Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

Later this spring Sound Transit will release the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Link Extension between Angle Lake and Federal Way. From the draft EIS, only one thing seems certain, namely that there will be a minimum of 3 stations, generally in the vicinity of Highline Community college, S. 272nd St, and Federal Way TC. Everything else is still quite up for grabs. Once the EIS is released, the Sound Transit Board will select a preferred alignment to proceed to preliminary engineering. Alternatives include SR 99, I-5, Sr 99 to I-5, and yes, SR 99 to I-5 to SR 99 (see below).

The choices that the ST Board makes on these alternatives will tell us a lot about their values, how they see the role of transit in their communities, and how they view the core function of Link. Is the purpose of Link to speed trips along ‘the spine’, providing competitive options for long trips such as Federal Way-Seattle and (eventually) Tacoma-Seattle-Everett? Or is the goal to provide fast, reliable, local connectivity that maximizes development opportunites?

If the former, then Federal Way Link will be designed for disappointment. If there were still a possibility of competitive travel times from Seattle to Federal Way and Tacoma, an I-5 alignment would be more defensible. But that ship has sailed, as the MLK alignment of Central Link forever precludes it. So if Link is worth building in South King County, it’s worth building for other reasons than endpoint speed. The ST board should be asking themselves, “What are those reasons?” An I-5 alignment with 2.5 mile, anti-urban stop spacing would shave a few minutes of travel time for long trips that would still be uncompetitive with express buses, all while providing the least local benefit to South King County residents. It wouldn’t be terrible, but it would do nothing well.

Link Travel Times
Table by the author, and its approximations are unofficial and for rough comparative purposes only.

When it comes to zoning, suburban cities have shown themselves more than willing to upzone station areas (see maps below). In 2012 Kent and Des Moines jointly created  “Transit Community” zones that anticipated Link service more than a decade in advance. Providing for height minimums of 55 feet and maximums of 200′, these proposed densities exceed anything being considered on Capitol Hill. In Federal Way, even absent any planned rezones, the SR 99 corridor contains most of that city’s current multifamily housing. By contrast, any I-5 alternative not only cuts every potential walkshed in half, but also has far inferior existing land uses, from single-family homes, land-gobbling interchanges, freeway tree buffers, and sprawling industrial land. In short, if suburban cities such as Kent are willing to aggressively upzone station areas and are asking for more stations rather than speed, the ST Board should listen to them. 

An SR 99 alignment turns a potential regional boondoggle into a local boon. It could cut travel times in half compared to RapidRide A, run 50% more often, provide nearly limitless opportunities to transform auto-oriented (but beautifully linear!) commercial sprawl into TOD, and provide badly needed affordable housing for tens of thousands of people priced out of Seattle. Local mobility is social justice. Let’s maximize it.

"Transit Community" zones adjacent to Highline Community College along SR 99
DES MOINES: “Transit Community” zones adjacent to Highline Community College along SR 99
KENT: "Midway Transit Communities" (MTC) along SR 99
KENT: “Midway Transit Communities” (MTC) along SR 99
FEDERAL WAY: Multifamily Zones in Brown
FEDERAL WAY: Multifamily Zones in Brown

143 Replies to “Federal Way Link Is Not About Seattle”

  1. I think most people don’t realize how long the comute to Seattle will be on link compared to the 577.
    I have been trying to make sure sound transit doesn’t eliminate the 577.

    1. I think the 577 will be safe during the peak hours and in the peak direction. However, I think the 577 will be killed off on weekends in favor of more often LINK. But, this is a long time prediction (I assume 2030 is a rough time frame for Federal Way LINK???), so many things can change in the meanwhile.

      1. It might take that long to get to FWTC, but they should be able to build the stations at Highline CC and S 272nd St. long before then. They anticipate having ST2 money available for them, and once they publish the FEIS, select a preferred alternative and get a ROD, they can start on their design. Once Angle Lake station opens, they might let design-build contracts for single station extensions.

        Their current contractor for the southerly extension has a gantry crane on hand, and has gained experience pouring the concrete for the segments and erecting them, so they might have an advantage for subsequent contracts. On the other hand, the same sort of work will be needed for the northerly and easterly extensions so some other contractors will probably have to get involved as well.

      2. Every one of the segments ST is considering would require a gantry crane to construct at some point. So, I don’t see any benefit to the projects funded through ST2 south of Angle Lake and the contractor already being there. Angle Lake is supposed to open sometime next year, well before any final design is done to HCC.

      3. Highline CC is supposed to open in 2023 and is still part of ST2. Only the part south of that was deferred. But the agreement to defer it included planning to 320th, which is beyond ST2’s original endpoint at 272nd. That’s why two different phases are being planned together.

      4. We’re looking at building to KDM by 2023 with a possibility of 272nd, but that’s still up in the air.

    2. I really hope they don’t change the 577/578, but getting Link to 272nd will make a big difference to me. Working swing shifts downtown, the 577/578 work well to work, but on the way home late at night, they usually don’t help. I like seeing those estimations for travel time of Link + A-Line and Link alone.

    3. Instead of saving the 577 all day (Peak is safe.), why not add FWTC as a stop on the off-peak 594, and thereby give it much better off-peak frequency?

      Throw in a stop at Angle Lake Station (until 2023), ditch the 574 off-peak, and we could have one BRTish route for south I-5, providing 10-minute headway, much like the 512 does for north I-5, but more frequent and with more ridership, serving downtown Seattle, the south terminus of Link, Kent-Des Moines P&R, Star Lake P&R, FWTC, Tacoma Dome Station, and Lakewood.

    4. They better not kill off the 577/578 off-peak when Link comes to Federal Way. I like Brent’s idea of having a Federal Way stop on the 594, though.

      But killing the off-peak express for Federal Way means more than doubling travel time. If you have to transfer at the transit center, then you’re looking at a ridiculous total travel time to wherever in Seattle you’re going, whereas the 577/78 might have been a reasonable option. Killing the off-peak Federal Way – Seattle express takes an already established ridership base with a really solid bus route (every 30 minutes 7 days a week), and more than doubling the travel time for every single one of them.

      What they really ought to do is take the A-line and run it every half hour at all times. That would save some major service hours, and some of the most popular destinations (FWTC, Highline College, SeaTac Airport, etc.) would be right on the frequent transit line, and the less popular stops (Fred Meyer, KFC, and Taco Bell) would be on the less frequent line. This way, for most people, travel time goes down, while for others, travel time stays the same or goes up slightly because of the lower frequency.

      1. That would contradict the goal of RapidRide and probably require repayment of the federal grant. All major corridors should have a frequent local bus route.

      2. But if the vast majority of trips on the A-Line move to the parallel Link line (which is also focused on local trips, as this post acknowledges), should the bus remain locked onto that street forever? I’d rather move the Rapid Ride line to some other South King corridor, perhaps the 180.

      3. Can’t chop the A-Line frequencies. There was Federal money for the buses and stations, and so “BRT” (loosely defined) it will be. “BRT” cannot have platform headways greater than fifteen minutes.

      4. So you’re saying that five hundred years from now, King County will still be required to run buses on Pacific Highway every fifteen minutes? (Even if the road no longer exists? Even if not a single person has ridden it for the last decade?)

        If not, then where is the dividing line? It seems to me that King County should be able to say at any point, “Thank you, the BRT did very well in its time, but conditions have changed and we’re redeploying it elsewhere so as to still use the money you gave us.”

      5. If ridership on the A vastly decreases, Metro can do something about it then. Link is not intended for short one-station or two-station trips within the area, and only a few users whose both origin and destination are at stations will use it as such, e.g., 272nd TOD to Highline CC. We’re not building Link for that, but to get people in and out of the south county. The shortest trip where Link is advantageous is probably Federal Way to Highine CC, which takes 19 minutes on the A.

      6. Sure, Mike. If A-Line ridership remains steady with trips that can’t be served by Link, then of course we should keep it running every fifteen minutes. But it seems to me the point of this article is that Link is best suited to exactly those trips within South King. If you’re saying it won’t serve those either… then what will it be good for?

      7. King County Metro is obviously not obligated to run the A-line until the end of the universe. Which is good, since it will probably take almost until the end of the universe to get Link to Federal Way.

        I like some of your ideas. I think what would be good once link opens is to move the A-line to replace the 180, like William C. suggested. Metro could also reinstate the 174 on Pacific Highway every 30 minutes for the stops far away from a link station.

        One thing about this is that since we have real rapid transit on the corridor, we could stop pretending to have bus rapid transit. This means said route 174 could restore old stop spacing from the old 174. it could maybe also have an offshoot on S 240th Street to serve the bus loop at Highline College, which the A-line doesn’t currently do.

        This way everybody wins. 99 gets rapid transit, Federal Way keeps its Seattle express, and Burien through Auburn gets flashy red buses.

      8. William,

        Of course there’s some sort of sunset on the agreement. But I’d go very slowly asking them to modify it. Look what happened with the CRC. The FHWA gave WSDOT about 50 million to widen I-5 between Main Street and 134th down here in Vancouver, partially because the lanes to be added would be HOV at the peak.

        Well that lasted about a year until Helicopter Don Benton was able to convince the state Senate to direct DOT to erase the lines.

        Move forward ten or twelve years to the meetings to fund the CRC. The FHWA was conspicuous by its absence and never evidenced any interest at all in helping to fund the project. Once bitten, twice cautious.

