Last week Sound Transit released its long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Link’s extension south from Angle Lake (S. 200th) to Federal Way Transit Center (FWTC). As the DEIS is the document that guides the ST Board to select a Preferred Alternative in early 2016, the DEIS is perhaps the last chance for advocacy and public comment to sway a project’s future before political inertia begins to harden opinions and preclude positive change. You can comment now through May 26 here.

As a refresher, Link to the tip of Federal Way (S. 272nd) was included as the marquee project of ST2 in the South King subarea, only to be deferred south of Highline College when South King fell harder, and recovered more slowly, than its peer subareas during the recession. In  early 2012, County Councilmember Von Reichbauer and Senator Tracey Eide successfully funded $24m for design and engineering for the project so that it could be ‘shovel ready’ as soon as funding were to be identified, and the DEIS is the result of that effort. Most recently, a relatively unexpected TIFIA loan saved Sound Transit so much in financing costs that it freed up an estimated $200-300m in capacity, money which could potentially pay for Link to get from Highline to 272nd St, leaving just the segment to Federal Way unfunded and to be covered by ST3 and/or federal grants.

The DEIS presents 4 general alignments: SR99, I-5, I-5 to SR99, and SR99 to I-5. Within these 4 options are over a dozen station alternatives that further complexify the choices, something with which anyone who has been following the alphabet soup of alternatives in East Link can identify. Notably – and perhaps suspiciously – all alternatives present nearly identical ridership projections  (24,000-27,500 daily riders) and with travel times that only vary by 2 minutes (12-14 minutes). Cost estimates vary by nearly 70%, however, from roughly $1.25B to just over $2B.

While this may seem like a dizzying array of options, Sound Transit has done a good job of presenting the material, both in the video above and in an interactive exercise at; and the corridor itself is linear and relatively uncomplicated.

But all the options essentially boil down to a handful of fundamental questions:

  • Should we use an I-5 alignment, and SR 99 alignment, or some combination of both?
  • How well should we serve Highline Community College?
  • Where should the 272nd station be?
  • How important is it to serve FWTC directly, or would it be better served obliquely?
  • Should there be additional stations at S 216th and S 260th?
  • How important is TOD?

A summary of each alignment, and brief commentary, are after the jump.

With half a dozen alternatives within each of the 4 primary alignments, it may be helpful to frame the discussion by presenting the extreme options of each alignment and circling back toward the middle.


The Bare Bones Option
The Bare Bones Option

The I-5 options range in cost from $1.28 to $1.55B. The bare bones $1.28B option would cut all corners along the way, covering the roughly 8 mile corridor in just 12 minutes, for a 40mph average speed. It would be nearly 4 times as fast as RapidRide A between Federal Way and Angle Lake. It would use the future SR 509 ROW to reach I-5 from Angle Lake, running adjacent to the southbound lanes of I-5 the entire way to Federal Way TC. It would skip Highline, stopping instead at an at-grade Kent-Des Moines station a little over 1/4 mile from the college. It would dip underneath S. 272nd St in a shallow trench to serve the existing Star Lake Park & Ride. Finally, it would not serve the Federal Way Transit Center directly, instead creating an “I-5 station” roughly halfway between the current transit center and the S 320th P&R. It would be the fastest, and cheapest, and only serve 11% fewer riders than the most expensive options, but it would skip both major population centers and major transit destinations and facilities. TOD potential would be dismal, with just 51 available acres along an 8 mile alignment, or roughly the total size of Seattle’s Volunteer Park. Its 24,000 riders would likely be exceedingly peak oriented, and trains would likely run comparatively empty off-peak.

The most expensive I-5 option ($1.55B) would take 2 minutes longer (14 minutes) and serve an additional 1,500 riders  (25,500) per day by briefly deviating from I-5 to serve Highline CC from a station on the east side of SR 99. Given that 99 and I-5 are less than 1/4 mile apart in this area, the deviation adds minimal distance. The walk to Highline, though needing to cross SR 99, would be roughly 1,000′.  TOD potential would increase to a slightly less dismal 72 acres.


The Gold-Plated Option
The Gold-Plated Option

The cheapest SR 99 alignment ($1.69B) would be able to match the 12 minute travel time of the fastest I-5 option, while serving 26,500 riders. It would run elevated in the median of SR 99 until Highline, where it would deviate slightly west to serve Highline directly with a station in its current east parking lot. It would then return to the SR 99 median before transitioning to the east side of SR 99 to serve an elevated station at 272nd (Redondo Heights P&R). Finally, it would terminate just west of Federal Way TC, not fully deviating to the transit center and staying pointed south towards Tacoma. TOD potential would roughly double from I-5 options, to 117 acres.

The gold-plated SR 99 option ($1.93B) would be one minute slower (14 minutes) in exchange for doubling TOD potential yet again (219 acres), adding two stations at S 216th and S 260th, and eliminating most visual impacts by building a mix of elevated and  trench stations while still serving all destinations directly. It would serve 26,000 riders. Like the cheapest SR 99 option, it would only obliquely serve Federal Way TC, with a station between SR 99 and the current transit center.

The Mixed Alternatives

$1.73B 99 to I-5 to 99 to

In between these are two options that use portions of both corridors. The SR 99 to I-5 alternative prioritizes a direct path from Angle Lake to Highline and an I-5 alignment from Highline to Federal Way. The “SR 99 to I-5 to SR 99 to I-5” is not as ridiculous as it sounds, using SR 509 and I-5 before deviating to Highline before deviating back to I-5. Doing so only adds 1/4 mile to the alignment.  South of Highline, all alternatives are forced to choose either SR 99 or I-5 for the duration; all major deviations center around Kent-Des Moines Road.

What About the Politics of Link to Federal Way?

Despite a successful joint rezoning effort in the Midway area, Kent and Des Moines continue to disagree about the alignments, with Kent preferring SR 99 while Des Moines strongly favors I-5. Sources tell us that Des Moines, hardened from their experience with SeaTac Airport, is prepared to take legal action to stall any progress on a SR 99 alignment. Last summer, Des Moines Mayor Kaplan said, “We are not willing to take the impacts” of an SR 99 alignment.

Kent, on the other hand, has shown themselves to be fairly progressive, both in terms of upzoning and in terms of opposing walkshed-killing freeway alignments.  The two cities’ public comments’ on the DEIS will likely have a huge impact on the range of possibilities.

Some political energy already seems to be coalescing around an I-5 alignment, though with preemptive sensitivity about urbanist criticisms of freeway stations. After our last piece on Federal Way Link – in which I argued that the inherently uncompetitive travel times between Federal Way and Seattle meant that Link should seek to maximize local development – County Councilmember and ST Board Member Dave Upthegrove reached out to me to talk about the DEIS. Over coffee, he enthusiastically supported both TOD and an I-5 alignment, arguing that station location was the most important consideration, not the alignment of intermediate trackage. Accordingly, he cheerfully touted the I-5 alignment that deviates to serve Highline College as being the best compromise: moderate in terms of cost ($1.55B), competitive in terms of ridership (25,500), and the likeliest to avoid years of litigious delay.

If you don’t believe in either the utility or likelihood of a S 216th station, then Upthegrove is right that an alignment that performs just as well but keeps jurisdictions happy is likely the prudent choice. But his argument also benefits from geographic luck. The proximity of SR 99 and I-5 mean that Des Moines is able to have its cake and eat it too, minimizing the dreaded ‘impacts’ of elevated light rail while still having the marquee station it wants at Highline.

Further south, there won’t be such an convenient out for Federal Way. I-5 and SR 99 are as far as a mile apart between 272nd and FWTC, making the choice between one or other both more necessary and more difficult. My chips are still with SR 99. Despite the inevitable political headwinds of such a choice, mid-century arterials are just fundamentally more fixable than land-gobbling interstate highways. Having more stations – with real walksheds – maximizes the ability of future generations to build communities that far outdo our presently timid ambitions.

229 Replies to “How Should Link Get to Federal Way?”

  1. I think it is extremely important to maximize TOD potential and to have a station at Highline CC (or is it a “C” now?). Additionally, there might be additional funding pools that could be tapped with the SR99 alignment. This *might* help mitigate the slightly higher cost somewhat.

    So I’d nix the I-5 alignments and go with one of the SR99 alignments.

    And what is the point of an I-5 alignment anyhow if it wont’ even directly serve the Federal Way TC? Such an alignment seems totally stupid to me.

    1. Highline is just a “C” now. They offer 4 BAS programs. I feel like it’s important to serve directly – the nearest community college on the line is over 1/2 hour away on Capital Hill.

      However, that means moving a station further from the nearby residential neighborhoods between 99 and I-5, which is where my gut tells me there is the best redevelopment potential – but I have no factual data whatsoever to back that up. A lot of it is already pretty dense – trailer parks and parking-oriented apartment buildings still do pretty well on the units-per-acre scale, compared to massive swaths of Seattle SF7200.

      1. And I presume they’re not talking about the access problem of very wide stop spacing (which becomes irrelevant in places so painfully sparse, anyway).

        This is really just something that fell from the brain of a middle manager with no sense of what transit is for, and that somehow landed in the “con” column of an official document.

        I am embarrassed for ST.

      2. Sounds more like the UBC loon who thinks the Broadway Corridor in Vancouver should be served with a streetcar rather than Skytrqin.

    2. Interesting. So now it is important to serve colleges? Because a little while ago everyone here was saying that in the name of efficiency, certain bus routes should be taken out of Bellevue College, and passengers can simply take connecting buses into campus. Let’s be consistent, people. Why not run Link away from Highline “in the name of efficiency,” and let students take connecting buses into campus?

      1. IIRC, no one was talking about taking the buses out of Bellevue College; we were saying to repave Snoqualmie River Road so the buses can both serve the college and get to Eastgate in a reasonable length of time.

      2. William, actually some commenters were calling buses going into BC a “detour” and waste of time, and said in the name of efficiency, cost savings, and the greater good, certain buses should stay on 144th Pl and 148th, and students could take a connecting bus into the college. I’m wondering why this isn’t the same? Why can’t Link bypass the college, and in the name of efficiency, let students take connecting buses into the college?

      3. Do you have a link? I don’t remember those comments at all, except when talking about the current street network. In that case, I agree with them for the same reason I’d be opposed to the 594 and 577 getting off the freeway to drive by the college’s front door. But when redesigning the street network or building a grade-separated train, serving the college is the best thing to do.

      4. And, yes, they’re talking about service under existing roadway patterns. If we were talking about running new express buses, I similarly wouldn’t want them to deviate. But we’re building Link, which is even more of a game-changer than completing Snoqualmie Valley Road.

      5. Good point. If we really consider CCs a strong reason to align the spine, we wouldn’t need a ped bridge over I-5 at Northgate, and we would actually serve Shoreline CC.

      6. East Link is a couple miles away from Bellevue College. North Link will be a couple of miles away from Shoreline CC. All of West Seattle Link’s alternatives mentioned on this blog skipped South Seattle CC by a mile or two. Lynwood Link Extension will miss Edmonds CC in Lynnwood by a mile or two.

        So no, it’s not crucial that Fed Way Link be right next to Highline CC.

      7. “If we really consider CCs a strong reason to align the spine, we wouldn’t need a ped bridge over I-5 at Northgate” – huh? In the case of Northgate, there are big destinations on *both* sides of I-5. The bridge is designed to let both sides connect. If you put the alignment on the NSCC side, you’d still want a bridge to connect Northgate transit center to it.

      8. “If we really consider CCs a strong reason to align the spine, we wouldn’t need a ped bridge over I-5 at Northgate,” ”

        There’s also a mall with thousands of shoppers and workers where the station is, and other businesses and medical clinics, and more of a self-contained neighborhood. Colleges aren’t the only important factor.

      9. Yeah, the point here is that Highline is really the only trip generator anywhere nearby. That’s why it matters. At Northgate and Bellevue etc, the local CC is just one of many possible draws.

      10. That was some remarkably tasty chum you threw out there, Sam. Did you get it at PetSmart?

    3. If hard won tax dollars are to be used in a measure twice, cut once scenario, it is my opinion and that of several of my friends that to make light rail feasible into the long, long future that it serve the people along Highway 99. To do something quick, the I-5 alignment, would only as many say make it easy to get out of the communities it bypasses and would only operate as a transit system to get to Seattle. But the investment should have as its goal the ability to have better employment/transportation/shopping opportunities without going to Seattle. If we are going to raise the communities of South King County, then the proper decision must be made so that the impact is felt by all of the people most of the time rather than some of the people all of the time.

  2. Easy. It shouldn’t. Especially not in its current form (tram on steroids). This is not the right mode to be sending 30 miles outside of Seattle, and there is no reason why Federal Way should even be considered at this point, given that West Seattle, Ballard, etc. haven’t even gotten their system.

    I guess politics will be politics.

    1. None of the money from Seattle (or North King) is being spent on LR to Federal Way. And none of the funding from Federal Way can be spent in Seattle.

      1. I think these two criticisms often get conflated. I took Jason’s comment to mean that maybe the South King County subarea should think about maximizing the utility of its dollars by investing in BRT and other improvements instead of slow light rail. I think everyone understands that NKC money is not going to build light rail in SKC.

      2. Federal funds are fungible (say that 5 times fast) so Fed money gained by Seattle projects can be used in Federal Way, though in reality it seems that ST wants to use all the Fed money for the light rail to Everett.

      3. How are federal funds, awarded to one project on the merits and explicitly denied to others that lack merits, possibly fungible?

      4. @dp,
        As far as I know, it is because it is awarded to the agency, and follows a “last in first out” policy. So ST got money because ULink is a good project, but that doesnt mean that ST has to actually pay that particular money towards that contract. If they pay out on a different contract first, the money goes there.

      5. Right, and then they only owe the Feds their money back if they fail ever to complete the awarded project, or change it in a way that renders it substantially less useful.

        Still, there would appear to be no way that Fed money awarded on the merits of a high-impact urban project can be shuffled to Everett, without explicitly violating either FTA stipulations or the self-imposed sub-area equity constraints that have been heretofore claimed as sacrosanct.

      6. But Fed money for Ballard Link could free up North King’s other funds to loan to Snohomish or Pierce to help complete the spine. Shudder the thought, and that’s pure speculation from me and I hope I’m wrong, but that seems possible at this point.

      7. But not without setting the walls of sub-area equity on fire, no?

        Like you, I’m imagining the Ballard subway getting cut-cornered into uselessness — “now with only one stop!” — so as to get trains to Paine or no apparent reason. At that point, who cares if Snohomish plans to pay us back? The damage is done.

        (See also: First Hill; 130th; East Link trackage Seattle magnanimously “decided” to pay for in the exact amount of the dumb Bellevue tunnel…)

        And anyway, with a region-wide ST4 holding an approximately 0% chance of passage, how would Snohomish ever get that repayment money at all?

