1985 system : Seattle Metropolitan Area Recommended Public Transportation Plan

Martin’s recent post on the Everett delegation’s desires for ST3 is a good reminder that Sound Transit is as much a political project as an engineering one (and could it be any other way?).

When ST’s Ric Ilgenfritz spoke to STB readers at our April meetup, he described an agency that was coming out of survival mode and getting its sea legs. It’s hard to remember now, but 20-year-old Sound Transit spent most of its first 10 years fighting for its life.

One might think that after survival mode comes the transition to adulthood. But that would mean skipping over everyone’s favorite time of life, the awkward teen years.

Some of the confusion around ST3 stems from this adolescent awkwardness. What is this thing we’re building? What is this pimply teenager going to look like when it grows up?

One thing that gets Seattle transit advocates reliably twisted around the axle is the assumption that Sound Transit’s mission is to build an urban subway for Seattle’s booming population.  In fact, here’s how Sound Transit defines light rail on its web site:

“Electric train rapid transit that quickly covers long distances. Serves widely-spaced stations spanning the region.”

And here’s the City of Seattle’s Transportation Master Plan:

“Link light rail focuses on regional connectivity and longer-distance trips; by design, it is more of an intercity commuter rail model of transit operation than an urban light rail service.”

Those who want an actual urban subway – fast, grade-separated transit connecting Seattle’s dense inner neighborhoods – basically have to take this regional system called Link and try to bend it to serve those needs, just like some folks in Everett want to bend it their way.  That’s politics. Though it seems like an impossible task, it’s good to recall there have been some victories over the years:

  • The Rainier Valley got quality rail transit, even at the expense of slowing inbound trips from Federal Way and points South. Some favored a cheaper (but faster) Georgetown alignment that would have served fewer people (even the proposed 1985 system, shown above, skipped the RV).
  • Roosevelt station, initially slated to be elevated along I-5, was put underground, allowing for more potential development.
  • When ST was having a major crisis in the late 1990s, some suggested avoiding Capitol Hill altogether and running at grade along Eastlake.  Seattle pushed for a tunnel under Capitol Hill and won.
  • Infill stations at 130th and S. Graham St, while not yet funded, are looking good for potential additions.  At the very least, we’re now designing with infill stations in mind.
  • In 2013, the agency finally adopted rational policies on TOD and station access.

These are small but significant wins in our effort to turn our awkward teenager into a well-adjusted adult. It’s something to keep in mind as ST3 plans begin to emerge. In his recent op-ed for STB, Ilgenfritz himself implored transit advocates to get involved.  He’s right. Light rail will be what the process makes of it.

102 Replies to “An Awkward Adolescence”

    1. I’m just steamed I’ve been sending a bunch of brats to Kindercare all these years.

  1. Interesting how the 1985 map shows a line to Ballard sharing the tunnel with a Northgate/Eastside/Renton line…

    1. We could achieve great and wonderful things back in those days. A shame we’ve lost that ability.

      1. But we didn’t achieve this great and wonderful thing back in those days. It would have been great and wonderful if it had been built, but it probably wouldn’t have been as great or as wonderful as the vision made it out to be.

        It’s just the way things work when vision meets reality.

      2. Strongly disagree.

        Say what you will about the conceptions and misconceptions behind the designs of BART, WMATA, or MARTA — the last especially, built with our earmark — but those contemporary infrastructure-heavy networks got funded and built almost entirely as initially conceived.

        Seattle’s would have too.

      3. The map doesn’t show the left turn and dive below the rail tunnel and the then the sharp left at Pioneer Square Station. It doesn’t reflect any battles with the UW over routing near their campus. It doesn’t reflect the political battling over other details of routing in other areas.

        What is illustrated would not have been built. It might have been close to that, but it would have had to face reality and make real engineering choices about the details.

      4. Some battles always occur, of course. That’s how WMATA skipped Georgetown.

        But for better or for worse, when plans of that era got rolling, less obsequious deference was given to niche forces. I don’t think an objection as stupid as “your train will damage our instruments and upset the laws of physics half a mile away” would have gotten the time of day.

        True story: New York and Boston subways pass through the basements of some of the highest-end hospitals with the most delicate equipment in the world.

        Also true story: UW research buildings have HVAC systems.

        When did Americans stop being able to call spades spades?

      5. Not to mention stuff like elevators.

        The building in which I work vibrates like crazy every time a large truck goes by, and it is a one floor structure sitting on a thick concrete pad.

        If you have delicate instruments, you build isolation into the building. There are too many other sources of vibration.

        The only place I can think of off the top of my head where train vibration was truly an issue was the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. However, you can expect issues when, due to a desire to produce artistic effect, you construct a building essentially designed to be a giant tuning fork.

        A building actually built to house delicate instruments is probably not going to be designed to be a giant resonating chamber itself.

      6. My comment was in regards to interlining two lines in a single tunnel. Such a thing is apparently unpossible nowadays.

        (I actually read the entire report, many years ago, and there were quite a few interesting things raised in discussing lines, alignments, station locations and modality that ST would have been well served to have paid attention too. Having been an interested viewer of this process for all those years, it was pretty clear from the get-go that they were going to start from scratch.)

      7. “My comment was in regards to interlining two lines in a single tunnel. Such a thing is apparently unpossible nowadays.”

        But… it isn’t at all impossible. We’re building it now, as a matter of fact, with East Link. You cannot possibly be serious?

      8. Sorry the snark didn’t translate; we have for whatever reason been told that we needed to build a second downtown tunnel if there is a Ballard line, instead of interlining East Link-Ballard with Lynnwood–Federal Way. The plan shown specifically divided and interlined the Ballard-Redmond/Issaquah line with the Lake City-Renton line (i.e. the same thing that apparently now requires a second downtown tunnel).

        I’m not opposed to the second tunnel per se, just stating that the Forward Thrust plan that called for interlining is in effect the same thing we will have with a Ballard-downtown line (different termini, but still), and can’t interline.

  2. I haz the sad.

    That map (and the accompanying report, for the 1968 election), got me interested in transit in the early 80’s when I realized that but for a few more votes I’d get to ride this to and from my neighborhood the year I graduated from high school.

    With a few tweaks (Rainier Valley instead of Georgetown, a Ballard-UW line, a spur to the airport) and some infill stations, that’s still a vastly superior system to what we will end up with in my lifetime. Ah, well….

    1. I agree. The difference in the greater Central Area (which includes Capitol Hill) is huge. Not only would it get closer to way more people, but it would integrate with the buses as well. This was a King County only proposal, and since Metro was King County, it makes sense that the folks were talking with each other.

      I think that is probably the biggest overall failing with Sound Transit. There are plenty of examples of bad station design or bad station location that seem to ignore buses altogether. Mount Baker is a mess as far as bus integration. Having only one station between downtown and the UW is much worse (and has lead to arguments with no clear solution for buses in the area). An Infill station at NE 130th is seen in this article as a victory, but it was a very hard fought victory. It shouldn’t have been so hard. But the worst example, by far, is the lack of a station at 520. To think that a major freeway (which is in the process of being rebuilt — which means everything is on the table as far as ramps, lanes, etc.) and a grade separated light rail line cross several miles from downtown, but don’t interact is a huge mistake. One that we will probably live with for a very long time. When Ilgenfritz was asked recently about bus service to train stops, he didn’t seem to understand the question. At first he thought we were asking about trains replacing buses. He seemed to think that once the train route is there, you wouldn’t need to worry about buses.

