WSTT Initial Service Pattern
Map by Oran Viriyincy
As reported yesterday by the Urbanist, Sound Transit recently released the results of their downtown transit capacity report:
The study, entitled Downtown Seattle Transit Capacity White Paper, forecasts a daily transit capacity shortfall of 5,000-8,000 trips in Downtown Seattle by 2035. This shortfall persists even after building the Center City Connector and a Ballard-to-West Seattle High Capacity Transit (HCT) line. The findings come at an important time for regional transit, just ahead of a potential 2016 ballot measure that could fund significant capital investments in transit projects. Overall, the study indicates an urgent need to expand downtown transit capacity.

Check out the Urbanist’s in-depth analysis, or read the study yourself. The data is clear. Regional mobility requires a new bus/rail tunnel downtown.

We’ve been saying this for a while and we’re glad Sound Transit has shared the data proving it.

125 Replies to “Sound Transit study: New bus/rail tunnel required”

  1. If we’re going to be spending so much time in tunnels in the future can we at least get espresso stands in them.

      1. Sound Transit built the tunnel University Link Tunnel in less than four years. From Wkipedia:

        Construction of two parallel tunnels began in 2009.[2] Three tunnel boring machines were used to construct the tunnels; two Herrenknecht machines were launched from the University of Washington Station toward Capitol Hill, and one Hitachi Zosen machine was launched twice to complete the tunnels from Capitol Hill Station to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.[3] The 21-foot (6.4 m) diameter tunnel boring machines weigh more than half a million pounds each.[2] Tunnel excavation was completed in May 2012.[4] The $1.9 billion University Link megaproject is expected to be completed in 2016.[2][1]

        China’s going to have to get cracking if they’re going to build a Bering Strait Tunnel faster than that.

      2. Hell, China built the largest HSR system in the world in a few days ;). California HSR is still trying to get a utility line moved this year which will be a major accomplishment. Communism and stepping on individual rights has its merits; it doesn’t allow for the dysfunctional legislative processes to materialize like we experience.

      3. Doubtful John.

        Undersea tunnels take decades even with the most efficient builders.

        The Seikan in Japan Tunnel took
        nearly 20 years to build, and Hokkaido is a heck of a lot closer to Honshu than Russia is to Alaska.

      4. China built the largest HSR system in the world in a few days ;).

        When considering the entire globe, we’re just a spur, off a branch, of the mainline…

  2. This coming at the same time as ST’s watered down ST3 proposal shows they’re not prepared to meet our real transit needs. How do we fix this?

    1. We’re hoping last week was an eye opener for ST. With the help of this community and the general public – we can work with ST to ensure it has projects worth voting for.

      1. I hope so too. However, I also hope you have a Plan B ready to go – such as one using the monorail authority – in case ST doesn’t listen. Transit supporters will be more likely to vote “no” if a better proposition is on the same ballot. And, we can’t let 2016 go by without getting something through.

      2. @William C.

        How much money is there in the monorail authority? Does it have property taxes which is capped at 1%?

      3. Is there any way we can raise the profile of this a bit more? Maybe get the Stranger or a news station to cover it?

      4. To get an alternative on the ballot in November 2016 it would have to be finalized around June, which in turn means the plans would have to be solidified early next year. That’s the point where it would close the window on cooperating with ST and trying to get a better ST3 and we’d be in direct competition with it. We’d also need somebody to build it because we wouldn’t get ST to, or at least ST wouldn’t commit to it before the election. We also need to avoid rushing into anything with an authority run by amateurs, because that’s what led to the monorail’s fiasco.

      5. We’re hoping last week was an eye opener

        You may be falsely presuming that Sound Transit has the slightest interest in seeing.

      6. Would we really need a construction agency lined up by time of the ballot? Couldn’t that come afterwards, as it does with most projects?

        Perhaps Seattle Subway should be preparing something at the same time as trying to work with ST, in case they are completely unwilling to do anything reasonable.

      7. Farro, that raises an important question: how do we avoid making the mistakes the monorail team did?

      8. I’ll be honest and say I only have a vague idea of what went wrong is-I was a kid when the monorail stuff developed, and on the other side of the country at that. My familiarity with Seattle starts in the year 2013.

      9. (Note: I have been given the whole story by some longtime Seattle residents. But fact of the matter is that I was around 7 when the monorail authority was passed, and Seattle had no relevance to my life until 2 years ago, so I never followed it nor was I there to see it unfold)

      10. DP: Everyone likes winning. This whole community spoke with one voice last week. It was a powerful message and I think it did get through.

        Farro/Mike: If we have to go with Plan B we would definitely want ST to build it. It not particularly unusual for them to get a new funding source for specific work. The monorail failed on many fronts but one of the biggest was underestimating how difficult it is to start a new agency from scratch. ST exists already and has a really good project delivery history. Why re-invent that wheel?

      11. The issue is the bad will that might be engendered if we run a competing initiative at the same time as ST3. That might make ST less willing to build it.

      12. I’ll take a chance of bad will over no rail for four more years, or bucketfuls of tax dollars being shipped to the far suburban wastelands.

    2. I take it ST didn’t know the results of this study when they designed the eight concepts, because this throws six of them out the window.

    3. Matt, it’s not a “proposal”. ST (and the posts) have been very clear about that.

      1. Semantics. Not including a Seattle Subway style solution in a “conceptual study” not much over one year to vote time certainly implies it isn’t included in their (current) plan. From your post “It’s the first document that scopes projects based on overall package sizes.” If they’re not *proposing* those options, at least preliminary, then I don’t understand the point of it.

      2. They are not proposals, in the sense that they haven’t proposed anything, but they are scoped packages.

      3. I’m happy to yield on this, it’s just language. But a proposal is an idea offered for acceptance or rejection. Sure, it’s not a final proposal – that would be the ballot measure. But if I’m understanding these “scoped packages”, the intent is to offer options for the board to add to the list or reject.

        I feel maybe I’m missing Andrew and Martin’s point (I haven’t read many of the hundreds of comments, so I may be missing something), if it’s beyond just semantics.

      4. Sorry, I was agreeing with you, Matt. The difference between a “proposal” and a “scoped package” isn’t really important at this stage. As you said “final proposal” means a lot. Until then, the distinction between “proposal” and “package” isn’t really important.

      5. I “propose” that any efforts to beat around this particular semantic bush should go fuck themselves.

        ST never walks back its idiocy. These useless specimens are what the agency intends to propose, has always intended to propose, and will inevitably propose.

        Let’s stop kumbaya-ing the misguided assertion that these people can have sense talked into them.

  3. While the ST data does predict capacity issues for downtown, ST will most certainly not repeat the mistake of Joint Ops. Nor will the build another DT tunnel just for buses. You simply don’t build your most capital intensive piece of infrastructure and then run your lowest capacity, lowest reliability, highest O&M cost mode through it.

    This is just another step in ST building the case for another rail-only tunnel in DT, and it is a further indication that the direction of ST is towards Ballard-DT-WS and not towards any sort of Ballard Spur.

    1. I think it says the opposite actually. A rail only line to Ballard won’t capture enough trips to downtown to significantly reduce the number of buses heading downtown from north Seattle. However an east west line with stations at key locations could in fact capture a lot of this demand and funnel it away from downtown. A hub and spoke system requires everyone to go to the hub to transfer even if their destination is on a spoke. A distributed network would allow people to avoid the hub while giving them faster trips.

      For those actually heading downtown a new bus/rail tunnel would cut out the most congested leg of that trip.

