ST Central Link 135

Tomorrow is the deadline to tell Sound Transit which potential ST3 projects you think are most important. I thought I’d share my answers, with a bit of commentary, which of course reflect my personal prejudices. I invite others to share their responses on Page 2 or snippets in the comments.

For background on these routing options, see the main ST3 webpage. The survey asks how important we consider each project, with 5 meaning very important and 1 not important. Unlike Seattle Subway, I didn’t game the system by rating everything at the extremes.

Central Projects

5: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, elevated/tunnel (both options); New Downtown Seattle Tunnel; Madison St. BRT

A line that serves Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, and Belltown covers three of the most high-demand neighborhoods that don’t have high-quality traffic-separated transit. First Hill and the Central District are two more, for whom BRT is both inexpensive and the only game in town.

Ballard-Downtown Service also sets up a line to West Seattle no later than ST4, a desirable outcome at any ST3 package size.

4: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, at-grade via Westlake; Ballard-UW

It’s an unpopular opinion, but outside the Mercer-to-Jackson downtown core I think at-grade can work for the bulk of the line. This is only because ST assures me that they mean MLK standards, not Central City Connector or (God forbid) SLU Streetcar. It makes the system mildly less reliable, and lowers maximum frequency, but it also makes short stop spacing affordable. Grade-separated is better, but the Westlake line makes the very attractive trade of SLU and Fremont for Lower Queen Anne and Interbay.

Ballard/UW, while cheap and cost-effective, sacrifices neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal for Wallingford, which is not an attractive swap in my view. But I’d gleefully vote for a package that contains it.

3: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, at-grade via 15th; Graham St. Station; Downtown Seattle-West Seattle elevated and at-grade

First, the least intriguing Ballard option. Second, a modest Rainier Valley mobility improvement, but not one demanded by development pressure or intersecting bus service. Third, West Seattle’s transportation situation is abysmal, and there’s no reason to believe bus alternatives (not a part of the survey!) will avoid the snares of past iterations. But it ranks below Ballard largely because there’s a whole lot of nothing, in ridership terms, between Delridge and the stadiums. I’ve ranked the at-grade option relatively highly because this is the most appropriate place to economize between Ballard and the Junction.

2: Boeing Access Road Link; Boeing Access Rd Sounder; Downtown Seattle-White Center

There is little argument for Boeing Access Road except a geometric one. Connectivity at nodes like these enables arbitrary trip pairs without truly outrageous detours (e.g. Rainier Beach to the Museum of Flight via TIBS). But the ridership probably isn’t high enough to make this a priority. Delridge is a reasonably strong corridor but the big, walkable stuff is happening at the Junction.

1: Downtown Seattle at-grade

Bruce made a convincing case that at-grade options can work in Seattle for Link-caliber transit, but not in the core.

East Corridor

5: Overlake-Downtown Redmond; Renton NE 8th St Direct Access Ramp

Relatively small and unsexy projects that will serve Downtown Redmond and improve express buses in a corridor with little rail potential, respectively.

3: Totem Lake-Issaquah

I’m warm to the idea of Eastside rail, but I have to rate the concept as it is, rather than as I would like it to be. The proposal misses the key ridership generators in order to serve the least-productive Bellevue-Issaquah segment.

South Corridor

5: South Sounder trips; 8-car Sounder trains

South Sounder is successful service, with high ridership, some development happening, and speeds competitive with driving. Doubling down on it makes sense.

4: Des Moines-Federal Way; Tacoma Link Extension

Serving Federal Way is a longstanding commitment, and many of these suburban cities display eagerness to capitalize on the investment with growth around the stations. I take quite a few transit trips into South King County, vastly slower than they would be with this extension. Tacoma Link gets off the freeway and connects some promising nodes.

3: Federal Way-Tacoma; Auburn and Kent Access Improvements

The case for Link weakens as we move south. I have mixed feelings about station access projects, as many people in the station areas would like this to go simply to more parking, while the best options are densification and managing demand through parking fees.

1: Tacoma Dome-Tacoma Mall

A bunch more freeway light rail, beyond the Tacoma Dome transit hub, doesn’t sound attractive. Getting Link to the Tacoma Dome alone probably provides TOD opportunities well beyond potential demand in Tacoma.

North Corridor

5: Lynnwood-Everett via SR99, N 130th St Station

We’ve been through the case for 130th repeatedly.

