Mode Share Survey Results

25 years ago, to pick a round number, “downtown” Seattle was small. The 12-block “JCMSUP” area contained the overwhelming majority of downtown jobs. Commuters could be easily served by an express bus that got off the freeway and made 4-5 stops.

Since then, downtown has grown, as you can see from the Downtown Seattle Association’s map below. What was once a unipolar downtown is now multipolar, with several distinct sub-areas – like a big city! All this growth sets up an interesting and difficult challenge for transit planners as downtown grows. One recurring theme in David’s coverage of the Metro U-Link restructures has been the tradeoffs involved in providing frequent service to Seattle’s downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.


Recently, we looked at Commute Seattle’s 2014 report on transit usage for downtown commuters. The headline number – that just 31% of commuters drive alone – got a good deal of attention. The fact that a city with a relatively small rail system can get that many people out of their cars is a testament to excellent work done by the agencies, the city, businesses, and partners like Commute Seattle.

When we dive deeper into the data, though, we find that drive alone rates vary greatly among different downtown neighborhoods. Just 23% of workers in the commercial core drive alone, compared with more than double that in peripheral downtown neighborhoods such as  South Lake Union (46%) and Lower Queen Anne (53%). Large employers help as well, as they generally have trip reduction programs and give out free ORCA passes and the like. Then again, Amazon employees have free transit passes too.

The poor performance of these neighborhoods shouldn’t be too surprising since they lack the same peak express service enjoyed by the commercial core. If you live south of downtown or on the Eastside, all transit commutes to SLU require a bus or streetcar transfer. Most ‘direct’ service to SLU skirts its periphery on its west (Aurora and Dexter) or on its east (Eastlake/Stewart). Only if you live in Downtown (Streetcar), Capitol Hill (8), Eastlake (70), Fremont/Ballard (40), or parts of SR 522 (309) do you enjoy the front-door service that most other Downtown commuters enjoy.

So how might we better serve this multipolar downtown, with its quarter million jobs, so as to get more people in the fringes of downtown using transit?

One option is to run more express buses to each of the poles. Call this the Pill Hill Solution. By sharing costs with the large hospitals on First Hill, Metro provides peak express buses that go directly to First Hill from Lake City/Wedgwood (64), Federal Way/Tukwila (193), Shoreline/Northgate (303) and Kenmore (309). This strategy has resulted in a respectable transit mode share of 38% and a drive-alone rate of 40%. It’s not as good as Belltown, but it smokes SLU and LQA.

Alas, the Pill Hill Solution doesn’t scale (as the tech guys like to say). Having one express bus leave the Kenmore Park & Ride for downtown, another for First Hill, the next for South Lake Union, and a fourth for Lower Queen Anne would mean a lot of wasted service hours and a lot of empty buses headed back North on the freeways. It also means less frequent service, since only every fourth bus is going to a given destination.

Another option is to have express buses that serve the entire expanded downtown. We can imagine an express bus that gets off I-5 at Mercer, serves SLU, Downtown, and terminates in the ID.  As David recently wrote, Metro’s restructure does create some new options in this regard with the 64 and 66 going through SLU and then into First Hill from the North, while the peak-only 311 takes riders from 520 to SLU and LQA via Mercer.  This is an interesting solution, although it has the potential to be really slow and unreliable traversing the entire Mercer-to-Jackson core during peak.  We’ll have to see how it plays out.


The third option is to introduce more commuters to the wonderful world of transfers. Transfers are a tough sell, because most transfers, especially between buses, are terrible. Wait times can be unpredictable, protection from the weather is often nonexistent, and a long wait between buses nearly guarantees that the journey will be uncompetitive with driving, time-wise.

Nonetheless, transfers are the best way to serve a multipolar downtown. Which means they simply have to stop sucking.  Metro’s Alternative 1 helps in this regard by providing more frequent transfer hubs.  Going forward, we’ll need faster, more reliable urban service, more cross-agency collaboration like we see at Mercer Island (and hopefully at UW?), and more capital expenditures to make the transfer experience more pleasant. Oh, and more rail would help, too (or rail-convertible bus tunnels), especially connecting these close-in neighborhoods.

166 Replies to “Designing Service for a Multipolar Downtown”

  1. I’m surprised the ID’s SOV share is so high. It’s directly adjacent to the best transit center in the entire region. You’d think it would be the lowest.

    1. Lots of nearby parking is probably the reason.

      I know when I worked in the office buildings directly South of Union Station a surprising number of my co-workers drove every day in spite of having the doors of the building open nearly directly on the Sounder station and IDS DSTT station. On the other hand we had a giant parking garage with relatively low rates attached to the complex.

      Outside of the office buildings on the West edge of the ID much of the remaining employment is industrial/commercial located along the South and East edge of the ID. Transit really isn’t convenient in these locations and workers may need their vehicles during the day.

    2. The union station development has a HUGE parking garage, and relatively low rates, so people drive in. It’s wrong, but it’s how it works because to get there most of the employees would have to transfer. Those who don’t take the bus.

      1. If you’re coming from the south especially, not having to drive through downtown makes a huge difference. Yes, the ID is right next to King Street Station and the ID station, but it’s also right next to 4th Ave, which is an industrial arterial right up until Jackson street, with easy access to highways, which makes it super easy to drive.

      2. Even many who wouldn’t have to transfer drive. There are two situations where people ride transit at Union Station:

        1. Transit is faster than driving (true for many Sounder and express bus users).
        2. They prefer transit to driving even when transit is slower/less convenient.

  2. “transfers are the best way to serve a multipolar downtown. Which means they simply have to stop sucking.”

    Well said!

    1. Agreed, and thanks Frank for a great Big Picture, well documented view of what’s needed. You said “Wait times can be unpredictable, protection from the weather is often nonexistent, and a long wait between buses nearly guarantees that the journey will be uncompetitive with driving, time-wise.”, which I also agree with and would add something I heard years ago from a Metro Planner.
      “A bus at the stop is worth two on a schedule” = Take the first thing that comes along heading in the right direction – especially if it’s cold, raining and the wind is blowing (a typical Seattle day).
      My own personal favorites to help the system work better:
      1. Simplify the bus liveries, rules, route numbers, to make transfers easier to understand.
      2. Simplify the bus/rail fares and payment methods. With several hundred fare methods and costs to ride from A to C, via B, on X, Y, or Z, it gets intimidating for average non transit geeks to make the switch from SOV’s.

      1. ORCA pass or e-purse solves most of the problems with 2. And I’d rather take the shiniy red bus or the blue and white one because I perceive them to be faster (whether they are in reality or not). And in the future you might be on the lookout for the purple bus.

        I will agree that the blue, greeen and teal buses need to migrate to one color.

    2. The transfer between route 50 and Link has no state highway right-of-way getting in the way, no UW getting in the way, and no NIMBYs getting in the way, and yet it still sucks.

      Granted, frequency is a large part of the problem, but Metro could do a whole lot more, with no additional operational costs, to make the transfer so much better, including RTA signage (which would help riders find the 50’s westbound stop in the first place), and a shelter. Smarter riders, upon seeing the sign and that they have more than five minutes to wait, would head to the 21 stop a block west, where they could catch either route to the heaviest destinations in West Seattle.

      Oh, wait, the 50 doesn’t stop at the 21’s stop. Doh! This is one place where having more, rather than fewer, stops, would make a world of difference in the transfer experience, improving it for both traditional 50 riders (both of them) and traditional 21 riders.

      The best transfers to get to different parts of Greater Downtown don’t necessarily have to involve transferring downtown. I believe the split destinations from Tacoma Dome Station starting next year, with the new route 591 entering downtown Seattle at the Seneca St exit, will prove quite effective at making a new group of riders happy, assuming the route heads into SLU. Of course, that route will also replace route 586, the UW Express. For UW riders, it will be merely tolerable until U-District Station opens, and then be one of those transfers that improves trip time in the central core.

      Once U-District Station opens, UW will be forever thought of as essentially part of downtown Seattle, and riders on that side of the core will be begging for local routes that serve U-District Station, so they can get the fastest trip possible to the other end of “downtown”.

      UW Station, not so much. Northeast Seattle is chomping at the bit for access to UW Station that will not work like they hoped. But that has been gone over in excessive detail for the past month on numerous posts here.

      The one direction from which UW Station can get a good connection now is routes that can approach vie NE Pacific St/Pl/Montlake Blvd, and leave via NE Pacific St. I don’t believe Metro has yet maximized the possibilities with that approach, given that it has the 70 from Eastlake running there to help provide frequency along Pacific, when there are other routes that make more sense to run there and have need for adding more frequency (44 and 48N being obvious ones).

      I would go so far as to say that Metro hasn’t taken a serious enough look at the scenario of having the 73 simply serve UW Station *all day*, and the 74 providing bidirectional service via the U-District and Pacific, instead of running downtown. That would free up service hours to run the 73 further up 15th (where Alt 1 is running into trouble). I bet all-day 10-minute headway on the 73, with it continuing much further north through at least 2021, would win a large swath of neighborhoods over to the concept of ending the downtown expressing starting in March of 2016.

      This would make the all-day transit network more legible, provide much-improved access to UW Station for the whole campus and the U-District, and give a large chunk of northeast Seattleites the connection to UW Station that they are hoping for and aren’t quite getting under Alt 1. IMPROVE THIS TRANSFER BY USING THE ONE APPROACH THAT WON”T BE KILLED BY TRAFFIC JAMS.

      1. The 48 will see improved frequency under Alt1.

        Note that under alt 2 the 73 no longer serves Pinehurst/Jackson Park either.

        While people in Pinehurst have been vocal, ridership patterns are very peak oriented. The 373 and 77 should serve most riders just fine, there are far more riders trying to get to/from the U-district/Roosevelt/Maple Leaf and Northgate than there are to Pinehurst. Especially midday, nights, and weekends.

      2. New rule:. Let’s stop defending Alt 1 by saying Alt 2 is worse. Please. Alt 1 needs to stand on its own merits, and, at the very least, be demonstrably better than the status quo. I think it is by a few miles, but there is still room for improvement.

        RIdership in my own neighborhood is dominated by peak riders, but my neighborhood continues to enjoy a long span of service. I won’t inflict a major reduction in span of service on another neighborhood that I wouldn’t be willing to inflict on my own neighborhood.

        That said, Pinehurst is not losing all-day service, but is just having to sort out new travel patterns. I can’t blame them for angst, and I am quite open to suggestions how to improve those travel patterns to make them work for the greatest number of riders.

        For the getting-downtown-from-Pinehurst span of service, I don’t like inflicting a three-seat ride on them, and making the travel patterns worse after U-Link opens, because I would not want that done to my own neighborhood. That’s why I think giving the 73, all the way from UW Station to 145th, an extra lease on life to 2021, makes sense. The neighborhoods will understand it, and will get that the routes will be restructured again in 2021 and 2023.

        But I just broke my other new rule: We don’t get to assume how Mayor Murray will spend Prop 1 money. But not having the 73 go downtown at all will at least get the 73 part of the way there. Pinehurst, just like any other neighborhood, deserves a legible all-day service pattern that doesn’t involve two (2) transfers to get downtown.

      3. I think the other issue is that rush hour is the only time where going downtown (via the express lanes) is probably faster than getting to Husky Stadium, because the area around Husky Stadium gets bogged down in heavy traffic. It makes a lot of sense to have a compromise — continue the express buses, but only during rush hour.

      4. Also, just to be clear, the issue with Pinehurst is not two transfers to get downtown, but two transfers to get to Link, and two transfers to get to the UW. That may have been what you meant, but it wasn’t clear.

      5. There are a few things going on here.

        One is a desire to consolidate service between Northgate, Roosevelt, and the U-District. This is why Alt. 2 does essentially the same thing Alt. 1 does to the current 73 north of the U-district. Though Alt 2 has the benefit of all-day 373 service to replace the 73 along 15th. Other restructures have proposed this as well.

        Second is a desire in Alt. 1 to provide access to Link and to avoid duplicative service between downtown and the U-district.

        In any case under Alt 1 Pinehurst and Jackson Park riders will have only a two seat ride to both Downtown and the U-district. They can transfer to the 41 if they are going downtown and 67 if going to the U District.