      9. Link is suited for people from Seattle and Burien going to Highline CC. People from the south county going to TIB and transferring to the F. People from the south county going to UW, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, downtown, Capitol Hill, Bellevue, Shoreline, and Lynnwood. The buses are faster to downtown, but as soon as you transfer from downtown it erases some of the advantage, especially if Link is a one-seat ride or a train-to-train transfer, or even a train-to-bus transfer outside downtown where there’s a frequent or timed bus route. You may say, “Nobody from Seattle goes to Highline CC” but do you know that? There are always people under the radar, and they drive because buses take so long. And the college has events that draw people from everywhere. My roommate lives on southwest Capitol Hill and goes to Bellevue College because he thinks the program is good there. (And he takes the bus, yesirree.)

      10. Fun fact, 200th to 320th is a bit longer than Rainier Valley. So the entire A line is roughly two Rainier Valleys. We don’t expect people to use Link within the valley because it’s only practical for limited trip pairs adjacent to stations. But we do expect people to take Link in and out of the valley. The A is like the 8, the Link shadow. It’s frequent and well used, so the A will probably remain frequent and well used.

      11. True, Mike Orr, we don’t know that “nobody from Seattle goes to Highline CC.” Particularly because (in my opinion as an alumnus) Highline CC is the best community college in the world, and everyone in Seattle should go there. I am absolutely thrilled that it will get light rail in the future.

      12. We don’t expect people to use Link within the Rainier Valley…

        “We don’t expect people to use the subway just from Harlem to Midtown…”

        “We don’t expect people to ride the El just from Lincoln Park to Wrigley…”

        “We don’t expect people to take the Tube just from Waterloo to London City…”


        All of those involve shorter trips than within the Rainier Valley.

        When is it going to dawn on you just how insane this thing is that we’ve built, and how warped our expectations of what mass transit is for, how and when and why it works, and the kinds of places and distances it makes sense for it to go!!?

      13. Those are much denser. People make more short trips in denser places, because there are more reasons to do so, it’s easier to avoid long trips, and the density makes it seem like you’re going farther and getting more value from the transit trip. People on Capitol Hill walk a mile to two or three destinations in one trip all the time, and take short bus trips, and are more willing to do short last-mile transfers to buses, than in Rainier Valley.

      14. Whatever. The Rainier Valley ain’t dense, but it is an urban place, continuously populated with people and with the stuff of daily life, along defined linear corridors.

        The only reason the billion-dollar train might not work for shorter trips is because it was built poorly by people with no fucking understanding of how to provide penetrative mass transportation within cities.

        “We don’t expect people to…” is just a shitty buck-passing euphemism for “we’ve failed at our jobs and made transit needlessly complicated even to immediately adjacent places, and at great expense.”

    5. So they’re going to keep the 577 because Link will take too long from FW to downtown, and they’re going to keep the A Line because Link’s stops will be too far apart for pac highway riders? Amazing.

      1. Yep, it’s like we don’t know what we are doing. It is as if the entire project was not designed by transportation experts, but by politicians who have their own agendas and know nothing about how to build a successful transportation system (even though there is a fantastic example a few hours to the north).

      2. It really shows just how non-ideal extending link in the current form is.

        – Link is not a good long distance express route
        – Link is not a good local coverage route

        So it would naturally follow that both of the bus routes that accomplish these tasks should be kept in one form or another.

        Personally, I think the best long term solution if it were to be built would be to have the tracks integrated into SR99 like it is on MLK, and have the stop frequency be mostly like the A-line with some stops removed. That way, Link is a good local coverage route, and it can replace the A-line completely. That would also mean Link could stop pretending to be an express route, and therefore would not be expected to be one (ie, the 577/578 would not be changed).

        I feel like that with the link that is being built now, there will be three levels of express vs. local:

        – Local: A-line, route 124 from FW to Seattle
        – Express: 577/578 from FW to Seattle
        – Weird in-between thing: Link from FW to Seattle

        And my worry is that they will reduce service on the Express, and make us take the weird in-between thing instead.

        If they built Link into 99, then it could stop trying to be all things to all people and do just one thing: be a great faster alternative to local bus “rapid” transit on 99 and nothing else.

      3. I agree, Alex. But I’d then ask, what’re the actual problems with the A-Line? Perhaps we could give it Link-style signal priority and center-running lanes for less than the cost of street-running rail? Or is it actually running over-capacity?

      4. There’s a level of service you’re not seeing: frequent, limited-stop, semi-express. It makes some “local” trips faster and some “express” trips more frequent (therefore more convenient), and it gives many more starting and ending points for “express” trips. What it doesn’t give is the speed of point-to-point expresses. But Link will achieve parity with ST Express north and east, yet with several more stops, so that’s an achievement. Stil, it won’t achieve that parity in the south end, so its main value there has to be in this middle-level niche rather than fully replacing all the express buses.

      5. “what’re the actual problems with the A-Line?”

        30 minutes from Federal Way to SeaTac. Too many stops. Lanes don’t seem to be a problem. Signal priority isn’t bad; I don’t know if there’s room for improvement. If we had a limited-stop service like Link, or perhaps if the 574 were frequent, then it wouldn’t matter how many stops the A had and it could add more.

      6. If the off-peak 577 goes, and is replaced with Link, then the fact that it is more frequent doesn’t even begin to make up for the vastly longer trip time.

        The trip will take 54 to 58 minutes, which is longer than just missing a 577/578 and taking the NEXT one to Seattle 30 minutes later.

        How about some perspective: The 594 from Tacoma takes 48 minutes to get to 4th and Jackson from TDS, and that’s WITH the SODO routing. When taking transit to Federal Way takes 10 minutes longer than taking the bus through SODO to Tacoma, then Federal Way might as well be Lakewood as far as travel times are concerned.

        Fares will also be higher on the new Link (using current fare scheme, probably $3.25), so every single rider (emphasis on every single rider) on the off-peak 577/578 would have their fares go up quite substantially in addition to more than doubling their travel time.

        “30 minutes from Federal Way to SeaTac. Too many stops. Lanes don’t seem to be a problem. Signal priority isn’t bad; I don’t know if there’s room for improvement. If we had a limited-stop service like Link, or perhaps if the 574 were frequent, then it wouldn’t matter how many stops the A had and it could add more.”

        In my experience, 30 minutes from Federal Way to SeaTac is only a realistic expectation at night. I feel that if Link was implemented the way I described that it would first of all eliminate the redundancy with the A-line, and would give good through-routing to destinations north for riders of the current A-line. This wouldn’t be a good stand-alone project, but it makes sense since we are already building link there anyway, and we expect to expand it to Tacoma in the future.

      7. Eliminate the a line and bring back a revised 174. no need for rapid ride when you have light rail. The 174 can still have 15 minute headways and still make the same stops plus more that should probably be added. Serve all link stations on route so if people want a faster trip they can hop off.

      8. @Alex — I get your point. I think it is a valid one. The only problem with trying to mimic what exists in Rainier Valley is that there is no “there” there. The only reason trains exist connecting Rainier Beach with Beacon Hill (and everything in between) is that it is still a very competitive way to get to downtown. That is why the Rainier Valley part of the line makes sense. That part of the line is a decent value (not the first thing I would build, but decent).

        But the only destination for Federal Way is SeaTac. This is a decent destination, but not big enough to warrant the very high cost for light rail, especially since the alternative (express buses) are so fast and frequent. You do lose the connections, but that is life. Look at Tacoma. Look at Spokane. Those are much bigger cities than Federal Way and much more densely populated, but they aren’t contemplating running a grade separated light line through town because it is so expensive.

        Yes, the emperor has no clothes. Link will never be a great way for the distant southern suburbanite to reach Seattle. So there will be express buses to Seattle, but I think it is a stretch to assume that we will ever have enough traffic going to SeaTac to justify the cost. There will also be very little between the various spots along the way. Once folks realize that “it isn’t about Seattle” then my guess is they will question why we would want to spend the money to extend it. Why indeed.

        As to how to cut bait, I think I mentioned that. Again, the southern end of this makes for a decent way to get to SeaTac. If I had to come up with a number, I would say 70% of the trips are to Seattle, 20% to SeaTac, and 10% are from withing the southern area. So, take advantage of all the traffic trying to go Seattle. Build a station by the freeway, and end it. Have all the buses stop there, on the way to Seattle (meaning lots of frequency, and great connecting service to areas like Tacoma). This gives people a great way to get to SeaTac, without having to split service between SeaTac and downtown Seattle. Put all the savings into better bus service.

    6. I do realize that that the link will take significantly longer to get to the Westlake station than the express busses. That is why I like taking the Sounder Train from Kent station to downtown Seattle better than the light rail. However, the train does not run on weekends, so I drive to Tukwilla and park there, taking the light rail from time to time. The slow portion is going through Rainier Beach and Beacon Hill. There are too many stops, and it seems that more people get on at the Airport and Tukwilla station.

      When (if) the light rail gets extended to Federal Way, it may be slower than the express bus, but it will be much faster than many of the current sections of the light rail, as it will be in a straighter line and grade separated. If it is built along highway 99, I think that more people will use it then if it is built along the freeway. Also, on days when when I-5 has massive backups, the light rail will be a great alternative to the bus.