      1. Ditto from the southwest.

        Build a glorified Junction Choo Choo Shuttle and continue to see a ton of pressure for rush-hour express buses from everywhere else on the peninsula into (surface) downtown.

        Built the WSTT and everything from that 1/7 of the city goes underground.

        Low-demand, low-utility rail is simply not the answer to an impending capacity crunch.

    2. “The mistake of joint ops” – this one kills me. The mistake that moves an enourmous number of people through DT Seattle every day?

      Could joint ops be better? Sure. 100% off board payment and sane follow rules for buses would be a nice start.

      The point is – even if ST builds a Ballard/WS line and the city builds the center city connector there eill STILL be even worse choke point issues DT than there are today.

      Closing the current bus tunnel, taking down the viaduct, and intensified development guarantee it.

      1. Yeah, lazurus seems to forget that the best piece of transit infrastructure this region ever built was the bus tunnel. Long before we even considered running a train through it, the tunnel saved millions of passengers millions of hours. We are probably ten years away from the point where the train (running through that same tunnel) catches up to the buses in terms of ridership.

        Having the train also allowed us to build light rail in the first place. Without it, Sound Transit, facing the updated estimates that showed that we couldn’t build light rail from the UW to SeaTac, would have just punted, and gone with buses. After all, they were afraid to tunnel from downtown to the UW, so you can imagine tunneling through downtown (along with under Beacon Hill). Too risky — might as well punt.

        Anyway, that is just the first paragraph. Your other points are absolutely correct and key.

      2. The DSTT was the most worthwhile transit investment we’ve ever made besides Link, and it was a necessary stopgap, and it probably made Link possible. But both ST and Metro are heavily frustrated with joint operations for the same reasons we are, and are reluctant to ever do it again. They’re the ones that are directly affected by the cost of compensating for delays whenever a bus breaks down or lowers its wheelchair lift or they just can’t fit all of them in the tunnel. Also, bus mode apparently requires a center lane for breakdowns, and that precludes center platforms which is one of the biggest flaws in the DSTT.

        And that raises the question of when can “rail-convertable” be converted? Even if we build a Ballard-West Seattle rail line, the other bus routes would have to remain in the tunnel or be kicked outside. If they’re inside they slow down trains. If they’re outside, you destroy high-quality transit to those areas.

      3. Joint operation is tricky, but hopefully this will be designed from the very beginning with that in mind. That wasn’t the case with the existing tunnel. One of the problems with that tunnel is that they changed the rules half way through. Initially there was a “free ride” area, which meant that no one paid fair for anything in the tunnel. Meanwhile, the stations were designed so that they could be converted to require fares via turnstiles. So it really is the worst of both worlds. If Link went with requiring payment to enter the loading area, then Metro could adopt the same thing, and it would work smoothly. If we still had the old “free ride” area, then it would run smoothly as well. I’m not arguing for either, but this is the price we pay for our current approach.

        Another problem is our “toe in the water” approach. Rather than jumping in with Northgate to SeaTac (or even UW to downtown) we put a very small part of our train system in there. So now the trains run alongside buses, yet they replace very few of them.

        As far as the WSTT is concerned, we should have BRT style payment for all the downtown stops from the beginning. I really don’t care if this is proof of payment or turnstile — the number of cheaters is so small it doesn’t matter. But the buses need to move fast, as they did with the old “free ride system”. It is a bit weird to have regular bus stops (with payment required next to the driver) on some bus stops, but not downtown, but that will be rather obvious and not that rare (I think Madison BRT will have that).

        Once you add the trains, this should be worked out. I see nothing wrong with turnstiles on these stops, even if you have proof of payment on the rest of Link. At one Link station you tap and walk, while at the other station you tap and walk through a turnstile. If buses were going to share the other tunnel for another ten years I’m sure they would be talking it about it now. But once ST 1 passed, the long term plan was to kick out the buses. I don’t think that will be the case here, which means that work will have to be done to figure out how to get them to cooperate nicely.

        But before you can mix the buses and trains, you build UW to Ballard light rail. This helps ease the transition, because it gives people other ways to get there. Assuming the WSTT carried only buses and you are trying to get from 45th and Aurora to Capitol Hill, then you would take a bus along Aurora, then head northeast on Link. But with UW to Ballard light rail, you consider going the other way (via the UW). This means that Ballard to downtown is maybe not as frequent or maybe not as big as one might assume.

        I’m not sure if you send many buses to the surface, ever. With Ballard to UW light rail, maybe you have something similar to what exists now (the train running around every 6 minutes peak). The difference is that you have level boarding and off board payment for all the buses.

        Worse case scenario you do send *some* of the buses to the surface, but they don’t go very far, or at least are decoupled (like the Rapid Ride C and D). Those that are in a hurry to get to the other side of downtown just get off at one end and ride the train (or a different bus) while those that aren’t ride it to its layover.

        I could also see them building a secondary tunnel from the SoDo busway to I. D. (a pretty short distance) along with a “turn back” bus tunnel there. That way, buses run unimpeded from West Seattle to the International District and then turn around. From there you are certainly “in downtown” (unlike SoDo) and can easily transfer anywhere. If bus/train mixing is really an issue, then the trains going from Ballard to SoDo would have to be coming fairly frequently (along with trains coming from the south and east) so that investment (probably less than a billion) would be justified.

        I’m not too worried about, really. Like I said, the bus tunnel paid for itself many times over before we ran the train through it. If they mess it up in the future (and can’t the trains and buses to cooperate) we will have a much better system for the initial period, and a much better system overall (even if it isn’t ideal).

    3. Well surprise, surprise. The City Center Connector, whatever its merits, doesn’t replace a second downtown tunnel. So perhaps the city should make the tunnel higher priority and defer the CCC.

    4. Wait a second lazurus, are you saying the data isn’t important? Let me get this straight: you argued against a station at NE 130th because the data said that it wouldn’t alter ridership much, ignoring the fact that ST clearly didn’t consider the ridership gains to Sound Transit (or transit in general) from a bus route grid based on that station. Now you are saying that the fact that the data suggests a major crunch in downtown travel (even with a train from Ballard to West Seattle) is somehow unimportant, and that we should ignore serving the bigger region and go ahead and build rail anyway, just for giggles.

      What you are saying would make sense if Ballard and the West Seattle Junction were like Belltown, and the rest of the city was like North Bend, but it isn’t. I hate to break it to you, but Seattle is not a city with a small handful of very populous spots surrounded by a sea of nothing. Look at the density maps. Outside of areas we are about to serve (UW and downtown) the city has moderately dense areas throughout the region. So, maybe folks in West Seattle backtrack and go the wrong direction, and spend oodles of time transferring to a train that makes no stops before reaching downtown (arriving well after their bus would have arrived downtown). But folks in other areas won’t. No one on Aurora is going to take a bus to Ballard or the U-District, just to get downtown. No one in South Lake Union is going to take a bus to lower Queen Anne to get on the train, and if the train goes the other direction, the opposite will be true (no one in lower Queen Anne will take a bus to SLU just to go downtown). They will all take a bus downtown, and then find the buses clogged.