      I often think that Sound Transit takes a fast food franchise approach towards light rail. Each station is like a new Burger King. It makes sense to put one in each neighborhood, but it isn’t that important where it is. After all, folks will find a way to get to it. In very busy neighborhoods (downtown) you might have two Burger Kings, but this isn’t Starbucks — you wouldn’t want to have too many in the Central Area. There seems to be little effort towards building a real public transportation system, with each mode (walk, bike, bus) complementing each other. Agency to agency communication seems almost non-existent, and when the discussions get difficult (like at the UW) ST throws up its hands and says “OK, better than nothing”.

  3. I know we’re trying and I know that transit in Seattle and surrounding areas is better than cities and metro areas twice our size (glaring at you, Dallas/Fort Worth), but man, this map doesn’t help. To think that the Central Area would have had a rail stop all our own and another “shared” with Madison Park, wow.

    What a difference 30 years makes. Now we rate a bus that everyone wants to cut in half and split just short of any kind of north side destination except higher ed and trolleys that universally get stuck in well-known, perpetual traffic jams. Yes, most of that is inertia and outright hostility from a vocal minority so it is really annoying that it got messed up for those who came after.

    (The north side destination I mean is Roosevelt. To have the 48 stop so close yet so far from there years before Roosevelt Link, sheesh. We still have The Ave, though.)

    1. That could also be the growth of the suburbs. In the early 60s when I-5 was built, it was so empty people had picnics on it because they didn’t know what to do with it: they didn’t commute the directions it went. A lot of people commuted to Renton Boeing, hence the southeast trend in the proposals. 520 and the I-90 upgrades essentially created Eastside suburbia and people flocked to it even more than predicted. As late as 1990 the Seattle commuter ring was almost completely Lynnwood – Bothell – Redmond – Kent – Des Moines. I’m not sure what Seattle’s proportion of the region’s population was in the 60s or 80s, but currently it’s around 20%. That’s why Seattle is so outvoted and why ST and WSDOT focus so much on suburban highways. Fortunately there’s now a pushback, as urban dwellers have gone from being fringe to a mainstream group, and they’ve now become the highest-paid and drivers of the economy at least for now.

      1. It’s interesting to note that since the 1988 vote, King County has grown in population from under 1.5 million to just under 2.1 million. That’s about 40 percent more people!

      2. I think you have to draw a very big circle to get to that 20% number. The census bureau does that, but most people wouldn’t. For example, Seattle is about 1/3 of King County. That includes suburban areas that are largely independent of Seattle right now (like downtown Bellevue). You would include Lynnwood as a Seattle suburb and some other Snohomish County areas, but Everett? Tacoma? I’ve always thought of those as independent cities, and I think most of the residents do as well. Lots of people commute from Tacoma to Seattle, but my guess is most people don’t. They commute to their job in Tacoma, or nearby areas (e. g. JBLM).

        As far as growth goes, it has swung back and forth. But because the lines of Seattle are drawn fairly small compared to the rest of the region, it will get outvoted. Those other areas can grow much more slowly per acre, and still grow faster overall than Seattle, just because those other areas contain so many more acres.

      3. Seattle census 1970: 530,000, 1990: 516,000, 2000: 563,000, 2010: 608,000, now: ~660,000
        King county 1970: 1,156,000, 1990: 1,507,000, 2000: 1,737,000, 2010: 1,931,000, now: ~2,080,000

        Bottom line in 1970 Seattle was very nearly half of King County, now it’s less than a third. And 1970 came at the end of a decade where Seattle shrank 4.7% while King County grew 23.7%.

        Of course a proposal floated to King County in 1968 was more favorable to Seattle than one floated to the ST district at a time when Seattle had shrunk to less than a 1/3 of King County, and less than 25% of the taxing district — probably closer to 20%.

  4. And for the record, Roosevelt doesn’t go in the “victory” category.

    The “more” development is not happening. The development that is happening has been shoved under the freeway anyway. The subway stop is 2 blocks of blank, useless wall along a rare pedestrian-ish street.

    And the Green Lake neighborhood, which really is growing, is no longer in the walkshed at all.

    Yeah, sure, a subway stop is nicer than a non-subway stop. But at what cost? The literal and opportunity costs here have each been huge.

    Meanwhile, the Board appears to be dead-set against 130th, because it may actually hate useful transit. Defeat from the jaws of “victory”.

    1. Yeah, calling anything about the monstrous Roosevelt station a “victory” for urbanism is pretty laughable. But I guess that speaks to the disappointingly low standards for transit we have in this city.

      1. Barman,

        It isn’t the “standards for transit” which have destroyed the possibilities at Roosevelt, it’s the City Council with its abject fear of NIMBY’s anywhere, anywhen. Since there are only three — count ’em three station sites within the Seattle City limits which aren’t in already developed areas or bisected by a recently built traffic sewer, Roosevelt, Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill should all have been upzoned radically. As it is, Link will depend on the willingness of suburbanites destined for downtown Seattle and the U to take a three seat ride: drive to a P’n’R, ride a bus from their to Lynnwood or Midway, and then ride Link the rest of the way.

        That’s a lot of conscious responsibility taking to ask of people whose lifestyles are dedicated to the pursuit of barbecued happiness.

      2. NIMBYs and suburbanites have nothing to do with the sheer scale of Roosevelt station, which will fit into that neighborhood about as well as a Walmart. Two blocks of low-slung blank wall – for a subway station. If this station were anything else we’d be calling it what it is – blight better suited for an industrial park than an urban village.

  5. Having grown up in the DC area, Metro has its issues (e.g., no subway stop in Georgetown, maintenance and safety issues)– but do you think they would ask residents in a survey to have the Red, Blue or Orange line with a streetcar or anything at grade?

    Compare, we have to fight for a Ballard line (whether to downtown or UW) to be grade-separated or in the case of Ballard to UW, even considered).

    Results matter. Don’t expect me to give Sound Transit a cookie if they present something reasonable for ST3.

  6. Choose your metaphor. It might be adolescence, suggesting a natural maturing process, but my metaphor is a deep structural flaw in the foundation. It’s the same structural flaw that requires Seattle to pay for space in a new tunnel because the existing tunnel capacity is reserved for intercity rail masquerading as urban transit. I’m not sure ST will be able to make the transition needed because the current model is a real estate and megaproject money machine that works very well for its exurban board majority. I always hope I’m wrong.

  7. I wish we had that DSTT Ballard fork, the Lake City line, the better CD access and a Renton end point. Still it is clear that this plan has elements of innocent rail planning because I’m not sure if these things could have happened without spending lots more money and disrupting lots of people.

    1. Hmm… The plan realizes the leverage-able value of the West Seattle Freeway, and wisely presumes “BRT” for West Seattle. I didn’t even know that “BRT” was a thing at the time that plan was drawn up.

      Seems pretty advanced in its thinking, and all of it would have been quite doable at late-’70s prices and with the Feds picking up the overwhelming majority of the tab.

      1. Yep. IIRC, the price tag was (in 1968 dollars) $1B, of which the Feds would have likely picked up 90%.

        Instead, Atlanta got MARTA.

    2. Of course it would have cost lots of money. That’s what grade-separated systems do when there’s no existing right of way to repurpose. But you have to build it in order to make transit viable for the most people and bend the curve on car use. It doesn’t necessarily solve those problems but it creates the conditions that allow it to be solved. If you want people to take transit, then fast/frequent transit has to exist, otherwise they’ll just get more tenacious about parking minimums and highway lanes. That’s what has happened in Seattle the past seventy years, and it’s only started to improve in the past twenty years.

      Ideally we would have kept the streetcars and interurbans and modernized them, and built neighborhoods and suburbs along existing rail right-of-ways, and built more compact neighborhoods around stations rather than quarter-acre sprawl. But we did the opposite. The only saving grace is we didn’t get to the extremes of half-mile superblocks, six-lane boulevards every mile, and 55 mph arterials like some areas I’ve seen. So things range from A- or B+ walkable to C- or D+ unwalkable.