      8. Let’s face it, Federal Way Link is extremely unlikely to qualify for any sort of outside funding.

        While ‘loans’ between sub-areas are possible lets keep any such talk out of the discussion lest that be used to take money from North King for completing the spine in ST3 to Tacoma and Everett.

        At this point Federal Way Link is a done deal, the important thing is to ensure it is as useful an investment as possible.

        To that end I say ‘fuck DesMoines’ and vote for an all 99 alignment.

    2. Ding ding ding!

      Instead of dithering over the best way to waste billions of dollars on ludicrously overbuilt projects-to-nowhere, our efforts should instead be spent on unshackling Seattle from the suburban-focused, PSRC-fueled myopia. We need to let Seattle pay for the infrastructure it needs, and we need to hold subareas accountable to the demand they place on other subareas.

      1. End the equal-tax-rate regime.
      2. Require subarea transfers proportional to ridership generation.

      1. A big part of this is making PSRC estimates better. I grew up in Kirkland, and I can tell you that Totem Lake will never ever EVER be an urban center. Claiming it will absorb growth because it is “zoned” to ignores the fact that so few people like it there that stores cant stay open. Totem Lake getting slated for more money than Ballard for growth reasons is just bad planning. Because it doesnt reflect what is actually happening or likely to happen.

      2. I agree on Totem Lake. Canyon Park, Lynnwood, Silverdale, Tacoma Mall, Lakewood, Federal Way, SeaTac, Tukwila, Overlake, and even Northgate all face similar challenges. The boosters think all they need is the right zoning and they’ll get Downtown Bellevue or Downtown Redmond. Now some of those areas will increase in density but the question is will that density be walkable or will it be like Santa Clara? That is an open question even for Northgate.

      3. I see no reason why Northgate can’t be like downtown Bellevue or downtown Redmond. Neither of those places are like downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill or the UW. They are very new, and not as dense as they appear, if I’m not mistaken. I seem to remember someone saying that South Lake Union actually has more floor space (and this was a while ago). That seems surprising given the height of some of the buildings in Bellevue, but not shocking. There are some very tall buildings, but the area has very wide streets along with plenty of parking lots.

        Northgate is “walkable” in the sense that there are lots of amenities worth walking to (plenty of restaurants, shops, etc.). I’m talking the streets, not the mall (although the mall has some of that as well). There is also a nice library and a couple of nice little parks (although not as nice as the one in downtown Bellevue). But the biggest strength of Northgate (over the other locations you mentioned) is its location. It is only about three miles to the UW (and half that to Greenlake or Roosevelt). Link will only make that distance seem smaller. But Link is not a transporter; so while Northgate will seem really close to the UW, Lynnwood will not.

        With that being said, it is not pleasant walking through Northgate, but neither is it pleasant walking through much of Bellevue. More could be done (alleyways and other passageways could be improved) but it isn’t the end of the world (as you can tell by seeing all the people walking around).

        There are really two big things holding back Northgate — the zoning and the mall itself. Much of the development is simply being built out to the allowed zoning. Like Roosevelt, the cutoff to single family housing is pretty close to the new development. Unlike Roosevelt, there are a lot of old two and three story buildings here and there. I could see some infill (replacing some of the parking lots with small buildings) but these tend to be popular projects after all the low hanging fruit (e. g. replacing an entire block with a six story building) are done.

        Then there is the mall. There is a bit of employment, but it is not very concentrated. The owners are making pretty good money, but they could make a lot more if the city allowed big buildings. But my guess it would have to be a substantial jump (twenty or so floors) before it makes sense to do away with the current system. That could easily change the dynamics. Right now it is a mall, and as a mall, they need parking to keep their tenants. But if you build a big building (or a set of big buildings) then replacing the parking lot with a garage (typically underground) starts looking really appealing. So I could easily see “Downtown Bellevue” at Northgate. After all, it would actually be better connected to the knowledge centers in the area (UW and downtown) than downtown Bellevue.

      4. “The boosters think all they need is the right zoning and they’ll get Downtown Bellevue or Downtown Redmond.”

        They’re also very late to the game. They should have done it in 2000 so they could have gotten some of the money from the real-estate bubble. Instead that money went to single-family houses in cul-de-sacs that increased the cities’ per-capita expenses.

    3. “…outside of Seattle…”

      Gee the hubris of people on this blog!

      The world does not revolve around Seattle, Mr. Ptolemy.

      This route is not just a hop on and go to Seattle route.

      The Kent Valley is a living, breathing economy and social scene with its own independent lifestyle.

      This route might encourage the use of of, and travel between, South King resources.

      One thing bothers me though…I didn’t seem much reference to parking.

      Someone like me would want to use this to go to Mariners game at night (Obviously I would just prefer if they ran Sounder every 3 hours all day long…or put a hydrogen tram from China on the tracks for off-peak light rail service), and I wouldn’t want to stand around in the dark and cold for bus service after a 45 minute train ride. So I need parking. And if you look at the rich use of Tukwila Parking, you will see why it’s a necessity.

      1. John, there is a big garage at Angle Lake and another at FWTC. I’m not sure what is proposed for the Highline station or S. 272nd on the 99 alignment in terms of parking. Obviously the alignments that have stations at the KDM P&R and Star Lake P&R would have parking.

      2. There is parking proposed for all Highline/Kent-DesMoines station options as well as all S. 272nd station options.

      3. I agree that Kent is an important, if not the most important region in the area. In some ways this reminds me of how Link skips over Lake City, but goes to Lynnwood. The biggest census block (by far) is Kent, not Federal Way. Likewise, there is a fair amount of employment there (although in a different spot). Connecting the various parts of South King/Pierce County is important, which is why I recommend a freeway transit center. You can’t get a rail line to serve all the big spots (as mentioned, it won’t serve the biggest — which are in Kent) so the best you can do is build something that will compliment bus service. The best way to do that is to build a freeway station, make the express buses stop there and you’ve connected various neighborhoods to one another (

        This is also a great way to allow more flexibility with parking. If there isn’t enough parking at the train station, then there should be enough by the bus routes that run frequently from the various locations. In some cases, you wouldn’t bother with parking, since the bus would be close enough to walk. But if not, you drive to a closer park and ride (e. g. you would drive to a park and ride in Kent) or just drive to a nearby street and park. To make that work, though, folks need to be more aware of the options. I think a lot of people give up on Tukwila and don’t realize that there are buses that serve it at various times in the evening (and that it is easy to park close to those buses).

      4. “Kent is an important, if not the most important region in the area.”

        It’s the Lake City of South King County. Most of the people and activity are east of Kent Station. Kent and South King insisted they wanted Sounder, and that’s expensive so it closed off alternative investments. The best thing we can do now is move toward half-hourly Sounder, and get some frequent/fast local buses on KDM/KK Road and 104th so that people can get to Link and across the valley.

      5. “Oh, dahlin’, if you ahen’t just the most wonderful bus sehvice in the whole world, ah could not think of who it mahght be!

        (Kent-Des Moines station complimenting its connecting bus service)

      6. “The world does not revolve around Seattle, Mr. Ptolemy.”

        Except that this is the Seattle metropolitan area, not the Kent Valley metropolitan area. The money, ridership, density, destinations and jobs are mostly concentrated in Seattle. The whole point of building transit is so that it’s easier to connect people with places in a more efficient manner than highways, and centralizing it is in everyone’s best interest. And this comes from a suburbanite (raised in Smokey Point, the northern terminus of “frequent” bus service from CT).

  3. Regarding the Federal Way station location, keep in mind that the route for continuing south to Tacoma has not been selected, so FWLE planning must provide a station location that can support a continuation on either SR 99 or I-5. The most difficult configuration options have been supporting same-corridor continuation because of the geometric difficulties in getting close to FWTC and then back out.

    That said: Given that voter approval does not yet exist to build south of S. 272nd (as provided by ST2), by the time the Tacoma extension planning catches up and a route is selected, it may be possible to revisit the Federal Way location to devise a configuration that hits the most advantageous areas while being able to fully consider where the southbound alignment should go.

    The important takeaway here is that the downtown Federal Way station and alignment options are all just planning at this phase, and there is broad recognition that how these puzzle pieces fit will have to be revisited once the bigger picture becomes clear.

  4. Yes, the zigzagging milk route option is as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s an alignment better suited for a local bus, not a light rail line.

    1. BTW, if the mixed alternative is chosen, I’m going to love the contrast between the train and the express bus. The train will slowly zigzag its way from Federal Way to Seattle, and the bus will quickly and efficiently make a bee-line to downtown.

    2. You’re confusing a bus suffering right-angle turns at stoplights with a grade-separated train. A grade-separated train can zigzag on diagonals without stoplights. That’s how an underground 45th line could serve both Wallingford and Fremont and still have decent travel time.

  5. Based on yesterday’s revelations, I can only assume that the lame-but-not-abysmal ridership estimates in the 20,000-30,000 range are wholly based on insane PSRC distortions of development reality, and that even those riders are likely to prove imaginary once the expensive tracks are in the ground.

      1. But hey, those 3000 employees will each take the train to Seattle ten times a day, right?

        In all seriousness, if even the PSRC’s own charts clearly demonstrate that we should be putting zero stock in the far-flung nodes (a.k.a. malls-to-hot-shit pipeline) model that is the body’s sole theoretical foundation, why are we even still having this conversation, much less funding it?

      2. Because South King wants it.

        Why they want it is a good question.

        Some day I need to better understand the history of these centers. At a local level, it looks like cities are fishing for urban renewal money rather than regional growth. Pick the dumpiest part of town, and tap into a pot of PSRC money. Set a high growth number so that any investment (not just transit) can be justified by all the residents and jobs that are coming along as soon as the mall redevelops.

        There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fix places like Totem Lake and Federal Way. As long as we understand what we are doing is not planning for regional growth.

      3. Mr. Ryan has hit the nail on the head. There is no way that Kirkland’s gov thinks that Totem Lake is where growth will happen in Kirkland. It is obviously happening in other places, like downtown or Juanita Beach. But they dont want to the mall to become true blight, so they need to inject money into it. Doing that with residents money would raise an outcry, because people out there dont like Totem Lake(hence the problem). So they “zone for growth” and get some County money for nothing.

      4. Jon,

        It is a little more complex than that and the politics of each growth center really needs to be understood.

        In addition to grabbing some money to combat blight Totem Lake is a convenient scapegoat for Kirkland. They can point to the zoned capacity there and say “see we’re doing our part to take a share of regional growth”. This without the hard fights they would have withmassive upzones in Downtown, Houghton, or Juanita.

        In the case of Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Tukwilla I think the powers that be honestly think simply by having a spiffy master plan and denser zoning they will be able to recreate Downtown Belllevue or Downtown Redmond.

        In the case of Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Redmond, Downtown Renton, and Overlake the growth is actually happening (in some cases faster than the PSRC models) and the question is more one of how to manage it to get the desired results.

      5. Jon, Chris,

        In (half-hearted) defense of Kirkland government peeps, and perhaps Federal Way too, I would add that the thinking about Totem Lake is somewhat complex.

        Yes, there’s a lot of NIMBYism in popular thinking about Totem Lake. It’s a good way to direct growth away from the ‘nice’ parts of Kirkland. We hear that with every development proposal.

        And the city growth targets do not compute unless there is a major acceleration of growth in Totem Lake. Zoned capacity everywhere else is just too low. At least some of the staff get this, but it’s not yet politically acceptable to confront it.

        But, particularly in government circles, there are a lot of true believers in Totem Lake. Get a catalytic project, and it’ll grow, and there will be lots of jobs and employment. They might not want to live or work in a tower by the freeway themselves, but they sincerely believe others will.

        I hear some of the same thinking in Federal Way. I noted somebody in Federal Way government a while back who thought a park there would resemble New York’s Bryant Park. It’s delusional, but it’s a particularly interesting sort of delusion.

      6. The history of the Regional Growth Centers is tied to the Growth Mangement Act (GMA). The counties have housing targets to hit, given to them by the state Office of Financial Management (OFM). The OFM housing targets are then broken down into the sub-county geographies, in King County’s case by the Growth Management Planning Council, so every city plus the urban and rural unincorporated areas all have individual growth targets (for both housing and jobs). You can look at the King County Countywide Planning Policies for more details.

        GMA also requires that the counties and cities coordinate their planning. This lead to efforts to coordinate regional growth, leading to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), which is part of VISION 2040. The RGS in general desires to focus growth within designated Centers: the Regional Growth Centers and the Manufacturing/Industrial Centers.

        Consequently, regional, county, and city policy is for future growth to be focused in the Centers, and PSRC projects the growth to occur there.

        As to why the Centers are what they are, that varies from city to city. Largely it is a reaction to how to provide the capacity to accommodate growth, but there are many other factors involved beyond that, money being one of them (PSRC reserves a small portion of their transportation funds for projects in Centers, for example).

      7. It’s not that your description is incorrect, Jason, or necessarily conflicts with Chris’s commentary.

        It’s that putting all your eggs in a basket that people find unappetizing — oh, and also the basket is nowhere near the kitchen — is a terrible approach, and that is what we’re getting from our current hierarchy.

      8. Thanks Jason, that makes sense, but it also shows a very poor, or at least outdated public policy approach. It makes sense to concentrate the growth (to avoid sprawl) but forcing suburban cities to accept growth — to encourage them to grow in employment as well as population — will only likely increase sprawl (or make it more difficult to manage). This seems to be a very poor approach, given the trend, which is towards more growth in cities.

        If the approach is kept (each city or area needs to have a certain amount of growth) then I suggest a “cap and trade” model. If Kirkland doesn’t want to grow inside their downtown (and no one wants to build at Totem Lake) then pay Seattle or Bellevue for the growth. Seattle, in turn, could put the money into transportation, and everyone wins. Now folks in Kirkland don’t need to drive to work, even if they live in a non-downtown area of Seattle or Bellevue (like Ballard).

        But, as was already said, there is a lot going on here — the growth management act is not the only reason these areas are being promoted. But I find it difficult to see how, in this case, the act is doing what it was designed to do (discourage sprawl and encourage more centralized growth).

      9. Given the comments about PSRC on this post and the last one that interested me it’s clear that folks here think that PSRC is at least misguided if not harmful. I’d be interested in seeing a post that analyzed PSRC and explained their perceived shortcomings.

        This is not intended as a troll. I honestly would be interested to know more and I think this is actually relevant to the “density” portion of STB’s mission.

        While I can respect the answer “do your own f*ing research”, I’m realistically not going to. I’d love to see someone publish an analysis of PSRC, and it might even influence the real influential (e.g., city representatives, transit planners) who read this blog. But I’m not going to take the time to do it myself.