      I find your comments interesting, lazurus, because they so often match what S. T. says. I sometimes wonder if you work for them, but don’t want to come out and say so. Fair enough. But I don’t think you get it. I don’t think you realize that your opinions are at odds with every expert on here (and I’m sure they would be at odds with independent third party experts as well). Maybe that doesn’t matter, but if Sound Transit feels that way, then ST3 is going down in flames. You can’t have a huge number of your supporters saying “I won’t vote for that” and expect to win an election. It just won’t happen. Imagine if Seattle Subway and this blog and the Sierra Club and lots of other big supporters of transit reject the proposal, and do so because they think it is stupid. It will be worse than “Roads and Transit” (you will be lucky if you get 40% in favor).

      I think you and ST think that the “safe thing to do” is to continue on the current course and focus on West Seattle to Ballard light rail (Viva la Monorail!). But it isn’t. The safe thing to do is adopt either this plan or UW to Ballard light rail. Both will not only gain you more mobility for less money (as just about any expert will tell you) but they will gain a lot more votes as well. Sound Transit will need every one, too (it will be very close, as the suburbs don’t support extending the spine nearly as much as folks at ST think they do).

      1. We’d like to see how full lines perform with the updated PSRC numbers before commenting further in detail. There are a lot of configurations we could get behind. Some we will love more than others. As a starting point — the WSTT and all grade separated rail is a must.

        Some thoughts:

        There were obvious mistakes all over the West Seattle study work (and different/even worse mistakes distributed to political actors.) That said – I will say that I was surprised at how not-horrible West Seattle option C5 was with their current numbers. Just slightly worse than Corridor B from Ballard/DT. It seems to rely on an awfully large percentage of the peninsula riding every day though… so I take those numbers with a grain of salt. 95k people in West Seattle and a ridership estimated midpoint of 51k/day? huh. I’m guessing a big chunk of that ridership estimate is the part of the line that overlaps the WSTT.

        ST has been dead set against Ballard/UW from day 1 – and we’re still waiting to hear why. All the excuses we’ve heard are really weak considering how well that line will perform.

        3 minute headways on the spine means you could even interline with 9 minute headways to Ballard and 3/6 headways north of the U-Dist. There is still plenty of time to stage that plan at the Roosevelt station and it would drop the price of Ballard/UW even further.

  4. They’ve got the WSTT at 5-8k and the existing link running at like 30k – is the plan for a lower capacity WSTT, or is this because they see less demand there, and the shortfall in capacity is along particular routes, not general?

    I’m also curious how the numbers pencil out relative to the frequency*train capacity numbers that have been popular here, and relative to the city center connector study.

    Is there my effort to look at east-west rather than n-south capacity?

    Really what I’m saying is I need to read it.

      1. if the tunnel only serves Ballard and West Seattle, the ridership would be a lot lower. Once you bring in the Aurora, 15th and Sodo busway lines you serve a lot more people.

      2. Exactly. Let’s not forget South Lake Union, either. Aurora will soon be buried north of Denny (as soon as Bertha gets her ass moving). A station at, say, Thomas, would connect fairly well to both sides of Aurora. A bus could easily go along there as well, allowing folks to transfer to get deeper into South Lake Union (or over to Cascade). If I’m in Bellevue and I’m headed to Westlake and Harrison, I think I would just transfer downtown (I. D.) and ride the first bus headed up Aurora. Five minutes later I’m walking on Thomas and five minutes later I’m walking in the door to work. Sure beats the streetcar.

  5. In 50 years, the existing DSTT will be cursed for having too many stations that are too small. Restricting trains to just 4 cars will be a major significant ridership constraint in the future. We will need a tunnel that makes fewer stops in downtown and permits longer trains. Ballard > Downtown > Rainier Valley might be OK with 4 car trains, but service to the eastside, the University District and possibly South King County will need bigger trains. That’s what I see in my crystal ball.

    1. Don’t get lost in the number four. Not many other places have the ability to operate 400′ long trains able to carry 800 people. New York may be able to run 10-car trains, but the vehicles are shorter, and in some cases half the length of a Link vehicle. Link’s capacity of 12,000 people per direction per hour is impressive by most standards and is how a system should be measured. Plus, 30 years ago, a 400′ platform seemed pretty dang big.

      50 years from now is an unreasonably long time to critique investments made 30 years ago. By that time, in 2065(!), the DSTT itself will be 75 years old and the design over 80.

      1. The platforms and the mezzanines and the surface-access penalty were outlandishly large then, are outlandishly large today, and will be outlandishly large 50 years from now.

        Here’s the hint one should take from New York, where stations moving 5x more people than ours ever will have about 1/10th of the interior space: The station is a portal to the outside world. It’s not for lingering. If your platform is too crowded, then your train has taken too long to arrive. If your exiting passengers bottleneck, then that is about the stairway capacity, and not about platform space.

        The DSTT has the largest and least convenient stations I have ever seen on any transit system in the world. And ours is a minor system in a minor city. And thanks to Sound Transit’s incompetence, probably minor forever (overbuilt stations too far apart being one primary reason).

        Arguing for further enlargement — much less for fewer and costlier stations to further reduce system accessibility — is an appallingly backward position for anyone who has seen our terrible transportation outcomes to take.

      2. It looks like Link’s articularted cars should be counted as two cars when comparing to a traditional system.

      3. Though as I was reminded when traveling with suitcases yesterday, Mike, the next generation of Link cars will need significantly smarter interior design to be as functionally large as they are physically large.

      4. Most standard (non-shuttle) NYC subway trains are 480-600′ long depending on the route.

        DC Metro platforms are 600′ capable, even if Metro doesn’t often run full-length trains.

        The Green Line in Boston has short station platforms. Most trains are 2 cars, although 3-car and even 4-car trains are possible.

      5. Regarding d.p.’s comment, I don’t get what the fetish is in this town for mezzanines with absolutely NOTHING on them in transit stations. What’s the point? Either put shops/coffee kiosks or just put the stairs/escalators right to the platforms.

      6. The DSTT has the largest and least convenient stations I have ever seen on any transit system in the world.

        I have seen larger and less convenient. For example, Roppongi station is like 50m underground and it takes minutes to get to the surface, and in my vague memory, most of the stations in St Petersburg are at a similar depth. But they didn’t put those there randomly. it was out of some physical need. Our stations are large for really, no reason whatsoever. The mezzanines look great but harm utility.

      7. @Andrew Smith

        Parts of Tokyo station are pretty bad too. Big long escalators to deep platforms… but at least those are express trains, and at least there is always a vending machine.

        Our stations have almost nothing in them.

      8. Our stations have almost nothing in them.

        How is that we have huge platforms downtown and not even a coffee stand in any of them?

      9. Why is it somehow okay to splatter enormous advertisements all over our transit vehicles, giving big advertising companies a handy workaround for the city’s eminently sensible ban on billboards, but somehow it would be uncouth to let small commercial vendors gain some actual value from of the vast expanses of inexplicably empty space built into all of our train stations?

      10. Indeed, Andrew, I was referring to massivity and long lateral walks to egress points that clearly have no site-specific structural or geological rationale.

        My personal experience with Soviet-era construction depth comes from Prague, and yes, those are some darned long escalators. Some run at double speed. But when you get to the bottom, you step about ten more feet, and there’s your train. When you get to the top, there’s your street.

        It’s like the minds behind Seattle infrastructure are creating intentional pointlessness and barriers to useful outcomes.

      11. There are some post-Soviet ones that do quite a bit worse than the Prague example. Almaty, the only one I have any experience with in that general zone, is atrocious: multiple levels and big hallways and a long escalator (running at normal speed) to reach your train, plus a bag check and metal detector at the beginning.