    3. The Wye junction switch off the DSTT to Ballard was, and still is a good idea. Just move it on the drawing from before Westlake Stn to just after it, and that’s what we have right now.
      Convention station would remain to serve lower CapHill, and a new elevated station at Denny Triangle Pk would serve Amazon quite nicely. Then it’s on to Ballard via LQA.
      Unfortunately, NONE of that is going to happen.
      Back to school?

  8. I talked to some Sound Transit folks last night at the open house and was rather discouraged by some of the responses I got:

    1) No one I spoke to on the staff is even remotely interested in the WSTT idea (I even got a few eye rolls when I brought it up)
    2) It seems UW to Ballard is still viewed as a 2nd tier at best option and bringing it up got the following feedback:
    a) Its a good project, but if I lived in Ballard, I would rather just have a line that goes downtown.
    b) You can’t just transfer in UW because the trains will be full… there won’t be any seats left.
    c) There wouldn’t be very many stops between UW and Ballard (just one?) so there wouldn’t be much benefit to having it over Ballard to Downtown.

    More than once Ballard to UW was referred to by staff as an “ST4 project”

    Two key phrases that stuck in my head during conversations:
    “If I lived in Ballard I’d rather see…”
    “If I lived in Seattle…”

    Those told me a lot more about what we are seeing on ST3 than anything else I have heard over the last several months.

    If we hope to advocate for something like a Ballard to UW line in the next decade, we have our work cut out for us.

    1. Your comments about the coded language suggest that staff has already defined what they wart to do and don’t want public input to mess it up!

      I had someone explain to me that dissention about transit plans in Seattle are often emotionally interpreted as an “anti-transit” citizen by staff or a “monorail junkie” by staff — even if it is only being circumspect about alternatives and refinements. It sounds Ike some ST staff doesn’t care about building a grass-roots set of supporters for ST3 and is already in a defensive mode.

      1. politics are always defensive. they want the cash….but no strings as to how to use it!

    2. Similar to what I heard from SDOT officials, wanting more Ballard to Downtown than Ballard to UW. I just hope we don’t get stuck with the “40 streetcar” in ST3.

      1. I will vote against any proposal with that as the only rail to Ballard. Perhaps an overwhelming loss will cause ST to finally reform. Better still, perhaps it will be torn down and replaced with a better alternative.

      2. You aren’t alone, William. I have a feeling that a lot of people in Sound Transit are clueless. They really don’t understand how a good, integrated transit system works. If you think there should only be one stop between Ballard and the UW, you need to start reading books (or otherwise figure out how to do your job). I have absolutely no formal training, nor have I read any transit books, but I do live in Seattle, and know how the buses and trains work. So it wasn’t exactly rocket science to figure out why Ballard to UW light rail is better (look at a census map, see how fast the buses move, and next thing you know the “Complements the Bus Network” section of this post makes a lot of sense ). This is not a “monorail” type proposal, but well reasoned arguments for why this would make a bigger difference in the transit mobility of people in the area.

        The same can be said for WSTT, versus West Seattle light rail. The communities are just too spread out, and the rail too expensive for light rail to work well. Light rail would be great for one section of West Seattle, but completely useless for most. The biggest problem (by far) with our light rail line is that it ignores bus to rail integration. If you don’t understand the importance of that, then you shouldn’t work for ST. It sounds to me like a lot of folks there are in that boat.

        Meanwhile, your sentiments are by no means unique. It is possible that the higher ups aren’t that clueless, but they should realize that ST3 could easily go down in flames the way that “Roads and Transit” did. It could be worse, really. I don’t think there is wide spread support for suburban projects (that part is tricky enough). There are problems and assumption that people made (e. g. that it will now be easier to get from the 520 corridor to downtown) that will be shown to be big mistakes. Even little mistakes (like the distance needed to travel to the UW hospital) will suggest that Sound Transit doesn’t know what it is doing. So unless you propose something good for the city (and there are good projects out there) then both Seattle and the suburbs will reject it. The vote won’t be close, and many will (rightfully) suggest a “cleaning house” of Sound Transit, if not a complete reorganization.

    3. At least you got that much information. It’s hard to gauge the agency’s leanings at public-comment periods because they’re trying to listen rather than talk and they don’t want to bias the feedback. (Of course, some would say the proposals themselves are biased and this particular feedback form shut out a lot of sensible choices, but they’re still trying to get all opinions in the freeform comments.) But at the same time we need to know which way ST is leaning and which way the general feedback is leaning to know what we should do. I often attend the open houses more to hear what other people are saying and gauge the average mood than to deliver my opinion.

    4. c) There wouldn’t be very many stops between UW and Ballard (just one?) so there wouldn’t be much benefit to having it over Ballard to Downtown.

      They just don’t get it. The Ballard-UW line should have, at a minimum, one stop for each north-south bus line that crosses its path to enable transfers and more intra-city trips. It’s looking less likely that I’ll vote for ST3 with every passing day. I’ve filled out the surveys and written letters, but if the feedback is just going to be ignored by staff members who don’t live here thinking that the people who do live here are mistaken about what we say we want, there’s not much we can do but wait for the proposal and vote it down.

      1. I agree completely. But I’m afraid that concept is lost on many of the Sound Transit folks (look how hard of an effort we had to make just to get them to consider maybe adding a station at NE 130th someday in the future). The idea of building a good overall transit network (that includes buses) seems lost on them.

        I haven’t given up, though. The real action will begin once we get the money for ST3. Once that happens, expect editorials (by the folks here as well as Seattle Subway) on what we should build in Seattle. If they continue to ignore what most experts would agrees makes the most sense for the city, then we’ll have to vote it down.

      2. @RossB

        Regardless of what happens with ST3, I am convinced we need to start working on an alternate funding source that doesn’t have board members from Tacoma or Everett able to vote against what stops we can have in our city.

        We need a local line with local money. We need to build Ballard to UW on our terms (and probably other in-city lines too).

        Is it time to dust off our old funding tools and use ST like a contractor to build to our specifications?

      3. @Charles — I’m not sure how to do that, without authority from the legislature. Even if there was a mechanism, I think it would be very difficult unless Seattle representatives opposed what Sound Transit was planning on doing. So far, they seem more like a “get along” type of group, and don’t want to walk away from the table.

        I think it will come to a head after the election. If ST proposes something good (UW to Ballard light rail and/or the WSTT) then they may live to fight another day. In that case, I think Seattle overwhelmingly supports the proposal, even if it dies because of suburban opposition. If that happens, or if they propose crap (and it dies everywhere) than a more friendly legislature (having been elected in a general election year) would be open to either giving us money, or (more likely) allowing Seattle to vote (and design) its own proposal (to be completed and operated by Sound Transit, like you said).

      4. @RossB I am not talking about offering an alternative to ST, but a bonus. It looks a lot like ST3 is going to be Ballard to West Seattle, and that’s it.

        We could use existing tools on the books already to have a citizen driven additional lines built by sound transit (avoiding building new orgs set up to fail) and as part of the legislation demand urban stop spacing on the lines we pay for.

        I can’t see how folks in the city would oppose if we are asking for short, high impact lines like Ballard to UW or a subway replacement of the 8.

        If ST doesn’t want to act on either of these until ST4, we can act faster and get them in line sooner rather than later.

      5. The east-west line with “just one” stop still earned more riders than mediocre radial plans costing nearly twice as much.

        Just think how many riders a line with a usable catchment area would attract.

        ST can go fuck itself.