      10. Matthew’s article raised some critical issues, and it’s worth following up on them in later articles. “Do your own f*ing research” is fine for an individual but it’s not going to make the bulk of the public do research, or even the majority of transit fans, and it’s not going to persuade people to whatever position STB prefers.

      11. I don’t think anyone here would default to “do your own f*ing research”.

        I’ve long known that the PSRC was a bafflingly insular cadre of willful know-nothing nincompoops, but it’s actually news to me that their “projections” need to be treated as sacrosanct for the sake of finite regional transportation planning.

        That is truly insane. Accepting that for the sake of “moving forward” involves an indifference to facts and outcomes on the order of “let the oil companies write climate change policy” or “let the Catholic church teach sex ed”.

        I have trouble imagining why a thinking person anywhere on the political or transit-policy spectrums would be willing to proceed on the basis of near-fraudulent data and growth/usage modeling.

        So yeah, I would love to see someone with an insider’s history of the PSRC and ST’s adherence to its numbers write an exposé on how it came to be dominated by broken thinking, and what can be done to fix it.

      12. My description is extremely generalized, but the bigger point that I only implied before is that politics is driving this.

        GMPC is composed of elected officials from the county and various cities. While it has dedicated staff for assistance and technical help, staff aren’t the ones making the decisions. Because of the nature of how the growth targets have been developed and how the Regional Growth Strategy is shaped, it is not and should not be considered a technical exercise; it is an expression of policy.

        To change this, you would run up against the same issues confronting Sound Transit when it comes to governance, especially concerning subarea equity.

      13. AP, Ross, Mike, d.p.,

        Perhaps Erica could be convinced to take this on. She’s really good at the sort of muckraking and research it would require.

      14. Do you just select from a grab bag of vaguely related phrases you’ve heard, or do you ever have a remotely valid point?

      15. If you want to know why the municipalities make the choices they do, spend some time at their council meetings.

        You could learn a lot.

        Follow the money.

        Citizens cost towns and cities money.
        Business generate money.

        Guess which businesses are the biggest contributors to their coffers?

      16. You are kidding, aren’t you?

        A quick glance on Google shows about 7 of them.

        Never mind.
        As I said in the other thread,
        I am in awe.

      17. Oooh! 7 isolated single-story installations around a giant cloverleaf.

        Well, I’m sold! Break out the TBMs, everybody! Jim has located the epicenter of the future!

      18. Anyway… I’d love to see Erica do a deep probing of how the PSRC came to (dys)function with such disdain for fact-based planning that might in any way serve its stated goals of healthy growth management.

        I love how incorruptible Erica is, and how unafraid to challenge “authority”-derived presumptions. I do suspect that she may still need a crash course in the principles of functional mass transit, since her first inauspicious foray into this forum involved a misplaced defense of paper-transfer-hoarding hipsters whose “financial circumstances we should not judge”.

        Still, Chris is right that she’s good at pulling away bureaucratic curtains.

      19. “Oooh! 7 isolated single-story installations around a giant cloverleaf.”

        Actually, most all of them are 2 story, with ample parking.

  6. I think SR-99 is better overall, and would prefer the FWTC be served via 99. There’s more potential for TOD and the routing would not have to double back on its way south to Tacoma. Like Zach said, ridership deltas are minimal between the options, but cost, TOD and travel time are variables that can be optimized here.

    Link is meant to be a system dedicated to speed and capacity. Why slow it down with a meandering alignment and additional stops that cannibalize ridership from existing stations?

    1. The thing is “ridership deltas” are not “zero between the options”.

      Oh, sure, the stupid PSRC models which entirely ignore the tremendous opportunities for nodes along SR99 say there is no difference, but it’s bad planning exacerbated by political ass-kissing.

  7. I hope you’ll indulge what might be a dumb question… Is it at all possible, with the current configuration and planned additions, to mix local and express trains on the same line? With careful and clever planning, would it be at all possible for some trains to make fewer stops, maybe passing another train stopped at a station by transferring to the opposite tracks before a station, continuing on and then transferring back after the station?

    The reason I ask is that with all the stops of current light rail, it’s fine for when my daughter and I want to ride the rails as part of an afternoon of hanging out – the train ride is part of our adventure. But with all the stops, I can’t see it as a viable alternative to my car as a way to commute.

    Please don’t flame, I’m asking to learn.

    1. James: Very unlikely.

      Crossovers are spaced with intent to minimize delays to bidirectional operations at peak periods. Given the system configuration of two main tracks, ST wouldn’t be able to operate local and express trains in the same direction without delaying trains running in the opposite direction.

      There would also need to be massive ridership demand to support such operations, and the only area in the current system which might achieve such volume is north of downtown.

      1. Yes, but there’s enough land in South King that if a mostly I-5 alignment were chosen, it could be triple tracked, yes? I know no one’s thinking along those lines, but I wonder if it’d be operationally feasible to basically give peak-period Link trains from Tacoma a ‘queue jump’ as it were, but only between Tacoma and 272nd. Otherwise ~72 minutes to Seattle via Link will be quite the bait-and-switch for those who voted for ST3 only to see their 590s disappear.

      2. As a Seattle resident, I’ll be pushing hard for STIII. But if I lived in Tacoma and worked in Seattle, I’d can’t imagine voting for it, unless I had some strong reason to believe my 590s would be protected. We’re asking these commuters to shoot themselves in the foot; to pay lots of money for the privilege of giving up 100 or more hours a year to a longer commute.

      3. “Otherwise ~72 minutes to Seattle via Link will be quite the bait-and-switch for those who voted for ST3 only to see their 590s disappear.”

        ST3 is not on the ballot yet. There’s plenty of time to inform people of Link’s travel time so they can make an informed decision. ST should put it in its brochures, and the Pierce County activists and city councils should explicity acknowledge that Link will be slower than the 59x or Sounder. Then we can have a proper discussion about the merits of extending Link to Tacoma anyway.

        Some in Tacoma want Link not so much for commuting to Seattle but to attract jobs and workers to Tacoma (presumably mostly from south King County and south Seattle, where the 59x/Sounder are not competitive). The same thing may be happening to a lesser extent in Federal Way.

        All of this keeps raising the question what will happen to the 59x and 57x. Will the remain, disappear, remain peak hours, or what? ST really needs to answer this before the ST3 vote because it’s a material issue. It’s more critical here than in previous segments because of Link’s slowness.

      4. Well said, Mike. I think that is the key — let everyone know what Link will do, and let them figure out what they want. I agree with the original post, though — if folks push for Link to Tacoma with a cut to express bus service, lots of folks will campaign against it.

    2. But with all the stops, I can’t see it as a viable alternative to my car as a way to commute.

      Depends on where you are trying to commute from / to. Federal Way Transit Center already has express buses to downtown. Do you use those to get where you are going? Slow, stops everywhere service going north from Federal Way is provided by RapidRide and if you were headed north along 99 from there that is what you would use now. When I have taken that particular route (which, as you can tell from my STB name, isn’t that often) it seemed pretty busy.

      Which of those is what you currently use when your car isn’t available?

      What the area along here needs is a faster alternative to RapidRide, and so really Highway 99 makes the most sense for trying to provide a faster alternative to what is already there.

      1. Federal Way Transit Center already has express buses to downtown.

        Not if ST purges them in a vain and desperate attempt to make Link ridership appear less disastrous, they don’t.

      2. Glenn,

        d.p. is right. ST staff and official documents state very clearly that “ST Express service is interim until rail service can be provided.” Stupid though it is, the 590’s to Seattle will go away.

      3. The schedule clearly says that the 577 is 37 minutes from Pike St to FW at 5pm (and same at 9pm on the 578), while Link gets to SeaTac at that time and its Federal Way estimate is around 52 minutes (37 + 3 to Angle Lake + 12 to Federal Way).

        Likewise to Tacoma Dome, The 590 66 minutes at 5pm (44 minutes at 9pm on the 594). Sounder is 52 minutes. Link’s estimate I don’t have on hand but maybe 70-80 minutes (52 to Federal Way + 18-28 to Tacoma).

        That means Link is 15 minutes slower peak and worst-case 36 slower off-peak compared to existing alternatives. Against that, buses get stuck in accidents and traffic jams several times a week, which can turn a 50-minute trip to 1:15 or 2 hours or more, especially if you include wait time for a late/no-show bus. And traffic congestion will increase over time, thus making the buses slower.

        A 15+ minute handicap is arguably enough to justify keeping the buses peak hours. The statement Anakandros quoted is a general statement, which has to be applied on a case-by-case basis. The 550 and 512 are clearly not justified after Link, but whether the 545 and 522 are justified is more of a judgment call, to say nothing of the 271, 101, and 150 (which are also not ST so they don’t fall under that policy).

      4. Mike,

        If they’re wise enough to keep the expresses in the peaks, then it won’t be a disaster. The truth is that folks who ride transit off-peak are either poor, barred from having a license by DUI conviction, or people like us who prefer transit “just because” fill in the blank.

        But we’re not the majority of people by a very long shot; most folks when given the opportunity will drive for the convenience and flexibility it gives.

        So, really, axing the expresses in the off-peak is going to be just “too bad” for the non-choice riders who provide the backbone of off-peak suburban transit ridership.

      5. Way to generalize, Anandakos.

        There are millions of people living in cities whose transit systems are actually designed for mobility that would be surprised to hear they are poor, have a problem with drinking and driving, and/or don’t value their time highly (well actually, they live in places where transit works, so their decision to use transit doesn’t betray any such ridiculousness).

      6. And none of those places bear the slightest resemblance to Federal Way, Shane.

        But that’s exactly the point. By shorting transit to places where transit stands a fucking chance of being roundly useful, in favor of places where it will perform poorly at any hour and by any possible metric, you will guarantee that no one has transit good enough to make a healthy, non-limiting life option.

      7. Keeping the buses peak hours avoids a fight with suburban commuters/voters, because peak travel time is their paramount concern and time is money. But that constituency evaporates off-peak, and the remaining people who insist on buses are not numerous enough to sway the vote. Plus, Link’s frequency can almost make up the travel-time difference, and Link’s neighborhood stations can more than make up for it. Because people’s actual time burden is waiting+riding, and long waits are one of the top three turn-offs to transit. So if you lose 15 minutes traveling but you save 20 minutes waiting, you can leave exactly when you want and still be ahead. Plus you save by taking Link closer to your destination (in southeast Seattle or northeast Seattle), so whether you transfer to a bus or not, you’re still ahead compared to taking a bus from downtown. For instance, if you’re going from Federal Way to Greenwood, would you rather take the 577+5 (tx Pine St) or Link+48 (tx Roosevelt Station)?

      8. I agree with much of Mike said, but I would add that we really don’t know what the future holds as far as bus speed. If the state decides to go “full HOT 3” on that road (which is about to be all HOV 2 from Seattle to Tacoma) then the buses could get a lot faster. Add a ramp to the SoDo busway, and you are grade separated from Tacoma to downtown Seattle, If a second transit tunnel is built and Tacoma is allowed to use it, then it would be extremely fast.

        Of course, we are really talking about a commuter rail type of trip. As it is right now, buses go quite often from Tacoma, and it is not like the ST expresses run through various neighborhoods before they get to the freeway. So improving Sounder seems like the best option. Run it a lot more often, and see if you can run it faster. It suffers a bit from the old tracks (which head south and east before heading north) but this is one area where more train speed would be helpful. I have no idea how much that would cost, but there are miles between stops, so a higher maximum speed could make a difference (unlike light rail). It is also where the idea of an “express” might make sense. There are five stops in between, so skipping four of them (keeping Kent) might save a few minutes (although I don’t know how much).

        Personally, if I was a Tacoma commuter (and not part of the Tacoma Chamber of commerce) that is what I would push for. But I would also probably push for more express bus service (new routes to other destinations, like the East Side).

      9. “I would add that we really don’t know what the future holds as far as bus speed. If the state decides to go “full HOT 3″ on that road (which is about to be all HOV 2 from Seattle to Tacoma) then the buses could get a lot faster.”

        It could be a lot better, but what they’re projecting is that it’ll be a lot worse. Up to 30% slower than current. This looks like sandbagging to me. Assume we make no investment in bus, and eventually even a slow train will be faster. But I don’t know how expensive the bus investments would be.

      10. “buses go quite often from Tacoma”

        Peak hours. Off-peak the 594 is 20-minute midday, 30-minute evenings and weekends. The 574, for whatever it’s worth as a Link extension, is 30-minute daytime, 60-minute evenings, and has weird start/end hours.

      11. Mike, you’re still assuming instantaneous trains.

        Not gonna happen. You don’t even need to peep Portland and Sacramento and Denver to know that’s a fraud. Just look at our primary model and inspiration: What’s the midday frequency like on BART?

      12. I was in Portland last weekend, and it’s quite depressing. 20 minute Sunday frequency on all lines and needless chokepointing of everything onto the Steel Bridge. I’m curious to see if bus/streetcar/MAX joint ops on the new Tillikum Bridge will bunch in the same way.

        But Portland’s weakness are systematic and reflected throughout the network. Here, no matter the myriad flaws, our core line (IDS to Northgate) will always have great frequency and high speed, something PDX can’t touch.

      13. Did you happen to notice that most lines are running at 35-minute headways by 7 or 8pm, before shutting down as early as 10:30?

      14. Also, Shane was chasing the true-rail-faith (yet demonstrably false) presumption that such core frequencies will naturally extend to wherever the “spine” goes, no matter how much of an unsupportable money sink that might prove to be.

        10- or even 15-minute all-day Fed Way trains are not happening.

      15. Shane,

        You are right; I left out the qualifier “in the suburbs” after “people who ride transit in the off-peak” in the first paragraph. There are millions of people who choose to live carless or leave them at home when they don’t absolutely need them living in cities. But few people in the suburbs — and as d.p. points out — that’s where we’re talking about, at least for the next fifty years.

      16. >>

        “buses go quite often from Tacoma”

        Peak hours. Off-peak the 594 is 20-minute midday, 30-minute evenings and weekends. The 574, for whatever it’s worth as a Link extension, is 30-minute daytime, 60-minute evenings, and has weird start/end hours.


        Fair enough, but between the two you still have pretty good service (much better than your average Metro bus). Twenty minute midday seems bad, but not compared to 30 minutes. Besides, this window (the thirty minute section) is actually very small. It doesn’t trail off as quickly as one might assume. There is pretty good frequency for buses that won’t get you to to Seattle by 9:00 (8:33, 8:40, 8:48, 9:00 from the Tacoma Dome to Seattle). Meanwhile the 574, as infrequent as it is, complements the other bus. Arrive at a bad time (say, 1:35 at the Tacoma Dome) for a bus to Seattle and you can take the other bus instead of wait a half hour. Likewise, the reverse direction isn’t that bad either — not great, but not horrible.

