Page Two articles are from our reader community.

What: We need to serve Ballard with Link via SLU & Fremont; not via Belltown & Interlake, and not with a 7 mile long tunnel under Queen Anne.


Why: Denny/SLU are significantly larger population centers than Belltown/LQA and growing! We all take issue with Sound Transit’s assessment of the number of riders. By utilizing the latest Downtown Seattle Association demographic reports (2014) for the neighborhoods of Seattle, we can have an honest discussion of which areas deserve high capacity transit. Belltown has a population of 10,990 and employment near 10,250. Compare that with the Denny Triangle, which has a population 5,040 and employment at 19,385. Lower Queen Anne has a population of 6,980 and employment estimated at 12,670. Compare LQA with boom town South Lake Union at a population of 5,340 and a staggering employment at 35,990! Interbay isn’t even designated as an Urban Village, where as Fremont has a population near 15,000 and growing. Let’s assume our target rider estimate numbers are the maximum between employment and population for each neighborhood. That results with the SLU/Fremont route racking up 70,375 potential riders (19,385 + 35,990 + 15,000) compared to Belltown/LQA at about 23,660 potential riders (10,990 + 12,670). Bypassing 70,000 of the most urban minded people in the city would be downright idiotic. Especially when we consider that LQA is already served by a grade separated 2-3 minute ride into Westlake, the Monorail (more on this later). But I don’t want to pit neighborhoods against each other. We need grade separated transit to all major destinations if Seattle is to blossom into a functioning world class city. So now that we have established there is a precedence for a SLU/Fremont line over Belltown/LQA, let me unveil the details of how.

How: I envision a revamped Corridor E from the Ballard ST Final Report ( This route was set up to fail from the beginning by not tunneling under Westlake Ave. A non-exclusive surface alignment crossing two of the busiest intersections in the city has been proven to be a bad idea by the fact that people can walk faster than the SLUT. The city’s recent announcement of a study to give the SLUT exclusive lanes is still only a bandaid on a bad design. From Westlake Center, a bored tunnel will make its way under Westlake Ave towards Lake Union Park. Stations will be placed at the intersections of Denny & Westlake and Mercer & Westlake.

From the Mercer station, Ballard link will daylight into exclusive lanes to utilize the former 1890 Lake Union Streetcar corridor, which is now a 1.5 mile long parking lot directly east of Westlake Ave N. A cheap platform station would be most effective at Galer due to the pedestrian bridges from Aurora and across Westlake. The road, including the parking lot, has a 120 feet wide ROW along the west side of Lake Union from the park up to almost the Aurora Bridge. Compare that to MLK Way with a ROW of about 75 feet. The geography of Westlake Ave N is flat, wide, and has no cross streets as it is pinned between the lake and a cliff. If ever there was a place in the world to utilize a surface alignment (exclusive lanes of course), this would be it. Westlake Ave N is a gift from the transit gods; unobstructed surface alignment, cheap, and little development to pose much objection.

The transition into Fremont is where the fun begins. A tunnel would be the logical choice, as a bridge would undoubtedly still have to raise for passing vessels. ST should explore a dredge, tube, and cover tunnel for crossing the Fremont Cut, similar to the BART’s Transbay Tube. A dredge, tube, and cover technique would be the quickest option at this scale. Excavation and tube construction would occur concurrently. Tube construction will be in a controlled, easy to work in environment making it much simpler than deep bore. The dredge, tube, and cover technique would be comparable to the cut and cover tunnel technique; cheaper, simpler, but restricted by the surface right of way. This phase of the project would have to be timed with the offseason of the salmon runs to minimize any impact onto the salmon. The location of the Fremont station is a bit more complicated than the SLU stations. Fremont is a hub and funnel from all directions north into the city. A prudent design would account for expansion, which is why ST should consider the Fremont station to have a “WYE” or Flying junction that branches to the north for the future Blue Line up Aurora ( I will skip over the topic of location for the Fremont Station, as this could be the topic of many subsequent articles. But for an exercise, let’s assume the station can also be dredge, tube, and cover centered on Evanston Ave N, with the branch stem up Evanston and pedestrian access from the southwest of the canal as well to serve Seattle Pacific University.

From the tube tunnel, Ballard Link will once again daylight onto exclusive surface lanes. Not down congested Leary, as the Streetcar proposal, but down the quiet parallel corridor of the Burke-Gilman Trail/Ballard Terminal Railroad. The City of Seattle has the luck of owning both the Burke-Gilman Trail and the Ballard Terminal Railroad; a combined ROW of about 30 feet that only intersects dead-ends and business entrances. Although the Ballard Terminal Railroad is currently under a 99 year lease with the city, the company has lost all but one customer, the Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel ( The Ballard Terminal Railroad Company recently lost its appeal for usage of the Eastside Rail Corridor with Kirkland, and using that as an example, Seattle can revoke their lease given the recent political and judiciary climate. Now to calm all the bicycle advocates that thought I was committing heresy with my suggestion of tearing up the Burke-Gilman Trail in favor of Ballard Link, I propose we build an elevated bike path over this portion of Ballard Link, similar to London’s recent SkyCycle proposal ( Together, Ballard Link and the elevated Burke-Gilman can make their way towards Ballard unimpeded by stoplights (zero stoplights on this section). Where Ballard link eventually decides to dive into a tunnel to serve the underground Ballard Station (most likely on 15th Ave NW or 24th Ave NW), the elevated Burke-Gilman Trail could continue elevated to complete the infamous “Missing Link”. Some might be asking why elevate the bike trail instead of Link, and the answer would be cost. The necessary structure to support an elevated bike path is significantly less intensive than an elevated train. The static load and dynamic forces on the structure from bicyclists and joggers would be negligible compared to the weight and forces of a moving train.Where we go from the underground Ballard Station, I leave that to you.