  2. One of the key issues to me is how well these stations integrate with a larger bus network. I really don’t buy the idea that Federal Way will soon become Ballard, let alone Capitol Hill. But a combination of bus and light rail could serve the area quite well. Keep in mind that the only significant bit of density is to the east, in Kent Valley (an area that won’t have light rail). The vast majority of riders will arrive to the station by bus. A station by the freeway could enable very good bus to rail interaction (if done right). A bus from Tacoma could stop off there on the way to Seattle, much in the way that buses from Snohomish County stop off at the Mountlake Terrace stop. This provides a connection to SeaTac and every other stop. I’m not sure the best alignment for bus to rail interaction, but I think that should be the focus, instead of assuming that these pockets of density will somehow (or someday) makeup a really high proportion of the area’s residence.

    1. I don’t think anyone has claimed Federal Way will in any way be like Capitol Hill, or that it is dense. What it is is nearly peninsular, with a whole lot of commuter traffic from several miles of bedroom community flowing along 320th, about three blocks (too far for a non-painful transfer on route 181) from Federal Way Transit Center. The Federal Way commercial core has a strong resemblance to the Northgate Mall area, just not doing as brisk business, and with a couple high schools nearby instead of a college on the other side of the freeway. If there is a way to keep route 181 on 320th both ways, and have the south station exit as close as possible to 320th, it would be worth a little jogging in the track, as the 181 would become competitive with finding a parking space at the TC. As it is, cars, and transferring buses diverting off of their lines, are the only modes that can enter and exit the transit center facility easily (but with a heavy time penalty for the diverting buses). Pedestrians seem to have been pretty much overlooked, or there was a decision to actively discourage them.

      An added benefit of making the station aligned north to south is that it would open up the option of having Link then go back over to Highway 99. The downside is that shortly after the station opens, people will be wondering why Federal Way Station wasn’t built along Highway 99 in the first place.

      So, let me offer another suggestion: If ST admits that Link will never be competitive with express buses from Federal Way, and that Link is really about intermediate trips, then let the transit center just be a facility for express bus access, and keep Link on Highway 99, with the station right over the intersection of 320th and Hwy 99.

      Yes, I realize the maps show Federal Way Transit Center is a decided location for a station, but there is still time to realize Link’s mission has shifted, and that skipping the commercial core of Federal Way in favor of just serving a parking garage, will be a major mistake.

      Given the choice, I’d rather see a hyper-frequent parkers’ shuttle between the parking garage and a station on Highway 99 and 320th, than have Link avoid Federal Way’s commercial core area because past politicians put absolute priority on serving car commuters.

      1. I think there are a few key points here:

        1) This area will never have the density that will lead to huge numbers of people walking to the station.

        2) The only big destination in the area is the airport.

        3) Express buses will always be much faster (and thus more popular) than rail to the primary destination in the region (Seattle).

        4) Federal Way is not that big, and it is a suburb. It is not Seattle, nor is it Spokane.

        Given all that, I think the logical thing to do is:

        1) Create one station at the freeway (we only need and want one). This will connect express buses headed to Seattle with this area and SeaTac. Someone taking a bus from Tacoma might object if their express bus stops off in Federal Way or Kent, but not if it connects really well to SeaTac. This would eliminate the need for buses to go from Tacoma to SeaTac directly (saving needed service hours).

        2) Make stations that connect as well as possible to other bus routes. Your idea sounds like it would do that.

        3) If those two goals are achieved, then by all means, also visit more densely populated (or popular) areas.

        But the author specifically made a comparison to Capitol Hill and specifically focused on density. I think that is nice, but I don’t think it should be a priority for this region (a huge region geographically, but sprawling, with most of the few bits of density left out of any rail proposal). Nor should speed (the author has that absolutely right). The focus should be on bus to rail interaction. Rail connects to SeaTac, which is the most popular destination that rail will touch between Tacoma and Seattle (assuming it gets to Tacoma). That is something, and should be leveraged.

      2. The comparison to Capitol Hill was merely to illustrate that suburban upzones have been surprisingly aggressive, and that Seattle’s relatively lackluster station area upzones displace people to the ‘burbs, so a transit-oriented Midway or Des Moines is more plausible that it would otherwise be, especially with local government support. I have no illusions, however, about the Federal Way becoming the next Capitol Hill.

      3. Federal Way is not dense, but it is big, compising the overwhelming majority of Legislative District 30’s population.

      4. I yearn for the day that everyone around here stops pretending urban density and transit amenability has anything whatsoever to do with “heights”.

      5. Whether Link is extended to Federal Way or Tacoma or not is mostly outside our control. (“Our” meaning North King transit fans.) The best we can do is influence the routing, and 99 between 200th and 320th is far superior no matter what else happens. No matter how many stations it gets. No matter how well the upzones live up to their expectations. No matter whether land beyond that is upzoned. Build on 99. Don’t make the Aurora mistake!!! Some people will be able to walk to the station or take the A to it, and walk to grocery stores and ethnic restaurants and hole-in-the-wall kickboxing schools or whatever else appears. None of that will happen with I-5 stations.

        Obviously, a fast/frequent bus from KDM Station to Kent center and East Hill is essential, but that can be worked in even if the station is on 99.

        In 2013 I estimated Link’s travel time to Federal Way as
        55 minutes. That’s based on the known Westlake – SeaTac time of 38 minutes, plus ST’s estimate of 15 minutes for Angle Lake – Federal Way, plus 2 minutes for SeaTac – Angle Lake. So my estimate is within three minutes of Zach’s. (That also implies a Westlake – Tacoma Dome travel time although I don’t have it on hand. Maybe 80 minutes?)

        ST must publicize the fact that Link will be significantly slower than ST Express, and Federal Way and Pierce light rail activists should explicitly acknowledge that so they’re not misleading the public. This raises the issue of the express buses. In the north and east extensions, ST/Metro/CT waited until the last minute but heroically agreed to truncate all I-5 and I-90 routes, and are proposing to truncate some 520 routes. (522 is still up in the air.) I don’t think this approach is feasable in the south end. Voters need to know before ST3 which express buses will remain and which will go away, so that they can make an informed decision on the Link extension.

        I don’t think truncating all express buses is feasable, especially with that dramatic Federal Way travel-time gap. So the keeping the peak expresses and deleting off-peak is a reasonable compromise. It’s similar to what ST/Metro are proposing for the 255/256 and 542/545. But that also changes Link’s role in the area. It’s not about peak trips from Federal Way to downtown, but shorter-distance and off-peak trips. (Although some people may take the slower peak service because it’s more reliable than I-5, or there’s an accident on I-5, or “It’s a train!”)

        Relocating Federal Way Station to 320th & 99 is a good idea, but it will take some convincing of ST and the city to do it.

      6. On target Brent. Hwy99 is where Link can do some good, I wish I still had my scale model of the Link station built for FedWay over that very location (320th/99) where the roadway dips below the mall parking lot levels. In essence the train and surrounding business’ are at one level, while the roadway continues below the Ped/Train activity. Some of the Mall owners got really excited about it, until the ‘ships all sailed’ years ago. The model was built in 1994. Stops on 99 were less than a mile apart, and all grade separated.
        So, run the fucking thing down I-5, don’t stop very often, and be done with the agony of it all on its merry way to Tacoma.

      7. Thanks Zach, and I got your point, so it was a bit snarky of me to suggest that you were comparing the two. In my original comment I said “Federal Way won’t become Ballard …” and I stick with the comment. I think Brent has it right — from a geographic standpoint, Federal Way is big. If you throw in Kent, it is huge. Looking at the census maps, you can tell that density does not line up in a nice little set of clumps, all in a line begging to be connected with light rail (it rarely does). The dense clumps are all over the place, and even the big ones (down in Kent Valley) aren’t that big. In other words, if you collected all the census blocks over, say, 10,000 people per square mile, they will still be outnumbered by those less than that (just because there are so many of the other). This is true now, and I think it will be true fifty years from now, regardless of what they do from a zoning perspective.

        Not that Seattle is much different. Up that number to 25,000, and you pretty much have the same thing. That is why, for example, “light rail to Ballard” focuses on the wrong thing. It isn’t about delivering light rail to 15th and Market (even though it is a worthy spot) it is about connecting the various places along the way to good transit. By good transit I don’t mean that people will walk to the station. Some will, but the vast majority will arrive by bus (if we do things right). Upzoning by each station would be a nice bonus, but it shouldn’t be our focus. Nor should we focus on serving areas that are more dense than their neighbors. We should focus first on getting good bus to rail interaction, then on serving dense (or potentially dense) areas. The former has far more potential for ridership than the latter.

      8. It would be asinine to suggest that any of these places will “feel” like Capitol Hill. But the people will have to go somewhere, and Seattle’s pathetic response to growth will drive that growth elsewhere. Places like this are one of few places that additional demand will be able to go, so I think it’s way too pessimistic to say that the station areas here will “never” be dense.

      9. @Mike — I agree with your points, Mike. I think people assume that light rail will be fast, when it won’t. Even the commuter rail isn’t very fast, because of the way the railroad tracks travel. The freeway is the only fast way to get from Tacoma to Seattle (or somewhere in between). That is why I totally agree — we need to make this clear to folks in Tacoma — Link will never be a fast way to get from Tacoma to Seattle.