      6. I’d agree, Charles. Sounder and ST Express gave political coverage to get enough support for ST1 and ST2. Now with ST3, there is a sense of everyone in the region is entitled to have light rail nearby before the denser areas get more lines (which would be more productive and benefit more people).

        There is a clear need to step back and look at our transit capital and operations and funding organizational structures. As ST Link grows in riders and shares of regional transit boardings, the public is going to be increasingly confused about how transit planning and capital investments are made — as well as suffer from endless transit funding referenda fatigue from multiple places (Cities, ST, district bus operators and others).

        I think that the real issue is whether any of our political leaders have the respect and the vision to change the status quo. Is there a willingness to have a broad regional transit funding proposal (not exclusive to ST) or to have an independent sub-area funding referendum process, for example? Should ST be only a builder but never a funder or an operator, for example?

        Other major metro areas in the US have wrestled with this multiple transit-tier situation. Some regionalized most everything, like Boston and Minneapolis, but don’t obsess about sub-area equity. Some developed new regional transit structures like Chicago. Some divided the operators from the sub-area capital funding referenda, like California. Some created joint powers organizations to build and operate regional transit, but have the local transit operators be the primary transit agencies.

      7. Seattle has the unused Monorail tax authority. It should be able to pay for either UW-Ballard or the WSTT.

      8. >> We could use existing tools on the books already to have a citizen driven additional lines built by sound transit (avoiding building new orgs set up to fail) …

        I’m not sure how we can legally do that. Maybe we can use the monorail tax authority (as Chris suggested) but I’m not sure. Maybe we can float a new initiative — but I don’t know how that works. In other words, I don’t see how we can tax ourselves (with a vote of the people or not) without the state legislature getting involved. I think the best chance of that happening is after the 2016 election.

        If we can find a way to tax ourselves, then I would love to see a different proposal on the ballot in 2016. It could be complementary or not. In other words, if Sound Transit goes ahead with Ballard to West Seattle light rail, then we could propose a separate UW to Ballard line. Or we could propose both the UW to Ballard and the WSTT. But if we did the latter, than there would have to be some provision based on the ST vote (if ST passes, then the WSTT is removed) which makes it more complicated. The former is more likely (something that complements what ST proposes) and I think would be more likely to pass. Both could pass, of course, but I think you would most likely get UW to Ballard to pass (both because it is a better value and because it relies on Seattle voters).

        The WSTT, meanwhile, could come later, and be run by the city, and leased to the county and Sound Transit. You wouldn’t need operations run by Sound Transit, because initially it would only serve buses. All we really need is a taxing mechanism — I just don’t think we have one.

    5. c) There wouldn’t be very many stops between UW and Ballard (just one?) so there wouldn’t be much benefit to having it over Ballard to Downtown.

      “It’s not a good idea, because we’ll screw it up.”

    6. Ross B makes an argument that rail to the West Seattle Junction wouldn’t serve most of West Seattle, but ignores the potential for bus-rail integration there. If the Rapid Ride C line instead ran from Alki-Admiral-Junction-Morgan-Westwood-White Center it would feed a fast light rail connection to downtown. Similar bus-rail integration will be required to serve Ballard as well.

      No one in West Seattle is excited about the WSTT because it doesn’t offer them much they don’t already have. And since no one on this blog seems to have actually been to West Seattle, they might want to take note that there are currently more units coming online in WS than Ballard in the next few years. It looks to be the Ballard of the next decade in terms of growth. By the time ST3 is built, WS will be far more dense than now. And lets not pretend that Ballard is all dense, the vast majority is single family, just like West Seattle. And don’t get me started on the anti-density residents of Wallingford along the proposed Ballard-UW line.

      1. The thing is the average density in Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford and the University District today is far higher than anywhere in West Seattle is likely to see in the next 20 years.

        Does West Seattle have a lot of new units coming? Sure, but don’t be under the delusion it is going to make you Ballard or even Wallingford any time soon.

        The problem of light rail to West Seattle is it is extremely expensive due to the Duwamish crossing. Furthermore there just aren’t that many people in West Seattle. The population West of the Duwamish just isn’t that big.

      2. I go to West Seattle a lot. My brother, sister and mom all live in different parts of West Seattle. They all agree that light rail doesn’t make sense for West Seattle. My brother thinks what we have now is fine, but agrees that the WSTT (and similar improvements) would make it better.

        I haven’t ignored bus integration, I’ve pointed out that it is extremely problematic. I should probably write a blog post, because it is complicated (and I’ve done this before). Part of the problem is that no one has said what West Seattle light rail should look like. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that there are three stops, at Delridge (by the freeway), 35th (by the freeway) and the Junction (California and Alaska — next to Easy Street Records for those vaguely familiar with the area).

        There are a few things to consider:

        1) There would be no stops between West Seattle and SoDo. This is very important when considering the value of a light rail line (as I explain later).

        2) Sound Transit predicts 10 minute headways at rush hour.

        3) The convergent point for most bus runs would continue to be close to the freeway. You could change the routes so that they go somewhere else, but if you are trying to go downtown (and most people are trying to go downtown) then it makes sense to follow the roads that head towards the freeway.

        There is an interesting contrast between a West Seattle bus and the 41. The 41 goes from Lake City to Northgate, then gets on the express lanes and into the bus tunnel. There will be thousands of riders who will miss the 41. When traveling with the express lanes, it is very fast. For many riders, the new ride will be a degradation. But there is one big difference, and I mentioned it as the first item — there will be stops along the way. So someone who rides the “new 41” will be forced to transfer. For many (those trying to get downtown) this will be a burden. But every minute that person spends doing the transfer, there will be ten saved getting to Roosevelt, UW and Capitol Hill. These are huge destinations, and why light rail makes sense through there.

        There is another issue, and it is again a contrast with West Seattle buses. As soon as the express lanes switch, you are faster taking the train. This is the opposite of a train to West Seattle. In West Seattle, the bus ride is great in the middle of the day (and could be great all day with a minor investment). It will never be faster to transfer in the middle of the day. With half (or a quarter) of the investment in light rail applied towards bus infrastructure instead, it will be faster all day, every day to just stay on the bus.

        The transfer penalty is huge here. They expect ten minute frequency during rush hour. Even assuming ten minute frequency all day, that is still a five minute penalty. I’m really having trouble figuring out how that five minute penalty can be made up. If you are on a bus at Admiral and California, then the fastest way to downtown Seattle is via Admiral Way. Along Delridge or 35th you are clearly better without a transfer. Coming up Fauntleroy, you could switch over to California. Likewise, with California it might be close. But five minutes is a very big transfer penalty, and I just don’t see it. By the time you get to the Junction, you are very close to the freeway. It is only traffic that is bad (an issue I address later). In the middle of the day, it is faster to avoid the transfer, and just have the bus keep going. So only the people who live along the spine (or close to the stations) would benefit from light rail over BRT. There just aren’t that many people there (despite the growth). Most people are (and will remain) well to the outside, in areas where a bus ride is necessary, and a bus ride via the freeway is faster.

        Which is not to say that other improvements won’t need to be made. The WSTT alone isn’t enough. But as mentioned, adding just one stop — one — would cost several billion dollars. For that money you can create grade separation on the freeway, and do the same on many of the roads (including from the junction to the freeway). If you really wanted to, you could build a small bus tunnel to the freeway and still save a bunch of money. That is the problem with light rail to West Seattle — once you spend all your money on light rail, it is difficult to operate something like the bus route you mentioned. OK, you could operate it like it operates now (stuck in traffic) but to make a bus like that (or any bus) move quickly requires a substantial investment — an investment we won’t have if we blow it all on light rail.