Comparison: How does this route compare to the Interbay and Queen Anne tunnel routes? Let’s assume worst case scenario, that the arbitrarily pointless speed limit for surface running trains is 35 mph & 55 mph in tunnel, my back of napkin math indicates 14-17 minutes from Ballard to Westlake (assumes 4.8 miles surface, 1.25 miles tunnel, 4 intermediate stations at 1 minute stops, 0.8 de-rate for acceleration to/from stop). This time is effectively the same as the fully tunneled Queen Anne route and the elevated Interbay route but at BILLIONS of dollars less. Of course, a more thorough evaluation of time and routing should be incorporated by professionals, but for the purpose of starting a dialogue, these numbers will have to suffice. Let’s not forget the fact that we can double up the Westlake portions for both a Ballard Link and Aurora Link, which will save additional billions $$$ that would have otherwise been wasted on a duplicate line.

Additionally: I don’t want to leave Belltown out of the grade separated fun. For them, I propose we actually utilize the Monorail and build an infill station at 5th & Battery. The Monorail is reliable, fast (2-3 minutes Westlake-Seattle Center), and most importantly, built & operating NOW! Too often we forget that the Monorail can be an effective piece of transit in our hodgepodge network. The incorporation of ORCA will only make it easier for people to use the Monorail. The small price of one elevated infill station could solve Belltown’s transportation problems for decades to come. Now THAT is cost effective! For those worried about the legality and construction issues of an infill station on a system 60+ years old, rest assured that ONLY the station would have to be constructed to today’s Building Code standards. We would not be on the hook to retrofit the entire system to today’s building codes.

Conclusion: I understand the desire to ask for as much money in ST3 as possible, but we need to be as realistic and sensible as possible moving forward with what we can accomplish. More and more it seems North King will not get the funding necessary to achieve all our goals. It is for that reason it is imperative to be as cost effective with our ST3 projects. How can we straight faced tell our posterity that we recklessly wasted away $4 Billion when an equally performing option for billions dollars less was available? I expect the excellence I know this City can achieve. I believe this enhanced Corridor E option to be the best option for serving Ballard from Downtown.

28 Replies to “Ballard Light Rail – Corridor E Enhanced”

  1. I like this because I think it sets up nicely for a second north-south route, which is probably going to have to happen at some point in the future.

    However, something is going to have to happen to the 44 to make it suck less.

    1. It’s likely that both this and Ballard-UW could be built within ST’s reduced budget. But I would say that there are two too-few stations. There need to be two for SLU, one just south of Denny to serve Amazon and the new residence buildings there and a second about Mercer. There should be one a bit southeast of the big Fred Meyer where Leary bends, and there must be a good bus-transfer facility at 15th NW that preserves the D-Line’s performance.

      So that adds two and a half minutes, but increases the served areas significantly.

      I am concerned about the “lowest common denominator” crossing of the ship canal, though. It makes for sense to me to cross under Aurora, which allows the Fremont Station to lie across Fremont, in order to serve riders from both sides of the village center.

      But by far the biggest problem is the use of the Burke-Gilman trail west of Fremont. That is going to be viciously attacked. No, I don’t think the bicyclists would mind being one story up, as long as the ramp to get there is reasonably graded. But everyone in the neighborhood will be appalled at the loss of the trees along the trail. Right now the Ship Canal waterfront is a neighborhood “linear park”. The waterfront would be cut off from pedestrian access by this, and the trees would be gone.

      That won’t fly.

      Andrew, you need to face reality and advocate for cut-and-cover under Leary. I have some concerns about the “exclusive right-of-way” along Westlake, too. There are a lot of users of the waterfront who are going to lose access. And they have clout.

      1. Good point. The loss of views/park space may have been why Sound Transit rejected a coastal route for UW to Ballard. Trying to please the bikers and the people who see it a linear park is very difficult, if not impossible.

      2. The intent of the map showed tunnel underneath the Fremont waterfront and only daylighting after the park in the industrial zone. Not many trees there ;)

      3. Surface light rail ala MLK would work along Westlake north of Valley and along Leary between Ballard and Fremont. I agree full grade separation is needed in the core of Ballard, Fremont, and South of Valley. Messing with the B-G trail just gets you in a needless fight with the bike and parks people.

        I wouldn’t discount the residential population in Beltown, LQA, Denny Triangle, or SLU. Similarly I wouldn’t discount employment in Fremont. These are all potential riders of transit serving their respective neighborhoods.

        Still even adding both employment and residential numbers together Denny Triangle + SLU is clearly more people than Beltown + LQA. The gap will widen as projects currently under construction or planning come on line.

      4. @Chris — I think you are right, but it is fairly close. If you have light rail that goes from downtown to Fremont (and continues to Ballard) you really have two logical choices, this or Corridor D. So basically, it is Belltown, Lower Queen Anne and Upper Queen Anne versus this. The spacing on Corridor D is pretty good, from what I can tell. It would be something like this:

        1) 2nd and Battery. This is on the edge of the most populous area in all of Seattle (by a pretty wide margin). It is just far enough away from Westlake to not overlap very much.
        2) Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer — High density area with some employment and retail.
        3) Queen Anne Avenue and Gaylor — Moderately high density with a little employment and retail.