        It wouldn’t take much to really improve frequency, either. Compared to a typical Metro bus route (that is a half hour for much of the day) you would only need to add a handful of runs. Improve the speed (via any of the speed improvements I mentioned like HOV 2 to HOT 3) and this would be free. But if not, it would not be a huge expense (unlike the Metro runs). Ten buses a day and you have 15 minute frequency (or better) all day long until ten at night, by my estimation. That is on the 590 alone. You can’t say that with a lot of routes in Seattle. That’s not quite as frequent as the train, but it isn’t much different, either.

      17. d.p.,

        I wasn’t assuming or suggesting high frequencies on worthwhile segments of transit lines should or would be extended to segments that don’t merit such frequencies; I was responding directly to Anandakos’ generalization of off peak transit users, which he has amended.

        My adherence to the “true-rail-faith” is news to me. I don’t remember signing up for that. I care nothing for the mode, which should only be treated as an implement to realize a mobility goal. In this region, we seem to struggle to come up with clear and attainable mobility goals, resulting in our let’s-do-everything-poorly solutions.

      18. My apologies, Shane. You are absolutely correct.

        It was Mike above, and a few others below, who leaned on that 100% unfounded argumentative crutch about pervasive very high frequencies naturally following wherever rail goes.

        And it seems we’re all on the same page that the Über Zersiedelung is not where rational-basis-level choice transit usage thrives.

      19. The 594 could actually have quite a bit better frequency with the current hours. Even though Seattle and Tacoma are far about, the actual time spent on the freeway between those two destinations is only about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, another 35 minutes is spent crawling from one end of downtown Seattle to the other end, another 20 minutes or so on surface streets within downtown Tacoma. And that’s on top of the trip to Lakewood which carries far fewer riders than the Tacoma->Seattle segment, while often getting stuck in traffic (due to lack of I-5 HOV lanes).

        If the 594 could be streamlined to go just from Tacoma Dome Station to 4th and Pine, with no stops in between, (without going through downtown Tacoma and Lakewood), you could boost the frequency from 20-30 minutes to 10-12 minutes, while still leaving enough service hours leftover to run Tacoma Link every 6 minutes all-day (to make up for the 594 not serving downtown Tacoma), while still running the 574 between Lakewood and SeaTac.

        Late nights, you could even combine it with the 577 (adding a stop in Federal Way) to allow 15-minute frequencies to be maintained through midnight.

        And, if another $2 billion could be poured into more bus/sounder frequency, rather than extending the train, they could do even better.

      20. In fact, perhaps the worst part of the 594 is that those just trying to get from Tacoma to Seattle have to wait for a bus that’s 20+ minutes late due to bad traffic from Lakewood, all to carry a mere 5 people through that bad traffic. Again, the solution is better routing and scheduling of the 594, not a train line.

      21. What to do between Lakewood and Tacoma is a whole different subject than that of Federal Way, but in my opinion the solution to the 594 issues south of Tacoma should be and would be a train line.

        When they upgrade the Tacoma to DuPont line for Cascades service, you will have a passenger capable line for that entire distance. Put a DMU on it so that the core piece of the route doesn’t ever have to get onto and off the freeway. My preference would be something as cheap as possible to operate, such as the diesel “light rail” cars used on the New Jersey Transit RiverLINE and a few other places.

        Sure, now the riders south of Tacoma will have to transfer if they are going to Seattle. So they broke up a one seat ride. However, without all the folderol of getting onto and off the freeway multiple times, you’ve probably saved what? 10 minutes of operating time? People might be willing to put up with a transfer if it actually saves them time in the end.

    3. It’s a very reasonable question, because without an express, why would any non-foamer hand a chunk of their precious time over to Sound Transit for the joys of avoiding rubber tires, via a car or 577/578? That the answer is no tells you all you need to know about this project and its fanciful projections.

      1. ST apparently believes that all their express buses are interim uses awaiting either rail or BRT conversion, and has gone on the record as such, believing that long-distance riders will fancy the all-day frequency and not care about the increased travel times. I think it stretches all credibility to think that all Tacomans who use the 590s today will happily tour Rainier Beach on their daily commute for the privilege of riding rails, thus my arguments that Link is only worth it if the intermediate trip pairs are worth it, which can only be made so by aggressive suburban development. Link will be faster than RapidRide A by a factor of four between FW and Angle Lake, but slower than the 590s by a factor of 1.5-2 depending on traffic. It’s a single tool that’s being asked to be all things to all people, and it will fail longer-haul peak riders badly. Off-peak it’s probably a wash. A train that leaves every 10 minutes and takes 54 minutes from Federal Way to Westlake is fairly competitive with an express bus that leaves every 30 minutes and takes 40 minutes. Including average wait time, travel time on Link would be 59 minutes, and 55 minutes on the 578.

      2. They’re saying that travel times to Seattle will be up to 30% longer in 2035 than they are today. They’re also projecting reduced service levels to places other than Seattle in the no-build alternative.

        If you buy that, then the rail starts to look a lot more competitive with ST Express. I didn’t see an explanation for why they can’t mitigate the decline in bus performance. My, maybe naive, assumption is that this would be fixable for less than a billion and change.

        page 4 of this:

      3. Maybe by then they will have made enough improvements in the BNSF main line that an express Sounder and Cascades will be time competitive with current the express buses? That line is arrow straight in a lot of places.

      4. Of course, the $2 billions to extend link could buy a whole lot of trips on the 577/578. You could run the bus all day every 10 minutes for 50 years for what the Link extension would cost.

      5. If you want a 80 MPH train between Seattle and Tacoma with only a handful of stops, Sounder is the line you should be looking at, not Link. Link will never be that line.

        I would love to hear people’s suggestions for Sounder improvements that they think should be prioritized, but I haven’t heard many lately. For lack of any better suggestions, I don’t see any downside to continuing to connect neighborhoods to Link.

      6. The most obvious Sounder improvement is to simply run it more often, gradually extending the schedule to include parts of the midday and early evening. That – not Link to Tacoma – is what Pierce County should be pushing for in ST 3.

      7. “ST apparently believes that all their express buses are interim uses awaiting either rail or BRT conversion, and has gone on the record as such, believing that long-distance riders will fancy the all-day frequency and not care about the increased travel times.”

        That is a general regulation that’s being twisted all out of context. Buses that are comparable to Link are not justified, meaning same destination and similar travel time. But any rail line at any speed will be competitive for some trip pairs but not for others. It’s a judgment call where the cutoff is. We can’t assume that that regulation necessarily means that Link is a 100% substitute for the 59x and 57x and they must be deleted or truncated. That’s where the ST board needs to decide and legal challenges can second-guess them. The ST rep at the meetup said the 59x are on shaky legal ground because of Sounder, but that has been going on for two decades and they aren’t cut off yet, and it surely doesn’t apply off-peak when Sounder isn’t running. But in Federal Way’s case there is no Sounder; Auburn is not close enough unless they really beef up the 181.

      8. Also, not everybody is going to downtown Seattle. Some are going to UW or Capitol Hill, where Link is faster than transferring to a second bus that’s much slower than the 59x or 57x. As Pacific Highway and southeast Seattle get built up and Mt Baker becomes a job center, people will have more reason to go to those places from Federal Way and Tacoma. So the 59x’s and 57x’s travel time to downtown is not the only factor.

      9. Sounder simply doesn’t have the capacity currently to handle all peak riders of the 59x buses.

        Sound Transit could try to force peak 59x riders on Sounder but they would have a lot of pissed off ridership for both services getting back in their cars.

      10. Sounder has a huge amount of capacity, but it lacks economical operation.

        Sounder takes over pretty much the entire main line in both directions when it operates, so adding one more train really wouldn’t impact the BNSF that much, but you can bet that operating just one more train, even if it is between current trains already in the timetable, would probably be billed quite significantly over the actual impact cost.

        I don’t see too much in the way of economical solutions, but BNSF might be willing to sell off their main line for the price that is being spent on building long distance Link lines. If SoundTransit has as a stated goal to replace express buses with rail, then well and good, but that means waking up to the reality that Metrolink in Los Angeles and others trying to do this with regional main line trains have had to buy the freight railroad main line, in order to operate as they see fit.

      11. How to improve Sounder ?

        > Being on-time would be nice, it averages 5 to 10 minutes late in the PM by the time it reaches Puyallup.

        > Pierce transit better aligning their bus timetables, its hit and miss.

      12. No, really, Mike. ST’s power players are on record as not viewing themselves as a multi-modal agency. They see bus services as stopgaps. Rail über alles. Manifest spinestiny. Moar moneys.

        Results? What are those?

      13. So why are the 59x still running? By your logic ST would have been eager to to delete them years ago.

        The main impediments to half-hourly Sounder are: vehicles and operating costs, BNSF track leases or a separate passenger track, and a rising number of freight trains. The first issue is minor, the second is hugely way expensive, and the third could block it if there’s no dedicated passenger track.

      14. The ‘solution’ to the Sounder problem is many fold. The long term plan for Cascades goes over this some but the short version:

        1. Government at some level buys out the BNSF mainline between Seattle and Tacoma.
        2. The public pays for upgrades to the UP line between Seattle and Tacoma (signaling, second track, grade separation).
        3. BNSF is granted sufficient trackage rights to their old main line to serve customers along the line, access branch lines, and run trains over Stampede pass.

        Expensive? Yes. However worth comparing to new ROW or continuing to buy slots from BNSF for Cascades and Sounder service.

      15. @Chris — It also seems to be a much better long term solution for Tacoma to Seattle travelers than Link. To be fair, Tacoma is in a bit of a bind. They aren’t big enough to easily justify a huge investment in commuter rail (they aren’t Baltimore). But if you can’t justify a huge investment in commuter rail, and you sit a long ways away from the next biggest city (with only one, rather minor destination in between) than it is awfully hard to justify a huge investment in light rail either. A trip from city to city will just take too long, and getting people from one set of suburbs to Tacoma hardly seems worth the cost.

        Buses travel quite often from Tacoma to Seattle, even outside of peak. So midday, it is by far the fastest way to go. The HOV 2 lanes can be switched to HOV 3 or HOT 3. They may have to be switched because of the mandate connected with the construction (that they maintain a certain speed). A ramp can be built (and is on the drawing board) from the HOV lane to the SoDo busway. All of this means that buses can continue to serve Tacoma quite well — way better than light rail for this purpose.

        But this is a commuter rail type of trip. The buses aren’t going through the neighborhoods, then getting on the freeway. They are simply going city to city, the way a commuter rail does. Likewise, there are a fair number of people riding it (I’m guessing). So while the proposal is bound to be expensive, it if isn’t too expensive, it makes a lot of sense for the area. I would definitely figure out how much it costs to by the lanes from BNSF, but I would also not assume that it is the best deal. It may be that just running buses is the best way to do things.

      16. Improving the Seattle-Tacoma heavy rail corridor isn’t just about Tacoma commuters. It is also about improving frequency and speed for Cascades as well as serving the cities between Tacoma and Seattle (namely Kent) with fast and frequent transit.. Freight mobility plays into it as well (supposedly once the upgrades are done there will be more freight capacity than there is currently).

        At some point it is worth comparing the cost of building light rail to Tacoma along with buying additional slots for both Cascades and Sounder to what it would take to just buy out BNSF and upgrade the UP tracks.

      17. A train that leaves every 10 minutes and takes 54 minutes from Federal Way to Westlake is fairly competitive with an express bus that leaves every 30 minutes and takes 40 minutes.

        I’m aware that this is a common assumption among transit policy wonks, but I can’t stress how strongly I disagree with it as a transit user. Frequency that makes spontaneous trips possible is great, and I appreciate it when I have it, but for me, that’s primarily for shorter, in city trips. If I’m taking a 25 mile trip that’s going to consume the better part of an hour, I’m much more likely and willing to plan the trip around a schedule. As a rider, 1/2 hour frequency is a small price to pay for a 25% faster ride on a trip of this length.

      18. As a savvy user of real-time info apps, I’m with you. I just meant for a random person showing up, it’s a bit more of a wash. I’m trying to look at any bright side I can. :)

      19. Some are going to UW or Capitol Hill, where Link is faster than transferring to a second bus that’s much slower than the 59x or 57x.

        Why would you take a slow local? Why not just transfer to Link downtown?

      20. Buying out BNSF would be best but it would take at least five times more money than ST3, or a major state contribution. The same state which, by the way, has been mulling over building dedicated passenger tracks from Seattle to the Oregon border someday. That would be in the ballpark of buying out BNSF. But that “someday” is not even scheduled and the Legislature is not moving on it, so who knows when/if it might happen.

      21. “If I’m taking a 25 mile trip that’s going to consume the better part of an hour, I’m much more likely and willing to plan the trip around a schedule.”

        That’s you. I don’t want to constantly consult a schedule, plan my life around it, or waste time day after day because the bus/train isn’t ready when I am. Knowing the schedule allows you to wait at home rather than at the station, but you’re still waiting and maybe can’t do anything productive. And those minutes add up day after day.

      22. Commuters who make exactly the same trip every day have a much higher tolerance for infrequent scheduled service than other transit riders.

        It’s the urban corridors [i.e. short distance trips] that demand frequent service so one can spontaneously get around without needing to reference a schedule.

      23. Also, infrequent service makes it less competitive with driving. Freeway entrances and arterial entrances don’t open once every 30 minutes for one minute.

      24. The tolerance to infrequency is inversely proportional to the inherent “commitment” of the trip.

        If you’re heading from Federal Way to Seattle, you aren’t going to return for hours. Not even if you forgot a change of clothes or that important document.

        Short-haul trips need to permit spontaneity to be competitive. Commute-length trips need to compete on something else, like ease (not having to park) and reliability (HOV lanes), but they need not leave every instant.

        Intercity trips need only leave a few times per day, and overseas flights probably only need to leave once.

        These are equally geometric and behavioral facts.

      25. Mike,

        You don’t know buying out BNSF would cost that much. Perhaps there is some middle ground of track improvements that would allow for all-day Sounder service without buying out BNSF completely.

        I make three assumptions here:
        1. There will be improvements to the BNSF corridor to allow 13 Cascades round trips per day between Seattle and Portland.
        2. There will be publicly funded improvements to both the BNSF and UP corridors to improve freight mobility.
        3. Sounder will increase beyond its current frequency requiring additional slots to be bought from BNSF and track improvements to be made.

        In that context it is worth exploring what the cost of further service improvements to allow all-day trains sufficient to replace the 59x and 578 buses would be. This would include buying the corridor. The assumption in a buyout scenario would be improvement of the parallel UP corridor to handle the majority of the current freight traffic.