      6. Right, only a two seat ride before getting to the U-District, which means a three seat ride to anyplace that uses the U-District as a transfer point (which is a lot of places). Maybe a four seat ride to somewhere involving Link as your third leg. Yippee. This would be fine, except that the transfers are really awkward (yes, Roosevelt and Northgate Way is an awkward place to transfer, especially given the fact that buses are turning through there) or really time consuming (through Northgate transit center). It’s not just a matter of adjusting to a two seat ride. Folks in the area who wanted to go downtown probably did that already (took a bus to Northgate and then the 41). That has existed for years. But so, too, has the one seat, fairly frequent ride to the UW (via the 73 and 373). I think it is especially tough to take that away, when we can see how great it will be with Link. In other words, I’m just fine with replacing the 73 with the 373; but telling everyone in Pinehurst that they should either transfer to a different bus before they get to the U-District or head to Northgate Transit Center is a tough pill to swallow. This isn’t really a trade-off, in my opinion, but a degradation. Maybe folks there “take one for the team”, but I don’t see too many examples of that (which is why this proposal, overall, is a good one).

        But we are just rehashing something that has been discussed, along with various solutions again. I expect to summarize some of those ideas soon, with a “Page 2” post.

        At issue was whether it made sense to take the service hours from the proposed express “73” (which serves Roosevelt and downtown only). I don’t think that is an option (I think it would prove to be too unpopular) but that is an interesting idea. That would basically be asking folks in Roosevelt to do away with their one seat ride to downtown, in exchange for more one seat rides to Link. That is a good example of what the folks in Pinehurst are clamoring for. They aren’t asking for an express to downtown (as mentioned, that is the 77, which is still being kept) but are asking for a straightforward way to the U-District, which means a straight forward way to Link.

      7. But it isn’t rocket science to say transit ridership in Pinehurst/Jackson Park is low outside of the peaks, particularly on the existing 73. Sure there are a few, but at what point do you say “your service is good enough”.

        That said 15th has the advantage of being a nice continuous N/S corridor all the way from the Ship Canal to Montlake Terrace. The street nearly screams “I was made for a frequent grid route”. The downside is the gravitational pull of Northgate and the fact that South of Pinehurst Way 15th isn’t much of a commercial street.

        Perhaps Prop 1 money (the 66, 67, 68, and 73X were all due to get funding) could be used to run the 373 to 145th (call it the 374) with the same service span and frequency midday, nights, and weekends as today’s 73.

      8. 15th has the advantage of being a nice continuous N/S corridor all the way from the Ship Canal to Montlake Terrace.

        But for some of that length it’s surrounded by bad land use for transit. 15th has acceptable to excellent ridership potential from UWMC through Lake City Way, from Northgate Way through Jackson Park, and in North City. In the areas in between (especially Maple Leaf) it’s surrounded by low-density housing or (where on a bridge) nothing at all. In Maple Leaf, the corridor with the right uses to support transit is Roosevelt, with 5th in a distant second place.

        If we’re going to have a 73 redux, I think it is much better for it to use Roosevelt. I recognize that 15th is faster, but it misses the actual neighborhood, and TSP or even just a longer N/S signal cycle at 80th could help with the speed a bit.

      9. 15th has the advantage of being a nice continuous N/S corridor all the way from the Ship Canal to Montlake Terrace. The street nearly screams “I was made for a frequent grid route”

        That’s for sure, especially considering the fact that ten blocks is about the right spacing for frequent corridors. That and the pleasing numerology of 15th, 25th, 35, …

        Roosevelt (and in the south, Roosevelt/11th NE) is just in the wrong place. 5th NE would be ideal, but it gets crowded out by I-5 in the south.

      10. Transit ridership in Pinehurst/Jackson Park is low outside of the peaks in part because the 73 has been horribly unreliable. I gave up on it years ago, and would only take the 373 (as part of a connection with Fremont). That is why this is irritating to Pinehurst users. There are two reasons why service from the UW to the area would be a lot more popular than the existing 73:

        1) It would be a lot more reliable.
        2) It would connect to Link.

        Replace all existing 73 service with 373 service and everyone in Pinehurst would cheer. Now they have their quick connection to Link, as well as everywhere else. Last time I checked, that is what a grid is supposed to do. Again, it is perfectly reasonable to tell an area like Pinehurst (which is no UW) that they are just out of luck. It is for the greater good. But Northgate is not that much bigger than Pinehurst, nor will Northgate get a great bus run. That is probably the biggest problem with this, and the heart of my proposal. Maybe splitting the service doesn’t make sense if all other things were equal. Maybe Northgate simply trumps Pinehurst. But Northgate doesn’t come out that well — the entire system doesn’t come out that well — because of the extra loop. Lots of service hours and the ride from the UW (or Roosevelt) to Northgate is made worse because of it.

      11. Just a point on nomenclature:

        If a route doesn’t provide service north of 145th, it shouldn’t get a 300-series number.

        If a variant of the 73 is retained, going down Pacific to UW Station, it could be numbered ’63’, which is available.

        I do hope to see a post focusing more sharply on far northeast Seattle, and what tweaks can be done to improve all-day connectivity.

      12. @Brent — I agree that naming the bus routes is a bit of a challenge. Currently, the 73 has three variations:

        1) Express that doesn’t go beyond Roosevelt
        2) Express serving Jackson Park
        3) Local serving Jackson Park.

        I may miss the old run, but I hated the numbering system. For someone waiting to head north from the UW it was very confusing. The buses all had 73X, as if the “X” was important (at that point it made no difference). But you had to wait for the sign to flash “Cowen Park” or “Jackson Park” to figure out if it went past 65th.

        Making matters more confusing, Metro’s alternative one proposal is to simply keep the first run (express serving Roosevelt) as the “73” (not even the 73X). So, I think to avoid confusing matters, I’ll take your advice and call a new run from the UW to Jackson Park the “63”. I like that idea. I should be able to write up something today.

    3. And well worth repeating. I have a dentist appointment at noon Monday at 35th NE and NE 65th.

      Based on experience, this trip by bus will take forty minutes minimum, depending on wait time. Knowing both routes and schedules.

      Remember that since the I-5 transit lanes are closed, there is no express service at all.

      My trip in from Olympia takes two hours- meaning that a morning appointment is risky.

      My eye doctor’s office is at Queen Anne and Boston. Wait time included, it can take me half an hour to get there from Westlake Station. My eye surgery clinic is at 15th NW and Leary.

      Have take cabs about five times this year. Orange Cab is a good outfit, but should not be necessary from our most convenient transit hub along our heaviest routes.

      As is common for liquids with a force pulling them, like a critical appointment, constriction at any point sucks with a loud whistle.

      For street traffic, Seattle’s narrow arterials mean a nasty fight for any important route to have the fully reserved transit lanes that both schedule performance and usable transfers absolutely demand.

      So the loud whistle part is the important one. Like every other measure to make transit not suck requires a concerted political force to do some Roto Rooting.


  3. Amazon provides free ORCA passes, but I will again mention that it also subsidizes parking for employees and controls a lot of garage parking reserved for its employees. In contrast, the Federal Goverment, which has 1000s of employees spread out throughout downtown (courthouses, federal building, and in leased offices), provides free transit passes but no parking subsidies. From my experience, transit usage is very high.

    There are many business reasons to subsidize parking (work hours are too early/late for transit, serious safety concerns, vehicle needed for job, etc.) but for Amazon, none of those are true. Work hours are within the span of transit service, SLU & Denny Triangle are pretty safe, and all of these jobs are office-based. Workers don’t need to carry heavy tools or equipment.

    Amazon should give workers raises equal to the value of the parking subsidies, then remove the subsidies. Non-driving workers get more money and drivers get more parking availability and a little less traffic. Seems fair.

    1. The logic at most private downtown employers I’ve worked for is to provide a parking subsidy equal to their cost of providing an ORCA pass. You either get the transit pass or you get partially subsidized monthly parking at certain lots.

      The idea is that everyone receives the same transportation benefits. (Those who walk or bike to work tend to take the transit pass even if they don’t use transit to work).

      Unless senior management takes a ferry they rarely ride transit to work.

    2. What was Amazon supposed to do? The transit to get to their offices was totally inadequate. Good transit is a key to pre-empting the construction of parking garages.

      1. There are other options, like providing employee shuttles, or even carpools. Building parking shouldn’t be the knee-jerk reaction to poor transit.

      2. I can understand building parking garages. Management can spend money how it wants to. But I’m sure Amazon does not want (and I’m sure it did not build) 1 parking space per worker, as is needed in far-flung suburban office parks.

        There’s a big difference between providing employee parking and providing highly-subsidized employee parking.

      3. Step one of the answer, Brent:

        When an employer of that importance says he’d like to move here, he and the City of Seattle and King County Metro Transit should sit down together.

        Together all parties can figure out what each can contribute to either the new transportation necessary- or more likely, how existing resources can be rearranged so everyone benefits.

        Present SLU mess at rush hour serves nobody.


    3. “Amazon should give workers raises equal to the value of the parking subsidies, then remove the subsidies.”

      Unfortunately, ideas like that are not very efficient, once taxes are taken into account. If Amazon subsidizes parking, they don’t have to pay any additional money to the IRS. But if they roll the parking subsidies into salaries, a good chunk of that money (28% for the typical Amazon employee) gets redirected to Uncle Sam.

      In theory, an employee who pays for parking out of his own pocket might be able to deduct the expense, but that adds extra hassle to the preparing the income tax return. I’m also not sure the deduction would even work for those who don’t have mortgage payments and don’t itemize.

      1. Yeah, but that is peanuts. The difference in taxes is minor. I have no idea how the parking situation works, but I find it unusual for an area like that. I’ve worked at a lot of different companies, and the only ones that provided free parking are those in fairly suburban areas (Factoria). I’m sure it is presented as yet another perk (free workout room, free coffee and snacks, etc.). All those things cost the company money, but they figure it is worth it. It wouldn’t be hard at all for Amazon to switch things up, and improve the other perks or pay their employees more (or cover more of their health care, etc.). They just haven’t made the effort. Hopefully they will follow the great example of Children’s Hospital, which has a very good transit commuting record despite a lot more challenges (people working at odd hours and a lot worse location for transit).

      2. Even at places like the Microsoft campus that has quite a bit of space and lots of parking, they have a CTR program and helped build OTC so they didn’t build even more parking. For that many people, you need structured parking (just like downtown), so it’s more expensive than a patch of asphalt.

      3. Right, there are tax implications if it is just a cash salary increase – my example was too simple.

        However, there are ways to increase tax-free compensation to employees as RossB suggests. Amazon could contribute the equivalent amount to workers’ 401(k) plans, for example.

        According to what I can find online, it looks like Amazon subsidizes ~$160-180 of the monthly parking fees, which are apparently ~$220 per month. For junior employees, that would be a lot to pay, but I bet it is disproportionately more senior people and managers driving in from the suburbs who are parking in the garages. I think they can afford it.

    4. Who is giving Amazon permission to block streets and arterials in South Lake Union at the exact time of day when traffic and transit need them most?

      And what would Amazon do about it if either the Seattle City Council or a successful class action lawsuit told them they couldn’t? Leave? Especially considering remedies available.

      Shouldn’t hurt Amazon to abide by a schedule to empty those parking garages through the afternoon- everybody parking gets a leave time.

      Miss it and go kick back ’til rush hour is over. Restaurants where I can’t afford to eat can give Amazon people special deals if they just show their leave-time card.

      With so much accomplished by app now, can’t believe anybody even has to punch in or out from any high tech job now.

      But most important of all, a modern with-it company like Amazon should be proud to get with the city and Metro to get SLU transit straightened out.

      Extra streetcar appreciated, Jeff. But why put up with having it getting it stuck when your own employees need it most?

      Mark Dublin

      1. It’s not Amazon’s problem once the cars leave its property. Streets are the commons, available to Amazon employees the same as everybody else. And Amazon is paying impact fees that supposedly compensate tor the infrastructure its buildings necessitate. I’d a lot more like to see the stadiums pay for the traffic they cause, but no, the sports teams are a gift to Seattle’s economy, so much that we paid to build the stadiums just to have the privilege of hosting the teams.

  4. I wonder how much of this is driven by access to convenient and inexpensive parking?

    I bet the parts of downtown with low transit use have relatively inexpensive parking located close to workers.

    It also explains why Pioneer Square has such high transit use as few buildings have parking. If you drive you are going to have a walk between work and where you store your car.

    1. I think it plays a part. I’ve worked downtown on two separate occasions. The first was at 5th and Lenora, and that was before the South Lake Union boom. Normally I would ride the bus, but if I needed the car in the middle of the day I would drive and park close to Denny Park (free four hour parking). That would be gone now, and I think I would have figured out a different way to handle my midday needs (using slow transit or paying for the hourly rental car). The second time I worked at 5th and Pine, and in that case, It just made sense to take the bus. But the bus service was better from there as well. These things all play a part. If the transit is better and the parking is worse, more people tend to take transit.