        One of the really good things about Corridor D is how well the stations string together nicely. They are close enough to reduce, if not eliminate the need for bus service in between, but far enough to not poach from one another. That includes the Belltown stop, which is pretty close to Westlake, but just far enough away to make it worth the extra bother of switching trains or riding for only one stop (although it is close).

        For the routing described in this post, I would have:

        1) Terry and Thomas — As mentioned below (in my long, rambling comment) Thomas will be reconnected with the grid pretty soon. This makes it an outstanding spot if you took this route. Not only does this get you to South Lake Union, but it gets you to a bus that can fairly quickly get you to Lower Queen Anne. It is a very short walk to Denny or Mercer. I think this station would have ridership towards the top of our system (up there with UW and Westlake).

        2) Galer and Westlake — This is a good station, but not a great one. There are plenty of office buildings as well as new apartments up the hill just a little bit to make this quite popular. The only reason it isn’t great is that it is next to the lake. Fish don’t ride the subway (although maybe they should). But all jokes aside, this area is very narrow, hemmed in by the lake and some very steep hillsides (including some parkland) otherwise it would be a more popular station.

        If this is a surface route, then we could easily squeeze in another stop, but I’m not sure where. Maybe on the Queen Anne side of the Fremont Bridge. That would enable pretty good bus connections (from SPU and the like). I’m not sure how well that could work, but it has some potential.

        In all likelihood, though, you have three stations versus two. This route has to come in significantly cheaper, by my estimation, to be a better deal. I think it could. But I doubt that it will be the bargain that this post suggests. My guess is that it is a better deal than Corridor D, but not nearly as good as UW to Ballard light rail or WSTT. You are on the surface for maybe a mile, which makes it significantly cheaper than Corridor D, but not super cheap. Corridor B, in contrast, is elevated for several miles, from roughly Elliot and Mercer until it gets to the heart of Ballard. To get that kind of savings with this route, you would have to be elevated across the Fremont area and through it. As mentioned, I really don’t think that would fly.

        I still think this all comes down to SLU. It really isn’t about connecting Ballard or Fremont. South Lake Union is now “downtown”, but it is just far enough to be a big pain (by bus, bike or foot). This is probably the best way to serve it under the current guidelines (where we are focused on Ballard) but I’m not convinced this is the best way to serve it. I think a version of the “Metro 8” routing would make a lot more sense. But that, unfortunately, is a few years away. In the meantime, I think a stop on Thomas and Aurora (as part of the WSTT) will have to suffice. That’s less than ideal for this under-served area, but still an improvement.

  2. I think some of the surface alignments you propose are a lot of wishful thinking. The Westlake parking lobby is very organized. And you’re understating the complexity of the new elevated bike route — without a strong at-grade bike/pedestrian network through most of there you’ll need to build a lot of ramps just to maintain basic access.

    I’d rather cross the Ship Canal elevated and run the train elevated over Leary.

    1. Yeah, the Westlake businesses fought the bike trail very hard. I would imagine they would fight this as well.

      Elevated over the canal as well as over Leary makes sense, but be prepared for opposition. As Anandakos mentioned, I think you will upset a few neighbors with a train going through there (even though it adds a lot of mobility). That’s the one thing that the Interbay route has going for it: people there are used to trains. Remember, when the light rail was first built, folks in Rainier Valley fought hard to get the trains underground. But the one thing they wouldn’t accept is to put them in the air. Too ugly and too noisy. I don’t agree with that attitude, but I would expect it to surface for an elevated route through here.

      1. I expect opposition with any route and any mode, especially in this city. There will always be people who are upset with any idea. We can’t rule this out of consideration because some people will oppose it. How else would any other line get built? We can’t make everyone happy, especially within our budget.

        The people of interbay might not oppose Link because they are used to trains, but what about the BNSF rail company? Has there been any comment from them on the Interbay Link alignment? I imagine push back from them.

        This is a route with little construction in the way with a good chunk of already city owned land! That is huge a pro people aren’t realizing and it should outweigh most the con’s.

      2. I think pushing a ROW for rail transit through along Westlake would be easier than the bike trail. (In spite of the fact that the cyclists are already there in the parking lot).

        By the same token I think messing with the B-G trail in Fremont and Ballard would be foolish.

      3. So, people would have to cross the tracks to get to the businesses. Cars would have to cross to park, depending on which side of the parking lot the track is in. Cars would also have to cross to get families and supplies to the houseboats. Is that enough crossings to interfere with the train’s frequency and speed? Or is it less than the crossings in Rainier Valley?

      4. Good point, Mike. I can’t help but think that Sound Transit considered it, but ran the numbers and figured the hybrid approach wasn’t worth it. Then again, maybe they didn’t. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it isn’t that much of a bargain to only go above ground for 1.3 miles (the distance between Valley and the ship canal). When you have all the problems you mentioned, you might as well either go cheap (streetcar the whole way) or expensive (tunnel). It would be nice to get more details as to if they actually studied the various options.

        This is a bit different than the Interbay route. From Mercer and Elliot it is over two miles. The surface/tunnel route that was described here: uses cut and cover, which is why it could potentially be a lot cheaper. It also involved a bridge over the ship canal, followed by running on the surface. This makes it pretty cheap as well. So, while the modified Corridor C is not great (because it does involve trains running on the surface) I think it is much cheaper than this route. unfortunately. But in any event, I would sure like to see more studies.