        Almaty metro is the DSTT on steroids (seriously, they even have a similar look in some of their styling, though the layout is much more Soviet in Almaty)

      12. When I was looking at the Roosevelt station plans… the mezzanine will have a rather substantial amount of room for retail.

    2. I’ve been saying for some time that ST is recently obsessed with studying extensions and new lines — yet haven’t put in any significant work on how the core system operations will be affected by them. A study to look at them (and other core system issues like infill station costs, grade separation costs south of Downtown) is badly needed before anything should happen on finalizing an ST3 program.

  6. Seems like the wrong conclusion.
    If the bus stops are capacity constrained, solution is to run fewer buses through downtown.
    Transfers to light rail are more than bit cheaper than a brand new tunnel.

    And the very best capacity improvement today is get rid of buses in tunnel.

      1. Transfers outside downtown.
        SODO station.
        UW station.

        Keep the buses out of downtown.

        Saw a joint Ops transit fail this morning.
        Transit Ambassador held a bus for an angry longboarder this AM in ID station, but had the temerity to say no skateboarding.

        Northbound blocked for 15 mins, while supervisors were called, and bus driver was calling for backup – clearly not feeling safe.

        Worst part, they let the skateboarder stay on the bus. I feel bad for the bus driver and the paying passengers.

      2. Perhaps our agencies should come up with a security plan that removes trouble-inciters, but doesn’t hold vehicles of any mode for 15 minutes on the basis of such a minor incident.

        That is neither about mode or about tunnel capacity, it’s about a meek small town failing to grow up and understand that its mobility system needs its moving parts to keep moving, and that security procedures which conform to that goal exist in the world.

        That said, psf is not wrong to cite the excess of routes that enter the CBD as part of the capacity problem. System complexity, which Metro retains on the surface in spades, leads to much less platform-space efficiency than a network of consolidated core routes, legible and ultra-frequent and great for accessing various parts of the city and beyond with a minimum of the algorithmic planning currently required.

        Again, this is true regardless of mode. However, edge-of-CBD transfers are never advisable — they’re all penalty and essentially no gain. A connection-based system needs to be as logical and painless as possible. So it isn’t as simply as making everyone transfer a mile away.

      3. Keep in mind, unlike the WSTT, transferring at the UW or SoDo wouldn’t do anything for Queen Anne (east, west, upper or lower), Interbay, Belltown or South Lake Union.

        As far as mixing buses and trains, Mike raised a similar issue and simply forcing a transfer is one of the last things you would do (

        Basically, for the short run, you have buses running through there. For the long run, you plan on mixing buses and trains. This “long run” approach is why we are in mess right now. The long run is for us to get rid of all the buses. That means this is a transition time, where we put up with buses that require on board payment (and lack level boarding) while Link requires proof of payment. Both could be eliminated, but neither agency wants to deal with it because everyone knows this is only a short term problem. But on this line mixing trains and buses could occur for forty years and we should plan on it. Besides, we should have off board payment (of some sort) for all vehicles in the new tunnel, regardless of what they are (just as we used to with the old bus tunnel).

        But as I mentioned, I could also see an additional, small tunnel being built to handle traffic from the south(west). If you get to I. D., you are as far as you need to go. Handling Aurora/South Lake Union traffic, on the other hand, is much harder, but maybe you could turn them back at the Belltown stop. Again, these are somewhat less than ideal measures, but they would not cost that much (once the WSTT is built) and completely solve the “problem”. But that would only make sense if it really was a problem, if the transit demand along the Ballard/Queen Anne/downtown corridor was so large that it justified kicking out all the buses. Either way it makes sense to build this, for the short or long term.

    1. And of course, trains go to all the destinations that buses do, so nobody has to take a bus. Taking a train three stations to where the bus diverges and transferring may or may not help anything depending on the situation.

    2. Exactly. The buses are just too inefficient at loading/unloading to ever work in a tunnel environment where all have to wait for one. Topside the bus held up in the back at a stop can pull out and around, obviously not in the tunnel. The train can consistently roll into the station and unload/reload a capacity crowd of hundreds in under a minute.

      It’s not just about capacity anyway. Reliability is also very important and there is nothing less reliable than buses that get stuck in traffic, held up by people paying in nickels, and spend over a minute loading a single passenger if they happen to need the ramp.

      1. Mandating offboard fare payment in the tunnel would fix a lot of that. Not sure how it would be implemented, but I think it’s been discussed to death on this blog.

      2. Hell, since we’d be building the WSTT from scratch, it could be designed for offboard payment (such as turnstiles) from the get-go

      3. Buses can be designed to do everything that trains do, expect carry as many people. This means level boarding, off-board payment, the works —

        Now, given the huge investment in building a long grade separated line, it is often just better to run trains on it (to get the advantage of the added capacity). That is why, for example, no one is suggesting a BRT tunnel be built for Ballard to UW.

        So it really depends on the situation as to which system makes the most sense. There are a couple reasons why this makes sense for this area:

        1) A very dispersed coverage area. West Seattle is very spread out, and if you include the Aurora and Ballard areas, then it is as well. For West Seattle it would mean a very time consuming transfer for the vast majority of riders (folks would have to transfer in West Seattle to the train). For the Aurora corridor (which includes South Lake Union) it means no service at all.

        2) A fast bus way. The West Seattle freeway is fast westbound all day long, and fast eastbound most of the day. With a little bit of work (a bit more HOV lane) it could be fast both directions all day long. Aurora is pretty fast all day long (HOV lanes). 15th has HOV lanes, although the bridge is problematic. In short, BRT leverages the existing infrastructure in ways that a train can’t (to be fair, a train could leverage 15th, but that is about it — it can’t even leverage the bridge, which is a lot more expensive than elevated over 15th).

        It really is a matter or picking the right tool for the job. For Ballard to UW, it is light rail. There is no “Ballard to UW” expressway, there is only a clogged street, where traffic averages in the middle digits in the middle of the day. Building light rail there makes sense.

        But for this section, for all three corridors (West Seattle, Ballard/Queen Anne and Aurora/South Lake Union) this is what makes sense.

      4. I agree, Farro. Keep in mind that the existing tunnel is actually designed so that you can add that, but they never have done that, because:

        1) We have a “ride free area” that made it unnecessary for many years.
        2) Link went with proof of payment. We might still add turnstiles, if not for the fact that …
        3) The situation is temporary. Since ST1 passed, we knew we were going to kick out the buses.

        So basically, between the end of the “ride free area” time and when Link takes over the tunnel we have to endure this mess. But if folks thought this was the long term situation, then I think we would probably deal with it.

        It would be a completely different ball game with this tunnel, since there will be no “ride free area” and it may be a really long time (if ever) before we kick out the buses from this tunnel.

    3. Houston and Boston are two cities that don’t run many buses through their downtowns and push riders to use rail instead.

      1. This study is saying that there won’t be enough capacity on rail to move people through DT. Even after building Ballard to WS rail, The Center City Connector, and running 3 minute headways on the current line.

  7. Would the Aurora branch of the WSTT interfere with the portal of the new highway 99 tunnel? Or would the bus tunnel actually join with the highway 99 tunnel shortly before it surfaces?

    1. The Battery street tunnel is going to be abandoned by the new tunnel project. The plan has been to fill it in.

      WSTT would repurpose the abandoned corridor.

      1. But, how would it be able to connect to Aurora and Denny? Isn’t the new portal of the WSDOT tunnel going to be right there? Or would the new tunnel open to Aurora just north of Denny (skipping the light to cross Denny as a nice side-effect)?