    2. It is *all* driven by parking, for me. Buses suck just as much as they always have, and for all the same reasons, but I’m using them to commute again regardless, because I recently took a job at 5th & Columbia and there’s nowhere near here I could park a motorcycle, much less a car.

      1. Perhaps the answer is parking maximums for new development in order to make parking scarce and expensive and therefore incentivize transit use.

      2. I would prefer a tax on both current and new parking spots. That would lead companies to try and change their use (although that is probably difficult). It would certainly reduce the value of future parking (since the city could easily ratchet up the parking tax).

  5. Of course this is only looking from the new Downtown Seattle perspective. Zoom out your map a bit to include the region, then plot a couple of more mode shift bars on the first graph.
    Regional ‘Commute to Work’ mode share
    All Trips taken in the Region mode share
    Now the picture dramatically changes in favor of SOV’s., where congestion and delays doubled in the last five years due to adding 170,000 jobs. (PSRC yesterday)

    1. This lumps all land use together. It would be more useful to see the mode share separately for downtown Bellevue, Overlake-Redmond, Factoria, Issaquah, etc. What works in downtown Seattle can work in other downtown-like walkable concentrations, and to a lesser extent in other concentrations like Overlake, but not at all in the “every company is an island” sprawl in Factoria and Issaquah. Nothing really works in that except SOVs. But does that mean we should encourage job sprawl and just build more highways and pedestrian-hostile exits? Some companies intrinsically require a lot of space around their building, like the industries around East and West Marginal Way. Others don’t, like many of the office parks in Kent with acres of open space around them, or big box stores that could be stacked on top of each other like Northgate North.

      1. I’m not sure it matters when it comes to drafting a Transportation Package.
        Fewer than 10% of all commuters (spelled voters) use transit.
        Almost 80% drive cars to work – alone. That’s an 8:1 ratio of voters.
        How would you vote if you’re in Olympia this session after reading the PSRC report?

      2. Yes, but 90% of those drivers complain about their commute. I think that is what is driving Link’s popularity. People know that traffic is terrible, and they think Link is the answer. It’s not that huge numbers of people will ride LInk, it is that huge numbers of people, who hate their commute, believe it will make their lives better (whether they ride Link or someone else does).

      3. Yikes! Link isn’t the same as a 22 lane freeway now. When did that change? (sarcasm)
        Wesltake station alone can’t possibly serve all the areas this post is talking about, just like CHS can’t replace good ole’ reliable-fast transit grids on Capitol Hill.

      4. Why do people ride the NYC subway? Because it’s the fastest way to get around. Why do people use freeways? Because they’re the fastest way to get around. Both of them are faster than local streets, which adds up if you’re going more than a mile or two. So they fulfill the same role. And they cost about the same. It’s just that one can carry more people in a smaller footprint so it doesn’t damage the city environment as much. The other one supports a larger variety of vehicles and bulky loads.

      5. Mic – I think you are conflating the total transit rideshare 24/7 with commuters, who have a much higher transit rideshare. Where are you getting that 10% number?

      6. Scratch that — I found it in your attachment. All of King County transit modeshare. Includes parts of King County not in the Sound Transit District and people who live in King Co and work elsewhere. I find that number pretty shocking considering 50% of all the jobs in Seattle are DT and 45% of all the people who work DT use transit. Throw in the fact DT has about the same number of Jobs as Bellevue and Redmond combined and that stat really starts to seem odd to me. King County is huge, granted, but that seems like there would have to be a whole lot of jobs not in Bell/Red/Seattle to make that number work.

      7. Mic, this comment doesn’t seem to provide any solutions beyond the implied “build more highways’, but I’m glad your comment in the vanpool article supports more vanpools, because that starts to get at a solution for the exurbs where those 95%-modeshare drivers are.

      8. It’s because “all of the King County Transit Modeshare” includes trips other than home->work. There are very large numbers of people who regularly ride transit to work and back, but drive for nearly every trip except to work and back.

      9. No, asdf, this appears to be referring to county-wide modeshare for work commutes, specifically.

        But Keith, yes, there is a huge number of retail/service/industrial jobs not located in those three cities. Meanwhile, do not forget that even for those jobs in Seattle proper but not in downtown, transit-commute modeshare is appalling.

      10. PSRC clarified the slide. Its for the whole region, not King County. The 2013 modeshare for King is 13.6% up 2.1% from 2010. Better, but not great.

        Regarding voters, is a non point. There is broad acceptance that transit is the only way out of the mobility issue and ST3 is polling near 70% with survey respondents that were given cost numbers. Get the right package on the ballot and it will win by a mile.

    2. Glad somebody else has noticed, Mic. Can testify personally that between point just downhill from the Capitol Dome where SR101 joins I-5, traffic is within one bent fender of a jam all the way to Tacoma. At 6AM.

      When I very unwillingly have to drive to Seattle- or to Tacoma Dome station where good safe parking saves me from having to sweat skimpy bus connections home to Olympia- every day KIRO traffic report tells me Everett to Seattle is 50 minutes late.

      Meaning that even though it gets tiresome to hear me say it all the time, the truth is beyond tiresome to death by exhaustion. More and more every day, we travel regionally because we work and live the rest of our lives regionally.

      Meaning that any freedom at all means driving our own cars into situations that endanger both our freedom and our fenders. Which by its very hardship is hardly incurable.

      With the vehicles we already have on the highways we already have, lane space for transit is a hundred percent political, and zero percent technical.

      Budgetary? Willing to bet that right now, radio ads and billboards along I-5 Lynnwood to Everett might attract an audience tired of captivity. Olympia? Give it five. To every thing….there is a season.

      Mark Dublin

  6. There are an awful lot of fairly frequent bus routes. Waiting time shouldn’t be too much of an issue with those.

    The problem is that far too many of them spend too much time stuck in traffic to attract connecting riders, and make their travel times unpredictable.

    Timed transfers have worked very well in some places in Europe. However, it requires having reliable timetables.

    1st Avenue seems to suffer traffic backups a lot with the number of people attempting to get onto the viaduct.

    What about diverting some frequent routes so that they cross the main transit corridors on 3rd and 4th, and then use Western to get through downtown? While it isn’t a fast street it doesn’t seem to suffer the traffic backups on so many other streets.

    Finding some sort of through routing that prevents buses from getting tangled in chronically congested locations is fairly important for schedule reliability and developing local routes that can better act as feeders to the express routes.

    1. Glenn,

      Whoa up, dude. Western goes through the horrible pedestrian-clogged-nearly-every-even-slightly-nice-day-of-the-year intersection at Virginia. DO. NOT. RUN. BUSES. THROUGH. THAT. INTERSECTION…….

      1. I just walked through there at about 3 in the afternoon a couple of days ago. There was a backup of Oh Gosh THREE CARS waiting for people to cross.

        It didn’t seem that big a deal to me compared to the auto based mess on so many other streets.

        If it actually causes congestion sometimes then maybe the thing to do would be to add crosswalk signals there.

        Look on the web for photos of the Strasbourg tram + pedestrian mall. Pedestrian traffic and transit can work together nicely if designed right.

      2. At the height of tourist season in the afternoon the pedestrian clog at Western and Virginia can be pretty bad.

        That said compared to some of the queues of cars waiting to get on I-5 in the afternoon it isn’t too bad.

      3. I probably have a warped sense of busy pedestrian corridors anyway, since they built MAX through the middle of Saturday Market (sort of like having Link going through the area on Pike Place instead of a few buses on Western).

  7. “Transfers are a tough sell, because most transfers, especially between buses, are terrible. Wait times can be unpredictable, protection from the weather is often nonexistent, and a long wait between buses nearly guarantees that the journey will be uncompetitive with driving, time-wise.”

    I can’t believe you didn’t bring up the option of a gondola. With less than a minute frequency they’re one of the few options where transfers don’t suck. Connect SLU with a light rail station via gondola and you’ve added something approaching light rail capacity with no real additional wait and little additional travel time.

    It’s been almost 4 years since I suggested it and 3 years since this. We could realistically build the thing in a year or two if we wanted to, and absolutely change the top two lines of that graph at the top of this post.

    1. Matt- I remember reading about this a couple of years ago. I found the idea really attractive then and still do. It could serve tourists, commuters, and residents alike and open up that whole corridor (which is often a disaster at peak commuting hours).

      Are any agencies (Sound Transit, I imagine) currently giving any consideration to the proposal?

      1. Not to my knowledge. I brought it to McGinn and he told me that maybe it could make it to the next transit master plan, which won’t be updated until 2018 (if I recall correctly), and items in it won’t get built for who knows how long after that. None of the Council bit (I built some nice infographics and wrote a 1-page summary of the plan with numbers). ST’s focus is regional and wouldn’t likely bite at a neighborhood-level project. Metro doesn’t build things.

        I have considered running my own initiative using the Monorail’s taxing authority, but I have a day job and running my own city initiative won’t likely fit into my schedule.

      2. My Hero! Matt-Mobiles ™ rule.
        Especially the 3 legged variety.
        Waterfront – DT (Denny Triangle)
        Cap Hill – DT
        Queen Anne – DT

      3. I think we need to keep hammering the city officials (the mayor’s office as well as the city council). Everything there has been shaken up, so new people will maybe take a fresh look at things. It would help if STB endorsed it more enthusiastically. I think it helps in admitting that gondolas aren’t the answer to every problem (so we can avoid being labeled as mode fetishists) but are uniquely suited for Capitol Hill to South Lake Union. Just to repeat it:

        1) South Lake Union and Capitol Hill are extremely popular destinations.
        2) Getting between the two via bus, bike or car is terrible (because the freeway focuses people on a single corridor, a lot of time a long way out of the way).
        3) This situation won’t change any time soon (for at least ten years, if not twenty).

        This isn’t true for some other areas. When the highway 99 work is done, getting from South Lake Union to lower Queen Anne (and the Seattle Center) could be a lot easier. As much as I like that part of the gondola (South Lake Union to the Seattle Center) a gondola isn’t as much of an improvement in that area (or many others).

        When skeptics like d.p.* (who think that light rail to West Seattle is stupid, and our streetcars are stupid, and other proposals are a waste of money) think that a gondola for that one section makes a lot of sense, then we have something. Again, it is easy to see this as a tourist idea, or a suggestion not to be taken seriously, but when transit experts all say that for this particular part of Seattle it makes sense, than the city should at least spend money on a study.

        * Not to put words in your mouth, d. p. — correct me if I’m wrong.

      4. I think an interesting way to balance out the odd amounts that Sound Transit will get in ST3 could be a grant system that encourages every city in the region to make improvements that support Link and other regional transit.

        Start with small study grants, especially where it could be combined with Link planning like Seattle did for the Ballard Streetcar study, in 2017 (assuming a successful 2016 vote) and then capital grants for the best projects as chosen by competitive metrics for the best projects up to a fixed amount in each subarea, starting in 2018 or 2019.

        The Capitol Hill Gondola represents a huge extension of Capitol Hill station and would be the type of project that ought to score well. But I could also imagine pedestrian improvements, bus lanes and other things also doing well.

      5. I like that idea a lot Peyton. If applied in the past, it would have meant no more squabbling over the additional stations or the bridge over the freeway. That is a very small amount of money for the subarea involved, and it would have just been approved by now.

        But it does allow for a lot more flexibility for projects that are substantially different than Link (like the gondola).

      6. I do think the lateral Denny corridor can make a case for a mass-transit gondola.

        It doesn’t perfectly mirror the characteristics that have made the mode such a perfect solution for South American favela connectivity, mind you. In those situations, jagged topography and a disorderly, unplanned, densely populated built environment have combined to render the hillside communities impenetrable to any surface mode faster than walking or vehicle larger than a wheelbarrow. In our case, we have a wide, well-graded, arrow-straight boulevard connecting the relevant points, but we have simply jammed it full of existing traffic.

        Therefore, whereas gondolas in Medellín and its peers serve places that could literally not be served by any other method, our Denny gondola would result only from the political impediment to a simpler solution (bus lanes) or the cost impediment of the ideal solution (a geographically feasible and demand-justified subway line).

        I would also note that while some South American gondolas achieve elevation changes that make Capitol Hill seem an anthill by comparison, they don’t tend to run far in a lateral sense. And they make every effort to feed into primary mass transit systems (subway or BRT) at their lower termini. The resulting rider experience is not just hundreds of times faster than the former footpath hillclimb, but is defined by its shortness, simplicity, and practicality. This is no “sit back and drink in the scenery” event ride; it is absent the modal warm-fuzzies that seems to mark its North American and European advocates. By contrast, the 1.7 lateral miles from LQA to Broadway might be far enough for the inherent slowness of the mode to feel inescapable and regrettable.