      5. Center running you wouldn’t need all that many track crossings. For that matter you could run the tracks down the West side of the street.

      6. There really isn’t room on either side of the street for a trackway. Using Westlake would require center running with a lot of U-turns. It really can’t practically be surface running at anything above 35 miles an hour and with lots of traffic crossings. There are too many buildings on the west side of the street and too many “driveways” on the right side.

        This would really have to be cut-and-covered or elevated.

        I do agree it’s more likely to get ridership than Option D because of the direct service through SLU. The neighborhood will never allow the top of Queen Anne Hill to be developed densely enough to make a 250 foot deep station worthwhile. Doing so would completely overload the four already stressed access paths from below.

      7. Center running is probably the only thing that would work. You would have to add traffic lights, maybe with U-turns and left turn arrows. The street might be better, actually (a Westlake “road diet”). 35 MPH is fine, it is the headways I worry about. If Rainier Valley and East Link are any guide, folks don’t like to go more often than six minutes. This would pretty much kill the Wye (the idea that half the trains go to Ballard and the other half to the UW). Six minute headways on Westlake means 12 minute headways for Ballard or UW to Westlake. This would mean a terrible three seat ride from Northgate to Ballard — you might as well take the 44. Without the Wye, you kill the biggest savings (of this over a separate UW to Ballard line).

        So I agree, this has to be above or below ground.

      8. Alternatively, if we point the Fremont Wye east, six-minute headways on Westlake can combine with six-minute headways UW-Fremont for three-minute headways Fremont-Ballard.

      9. Good point, William. That also means a direct Ballard to UW connection as well. So Northgate to Ballard means a three minute transfer (on average) with a very straight shot. That is much better.

        The only folks who come out behind are those in Wallingford, which is tiny compared to the rest of the area (15th, 8th, Phinney/Aurora). Wallingford doesn’t have the bus feeder potential that the other areas have. If you are around 65th, you might as well cut over (to the Roosevelt station). If you are close to Gasworks, Fremont is a good alternative. So someone in Wallingford has to transfer to go downtown — big deal (in my opinion). It is still much faster for them than the current system. Overall, that is a much better alignment.

        I seem to remember people talking about this sort of Wye with the Corridor D. They suggested it would be really expensive, given the angles. In this case, it might not be (because you are coming from a bit further east). At some point, I think you would need to go underground (close to the UW) but if the train lines could merge in Fremont (above ground) then it would be really nice. Again, I don’t know if you could swing it (bikers and locals might object) but it is certainly worth exploring.

  3. Very interesting idea and probably a better value than Corridor D. Let’s face it, the only reason folks jumped on the idea of Corridor D is because it was presented as an alternative with no price tag attached. Cost is important, as we’ve seen in the past. The only reason we don’t have light rail to the UW *right now* is because it cost too much to build light rail to the airport. This is why, in general, I don’t like the comparisons that don’t include equal cost. I have no problem comparing apples with oranges, as long as you tell me the cost. If oranges cost 10 bucks a pound, but apples are on sale, then I’m buying a bag of apples. Likewise with the various Corridors. Corridor D looks great compared to the other proposals, but not when you extend the other proposals, or build other things along with them. For example, if Corridor B intersects the main line at Westlake, but then heads up to First Hill, then intersects again back at I. D. and continues onto SoDo, suddenly it looks a lot better than Corridor D, which ends at Westlake. We can’t build everything. We just can’t afford it (Seattle is not that big).

    Which brings me to my first point. When you say “We need grade separated transit to all major destinations”, I am curious as to what is a “major destination”? If you mean South Lake Union, then I agree. I would put the UW, Capitol Hill, Belltown as well as Ballard (barely) in that category, Everything else, is mediocre. We have a lot of that, and it looks like it won’t be served by grade separated light rail for a long time. The Central District, lower Queen Anne, upper Queen Anne, Greenwood, Phinney Ridge, Fremont, even the area surrounding Interbay are all about the same. They aren’t huge destinations, but they are significant. To try and build rail to all these destinations is extremely optimistic, and I would say, unrealistic. We don’t have the money of Washington D. C.. We don’t even have the money of Vancouver B. C.. Speaking of which, that city has a lot more density, a lot more money and yet they don’t have rail going to every neighborhood.

    What they do have is good bus to rail interaction. This is why it makes sense to build rail that compliments the bus lines, while serving as many major destinations as you can, for as little money as you can. I would say that is the one weakness of your proposal, over something like the Ballard to UW rail line or the WSTT. I have no doubt that your line is much better than the other proposals if you focus just on the people who will walk to the station. But interacting with the greater network (both rail and bus) is less than ideal. Building a walkway from Aurora to Fremont ( would help, but in general, getting to Fremont is very difficult. Stations at 8th and 15th would have plenty of bus service (as they would with Ballard to UW light rail).

    The best part of your proposal is that it serves South Lake Union really well. I agree that it is crazy that we have neglected this area for so long and are considering things like light rail to West Seattle instead (that is nuts). I think you can make a good argument that South Lake Union should be our highest priority — over areas like Ballard. The one argument against that idea is that it really isn’t that far to the Westlake Station. In other words, someone could walk from South Lake Union to Westlake, while walking from Ballard to downtown (or the UW) is a lot further. Likewise the difference magnify with a slow bus. But I don’t buy that — I think South Lake Union should have fast service, and your proposal delivers that.