        But this is where a station by the freeway makes sense. Otherwise, you are simply begging Tacoma to extend light rail to Tacoma only so that it can connect to SeaTac (and folks from Federal Way and Kent can get to Tacoma). These have to be the second and third most popular destinations in the region. I’m guessing folks from Federal aren’t dieing to get to Angle Lake. But a fast ride to SeaTac or Tacoma would be nice. I think this can only be achieved by having a station by the freeway. I’m not suggesting it travel along the freeway, either, but just connect to it once. With such a station, someone from Federal Way or Kent could quickly and conveniently get to Tacoma. This would involve a bus, then maybe some rail (depending on where the station is) then fast, frequent bus service to Tacoma (every five minutes, last time I checked).

      10. @Martin — I could care less what a place feels like. I’m just saying that it is crazy to assume that any set of stations will represent a huge portion of the population in the area. Again, look at the census maps. The pockets of density are few and far between, and a lot of them are nowhere near any possible station. Without a doubt you will see increased density in various areas (whether they are by a station or not) but it is crazy to think that these areas will somehow become dense enough to overwhelm the overall population in the area. Again, the vast majority of riders will ride a bus (not walk) to the station if this is even reasonably successful. I assume, since the area is supposed to be really dense, that they won’t bother with a park and ride in this area, either.

        You are using the argument that this will see increased density because it is more affordable than Seattle. That is true. But you won’t see this area turn into South Lake Union. It won’t. The only reason that South Lake Union has grown so much is because it is *not* cheap. Building a six story building only makes sense if rent is high. There are plenty of places in Seattle that are zoned for six stories but they haven’t built (yet) because the place is not that attractive. Like places close to Aurora (otherwise known as highway 99). But you will get growth — without a doubt you will get growth. But it will be with two and three story buildings, and lots of parking. That would make it another Kent.

        Again, this is a side issue. The key is how light rail fits into the bus network. It is no different where I live. A station at 130th makes sense because it greatly improves the bus network ( It isn’t because someone dreams that the area will become super dense after a station is built there. It won’t.

      11. Ross,

        Don’t be so sure that Federal Way won’t grow into a smallish Bellevue. People seem to prefer living and working in King County rather than Pierce. Downtown Tacoma just doesn’t seem to get any traction attracting new businesses, so if there is to be a “south core” similar to Bellevue and Lynnwood to the east and north, it will very likely be Federal Way.

        That’s especially true if link is built with more rather than fewer stations, or at least provision for a couple of in-fills is provided. The 1/4 mile wide strip along Highway 99 is mostly either junk “development” left over from its days as “Pacific Highway” or vegetation. It could become a string of pearls dense area when everywhere else more desirable fills up.

        OK, OK, I hear you d.p. Not any time soon, but I think we generally agree that it’s almost always cheaper to allow for whatever’s than patch something built without expecting them.

      12. A smallish Bellevue? Sure, it could happen. But keep in mind the main reason we built Link to Bellevue is because of Microsoft. Without Microsoft, there would be no high tech sector in Redmond, and thus no buildup of Bellevue high tech. Without the high tech jobs, Bellevue would be similar to Lynnwood. A few malls, maybe a few more tall buildings, but no big skyscrapers. Without those, we wouldn’t be building light rail to Bellevue (at least if we had any sense). Could the same thing happen in Federal Way? I doubt it. What happened to Bellevue happened primarily because of Microsoft, but suburban office space boomed in the 1980s, so it was part of a bigger trend. But that has shrunk dramatically in recent years. The biggest company in the area, a company that deals with timber, and is uniquely suited for a suburban environment (because it is closer to the trees) is moving out (to the big city). So I just don’t see it. It could get a bit bigger, but I don’t think it will ever be big enough to justify light rail. Hell, even Bellevue (the real Bellevue, with huge buildings and some pretty good density) is barely appropriate for light rail. There is just too much space in between.

      13. Ross, does it really make sense to have the express buses stop specifically to transfer passengers to Link? That seems like it defeats the purpose of having them; they’d be running the portion of their routes north of the station minus the people who occupied a seat in the southern half of the run.

        Better to run buses to the airport as is done now and give people the chance to transfer there. Let the Seattle expresses stay on the freeway.

      14. Psst, RossB, Forward Thrust. They were considering a subway to Bellevue in 1972 when it was much smaller and Microsoft didn’t exist yet. It was voted down because people were car crazy, not because it wouldn’t have been effective transit. And if Bellevue had grown with high-capacity transit already there, it might have grown better.

      15. @Anadakos — Yes, it absolutely make sense. One short stop, costing a minute. That is why commuter trains, even express commuter trains, make stops along the way. People getting off the bus is a good thing (other people get on). Again, I want a freeway stop that involves the bus pulling into a bus-only ramp, stopping, then pulling out.

        The alternative (if I understand you correctly) is to spend lots of service hours to send buses to SeaTac. That seems nuts. Also, what about people south of SeaTac. We are spending a bunch of money extending Link south of SeaTac, and basically saying nobody from south of there has any interest in going there. Unless, of course, we make that connection by rail, then everyone will want to make that connection. That is crazy. Why make all of those riders take a bus to SeaTac, then backtrack. Or do you plan on sending fast, frequent buses to there as well? Meanwhile, what about the guy in Tacoma that wants to go to Kent (or vice versa). Now the rider is supposed to take a bus to SeaTac, then another bus to Kent? Great. What about western Federal Way to Kent. Same thing I suppose. Or maybe we spend a lot of service hours connecting the various points.

        Look, I don’t know how often buses run from Federal Way or Kent to SeaTac, but even without the backtracking penalty (which is significant) I think you will never get the frequency to make this work. The 590 runs every five minutes during rush hour and about every twenty minutes in the middle of the day. Even “against the grain” (Tacoma to Seattle in the morning) it is quite good: every fifteen minutes. On the other hand, Tacoma to SeaTac is every half hour (at best). That doesn’t count the Tacoma to UW buses, which might go away once Link gets there. In other words, lots and lots of people want to go from Tacoma to Seattle. Likewise with the southern suburbs. It makes sense to leverage this demand and leverage Link to provide good service for the southern suburbs and Tacoma.

  3. Why would it run slower along highway 99? Please tell me they’re not planning to install tracks on the street and crossing gates on a 99 alignment like on MLK.

    1. Both the I-5 and highway 99 alignments of Link between Angle Lake and FWTC would be elevated and grade separated.

      1. Then why the assumption that a SR-99 alignment is slower than an I-5 alignment? I thought the primary difference was cost.

      2. Gabe,

        It won’t be significantly slower to run along 99, but link itself will forever be slower than buses on I-5 because of the segment in south Seattle (where it runs in the street at 35 mph). People who expect Link to be faster than the express buses will be disappointed.

        Running along I-5 would be cheaper because the land acquisition would be easier, but fewer people would use it than if it were along 99 instead.

        The point is that link, being forever out of traffic will provide consistent travel times and should focus being a community connector rather than a commuter pipe to downtown Seattle.

      3. The 35 mph speed limit on MLK is only part of the reason (and a very small part at that). Even if Link ran elevated down MLK at 55 mph between stations, it would save a whopping 2 minutes end-to-end over its current schedule.

        Rather, the bulk of the overhead of Link over the 577 comes from stuff like station stops (12 stations * about 1 minute per station), the extra miles required to jog from west to east and back west again (about 5 minutes), plus the tight curve and slow speeds through SODO (about 2 minutes).

        Practically speaking, if Link were really about fast trips between downtown and Federal Way, faster speeds through the Ranier Valley would not do the trick – Link would have had to bypass the valley completely, serving virtually nothing except Federal Way and the airport.

        Given this, having Link to Federal Way focus on local access does make sense. Also, with respect to parking garage vs. commercial development – with a 1/4 mile extension with ST 3 funds, plus an extra station, perhaps it might be possible to serve both.

    2. Gabe, it is about cost. Either ST will pinch pennies and build on I-5 (like they are after Northgate) or they will decide development potential is worth the extra cost of SR99. I have little hope for a 99 alignment unless Federal Way fights for it.

      1. If we convince ST that 99 is a necessity, then the focus shifts entirely to affordability and alternative lines. It’ll be “99 or bust!”, and South King can either afford it or it can’t. South King might decide it wants something else instead, such as BRT or a Burien-Renton line or or more frequent Sounder, but it won’t choose Link on I-5.

      2. None of you are actually answering my question “Why would it run slower along highway 99?” You are using my question as a vehicle to criticize Sound Transit for how Central Link was built, but not answering a basic question that forms a critical assumption for the subject of Zach’s post.

        The assumption Zach makes is that LINK trains would travel at 25mph average along a pure SR-99 alignment vs 35mph along a pure I-5 alignment, but he doesn’t include why this is the case. I’m sure there must be a reason he made this assumption, and I would like to know what that is.

        Zach, I’m not saying I don’t believe you… I’m just saying I would like to know why trains would have to travel more slowly along a SR-99 alignment.

      3. I’m surprised no one answered your question Gabe. I thought it was clear from the get go. I would think it would be the opposite. In other words, the fastest way to Tacoma is via 99, just because it saves a few miles.

      4. It would be nice if they could put a LR station near a Sounder station and then add faster and more frequent Sounder trains. This may be a viable alternative to an express bus. Maybe not faster but a better draw.

    3. To answer your question: I’m not entirely sure. Travel time from Angle Lake to FWTC is 13 minutes for the baseline alignments and 14 minutes for some of the other options. Both alignments are the same length (7.80 miles) with the same number of stations (3), 100% grade separation, and designed for 55mph.