        So there’s your asterisk. I don’t think the Denny gondola is an unworkable idea, and the lateral distance involved might still be on the cusp of reasonable if the stations are well-placed and the street access/connections are non-laborious. But it isn’t a home run. When I’m waiting to board a packed 8 bus at 7pm (a time when its lateness cannot be blamed on traffic, but only on general Seattle transit-scalability problems), and then I realize as we crawl up the gas-gunning steep blocks that we are moving just as fast as any turbo-gondola might, I just think we should admit to ourselves that the corridor needs a fucking subway, and get to work on that.

      7. It would be good to have an article with a specific gondola route ready to promote. Then ask the officials persistently, “If you don’t want this, what alternative do you have that’s at least this effective and will be built sooner?” It may also attract some private funding. Two of the richest businessmen in Seattle are right next door. Paul Allen subsidized the SLUT to have a streetcar like Portland, so how about a gondola like Portland? Amazon subsidizes extra service on the both 8 and the SLUT, so maybe it would be willing to support a better alternative than the 8, and a gee-whiz amenity that would help recruitment/retention. The group that runs the ferris wheel proposed a 100% privately-funded gondola on Union Street, so there’s a precedent. There may be others in the corridor that might be willing to chip in.

      8. Good points, d. p., but this is the way I look at it. There is no way we are getting a bus lane. If someone offers it up as an alternative to the gondola, then by all means, let’s put it to a vote (or the city council) and choose between the two. I’m all for that. But I really doubt we can get folks to support a bus lane — I just don’t think that will happen.

        I also agree that in the long term we should build a subway underneath there. I think just about every transit wonk believes that. But that is years and years away. Meanwhile, worse case scenario, you build a somewhat redundant piece of transit infrastructure. Big deal. We build that all the time. We aren’t talking about spending billions, either. Maybe a hundred million (if that). We spent way more than that on HOV lanes that will soon become obsolete (if we do things right). So what? They did their job (and quite well in many cases). Besides, this won’t be completely redundant. The stops won’t exactly match, and unlike a subway, people will take it because it is fun. I could easily see someone, even after the subway line is built, choosing the gondola because it is more fun or more convenient.This just seems like a very worthwhile project, especially if it is a short line (up and over the freeway).

        Which gets me to my last point. I completely agree that it should be short, which is why I think the plan that Matt came up with is overreach. It makes sense if we never completed the grid over Aurora, but we are about to do that. All we need is a small gondola line from Capitol Hill to South Lake Union (the Cascade neighborhood, really). From there, feed into buses (or — dare I say, a streetcar) that connects right up to Uptown (via Thomas). It is possible that a streetcar could be built that goes right through the Seattle Center. There is no way we get buses through there, but I think a streetcar is politically possible. So, basically, you would have this:

        But even if you can’t swing the route through the Seattle Center, then a bus can cross Aurora, and turn on fifth instead (select the “Bus Route” layer and deselect the “Streetcar” layer). Either way you should have reasonably fast service between Uptown and South Lake Union (service that is way more practical and way faster than the 8).

        But it will still be really slow from South Lake Union to Capitol Hill. It will probably get a lot worse before it gets better (more people, more cars). A gondola makes sense to fix the problem in the short term, while still providing decent (and fun) service in the long term. I think it would pay for itself in mobility many times over.

      9. The likely largest expense of the project — and it’s a whopping one — would be the need to build from scratch (or significantly retrofit) half a dozen building sites along the way to become stations and/or primary suspension towers. As discussed previously, this might need to include an iconic Broadway-side tower that must both significantly exceed current zoning and be permanently zoned taller than its surroundings.

        Whereas in Columbia and Venezuela, a dozen slum buildings at each site could simply be bulldozed and replaced with off-the-shelf ski lift infrastructure (the favelas have never technically been legal, so their occupants couldn’t object), in our area you are talking about significant property purchases/easements and custom designs. You also cannot a major line like Denny with the cheap Skyway to Tomorrowland stick-it-in-the-sidewalk-every-twenty-feet bullshit that made the downtown garage-to-ferris-wheel idea so mockable. You are embarking on a significant rearrangement of the urban landscape here.

        All this means $$bank$$. Less $$bank$$ than a subway, but far more than the SLUT or the cliffside Portland Aerial with its minimal ground footprint. Again, entire buildings must be constructed in tandem.

        This has to be more than a “gee-whiz amenity” if it will be able to sell itself on the merits.

      10. @Mike — I agree. As to having a plan in place, Matt’s is already there, but as I said, I think it goes too far. Once you include the Seattle Center, it begins to be viewed as a novelty, an amusement park ride, if you will, rather than a serious piece of transit infrastructure. As I mentioned, when 99 is complete, there will be (hopefully) some very good alternatives. I think we should simply start with the most important piece first, which is Capitol Hill to South Lake Union. That’s how I drew it on my map, and I think that would be fairly cheap, and very effective as a gondola line (because it is short, the alternatives are terrible, and it connects very popular neighborhoods). By all means we should consider extending it, but this is the most important section, and I think this should be our focus. I completely agree with your approach. I think we should ask the folks in charge whether they support this, and if not, what else they have in mind.

        As far as private funding is concerned, I think it is definitely worth a shot. As you mentioned, there are a lot of wealthy people in the area. REI is nearby as well. If this went to Cascade, I could see everyone chipping in a bit for this.

        I also think this gondola, to my eyes, would be more popular than the one by the waterfront. Capitol Hill is not the tourist destination that Pike Place is, but to locals, it is one the most popular areas in town. If you work in South Lake Union, and are tired of the same old, same old, why not get on the gondola and enjoy something different? A savvy tourist will check out Capitol Hill as well, and while South Lake Union is a bit stale for my taste, there is the view of the lake, MOHAI, as well as The Center for Wooden Boats. I could easily see a nice little triangle (downtown to Capitol Hill via the subway, then to South Lake Union via the gondola, then back to downtown via the streetcar). If you can’t sell that to tourists, you are in the wrong business.

      11. I super disagree.

        The core, urbanized, vital 8 corridor stitched together LQA, SLU, Broadway, and the crest of Capitol Hill. That is barely two miles even. Only the last of these is negotiable, because Broadway and John is poised to become such a major transfer point from all directions anyway.

        But you cannot ask someone headed from eastern Capitol Hill down to LQA to go via bus + elevator + gondola + elevator + another bus, just to travel two miles in a perfectly straight line, or to continue to suffer the same old slowpoke 8 as a least-worst alternative to the severe transfer penalties you’ve built into your fancy new version of their simple trip.

        That is insane!

        It is also precisely the same piecemeal, haphazard thinking that has given us Nodal Link and the First Hill Shitshow and any number of other clueless proposals that would leave most people stuck on their same old terrible buses for all eternity.

        You’re also pretending that reconnecting the SLU grid will solve the problems buses have going around the Seattle Center, which is obviously not the case.

        No, the gondola idea will live or die on whether or not the numbers crunch for a 1.7-mile route. 1st North to Broadway, no more, no less. If that can’t work, the idea is dead.

      12. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. Look at the map again. No one, except someone out for ride, would use the gondola from lower Queen Anne to Capitol Hill. A rider will simply take the bus tunnel downtown, then transfer to a train and get over to Capitol Hill. But what if you are half way in between. What if you are, say, at 5th and Thomas, right outside EMP? Do you take the bus/streetcar all the way around (or, with any luck, through) the Seattle Center and up to Uptown, then follow that same route (bus tunnel then transfer to Link)? or do you take the bus the other way, then take the gondola? It seems to me that you take the gondola.

        So this won’t be that great. It won’t be the cheap version of a subway we wish we had. So what? It still connects South Lake Union to Capitol Hill. For Seattle, that is huge. Those are top ten destinations, and the connection right now is horrible. Bus, bike, car — horrible. That itself makes this a great value *right now*. Before Link gets to Capitol Hill, before the second bus tunnel, before we reconnect the grid, this is a great value. Once we do those other things, this becomes just a little bit better. I can live with that.

        I don’t think we can properly judge the value of a gondola here (any gondola) unless we know how much it costs, and how one accesses the station. There are some natural advantages here (not great, but significant). Capitol Hill falls along there fairly well, although not as steeply as it does to the north. This might allow for a shorter station. South Lake Union/Cascade is a different story. But again, I think it is worth investigating and putting a number on. As I said, it will be at least ten years, if not twenty (if not more) before a subway gets to South Lake Union. This might only connect one small neighborhood (South Lake Union) to another (Capitol Hill) but if this isn’t too expensive, it is worth it. From what I can tell, the price (acquiring property) is relative the distance, which makes it different than tunneling, where it doesn’t make sense to dig unless you are going to dig a ways. Obviously there are economies of scale with this, like every project, but they aren’t as big.

      13. Still disagree.

        Matt has sold his Denny-ish Gondola, dispite circumstances somewhat dissimilar from South American precedents, as serving the same dual purpose: feeder into the primary transit system, but also a corridor in its own right.

        Not merely a shuttle. Not merely a subway range extender. The “corridor” aspect is a huge part of the “let’s do Medellín” sales pitch, and a way of distinguishing it from white-elephant follies like the Boris Air Line To Nowhere or the contemptible Union Street proposal.

        The 8 is a corridor. People travel to and from and between all of its destinations, in every direction. That the 8 keeps getting busier, despite its superlative level of suck, should suggest that crosstown corridors are necessary even when in-and-out alternatives exist. Even if we get more tunnels to fix the in-and-out bottlenecks, this crosstown corridor will still be needed.

        Your truncated shuttle offers little to improve most trip permutations than any option that exists today (or 13 months from today). You offer another fragment. Just as the monorail is a fragment. Just as the streetcar is a fragment.

        We need better corridors, not more fragments. Again, either the gondola can (mathematically, soundly) prove itself to be that corridor, or it cannot. But we need more arduous-access fragmentary transit around here like a salmon needs a snowboard.

      14. I agree, we need more corridors, but we aren’t going to get them for a long time. This is how I see this playing out:

        2016: ST3 Passes, just barely.
        2020: ST4 fails. It passes comfortably in Seattle, but fails overwhelmingly in the suburbs.
        2022: The state legislature grants Seattle the right to tax itself
        2024: Seattle’s version of ST4 passes.
        2037: The “Metro 8” subway opens.

        I assume thirteen years after the ballot initiative passes before it actually opens. That is the same amount of time it will take to get Northgate Link after passing ST2.

        I assume ST4 will fail because of the current funding mechanism (which shows no signs of changing) which requires suburban areas to come up with projects that cost a similar amount as Seattle’s projects. There is a huge need for expensive light rail in Seattle, but less so in the suburbs. It’s not that the suburbs need less in the way of good transit, it’s just that they have much cheaper alternatives (e. g. BRT on exclusive freeway lanes) as well as expensive limitations (East Link won’t allow a branch to Issaquah, while a second lake crossing is ridiculously expensive for what it would deliver). Perhaps this is pessimistic.

        But much of the rest of this is not. Redistricting in 2020 might give us a more functional legislature, but that is still no guarantee of local taxing authority. Nor can we assume that the “Metro 8” corridor is a given. West Seattle won’t get light rail for ST3, and Ballard may only get it from UW to Ballard. That means the focus for ST4 might very well be “the monorail route”, connecting Ballard to West Seattle by rail. This means we are even further behind (and may never get there, if we have a local recession — it has happened before).

        Just to be clear, I’m all for studying both, but what if Capitol Hill to South Lake Union comes in much, much cheaper than the full line? That doesn’t seem crazy to me. First of all, it isn’t very far (about half a mile) so speed is not as important. Second, there is a freeway in the way, which might actually work to our advantage. I’m thinking about two tall towers on either side, which means the “stations” don’t have to be so high up in the air.

        To paraphrase Mike’s question, what do we do for the next 22 years? Just tough it out?

        I think the comparison to the Monorail is a very good one. Again, the only reason I support this thing is because I think it will be cheap. If not, then all bets are off. What if fixing the monorail costs 20 million — is it worth it? What about 50? Maybe not, but if it was integrated better into the neighborhood, then maybe it would be. But comparing this to a streetcar is unfair. A streetcar is no faster than a bus. This would be faster than any other form of transportation except a bicycle (and that is only if you are going downhill, and are willing to cut through traffic and people). Yes, it would be part of our continuing mix of haphazard, half-ass, fragmented architecture. But it would be better than nothing, which is what South Lake Union has now (I consider the streetcar and buses stuck in traffic to be nothing). It is also what it looks like it will have for the next twenty years, if not longer.