        Which brings me to my last point. There is little enthusiasm for BRT to West Seattle because BRT sucks around here. No one has ever seen it. RapidRide is not BRT — it would fail any independent assessment. But BRT to West Seattle is a possibility. It would probably not happen all at once, but a lot of it could. While the ramp and WSTT are being built, start addressing the rest of the freeway problems. This isn’t cheap, but it isn’t horribly expensive, either. Do the same with the surface streets (like the connection from the junction to the freeway I mentioned). These aren’t huge distances we are talking about.

        It is easy to assume that a particular mode (light rail) is simply better, but sometimes an area has everything going for it to suggest a much better value. The freeway is already there (and can be leveraged), light rail is ridiculously expensive for even one stop and the community is just too inconveniently spread out. If West Seattle was three times as big, then you could justify three converging light rail lines. But it isn’t (and probably never will be) so the best value is a substantial investment in BRT.

      3. The 41 is a stopgap because there’s no train, and it’s only partially successful in filling that hole. Sure it may be fast in the evening and early morning, but in the daytime it gets bogged down in Northgate traffic. Sometimes the southbound runs even went down to 85th rather than using the Northgate entrance. The times it’s fastest are the times it’s least frequent, and only recently did it get better than 30 minutes evenings. The primary benefit of the 41 is right at Northgate TC and 5th Ave NE. That in itself is not enough to justify keeping the 41 over a train forever. Beyond that where the 41 gets closer to Lake City, it’s uncompetitive with the 522, so not a significant loss. The main reason people sometimes take the 41 over the 522 is it’s more frequent or it’s coming right now. The answer is to make the 522 more frequent or get Link closer to Lake City, not to keep the 41 express. Of course a local route between Lake City and Northgate will be necessary in any case, but that’s not really “the 41”; it’s a secondary market that the 41 happens to serve now, the way the 550 serves south Bellevue Way.

      4. Forgot to say, West Seattle is the opposite as RossB said. The Northgate-UW-downtown corridor is a major bottleneck; there’s no room for transit lanes without digging a tunnel; and there’s enormous existing and potential ridership in the corridor. The ridership to the station areas alone is huge and at least half the total, so others can use feeders and “open BRT” is not warranted.

        Everything in West Seattle is the opposite. The highway slowdowns are comparatively minor and can be addressed with queue jumps and transit-lane segments. The main slowness is the neighborhood arterials. Most of the riders come from the routes’ tails, not from the presumed station areas. Those factors all point to open BRT. Do West Seattleites understand that most riders would have to transfer to the train, and the transfer time would wipe out the train’s advantage. Especially if the train is 10 minutes peak, 15 minutes otherwise, and the buses are less frequent than that. There’s an on-the-ground comparison right now: the C has the same frequency, and it would be like transferring from it to the 50 or 120 or 21.

    7. Charles, a couple thoughts:

      1) No one I spoke to on the staff is even remotely interested in the WSTT idea (I even got a few eye rolls when I brought it up)

      – I would imagine the current debate over when to kick out the buses from the tunnel probably has ST more than a little fatigued over yet another joint ops tunnel that will result in disruptions in service if it’s later converted to rail. Plus, there are huge constructability challenges with WSTT. It is just a line on a map; has an actual engineer ever weighed in on the possibilities and the portals?

      2) It seems UW to Ballard is still viewed as a 2nd tier at best option and bringing it up got the following feedback:

      a) Its a good project, but if I lived in Ballard, I would rather just have a line that goes downtown.
      b) You can’t just transfer in UW because the trains will be full… there won’t be any seats left.
      c) There wouldn’t be very many stops between UW and Ballard (just one?) so there wouldn’t be much benefit to having it over Ballard to Downtown.

      -I would agree wholeheartedly with a, and half agree with b and c. Ballard to Downtown hits more big travel markets on the way (Uptown/Seattle Center and potentially, SLU or Belltown) and is the primary ridership corridor. It only looks cost-effective compared to Ballard-DT if you compare the tunnel against the most expensive Ballard to Downtown options. I’m glad they continue to study the 44 corridor, but it doesn’t have the same potential unless you massively upzoned northern Fremont and Wallingford. I don’t see that happening anytime soon after how controversial it was to get the super-green Brooks building at the foot of the hill and still have people complaining about blocked views and “out of scale/character” BS.

      I am a solid transit supporter but have been really frustrated by the Seattle Subway approach of throwing lines on the map and not really evaluating the various benefits and drawbacks and defining priorities. I can’t understand the butthurtness that ST thinks differently when Subway’s interests change from in-city lines to Sand Point-Kirkland to now studying stuff that does not have a chance of making it on a regional priority list. Ballard to Downtown has been in the plans for nearly 50 years, and that’s partly why it’s got the most clear constituency behind it. It is simply more important than speeding up the 44 trip. I would rather see advocates get it right (providing a grade-separated transit trip downtown, with a new tunnel or underground transfer) rather than dreaming up ideas that have not been vetted and are politically squishy and potentially physically impossible (branched WSTT).

      1. James,

        The thing is the trains won’t “be full” at Brooklyn, because every station north of there except possibly Northgate has strict restrictions on development that will mean the vast majority of riders on Link will have to come by bus.

        Give the rotten coverage of the suburbs that means a three-seat ride for most people, even if the destination is directly served by Link, four if not. The rider will have to drive to a P’n’R, ride a bus to a Link connection (which, if ST’s current record is any indication of the future will be inconvenient at best, maddening at worst), then ride Link to the destination.

        While ST might be willing to axe the ST Express buses that go to downtown Seattle, CT certainly we have enormous pressure on it from folks in Sno County to keep the expresses running. Since the CT Board is the same folks who run the county and its cities, they’ll very likely accede.

        So who’s going to ride this commuter train if they don’t let the stations mushroom into micro-cities? A disappointingly low number of people, that’s who.

      2. James – We used the Sound Transit routing for the WSTT. So – yes.

        Context is really important and i know it can be hard to follow.

        Sand Point was in the context of the Long Range plan and ST deciding not to study it. We want them to look at it for the reasons we listed in the article.

        The three lines we mentioned in the ST3 responses we answers to the question: Are there lines we didnt study that we should?

        Our vision map is a combination of the Seattle Transit Master Plan – Sound Transit study work – and some of our own work.

        The idea that we arent considering impacts or context is pretty far off base.

      3. Another note on the WSTT – we werent the only ones thinking that was a good idea.

        The engineering firm that did thnot DT study for ST concluded a Rail Converible bus tunnel would be needed for capacity issues downtown.

      4. My rebuttal to what you said, James:

        >> I would imagine the current debate over when to kick out the buses from the tunnel probably has ST more than a little fatigued over yet another joint ops tunnel that will result in disruptions in service if it’s later converted to rail.

        Understandable. We are basically asking them to do their job — provide a good transit system for the money. This would mean they would have to talk to Metro and design something that works for the entire city, instead of hoping that the buses will magically be able to work well with the new stations. As we have seen with the latest addition, their record isn’t that good. Two stations (when there should be at least twice that many) and neither one works well with buses. The angst about what to do now (how to reroute buses in east Seattle or how to get 520 buses connected) is laughable in retrospect. A station here, a station there, and the whole thing would have been easy. But that would have required cooperating with other agencies (oh, that sounds hard). Billions spent and huge opportunities lost. Much easier to just keep building — on to Everett!

        >> Plus, there are huge constructability challenges with WSTT. It is just a line on a map; has an actual engineer ever weighed in on the possibilities and the portals.