      My best guess is the table is old, incorrect, or has some different assumptions. It might be assuming MLK-style at-grade along SR 99, which has been eliminated from consideration.

      1. Gabe, because trains shouldn’t go faster than auto traffic, lest drivers freak out and do something stupid. Hw99 has a lower speed limit than I-5, except traffic on I-5 is probably slower than 99 in actuality, during peak commute times.

      2. If the train is grade-separated an elevated, there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t go faster than auto traffic.

      3. I think Mic was making a joke about Seattle transit “logic”.

        The world is full of transit that goes faster than cars above/below/immediately adjacent to it, be it thanks to congestion or to the fundamental design of the infrastructure. There is no better advertising for “why are you sitting there in your car, when you could be sailing across this intersection at this very moment?”

        Elevated on Rainier or in the median on MLK, only Seattle would be dumb enough to slow transit artificially for fear of “confusing” drivers.

    4. I don’t believe it will be slower on 99. My earlier article based on ST’s 2013 data said, “Ridership (23,000 riders) and travel time (14-15 minutes) are the same for all alternatives.” Zach’s estimates all are within four minutes of each other (54-58 minutes). That’s not enough to give a hoot about. In Aurora’s case the 4 minutes translated to a significant ridership loss (new Aurora riders not making up for losses in Lynnwood), but ST has not said that about this extension. I speculate the reason is that Lynnwood Link has the same travel time as the express buses, so it loses riders for every minute it falls behind the buses. But south Link is already behind the buses so those riders are already lost. For the riders who do remain, an equal number will go to either alignment, unless the DEIS has newer numbers. And that doesn’t include the potential on 99 that ST is not allowed to count (uncommitted upzones, population increases beyond PSRC forecast, greater social acceptance of transit and adversion to driving over time, the growth of elderly non-drivers as the boomers age, etc).

      1. Arguably, the routing along SR-99 would be faster because it avoids a jog east to I-5, followed by a jog back west again to Federal Way TC. It could be slower than I-5 in the end if there’s more station stops (due to more places along the way worth building a station), but, again, since the point of Link to Federal Way is not to go all the way to Seattle, this is not necessarily a problem.

  4. Let’s clarify something about the Federal Way TC: the west edge of the transit center is only 1500 feet from SR 99. The conceptual maps show a pretty fat deviation over to the transit center from SR 99. For what it’s worth, much of the land between 99 and the transit center is very poorly-utilized, low-density, low-quality commercial land with low-utilization parking lots. Opening of a light rail station would render many of the current uses obsolete and make tear-downs and up-uses very viable. Diverting the route from 99 to the TC is not that crazy of an idea, and keeps the station near Federal Way’s commercial center (next to several apartment complexes, FW Mall, other strip malls, etc), as well as next to land that is ripe for re-development, the perfect route for a light rail. The transit center also creates a logical transfer location to and from the buses entering I-5 at the S 317th St HOV ramp and good layover area for the buses, both from I-5 and S 320th.

    1. I sure hope shopping center owners in Federal Way are more keen on redevelopment than Northgate seems to be. :(

      Building light rail to malls that refuse to redevelop is a giant waste of money.

    2. Engineer,

      Try walking from FWTC to the Commons (It is not called “Federal Way Mall”.). It is neither short nor easy.

      Take route 181 some time and see what a pain the diversion is for through riders.

      Take the A Line, for that matter, and see what a diversion FWTC is for those riders, too, vs. continuing the A Line straight down Hwy 99 in the future.

      Try walking to those apartments you mentioned, and time how long it takes before you find a gate you can enter.

      The station also has a “park” next to it. Good luck upzoning that!

      Check these things out, please!

      And then calculate how much travel time will be added for Link riders from having to have Link cross over from Hwy 99 to I-5 because of the parking garage’s location.

      And please stop showing the station as a point. It has two ends, both of which can extend the walkshed.

    3. “Try walking from FWTC to the Commons (It is not called “Federal Way Mall”.).”

      That’s good. Let it live up to its name as a pedestrian center. It used to be called SeaTac Mall.

      “It is neither short nor easy.”

      Does Federal Way have an upzone plan? Is it resisting upzones? All those parking lots and one-story buildings and grassy open space can be redeveloped if the city is willing.

  5. Sweet my project!

    The big difference between I-5 and SR99 is the cost. South King Co sub area really took it in the shorts during the Recession and unfortunately has impacted the budget. An SR 99 alignment will cost a lot more than I-5 due to being primarily aerial. An alignment along I-5 would be a lot less as it runs along the freeway and can use more cost-effective at-grade guideway (still 100% grade separation). The difference between the two ends up being a lot of money. The primary drivers being roadworks, property acquisition, and type of guideway (aerial vs. exclusive at grade). If the full SR 99 alignment is built with all 5 stations, the gap gets even bigger. Simply put, going down I-5 is is significantly easier and cheaper from nearly every perspective.

    1. Even if 99 is more expensive, South King can built it in phases as it can afford it. Why do we need to get Link on an inferior I-5 alignment now?

      1. Even with the currently-proposed phasing and scaling back to KDM, SR 99 is difficult to afford. Simple fact is elevated guideway is expensive, exclusive at-grade is cheap.

      2. An alignment still hasn’t been chosen. The scaling back is referring to ending the alignment at KDM rather than 272nd due to the budgetary issues brought on by the Recession. Voter approved amount to KDM is roughly $400M in 2007 dollars ($450M adjusted for inflation).

        Readdressing phases: on SR 99, building to 216th, then to KDM, then to 260th, etc. has it’s own issues. Terminus stations have different requirements than intermediate stations. KDM is the first voter-approved station reached by FWLE whereas S 216th isn’t.

        Drivers for “now” are federal funding, voter-approved timeline in ST2, and budget. My guess is those three are difficult to change.

      3. By phases I meant 240th, 272nd, and 320th. Not 216th which is just an extra station. I’m assuming 240th is on for 2023 until ST says otherwise. That means ST3 can reach either 272nd or 320th, whatever South King can afford. Any remainder can go into ST4. I don’t support putting it on I-5 just to guarantee it reaches 320th in ST3.

    2. The other advantage to going to I-5 is the possibility of a major transit center on the freeway (like similar ones in Mountlake Terrace and Mercer Island). This would connect service from Tacoma as well as other areas to Link (and SeaTac). The cheapest thing to do (and arguably most effective) is to work your way over to I-5, and end there (not keep going on I-5). Use the savings to improve bus service, which, as I’ve said many times, is where the vast majority of people will be arriving to Link, let alone the system in general (for this area). For every person who rides the train from Federal Way to SeaTac (or Angle Lake, or Tukwila or even to Seattle) there will be two taking an express bus, who wouldn’t mind making a quick stop by I-5, so that he or she can hook up with buses throughout the area, or Link to SeaTac.

      1. If your idea is to have everyone going from Tacoma to Seattle get off a bus at Federal Way and take Link the whole rest of the way, that’s adding a lot of travel time, if the the bus doesn’t have to meander through stoplights to get to the station. Better to have the bus just make a quick stop to allow people to connect to Link for local trips, then continue on to Seattle down the freeway.

      2. That is obviously the opposite of what he’s saying.

        He’s arguing for a multi-modal connection point, rather than counterproductive silos and the false choice between access to a fast, frequent express bus (Tacoma-Fed Way-Seattle) and a not-so-fast, arguably-not-demand-justified-enough-to-be-frequent train.

  6. What about splitting the transit center into three places?

    1. The existing parking structure

    2. A new freeway station

    3. A new station for Link on highway 99

    The three could be connected by a “horizontal elevator” type of people mover. Nothing quite so complicated as the people mover at the San Francisco airport. I envision just a simple on-demand elevator-like device with three stops and push button call like you would have for an elevator, so the thing wouldn’t run unless there was passenger demand.

    That way, the existing parking structure wouldn’t have to be moved, the freeway buses could stay on the freeway and not be diverted through traffic lights, and Link could stay on highway 99 so that future expansion would not be impeded.

    Or, do you just admit that Link isn’t going any further south than Federal Way, and bend it over to the freeway station?

    1. ST did a Federal Way – Tacoma study last year. It has alternatives from Federal Way TC to Tacoma Dome on both I-5 and 99.

      A horizontal elevator and three stations would cost money that ST could better put into a 99 alignment and station-area amenities.

      1. I’m not thinking of something that is quite as involved as the airport connection used in some airports. I am thinking of something like this:

        The YouTube video claims it is unique, but I know I have seen these elsewhere, though it has been some years ago so maybe they are all gone by now.

        Stations? They don’t need to be spectacular affairs with this thing, and would be built into I-5 Express Bus and Hwy 99 Link stations, and the existing parking garage, so I wouldn’t think stations would be more than just a hole in the wall. Saying it needs a station is a bit like saying an elevator needs a station.

        The distance from Interstate 5 through the existing Federal Way transit center to Interstate 5 is about 2,000 feet. You could almost do this with airport style walkways with moving sidewalks.

        The Huntsville Hospital version was built at $10.9 million in 2010, has two cars, and is about this length:
        Sure, teh $10.9 million is expensive, but then consider alternatives like running Link around a curve and to the existing parking garage, moving the existing parking garage, or the suggestion above of a new Interstate 5 station to serve the express buses.

        It’s expensive but it could very well be cheaper than the various alternatives being suggested at this location.