        Additionally this should be compared to the cost of continuing to use buses to provide off-peak service and what it would cost to improve the speed and reliability of those buses.

        The cost for extending Link between whatever the ST2 terminus ends up being and Tacoma will pay for a lot of upgrades and slots on the Sounder corridor. It will also pay for a lot of speed and reliability improvements for buses. Let’s make sure we’ve fully explored all options.

      26. “Running it [Sounder] more often” is a pipe dream. Congress will never allow Washington State to commandeer one of the freight lines between Black River and Tacoma Junction, and that’s what it would take to run Sounder every half hour all day long and into the evening.

        Supposedly “slots” are in the $40 to $50 million dollar apiece range. OK, let’s take a look. We have 30 minute service from early until about 8:30 departing Tacoma, then resuming around 3:30. So let’s say six hours mid-day plus four hours in the evening. That’s 20 slots times $50 million is $1 billion just for the RIGHT to run (assuming Warren is feeling generous that day).

        Each Sounder train carries what, 500 people, when full? Let’s say 600. But of course they won’t be full in the middle of the day; no transit that doesn’t serve a University or hospital complex is. Let’s be very optimistic and say 350 per train. There are an additional forty runs for the those twenty slots or 14,000 additional riders per day in an extremely optimistic scenario.

        Then of course there is the relatively high operating cost for heavy rail commuter trains vis-a-vis LRT or bus.

        If the county already owned the tracks as is possible back east where railroad ROW is often available, it would make sense. But the $1 billion plus for the slots added to the high cost of commuter rail make it impossibly expensive to justify.

        Better to buy a bunch of fancy Prevosts with wi-fi and movies for the 590 and call it good.

      27. [Sorry, I meant directly proportional. Distance => inherent “commitment” of a block of time => infrequency becomes proportionally palatable.]

      28. That’s you. I don’t want to constantly consult a schedule, plan my life around it, or waste time day after day because the bus/train isn’t ready when I am.

        Sure. But the relevant question is whether people like you are more common, or people like me. I’m willing to take evidence seriously that people like me are a weird minority and people like you are normal, but it seems like it’s more assumed than demonstrated. I certainly know a lot more people like me, which isn’t nothing. But it could be a Pauline Kael on Nixon thing, of course. From what I’ve seen, the assumption that people like you are the norm and people like me are weird appears to be conventional wisdom, not and evidence-based finding.

      29. A lot of the relatively importance of frequency vs. speed has to do with how you get to the station. If you drive to the station, it’s easy to just plan around the bus/train schedule and arrive when you need to arrive. On the other hand, if your only way to the station is a half-hourly bus operated by an agency that historically makes no effort to coordinate schedules with the inter-city route, then much of the speed gains of the express bus get squandered in the form of additional wait time.

        In practice of course, it’s the former case, not the latter case, that dominates most of the riders…

      30. Again, djw, you are very much within the norm here. The option to depart spontaneously is vital for errands and shorter-distance trips — thus the maddening failure of Metro’s long-time 30-minute model for basic in-city services — but known, scheduled services are more than adequate for a 25-mile trip that is guaranteed to keep you in the next county over for most of the day.

        Mike may think that this sliding scale of relative planning doesn’t apply, but it absolutely does even for those who drive. The longer-distance journey will be thought-through far more thoroughly (“Do I need different clothes later? Do I need to feed the cat before I leave? I should check Google Traffic. Don’t forget the keys/reports/tickets!”), whereas the shorter trip involves little more than locking the door.

        Mike may also believe long-distance services can enjoy sufficient aggregate demand to justify their much greater per-passenger expense at similar frequencies to the best urban-level services, but the math says he’s wrong.

      31. People who don’t drive do more than a fixed daily commute and making short-distance trips. They also do longer trips. DP may believe he’s the authority on what the convenience cutoff should be, beyond which people don’t deserve good service, but I think he’s putting it too short. If we’re going to get to a more transit-using and less car-using society, it’s gotta be something that helps the bulk of people get around, not just to where DP thinks they should go but where they want to go.

      32. In a world of infinite resources, I agree with you, Mike. But d.p.’s short trips should be by far the first priority for our limited funding.

      33. I’m sorry, but you are simply wrong here.

        Do you think we should have direct flights from SeaTac to Hong Kong every 10 minutes too? That’s unnecessary, because it is obviously extremely far and so the need for spontaneous frequency is less pressing.

        Non-local transit journeys follow the same basic principle. It’s not about “good” versus “bad” service. There is no functional difference between a 25-mile trip that leaves 5 minutes from now and one that leaves 15 minutes from now. That is less than the leeway you’d need to leave on such a long ride even if you chose to drive.

        Even if ultra-high frequency on long-distance runs were affordable, it wouldn’t be needed. And it isn’t affordable, because very long passenger trips require proportionately higher operating costs.* Unless you reside in Cruickshank’s money-on-trees fantasyland, you’re going to have to accept that urban-level frequencies for non-spontaneous-need distances is both superfluous and irresponsible!

        *(This is why anti-urban transit agencies insist on measuring costs in “passenger miles” rather than the more equitable “passenger trips”. $1/passenger-mile subsidies look less egregious on paper than $25/trip, though for Federal Way it’s the exact same amount.)

      34. They also do longer trips. DP may believe he’s the authority on what the convenience cutoff should be, beyond which people don’t deserve good service, but I think he’s putting it too short.

        You see what you did there? You just defined your preference as “good service.” I–and many people–would consider 40 minute half hourly trips to be better service than 54 minute 10 minute trips. Indeed, that’s what we’re discussing here. That you’re trying to win by definition doesn’t give me more faith your empirical assumption about what most people prefer for trips like this.

      35. I would like to add to d.p.’s point: these close in trips need to be the first converted to rail because of the sheer expense of operating so many buses in stopped traffic. The cost per hour of King County Metro per bus hour isn’t too bad, but the cost per mile is terrible, especially for the trolley buses. This implies to me that a huge amount of money is being spent on buses accumulating expense while stopped.

      36. To re-iterate my previous comment, for all of d.p’s bashing about how Tacoma->Seattle and Federal Way->Seattle trips every 10-15 minutes are not affordable, if you look at today’s schedule, it actually is affordable, if only the routing could be made more efficient.

        If you look at the existing route 594 schedule (, you can observe that, in spite of the 91-minutes of end-to-end travel time, the meat of the trip – the segment between Tacoma Dome Station and SODO Busway and Spokane – takes just 38 minutes. That’s 53 minutes or 58% of the total run time either meandering through downtown Seattle (~23 minutes), meandering through downtown Tacoma (~10 minutes), and traveling between Lakewood and Tacoma (~20 minutes minimum, more if I-5 through Tacoma has traffic).

        If we were willing to abandon the idea that Tacoma needs a one-seat ride to the front door of every inch of downtown Seattle, and that Lakewood needs both the 594 and 574 going to Tacoma (which the ridership does not justify), we could streamline the 594 to operate between Tacoma Dome Station and Westlake Station only, with no intermediate stops. By google, this trip should take 39 minutes plus traffic. Doing the math, this means that Sound Transit, if they wanted to, could double the frequency of the 594 at no additional cost, and make people’s trips a lot more reliable while they’re at it (Have you ever waited at Tacoma Dome Station for a bus that’s 20+ minutes late because I-5 traffic was bad back in Lakewood? If so, you’re not alone).

        And, if the option exists to add a 594 stop in Federal Way, replacing the 577, things get even better. Federal Way now gets frequent service to downtown Seattle for almost no additional cost, while the 574 can now get away with skipping Federal Way and going straight from Tacoma Dome Station to the airport. Meanwhile, service-hours saved out of the 577 could be used to run Tacoma Link more frequently (to mitigate the 594 not going through downtown Tacoma anymore) or, perhaps, to turn the 578 into a true Sounder shadow, with express service down the Seattle/Kent/Auburn corridor. Once an all-day, non-stop, Kent->Seattle bus exists, now truncating the 150 at Ranier Beach starts to become feasible, and the positive feedback loop continues.

      37. 15-minute service is intrinsically more usable than 30-minute service, and is the minimum appropriate level to connect the four largest cities in the metropolis. I did not say we have to have Link to Tacoma. 15-minute buses would be better than the 30-minute 194.

        People do travel longer distances for short things, such as to return a library book or to pick up something from a unique business that has only one location.

      38. Several years ago I spent some time in Poughkeepsie, and traveled to NYC a few times a week, usually off-peak. I heard a lot more gripes about travel time than I did about the hourly frequency of the commuter train. I very sincerely doubt residents of that city would consider 10 minute headways (a 500% frequency increase!) To be worth even a 10-15% travel time increase (which would actually be “faster” using the “assume all riders depart at random times with no schedule consultation” technique), and that’s before even considering the opportunity cost.

      39. djw is absolutely correct, and right to point out that, yet again, real-world precedent trumps a vague beluef that cities dozens of miles apart will suddenly become next door neighbors if only the transit service wills it.

        Outer branches of the London Underground and intercity connections in the Rhine-Ruhr Conurbation run scheduled services for good reason too.

      40. …But what really stews me here is the implicit assumption that countless in-city journeys — where spontaneous mobility is required to make transit competitive for life’s myriad quick trips — will continue to suffer 30-minute baselines and poor network coordination.

        And for the sole reason that Mike and others think rail “feels important enough” to demand 3x more service, regardless of where the fuck it does or doesn’t go, or what kinds of needs it does or doesn’t serve.

        Of course, when push comes to shove and the off-peak trains contain three riders per car, 40-minute DART-like headways will most certainly be on the table for our long-distance follies. Rail: still not magic.

      41. People do travel longer distances for short things, such as to return a library book or to pick up something from a unique business that has only one location.

        Yes, but those are quite a bit more occasional. The year I attended UW while living over 10 miles away from campus, I had a couple such trips–to turn in a paper on time or return an overdue library book on days I otherwise didn’t need to come to campus. I suppose it would have been mildly more convenient to have frequent headways, but I would absolutely not have traded that convenience for a 25% longer journey the 143 other times I came to campus for 5-12 hours at a time, journeys for which consulting a schedule never really felt unreasonable or inconvenient. That such journeys might exist, occasionally, isn’t the relevant question–the question is are they sufficiently common such that devoting massive and scarce resources to making them ever-so-slightly more convenient is a wise choice?

      42. “…But what really stews me here is the implicit assumption that countless in-city journeys — where spontaneous mobility is required to make transit competitive for life’s myriad quick trips — will continue to suffer 30-minute baselines and poor network coordination.”

        I never said that. In-city frequency is vital too, as I’ve said many times. You’re making a false equivalence that Federal Way Link is taking away from Seattle frequency. They’re different subareas, different tax sources, and different agencies. Only if the state someday allows Seattle to raise as much transit taxes as it wants and abolishes subarea equity would you have standing to say they’re competing wtih each other.

        What we need to do is improve the frequency profile across the board. 5 minutes on Seattle trunk routes, 15 minutes on regional trunk routes (including Tacoma and Kent but maybe not Issaquah yet), and 15 minutes on suburban trunks like RapidRide A, Kent East Hill to Des Moines, and south Seattle – Renton – Kent. The only 30-minute routes should be smaller communities around these,

      43. For the last time, more frequent long-haul trains won’t attract a single extra rider, if they are worse than driving in every other way.

        And empty trains won’t do anyone good.

      44. “You don’t know buying out BNSF would cost that much.”

        We know that the value of a business asset is all of its estimated future profits. That’s why I assume it will be high. If BNSF sells its track and uses UP, it would lose the track use fees it gets and it would have to start paying UP to use its track.

      45. Mike Orr: It also means giving up future expenses, such as property taxes on the right of way, track maintenance, etc. BNSF has been willing to part with right of way in Los Angeles for MetroLink operation (at a price of course, but something they still were willing to do). In Oregon they flat out gave the Astoria branch to the state of Oregon as they recognized that having a short line operator out there and ownership of the right of way by the state would actually be a net financial gain for them. They wouldn’t have to maintain the track or pay the taxes on it, but they would get a significant portion of the cars handed over for long distance connection. Increased revenue (due to the short line’s better management of the branch, and thus more traffic overall) with a decrease in expenses (BNSF pays no property taxes or maintenance for the line, but gets its long distance traffic anyway) isn’t a bad deal.

        Also, while doing this would really piss off the BNSF, government ownership also opens up the opportunity of allowing open access on the line. Eg., if Tacoma Rail or Puget Sound and Pacific or even Union Pacific wants to run a freight train to a customer on what is now the BNSF they would be able to do that. It could make for more efficient freight flow because freight could, for example, move from Kent to the Port of Olympia in one train by one company rather than move over Tacoma Rail to a BNSF interchange, then accrue interchange fees (probably about $700 per car or more) for the move from Tacoma to Kent by BNSF.

        Obviously, the freight mix over the line would be more at night than during the day due to the passenger traffic, but ownership and operation by a commuter agency doesn’t necessarily completely exclude freight from the line. It just means operating that freight in a way that reduces the freight interference.

      46. Mike,

        Glenn is right, railroads take interesting deals all the time. At the end of the day they like deals that save them capital and maintenance expenses.

        In addition to the Metrolink buyouts in LA, some level of government bought out the UP ROW that became the Alemeda corridor. They upgraded the tracks and put it in a ditch to eliminate grade crossings. Once the work was complete BNSF and UP got trackage rights over the segment. Now all freight from the ports of LA and Long Beach travels east via the corridor.

        In any case it turns out I was wrong, neither the Cascades plan nor the state’s freight rail plan call for moving more freight on the UP ROW between Black River and Tacoma. The plan calls for some new sidings and additional main tracks in spots. This will allow 9 additional Cascades round trips and accommodate growth in freight traffic.

        In any case there are a number of scenarios where passenger train capacity between Seattle and Tacoma could be significantly increased for much less than just Tacoma/Federal Way link alone would cost, especially given other entities investment in the same corridor.

        As for operating costs using a FRA compliant DMU off-peak could cut operating expenses substantially. (Note the same applies to Sounder North).

        It is also worth looking into if the off-peak transit demand could be solved with buses and what infrastructure improvements would be necessary to make those fast.

      47. Glenn,

        I believe UP has extensive traffic rights on the BNSF between Portland and Seattle. I know at least some of the trains leaving Argo take the BNSF tracks to Tacoma rather than peeling off at Black River. Some of those trackage rights go way back and some are newer as a result of restrictions put on the Class I mergers.

        Similarly I believe Tacoma Rail has trackage rights on BNSF at least between the Port of Tacoma and East Olympia. Not quite your Kent to Olympia scenario, but a more likely one as most rail freight tends to be interstate rather than short distances like Kent to Olympia.

    4. Back to the original question:

      You might be able to do express trains. In the days of long ago there were places that did that very thing. Europe still does.

