine if:

        1. Both lines are frequent

        2. It takes a very short time to transfer from one line to the other. If you look at Toronto’s system, transferring between lines at St. George, Yonge/Bloor, and Yonge/Sheppard couldn’t be easier, because the platforms for both lines are right above/below each other. It’s literaly a matter of stepping off one train, onto an escalator up or down, and you’re on the platform for the next train. It takes less than 30 seconds to get from the platform for one line to the platform for the other.

        If the transfer consists of walking down some long, winding halls, and sometimes up or down multiple staircases, as is usually the case with the NYC subway system, transferring is not good.

    2. The explanation is that there’s no First Hill line in ST’s long-range plan. The LRP was revised last year, and neither ST nor the public suggested that alignment. The closest is the Madison corridor and a rejected U-shaped corridor. ST wasn’t sure whether Madison-BRT fully addresses the Madison corridor so it left the corridor in the plan. The U-shaped corridor was suggested by one person. It went from West Seattle – Jackson Street – Central District – CD – Denny Way – Interbay/Ballard. That was rejected as too convoluted and too little public support, and the broader message of connectivity in the middle of the U (around Denny Way/First Hill/Central District) was lost. That probably means we didn’t think early enough about articulating it and promoting it. It wasn’t on the radar when the ST3 studies were chosen two years ago.

      There is no First Hill line in ST’s long-range plan. It was not suggested in last year’s update, either by ST or by the public. The closest was a convoluted U-shaped corridor from West Seattle to Jackson Street to the CD to Denny Way to Ballard, but that was dropped as having little support, and the broader message of downtown-First Hill-CD connectivity was lost.

      Arguably, we could stretch the “Madison corridor” to mean Queen Anne to the Central District, which is still east-west and relatively close to it. (As close as I-5 is to Aurora, and 405 to Bellevue Way — and those were considered as alternatives.) But it may take some convincing to get ST to interpret the corridor that way.

      1. Just because it’s not included in ST’s plan doesn’t mean it is a bad or useless idea. It simply means that the ST planning process is like asking elementary school children to plan a system. It is about political noise-making and drawing dotted lines on maps — and not also about objective, adult things like residential or activity density or travel patterns or current bus ridership per mile analyses. It’s like having the loudest kid on the basketball team be the starter, rather than the one with size and talent.

      2. Al S.

        It’s unnecessarily pejorative to label the alignment you favor as “adult” and everything else as childlike. There are other value judgments that are equally valid that result in other outcomes. The most “adult” thing to do, from an emissions reduction perspective, is to raise taxes here and send the money to India to build a system there. But that’s not going to happen either, because if people are going to vote for taxes they want it to help their communities.

        Regional institutions are simply not set up to get the outcome you want, because (1) we insist on voters approving specific plans, and (2) Seattle’s anti-growth policies mean it isn’t large enough to fund things on its own.

    3. Alex,

      The same thought has occurred to me, and I think it’s an idea worth fleshing out, although I can’t profess nearly the certitude about routing/station locations/construction logistics/service implementation/making sure it wouldn’t balloon into something significantly costlier that others who have had the same idea have professed.

      Your post is important as a retort to those who mention that developed subway networks tend to have multiple “paths through downtown”, as if that inherently meant multiple mile-long tunnels joined at the hip.

      In fact, most cities needing of extensive grade-separated transit have a great deal of contiguous urbanity, in three dimensions. So multiple lines traverse downtown in multiple ways, and each one does not necessarily provide a one-seat journey to every possible “downtown” destination point. (This is true in every one of Chad N’s examples. Boston and Chicago, for example, see block-apart parallels across only very limited portions of their respective city centers.)

      Thus, your idea of a second downtown tunnel that provides access to new destinations (rather than lazily mirroring the first) is actually more in line with more peer examples than the default expectation is.

      1. @ d.p., Alex — this is exactly my sentiment. A line on 9th (or Boren) would pick up several areas that are part of this “contiguous urbanity” but are not well served by the current potential proposals and are difficult to traverse on the surface now. Serving First Hill and SLU on the way to LQA and Ballard would be a relatively high performing route to begin with; the only mitigating point is finding a location or two that would provide transfer choices to the existing Link line without backtracking.

        A Second Avenue line has always seemed to border on the ludicrous to me as it serves no more of the urban core than what we already have on Third. It adds no walkshed downtown whatsoever and no transfer facilities save via a block-long walk. If a line had to be downtown west of I-5, Fifth would be a better location if only because it expands the walkshed to the east two blocks and would provide a direct transfer facility at Westlake and possibly another in SoDo depending on routing. That said, I’d really like the 9th/Boren idea to get some traction. A line beginning at Mt Baker thence north on Rainier to Boren would have a transfer to East Link at Rainier, service to First Hill, South Lake Union and whatever else we decided between Ballard and SLU. Although I’m not a fan of meandering, a route Rainier–23rd–Yesler–Boren (9th) would also pick up the CD. The issue here, though, is the transfer possibilities on the north for Ballardites wanting to go directly downtown. Fifth Avenue does this much better; as d.p. once suggested, NW Seattle could be served before a second downtown tunnel was built simply by terminating at Westlake until then. (Vienna does something similar at Schottentor.)