    2. I wonder if anyone in Bellevue thought about that before they choose the ‘really slow, 4-90 degree turn tunnel option, with no stations, costing hundreds of millions more’ – Preferred Alternative.
      I think you’re on to something here.

    3. A horizontal elevator, which has to be 100% separated, requires extra stations, a bunch of new track, new vehicles, another transfer, and something entirely new to operate and maintain; would be very expensive and undesirable. For that matter, why not build a gondola linking them together? Cheaper, proven technology and ends up accomplishing the same goal.

      1. A couple of the elevator manufacturers make these things. Not as common as their vertical versions, but arguably if using already common Otis or Krupp elevator parts and mechanisms perhaps not as unique as a gondola, and at least as implemented in some places no more staff than required for an elevator.

        The track can be made very light, depending on how many people need to be handled.

        The new ThyssenKrupp non-cable design is certainly unique, but the type in use in a few airports and hospital complexes have been around for some decades. I remember seeming a few at an airport, possibly Miami, connecting some of the parking garages to the main terminal. This was some decades ago when I was a kid, so certainly those aren’t new.

    4. I would just admit that Link isn’t going to Tacoma, and work our way over to I-5 But your plan wouldn’t be too bad either (an elevator or gondola). The longer you put off building a station by the freeway, the longer you isolate Tacoma with SeaTac (and other locations in the south end of Link).

      I get why the business leaders of Tacoma are pushing for Link to get all the way to Tacoma. It isn’t for the fast ride to Seattle (as mentioned, it won’t be fast). It is so that folks in Federal Way (and Kent, etc.) can quickly and easily get to Tacoma. But that is a lot of money for something that can be better achieved with express bus service.

      1. FWTC is very easily accessible from the freeway, if you are driving an HOV. SOV is still not bad.

      2. Good point, Brent. All the more reason a freeway station makes sense. It makes sense to avoid the freeway in general, but in this area, at least one freeway station makes sense. Buses can get to the freeway fairly quickly. Furthermore, with this system, as has already been stated, buses will use the freeway anyway. Personally I would build the freeway station at Kent (just a little ways from Highline Community College) just because of the density in Kent. I would also end Link there, but if you keep going, then by all means go by the most populous areas you can find. Then make all the express buses that go from Tacoma, Federal Way and Kent (that we all admit will still exist) stop off at that station. Kill the bus trips to SeaTac, because they are no longer necessary (and use the savings for more frequency). These express buses, will of course be frequent, and in many cases (Tacoma if not the other locations) bidirectional So, this means a trip from Tacoma to Federal Way or Kent (and various parts of either) is easy and involves a freeway transfer.

        But a Federal Way freeway station works, too. You just have to add a few more buses. Now a bus goes from Kent to Highline (hopefully more often) while the Tacoma and Federal Way buses swing by the station on there way to Seattle. Again, Tacoma, Federal Way and Kent are linked together quite well without breaking the bank.

        I agree with the author — this isn’t about Seattle. But to build a really expensive light rail line and have it only serve to link together Tukwila, SeaTac, Angle Lake, Star Lake and the Federal Way station is a waste. But without good connecting bus service to Tacoma and Kent, that is what will happen. That good connecting bus service is a lot more likely if we build a freeway station.

      3. “But to build a really expensive light rail line and have it only serve to link together Tukwila, SeaTac, Angle Lake, Star Lake and the Federal Way station is a waste.”

        This is what South King wanted, and they persistently asked for it for two decades above all else. They thought Pacific Highway had the best potential to serve the most existing and new riders and new urban villages, moreso than the Kent Valley or Renton. That’s why it’s being built there and not elsewhere.

      4. Yes, but they also assumed that it was a good way to get to Seattle. As everyone on here has said, it isn’t. I think if they did the math and realized that it would be faster to take a bus (a bus that is often stuck in traffic) then they wouldn’t have been so eager to invest in expensive rail.

  7. I saw the claim on Seattle Subway’s FB page this morning that Link would not be time-competitive with express buses from Federal Way to Seattle because of the non-grade separated alignment through the Rainier Valley.

    I’d have thought a larger reason for the time penalty was simply the number of stops between Federal Way and Seattle. It’s hard to beat an express service when you make a lot of stops, grade-separated or not.

    Anybody have any numbers on how much faster Link would be with the same stops, but higher speeds on grade-separated sections?

    1. …Followed by the claim that our multiple lousy-access, long-distance spindle-rail branches will magically achieve “network effects” when all is said and done.

      [le sigh]

      1. DP – do you care to place a wager on where $/ride numbers will go over the next 10 years? :).

      2. To whatever minuscule extent that reductions in $/ride will be attributable to “network effects” rather than to simple economies of scale — which are not the same thing — those effects will arise within the scraps of an urban transit system that Sound Transit has deigned to allow its primary constituency.

        There will be no “network effects” between Bellevue and Tukwila, no “network effects” between Lynnwood and Redmond, no “network effects” between Federal Way and anywhere.

        Because math.

        Just yesterday, we discussed how little the lack of a convenient transfer at I.D. will wind up mattering. Because even in our fledgling “network’s” sole merge point, right in the city center, the limited purposes of the lines that meet conspire to ensure that zero real-world users will ever desire to switch between them.

      3. Re: Network effect. Just noting that being near or having access to a node in the system becomes more valuble as the network goes more places. In some cases, you are correct in noting that that effect is limited. That network effect drives ridership increases which lowers operating costs/rider far more than economies of scale do.

        I concede that U-Link and Northgate Link will mean a much larger impact to cost/rider than, Eastlink or the stations added to the south. It doesnt mean that those connections and the existence of additional nodes in the system arent meaningful.

        If you intention is to argue that we should focus more of our efforts on in city lines that have the maximum value, then you’ll get no argument from me. That just isnt a thing, considering where politics are in the region and the nation. Not really a new or valuble discussion.

      4. I’m glad we agree that not all “network effects” are created equal. Much of what we are currently building/planning offers not just “limited” mathematical network effects, but ones that approach zero! It would be both misleading and counterproductive to claim otherwise.

        By “economies of scale”, I was referring specifically to the way that cost efficiencies improve when you run useful transit that lots of people actually use, lots of the time. “Scale” resulting from robust ridership, not “scale” relating to infinite miles of track.

        In our case, so many of those track miles offer such poor returns that the costs may “scale” the incorrect way!

      5. Good point about economies of scale, d. p. To put it another way, you actually get diminishing returns with a lot of proposals.

        Build light rail from Ballard to the UW and you suddenly get all that “network effect” thing that people have been talking about. Ballard to Lake City, Capitol Hill to Greenwood, Roosevelt to Wallingford. All those trips become smokin’ fast. Competitive with every other mode (including driving).

        But extend light rail to Everett and you get diminishing returns. If Link ends at Lynnwood then Lynnwood becomes a hugely popular transit center. Buses from all over Snohomish County go there. Those that don’t are further south, and thus connected to that station. You also save oodles of money by not sending all these buses downtown. But extend this out to Everett and all you do is save bus service. For every rider that saves time by not backtracking through Lynnwood, you have a dozen that lose time because the train spends time stopping on their way to where they want to go. Add up those times and I think it is a loser. A thousand people from Everett headed to Seattle just wasted three minutes over their express bus, while three guys going from Everett to Silver Lake just saved ten.

        Now try an another example: Northgate to downtown. The 41 will be faster. So, every bus rider that wants to go downtown has to spend an extra couple minutes because of the folks that get on or off at Roosevelt, the U-District or Capitol Hill. So what? A thousand riders lose a couple minutes. Meanwhile, many times that number gain five, ten, maybe twenty minutes. Northgate to the U-District, Northgate to Capitol Hill, Roosevelt to the U-District, Roosevelt to Capitol Hill and of course Capitol Hill to the U-District are all very popular and very slow right now.

        That is the key here. Location matters, Time matters. Alternatives matter.

        The areas along I-5 can be served fairly well with buses that use I-5. That is why folks are saying they want to keep their express buses. Of course they do. The distance is huge, and light rail (making many stops) does not do huge distances well. Express buses do. No one in the U-District will miss the express bus because the light rail (despite the extra couple of stops) is time competitive. Even the 41 will be a wash. All it takes is one slowdown on the freeway or missing the light as the bus leaves (or is about to enter) the station and the train is a better deal. That’s because the distances aren’t huge.

        All these things conspire to make light rail, with all of its frequent stops, and commuter rail (with its express service) appropriate for urban and suburban areas respectively.

    2. It’s not just the MLK surface segment. It’s going east from SODO to Mt Baker, west from Rainier Beach to TIB, and on the surface from Intl Dist to SODO. The Rainier Valley overhead is 10 minutes compared to a Georgetown bypass (SODO to TIB) with one or two stations by my estimate. That means you could reduce all Westlake-SeaTac, Westlake-Federal Way, and Westlake-Tacoma travel times by 10 minutes. That may be worthwhile after Ballard and Lake City and 45th have Link lines, but not before. Unless South King and Pierce want to pay for it! (Which they could do under subarea equity, if they consider it in their interest.)

      1. But then you’re not serving the Valley, unless you have two lines.

        My hypothesis is that a fully grade-separated line through the Valley wouldn’t be more than a few minutes faster than what was built. (That’s a rebuttable argument, because I don’t know the grade-separated alternative travel times).

        It sorta gets to d.p.’s point, that long lines where we stop at a lot of stations are inherently slow.