      However, to make it really worthwhile, you need to attract significant riders to those trains. You might be able to do this at speeds that are faster than driving, but now you are looking at having to move much faster than the current system will allow, not just have fewer stations. SoundTransit doesn’t want to operate above 55 mph (why that number is magic is something you will have to ask them).

      In Europe, what we call light rail cars are perfectly legal to operate on the main line network, and so if faced with this configuration there the most likely solution there would be to drop a link down to the BNSF main line and have the express trains blast through there on the existing line.

      Unfortunately, we still can’t do that in the USA. Here, light rail is light rail and mainline trains are mainline trains, and the two concepts have been separated and are no longer allowed to meet except under very specific rules.

      This being the case, Link can never become competitive with driving for these longer distances. Even a complete non-stop train at 55 mph isn’t going to beat the freeway. Cutting out stations buys you only a matter of minutes, or at least should if the station stop time is reasonable.

      So, in the end pretty much all of the rail transit agencies in the USA have stopped trying to operate express service. Under the conditions here, it just doesn’t buy enough time (and thus riders) to be worth the operational headaches it entails.

  8. Is there any precedent in a major American metro area for this madness–spending billions to build freeway-aligned LR with no walkshed to speak of where the train will not be remotely time-competitive with existing express buses? BART to Pittsburg and Dublin/Pleasanton is wildly inefficient, but at least those trains are actually the fastest way to get to downtown Oakland and San Francisco.

    I wonder what fraction of 577/578 riders are assumed, in these ridership estimates, to be willing and eager to sacrifice 20-30 minutes of their life every day for the privilege of avoiding the horrific indignity of being transported by something with wheels.

    1. “The wheels on the bus go round and round…”

      …oh, not what you meant? ;)

      Anyway, ridership: Forecasting methodology is in the Transportation Technical Report Part 2 (; I’ll leave it to you to read through the gory details of Appendix A.

      All of the DEIS documents are posted here:

    2. The issue to me, as I have grown older, has become less focused on SPEED and more focused on RELIABILITY. Targeted, peak time express buses are always going to be one of the high-speed options. But traffic can still fuck them up big time.

      Rails mean reliability. Rails mean I can trust the scheduled commute time will be accurate 95% of the time – the same guarantee WSDOT makes to SOV commuters. Not the “Once a week it is going to take 3x the scheduled time” mess that bus service often becomes in the Seattle area. Rails also mean future political compromises won’t move or delete my service. Rails mean that when a new young worker plunks down 2-300k on a house in the walkshed, they can feel confident that it will forever have transit service at least equal to the present.

      1. 1. When the “reliable” transit time is 2x-3x the drive time from the moment that traffic drops to reasonable levels, then people will drive. Especially over significant distances. This is well-demonstrated. You are arguing for a billion-dollar (supposedly) multi-modal system to expect virtually zero off-peak riders.

        2. When riders don’t materialize, service is cut. That’s why half the light rail systems in America have 20-minute mid-day headways at very best, and segments that drop to 35 or 40 minutes or even worse at a variety of off-peak times. Do not convince yourself that just because our existing line is a mostly-urban segment that also acts as a frequency-demonstration showpiece, that this somehow innoculates the sprawling outer crap against the same scalebacks that have happened everywhere else.

        Rails are not magic. The aren’t even “permanence”.

      2. Except that’s not actually true. Even if the billions to build the line is a sunk cost, there is no guarantee that Sound Transit will continue to pay the operating cost to run trains on it until the end of time.

        Bus or rail – if a line gets riders, it will remain – if it doesn’t, it will eventually see its plug pulled.

        History is full of examples of both rail and bus lines getting discontinued.

      3. It is entirely possible Sound Transit at some point in the future will decide to cut frequency South of Seatac. Perhaps even to transit death spiral levels.

        There is less danger to the North or East of something similar happening, even with extensions to Everett and Downtown Redmond, mostly because existing bus service shows there is demand for frequent transit service even outside of peak.

      4. All of those points (including the original one) suggest either two paths:

        1) Commuter rail. This really is a commuter rail type trip (Tacoma to Seattle). You don’t take the “L” from Naperville to Chicago, you take BNSF (Metra). You don’t take the Washington Metro from Baltimore to DC, you take Amtrak.

        2) Improve the bus service. Change the HOV 2 lanes to HOT 3 and suddenly it is a lot faster and a lot more reliable. As it is, off peak bus service is very good and quite frequent. This is where I have to disagree with d. p., in that lots of folks ride that bus (enough to justify its use) but those people are headed downtown. It is a hassles to park downtown (any time of day) and a bus like that is faster (the HOV lanes give it the edge). But that is a bus, which is a lot cheaper to operate and fast; so I agree with d. p. that ridership will dwindle to almost nothing for a similar light rail line, thus we will get to the same point: Sound Transit will cut service from Tacoma to Seattle and frequency dwindles to laughable levels.

        Light rail only makes sense if you have lots of destinations along the way. Here is an example: UW to downtown. This is by far the most important light rail line we have ever built. After all, the UW is the second biggest destination in Washington (with downtown being the first). I agree. But will this revolutionize the lives of those traveling between these destinations? Not really. It will improve things, certainly (as you said, reliability is important) but that trip was usually pretty fast. But wait, there’s more. There is another stop: Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill is the third biggest urban center in Washington. So here is where it gets interesting — now folks can get from the UW to Capitol Hill way faster — way, way faster — than before. Same with downtown to Capitol Hill.

        So, do the math. Each stop is only a tiny amount of time for someone “passing through”. Trying to get from the UW to downtown and you will not mind the folks getting on and off at Capitol Hill. But suddenly the other combinations grow exponentially. Imagine a First Hill station. Now you have UW to First Hill, Capitol Hill to First Hill, Downtown to First Hill. Add in a U-District station and, well, like I said, do the math. But this only works if each stop is really popular. Folks from the UW really do want to get to Capitol Hill. Absolutely. But do folks in Tacoma really want to get to Tukwila? Maybe a handful, but not enough to justify a billion dollar light rail line.

      5. I never said there wasn’t healthy off-peak ridership on the modestly-frequent Tacoma and Federal Way off-peak buses. I’ve been on them. Ridership is fairly strong.

        But it isn’t “fill multi-car trains” strong, not even if you somehow convinced 100% of current riders to take the much slower trains. No matter what bullshit is regurgitated on the foamer blogs, trains are more expensive to run unless exceedingly well-used. Thus the temptation, seen everywhere this suburban sprawl-rail bullshit has been built, to consolidate those off-peak riders onto a couple of trains an hour.

        The endpoint distances covered by these sprawl trains are generally so vast that non-spontaneous-level scheduled service is frankly fine. But add to that trains that are noticeably slower, and you’ve got problems. And anyone unfortunate enough to need a short-haul subset of the line, at distances and in places where spontaneous-frequency service is in fact necessary, get inadvertently screwed by being beholden to long-distance-minded schedule cost-cutting. That’s where you witness the true transit death spiral.

        This has been the story in Dallas, in Pittsburgh, in Sacramento, in San Diego, and yes, in shinyhappytransitlookatus Portland. It will absolutely be the story in Everett and Federal Way.

      6. I agree d. p. The service pattern is a bit like a cross between a standard commuter run and a city to city run. Tacoma isn’t quite big enough to generate big all day service, but it isn’t a sleepy suburb either (it isn’t Federal Way). The combination we have now seems to be about right, and fairly flexible. Sounder could be improved (a few extra runs here and there) and good bus service in the middle of the day is a cheap way to complement it. But there is no way you are going to have rail running frequently all day, regardless of which tracks you run on. Tacoma is just too far away and too small (as is Seattle, really).

        It really is a shame that Portland is in Oregon, or we might be able to get good city to city service through the state. Maybe we can get the feds or Oregon to cooperate in improving that line, though (since it is the right distance and population for a fairly fast Amtrak line). Tacoma could come along for the ride, in that case, and benefit from overall improvements.

      7. “But do folks in Tacoma really want to get to Tukwila?”

        They do if they’re going to a business that’s only in Tukwila, or run by an unusually talented individual, or they have a friend who lives there. People go everywhere, not just to downtown or the major spots. That’s why there’s so many cars on I-5, and they’re not all getting off just at the major spots. Transit needs to go to those other places too, if you want people to use transit.

      8. Speaking of Tacoma->Tukwila, what do you all think about the possibility of a Southcenter Freeway Station in the median of I-5?

        Taking a look through the map, the I-5 median is actually wide enough to fit in a station as it passes Southcenter Mall, and being in the median, buses could access it straight from the HOV lanes.

        As the crow flies, the median of I-5 to the western end of Southcenter mall is about 700 feet, which means, assuming an elevated walkway to cross over northbound I-5 and Southcenter Parkway, the freeway station could actually have fairly good foot access to the mall. And, if the F-line were rerouted to take Klickticat Drive between TIBS and Southcenter Mall, you could have some nice transfer action, plus faster trips between Southcenter and Burien.

        The construction work would not be cheap – the Southcenter Freeway Station would have to be built into a hillside, and some sort of bus-only connection between Klickticat drive and Southcenter Blvd. would be needed for the new pathway of the F-line to work.

        But this still looks a whole of a lot cheaper and more cost-effective than rail-to-Federal-Way-or-bust.

  9. During the discussion about the N 130th Station, it was revealed that the ridership estimates don’t count on KCM transfers too much since bus reorganizations aren’t controlled by SoundTransit.

    So, I wonder how much these ridership estimates are influenced by that phenomena as well?

    1. Good point, I’m sure they are influenced a huge amount. I argue ( that the best way to get even a decent amount of ridership on Link is to build a freeway station (as counter-intuitive as that may sound). But Sound Transit never looked at that. To be fair, that is more expensive. It requires multiple estimates, based on bus routes that take advantage of Link, and those that don’t. It also requires a lot of assumptions and complex modeling (since the bus routes can be done dozens of different ways). But that is why, more than anything, these ridership estimates need to be taken with a grain of salt. I would prefer estimates with “types” attached — for example, ridership by walk-up, ridership by park and ride, etc. That way, you can just Isolate the bus ridership and consider a secondary (or, in many cases, a primary) consideration.

  10. The video is an excellent tool explaining options. Thanks for this!

    I imagine nearby property owners and residents rightfully have strong views about alignment options when it comes to visual, noise and construction disruptions.

    One issue I think needs flushed out better is each station’s pedestrian system between the platforms and the nearby streets and bus transfer points. For example, if the I-5 stations were built with pedestrian overcrossings to TOD on both sides of the freeway, it would have more merit to their utility. The 99 median stations are shown, but it’s unclear as to where passengers would enter the station (one side or both sides of the street?) — or where connecting buses, taxis/uber or shuttles would be.

    I realize that these often appear to be minor details that get flushed out after the EIS, but presenting concepts now would do four things::
    1. Build support for station locations by helping future riders visualize how they will use the stations.
    2. Allay fears of property owners and residents near the station locations about how people will access the stations.
    3. Initiate discussion about which station enhancements would be the most useful.
    4. Begin to consider the supporting Metro, St Express and maybe Pierce Transit bus route concepts that could be implemented with the extension opens.

    It could be that some of this is buried in the EIS.

  11. I would hope that a major intent in the design is how to design the train for higher speeds between the stations. All it takes is one noisy stretch of track to outrage neighbors, who would then complain about the noise and the next thing you know the trains become speed-restricted! It’s agonizing as a train passenger to be on a fully-separated elevated train structure designed for 70 mph trains — and observe that the train is going only 30 mph because the neighbors complain about the track noise. Even with 99 and I-5 being noisy, I’d think that the elevated portions could become a noise problem once the rail line opens.

    1. The entire alignment is designed for 55mph (ST’s maximum LRT speed) wherever practicable. The only speed-limited curves will be in the immediate vicinity of stations or constrained situations where there is no other practicable alternative. Consideration of noise is an important component of the environmental document. Proper construction methods also come into play.

    2. Speaking of which, did they ever figure out what’s causing the vibration and swaying on the Tukwila segment?

    3. Just because the EIS says it’s not a problem doesn’t mean that it won’t be when it’s built. There are examples around the US where elevated track noise made it through an EIS and construction, and the neighbors now complain about noise. Further, tracks can slightly shift after a few years, so while it may not be noise in Year 1 of opening, 10 or 15 years later it may be.

      The swaying on the line between TIBS and Rainier Beach is a good example of a problem not discussed in an EIS — but is very real.

  12. I don’t use transit, because it isn’t feasible for my commute, but we need it, and I’ll vote to continue funding it. A straight 99 alignment to maximize TOD in FW/Kent/Des Moines and eventually Fife/Tacoma makes the most sense. Eventually, we MIGHT be able to attract development away from far-flung places like Bonney Lake and Maple Valley in favor of urban (suburban?) renewal in the deteriorated SR 99 corridor, which is riddled with cheap motels, sprawling over-sized parking lots, single-story development, vacant buildings, crumbling century-old poorly maintained single family housing stock, and cash-only nail salons. The land is there and ripe for redevelopment, but developers need a reason to build in such a run-down area instead of pretty and pristine wilderness that attracts a certain population of buyers. Providing the appropriate up-zoning in this corridor to encourage higher densities in combination with a viable public transit option for residents and employees in the area might just do it. It would also make purchase of a fixer-upper in the area more appealing to an average person like myself, whereas right now a deteriorating 1970s subdivision in Federal Way is no more appealing than a cookie-cutter new-ish subdivision on the fringes of the urban growth area (provided the auto commute to Tacoma is equal – and in many cases, it is). Regardless of the alignment, I can’t wait to see this thing get built. I’m not sure what the NIMBYs of Des Moines are so afraid of. Perhaps that the johns won’t have safe havens or that the dealers won’t have cash-only businesses and that it might temporarily disrupt auto traffic flow???

    1. I can understand the short-term angst against this segment and I myself am inclined to vote against ST3 because of the included north and south ST Link segments. But I have to admit LR has had a significant benefit to places like Mesa Az which it has made a more developed and tolerable place to live. And if in 50 years the population exist to warrant these stations useful and subsidy-less, then paying 1.5 billion now vs 20 billion in 50 years deems the cost justifiable..

  13. Sound Transit’s analysis has been pretty well debunked for ridership modeling by consistently favoring freeway alignments with tons of parking while avoiding real ridership generators off-freeway using walking, biking, and transit. These number barely showing off-freeway are basically bunk. But, it’s not all their fault. The agency relies on Puget Sound Regional Council’s modeling for transportation, which is completely broken and false. I’d take any number from off-freeway and multiply it by 1.5 to 1.75. That’s likely closer to the reality.

    1. Considering how broken the PSRC models are for population growth I’d be dividing the ridership of the off freeway alignments by 1.75 to get a real ridership number for the freeway alignments.