    I think some of your other arguments are weaker. Greater Interbay (east Magnolia and West Queen Anne) has decent population density, and is growing. Since Magnolia is an isolated peninsula, shuttle service to a light rail stop would make a lot of sense. Interbay would never be a huge destination (it will never be like South Lake Union) but it wouldn’t be that much smaller than Fremont in terms of ridership. If Seattle ever moves away from its focus on hotspots of density (i. e. urban villages) and towards more affordable, more wide spread housing solutions (e. g. then it would be a very popular station.

    Meanwhile, an extra stop at Belltown does little for the folks there. The monorail is undervalued (and I’m one of the guys that got us to add ORCA support) but it doesn’t interact well with the other systems. A stop at 5th and Battery might mix with bus service OK, but it wouldn’t connect to Link very well at all. The monorail works because it is just barely long enough (a mile) to have value as an isolated, point to point system. Adding a station half way in between doesn’t add much. Even if you are close to the monorail stop, you will probably just walk to Westlake and take the train, rather than walk up the stairs to the station, take the monorail, walk down the stairs, cross the street, then go down to take Link. In contrast, something like WSTT would get used a lot. The stop would be at 2nd and Bell, which is closer to more people and is further away from Westlake Station. If you want to get from Belltown to the south end of downtown, you would certainly go into the tunnel. Likewise, the transfers are so easy that someone would use the station, rather than walk to Westlake. If the monorail was better connected to Link or served areas farther away, then it would be of greater value. Just to be clear, I like the idea, and think we should explore it, but it is no substitute for something like a WSTT, or any of the other grade separated corridors.

    As far as the bike path above the Burke Gilman is concerned, I don’t think it would pencil out. It is worth exploring, but unlike the other bike proposals referenced, the Burke Gilman through that area is connected seamlessly to the neighborhood. In other words, you would have to have ramps headed down to the surface at every block. That might work, but I doubt it. For what it is worth, South Transit never proposed a similar route for Link from Ballard to the UW, even though it seems like it could work. I’m guessing there are just too many problems with it (although I don’t have a lot of confidence in Sound Transit’s planning department).

    Worth mentioning is that South Lake Union transportation will change dramatically after Bertha gets done doing her job. The street grid will be connected up to Thomas. This means that a bus could go along Thomas, connecting South Lake Union with Lower Queen Anne. Thomas doesn’t connect right now, and it is a fairly lightly trafficked street; giving lanes over to transit here should be pretty easy (you aren’t really “taking” anything from drivers, since they never had it in the first place). This also means that the station on Aurora close to Denny (as shown on the WSTT map — would be a great one. This serves South Lake Union. Not as well as your proposal, but much better than the current system. If you are trying to get to a destination a couple blocks from Aurora, then you just walk. But if you are trying to get further east (say, Fairview) then you will transfer to very frequent, fairly fast bus.

    If a Wye is built in Fremont, it should go over to the UW and be built at the same time. Connecting the UW (the second biggest destination in the state) with South Lake Union in this way is probably one of your strongest arguments. This would mean a three seat ride from, say, Northgate to Ballard, but it would still be a lot faster than today.

    I would love to see the cost of this proposal, especially if it includes a Wye in Fremont connecting to the UW. I would love to see how it compares to other proposals. When all is said and done, though, I think our best values are going to be WSTT and the Ballard to UW light rail line. The former does a pretty good job of serving a lot of areas without breaking the bank. Assuming your proposal goes through downtown, building the WSTT is cheaper. Could your proposal (including the Wye to the UW) be built for the same cost as WSTT + UW to Ballard light rail? If so, then this is certainly a winner. If not, then I would vote for WSTT + UW to Ballard light rail.

    1. Ross, thanks for the thorough response. I am in agreement with a lot of the things you said. To answer your first point, my “grade separated transit to major destinations” comment was fluff to convey my stance on transportation in general. Major destination is open to interpretation! I agree that Link to West Seattle isn’t justified at this time. I want cost & VALUE to be a factor in STB discussions more.

      This article was an exploratory piece to get discussions going. I’m all for additional stations and better bus access (8th and 15th NW) to this route. I envision this route coupled with UW to Ballard. I also envision this route to be a revised WSTT. A WSTT with it’s north portal at Westlake Ave & Valley could pick up the buses from both sides of the lake (E, 40, 26, 28, 70, etc.). With a little re-work and imagination, the E could exit Aurora to serve Fremont and then jump onto the hypothetical Westlake Busway (the SODO busway equivalent in the north) to enter the north portal along with all the other buses in that area.

      I feel at this time SLU and LQA are competing for a great grade separated line. Both are currently served by a less than ideal transit system. Only one of the two will get Link while the other is stuck with their current system. Ask yourself which of the current systems would you rather take and can be useful? The monorail is grade separated! The monorail at least has an elevator connecting to Westlake Center Station. On the other hand, the SLU Streetcar is pathetic; people walk faster than it. The connection from Westlake Center to the streetcar is TERRIBLE! I’d rather have the monorail as the sub-par system. On a scale, if Link is 100%, the monorail would be 75%, and the streetcar would be 25%. I can live with the Monorail until an ST4 could serve Link to Belltown, LQA, UQA, and the Cruise ship Terminals.

      Additionally, the Monorail is iconic to Seattle the same way the George Benson waterfront streetcar was. Tourists love the monorail and the city should care about that. I would love to have the monorail extended to serve the cruise ship terminals. The monorail could even go in a tunnel to pick up UQA around Galer and then swing a 90 degree turn west to the terminals. But that is a topic of another post.