SR99 is the best of the three ways to get to Everett. The argument for getting off the freeway is well-rehearsed: I-5 both crushes development potential and clogs the access roads buses would need to get to the station.

Sound Transit’s study shows that SR99 has as much ridership as Paine Field with lower cost and shorter travel times. I applaud Snohomish County’s plans to add tens of thousands of jobs at Paine Field, and their desire to serve it well with transit. But those jobs won’t all be within walking distance of the stations, meaning feeder bus service will be necessary. These buses can just as easily go to SR99 as some other point closer to the airfield.

4: Everett-North Everett

Service to colleges is almost always a winning proposition, thanks to all-day transit demand and a cost-conscious population.

2: Lynnwood-Everett via I-5 or Paine Field

No Opinion: Edmonds Sounder Station, 220th St Station

I just couldn’t form an intelligent opinion about these.


5: I-405 BRT

I-405 is a disaster, and rail isn’t coming.

4: ST Express Service, further HCT studies, TOD, system access

All worthy stuff.

My Top 3:

  1. Ballard-Downtown via 15th/Elliott, with elevated/tunnel options
  2. Downtown Seattle tunnel
  3. Downtown-West Seattle, Elevated

No doubt, this is Seattle-centric. From my perch in Columbia City, these are the ST3 segments I would use the most, by far.

Missing corridors:

  • Lower Queen Anne/South Lake Union/Capitol Hill/First Hill. It would be more desirable to serve this set of neighborhoods than any combination achievable with the actual project list.
  • A good Eastside rail line.
  • Burien/Renton. I think a rail line or a non-disastrous bus routing has a lot of potential here, relative to other South King projects.


Take these considerations to heart, decide where I’m wrong, and tell Sound Transit what you prioritize.

122 Replies to “My ST3 Survey Answers”

  1. Ballard-UW is so much more useful than DT Seattle-West Seattle. If you want to make a political argument that ST3 won’t pass without West Seattle rail (and have evidence for that conclusion), well that’s a real reason to support it. But putting West Seattle over the Ballard spur on the merits is indefensible.

    1. Getting trains from the maintenance base to Ballard won’t happen on Central Link. That’s why downtown-Ballard is still needed, before Ballard-UW can be built. Getting Link all the way from the California Ave corridor to Ballard would be huge, even if Ballard-UW has to wait until ST4.

      1. Is there no opportunity to connect the ULink tunnel to the Ballard-UW tunnel?

      2. @Zach — Of course there is. It is simply a matter of how. Ideally it connects with riders on the train, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There are example all over the world of different lines that only connect for purposes of maintenance. Toronto is one, and I’m sure other people can think of a bunch more. It isn’t exactly rocket science. In short, you have nothing to worry about Brent. Nothing.

      3. The problem is that those examples were designed for the maintenance connection from the get-to. It becomes technically a lot more difficult if you design and build the stations and tracks with the assumption that there will not be a junction in the U-district, then go through after the trains are already running and try to bolt one on later.

      4. Are you sure about that? Do you a have a list of similar extensions and know that every single connection was designed from the beginning so that they could just plug it right in? I’m looking at the one in Toronto, for example, and the core line was extended to Finch in 1974. But the Sheppard Line (from Sheppard-Young to Don Mills) wasn’t done until 2002. So you are saying that they built a little spur back in 1974, assuming they were eventually going to add the other line, about thirty years later? Somehow I doubt it.

        I just with people would stop playing arm chair engineer. When Sound Transit did an analysis, I’m sure they considered the issue with their estimates. Compared to everything else, it is really small potatoes. Just to be clear, I’m talking about a tiny line used only for maintenance, I’m not talking about an interlining that would enable a one stop trip from Ballard to downtown for a typical passenger.

      5. Ross,

        You’re right that it’s easier to build a single-track connection with a level cross-over between the existing tunnels than a full flying junction. It still won’t be cheap, though, especially because the tunnels would need to be punctured at some depth.

      6. It should be “I just wish people” instead of “I just with people” (I don’t have a lisp — not that there is anything wrong with that).

        As to your point, Anandakas, nothing in the light rail world is cheap. That is why this stuff takes forever to build. If it only cost a couple billion (which is not cheap) to build the Seattle Subway system, then we would have built it. But compared to miles and miles of tunnel, it is relatively cheap to build a connecting line.