      2. @asdf2 The new portal is off to the west near Thomas and 6th here:,-122.3439575,165m/data=!3m1!1e3

        I am not sure how the connection to Aurora will be handled, but it will certainly not off solely into the tunnel. The existing buses will still go downtown, and they are not going to shut down battery until the new tunnel is open, so the new tunnel will not intersect with battery Street tunnel in any way.

        From what I can tell, once the new tunnel is done, they will simply tear down the viaduct, fill in the tunnel and block off/fill in the parts of aurora that don’t already rejoin the street grid.

        We could instead create a new portal and keep a similar portal alignment to what already exists (restricted at first to buses only). Hopefully without effecting the reconnection of the street grid which is also supposed to happen.

      3. asdf2,

        No, the portal of the DBT is between Aurora and Sixth North about Republican.

  8. How much of this forecast is influenced by the PSRC growth projections, which we have been saying on this blog are incorrect? They are only forecasting an additional ~40k residents living in the city center by 2035. This seems a little low to me and puts a lot of emphasis on people needing to get to places only served by bus.

    1. The PSRC is heavily biased towards suburban and rural interests, so I wouldn’t read too much into whatever they say. Remember, it includes communities along the entire sound, including the west side of the sound.

  9. If you take a look at the study, this is actually a pretty clear indication that WSTT may be needed eventually, but is a poor investment for the 2035 timeframe.

    Just look at the numbers: Link can handle 24k peak hour trips **at 3 minute headways**!

    As we’ve learned elsewhere, Link can handle at least 2 minute headways, potentially, even 90 second headways.

    Assuming you decrease Link to 2 minute headways that’s an additional 12k trips per hour — which is more than the 8k overcapacity that downtown will experience.

    Additionally, this assumes 5 minute headways for seattle streetcar, along with 1 car trains. Another thing we should consider is 2-car trains for the streetcar, considering that people are finially waking up to giving it exclusive ROW.

    Personally, if it’s a 0-sum game I’d much rather see more rail investment outside of downtown (e.g. Ballard spur, west seattle etc…). If money was unlimited, sure, let’s invest in a second tunnel that will have only 5-8k riders per hour, but money is NOT unlimited. Let’s work on building out the network before we build out additional capacity in an area that will have capacity available for at least the next 20 years!!

    1. The suggestion, which holds up to this particular scrutiny, is that removing the end-to-end downtown bottleneck from many non-Link-served directions may be a far more judicious strategy to benefit a high volume of passengers than spindly, low-demand radial rail lines (like to the Junction) could ever be.

      And also that this really isn’t a “downtown investment” as you implicitly portray it, because the benefits of its efficiency and reliability and time savings are enjoyed mostly by those coming from Ballard and Queen Anne and far-north Aurora and Delridge and Admiral and White Center, most of whom would not benefit in the slightest from arbitrary (and less time-saving) rail segments across Interbay or the Duwamish.

      I agree that the North Seattle crosstown subway has by far the greatest bang-for-buck, simply because it connects so many places for relatively few bucks. The WSTT is a great complement to that.

    2. First off, the tacit assumption is that this tunnel is not that expensive. It is probably cheaper than building just one station on West Seattle to SoDo.

      I agree that the first tunnel can handle plenty of people. The problem is that you either:

      1) Try and get everyone to use that tunnel or
      2) Build another tunnel

      The first has been discussed a lot here, and it simply won’t work very well. It is fine for Ballard, assuming you build the UW to Ballard light rail line. But then you ask folks in West Seattle to all transfer at SoDo. That is problematic. That means, for example, a three seat ride for a trip from West Seattle to Bellevue, with second and third being not particularly frequent (six minutes maximum, if that). It is also a two seat ride just to downtown (again, with a six minute transfer at best). Of course, if you build light rail from West Seattle to SoDo (which is on the drawing board) it gets worse (four seat ride to Bellevue, three seat ride to downtown).

      For Queen Anne it is useless. Lower Queen Anne, Upper Queen Anne, East Queen Anne and West Queen get nothing from UW to Ballard light rail if they are headed downtown.* Likewise with Magnolia. Meanwhile, all those areas benefit greatly by the WSTT.

      The Aurora corridor is a bit different. Folks could transfer from a bus along Phinney Ridge to the UW to Ballard train. But South Lake Union and Belltown are a different story. Those areas get nothing out of UW to Ballard, but they get a lot of out WSTT.

      So basically, almost all of Queen Anne, as well as all of Magnolia, South Lake Union and Belltown gain from WSTT. This isn’t small potatoes. This is where the capacity concerns come into play. None of those people will use the other light rail line (it is just too far away) yet many of those folks want to get to and through downtown. That adds up to a lot of buses moving through clogged streets, which is very inefficient, to say nothing of unfortunate for anyone who rides those buses (like the Metro 8, it is no good for anyone).

      All that, and you (at best) screw over West Seattle. If nothing else, that would be a political disaster. Like it or not, West Seattle has the idea that they will get some sort of dramatic improvement in transit service with the next ballot measure (despite the fact that their transit world is pretty good compared to most people in this city). This, along with some other relatively cheap measures, gives those in West Seattle a *better* transit ride than what has been discussed by the idiots at ST recently (a “starter” line to SoDo, which, as I said would mean a four seat ride to Bellevue, and a three seat ride to downtown).

      The WSTT has plenty of merit. It would make life much better for the areas I mentioned — most of Queen Anne, all of Magnolia and West Seattle, South Lake Union and Belltown (and to a lesser extent Ballard and the northern Aurora corridor). But politically, it is probably the best thing we can build.

      * Obviously everyone benefits from UW to Ballard light rail. Just in service hours saved it is great, but you also have folks in the areas I mentioned that would benefit from UW to Ballard light rail. Rather than going from, say, lower Queen Anne all the way downtown and then back again to get to the UW, you would go to Ballard and then over. That is why, as d. p. said, the two routes compliment each other quite well. Avoiding downtown for a trip like that is great, but only if the bus arrives on time, and isn’t twenty minutes late because it is stuck in traffic.

      1. RossB

        The PNG at the top shows four very expensive new downtown stations.
        I think the estimate was 1.1 billion for stations & tunnel, but could be mistaken.

      2. Right, 1.1 billion. Like I said, cheap.

        Seriously though, even if this cost a couple billion, that is still cheaper than West Seattle to SoDo light rail (meaning one stop in West Seattle, connected to a station at SoDo, which would then require a transfer to Link just to get downtown). Even the cheapest grade separated light rail line from Ballard costs over 2 billion, and that again forces a transfer (this time at Westlake).

        This stuff is expensive, which is why it is important to get it right. This gets it right. For the amount of money we are talking about, this is just a better value just about anything, except maybe light rail from the UW to Ballard.

      3. Whoa Ross, Queen Anne buses will not be using the WSTT because they’re trolleys through routed to First Hill/CD. They can’t get out of the tunnel to climb the hill; they will remain on Third Avenue.

      4. psf,

        And four is too few. This is a local tunnel for in-city travelers. It should have stations every four blocks at the most in the CBD and six blocks through Belltown/Uptown.

      5. Queen Anne trolleys are so eternally, excruciatingly, irredeemably slow that transferring to a WSTT bus at LQA would be an absolute no-brainer.

        There is no transfer penalty on earth that would keep me slogging those trolleys across Belltown, if a grade-separated transfer option materialized.

        And the stops do not need to be any closer to one another downtown than on the DSTT (or closer than 1/2 mile north of the CBD) to be sensible for shorter trips. They just need to be designed non-stupidly for the sake of convenient access.