      1. I think we agree on most points. I think it is a matter or trade-offs, really. If I had to choose between South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne, the obvious choice is South Lake Union. It has way more people and businesses. But when you dig a bit deeper, the WSTT does more than that. It also means a fast connection from Ballard. Magnolia and East Queen Anne. Maybe Ballard doesn’t matter once you have UW to Ballard light rail (it certainly matters a lot less). But a one seat right from say, Ballard High School via the WSTT would still be faster than the three seat ride via bus and Link. Magnolia and East Queen Anne aren’t huge, either.

        But WSTT helps Upper and Lower Queen Anne as well. The problem with the monorail is that it dumps you off in the Seattle Center. By the way, I think it is idiotic of Sound Transit to suggest that a station in Lower Queen Anne should be in the Center. In contrast, the WSTT puts the station at Mercer and Queen Anne Avenue. This puts you much closer to the bulk of the people (to the west) as well as buses coming from Upper Queen Anne (a bus going down the counter balance is pretty quick). I really don’t think the monorail delivers anything like that. I agree that it is better than the streetcar (because it is fast). It just ends at the wrong location.

        But to be fair, the WSTT does the same thing to South Lake Union as the monorail does to Lower Queen Anne — barely serves it. Except there is a difference — the monorail only gets you to one spot downtown, and that spot isn’t connected very well to anything. Meanwhile, the WSTT connects you to the rest of the network. So someone from Bellevue or SeaTac or West Seattle or even just the south end of downtown will simply transfer (at I. D. or Westlake) and catch the first bus heading up Aurora. A couple stops later you are north of Denny, and walking either direction. In other words, by the time someone has caught glimpse of the streetcar, you could be walking east on Thomas. If you are only going to Westlake (or somewhere west) you will certainly get there faster than the streetcar. It is a different story if you are further east (especially if you want to get to the Cascade neighborhood). But that is where that bus I mentioned comes in. Unlike the streetcar, that bus could actually move at a reasonable pace. But of course, that does nothing for the areas north of Mercer.

        Changing the portal so that it served Westlake Ave & Valley would be great for South Lake Union. Now that bus ride (from the south) gets right into the heart of South Lake Union. You wouldn’t need to worry about Belltown, either, it still has a station, as does Lower Queen Anne. But if the Aurora portal is replaced by the Westlake Portal, it would cost a lot more, and you would lose speed coming from north of the ship canal. One of the great things about the WSTT — why I think it is a great value — is because it leverages our existing “fast roads” 15th NW/W, Aurora and the West Seattle Freeway, while eliminating the worst spots (greater downtown).

        I could easily see a branch portal connecting to the Aurora portal. In other words, keep the WSTT as drawn up ( but then add a spur that goes to Westlake and Harrison, then back north, to the Westlake portal. That would be the best of all worlds, but cost more. So, basically, you have three portals to the north. If I had to choose which to build first, I would go with the WSTT as designed by Seattle Subway. Aurora is really fast, and the only one that doesn’t involve a low level draw bridge. Uptown and Westlake portals cost about the same, from what I figure. I give a very slight edge to Uptown, for the reasons mentioned above. The Uptown portal represents a dramatic improvement over existing transit for Lower Queen Anne, Upper Queen Anne, Interbay, Magnolia and East Queen Anne. It is a moderate improvement for upper Ballard (e. g. Ballard High School). The Westlake Portal is a moderate improvement over the Aurora portal for some of the South Lake Union and Fremont folks, and a much bigger improvement for others (east or north end of South Lake Union and those who don’t want to shlep up the hill to Aurora from lower Fremont). So I give the edge to Uptown, but just barely.

        I think it is quite possible, if not likely, that we build Ballard to UW rail next. It is simply the best value. After that, I would support the WSTT (again, a good value). But the next rail line after that could be exactly what you have sketched out here. The WSTT maps have an additional rail line heading out via the Uptown Portal (a logical extension). But I think at that point, we would definitely want the new rail line to include South Lake Union, especially since the WSTT will do such a great job for Belltown and Uptown (and a mediocre job of serving South Lake Union). To me, then the discussion is a bit bigger. Do we extend light rail to Ballard, or just build a brand new line that mimics the Metro 8? I think when you add up the cost of another crossing and the other work involved, the Metro 8 route isn’t much more. So, at that point, I would probably lean towards the Metro 8. But if, for whatever reason, we decided to build another rail line to Ballard, your route is probably best. I just think that discussion is way down the road.

    2. “the only reason folks jumped on the idea of Corridor D is because it was presented as an alternative with no price tag attached.”

      People know tunneling is expensive. The reason people jumped on Corridor D is it would solve all the then-recognized transit problems in one stroke: downtown to Uptown, downtown to upper Queen Anne, upper Queen Anne to north Seattle, fast route to Ballard. Upper Queen Anne may not be dense but it’s very difficult to serve with buses with any acceptable speed. It’s also a walkable urban village with a long streetcar-suburb history. People knew UQA was a long shot due to the expense, but it’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that future generations might say why didn’t we?

      Andrew’ Whitmyre’s idea is intriguing, and I agree that SLU is rapidly becoming more downtown-like and critical than people expected even two years ago. Switching to a Westlake alignment may make sense now. And that “underground to Mercer” idea is basically similar to the DSTT2 proposal: it eliminates the worst bottleneck.