        The lines are very similar to what would have to be part of light rail to Ballard. So it has been studied, just no one has studied it for buses. Digging a tunnel is hard, putting buses (or rail) in it isn’t. If it works for rail, it can work for buses. Worse case scenario, it is built like the current downtown tunnel, which was never designed to carry both at once. Yet it still has worked out quite well, warts and all. No one is addressing this “awkward adolescence” (this period where buses are shared with trains) because everyone knows it is very short term. In a few years the buses will be gone, so there is no reason to spend a dime making things better (and they haven’t). But with a tunnel designed from the get go to be a mix of BRT and light rail, the situation is different. There is no reason why we can’t build it, and do it well.

        >> Ballard to Downtown hits more big travel markets on the way (Uptown/Seattle Center and potentially, SLU or Belltown).

        Nonsense. The UW is the second biggest destination in the state (second only to downtown Seattle).

        >> Its a good project, but if I lived in Ballard, I would rather just have a line that goes downtown.

        So what? Ballard isn’t that big. At least, if you define Ballard as the area within walking distance of 15th and Market. Go ahead and look at the census maps (this is my favorite — http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?useExisting=1&layers=302d4e6025ef41fa8d3525b7fc31963a). Zoom in on the north end. Outside of the U-District, there are no really high concentrations of people. If we were just connecting high density areas, then we would be close to being done right now (although much of east Seattle needs work). In other words, if you drew the most densely packed half mile radius circle in the area, it would not contain as many people as if you exclude that circle, but look at the bus catchment area. To put it another way, with any Ballard light rail line, the number of people who will walk to the station is tiny, but the number of people who would transfer from a bus to the light rail is huge. Ballard to downtown can do that as well, but Ballard to UW can do it better. This is because the buses travel fairly fast on north south streets north of the ship canal. Meanwhile, the 44 is, and will always be, dreadfully slow. There are just too many cross streets (with lights) to give buses signal priority along there — and that is assuming that we give them their own lane (which is unlikely). Hell, it would be easier and cheaper to connect the buses on the surface from Ballard to downtown and speed that up (not that I’m suggesting either idea). All of this means that the number of people who find taking transit for their trip is faster than driving is greater for UW to Ballard than it is for Ballard to downtown. (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/06/30/ballard-uw-should-be-the-next-light-rail-line-in-seattle/). Go through the combinations, but include a broad area (well away from the stations themselves) and it might surprise you.

        >> b) You can’t just transfer in UW because the trains will be full… there won’t be any seats left.

        Nonsense. This goes against their very own plans and their very own estimates (which everyone says are inflated). Four minute frequency with three minute headways means that huge numbers of people can ride it when it opens, and it can provide for many more later.

        >> There wouldn’t be very many stops between UW and Ballard (just one?) so there wouldn’t be much benefit to having it over Ballard to Downtown.

        This explains everything. It would be stupid to only add one or two stops. The whole point is to add a bunch of stops, connected to the north-south bus corridors (24th, 15th, 8th, Phinney/Aurora, Wallingford/Meridian). There is nothing new here — Sound Transit has ignored bus integration, which explains why they have done it so poorly. So I agree with whatever bozo at ST said this. If you don’t add the requisite stops, then it would be a crappy line. If you never put tires on a car, it sucks, too.

      5. Ross, I said i only half agree with b and c. You admit that UW is secondary to downtown as a destination. UW will have 2 stations headed to downtown. Ballard to Downtown is the number 1 priority for Ballard residents. Ballard to UW with a transfer does not serve those trips. I don’t agree that trains would be overloaded because of a Ballard -UW line, but they would be uncomfortably full, and that after a transfer heading all the way east from Ballard just to go downtown. The Ballard Spur option is not under consideration as far as I know.

      6. ‘the trains won’t “be full” at Brooklyn’

        We have to look ahead to 2040, not just to 2023.

        “every station north of there except possibly Northgate has strict restrictions on development that will mean the vast majority of riders on Link will have to come by bus.”

        How does coming by bus change things? Somebody in Loyal Heights or Greenwood may choose a north-south bus over Link, but somebody in Greenlake or Maple Leaf or Broadview Shoreline CC is less likely to. (Have you seen the 5’s travel times from Broadview or Shoreline CC?)

        Also, 2040 is 25 years away. The development restrictions are not likely to hold until then. There’s increasing pressure for housing. In ten years average housing prices will be even less affordable and there will be more pressure on the city to “do something big”. The city has reached 51% renters and that will increase, because there’s no room for more single-family houses to increase the single-family proportion. A child born today will be 25 years old in 2040, so voting and running for city council. Current twentysomething will be middle-aged, and current seniors who bought their house in 1940 will be gone. Millenials are proportionally more interested in urban neighborhoods and transit, and less interested in being in a car-dependent area. ADUs (backyard cottages) anywhere may pass sometimes in the next 25 years. Homeowners will see the potential profit in selling to a developer, which zoning is blocking now. As the middle class becomes poorer and more desperate, they may say kill zoning and let me sell my house to a developer. The argument that apartments will bring poor minorities and crime and lower neighboring house values is really washed out, especially at current rent prices. I don’t expect 40-story towers at Roosevelt Station like in Vancouver, but something denser than the recent upzone.

        “While ST might be willing to axe the ST Express buses that go to downtown Seattle, CT certainly we have enormous pressure on it from folks in Sno County to keep the expresses running.”

        Both ST and CT have said they’ll convert the buses into feeders. The travel time in the north end is the same, within the buses’ range of times. (The buses are slightly faster without traffic, slower with traffic. Bus travel times are expected to increase 30% with the rising population, so Link will be more competitive then.) There was some question earlier whether CT would ditch the Seattle routes, but they have committed to. It’s the majority of their budget, so it’s the only thing holding back a major increase in their local service.

        In the south end, Link is less competitive compared to the 577 and 594, which raises questions about how effective Link would be in Federal Way and Tacoma, but there’s no such concern about Lynnwood.

      7. I have to agree “the trains will be full” is an absolute bullshit argument against Ballard-UW.

        First if that really is the case it is a good problem to have and justification for building a second line between Downtown and the North End.

        Second according to Sound Transit the spine is capable of handling trains every 2 minutes between IDS and Lynnwood. That is roughly 15,000 people per hour per direction without crush loading the trains,

        As for saying people West of I-5 won’t want to transfer to get to downtown realize that rail-to-rail transfers are the norm in almost any city that has more than one rail line and if both lines are frequent one of the least painful transfers possible.

        In addition the time penalty for going east to the UW and transferring is minimal over a direct line downtown. Remember this is grade separated rail, it won’t be sitting in the same traffic that makes e/w travel such a slow pain. This will be faster than current bus service to downtown from Ballard, it will likely be faster than improved BRT using a WSTT even.

      8. Oh and there is no reason other than sound Transit’s own stupidity to limit a Ballard/UW line to only one stop. At the very least it should have 15th NW, Phinney/Aurora, Wallingford/Meridian, and Brooklyn. Adding in 8th NW and Latona would be good ideas as well.

        At 1/2 mile stop spacing you eliminate the need to run any sort of shadow bus service in the corridor.

        I’d also argue extensions to 24th NW and 25th NE and 35th NE should be considered. Not so much for any TOD potential around the stations (though the U-Village area has been growing) but to intercept the N/S bus lines.

    8. The good news is the Monorail tax authority is just about enough to do the WSTT or UW-Ballard.

    9. Re: Ballard UW comments.

      Haha – only one stop? I thought they said those studies were only conceptual.

      Also – a line with 26k people a day – not all of whom will transfer – is going to overload a system with capacity if 12k/hour? Both those numbers are low, but still.

      Yeah, its a frustrating process.

      Seattle will only get a subway out of this process if it scraps and makes it happen. We can get there if we stay wary of the few places we have leverage.