        Absent a Georgetown bypass or something similar, it supports Zach’s argument. The Federal Way alignment has to be about local access in Federal Way, because there is no single line that provides local access in the Rainier Valley AND fast FWTC-Seattle travel.

      2. Yeah, the E/W diversion and extra stations are part of it but there are several other factors that slow Link:
        1. Buses in the Tunnel (this will be fixed).
        2. The section between ID and Sodo
        3. The lights in the RV
        4. The speed of the train in the RV

        Add those time savings together and Link would be competitive enough vs a bus, time wise, that its frequency and ride quality advantages would come into play. As it is – I agree with Zach’s assessment.

      3. You would need to say around 15 minutes to achieve such competitiveness. Full RV grade separation would save at most 3.

      4. Yup – RV is only part of it.

        q: Throwing out the existing line, how fast can a train with a top speed of 55 travel 13.9 miles with 10 intermediate stops?

        a: fast enough to make rail’s other advantages viable for s. king commuters.

      5. But everybody who has presented numbers here thinks that a 55 mph top speed with ten stops buys two, maybe three minutes in travel time. So I don’t see how that makes rail a viable commuter option for South King.

      6. “But then you’re not serving the Valley, unless you have two lines.”

        It would have to be an additional line, or the Rainier/Beacon loop converted to a shuttle. You can’t just yank Link out of the valley.

      7. In the very far future, perhaps the RV segment could be part of a new line that would go north to intersect East Link near Rainier station and south toward Renton.

      8. Throwing out the existing line…

        What was all that fuss the MOARRAIL people like to make about “permanence”?

      9. No, d.p., adding that line and a connection between Sodo station and the current Link line past Rainier Valley. Some service pattern that would keep Beacon Hill station served and allowed RV and CD folks to get to the airport would have to be worked out.

        Like I said, the very far future. But it would have network effects.

      10. I was making a joke about Keith’s unfortunate turn of phrase.

        While I actually like the idea of continuing to Renton, and while I think some form of cross-C.D. mass transit should be bumped way up the priority queue — and yes, urban fleshing-out has network effects in a way that sprawlrail does not — there are still about 47 in-city mass transit possibilities with significantly higher priority than any Duwamish train, never mind the significant abandonment of Beacon Hill+MLK as a radially-oriented corridor.

        We’re never going to get to more than a handful of the best and highest-impact priorities. That is what Keith seem to forget each time he goes into Sand Point-esque overreach mode.

    3. About 3 minutes if that at-grade track were separated and allowed to hit 55mph. There are a lot of stops and non-55mph portions on Link as it exits. It would be difficult to get to the same time as an express bus because it maintains 60mph for a much longer period of time.

      A little maths: MLK is 5 miles long, if Link simply ran non-stop, the travel times would be…
      35mph = 8.5 minutes
      55mph = 5.5 minutes

      But in reality, every station added represents a time penalty, no matter what the speed of the track is. And the train isn’t immediately going 55mph from the get-go, it has to accelerate, which takes time. My nifty Link acceleration chart tells me it takes 500′ to acclerate to 35mph and 1700′ to 55mph. Then you have to slow down for the next station, etc. I think Seattle Subway loses the forest among the trees on their simple analysis.

      1. Oops, forgot a conclusion. In reality, it’d be less than 3 minutes because of the acceleration and negative acceleration times required to make three station stops. Perhaps 1-2 minute time savings would be more realistic.

        Yes yes traffic lights, but for the most part they’re synchronized to let the train through. Only a handful of times have I ever stopped on Link due to traffic lights.

      2. Mike – we disnt say the RV was the only thing slowing down Link. See my comments above.

      3. @Keith, simply analyzing the statement from Seattle Subway’s Facebook post, which implies Link is slow because of Rainier Valley.

        From today:
        “The central point of this article is a case in point about our central tenet – grade separation. The design choice (at grade) in the Rainier Valley ensures that Link will never be speed competitive with other options to DT Seattle. Not until a bypass line is built, anyways.”

      4. Haha – oops, our bad. We did kind of say that in the FB post. The point was grade separation, entriely, was a design choce that pushes a negative outcome.

        Maybe I’ll try to figure out a real answer to the question I posed above later (which no one jumped on figuring out – which kind of suprised me).

        Dan – People are pointing out, correctly, that the slowness isnt just related to the RV. I am trying to point out that a series of slightly different design and operating decisions would make that line fast enough to make rails other properties shine through.

      5. Thanks, Keith. That does clarify the dissonance I was trying to get at. I’ll buy too that rail can survive a modest time penalty vs a bus. Where I was going was that it requires more than closing the three-minute penalty from the RV traffic interactions alone to get to an acceptable time penalty.

      6. There are three bad things about the lack of grade separation:

        1) We can’t automate the trains.
        2) We have very limited headways.
        3) The ride from areas to the south is a few minutes slower.

        The third is the least of our worries. The first costs us money (throughout the entire system). The second is the big issue. We can’t run trains very often (not that there is much demand) but this hurts us. It means that every transfer (e. g. Renton to Rainier Beach) suffers from both a time constraint (not being an express) but also from transfer issues.

      7. Just for heaven’s sake spend a few million dollars now to preserve the right of way between the railroad tracks and I-5 for the future.

        Maybe ecological catastrophe in California — it’s happening, folks — will drive five or ten million people to the Puget Sound region in the next twenty years. They aren’t all going to fit in Seattle, Bellevue and Lynnwood. There will have to be density, density, density where ever it can fit, and one place it can fit is the strip along SR99 south of the airport.

        If Central Link trains continue to run on a base headway of ten minutes a Duwamish bypass is perfect. Southbound have a train leave every five minutes headed to the airport. One takes the bypass and heads on south to Des Moines, Federal Way and Tacoma. The other takes the existing MLK route as far as the airport. Since it takes about ten to eleven minutes longer than the express trains, it’ll get to the airport four or five minutes before the express that left fifteen minutes behind it, setting up a reliable and livable transfer.

        Northbound the operation is similar. An express pulls into the station, folks headed for RV destinations get off and four or five minutes later take the first northbound local.

        It works.

        If there is ever the “arc” line from Mt Baker up Rainier through the CD/First Hill boundary, lower Capitol Hill, SLU and out to Elliott West, the service from downtown to the RV could continue on to Renton and the “arc” trains could take the place of the locals to the airport. True, that would mean that Beacon Hill would lose direct airport service, but First Hill, SLU and Uptown would get it.

      8. I have zero objection to preserving rights of way, and I am aware that this is the internet, land of prognostication overreach, but seriously…

        If we ever arrive at the point where half the country is rendered uninhabitable by climate change, the global economy will be so incredibly fucked at all strata that there will be no miraculous “Puget Neodensitopia” bastion of a functioning society. There will instead be heavily-armed end-times crazies installing bunkers in former Amazon canteens and in the burned-out husks of streetcars.

        You cannot claim “global climate-instigated economic apocalypse” as the primary basis for your rosiest predictions of our regional transit future. That is just fucking daft.

      9. By the way, Detroit has been screwed for years. It is so bad that water is being shut off to thousands of residents (which sounds a lot like what you are predicting for California Anandakos) and houses can be bought for about five grand. But it is still a top twenty city (bigger than Seattle). When cities (or regions) die, they die very slowly. I really don’t think “America’s Mediterranean” is on its way out, either. Even if it was, there is no reason to assume all those folks are going to want to head here. Chicago population is pretty steady, despite (no doubt) absorbing plenty of people from Detroit.

      10. While the city of Detroit itself has had problems, it is as you say, the center of a large metro area. Greater Detroit is #12 for metro areas nationally while Greater Seattle is #13.

        I agree, even if drought collapses the economy of California there will still be a huge number of people there. Many who leave will be replaced by people from somewhere else.

      11. 1. Anyone notice the lack of snow pack this year? Climate change isn’t just a California thing.

        2. The zombie apocalypse level of disruption didn’t happen during the huge urban migration during the dust bowl. Just because huge numbers of people suddenly come into an area doesn’t mean a complete social collapse.

        3. It does mean having to figure out how to deal with a huge population influx. World War II airplane and shipyard worker type of influx. Probably no hot sheeting like was necessary then, but if it does happen the vast acres of parking lots in Federal Way could certainly be a good place to demolish and rebuild. I’ve been through there. Is there anything along highway 99 through there that shouldn’t be demolished and replaced just on general aesthetic principles? Property values would probably actually increase in the single family houses nearby if the crap along 99 were demolished and replaced with something worth living near.

        I just can’t picture anyone protesting “we’re loosing the character of our neighborhood” and being actually upset about it in this case.

        The fact you could clean slate this entire area without loosing much and in fact gaining quite a lot seems like it is worth something. It’s the type of thing that they did with Interstate MAX plus an urban renewal district. “Urban blight” can be very suburban, as seen here.

      12. The conditions that created the Dust Bowl and its resultant urban migrations were inextricable from that pesky little Great Depression that was happening at the time. Thus the out-of-control unemployment rates and refugee-camp living conditions that became the lot of millions nationwide.

        Not much utopian transport infrastructure was built in this time period.

        Anandakos flogs this favorite prognostication canard a lot: environmental shifts virtually collapse the rest of the global economy; the PNW is not only spared, but emerges as planet’s preeminent Transitopia Megalopolis. 80 million people are coming here soon, so better get to building those bullet trains!