      But we do need to think about Belltown’s and Uptown’s mobility needs if this is diverted. We can’t just assume an infill monorail station will save us or is feasable. I could see an argument that an SLU station will be close enough to eastern Uptown and Seattle Center when the street grid is finished, and more pleasant to walk through. (It’s horrible now with highways and pedestrian-hostile buildings.) Western Uptown would still need significant transit though. And Belltown in my opinion doesn’t critically need an upgrade: it has tons of routes on 3rd. Although that’s a steep hill from Western Avenue which has a lot of apartments and no transit. But a Belltown subway wouldn’t help Western Avenue either.

      The Westlake alignment also raises a question about the SLUT’s future. Will it run on top of it? Will it be deleted? What happens to the CCC if the SLU segment is deleted? What about plans to extend the streetcar on Eastlake? What about Greenwood? Is Aurora Link a suitable alternative for a Fremont-Greenwood streetcar?

      “The only reason we don’t have light rail to the UW *right now* is because it cost too much to build light rail to the airport”

      No, it was the geological risk of the first Ship Canal crossing, and the fear that cost overruns would cause light rail to be cancelled for another generation or two. ST was willing to go either south or north first, and knew that north would have more ridership and benefit, but it didn’t want to be slapped down by the transit-haters and tax-haters, so it went with the south end first to at least have something running to show it could do it.

      “Galer and Westlake — This is a good station, but not a great one.”

      This is a mediocre station. The stairs and hill are so steep that only the most hardy will use it more than occasionally. That’s why Metro has separate routes on Aurora, Dexter, and Westlake even though they’re a block from each other, and two blocks from Taylor Ave N.

      “Greater Interbay (east Magnolia and West Queen Anne) has decent population density, and is growing”

      The only advantage of an Interbay alignment is cost. If Westlake as Andrew outlined costs the same, that advantage would disappear. Although there’s also the cost of a Ballard bridge vs a Fremont tunnel.

      1. “The only reason we don’t have light rail to the UW *right now* is because it cost too much to build light rail to the airport”

        No, it was the geological risk of the first Ship Canal crossing, and the fear that cost overruns would cause light rail to be cancelled for another generation or two.

        I should have said the only reason we don’t have light rail to the UW right now is because it was more expensive to build the line than originally thought. But the airport part of that is a key piece, and one of the parts that was more expensive than originally thought. So while my sentence was misleading, it was probably technically correct.

        The original budget — what everyone voted for — was UW to the airport light rail. Once they realized they couldn’t build that, they had to choose between the thing they assumed they could build (light rail to the airport) versus what is more vital, but more risky (light rail to UW). If the line was cheaper (close to the original budget, not the revised budget) they would have built the UW piece by now (which is what they originally planned to build). The added expense, by the way — the high cost I mention for light rail — almost got us nothing but buses.

        As to the Interbay alignment, there are a few advantages: cost, speed and experience. The first two are obvious, but the third is important as well. Like the ferries, riding a train 70 feet above the ship canal would be a very nice experience, and one that could raise ridership and revenue.

        I mentioned Interbay itself because I think it is considered a worthless station. It isn’t. It is only a little bit below Fremont, really, when you consider the entire region that would benefit. Interbay will never be South Lake Union, but then neither will Fremont (and I love Fremont).

        But the chief advantage to that roue is cost. I have a feeling that when all is said and done, the route Andrew outlined is a lot more expensive. The savings seem plausible, but as has been mentioned, a lot of these would go away under political pressure.

        In general I think streetcar discussions are meaningless. As has been mentioned many times, our streetcar performs worse than most of our buses. So, basically, I could care less where they put a streetcar. Eastlake, Westlake, Greenwood, it doesn’t matter. But improve the bus routes, and in some cases, it does make a big difference. For example, give buses their own lane on Phinney Ridge with some light priority to Aurora and you could have a very fast bus. Connect it to the WSTT and UW to Ballard light rail and it is better than some parts of the light rail we have.

        Again, I think all boils down to South Lake Union. It isn’t that far of a walk from Belltown to Westlake. Buses are also fairly fast and frequent. The rest of the city that isn’t about to have light rail (Queen Anne, Fremont, Ballard, C. D.) is not in the same league, even though each neighborhood could use some fast transit. Meanwhile, South Lake Union has pretty poor transit right now, because of the bad traffic, and lack of grade separation. Things would get a bit better with the WSTT, but it is less than ideal. Andrew’s suggestion is ideal (for that neighborhood). But is it worth the extra cost? I doubt it. I think the overall improvements to the entire region that come about because of the WSTT and UW to Ballard rail are simply a better value. Meanwhile, we will have to keep alleviating the pain of South Lake Union (and the new lanes along with the connecting Rapid Ride C you mentioned will help do that). WSTT would help on top of that.

      2. If the WSTT is constructed, Rapid Ride C will not going to the heart of SLU as some of these comments are suggesting. Any thought that Rapid Ride C will answer SLU’s mobility issues will be rendered obsolete by the WSTT.

        To explain my budgeting in a bit more detail, I was assuming surface pricing for Westlake Ave N AND Fremont to Ballard (either along B-G trail or Leary). 1.3 miles + 1.7 miles. I have seen $30 million/mile thrown around this blog for surface pricing and $400 million/mile for tunneling. That’s a difference of $1.11 Billion, and that’s not including the price of deep station associated with tunnels vs the shallower stations and surface stations of this route. Paired with the fact that the Westlake Ave N section could serve the Blue line in the future spares the need for a duplicate N-S line for this ~3 miles section from Westlake Center to the Ship Canal. Two routes on the Westlake Ave N alignment could save $1.2 Billion that otherwise would be wasted on a duplicated section. Our region isn’t wealthy enough to be so cavalier with that $2.3 Billion; we can do some additional good with that $2.3 billion.