    3. “As we’ve learned elsewhere, Link can handle at least 2 minute headways, potentially, even 90 second headways.”

      This is only possible with major upgrades and another shutdown of the DSTT. For all intents and purposes – three minutes is the max for the foreseeable future.

      The study is saying that even with the CCC, packed trains on 3 minute headways, and a Ballard to WS rail line that includes a DT tunnel there will be a 5-8k/hour capacity deficit at peak. Beyond the capacity issue there is the efficiency and speed issue which the WSTT improves for a very large group of transit riders.

      We’ve been misquoted a few times on the cost of the WSTT. ST estimated the part from ID to Westlake at $1B. The extension north would add two stations and $700k-$1B. At that price ($1.7-2B) it would still be the most efficient project proposed by ST. It would mean a major transit improvement to a huge catchment area and a downpayment on future rail expansion.

      If ST3 had only two projects, they should clearly be Ballard/UW and the WSTT. If Seattle can only build one project (plan B) — its very likely the WSTT because of its broad impact.

  10. This study is looking at aggregate numbers and doesn’t get deep into mode or station specifics.

    In the Lynnwood Link DEIS ridership report (2012) I see on the web, the appendix shows that the highest ridership segment is between Westlake and Capitol Hill stations (page B-3). A westside transit tunnel won’t offload overcrowing on Link for this segment without a fundamentally different structure to the rail system if the primary justification for a new tunnel through Downtown is to relieve capacity.

    1. The flip side of that is that Westlake-Capitol Hill is irrelevant to the capacity problem of north-south travellers in the DSTT, 3rd Ave, 2nd Ave, and 4th Ave combined. There’s also the fact that there’s no grade-separated right of way of any kind between Pine Street and Denny Way where it could make a lot of difference, for the same reason that the DSTT makes a lot of difference.

      1. There are many alignments that could optimize capacity better than the westside tunnel. We need a more detailed assessment of how to do that rather than grab the first or second alignment proposals (like the westside tunnel) and bless it.

        – A Fifth Avenue or Sixth Avenue tunnel that serves South Lake Union?
        – A South Lake Union/Capitol Hill/First Hill/Pioneer Square alignment for a Ballard line?
        – A completed west alignment from UW or Nothgate to Ballard to Downtown to offload overcrowded trips on this segment?
        – An east-west subway line to the CD?

        I or probably anyone else hasn’t fully done the assessment of what the right answer is. Still, if we are to rely on capacity studies to tell us overcrowding deficiencies, we should also use them to test out how theoretical tunneling alignments would relieve the overcrowding before spending millions to recommend one. The data in this report merely tells us that we have a problem, but doesn’t tell us a specific solution to solve it (even though the report makes what I see as a questionably logical jump to insist on a tunnel at the end).

      2. Most of those aren’t on the table, because, rightly or wrongly, Sound Transit is focused on Ballard and West Seattle. This (the WSTT) benefits West Seattle more than a much more expensive light rail line between the two. So it is reasonable for ST to pair this with Ballard to UW light rail (another corridor they are studying) rather than, say, replace the Metro 8 with a subway. I think that idea is certainly justified, it just isn’t on the table yet. Propose this and the Ballard to UW line and you placate West Seattle and Ballard, while they (and the entire region) comes out way ahead.

        Just to be clear, this would serve South Lake Union, just not the “heart” of South Lake union. But so what? If you look at that area, it spreads to both sides (including the area to the west of Aurora). When you consider that a bus will surely travel on Thomas (or a similar street) when Bertha is done, then a stop there is huge.

        But to your particular ideas:

        — A Fifth Avenue or Sixth Avenue tunnel that serves South Lake Union

        I’m assuming that would skip Belltown, which means you skip the most densely populated area in all of Seattle (an area that was part of all of the Ballard to downtown HCT studies). It would probably be more expensive. You might have a slightly better South Lake Union stop but I think it would cost a lot more and not get you much overall.

        – A South Lake Union/Capitol Hill/First Hill/Pioneer Square alignment for a Ballard line —

        I’m not sure what you mean by that. But I will say that the idea of sending the Madison Street stop up the hill a bit (to First Hill) makes a lot of sense, and was discussed. If money allows for it, I would be all in favor (especially if this is the only thing we build). But if it came down to building with it, or building without it, but also having UW to Ballard light rail, I would support the latter.

        – A completed west alignment from UW or Nothgate to Ballard to Downtown to offload overcrowded trips on this segment?

        Ballard to UW? — definitely. Ballard to downtown? — this is cheaper and better because it serves more areas (the Aurora corridor).

        – An east-west subway line to the CD?

        This is what I meant when I said “it isn’t on the table”. Replacing the Metro 8 with a subway (along with replacing the 44) might be the best thing we can do. Put for political reasons, it won’t happen. I think it is best to support this project (and the UW to Ballard light rail) for this next go round, then try and build that.

      3. Let’s be very clear that it is impossible for a rail line to have a station “at the top” of First Hill (Madison and Boren?) and then get down to Pioneer Square. Well, impossible without a station 150 feet deep. And that defeats the purpose of having such a station because it can’t handle the loads it would attract. Just look at Washington Park. For a few hours on select Saturdays and Sundays it is heavily used, and people sometimes wait ten minutes for an elevator. Deep stations like that either have to have incredibly long escalators (DC Metro’s Rosslyn) or elevators. If they have elevators they need relatively light patronage.

  11. By far the biggest capacity issue downtown Seattle has is auto traffic trying to get onto I-5.

    Short of building a massive parking garage at each freeway on-ramp and using that as freeway entrance queuing area (maybe complete with restrooms, coffee stands, and maybe even a fortune teller booth or two like the ferry queue areas have), you have to separate transit traffic from that mess.

    Which is really unfortunate, because there are many advantages to having easily accessible transit on the surface. However, in downtown Seattle those advantages are easily outweighed by the gridlock and backups.

    1. Glenn, have you ever seen any transit system where fast underground travel through a crowded city took either passengers or transit vehicles off surface streets?

      Believe me, nobody misses the (literal) Wall of Buses that used to crawl (understatement) down Third Avenue every PM rush hour?

      Current amount of resemblance shown by DSTT is not only infuriating, but also, and has always been, curable and preventable by training and coordination intended by design but never delivered.

      Something to keep in mind from Day One on another dual mode system. Maybe credible Federal threat to take back money if necessary leadership and effort in operations don’t get delivered will help.

      But subway and street bear a hundred percent analogy with circulatory system in living creatures: if either one fails to develop or thrive, gangrene takes care of the whole problem.


  12. I’m suspicious of this or any study that declares that the solution must be a tunnel because other grade separation designs won’t work. That may be true from a political standpoint or engineering standpoint, but the summarily dismissive conclusions about this solely on the basis of capacity issues puts a cloud over the entire document.

    1. Wait – you’re saying that it might be true that other grade separation designs are impossible from an engineering or political standpoint, but that we should look at them anyway?

      I’m all for doing studies where it is uncertain what the best option is, but in the heart of downtown, grade separation is only going to be underground. The political cost of lost sightlines is just way too high.

    2. Look at it this way, Al. If you had a business, or a corporate office, on, say, Second Avenue through Downtown- where exactly would you put a fast, heavy transit corridor.

      Which by speed and weight requires some fairly heavy structure. Reason, very likely, that Mayor Nickles knew he had a great deal of determined political support for the idea that cancelling the Monorail was best for the city.