      The only place freeway vs non-freeway is likely to make little difference is between Federal Way and Tacoma. But even then I’d favor the non-freeway alignment because it offers at least some hope of TOD.

  14. My take: run it in the median of 99 up to S. 272nd St. Have a station at Redondo Hts. P&R (the decorative structure at the park and ride almost looks like it’s waiting for a station to be built right above it, but I digress), then move to I-5 alignment. This is because the next station is Federal Way TC, and if the track is coming from I-5 rather than 99, that puts it in a good position to switch back to SR99 alignment right after the transit center. This makes the end of the line future-proof and ready for a SR99 alignment to Tacoma.

    As for stations, build all optional stations being considered, and reduce service on the A-line considerably. At this point, between the airport and S 272 st, the stations are generally spaced 3/4 to 1 mile apart, making the system very usable for most people.

    But most importantly, don’t kill the off-peak Federal Way-Seattle ST express. That’s not what Link is for. I already ranted on this on a previous thread, but every single rider of said routes would see their travel times more than double and fares go up.

    A compromise, however (one such compromise would be to add a Federal Way stop to the 594, and move the 578 to Kent, and make the 577 peak-only) would be fine IMHO.

    1. Switching from SR 99 to I-5 in the vicinity of S. 272nd was screened out in the Alternatives Analysis phase because of the time penalty for traveling east-west with speed-limited curves in an otherwise north-south corridor. Note my comment earlier ( regarding planning the downtown Federal Way station location and orientation.

      RapidRide A and Link will serve different rider bases, and no reductions to RR A are intended — after all, a goal is to maximize transit options, not just have mile-apart LRT stations and force a large walkshed for user access. By contrast, ST and Metro are actively trying to provide connections between the two services at SR 99 stations.

      1. Besides, if I’m reading the proposal, the Link stop spacing would be more like 2-3 miles, if it even runs for SR-99 at all. The A-line is not going away.

      2. The shorter spacing would only be applicable if the S. 216th & S. 260th infill stations are built, which can’t happen short-term because those locations are voter-approved (not to mention their additional cost). What can be done now, however, is to submit comments supporting an alignment that does not preclude construction of stations at those locations. A big factor for the ultimate outcome of what’s built to open in 2023 will be the immediate capital cost, so any decisions which allow such future flexibility will have to demonstrate why pushing (or even increasing) the limits of the current construction budget is justifiable.

      3. I didn’t say kill the RapidRide route, I said significantly reduce service. Like every half hour. This would probably require de-categorizing it as RapidRide (the 174 returns), but it would be silly to keep existing service levels because do many of the use cases are taken over completely by link. Plus, we will actually have rapid transit with link, so we can put an end to the fake bus rapid transit transit and reinstate the regular bus route, because we’ll have the real thing.

      4. You cannot have half hour service on a Federally subsidized BRT line. King County took the money; they have to provide the service.

        Besides, for the vast majority of current riders, the A-Line is much more convenient. Perhaps when Link comes the much hoped-for true nodes will develop around the stations and a greater percentage of riders will originate and be destined for places in walking distance of the stations. But right now — and for the foreseeable future — Pacific Highway South is a mess of low density uses which has decent ridership only because it has a smattering of medium density scattered fairly evenly along it.

      5. How long does the terms of the federal grant require 15-minute frequency to be maintained? I’m assuming the answer is something other than “forever”. I would not at all be surprise if this clause in the contract expires by the time Link to Federal Way actually gets built.

      6. ST2 didn’t say no more stations are allowed. It just implied that certain areas were guaranteed a station. If ST adds a station, it just has to write a statement saying why that variance from the ballot measure is consistent with the Link vision.

      7. There have never been station locations in the ballot measures.

        And somehow, I don’t recall a “variance” being required when First Hill’s voters got fucked over.

        Stop consuming bullshit just because you’re told it’s government-issue fillet mignon.

      8. ST specifically avoided the monorail’s problem of specifying exact streets and station locations in the ballot measure, which gave it no flexibility. The procedure I’ve described is what ST says is necessary for NE 130th station, so the same thing would apply to S 216th station.

        First Hill shows that “guaranteed” stations aren’t 100% guaranteed, and again it shows the need for flexibility, because the complete engineering studies can’t be done before the ballot measure is written, because it would take too much money for a line that hasn’t been voter-approved yet. Also, Lynnwood Link had four alternatives: Aurora, I-5, 15th NE, and Lake City Way. All of them had a 145th station, but the corridors were so far apart from each other that they were not interchangeable. So a station on the map essentially means a station that distance from downtown. But even again in East Link, some alternatives had a South Bellevue Station and East Main/SE 4th/SE 8th Station and others didn’t. So some stations on the map are more guaranteed than others.

      9. There is simply nothing in any ballot measure which would “conflict with” or “require a variance for” putting well-designed stations where they would serve the public best. Especially on trackage for which North King has been required to pay ever cent.

        When are you going to get it through your noggin that any such suggestion is pure and vile politician-justifying-a- terrible-decision doublespeak bullshit? It means they are determined not to revisit plans, and will lie to you to get you off their back.

        STOP BUYING IT!!

      10. Sound Transit is free to put as few or as many stations as it wants in any line it builds. Just because a ballot measure had a conceptual alignment with conceptual stations in no way obligates Sound Transit.

        As such things go, much comes down to money, ST doesn’t want to pay for 130th and it doesn’t want to pay for the Northgate pedestrian bridge.

  15. Excellent report Zach, I appreciate your efforts. A couple things I would add:

    1) Like most of Link, success will be driven by how Link compliments the bus service.
    2) The most densely populated area is to the east (in Kent Valley) not anywhere near a station.
    3) The college is a good destination, but so too is downtown Kent.
    4) SeaTac is by far the biggest destination between Tacoma and Seattle.
    5) Express buses serve everything from there to Tacoma, and they do so via I-5.
    6) These buses are significantly faster from there to Seattle.
    7) It isn’t clear whether Link will ever get to Tacoma.

    All of this is an argument for the cheap alignment via I-5, with a freeway station. It isn’t about the park and ride, but the transit station at the freeway. It is a different model than Mercer Island, but similar in that buses could come from various neighborhoods and go to the station. The difference is that buses would keep going. So the express from Tacoma would make one stop before continuing on to downtown Seattle. This would provide very fast service to SeaTac for Tacoma riders. By having the station fairly far north, you get better transfer possibilities. Buses from Kent and Federal Way would do the same thing that buses from Tacoma do — stop once and keep going to downtown. This would make the transit station very popular as a way to connect Kent, Federal Way, SeaTac and Tacoma. It would so do very efficiently as well. You would not have to spend extra bus service hours connecting those neighborhoods, or expect Link to do that (an impossible task) but only ask these express buses to make one stop along the way. This offers significant improvements in transit mobility as well as service savings, which would go back into the overall transit network.

    Of course, Sound Transit (and Metro) may decide that express buses are no longer necessary. I would caution against such an approach, as I believe it would be very unpopular, and reduce support for for further Link expansion (although such expansion is problematic anyway). But if they did truncate bus service, then a freeway alignment saves even more service hours. It might be that you sacrifice speed to Seattle for a much better set of local connecting buses (being a lot more frequent to a lot more areas). Again, I wouldn’t make this trade-off, but if Sound Transit and Metro does, I find it understandable.

    The I-5/99 hybrid seems to be the worst of both worlds. If they added a station at I-5, it would make some sense (because you only need one station as I outlined). but to cut over to I-5 and not add a freeway station is simply a waste, and suggests that (once again) Sound Transit has ignored bus to rail interaction.

    While it is tempting to directly serve the most desirable location possible (the college) we should keep things in perspective. That is not the UW. It is a small college in a not very densely populated area. You would get more walk-up riders with a station there, but not nearly as many riders as you would with good bus to rail service. The best way to get good bus to rail service is to allow for at least one stop at the freeway. The increase in Link ridership would be significant, but the increase in overall transit ridership would be substantial. After that, it makes sense to either keep going along the freeway (to save money) or head over to 99 (to pick up more riders).

    1. The 574 could probably be truncated or restructured away if Link goes to Federal Way, but that would be about it. Just as using Link to eliminate the 542 would be crazy, using Link to eliminate the 577 or 594 would be about equally as crazy.

      1. Nah, your arguments are well thought out and expressed as usual. Just thought I’d take a gratuitous poke. ;-)

    2. My best guess is Sound transit will truncate the 59x, and 578 off peak, eliminate the 577 off-peak, and eliminate the 574 entirely. if Link reaches FWTC. The service currently provided by the 574 would be replaced by the truncated 59x and a transfer to Link.

      1. Even off-peak, there are still enough riders on the 577 and 594 that bloating the travel times that much isn’t going to fly. Only the 574 could be replaced by Link without a significant impact on travel time.

    3. “It is a small college in a not very densely populated area. You would get more walk-up riders with a station there, but not nearly as many riders as you would with good bus to rail service.”

      We have to weigh the walk-ons to the college, the walk-ons from potential TOD, vs people coming from Kent who will have to take a bus in any case. If Kentlanders are transferring to Link, maybe a freeway transfer would be faster, maybe not. If they’re going to the college, they’ll stay on the bus. The people who will be most negatively impacted are those transferring from Link at a freeway station to a bus going to the college or Des Moines neighborhood. That gap will dampen ridership somewhat, and if the bus is every 15-30 minutes it will dampen it even more. A freeway station is also a terrible place to wait and an incentive to drive. My gut instinct is that 99 is always better for the long-term insurance it provides. If Link is on 99, the cities may someday get full urbanist religion and plaster the corridor 2-D density. If Link is on I-5, it will never have much within walking distance even if the cities want to someday. And even if it did, you’d have to put an expensive lid all around the freeway to truly mitigate its unpleasantness.

      1. It is not just Kent, but the whole region and what a station does to the entire system. That is why I get very frustrated with numbers that say X amount of riders on Link. So what? Even if that is accurate (and it often isn’t) what about *total transit ridership*. Build a good transit center and you accomplish everything that a light rail system is supposed to accomplish (connecting various neighborhoods). Not at the same scale as good light rail (of course) but at least resembling the connectivity. Again, you can’t do it at a reasonable cost for this area with just light rail. Areas like Kent and Federal Way are not only sparsely populated, they are huge. You can’t possibly have solid ridership with a single line through there — nor does multiple lines make sense. That leaves us with trying to build something that complements the bus service.

        Without a freeway station, I just don’t see this resulting in good connecting service. There is no way that the 590 stops here. The 594 could end here, but all that does is split the service. All the neighborhoods in Kent, Federal Way, and Tacoma have to choose between serving Link (for SeaTac, mostly) and serving Seattle. They will do a little of both (like they do today) but that results in poor service — it simply means lots of people driving. All so that a handful of people can get to a community college faster, and so that a sleepy suburban area miles and miles from Seattle (and so far away that it fights for its express bus service over its fancy light rail line) will suddenly blossom into a booming metropolis. I just don’t see it. My guess is we will see no TOD around this area (unless of, course, you count new parking lots to serve SeaTac travelers as TOD).

      2. I just watched the video. I’m concerned about how far south the I-5 KDM stations are from KDM Road. If that’s going to be a major bus transfer point, is it going to be further than from Southcenter Blvd to TIB Station? Is it going to be like UW Station?

    4. Link: “Hey, you big hunk of a good lookin’ bus. Why don’cha’ come on up an’ see me sometime?”

      (Link complimenting the A-Line)

    5. The difference is that buses would keep going. So the express from Tacoma would make one stop before continuing on to downtown Seattle”

      The very big problem with what you want to do, Ross, is where the hell do you put the buses downtown? No, I don’t mean just at the peaks, which obviously is going to be a fustercluck on the streets when no buses can take the tunnel. I mean mid-day as well.

      Remember that demand for transit in Seattle is growing all the while. By the time this extension opens in eight years, what will Third Avenue look like in the mid-day? I would not be surprised if it were not operating such that private cars are allowed only to the next right turn after one turns onto the street. By that time the Central City Connector will have taken two lanes out of First. Sixth is useless as a bus street because it reverses direction at Marion, and Fifth is afflicted with pedestrian zones at the north and south ends of downtown. So all those buses are going to have to be accommodated on Second and Fourth Avenues, along with a bunch of new auto-traffic avoiding the DBT tolls.

      On the countervailing side, almost all East Side buses will be truncated at Mercer Island or turned into Link connectors farther east. That will certainly help.

      Still, much is changing about downtown Seattle and its transportation environment. These things are all inter-connected and require a coordinated approach. I expect that it won’t be as easy as saying “just keep the expresses running throughout the day” for South King County. There will be a demand that they be intercepted somewhere.

      1. Build another bus tunnel (of course). Even if you don’t, there will be a lot fewer buses going downtown as Link expands. No buses from the U-District, no buses from Snohomish County, no buses from the East Side. That is a lot of buses that won’t be going downtown and will simply drop off people at the nearest train station. That is the goal anyway.

        It is really only the Tacoma buses (and Seattle buses) that need go through downtown. If push comes to shove, they drop people off at SoDo. Before folks jump on that idea, consider that it is still a big improvement (assuming everything else happens) over light rail. If buses really are horribly slow through downtown, but fast getting to downtown, then people will be OK with the transfer (especially if the train is fast and frequent). If not, then they will deal with it. You can always hop off the bus downtown and transfer (or walk) — which is better than light rail from Tacoma. In that case there is nothing you can do but just sit and stare out the window.

      2. Ross,

        Yes, removing the buses from Snohomish County will certainly help. And the U-district expresses, which will be kicked out of the tunnel shortly.

        So maybe it will be OK.

        It’s unfortunate that South/Central Link will always be so slow because of the deviation to MLK. Not that having LRT in the Rainier Valley isn’t a good thing. It is. But not as the almost last five miles of a 35 mile long one. That sort of urban street running should be at the outer end, not the close in trunk, of the system.

      3. Follow-up. I doubt that Seattle will vote strongly enough for ST3 if “its” project is the WSTT, sensible though it may be. People have been clamoring for some sort of grade separated rail west of SR99 for two decades. They’ll feel cheated if all they get is faster buses through the core.

      4. Sure, but remember we’re talking about not just the WSTT, but also a subway from Ballard->UW.

      5. Yeah, what asdf2 said. This shouldn’t be too hard to sell, either. You would probably get strong consensus support from groups like Seattle Subway and the editorial board of this blog for that combination (as opposed to West Seattle light rail). One of the strong arguments for it is that it becomes the first part of light rail if it is ever built along that route. We’ve done it before, so a lot of people can buy into the idea.