      15. Lest I seem excessively skeptical rather than merely circumspect, I want to be clear that I support such a study. I would love to see it proven that a gondola could solve our “8” problem cheaper and faster than a subway.

        In a forum so frequently besieged with terrible ideas that hardly merit the finger movements used to refute them, this is about as close as I’m likely to come to “endorsing” a gadget-oriented notion.

        But you shouldn’t get your hopes up that truncating to Fairview will magically improve the metrics here. This is not a cliffside proposal like Portland, where street-level accommodations are all but unnecessary. You aren’t proposing to end the line at Bellevue or Summit. The final blocks surrounding Broadway are nearly flat, and as such your air rights, clearance and privacy ameliorations, and requirement for a Broadway terminal of significant height all add up to a huge amount of money. Add an extra digit to Portland’s project cost, and you’re probably just getting started. And that’s for your less-useful truncated version.

        Could it still make enough difference to justify the cost? Possibly. And especially if it isn’t truncated to the point where its hobbled access-shed renders it pointless and inconvenient for nearly all trips — which is why my monorail and streetcar comparisons were both salient. Just don’t expect the dirt-cheapness that the Gadgetbahners would like to believe is inherent in the mode. That’s advertising as false as any “streetcar stimulus” squawking, and is bound to disappoint you in the long run.

      16. Even the gondola segment between SLU and LQA doesn’t seem that bad. Even if the gondola covers the distance at a whopping speed of 5 mph, so what? Without stoplights or wait time, it will still be faster than the 8 on an ordinary day, and way faster than the 8 in heavy traffic.

      17. “The likely largest expense of the project — and it’s a whopping one — would be the need to build from scratch (or significantly retrofit) half a dozen building sites along the way to become stations and/or primary suspension towers.”

        Why is it whopping for this gondola when the proposal for the Union Street gondola implied it would be inexpensive? Or at least, inexpensive enough for the developer to build himself just for a few summers of tourists to the waterfront.

      18. I’m sorry I missed all of this. My thoughts:

        1. It’s not useful to look only at the 1.7 mile length – just as most people don’t ride Link from downtown to the airport, some people would ride this from Link to SLU, some would ride from LQA to SLU, and some would ride from LQA to Link. It’s only this last group that would suffer the ~13 minute travel time from one end to the other (and how many times have you waited more than 13 minutes for the 8 to show up?).
        2. Keep in mind if we go with an 3S system (3-cable, more expensive but faster with higher capacity), we can almost double the speed to 17mph. I don’t know if that’s worth the cost, but it also comes with the benefit of much less frequent tower spacing.
        3. I love Peyton’s idea for ranking projects. Vancouver does this, and ranked highly their middle-of-nowhere gondola that connects the Skytrain to a college.
        4. Instead of putting towers in the middle of the sidewalk, there are many locations along Thomas or John where we could just take a parking spot. This is what the Union St. gondola proposed.
        5. I do see some benefit of using this just as a station-connector from Link to SLU, though much less than mirroring (and supplementing, not replacing) the benefit of the 8 in connecting neighborhoods.
        6. I don’t buy that east-west will be any easier once another street or two is connected. The demand far outstrips supply, as is almost always true in building road capacity. If we can gather the political will for bus lanes, great. But I’m not holding my breath.
        7. “nearly flat” isn’t an issue. I could imagine arguing against it for a completely flat system (why not just use elevated rail, it’s faster). But there’s not harm in running a section flat. And the tall tower isn’t necessary for the idea, but would be a nice component. The station could be at or just above street level if carefully designed.

        Overall, great discussion.

      19. “Once you include the Seattle Center”

        You don’t include Seattle Center itself. You include Uptown, which is an urban village. If you don’t include Uptown it looks neglectful, like too many transit projects around here that are too short. It may be too expensive, but at least study it and quantify the tradeoff so we can say we tried.

        It may turn out that the most practial station is inside the Center, but that’s incidental, not the purpose of the line. And it would be problematic when the Center is behind a paywall as during Bumbershoot. In any case, a line truly on Denny Way would be outside the Center; it’s only a block or two north that it might land inside, and that still wouldn’t be the ideal location (which would be closer to Queen Anne Ave N or 5th Ave N or both).

      20. “That means the focus for ST4 might very well be “the monorail route”, connecting Ballard to West Seattle by rail.”

        We haven’t really talked about ST4, and it’s premature until we know what’s in ST3 and whether it passes. The main candidates for ST3 are Ballard-downtown, Ballard-UW, downtown-West Seattle, and DSTT2 (initially studied with West Seattle but probably separable). So the first chance at ST4 would be the leftovers. But beyond that there’s Lake City (presumably Northgate-Bothell). (And Aurora and north Lake Washington, but I doubt those will be viable even for ST4.) Then there’s this Denny Way line, whether subway or gondola.

        One possibility, although it would be expensive and displease some one-seat downtown riders, would be to split the Ballard-West Seattle line like Metro is planning for RapidRide C and D. The West Seattle line could go north to Denny Way and east to Broadway (or 15th or wherever). The Ballard line could be reconnected to that southeastern tunnel somebody proposed, from Uptown to the CD (Harborview, Providence). Then you have another downtown X, sort of.

      21. Enumerated replies to Matt:

        1) This is why I described it as a continuous corridor, and I agree that this needs to be the starting point of any study. As I’ve said all along, I would love for such a study to prove a cost:benefit anywhere in the same time zone as that which you have claimed, but as this is not a technology with a plethora of genuinely analogous urban examples, one needs to be extra-circumspect about overstating the case.

        2) For example, are your stated Whistler-esque speed maximums — 2-cable as fast as a no-traffic bus or 3-cable just shy of subway speeds — still available in urban running situations with relatively low clearances? And I am thoroughly convinced that you are (wittingly or unwittingly) lowballing the costs and the complexity of purpose-built infrastructure for the line.

        3) Didn’t the opposite happen? The Simon Fraser gondola was ranked a low priority, and the idea mothballed for the time being. I was actually surprised by the outcome — without knowing Burnaby well, it seemed that the isolated nature of the university and the woodedness of the surrounding hillside would have made this a supremely cheap and easy project to build. I guess there simply weren’t enough students and faculty to use it often enough to make it worthwhile. Anyway, the Simon Fraser shuttle was ultimately a lot closer to what Portland built than to the urban continuum into which the Denny proposal inserts itself.

        4 + Mike) No. This is not going to happen. The reason the loathsome Union Street Clickbait Powerpoint was “cheap” is because it was super fucking cheap! Bunny-slope-quality toothpick supports every 30 feet, in the middle of the public right-of-way. Tourists grazing inches from second-story windows. And don’t forget the ridiculous “one way only” midpoint station.

        Just as our vestigial Alweg bears no resemblance to what would have been needed to bring the Monorail Project up to code and make it function as real mass transit, your Denny idea cannot be reduced to the Disney Skyway that you describe. The South American transit gondolas have much more elaborate supports and stations than you allude to here, and anything integrated into a first-world non-slum cityscape with significant portions of flat running will need to be more elaborate still. Don’t make the same mistake those Monorail Project charlatans did.

        5) Again, it’s all about how the numbers pan out.

        6) Agreed.

        7) “Nearly flat” is an issue at the upper terminus because it changes the entire impression of an upper terminus. Broadway is not on a cliff; it cannot have this. And so, after you have finished climbing the hill — and clearing the bulkier Bellevue-Summit apartments on the way — you must descend into your upper terminus. Again without invading the second-floor privacy of its nearest neighbors. This will involve either exceedingly clever routing, or a station housed in a near-skyscraper built from scratch, or both. As you have said in the past yourself.

        Again, study… but don’t oversell until you know.

      22. I’m not going to go point-by-point, but wanted to address the Burnaby Gondola (the Vancouver Skytrain connecting to the college). The issue was how the media looked at the analysis. They took a look at the 25 year payback of costs vs. return. That’s a very reasonable way of ranking an energy retrofit or launching a product line, but it’s a bit of a bad metric for transit. The 25 year cost difference between buses and gondolas was $10M in favor of buses. But the report also listed $500M in additional benefit to riders by going with gondolas, as well as 1.5 million commute hours and 210 thousand tons of carbon saved though these benefits don’t make it into the headlines – just costs and returns. $10M over 25 years seems pretty cheap for the added time and convenience savings of a gondola vs. buses, and that partially comes through in the $500M number. But of course the headlines were all along the line of *gondola $10M more than buses*.

        But the actual agency, Translink, understands nuance of transit economics a bit better than the public. “This process concluded that the concept has considerable merit and, as a result, it will be a candidate for inclusion in one of TransLink’s future strategic transportation plans.” That said, their 2012 list filled up with mostly quick-payback projects (bus hours, BRT, some rail station upgrades), so maybe this is all just talk.

      23. That’s interesting. I wonder if all it will take is one more growth spurt at Simon Fraser’s hilltop campus — or a shift in non-resident student commuting patterns — to make the numbers crunch and to get the ball rolling again.

    2. I agree Matt. A gondola makes so much sense for that area. Just a gondola from Capitol Hill to Fairview would make sense. Eventually, we will connect the grid between Denny and Mercer, so that will enable buses to move between South Lake Union and Uptown. So, basically you could take a gondola from Capitol Hill to Fairview, then take a much faster bus from there through South Lake Union to Uptown. That isn’t the only good transfer that would be available, either. This would save a considerable amount of time if you are heading up Eastlake or Westlake. For the cost of a streetcar that gets very little use we could completely transform the transit options from Capitol HIll to everything west of the freeway and north of Denny.

      1. Unfortunately, forcing three transfers in less than two miles does not make sense.

        If the number-crunched case for the Denny gondola is to pass muster — see my conflicted thoughts above — it will need to pass muster for the entirety of its core 1.7 miles.

  8. So the further a neighborhood is from downtown, the less likely someone is to take transit to their job. Shocking. And now we want to spend as much money as it takes to turn Lower Queen Anne’s (It’s not called Uptown) 17% transit ridership into the Commercial Core’s 56%? Huh?? People, this is how we get into transit revenue trouble. Being spendthrifts with the public’s hard earned money is how we wake up every few years when there’s a dip in the economy and wonder how we’re going to pay for all the overbuilt programs that were created in good times. No, things are fine as they are. It’s natural for less people to take the bus to the boonies than to downtown. This doesn’t need to be “fixed.”

    1. Oh please no.

      If Seattle turns into a auto dominated hellhole everyone will want to move here instead. Nobody wins in that scenario.

      1. Glenn, I consider myself to be an expert in anything having to do with Portland, so let me translate this post in terms of your city so you can better understand it. Let’s say 80% of all commuters arrive to downtown Portland by public transit. But then let’s take a neighborhood like Jantzen Beach, which I pretentiously call Uptown, because I think then people will think of me as more cosmopolitan and less provincial, and say only 15% of commuters take public transit to arrive at that small, outlying area. My question to you is, how much closer does Uptown’s 15% have to be to downtown Portland’s 80% before you don’t think this is a problem that needs fixing? 20%? 40%? 80%?

      2. Enough of a percentage so that it doesn’t clog Interstate 5.

        Places like Janzen Beach should be able to get a high percentage of transit trips due to the location between two urbanized areas, as the transit service should be pretty good between the two urbanized areas.

        Sadly, the service is awful and thus there is a small percentage of trips that are on transit.

        It’s the same principle as discussed on this thread about downtown Seattle: the lower percentage of transit trips indicates how awful the service is or other problems (in Janzen Beach a significant problem is a lack of walking routes to get to transit, but the lack of service is certainly a problem too).

      3. But Uptown, SLU, First Hill and the International District aren’t like Jantzen Beach which is as fare from Downtown Portland as Northgate is from Downtown Seattle.

        A better comparison for Portland would be the Northwest District, Lloyd District, Goose Hollow, South Waterfront, and East Downtown (or whatever the area along the MLK streetcar loop is called). In Portland each of those neighborhoods has access to either MAX or the streetcar.

      4. Sam,

        Clearly you’re NOT an “expert in anything having to do with Portland” or you’d know that Jantzen Beach is seven miles from downtown Portland, mostly through SFH neighborhoods. and with a “last mile” (and a half) being a wetland/race track/waterway. “Uptown” is directly adjacent to “Belltown” and “South Lake Union” both of which are already fairly dense and filling up rapidly. Belltown is directly adjacent to the “Commercial Core” of Seattle.