      1. I said I only half agree with b and c that Charles said above. If you think that line will serve 26K riders per day (is that 2040?) and many of them won’t transfer but will stay in the U District, how does the line serve Ballardites? Why not get on an express bus instead of transferring all the way east in the U District? UW will have 2 stations, and without Ballard-Downtown, Belltown, Uptown, etc. will have zero. Ross says that Ballard is just not that important…in order to defend building a line there? I’m just not following this. Did you say that ST studied the routing of a WSTT and you are following that routing? Where can I read more about that.

      2. 26k is ST’s 2035 estimate based on their one stop line and bad Ballard numbers. It still is the grade separated $/rider champion. Like I said – both 26k/day and 12k/hour are low estimates. Done right (see the “Lets Build the Ballard Spur” article) It would serve Ballard by having two stops and providing cross town connectivity in addition to trips to DT Seattle in about 18 min including transfer.

        Re: WSTT. The DT routing is a combination of the DT part in the Ballard/DT study and south of Westlake in the South King HCT study.

        They also did a DT study on its own – you can read about it here: http://www.theurbanist.org/2015/04/28/downtown-seattle-transit-capacity-is-at-the-breaking-point/

  9. After yesterday’s UW Station discussion, I note where this proposal put the station! It wasn’t west of Mountlake!

    1. I should say east of Mountlake! This plan has the UW Station in a much more useful spot.

    2. But this map ignores the fact that the UW (which has superior eminent domain to ST) didn’t want a station and track there due to concerns about vibrations effecting physics experiments. So at least in the case of this particular station, I don’t think Sound Transit had much of an option.

      1. How do vibration issues affect where the station goes? The alignment would have been basically the same.

        Also, hasn’t UW now had 50 years to think about siting their beloved physics experiments (noting when this map here was developed)? UW benefits greatly from Link and should have been more eagerly accommodating.

  10. The Puget Sound’s transit system is the Picture of Dorian Grey.

    The maps and proposals keep changing, but qualitatively it’s the same slow bus based system with the addition of a meandering rail based bus called LINK.

    There are a few grey hairs on Dorian’s beard. Sounder which is truly rapid and regional. But also limited in destinations and frequency.

    1. We don’t need either-or. We need more link for in the city and more Sounder for the areas it already serves (at least for South King Co).

      The ST survey has options for increasing Sounder Frequency and extending the platform length. If you haven’t already done so you may want to vote for more of those.

    2. John,

      Hows about you ponying up the 100 mill for another set of slots so Sounder can run until 10 in the morning. The trainsets are ridiculously underutilized and the rail crews are paid for full schedules and work half of one. So other than the mordida to Warren Buffet it wouldn’t cost more.

      But Warren will have his pound of flesh.

      1. 100 million?

        We’ve spent BILLIONS on a slow moving rail bus already.

        100 million was WASTED just on the failed ETC.

        Sure, let’s spend 100 million and finally get the one thing voters asked for in 1996.

        Rapid Regional Transport.

      2. Because Kent needs high-capacity transit and north and south Seattle don’t, and there are no voters or taxpayers in Seattle anyway.

      3. Because Seattle forces workers to live in high priced squalor to maintain the tax base that funds its greedy politicians.

      4. Seattle’s politicians are paid more than suburban politicians? That’s news to me. If not, how are they being greedy? How is my part of the tax base supporting it? How does me living in high-priced squalor benefit the politicians? What you call squalor is large enough for me, and I greatly value living near frequent transit in several directions and being able to walk to several stores and third places, and seeing my neighbors on the sidewalk 24 hours. Which I would have to give up if I moved to Kent.

  11. The 1985 proposal is a big contrast to what we are building, but with few exceptions, I’m not sure it would be much better for the area. It skips Rainier Valley, but serves Renton (which means that it doesn’t connect two very closely knit communities). This is odd — perhaps they were focused on getting people to Boeing (shades of the current debate in Snohomish County). Meanwhile, it takes the cheap route north to Ballard (via Interbay) and then continues up Holman Road. For a little bit less (if not around the same amount of money) you could get UW to Ballard (as a real spur) which would be better, by my estimation. So, while this serves more populous areas, and manages to triple the number of stops between downtown and the UW, this is not a hugely urban proposal. It is a county proposal. That is the difference. So while this serves the suburban parts of King County, it does hardly anything for the suburbs outside the county. With the exception of the train stop at Lake City Way and 145th, there is very little that makes this better for a suburban commuter coming from the north and south. Someone taking a bus from Lynnwood, for example, would probably go all the way into downtown, as they do today.

    This may have lead folks to create Sound Transit, with the mandate they have. Looking at this map, I could easily see how areas to the south and north would want something that extends in that direction a lot more. I think providing more for the suburbs makes sense, but I think the focus on rail for the suburbs was a big mistake. To be clear, you need to extend rail into the suburbs a little bit to provide good bus integration, but with our suburbs being so sparsely populated (with the exception of neighborhoods in Bellevue) that should be the main focus. This would be a lot cheaper, and lead to much better transit outcomes for the region — including the suburbs. For example, Mountlake Terrace, which already has bus lanes connecting to it, would make a great northern terminus for light rail. In all likelihood, you could probably have build a new transit center closer to the city, added bus lanes, and saved money over extending rail to Mountlake Terrace. But ending at Mountlake Terrace would have still saved a huge amount of money that could have then been spent on better bus service. This sort of approach — a big parking lot with frequent buses serving strategically located end points — is used in systems throughout the world. But the real work needs to be done in the city. Someone trying to get from Lynnwood to Ballard, for example, might complain if the bus *only* goes 30 MPH for those two miles between Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace (wishing their was a train all the way to Lynnwood) but that is nothing like the slog between the UW and Ballard. The buses there have trouble averaging half that in the middle of the day (when the I-5 HOV lanes are wide open) and average well less than single digits during rush hour.

    While some (rightfully) complain about the suburban focus of our light rail system, I think this misses the point. Our light rail system is just not that good for anyone. For suburban riders it isn’t much better than what existed before (flawed, but not horrible speeds in the HOV lanes). It might have made sense when everyone worked downtown, but that isn’t the case anymore. Those who work in the north end suburbs but work in a north end Seattle neighborhood (or just want to visit a north end Seattle neighborhood) will still have a tough time getting there by transit, even when miles and miles of rail has been added (and billions spent). Rail that extends into their city, but is highly unlikely to be in their neighborhood (very few people will walk to a suburban train station). So someone in Lynnwood right now might look at the bus schedule and see that it takes a while to get to Ballard (first get to Lynnwood Park and Ride, then it is another 15 minutes to the UW, then another 20 minutes to Ballard). But he won’t be that excited when rail gets to his hometown (13 minutes to the UW, followed by 20 minutes to Ballard).

    Sound Transit still appears to be a very flawed organization. They still appear to have a lot of trouble figuring out how to provide a good regional system, where buses, bikes and pedestrians interact with light rail. NE 130th is seen in this article as a victory, but it was a hard fought victory, and the battle isn’t over yet. It just shouldn’t have been that hard to do this — a quick discussion with Metro and everyone would have said it was an essential station. I’m afraid they are still too focused on “bringing rail to your community” (as if it was a public swimming pool) instead of building an integrated transit system for everyone.

    Maybe we can mold this into shape (as we appear to have done with the NE 130th station) but it really shouldn’t be that hard. An independent set of experts (outside experts) would have spent thirty seconds looking at NE 130th and unanimously agreed that it made sense. Even with subarea equity, they would be focused on very different projects for the area, instead of what Sound Transit has proposed. I would expect, for a system this big, to get something similar.