        Mostly, though, it is pretty easy to sell because people are focused on time, not service. People now realize that the streetcar is crap. People want light rail, but they don’t want a streetcar, even though they could mean the same thing. Basically, when people think “light rail” they assume it will be fast, whereas streetcar just means a slow surface train. I think a lot of people only support rail when they see a huge improvement in speed. For example, when I told my (adult) son about light rail from the UW to downtown, he thought the idea was crazy (“bus rides from the UW to downtown are great”). I had to explain the service savings, the increased frequency, the fact that bus rides aren’t always great, etc. But the convincing argument was when I mentioned Capitol Hill (“OK, you’re right, getting from the UW or downtown to Capitol Hill takes forever — that will be great”). I think it is possible people will see the same thing is true with another bus tunnel (it takes forever to get from one side of downtown to the other).

        I think the biggest challenge, though, is doing something about the “last mile” in West Seattle (from the various neighborhoods to the freeway). Money needs to be allocated for this, or you will have exactly what you describe — purists arguing that rail is the only answer. Of course, no one has ever said what the rail will look like, exactly. If you run the rail down Delridge, then those on top of the hill are screwed. If you run the streetcar to the junction then those on Delridge are screwed. This is probably the weakest part of the argument for light rail to West Seattle — it can’t possibly serve a majority of the people in West Seattle very well. This is why it is best to avoid that problem altogether with good bus service while allowing those that think rail is the only answer to see the changes as only a stepping stone.

        Personally, I wouldn’t mind if they looked into a second bus tunnel for the top of the hill. This is probably overkill, but still a better value than light rail. You wouldn’t need to build the really expensive new bridge (of a light rail line) but leverage the existing freeway. You might be able to do it with cut and cover. Again, probably not worth it, but a much better value than a train.

        The cheapest thing to do is simply expand the east bound lanes of the freeway where it is not a bridge (from 35th to about Charlestown). That looks pretty cheap and would work as a jump-ahead lane (similar to the old 520 arrangement). You could do the same for streets feeding into it (Fauntleroy, 35th, etc.) That’s not perfect, but it would go a long way to making things faster. You don’t need this to work bidirectionally, either, it is just the morning commute that is backed up (and that is mainly because the West Seattle bridge is essentially acting as a giant on ramp to I-5).

      6. Anandakos,

        Personally I’m glad Sound Transit decided to actually serve Seattle rather than building an express line to South King and Pierce. While it sort of screws the suburbs to the South those don’t have huge transit demand even at peak (compared to North of Northgate) and aren’t the sort of areas likely to develop all-day demand any time soon.

        As for ST3 there simply isn’t the money to do Alaska Junction to Ballard light rail without some serious comprimises even under the higher funding levels in the House bill.

        If we have to live with the Senate bill funding levels then its either streetcars, light rail to West Seattle, light rail to Ballard, or WSTT+Ballard/UW.

        With streetcars or West Seattle I’ll be a ‘no’ vote. I suspect a lot of the rest of the city will feel the same way.

      7. I really wish that you guys wouldn’t keep talking about serving the Rainier Valley as a “deviation”. The TIBS station is even with 35th Ave. That’s further EAST than Columbia City Station is, and only 8 Seattle blocks west (1500 feet) than Rainier Valley station is.

        Sure there are four stops in the Rainier Valley and one on Beacon Hill. But those four stops get used more than SODO or Stadium! The Rainier Valley stops are more useful to ST than those stops are.

        The main travel time problem with the Rainier Valley is that trains must slow down. Of course, in all the whining, does anyone want to fret over the decision to use light rail technology (which is slower than heavy rail technology)?

        Please lets quit talking about Rainier Valley as if it’s a “deviation” and call it was it really is: a slower track section.

      8. I meant Rainier Beach Station is 1500 feet east of TIBS, not Rainier Valley. Sorry for the typo.

  16. Huh. I’d been told by reliable sources (incl. Linda Kochmar, R-30, and prior to that on FWCC) that the Redondo Heights Park & Ride (a few doors south of 272nd) was designed and pre-ordained for Link service.

    The all-99 option has lowest residential impact and highest TOD potential. Which means they won’t go for it. It’s all about the gas stations and the strip malls. Not like there isn’t scadillions of empty retail locations all over FW… yet they need to protect every single business location in existence. :P

  17. I’d say let’s have an elevated guideway down the middle of Pac Highway stopping only at Kent-Des Moines Road and S 272nd. Simple as that.

  18. Can’t we have at least one tunnel with several hard left and right turn in it? Why is Bellevue getting all the cookies?

  19. My quick snipe yesterday does nothing to further the debate, but some of the whackyness of Link deployment leaves me speechless. OK, here’s a better estimate of what will be built, and my pros / cons.
    I’ve purposely not read any of the 184 comments yet, so sorry if I’m being redundant with the masses.
    OVERALLl: It’s about 8 miles from S.200th to FWTC, with only 2 stations between, for a bit over 2 mile station spacing (excluding 2 potential stations). Station spacing like this mimics BART design to connect hnterland P&R’s to feed Oakland and San Francisco downtowns at high speed. Unfortunately, Link has lost that option by all it’s slowness after the Airport, meaning Express buses will forever have a time advantage over Link from Federal Way. If Link wants to compete with the RR-A line, then there are too few stops. So, it’s a basturd step child in the making, not doing any one thing very well, but trying to do many things poorly.

    1. (must have hit a send key)
      The other sub-areas aren’t going to screw with SK-sub area much, so I suspect 99 will be the preferred alignment for envelopment reasons, but at the much higher cost than the I-5 option, the two potential stations will never be built (like Boeing and 133 never got built) because of budget and everyone will claim victory for transit and move on.
      TOD: Of course 99 is better for that, as I-5 is a ‘Vehicle Sewer’ and even if you could build next to the stations, who would want to live there, unless you didn’t have a lot of choices. Trouble is, with only a couple of stops, that’s not much TOD in the big picture – regionwide.
      TRANSIT RIDERS: Existing and newbies will not see much improvement due to Link. Commuters will rightly demand express buses from FWTC/Star Lk), and local bus riders will not have much access to Link without a transfer and wait at a couple of points. Too few all day routes, that barely interconnect with Link, will not yield many service hours for re-deployment. In short, the buses stay about the same, and some new and old riders will have a nice trip to the airport and beyond – but not the masses – as in Mass Transit.

  20. I don’t really understand why we are extending LINK to very far flung low density locations that are already served by services like Sounder. I would be much more supportive or a higher density of grade separated routes within Seattle and neighboring high density areas, like Renton. Can someone explain why it makes sense to extend light rail so far? Thank you!

    1. The people here don’t think it makes sense. But the people in Federal Way do, and it’s their money that’s paying for it.

  21. After watching the video and sleeping on it, I have several comments about the stations and routing. Upthegrove is right that the station locations are more important than the routing between them. We’ve been skipping a step though: we need to prioritize the goals for each station before evaluating their alternatives.

    For KDM Station, the competing goals are the college, the emerging neighborhood, Kent bus transfers, and intercepting express buses from the south. Of these, the neighborhood seems most important because it’s a more 24-hour trip generator than the college. So the westernmost station is out because it’s in the college parking lot away from the neighborhood. The I-5 stations are “behind a Lowe’s”, so a lot depends on whether the Lowe’s is redeveloped and with what. All the alternatives are dubious for buses from Kent: ST needs to sketch out how the bus stops would be close enough and how the bus wouldn’t get booged down in turns and traffic. On the other hand, a bus from from Kent will never be competitive with the 150 because Link reaches KDM when the 150 reaches Kent Station. (Evenings, same time. Peak, Link is 10 minutes faster.) Even an express bus would have to be a teleporter to be competitive. Kent is closer to Seattle than either FW or Tacoma, and has more density and transit-dependent people than FW, so it really needs something faster than the 150 and Link isn’t it. Intercepting express buses from the south isn’t going to happen because ST has already decided to extend Link at least to 272nd.

    216th already has the bones for an urban village with a densifiable Safeway plaza, second commercial lot, and TODish building. So a station there would be a good idea.

    272nd & 99 is already designed for a station according to Keith Tyler above. Here the factors are neighborhood vs commuters. The I-5 station is seven blocks from 99 and has nothing going for it except drivers (or a bus intercept from the south).

    At 320th the factors are the neighborhood, the mall, the existing TC, I-5 cheapness, and the other P&R adjacent to I-5. Where is Federal Way’s urban center plan? Where is the middle of it? If we take 320th/99 as a stand-in for the center, it’s refreshing that ST is considering alternatives closer to it than the TC. The stations at the edge of I-5 are at least a 10-minute walk away, but a frequent east-west bus (181) could serve them.

    So the 99 routing would give us some walkability. We know the urban villages will be so-so but not great, yet so-so is a big achievement for south King County. At the same time I’m sympathetic to Des Moine’s concern that 99 median for six miles is a lot of medianship. But we’ve seen this movie before. Tukwila wouldn’t allow Link on 99 because the street had just been beautified, so that led to the current alignment bypassing Southcenter. The original proposal was a surface median on 154th and 99. (So the “Southcenter” station would have been on Southcenter Blvd, a bit away from the mall and further from the other businesses.) An elevated median is less impactful than a surface median. But 99 is the only way to get to all the 99 stations. And Link would have significantly less benefit without those stations.

    Still, I find myself not caring much about the controversies. I’ll argue against I-5 but I’m not going to jump up and down about it. But if we have I-5 in south King County, we’ll pretty much have to have I-5 in Pierce County. It would boil my blood if Fife had highway 99 stations when South King County and Aurora/Shoreline/Edmonds had missed out That would be the biggest tragedy.. Especially since Fife’s boxes are bigger and more unwalkable.

    1. Actually, Mike, I’d argue that if we have I-5 north of Federal Way and locate the station at the Federal Way Transit Center, that sets the stage for 99 to be the alignment into Pierce County — and vice versa. The east-west orientation of the proposed FWTC station would making keeping the alignment all on one road corridor really awkward as every train would have to make a 180 degree turn.

      Of course, it would be different if another FWTC station stop orientation is chosen. I’m not sure how viable that would be though.

      1. I’d propose the opposite. 99 north of city center is much more commercial and residential-friendly than 99 south of it (although TBF 161 follows 99’s 1600 block alignment south of the skating rink and would be far superior as a south-of-FWTC alignment than actual 99 would be). 99 through Midway etc. is also much more commercial. So a 99 alignment through Midway and down to, at most, 348th (along 161) would be ideal for TOD/growth potential.

        FW keeps seeing transit as only for commuters. Nobody considers how transit can affect commercial and residential growth, so they think an I-5 alignment is a great idea. Nobody wants that ugly, undesirably modern technology running through their cities, so go hide it by the unsightly highways.

        FW has a long-running history of picking the cheap and easy option, and then they wonder why six years later they’re having the same exact problems they had back before they picked the bad option. An I-5 alignment would just be the latest shot in FW’s foot.

  22. “Des Moines, hardened from their experience with SeaTac Airport, is prepared to take legal action to stall any progress on a SR 99 alignment.”

    What was their experience with Sea-Tac airport? Did the airport do something specifically on 99 or south of 188th street, or is this just complaining that the airport exists? How could Link be as disruptive as whatever the airport did?

    1. Because it would: negatively impact over $20 million in roadway improvements made in just the last 15 years; negatively impact over 3% of our total commercial property in a City starved for tax revenues; negatively impact the value of upzoning that we have already done (far ahead of Kent, I might add) in planning to meet our Growth Management obligations and in the context of TOD; and it would not guarantee a positive benefit in the form of a station at S. 216th, when Sound Transit can’t yet even meet its obligations for a station at S. 272nd. None of this even comes close to the impacts on Federal Way from a 99 alignment.

      While a 99 alignment may appear to have more TOD potential on the surface, the reality is that Kent will be able to maximize its TOD with an I-5 alignment with a station on the west side of 30th Ave S. Such a station would still provide a close connection for Highline College, before returning to I-5. Additionally, depending on station location in Federal Way, there is 63 acres of potential TOD that’s not even accounted for in the DEIS. That’s a more than adequate offset to the difference in 99/I-5 alignments.

      This fetishism over TOD having to be tied to Link instead of ANY transit (Rapid Ride stops, as one example) is bizarre, as is the perception that it has to be at every station location.

      Out of curiosity … how many of you actually live in South King County, particularly along the corridor under study?

      1. FWIW I lived in Federal Way for over 12 years. You seem to forget that Kent, Auburn, and Tukwila also have Sounder, and Kent’s TOD near the train station is doing quite well. Des Moines and FW lack any definable TOD outside of senior housing developments. Despite a high-demand, high-traffic transit center being smack in the middle of downtown FW, the primary usage is commuters from neighboring cities. For whatever reason, nobody wants — or seems to be able to come up with the funding — to build density in FW (though the anemic City Council and change-phobic Planning Commission certainly aren’t helping the problem).

        Now the fact is, RapidRide just isn’t on par with light rail. It’s not even on par with BRT anywhere else in the world. This has been pointed out time and time again and the only way to present a case that RapidRide is a great thing is to describe it in a vacuum devoid of all other examples. It’s not rapid and the various lines aren’t even interconnected. It’s just a bus. It’s really just the old 179 pig with lipstick put on it. At least it has wifi… not that that does anyone any good, since RR fails miserably as a commuter solution (meanwhile the express commuter buses out of FW, like the 577, don’t have it… anymore, that is). So no, RapidRide does not provide TOD potential any more than the 179/178 ever did. You may as well argue that the 901 DART provides TOD potential (hint: it doesn’t).

        Density and TOD and the end of car-centric suburban sprawl starts with transit. And ST (and the people who wouldn’t vote for it without the “I-got-mine” clause) screwed SK over by basing their funding on an unrealistic assumption of steadily increasing tax revenues within each subarea. And really only SK and PC are affected — and who on the virtual island of Seattle gives a damn about them?

  23. Though it probably costs a bunch, this is a wonderful video. It’s too bad the other agencies don’t consider providing this kind of detail, or in some cases providing any detail whatsoever, on their projects!

    It’s too bad about the jurisdictional issues. I dislike the parts of the SR-99 alignments which go down the median, as not only does that take out a lane, but it is a recipe for accidents, which adds delays and costs to those on the surface. In that alignment, I’d stay on the west side to serve Highline CC. I can see Councilmember Upthegrove’s point about using the I-5 alignment. However, let’s not go zig-zag, as one of the mixed ideas has. That’s trying to serve everybody. I’m amazed that the station nearest Highline CC in that alignment is only 1/4 of a mile; that isn’t much, and as I recall, the topography is fairly flat there. With a decent way to cross SR-99, that would be sufficient. Down in Federal Way, which park & ride that serves depends on which way they continue south. If along I-5, then the 320th keeps it a straight shot, whereas the Federal Way Transit Center would result in two extra turns (= time), but it is a huge facility.

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