        Your straw man is hardly particularly inflated today.

    2. Land use also plays a role as I said above. If you make these peripheral job hubs more walkable and denser, then transit becomes more effective and attractive and driving becomes less attractive. That kind of double investment in transit and walkability is a win-win for taxpayers because it’s less expensive than maintaining the car-oriented infrastructure and expanding highways. And nobody said the goal was to get Uptown’s (or Lower Queen Anne’s) mode share to 56% to equal the office-tower core. It’s just to raise it to its natural ceiling. People don’t take transit because transit access to that area sucks, so let’s unsuck it. To be sure, transit from Uptown is frequent to downtown, but it’s slow, and that’s tolerable if you’re just going to downtown or the near parts of the city, but it’s compounded if you’re going further such as to the Eastside.

      1. I agree. The connection from Uptown to South Lake Union is especially bad. It is far enough that walking is a pain, but with the bus service between the two, you might as well walk. I played around with Google Maps and it is stunning. From Fairview and Harrison (not exactly an obscure spot) and Mercer and Queen Anne Avenue (again, not obscure) it takes about a half hour by bus, and a little less if you walk. It isn’t much better in reverse direction, nor it better during rush hour.

      2. I’ve done that walk several times (taking the 70 to Fairview is the quickest way to get to Uptown from the U-district). Depending on the construction and stoplights, it’s about 20 minutes. Fortunately, Pronto does have stations in both locations, and this is one of the very few corridors where Pronto has a noticeable speed advantage over competing options. (Or it will, once the new sidewalk under Aurora is complete and you don’t have to ride at 2 mph on a narrow sidewalk crowded with pedestrians).

  9. Even ignoring the overhead of transfers, there is no good way for one single bus route to please everybody – if you get off the freeway too soon, the slogging down surface streets through the larger downtown eats up too much time for people at the far end. Stay on the freeway too long and the same problem happens for people at the closer end, plus the overhead of backtracking.

    This is not trivial amounts of time we’re talking about. During much of the day, getting from the Stewart St. exit ramp to 5th and Jackson on a bus takes close to 30 minutes. Getting from SODO to Westlake in the other direction is a little bit better, but not by much. Even on weekends, I have sometimes taken Uber or Car2Go to the International District Station to catch the 554, in large part to eliminate the long slog through every block of downtown, with tons of stops.

    One potential solution is to have buses exit the freeway in the center of downtown, then work their way outward, similar to the 578 service pattern. Advantages include that it keeps the slogging down surface streets to a minimum (especially for those for whom downtown is merely a transfer point, rather than an actual destination) and is relatively cheap to operate (fewer service-hours traversing downtown streets) and more reliable (fewer chances for buses to get heavily delayed on downtown streets for people catching the bus at the last stop before the freeway).

    Yet another advantage is that if all the buses exit the freeway using the same exit, it is much easier to argue for transit priority on that exit, perhaps going so far as a dedicated ramp from I-5 reserved exclusively for buses. By contrast, with the current configuration, the amount of time buses spend sitting in traffic to get off I-5 at Stewart St. is downright embarrassing.

    The downside, of course, is that with each bus covering only half of downtown, lots of people would need to transfer to reach their final destination. Nevertheless, the combined frequency of all the buses serving downtown is so high that the transfer penalty should really be small.

    1. This is where a longer bus tunnel would greatly improve things. I take tunnel buses down to Spokane Street to get to Costco and it works well. Now imagine somebody arriving at King Street Station or the adjacent express-bus stops, and taking a tunnel bus to Uptown or SLU. Further assume that this tunnel is not overcrowded with too many buses. Suddenly that time-consuming slog becomes practically an express, and people flock to it.

      1. If we’re building a tunnel, we might as well put rails in it and run trains instead of buses.

      2. If it makes sense to run trains at the outset. It does need to have embedded rails and maybe OCS from the beginning, but if there is no place to go in a train, we could make earlier good use of the tunnel with buses.

      3. We will put rails into it. The question is whether we can afford to put train lines in the same phase. The trains can’t just terminate in Uptown or SLU or they won’t fully replace the buses. They’d have to go to Ballard and Greenwood or something. If we can’t afford to build all the train lines in one phase, do we just do nothing or do we build a bus-train tunnel?

      4. It’s not just cost, it also depends on how often the train runs, and where the buses are coming from, etc. For example, a bus tunnel would provide much better service to West Seattle than just about any train proposal. With a bus tunnel, the bus starts by serving one of the many neighborhoods in West Seattle (since people aren’t concentrated in only a handful) and then quickly gets to and through downtown (assuming similar improvements are made to the West Seattle freeway as well as the surface streets). With a train, a bus has to either shuttle the folks to a station in West Seattle (which is unlikely to be very convenient) or drop people off in SoDo. The latter approach is available now, but no one is asking for it. This is because once a bus makes its way all the way from some West Seattle neighborhood to SoDo, the riders want it to keep going all the way downtown. Yes, if we had the money to provide a half dozen train routes to West Seattle, it would be better, but no realistic plan (no plan on the table) includes Alki, for example, one of the most popular and densely populated areas of West Seattle. Sometimes rail makes a lot of sense — sometimes buses do.

        For Ballard it is a bit different, because there are larger concentrations of people. Unlike West Seattle, improving the rest of the line involve investments that cost roughly the same, whether it is for a bus or train. Building a rail line to West Seattle means building an entirely new bridge, with a tunnel. Improving the West Seattle freeway means adding a lane or two, as well a a new ramp to the SoDo busway (not cheap, but billions less). On the other hand, improving the bus route to Ballard would mean building a new bridge. At that point, you are right, you might as well make that rail, especially since there wouldn’t be that many feeder buses, assuming rail goes from Ballard to the UW (where there will be tons of feeder buses). But that is all very long term. A bus tunnel would improve the ride from Ballard immensely.

  10. The “Pill Hill” solution is one that is surprising for Pill Hill. Providing “peak hour” service to major hospitals really doesn’t make much sense when only a small portion of hospital employees work typical core hours. The rest are shift workers working 7-3:30, 7-7:30, 3-11:30, 11-7:30 (fill in AM or PM on any of these to your liking!), or some other odd schedule. And they work weekends. And holidays. Yes, Christmas too. As we all know, traffic sucks in Seattle, on weekends too, so any “Pill Hill” solution that is really going to capture a large proportion of its workers MUST provide round-the clock service, every day, to those nurses, physicians, housekeepers, assistants, cooks, and other core staff that provide round-the-clock health care services at places like Harborview and Swedish. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make any sense at all for the hospitals to be sharing any of the cost of this service, because it doesn’t serve their employees well. Those arriving at 2:30 or 3 pm and working until 11 pm or midnight are still stuck searching for parking during the middle of the office worker’s “work day” when parking is scarce since there is no bus to take them home. Night shift will never find a ride on a bus. If you are working a 7 to 3:30 day shift, you are golden, until you find out that your unit is understaffed and they are offering overtime pay to stay an extra 4 hours, and you could really use the extra money. This same problem can be extrapolated to dozens of other careers (firefighters, the entire service industry including restaurant & grocery & retail, police, anybody at a call center, Microsoft folks who work flexible hours, etc.) Focusing transit on core work hours doesn’t solve as many problems as we would like. It’s time for the transit system to serve ALL of our city’s workers at ALL times of day. Then, it would not only serve to get people to and from work, but also to and from our errands, meals, and other activities outside of “working hours” too – increasing ridership! It seems that the City of Seattle is working hard to move towards this goal, and it’s time to stop entertaining “Pill Hill” style solutions to transit in the Puget Sound region.

    1. Your point is well taken, but it’s worth noting that several of the First HIll express buses run longer peak hours for precisely this reason. Take the 193 for instance. Though it’s morning span of service is a pretty traditional 5:30-8:00am, its evening service is 3:30-8pm. That helps accommodate both 8 and 12-hour shifts.

    2. I assume the buses are full or they wouldn’t be running. Also, there are fewer buses going to First Hill than to downtown. And this is more about compensating for peak-hour congestion than providing express buses for all work shifts. Off peak they can take the all-day express buses to downtown and transfer.

    3. It’s also a variation of A/B service. If you have an all-day route to A, but peak hours you have entire busfuls of people going to B, then maybe you should send some of the peak buses to B rather than sending all of them to A.

    4. Madison BRT will help quite a bit. I also think an all day, all night bus that goes from Yesler and Boren to Fairview and Mercer (on Boren, mostly) would make a lot of sense. That bus would get clogged during rush hour (a bit) but I don’t think it would be as bad as the 8 (although I really don’t know). During the middle of the day I think it would help quite a bit.

      1. I don’t think Madison BRT will change regional mode shreds at all. It’s not near a Link station. By 2023, Link will be carrying many or most of the trips into and out of Downtown Seattle.

      2. Madison is not near a station (which is stupid) but it is only a couple blocks away from one. A west side transit tunnel would most certainly have a station at Madison, but that is years away.

      3. That’s what the 49’s Broadway-Madison routing is about. It gives western Madison direct access to a station.

      4. Exactly right, Mike. That’s why Route 49 makes so much sense. People from Swedish will have access to the Capitol Hill Station by not only the streetcar, but also Route 49.

      5. A lot depends on where you are going, where you are coming from as well as some traffic patterns. If you are coming from the south (which will eventually include the east) then it is about the same time to get to the BRT as it is to get to the 49. It is only two more stops, but that is still two stops, and the distance from Seneca/University is two blocks which I consider to be a wash.

        If you are going to Swedish, then the 49 probably wins, but if you are going to Virginia Mason then I think the BRT bus wins. Then you also have the fact that the BRT is supposed to be BRT, which means no delays with people getting on and off the bus. It may come down to frequency as well (which one delivers more frequent service, day in and day out). My guess is that folks will figure it out and adjust accordingly.

        If you are coming from the north, then the 49 will probably win most of the time.

      6. I agree, Keith. So far, from what I can tell, Madison BRT seems to be more “BRT-ish” than RapidRide. It wouldn’t surprise me if it actually provided fast, frequent, consistent service along that corridor.

        There is so much to like about the WSTT. It would be good if it simply copied the existing tunnel stations, but adding Madison is huge not only because it helps fill in the gap in downtown service, but because it could provide fast service to First Hill and beyond. Meanwhile, I figure you would have very fast headways, and very high frequency in the WSTT. Thus a transfer from East or Central Link to a bus to the Madison BRT would probably be the fastest way to get to First Hill.

    5. Most nurses work 12-hours shift either 7 AM to 7 PM or 7 PM to 7 AM. That’s actually quite a lot of buses for people working the night shift.

      It should also be noted that even though hospitals are staffed 24/7, they still have large numbers of employees who do work traditional working hours. Outpatient appointments almost always happen 8-5 Monday-Friday, unless there’s a medical emergency.

      1. Yes, I used to work at Harborview. The evening/night population is probably a quarter of daytime. The clinic wing is only open weekdays, as is the mental health outpatient center, teaching activities, non-urgent surgeries, discharges, etc, and that’s when most most visitors, volunteers, and administrators are there.. Some of these like discharges spread to weekend daytime, but not usually in the evening. Evening nurses have a ritual of “moving their car” around 5-7pm from an outlying parking space to an adjacent one so that they don’t have to walk as far after dark when their shift ends. That would only be possible if the evening population is vastly smaller than the daytime population.

  11. I am often amazed that there isn’t a harder push to improve the access around the current DSTT stations. The lack of down escalators to the platforms discourages using the tunnel (and while elevators are available, they take time to use). There isn’t an inactive discussion to extend tunnel entrances a block each way. One example of a possible project is a tunnel northward on Fifth Avenue northward towards SLU and the SLU trolley, or a n enclosed walkway from Westlake station to the DSCC. Extending the perception that stations cover larger areas than they do and making the stations usability better for a wider set of the population would help a lot.

    We overhaul kitchens and bathrooms after 25 years of use. Why not the DSTT?

    1. Narrower escalators would need to be installed and the stairs would need to be narrowed. I’m not sure if you could make such a change to IDS without adding additional entrances as the stair/escalator combination is already pretty narrow.

      If possible I’d be for ripping out the current elevators and replacing them with something faster and more reliable.

      1. In some stations, it may be possible to merely extend the mezzanine to a place where a new escalator can be dropped. That wouldn’t require disrupting the stairs.

    2. What’s DSCC? Westlake Station also needs a south entrance at 4th & Pike for the eastbound buses. And University Street Station needs an entrance for the library.