      Along with other factors that one would have had to attend monorail board meetings to appreciate. But main point holds, regardless. Downtown Seattle is a funnel by shape and function.

      In mining, it would be called a “bench”: east of a beach, west of a cliff, and maximum five transit-sized streets wide. Also like in mining- tunnel has directional considerations in all three dimensions.

      Especially when there’s another heavily-used tunnel between the transit one, footings for large buildings, and a billion utilities. Access to more dimensions would definitely help- but use your imagination on what early matter transmitter problems would look like.


  13. Not to be a realist… that’s a lie. To be a realist… How many miles of light rail or commuter rail can Sound Transit build out for the cost of drilling another tunnel under downtown Seattle?

    1. For the $1 billion estimate quoted in that Seattle Times article about the WSTT, we could build a 57-mile line running the length of Whidbey Island, from Clinton to Anacortes and come in at $17.5 million per mile. That’s at the cheap end for light rail, but it’s plausible given the gentle topography and rural island environment.

      1. OK, but what does that have to do with addressing the WSTT?

        I think Alex should have asked “how much commuter rail can we build that serves Downtown Seattle?”.

      2. Nothing whatsoever, which was the point; it was a valid but useless answer for an unhelpful question based on mistaken premises.

      3. Nothing whatsoever, which was the point; it was a valid but useless answer for an unhelpful question based on mistaken premises.


      4. Oh, now you’ve done it. I’m sure an ST planner is now working up a way to extend the spine all the way to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.

      5. Ssh, don’t tell Bailo. He’ll want it.

        John, we were talking about a commuter rail line from Sacramento to Eureka, California…

    2. That depends, and mostly on where those miles of light/commuter rail go. The better question is how many passengers would those miles of rail carry for the money. The answer is, given ST’s apparent preferences and past history, likely fewer than another tunnel under downtown. Especially a tunnel under downtown that carries a large portion of bus passengers currently stuck on downtown streets.

    3. Indeed, when your metric for success is ‘miles of track’, it’s a no no-brainer for ST to not build another tunnel.

    4. It depends, but if you are talking grade separated light rail, not as many as you might assume. For example, Corridor B, from Ballard to downtown via Interbay, came in at a lot more than the initial estimate. I found this to be most disappointing, as I love elevated rail (both because it is fun to ride and because it is often a bargain). But when I saw the revised numbers, I eventually dropped my support and started looking at other things (like this).

      Meanwhile, this entire thing can be built for much less than only one segment of light rail to West Seattle. One station on West Seattle to SoDo would cost more than this and be a lot less useful (it would require a transfer just to get downtown to say nothing of all the inconvenient transfers required for the vast majority of West Seattle riders in West Seattle). In other words, for far more than this, you could get the majority of West Seattle riders a three seat ride to downtown (and a four seat ride to Bellevue) that will, of course, take a lot longer. That’s like paying more for a used Yugo versus a brand new Honda.

      It is only where you have a nice, flat right of way that light rail is relatively cheap. Even then (as with the Interbay route) the cost of going over or under bridges can add up. Worse yet, you often don’t get any new riders. The freeway often has an HOV lane and a commuter rail pattern, so it gains you practically nothing. If you are in Everett and want to get to Seattle, would you like to take a bus to another stop in Everett, then transfer to a train that will make 8 different stops before it gets to Lynnwood, or would you rather take a direct bus to Lynnwood that goes 55 MPH the whole way? I think most people would choose the fast (and cheap) direct bus.

      Commuter rail is more complicated. I can’t answer that for you, but you might be able to buy plenty of commuter rail for the money involved with this tunnel. It is kind of a moot point, though, because Seattle doesn’t have (or won’t have) any commuter rail, and Seattle would pay for this. The suburbs of Seattle are a different story (the best value for them is often commuter rail).

      Non grade separated rail is just a streetcar, and performs no better than a bus. It can carry more people, but because it isn’t any faster than a bus, it usually doesn’t need to. It also has various limitations (you can’t go up steep hills). So, in general, there is really no point in building streetcars (especially our streetcars, which have less capacity than our buses).

      We need speed and frequency, and for Seattle, this delivers it a very good price.

    5. Really looking forward to the beginning of discussions on the technical considerations of this project.

      If transit really ran on colored lines and stopped at dots…really, not a bad idea. Paint the pavement of every transit route the correct color, and paint circles around the stops!

      No sillier than green “Express” signs on buses stuck in traffic on Eastlake.

      But even looking at the lines, the real-world considerations of this project beg more questions than a hungry dog sits up and whines for table scraps.

      How, exactly, are the vehicles going to access the tunnel from the north? Freeway travel through the DSTT was never brought up to capacity necessary. But were at least corridors that were sometimes fast.

      Surface arterials are going to need some politically unpopular work. Tunnel and freeways show what happens when it doesn’t get done. But also shows that necessity is no guarantee of delivery.

      Clipper ship analogy to transit gets weird, but people did figure out how to move hundreds of tons of cargo into the wind- using the power of the wind itself.

      Looking at wind-direction of transit financing since the DSTT opened- fate of this project will depend on same ability to handle shifting and unpredictable funding winds through the whole project life.

      Fact that we’ve got no idea what our economy will look like between now and 2035 isn’t fatal by itself, anymore than weather. But the last of the giant German sailing freighters went down with all hands in 1957.

      Partly because nobody remembered how to sail one of those monsters, and also because nobody remembered why hatches had to be nailed shut (battened down).

      Which was because the design that powered the ship required that the ship lean over. The heavier the weather got, and the faster the ship had to go, the more the deck space under water most of the time.

      Doubt they’ll ever name a hurricane “Tim Eyman.” Same disaster as above, same reasons. But with better training and handling…survivable next time.


  14. I am happy to see the interest in the WSTT, but I’m worried about the way Metro is going to treat it during it’s “bus-only” phase–

    Knowing Metro, they’re probably going to have the tunnel close up shop every weekday at 7 PM, have it open on Saturdays for only 8 hours (10AM-6PM) and never open it on Sundays–you know, not thinking there would be enough ridership to keep the tunnel open more than 84 hours a week (out of 168 total) or there would be anyone like Oran or Martin or myself (or dozens of others) who would be outraged that such an expensive infrastructural investment was nor utilized on a full time basis in the first place!

  15. I’m beginning to think we need to shake up Sound Transit and kill the idea of a light rail spine before it kills our transit future. This spine ceases to make any sense (okay, it never really did). We need two grades of regional transit:

    1) high capacity, less frequent, FAST, with sparse stops, commuter, s-bahn, style rail linking Marysville through to Olympia, maybe one day as part of an integrated network of reliable services as far as Bellingham in the north and with high speed rail between Vancouver and Portland.

    2) High capacity, frequent rail service within the ~15 mile radius of downtown Seattle, focusing on serving high demand corridors in the city.

    The first should run mostly on existing railway ROW to the south, and along the freeway median north to Everett. It should access central Seattle via the conversion of the express lanes to stop at a northern terminus – later to be connected via a tunnel to the southern terminus.

    The current Light Rail should stop at Federal Way and go no further, and it should stop at Northgate and go no further. Ballard to UW/Downtown/West Seattle is the next focus, and then Downtown-Queen-Anne-Freemont-north to Shorline next.

    /outsider’s POV.