        This is, simply put, asinine. If the wider economy collapses, what possible leg does this region have to stand on? Cloud services and real estate speculation aren’t exactly cataclysm-defying economic functions. Plan for real futures, not for speculative bullshit.

    4. It would be a bit faster Dan. It isn’t just the slow speed in Rainier Valley, but the twists and turns along the way. But yes, you are right, the stops also add up. That is why light rail (of this nature) is rarely used effectively to serve an area like this. Even Chicago (Chicago! a city that makes Seattle look like Aberdeen) doesn’t extend the ‘L’ out to Naperville. Of course it doesn’t. Commuter rail serves the suburbs, and does so really well. This is because the rail can be “express” quite easily (with the good existing train infrastructure).

      Light rail only makes sense if there are lots of good stops along the way. Rainier Valley is the one piece of this we got right. It is close enough to the city to be a decent destination. Extending it further (especially to Tukwila) was crazy. Sending to Renton would have made more sense. It would have served the author’s vision much better (providing mobility to those who can’t afford the more expensive parts of Seattle). You would have decent stop spacing (or could have decent stop spacing) and way more connectivity. I’m sure a lot more people move from Rainier Valley to Renton than move from Rainier Valley to Federal Way.

      Tacoma just has bad luck. It is just the railroad. Naperville would have no decent way to connect to Chicago if not for the railroad going there years ago. Likewise with Tacoma. Unfortunately for Tacoma, the railroad followed old geologic routes (essentially the valley that once formed the canal that separated the island of Federal Way/West Seattle with the mainland before it was all filled in debris from Mount Rainier). This route is just fine for a train, but it is not a very direct route. Meanwhile, folks in Tacoma think of Seattle as being “thirty minutes away”. So the train route (with very few stops) seems to take too long. But the light rail would take too long too. The only way to get fast service to Seattle is with express buses (or ridiculously expensive and redundant new rail).

    5. You don’t have to read a claim to know that. The 577 from FW to downtown beats Link from Seatac to downtown, and going the other way, on most trips.

  8. Travel time includes wait time. The high frequency of link will compensate for the longer travel time.

    1. The 577 already runs 12-minute frequencies at peak, and half-hourly most other times, with many previously-discussed options available to provide better all-day frequency via rationalization with Tacoma buses.

      Why is everyone so sure that Sound Transit won’t build its long, pointless trains, observe the paucity of riders, and reduce off-peak frequencies to 25 or 35 or even 40 minutes the very next time it needs to watch its pocketbook? As has happened everywhere from Dallas to Denver to Sacramento to sacred Portland?

      1. There’s no assurance of course, but the post is arguing to try to stop that outcome. A 99 alignment is not a pure urbanist’s dream by any stretch, but purely urban rail to the exclusion of suburban rail is off the table, and given our lackluster upzones, it shouldn’t be on the table anyway. Accepting that reality, a 99 alignment is a good option if what remains alongside is the 577 (peak), an added 594 stop (off-peak), and a deleted 574. That restructure alone would save ST significant chunks of $, hopefully lessening any pressure to reduce bus service for those making longer trips.

      2. Oh, and Tacoma to Seattle is every five minutes. The southern end of Link will never match that, unless they make it grade separated.

      3. MAX runs pretty frequent along Multnomah Blvd. CTA has a few frequent lines that cross a few streets at grade.

        Complete grade separation is nice, but if the limiting factor is cross traffic and turn lanes you can get around this by dropping the cross street under Link.

        You have to get to the point where it would be worth doing though.

        If it were me, I wouldn’t think about replacing the Tacoma to Seattle express buses with rail until it can be done with with regional rail equipment that can do 71 to 87 mph. That’s the current production Stadler GTW speed range. That’s the speed range the rest of the world wants in its regional trains – which is the market the Stadler GTW is aimed.

        Building anything that is the same speed or slower than the existing buses isn’t worth the amount of money it would take for a new line. Once you get into the higher speed range you can look at higher rideship for longer distance regional services due to the advantage over driving.

      4. @Glenn — I’m not sure if that would make a difference. Sounder is slow, but I don’t think it is the trains, I think it is the routes. Does anyone know how many miles the trip is?

        Then again, if you could make the Tacoma to Seattle route an express, that could easily work. You would want to improve the rail, but doing that would help Amtrak service as well. I’m guessing the route is about 45 miles, which means an express at 80 MPH is about 33 minutes. At 70 MPH it is 38 minutes. That is definitely competitive with the express buses, and way faster than Link. So I’ve changed my mind. To me, that is what Tacoma needs to focus on: An express commuter rail to Seattle and speeding up the top speed of the trains — how fast do they go now?

  9. I remember hearing from someone at ST that a RV bypass was once studied, and it would save 12 mins in travel times. I’ve lived in Japan for years and I can tell you, Express service (skipping some stops) is essential to achieving competitive travel times.

    1. An RV bypass would be sweet, but we’d need some stations to make it really worth the billion-dollar+ cost. Not sure I could get behind such a project when there are billions of dollars of other needs elsewhere.

      Japan is in a league all its own though. I’d be hesitant to compare anybody’s system to the Japanese. Who else has second-level accuracy in their timetables? Not even the French or Germans can achieve that level of insane awesomeness.

    2. I agree that express service makes long train lines from the suburbs into Tokyo tolerable, but our spine is not built for express service, and doesn’t go nearly as deep into the countryside as the lines that really benefit from express trains.

    3. I don’t think it would be a billion. You already have a flying junction at the MF which can be used with signal improvements. A flying junction at the south end might be $50 million, but there is already a “template” for it in the Airport Way/Boeing Access Road interchange. Rather than going up, the diverging line should drop down and parallel the east to north interchange roadway under BAR.

      You’d need a bridge to cross the railroad tracks either immediately or farther north depending on engineering decisions. That might be an additional $25 milllion. But most of the way the line can be at-grade and fenced since it would either be squeezed between a narrowed Airport Way (which has relatively little traffic) and the railroad or between the railroad and I-5. So figure $10 million per mile for grading and trackwork for four of the five and a half miles to the MF. Let’s be generous and say $40 million.

      There would need to be rail on aerial structure for about a mile and a half through Georgetown and a bridge elevating Airport Way over the tracks north of Spokane Street. Those might total $150 million. Signaling and whatnot would probably bring it up to $250 million, plus one station if you really believe that Georgetown will gentrify.

      I don’t.

    4. We already have express service. It’s called the bus, and it serves Federal Way quite well. No need to mess with what works.

  10. I’m a strong proponent of transit, and I want more alternatives that help people get to/from place to place all hours of the day and on the weekends, and not just for commuting to work… BUT that is horrifying to contemplate, Zach.

    THE WHOLE REASON for Sound Transit’s existence is supposed to be about regional transportation connections and connecting regional population centers — like Everett – Seattle – Bellevue – Tacoma. It is NOT supposed to be about local transit connections.

    If we spend billions only to build a rail line that takes longer to go from regional hub to regional hub than an express bus, then we have failed. The alignment through the RV that you cite is an utter failure of planning only made palatable because it was the only way to get the initial line built. And it’s sad that somewhere down the line, we’ll have to build the express line between Downtown and the Airport to “fix” it.

    If Sound Transit wants to focus on local transit first, then we should toss out sub-area equity and concentrate on building more rail, sooner, in the urban areas where the density is instead.

  11. Building Link to Federal Way or even Tacoma should not negate express bus or even Sounder service. However something else to consider in the “local connections” justification is that there is just as much affinity between Des Moines and the Kent Valley as between Des Moines and Federal Way. But as per usual, our transit designs typically only consider North South corridors. (Seattle Subway’s “Purple line” Ballard to UW spur notwithstanding)

  12. Thanks for covering this. South Link gets no love. It’s 11 year postponement raises no eyebrows — even seems nonexistent — north of 272nd. (Seattle Subway has already cut off my mic over this.) And to think that after all that pain, it will be relatively worthless, is just another kick in the pants.

    The FW City Council as well as ST seem dead set on an I-5 alignment. Their argument seems to be 1. lower cost (to me, this is dubious), and 2. aesthetic, a commonly held and recklessly flawed (from a growth/prosperity/development perspective) measuring stick in city affairs. Myself and other city figures are well-on-board with an SR-99 alignment, but none of us are people that the city’s old guard (which, aside from being the city’s kingmakers, also dominate the Planning Commission) will elect or listen to.

    A 288th stop? A 312th stop? A Dash Point Road (SR-509) stop? A 348th stop? Dare I suggest a Twin Lakes (21st / 336th SW) stop? Can we even fathom a NETAC stop? Or oft-fabled Tacoma Link connectivity? Nobody considers these things. Mass transit is for commuting. Regular people use cars. It’s the same old, zombie-like, dead-on-arrival suburban mindset, and it dooms Federal Way to a rapidly-approaching future of being little more than “the place your grandmother lives.”

    ST should shoulder the blame for this too. Perhaps ST should never have been behind Link — especially if they have zero serious plans on the horizon to actually make it cover all of ST’s multi-county service area. But ST’s whole existence, as well as Link’s, has been a comedy of compromises, from subarea equity, to streetcar-like at-grade alignments, to stations being a clear half kilometer from their actual destinations (Airport station, anyone?), all because we can’t seem to out-maneuver the people (Freeman, Eyeman, et al) who refuse to let the region move forward.

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