      3. The RapidRide C and the WSTT are two different things. RapidRide C is coming to South Lake Union next year. WSTT is years away. When WSTT comes here, RapidRide C would switch to it. A stop at Aurora and John is less than ideal, but what is the heart of the SLU — Harrison and Terry? — that would be a half mile walk. Again, not great, but much better than today. But we could easily put another bus (coming from SLU) into the tunnel or we live with another transfer (to a bus going east/west on Thomas). Not ideal, but if it travels at a reasonable speed (is within its own lane) that would still be an improvement over today. Again, west of Westlake you have less than a half mile walk, east of Westlake you have a fast, frequent bus traveling on Thomas all the way to Eastlake. That is similar to what Belltown endures right now, for example, and it is a similar area (more people, fewer jobs, but still plenty of both). I should also mention that Aurora and John has lots of growth and big buildings in every direction, not just to the east. It is only the Seattle Center that eats into its walkshed, and only marginally. In other words, a stop at the heart of South Lake Union is better than a stop at Aurora and John, but just barely.

        The savings from going surface are substantial, but I’m not sure if they can be realized. First of all, you do have a bit of a loss in efficiency by digging lots of small tunnels, instead of a bigger one. Second, I don’t think the two surface lines will fly. The folks in Fremont won’t let it, and even the folks on Westlake will probably kill it, or water down the whole thing so that it has really bad headways. Suddenly the Wye to the UW (which I contend is one of the strong points of this system) become really weak. With six minute headways along Westlake, for example, you have twelve minute headways from Ballard to downtown.

        This talk of a blue line is ridiculous, really. I know it looks pretty on the map, but it will never happen. I love the Seattle Transit guys — I really do. But there just aren’t enough people and enough savings by running a subway on or next to Aurora. That is a savings from a mythical project, in my opinion. No matter how you do it, the blue line is really expensive for the value it adds — too expensive, really. The same is true for a lot of ideas, but I won’t go into that.

        The savings though, come from combining this with rail from the west to the UW. That is a line that will be built, one way or another. Building this as part of that (the Wye with rail going to the UW as well as Ballard) is the key. That probably saves a third to half the cost of the stand alone Ballard to UW line. But again, the headway problem needs to be addressed, because long transfers in Fremont and the UW won’t do (it would make Lake City to Ballard really long, for example). If elevated could be built much cheaper than the additional tunneling, then you don’t have to worry about headways. I’m not sure if that gets you the savings you need, but it is worth checking out .

        In general I really like your thinking. Cost matters. Like I said, this makes way more sense than Corridor D. It is a much better value. If this can be built as cheaply as you think it can, it it starts to come close to the value of Ballard to UW light rail or the WSTT. But mainly because it can be combined with light rail to the UW from the west. You need the cheap cost and the frequent headways to compete with those projects for value. But I think once the dust settles, and folks look into it some more, I doubt you can. Worth a shot, but I would bet against it (not that I have a great betting record — you should see my hoops bracket right now).

  4. Instead of including a future branch connection at Fremont heading north, how about a branch connection heading east to the UW? Ballard/Westlake/Downtown and Ballard/UW lines would interline between Ballard and Fremont, then go their separate ways.

    A separate future subway line would branch off the DSTT2 downtown (by the 2050’s?) and serve Belltown, LQA, UGA, crossing the Ballard/Westlake/Downtown line in Fremont, then continuing north up Aurora/Greenwood.

    1. Yeah, I said the same thing as your first paragraph in one of my comments. That to me is one of the strongest arguments for this route. If we insist on building a line from Ballard to downtown, then a Wye at Fremont, with service to South Lake Union could be the best deal. Now you can get from Ballard to the UW quickly, as well as serve South Lake Union.

      But I disagree with our second paragraph. At that point, a “Metro 8” line becomes the best deal. You go right through the heart of the Central Area, as well as South Lake Union, lower Queen Anne and southwest Queen Anne. Folks from upper Queen Anne and greater Interbay take a bus and transfer.

      The problem with most north-south lines to Ballard is that they tend to spend a lot of time underground, serving no one. Corridor D is the best, it is the “Cadillac Line”, but it spends over a mile doing nothing between the top of Queen Anne and Fremont. While that is fast, it isn’t good, unless it is cheap. It is hard to get really good value (which usually correlates with stations per mile for an underground line) with a route like that. The other problem is that they are often replacing pretty good parts of a line with a great line. It is much better to replace a crappy section (like the streetcar) with something great (like this). But light rail along Aurora, for example, or even Phinney Ridge, is simply replacing pretty fast service with really fast service.

      There are only a handful of routes where you can say that every stop is about a half mile away from the other stop, every stop is very good, and that the route saves a huge amount of time for everyone who would use that stop. So far, I think Ballard to the UW does that, as does the WSTT. Those are the best values, for that reason. This is an excellent proposal. I think it is just a bit worse of a value compared to those other proposals. Of course, that is making a lot of assumptions about cost (if this could be built as cheaply as the author hopes, then I think it could be a great deal, and competitive with those other ideas).

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