      1. That ain’t going to happen at IDS because they’ll be putting in a crossover and turnback track for East Link.

      2. Yep. Let’s learn our lesson and make sure this doesn’t happen in the next tunnel we build.

      3. Yes, center platforms should be top priority in station design, and crosover tracks should be designed around them. The omission of down escalators looks like a crass way to save money; it’s the equivalent of having no place to sit on the platforms. Yes, it’s minimally functional, but it ignores usability.

      4. Meh. Center platforms are nice for the sake of elevator redundancy, but that’s about the only benefit.

        There are innumerable places in the world where side platforms allowed a station to be designed for much quicker surface-to-vehicle access. That should always take precedence over DC-style caverns. No one needs to reverse direction on the same line on a regular basis.

      5. “Meh. Center platforms are nice for the sake of elevator redundancy, but that’s about the only benefit.”

        Are you forgetting about ID Station, where riders transferring between East and South Link will have to go up over the tracks to the other platform? ..just so ST can save a small amount of money on building wyes to take broken-down trains out of service…

      6. No, I am not forgetting about the I.D. I agree it is ironic that the sole transfer point in the initial two-line system will require literally exiting the station completely, and that this reflects poorly on ST’s understanding of how self-contained “systems” look.

        But Mike talks incessantly about having center platforms everywhere, as if their superiority were self-evident regardless of context. Furthermore, he constantly references the “need” to “switch directions”, something of which no one but a transit tourist would ever make a regular habit.

        Ease of platform access is of paramount benefit to all users. This can require different arrangements from stop to stop. You don’t design for transit tourists or occasional lost souls who go the wrong direction (and will never repeat the mistake). This shouldn’t be so hard to grasp.

        Returning to the I.D…. I agree that it’s lame. But upon further investigation, it will barely impact any non-hypothetical riders. Because even lamer is a “network” with such poorly routed, disparate branches that no one is likely to ever want more than one of its branches. Someone headed from Columbia City to Bellevue will take the 7, because Central Link is in the wrong place. Bellevue to the airport will forever remain better on a bus, or in a car. Angle Lake to the Spring District? Don’t make me laugh.

        Real transportation networks reach myriad busy places that people move through and between on a regular basis, which is why multi-line journeys and in-network transfers become no-brainers. ST1 and ST2 contained none of that. Central Link and East Link are two isolated commute corridors that happen to merge. They offer no mutual beneficence. That’s the failure of “regional subways”.

        Don’t believe me? Look up Martin’s freak-out at the suggestion that a Bellevue sports-palace site might actually offer less pedestrian-hostile transit access than the terrible plan on 1st S. “Downtown is the epicenter of the transit network”, he regurgitates, ignoring the thousands of transit-enabled major event destinations the world over that don’t need to be within shouting distance of the central business district. “No one is going to take Link from Tukwila to Bellevue for a hockey game!”

        He’s right that no one will do so. Because Link fails as a network. Because “regionalism” is anathema to productive urban transit forms. Because the whole ideology behind our system is “garbage in, garbage out”.

        But the silver lining is that no one really needs the I.D. transfer you lament.

      7. Between the 560’s hourly frequency and long slog through Renton, I still think Link with an ID transfer wins, unless, by shear luck, the 560 happens to be coming almost imminently. Especially in the northbound direction (you can’t time the arrival of your bags to match an hourly #560 schedule) or if your ultimate destination in Bellevue is near a Link Station in the Bel-Red area, requiring an additional transfer to access the 560.

        A private car is, of course, considerably faster than either Link or the 560, but without a volunteer driver to pick you up and drop you off, the time-saved-per-dollar-spent calculus may not pencil-out. Parking at the terminal garage is $26/day, or $125 for a 5-day trip. Using Uber/Lyft is a cheaper (~$40 each way), but still rather expensive if you have to use it both directions. Parking at a satellite lot could get the cost of a 5-day trip down to around $60, plus gas, but much of the time saved by taking private transportation to the airport gets eaten up waiting for the parking shuttle.

        All in all, a decision to drive over take Link places a value on one’s time at around $30-50 per hour, depending on which driving option is used, traffic conditions, fuel economy of one’s personal vehicle, etc. I won’t dispute that for many people, it certainly makes sense. But there are lots of people out there who don’t have the luxury of spending an additional $30-50 per hour of saved travel time. To say that Link is completely useless for traveling between Bellevue and the airport is a gross exaggeration.

      8. That there are expected to be few-to-zero Bellevue-SeaTac transfers has been well established on this blog, per individuals with various levels of access to ST’s ridership projection methods, not to mention the agency’s total lack of concern with I.D. transfers.

        Bellevue’s amenability to consolidated rapid transit is already famously hobbled by its poor land use. That goes double for airport trips, the vast majority of which will begin at home, i.e. statistically far from Link.* Add in the slog of a second leg more than half an hour in duration, as well as the psychological resistance to such significant out-of-direction travel for a time-sensitive journey, and Bellevue-SeaTac via Link becomes a non-starter.

        *(Sure, you could have someone drop you at Link. But better to have that person drop you at Bellevue Transit Center, so you can still head the direct way, via 405. Recall that sufficient demand for improved 405-corridor transit frequency is claimed already to exist.)

        Fundamentally, your math and psychology are both incorrect here. “In and out” trips of a dozen-plus miles per leg are simply not trips that people willingly choose. Just one of the many unfortunate geometric truths that undermine the supposed “network effects” claimed by mindless boosters of long, spindly, suburban-aimed radial rail.

      9. “But Mike talks incessantly about having center platforms everywhere, as if their superiority were self-evident regardless of context. Furthermore, he constantly references the “need” to “switch directions”, something of which no one but a transit tourist would ever make a regular habit.”

        What is the compelling advantage of side platforms? Why not make center platforms the default, and side platforms only where specifically justified due to geographical constraints or cost factors? The top priority should be usability; i.e., convenience for passengers. It’s more convenient to step across the platform than to go up and down. And most crucially, those few minutes going up and down can make the difference between catching the second train and missing it. That’s especially annoying in the DSTT where there’s just a flat road between the platforms but you’re not allowed to cross it.

      10. “it is ironic that the sole transfer point in the initial two-line system will require literally exiting the station completely”

        It’s no further than transferring in the other stations with mezzanines, and I would argue that the whole plaza is “the station”.

        However, the thing to watch for is whether ST requires people to tap out and in again at the top of the escalators or face a fine on the second train. That would be the height of ridiculousness, but possible until ST formally rules it out.

      11. “Ease of platform access is of paramount benefit to all users. This can require different arrangements from stop to stop.”

        To be more specific, what is the benefit of side platforms at Intl Dist station, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake, Mt Baker, and TIB? Why is a center platform suitable for Stadium but not SODO? I’ll leave out the surface stations because they have complex interactions with the street, but even there there’s no reason why the tracks and platforms couldn’t trade places. Some passengers have to cross a track anyway no matter where you put it.

      12. “Someone headed from Columbia City to Bellevue will take the 7”

        Rainier Station is going to be the sleeper in Rainier Valley, both for going to the Eastside and going downtown. It will be interesting to see fom how far south people are willing to ride the 7 or 8 to it. Going west, it’s “express” to Intl Dist. Going east, it saves four stations and a transfer and backtracking, in exchange for busing past one station. Theoretically it could make ridership at the MLK stations plummet, and reduce demands for frequent crosstown routes to MLK.

      13. What is the compelling advantage of side platforms?

        The compelling advantage of side (or stacked!) platforms can be a simpler arrangement of stairs/escalators/lifts/fare-controls that allow a faster journey from the street, or from connecting lines that do not share the same platforms. Again, this advantage is not inherent, but is a fairly frequent occurrence on a case-by-case basis.

        Crucially, this convenience benefit may result from circumstances that are obvious only at the time of construction — by, say, digging under just half the road at a time, or at all, and thus permitting a shallower station box. Once the station is operating, it may be harder to identify why center-platform outcomes would have been worse at a particular location. Of course, sometimes it is clear as day.

        what is the benefit of side platforms at… Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake…?

        In these cases, pretty much none, because the DSTT was so utterly botched in terms of access penalty, and the amount of backtracking across empty mezzanines those stations require would be ludicrous with any platform arrangement. But our plentiful local sampling of bad design outcomes w/ side platforms does not prove your contrapositive assertion that center platforms magically translate into best-possible design outcomes.

        Why is a center platform suitable for Stadium…?

        Case in point! Surface stops can easily be the worst place for center platforms, inasmuch as you require every single passenger to cross a set of live and active tracks to reach their train, regardless of which direction they come from or where they’re headed.

        Ever left a stadium event and been held up by auto-favoring cops at 4th, only to have the gates come down just in time to prevent you from getting to the platform and catching your train? Stadium couldn’t possibly be a better example of the perils of forcing everyone to the middle!

        It’s more convenient to step across the platform than to go up and down.

        You keep repeating this. What part of “no one needs to reverse direction at every fucking station” is eluding you? Who cares about the convenience of a circumstance that is not needed?

        I’ve already said that the I.D. situation is lame. But again, it’s lameness is contained by the much greater lameness of a subway system where few-to-no passengers will desire that transfer anyway.

        It’s no further than transferring in the other stations with mezzanines, and I would argue that the whole plaza is “the station”.

        If we had a real subway with real fare gates, perhaps it might feel that way. But as the surface infrastructure exists today, it does not. The psychological annoyance of having to “leave” the station in order to transfer would be very real… if anyone actually needed this transfer!

        …requires people to tap out and in again at the top of the escalators or face a fine

        This is not how our current “permit to travel” swipes and e-purse holds work. So unless there is a significant change in the fare-payment structure, this is not a valid worry for the five people who will ever ride both lines in a single trip.

      14. Another advantage of side platforms at Stadium station would be platform crowding. This station gets large post-game crowds. With the center platform, everyone going either direction has to get on the same platform. With side platforms, those crowds would spread out somewhat with southbound riders on one platform and northbound riders on the other.

      15. The DSTT was built for buses. Because buses load from the right hand side and because there was a desire to leave room for a passing lane in the stations a side platform layout was used.

      16. And any future dual-use tunnel will use side platforms unless:
        a) we want to invest in special buses, or
        b) the buses run on the ‘wrong’ side.

        I want to add to my comment about Stadium station that it might benefit from having both side platforms and a center platform. On game days, riders could egress onto the center platform and ingress from the side platforms. This would help the traffic flow when it’s crowded.

  12. I don’t think your 25 year number is accurate. First Hill had plenty of jobs 25 years ago, as did LQA.

      1. Not “possible” nearly certain. Nearly all of those hospitals were there 25 years.

  13. Here is a rather wild but curious idea: Why not build a loop (like Chicago) tunnel as our second Downtown tunnel? That would allow for us to forgo mezzanines in stations, allow for cut-and-cover construction on streets much easier, and operationally it means that ST would not have to worry about designing grade-separations where branches are needed. I’m not particularly committed to the idea, but I could see it as an operational concept to explore.

    1. Of course, Chicago’s loop is two-way. Maybe a one-way tunnel for ST3 with a two-way tunnel later.

  14. Wait – Seattle has a Multipolar Downtown? A prescription for Zoloft or something similar will fix that.

  15. This article states an untrue premise: “Most ‘direct’ service to SLU skirts its periphery on its west (Aurora and Dexter) or on its east (Eastlake/Stewart). Only if you live in Downtown (Streetcar), Capitol Hill (8), Eastlake (70), Fremont/Ballard (40), or parts of SR 522 (309) do you enjoy the front-door service that most other Downtown commuters enjoy.”

    I work at Sixth and University. The closest bus stop from the bus I take downtown is at Third and Pike. The workers at SLU whom you are claiming would ride transit if they didn’t have to walk from Eastlake or Dexter have shorter walks than I do. There used to be buses in the downtown core that came down Seventh (the 26 did in the early 80s; I used to walk just a block to the same office building), Sixth and Fifth. Those of us who work on the eastern side of downtown and live north in Seattle have seen the proximity of stops move further and further away. Nonetheless, I still take the bus (though on nice days I disembark at Dexter and Aloha and take a Pronto to Seventh and Union).

  16. Brent’s point above, that not all the transfers to switch which part of downtown you’re going to (or which part you’re going to first) have to take place downtown, is pretty important. That’s especially true during peak hours. The 355 comes from the north but enters downtown from the south; maybe at some point we’ll have routes that come from the south, go through the DBT, and enter greater downtown from the far-north side.