        Anyone who’s traveled anywhere there is even decent frequency high capacity transit thinks nothing of changing trains to get where they need to go. Make it as painless as possible to do so and it will happen.

      2. David Lawson has suggested a bus route on Boren from SLU to Rainier Valley (replacing the 7), which is close to your 9th Avenue line. A few others have supported it, Others, seemingly including Metro, are concerned that Boren Avenue may not have enough ridership, especially if it’s replacing the most popular route in southeast Seattle.

        In any case, the ST3 candidates have already been decided. But you can get your corridors into the LRP in ST4, and possibly into ST4 itself. But the latter would require a large and unified campaign to convince ST that Seattle wants this line next more than the heretofore assumed candidates.

        (And I personally would be more inclined to support a Denny Way – Central District line before a 9th Avenue line, at least at this point. Perhaps the two could be reconciled into one, but that sounds like bypassing Capitol Hill.)

      3. Comparing a subway with a bus line is an apples to oranges comparison, particularly considering the proposed Boren bus route wouldn’t serve Westlake, which is the heart of downtown. First Hill also had high ridership estimates when it was considered as part of North Link.

        During the LRP update I suggested that a First Hill corridor should be included. It obviously wasn’t. Either way it seems unlikely that a second DSTT will be built in ST3. If it isn’t then a First Hill alternative should be added to the LRP in time for ST4.

        Moreover, I think it could reasonably be included as part of the Downtown portion of the Ballard, QA/SLU, Downtown, West Seattle corridor. The distance between 2nd ave and Boren is less than the distance between I-5 and Aurora, which were both considered part of the same corridor. And while it technically wouldn’t connect with a West Seattle line, it would free up capacity in the DSTT for that purpose, which is just as good.

    4. Reposting my last paragraph in case it went unnoticed due to my bad editing:

      Arguably, we could stretch the “Madison corridor” to mean Queen Anne to the Central District, which is still east-west and relatively close to it. (As close as I-5 is to Aurora, and 405 to Bellevue Way — and those were considered as alternatives.) But it may take some convincing to get ST to interpret the corridor that way.

  17. I am not shedding a tear about the buses moving out of the existing DSTT. This means that transferring from a non-tunnel bus to a tunnel bus, particularly when the transfer window is really small (ahem, 578 -> 550 on weekends), will be much easier because the two buses will no longer be separated by approximately 3-4 stories of escalator rides.

  18. Watching the tape of the meeting, I came away with the impression that the proposal for shared funding of the tunnel was too half-baked to pass. There did appear to be an agreement in principle that the subareas should share in the costs of another tunnel if it’s jointly beneficial. But there could be no clarity as to how costs would be apportioned without a discussion of other projects.

    So Seattle is suspicious that North King will go first, taking on all the costs of a tunnel, and everybody else will get to free-ride later. The other subareas are suspicious that they are buying a tunnel to West Seattle today, in exchange for a dubious promise of service to their areas that is decades out.

    Couching the funding of a tunnel within the context of a specific plan for other projects that would use the tunnel would have moved the ball forward more constructively. But we don’t really have a usable plan for future regional transit beyond ST3.

    This is a weakness of the “put everything on the list” approach to the LRP. Even as the LRP is approved, we know many of the approved projects will never happen. There’s no plan for incrementally extending the network (other than completing the spine).

    A real plan would say “first, we do A, then we do B, then we do C”. I don’t think anybody can look at the LRP and claim to see a roadmap for future uses of a tunnel. It’s just a list of unprioritized projects.

    If we don’t know who will use the tunnel and when, then we can’t know how to apportion costs and benefits.

  19. We need to think about serving South Lake Union too. That’s why I’ve always thought we should run 3 lines through the tunnel with 2 minute headways, with one pealing off at Westlake where the buses non exit. Some trains from each of the 3 lines coming in from the south could head off toward Ballard this way, while others would head north under Capital Hill.

    The trains from MLK could be given even higher signal priority than today and scheduled to arrive a little early at the tunnel entrance to give them a little leeway.

  20. Is it safe to assume that when everyone talks about a Ballard-to-UW connection, they are referring to an underground subway line? Just for my peace of mind…

    1. Yes. The zig-zagging surface+elevated option studied was silly and unrealistic and is not going to happen.

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