  16. So it seems clear in this thread and in the Sound Transit Conceptual Study threads that there is a strong consensus developing around the Ballard spur and DSTT as the top priority projects for the region, with the biggest bang-for-buck, need, and distribution of benefits. It’s a bit of a jump to presume that consensus among transit nerds is the same thing as best possible project, but I’ll make that jump. I’m ready to fight for spur + DSTT.

    We should all let our legislators know how we feel. But there’s a bigger challenge than that. While these are two great projects, that greatness isn’t obvious. They aren’t easy to fit into a fifteen second sound bite. I’m sure my mom go for Ballard to West Seattle in a poll. I’d have to spend several minutes to explain to her why an east-west line and a downtown tunnel are actually just as exciting and a whole lot more feasible – and I’m not sure she’d agree with me.

    Sound Transit is very aware of politics; the board is made of of politicians, not appointed bureaucrats, after all. They’re gonna have to be pushed pretty hard to do something that’s better but harder to sell – their skills are in selling. So if we want this to be on the ballot, we’re going to educate Seattle about why these are awesome plans. We’re going to have to get typical Seattleites to start thinking about grade separation and bottlenecks, about what we can fit in a $15 billion package rather than “we should have rail out here, too!”

    I think the first goal should be the Stranger. We can’t explain this stuff through one line slogans – we need newspaper articles to teach people about what you can do with buses, about geometry problems of rail in West Seattle, about the value of routes where driving and bussing are really bad. This takes a longer attention span.

    I think the Stranger is the place to go. They’re strongly pro-transit, as is their readership. They’re much more widely read and influential than STB – legal weed and gay marriage owe a heck of a lot to their years of advocacy. If the stranger takes up an issue, eventually the Seattle Times has to talk about it, and if we get this conversation going, we can win it. If you spend some time thinking about transit, you can learn a few things and understand that the WSTT and the Ballard Spur are spectacular projects, even if they look a little weird at first glance. But that requires thinking about it, which only happens for the voting population if they hear about it, if a conversation gets started.

    So does anybody know any of the staff writers for the Stranger? Can we do a really excellent article, with nice maps and strong graphics, on just why this is the best thing for ST3, and then push the Stranger to do the same?

    1. I think there is a strong consensus for these two projects (UW to Ballard light rail and the WSTT) for political and practical reasons. Practical because neither project is very expensive. Political because it helps West Seattle, Ballard and Queen Anne as well as other places. Those three areas are the places that have been promised something (or at least told we would try and get them something). Even the area between Ballard and the UW (e. g. Fremont) was considered (i. e. the Corridor D project would go through Fremont). So serving these areas makes a lot of sense politically, even if Sound Transit doesn’t see it that way. There might be grumbling (from folks that wanted something different) but there won’t be a wide spread “wait a second, why are they getting something, we are supposed to get something” attitude.

      If not for the political aspect of this, there would be a wider discussion about whether replacing the Metro 8 with a subway makes more sense (seriously). I don’t know if there is a consensus as to the priority when that project is thrown into the mix.

      So I agree that it is “a bit of a jump to presume that consensus among transit nerds is the same thing as best possible project” because when you look at the big picture, I don’t think there is such a consensus. But when filtered down to what is politically possible, or what has been studied, I don’t think it is much of a jump at all. I would put good money on it (and give you really good odds) that just about any independent transit expert would come to the same conclusion. I know, just another nerd’s opinion, but those two projects are just way above the other ones when considered in that light.

      If we have to choose one of the two, from a political standpoint (as Kyle mentioned) the WSTT is the winner. It may not be the best project, but it is very close, and it pleases more people. Building just the Ballard to UW light rail line might piss off West Seattle and maybe even Queen Anne, which would not be good (we need every vote we can get). At worse we get people that initially are disappointed (“Oh man, I want more rail”) then realize that this will make their travel a lot better, while laying the groundwork for future rail. Hopefully we won’t have to choose between the two and we get both projects in ST3.

    2. I think that wider rail accessibility is going to sell better to voters as opposed to a tunnel that won’t appear to be anywhere near capacity until 2023. While us transit advocates can see the importance of a second Downtown tunnel, the average voter on the street will care more about whether they can take a train to more of the Seattle than if the train might be packed for a 30 to 45 minutes period each day projected out 20 years in the future. Maybe by ST4 when the trains are approaching packed as projected, the voters all across the region will embrace that second tunnel and it may be politically possible to even ignore sub-area equity!

      That said, I’d think that the best ST3 strategy is to first get a complete Northwest loop line in place — Downtown to Ballard to UW — with a yard in Interbay. If funds are left over, either begin to look at pushing deeper into Downtown, consider a stub line that ends somewhere along the West Seattle Freeway (4th? 99? Delridge?) and have that line be a third line in the current DSTT to address the anticipated DSTT overcrowding, or get grade separations in SODO or Rainier Valley (possibly with a Graham infill station) and/or improve the existing DSTT stations.

      I realize that I don’t think like many of the regulars here. Still, I’m just calling it as I see it. At some point, we have to sell the idea of ST3 to our neighbors, and taxing to resolve possible overcrowding on paper projected out 20 years isn’t going to get them as excited about voting yes.

  17. I think the tunnel portals could use a little editing, but I’m not sure exactly how or where. It seems like it would be good to take a look at:

    + Getting the 8 off Denny and into a tunnel route for the short east-west distance that Denny is the worst. It’s only one bus route, but it is a pretty busy one. EmX in Eugene uses bi-directional single dedicated lanes in many places, so perhaps if the 8 were put in a tunnel it could operate the same: you would need only a single bore tunnel (which would be cheaper) for much of the distance, but widen it out at the stations so the buses could pass each other. If the stations are frequent enough you wouldn’t need too much schedule rigidity to allow the buses to pass each other at the stations. I’m not sure exactly where it should come to the surface.

    + It seems like it would be good to get some of the trolley buses from Seattle Center into this tunnel as well. However, there doesn’t appear to be a good place to bring them back to the surface anywhere in downtown.

    1. How about something along the lines of a short tunnel branch over to 1st, where the trolley buses in the tunnel could come to the surface, and then join the existing wire there? This then becomes a “central city connector” sort of route, only using trolley buses.

    2. Another idea for changing the tunnel around: Instead of bending south after Uptown, continue due west to the Aurora portal. That’d eliminate the need for an entirely-underground junction and allow all buses to serve both SLU and Belltown, for minimal additional distance.

  18. I think this discussion is silly when we haven’t invested in our bus infrastructure on the surface streets. We don’t really have a sense of how transit can move through downtown because we have an incomplete network of bus only lanes and signal priority for buses.

    Lets talk about another tunnel for buses in downtown after: 1) We put a bus only lane on every street that has transit; 2) Remove parked cars and other bottlenecks to ensure the continuous flow of transit; 3) Add signal prioritization for transit; 4) Ensure that buses don’t get stuck changing lanes — by creating a solid path for transit only — wherever transit is traveling; and 4) Enforce cars blocking intersections.

  19. The downtown capacity study estimates that the DSTT will have the capacity of 24,000 riders per hour assuming 20 four-car trains per hour at 150 people per car: 150 * 4 = 600 * 20 = 12,000 in each direction or 24,000 in both directions.

    The real full load of a LR vehicle is more like 166 so each train can carry 664. At 90 second headways that is 664 * 40 = 26,560 per direction or 53,120 in both directions. This isn’t anything outlandish. Metro systems commonly have capacities of 25,000 to 30,000 people per hour per direction.

    So it seems to me that the real capacity issue is an issue of frequency and not tunnel capacity.

Comments are closed.