    Some transfers will have to be made downtown, though, and we need to get buses across our worst bottlenecks quickly and reliably for them to work. SLU, in particular, is unlikely to see grade-separated transit for a generation or more, so we’ve got to find room for bus lanes and queue jumps in a lot of places.

  17. What about something like the Detroit Peoplemover?

    It’s got linear induction motors rather than traction motors, so you don’t have to worry about grades that much.

    It’s automated so it can be fairly frequent and maybe be cost competitive the way the Vancouver Skytrain is.

    Operating it as a loop would tie a lot of different routes together. Say, an elevated section above the waterfront (yea, I know, elevated stuff above Alaskan Way is a sore subject but…) and tie together the ferry terminal to points north and south. Having a station at Seattle Center would provide connections to the routes going north and northwest from that area. Maybe something along the lines of above Mercer or Denny to Interstate 5, and then put it above Interstate 5 to tie in a bunch of the stuff going up the hill into the route. Then, hit the International District station to get a bunch of the north-south routes through there plus the stuff on Jackson.

    It means a somewhat less direct route than a straight line, but it also means that getting from, say, the ferry terminal to South Lake Union becomes a 4 minute or so proposition rather than 30 minutes.

    1. for starters, anything ‘Detroit _______like’ makes my eyes glaze over, ear lobes close and brain shudder at the thought. Can you visualize the burned out shell of a once vibrant community.

      1. At 5,600 riders a day, it is one of the few bright spots in transit use there. In a place like Seattle that actually has decent transit use, such a thing might be double that.

      2. The Detroit People Mover is such an inane pile of stupid that my fancy-jetsetting-consultant brother, when on one of his frequent trips to the city, tends to hoof it across the frozen post-apocalyptic hellscape from office to hotel, rather than slog the long way around the interminably meandering loop.

        5,600 for the most visible piece of transit infrastructure in a major urban center isn’t exactly a sales pitch, unless your reset your benchmark for success to “anything that isn’t worse than the Portland Streetcar Eastside Loop”. (Let us also presume that Detroit isn’t flat-out lying about its ridership, as the craven Portland Streetcar Inc. did.)

        Circulator gadgetbahn: once a bad idea, forever a bad idea.

      3. Having a railed transit loop connect a bunch of points around downtown is basically what Chicago’s loop does.

        There are certainly problems with the way the circulator works there. Among them is that most of the time the loop only runs one direction, but it can operate two directions and in fact sometimes has done so when there is construction blocking the line.

        So, obviously the thing to do there if adopting the concept to somewhere else would be to make the thing operate in both directions. It’s grade separated and completely automated, so it should be possible to plan the thing so that it provides transportation in both directions.

        The technology used is basically Vancouver Skytrain stuff, so it’s not like it is completely unique.

        Everything that I have read about the Detroit People mover says that the reason it doesn’t work is primarily because nobody uses public transit in Detroit unless they absolutely have no other choice. Thus, the primary ridership is basically to get from the office to the lunch counter and back again during mid-day.

        Seattle does not have the problem of nearly 0 transit ridership, but it does have a significant problem with the average speed of transit through downtown. It can take half an hour or more for me to get from King Street Station to the area around Seattle Center on the 24.

        If a grade separated link between the major downtown transit corridors existed in Seattle, this same trip could probably be done in 1/3 or less of that.

      4. The Detroit People Mover does not work because it takes all of 11 minutes to walk from one corner of the loop to the other, while it can take 10-15 to ride the train depending on the loop direction, not counting the wait.

        This would be the equivalent of hopping on Chicago’s L Loop just to ride to another stop within the Loop, which literally no one does. Thus the fallacy of your attempted comparison.

        The key to making cross-downtown corridors faster is to make the corridors faster, ideally underground, and to rationalize services such that people from many places have an easy way onto the faster corridors. To the extent that some will require trips in two cardinal directions, you make the corridors faster and you make the connection fast and easy. This is not rocket science.

        What you don’t do is propose to force everyone onto convoluted “distributor” loops that operate like the milkiest of milk runs, yet in the busy epicenter of the city where speed and simplicity and scalability are at their most crucial.

        Downtown “circulators”, without exception, are Very Bad Ideas.

      5. Obviously, if you are only going a short distance, you would stay on your existing route.

        Getting from the ferry terminal to Jackson Street, or from Jackson Street to South Lake Union or the routes near Seattle Center is definitely not something you can do faster by walking vs even most of the slow routes that are currently there.

        You can’t grade separate every route, unless you do some heavy reworking of how traffic lanes work on the surface. In fact, it’s a relatively small proportion of routes that are in the existing transit tunnel. A new transit tunnel gets you what? Maybe another dozen or so routes that could be grade separated? Then, by building the tunnel, you have consumed an awful lot of money. Furthermore, such a tunnel would work with the north-south routes, but what are you going to do with the east-west stuff on Denny or Mercer? A gondola only gives you that specific corridor, while making a loop circulator means you could continue along the loop from Mercer to, say, the Convention Center and connect with the 10 or get you very close to one of the hospitals.

        As for the speed, it shouldn’t be especially slow. Those used in airports have pretty good acceleration and braking, and decent running speed.

      6. I can’t think of a single successful implementation of a loop circulator. People just don’t ride the ones that have been built.

        A WSTT makes much more sense both for assisting downtown travel patterns and for the trips outside downtown it can help with.

        Most important would be RR C, D, E, and Metro route 120. Depending on changes made elsewhere these routes could be turned into true silver level BRT.

      7. “A new transit tunnel gets you what? Maybe another dozen or so routes that could be grade separated? Then, by building the tunnel, you have consumed an awful lot of money.”

        But that’s precisely what transit is for, to have a good travel time to ensure good mobility. If a dozen more north-south routes go into a tunnel, isn’t that a great thing and one of the best investments we can possibly make? Especially a Y-shaped tunnel going from Jackson to Uptown and SLU, making literally all of downtown grade separated.

        “Furthermore, such a tunnel would work with the north-south routes, but what are you going to do with the east-west stuff on Denny or Mercer?”

        That’s not a good argument against a north-south tunnel, especially since the majority of travellers are going north-south. It just means that we have to do better for east-west transit. For instance, we could extend that SLU branch turning east to Broadway (with an exit for the Aurora/Femont buses of course). There’s your 8 express. Of course there would be a problem of needing a turnaround and layover space underground, but that’s just a challege to overcome. The tunnel could surface east of 23rd where the hill goes down, or under I-5 around Eastlake or 520, where the buses could turn around.

      8. Thank you, Chris and Mike. I am continually baffled that people keep beating certain dead horses over and over. High-concept downtown distributor/circulator ideas are invariably turkeys in reality, be they Denver’s laborious diversion of all bus passengers into subterranean transit centers right at the edge of the CBD, with subsequent transfer to a 3mph shuttle that stops at every single block, or be they any of the now-dozen-plus American zig-zagging downtown streetcars never worth waiting for.

        It takes a whole extra layer of incompetence to make a fully grade-separated rail line slower than walking, but that is precisely what Detroit has achieved.

        There is so much wrong with Glenn’s above comments that I barely know how to unpack them. I guess we should expect as much from the guy who inserts his “the way we do things we’re I’m from” examples into every comment, as if the place that started out by building this crawl and followed it up with this nightmare and topped that off with holy shit why is that thing coming to a complete stop in the middle of a bridge? knows anything about efficient passenger access to and distribution around urban centers. This is the town whose downtown crawls ensure that no one from west of downtown will ever take transit if headed to the east side or North Portland, and whose latest “loop” is infamously slower than walking even over multiple-mile distances.

        And those airport people movers, or their sorta-kinda-defensible analogues that attempt to rescue badly designed towers-in-parks in Singapore and the like? Not actually fast! You just don’t notice how not-fast they are, because you are in a closed system and your actual journey is not particularly far and you are relieved not to have to drag your belongings for those thousand-or-so feet. If the dinky was built with the terminal, at least it will probably avoid tight corners. But if it was retrofitted in later, requiring multiple zags and tight corners — like the failures in Detroit and Miami and in Glenn’s idea above — you will really notice just how expedited your trip isn’t.

        Fundamentally, people, the principles of good transit are not that complicated: faster is better than slower; frequent is better than infrequent; relatively straight is better than confusingly meandering; maximized linear walksheds are better than front-door service to everywhere; fewer, simpler routes are better than complexity; and so forth. What gets complicated is the application of these principles to real places with imperfect geometries.

        A better and easier-to-access north-south subway than the one we have, plus more reliable east-west transit, plus an end to fragmented network planning, would easily solve every pan-downtown trip Glenn desires, with infinitely improved access to all points beyond as a bonus for those of us who actually live here. A tiny elevated train spinning in endless circles and attempted to take you from everywhere to everywhere via everywhere else — and violating every root principle of good transit listed above — would solve nothing, no matter how many times it is pulled from some transit tourist’s derrière and deemed “the novel, ingenious answer to all our problems”.

      9. “you just don’t notice how not-fast they are, because you are in a closed system”

        Actually, there is one airport where you do, because it’s elevated adjacent to the hallway and fully visible. I don’t remember which airport it is. I think it had three stations and ran every fifteen minutes, which is long enough to make you wonder whether it’s worth waiting 5-10 minutes to avoid X gates of walking.

      10. I’d say you’re talking about Minneapolis, except their train runs every three minutes or so now. At those headways, speed doesn’t really matter as long as it goes faster than walking.

      11. MSP’s north terminal is so massive that it has two unrelated people movers, and should you make the mistake of avoiding the long one, you could be walking up to a mile between your gates. It’s an airport built on the equivalent of a SF 5000 planning policy. There is a mini-Mall of America between every pair of gates.

        There is some alternate universe in which I am still walking between my planes at this very moment, and for all eternity.

        But at least the subway to the city is right in the center, with copious moving walkways to reach it.

      12. Two? Wow; I only saw one when I was going through there earlier this month. I think it was the longer one; at least, it definitely seemed long enough to me.

      13. I think the other one is outside of security, and might be necessary to drag your stuff from the light rail or rental cars to the human-staffed check-in desks.

        Civic-infrastructure size inflation can make any mode of transit more of a pain than it once was.

  18. For improving transit in and near downtown it seems we are ignoring the power of paint.

    Paint can fix the problem with cars queuing on Denny to enter I-5. Paint can create exclusive transit lanes at the cost of parking or general purpose lanes.

    Of course paint isn’t the only thing. You need to enforce the paint. You need to ticket motorists who block intersections as well. You need to fix signals with queue jumps, TSP, and pedestrian phases. You need to rechannelize intersections to work better for transit.

    Sure none of it is as good as grade separated pathways for transit, but we are far from exhausting the possibilities and they come much cheaper and faster than new tunnels will.

    There is of course the political aspect where SOV drivers will complain about the “war on cars” when they lose car storage, travel lanes, or default priority on the road.

  19. I love all the hand-waving away of the difficulty transferring that Alternative 1 will cost – whether it’s walking further to your first ride, getting to the second one, maybe having a bus pass you by because it’s too crowded, timetable not being kept-to, standing outside in the rain… Oh wait, then you have to get on a train, sorry, escalators are broken, please wait for an elevator or cram your way down the stairs with everyone else who’s now re-routed from their single-seat ride…

    Come back to me in 5+ years once light rail has actually been working and we can talk about radical restructuring. Until then you’re just taking away transit service from people who use it, making their lives a lot worse, without anything but your centralized planning wet dreams as a reason.

    For anyone living in North Capitol Hill or Montlake, eliminating the 12, the 43 and re-routing the 49 to squash everyone on light rail and/or the 8 is fucking insanity, and will lead to a lot more SOV rides b/c you’ve made transit into a piece of shit.

    1. You conveniently ignore all of the trips Alt 1 will make better because of increased frequency, increased speed, increased service span, improved reliability, or new one-seat rides. Then there are the riders who are currently transferring who will benefit because the frequency on both legs has been increased.

      I see zero advantage to keeping the 43 as is. It simply isn’t worth the service hours for the few trips it makes more convenient or for the handful of riders who prefer a slow one-seat ride to a fast two or three seat ride.

      The 12 in its current form is hard to justify due to the imbalance in demand between the low ridership tail on 19th vs the high demand corridor between Downtown and Broadway.

      My two main concerns about alt 1 as proposed are:
      1. The level of service remaining on Pike/Pine, is it enough to satisfy the demonstrated high demand? Especially as I believe the 10 is limited to 40′ coaches currently.
      2. Similarly is limiting the 49 to 40′ coaches a good idea? Does Metro really expect enough current riders to switch to Link, the streetcar, or other routes to make this feasible?

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