    1. It was more appropriate for the time. The 4xx and 8xx routes from Lynnwood and Edmonds already existed, and there wasn’t much demand from Everett, Auburn, or Tacoma. What was missing was all-day expresses like the 512 and 594 that would have addressed the existing demand and transit holes and perhaps have lead to a more transit-oriented future. The highways were less congested so not many slowdowns driving except on the Mercer Island and Evergreen Bridges. Housing costs were low: anybody could rent a 2BR apartment in the U-District or Capitol Hill for $450 or buy a $50,000 house anywhere in Seattle. The people who commuted from Lynnwood or Tacoma had other reasons for living there; it wasn’t the only place they could afford. Even if they wanted a house with a quarter-acre lot and a good school district, they could have found that in Bellevue or Renton easily. So a central King County subway was entirely appropriate.

      1. Not really. Even then, there is no way that you would run a subway like this, if not for the artificial county boundaries. If you wanted to do a better job for the suburbs, you would have connected the north and south end of I-5 with a train station. If you wanted to provide what was best for the region, you would have focused more on the city. Things have changed, but not that dramatically. For example, Lynnwood was booming in the 80s (an argument for connecting I-5 with light rail) but has slowed down considerably since then. Housing in the U-District or the Central Area may have been cheap, but that was where the people were, and still are. Ballard was undergoing a huge growth spurt, but as is the case now, it isn’t located around a single point, but spreads north and east quite a ways. In other words, you could either spot the trend (growth in greater Ballard or Lynnwood) or look at the numbers (lots of people in Capitol Hill and Queen Anne) and plan accordingly. The biggest change is South Lake Union, but even that could be predicted, if not simply made to happen quicker (add light rail, change the zoning, and watch big buildings go up). Building something like the Metro 8 would have required some foresight (a station at South Lake Union would have been considered silly by many) but the rest of the line would have made a lot of sense.

        This is a King County based commuter oriented system. It is a lot better than what we are planning now, but that is mainly an indictment of our current system. That being said, this could easily be made better, with a little work (add UW to Ballard light rail, a tighter version of a Metro 8 subway, Rainier Valley light rail and some suburban bus connections). As I said, one of the great things about this is that it obviously is designed to complement the bus service.

      2. OK, now I realize that this was planned in the late 60s, and would have been built in 1985. That changes everything. Places like Lynnwood were growing fast, but still really tiny. I still think this was too focused on distance, and not enough on population density (even back then) but this wasn’t bad at all. To think we could have had this thirty years ago is quite something. It wouldn’t have taken much over the years since then to make a really good transit network. As it is, this is better than what we’ll have even when all of ST2 is done.

      3. Ross, take another look at the Downtown-Belltown-Denny-Broadway-C.D.-Madison Valley-UW-UDist-Roosevelt-Lake City Way line.

        That’s a real subway. That would’ve been really useful and really well used.

        That’s better transit than anything Seattle now looks likely to see built, ever.

    2. Ross,

      What you want is the dashed line north from Holman and Greenwood. It was to have led to the old Interurban ROW and Aurora north through the county to Snohomish. Would people from Sno preferred to ride through Ballard instead of the U? Certainly not, and that was a weakness of the plan.

  12. Interesting: “Link light rail focuses on regional connectivity and longer-distance trips; by design, it is more of an intercity commuter rail model of transit operation than an urban light rail service.”

    I used to use Link from Rainier Beach, and no it does not achieve the above description no matter how much you might like to “bend it” when it takes 45 odd minutes to get from downtown to Tukwila or the airport on Link. Its slow, and has many stops along RV, thats fine, makes it easy to get around locally between RV and downtown.

    Sounder fits the above description much more accurately, takes 15 minutes to get from King St to Tukwila, but you’ll soon waste any time you might of saved trying to get across to the aport from there.

    Sounder, 30 minutes to Auburn, and 45 to Puyallup. That makes it just possible to live in Puyallup and work in Seattle, which is what I now do, house prices are much more reasonable there.

    Feasibility on running an express Sounder that skips Tukwila, Kent and Auburn and more local buses better aligned with the train timetables at Sumner, Puyallup and so on? Now there is something that could achieve great results, add a lot of value, and make cheaper housing available for people who work in Seattle. Just by improving what we already have.

    All I could see on the ST3 survey were ideas that will slow Sounder down, more stations, more carriages. The ideas are in the wrong direction, the one rail system that does currently almost meet “regional connectivity” wont if it gets slowed down.

  13. There was a 1984 subway proposal? I never heard about it at all, and I was a heavy transit fan with a collection of all of Metro’s schedules and as many other-city schedules as I could collect on trips. It shows how little I listened to or read the news then. I stayed away from news because I thought it was all propaganda that told lies and manipulated people. That started changing in 1990 when I started listing to talk shows at the beginning of the Gulf War. (This was before talk radio turned all right wing and KING AM had moderate shows.) I eventually realized that not listening to the news and not participating in planning meetings was equivalent to letting other people make all the decisions, which is worse than propaganda lies.

    What’s surprising about the 1984 proposal is how similar it was to the 1972 proposal. Renton, Lake City, Bellevue. What’s new is that the Bellevue branch is on Bellevue-Redmond Road (Redmond) rather than NE 8th Street (Crossroads), there’s a new Factoria/Issaquah line, and the Central District looks different (more 43-ish). I’m not sure if the 1984 proposal had Ballard and West Seattle lines. But what’s most surprising about the 1984 proposal is it doesn’t serve Northgate or redirect Renton to SeaTac. I would have thought that would have happened by then.

    Also, was it really the 1984 proposal when Seattle lost to Atlanta’s MARTA? I thought that was the 1972 proposal.

      1. Too funny, I was thinking this plan was developed in 1985, which was confusing since it looked a lot like the Forward Thrust plans from the early 70s. Thanks for clearing that up. It’s pretty neat, since I have never seen such a clear map of that plan. One thing it seems to show, is that there were a lot of stations that were probably sited for park and rides. It’s sad that we don’t have such a developed mass transit system, but I’m pretty excited that there isn’t a giant park and ride station on the HR Thompson Expressway in Madison Valley. I bet the station on 23rd and Union would have been a freeway adjacent platform too. The line along West Marginal was for Boeing (at Boeing Field), I’d guess, as was that line extending to the Renton Boeing plant. The system in that map assumes everybody works at Boeing (Seattle or Renton plants), lives in the suburbs, and that a huge freeway runs along MLK through (and destroying much of) the Central District, Aboretum, and up to Lake City Way.

      2. OK, I was confused too. That makes a lot more sense (both because I never remember the 1985 proposal and this just makes a lot more sense for the growth and population pattern). It is still too focused on distance for my taste, but not that crazy.

    1. 1968 plan, substantially the same as the 1972 revote.

      Yes, it assumed several freeways that thankfully were never built. The report discusses, among other things, the reason why freeway stations are NOT a good idea, even though it tried to take advantage of right-of-ways in several places. The stations are often located in subway in neighborhoods even if using freeway right-of-way (Lake City being an example).

    1. The first map shows Redmond and Eastgate merging with Renton trains to create 90 second headways (including stops) through the DSTT between Jackson and Westlake.
      The plan is obviously flawed now that we know 4 minutes is the best we can ever do. It’s a good thing they didn’t build it.

      1. 4 minutes is not the best we can ever do. Maybe how we designed it, but a new tunnel built from scratch certainly would have been able to handle 90 second headways. Heavy rail systems all over the world are capable of that.

      2. Well, so did this one, but that all went away with some decisions that half-design-capacity was good enough for this government work. They are probably right is the sad part.

  14. With that description of sound transit, they should’ve skipped rainier valley (or made it totally grade separated) and opted for the faster electric commuter rail trains found in Europe that can go over 110 mph. Make the whole line 3 tracks so we can get express service between the major stops but also the option of local stops along a slower local line.

    But like an earlier post had said, we are kinda stuck with the half quasi system now.

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