    2. I in fact rated Ballard-UW (4) higher than West Seattle (3), but in the “top 3” I opted for downtown instead. I wasn’t going to have 2 Ballard lines in the top 3!

      “Useful” is a not an objective metric. I take transit to West Seattle much more often than I go to Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford combined with all modes.

      1. You didn’t take maximizing overall system utility as your goal? I guess there is an argument for the selfish perspective in a rank order voting system.

      2. Sure just attack the fact that I used the word “useful” when you know I meant best cost/rider ratio and potential ridership. A more useful (sorry I used that word again) article would have been regarding overall system utility, not just the selfish observations of a Columbia City resident.

      3. I appreciate the specificity in your reasoning, and there’s not much that I find objectionable in your wording, but the “sacrifice for Wallingford” line really sticks in my craw.

        If you really think the East-West Spur is about “sacrificing [central city areas] for Wallingford”, then you are very, very much missing the point of the line. And are still thinking nodally rather than holistically — the great ST mistake that yields sub-par catchment everywhere the agency goes.

        Also, you will never see a Westlake line enter a tunnel below Mercer; that one has always been about repurposing the sunk SLUT tracks, at the expense of anyone getting anywhere quickly. No one is opening up the ground here anytime soon, if and when 99 is done. Endorsing this corridor, despite the lure of better catchment than Interbay, means endorsing the fraud of citywide streetcars.

      4. d.p.,

        Thanks for the reply. I didn’t mean for the choice of words to be offensive. I recognize that Ballard/UW does things other than serve Wallingford, but what it does *uniquely* is serve Wallingford. It also serves trips through Wallingford better than some alternatives. If we had exactly $2 billion to spend, I would support building Ballard/UW, but as we have more I’d prefer to have higher cost per rider to get more riders.

        I don’t think it’s right to dismiss MLK-caliber rail as a streetcar. Perhaps you’re right that there will be no second tunnel, in which case that would certainly adjust my priorities a bit.

      5. As I note in my excessively bolded reply to Brent below, I do not equate all surface rail with streetcars.

        I make this equation for the Westlake corridor, because that is the only possible outcome on the Westlake corridor, as it is the only reason Westlake was ever included for study in the first place.

        If you do not wish to open the possibility of Sound Transit giving us more zig-zagging, light-stuck, 10-minute nails-on-chalkboard crawls on the last mile into downtown, then you cannot endorse a Westlake routing.

      6. I’m more hopeful of good outcomes than you are, but I think we agree on what the red lines are, and I believe I’ve made them clear in the text of the post.

      7. Also, I remain unconvinced — and I think even ST’s own studies back me up on this — that anything shy of the Cadillac-level Queen Anne-Fremont-Ballard options would earn more riders than an east-west segment. Despite nearly twice the cost.

        The primary problem with any of the lesser north-south corridors is that their catchment above the Ship Canal is shockingly poor. To the point where the vast majority of the northern 1/3 of Seattle would see no change whatsoever to their current mobility options.

        Reaching the single Ballard catchment point (via any connecting method) will never prove sensible, and so for most it will be as if this grand, expensive radial line does not exist. And the two-mile swatch above the Canal, I remind you, is where the consistent, contiguous, aggregate density in this city actually resides.

      8. ” If we had exactly $2 billion to spend, I would support building Ballard/UW, but as we have more I’d prefer to have higher cost per rider to get more riders.”

        How much will be given to Ballard after West Seattle gets it’s light rail? Does anyone think that West Seattle won’t get anything in ST3 (regardless of merits)?

        Maybe I’m a cynic, but it smells like Ballard is getting the “40 on streetcar rails.”

      9. How much will be given to Ballard after West Seattle gets it’s light rail? Maybe I’m a cynic, but it smells like Ballard is getting the “40 on streetcar rails.”

        In which case, I will vigorously campaign against ST3, and further campaign for Sound Transit to be broken up and torn apart.

        If West Seattle gets more than half the North King budget in ST3, I expect it to go down to defeat in flames.

      10. I recognize that Ballard/UW does things other than serve Wallingford, but what it does *uniquely* is serve Wallingford.

        No offense, but that is simply not true. If it was, then I wouldn’t have spent hours and hours detailing the advantages of light rail for this blog. Unlike some folks, I am not a very good writer. The ideas come quickly, but the sentences do not. Ask Frank — he will tell you my post needed a lot of editing. I had to cut it down substantially because (as he put it) I got into the weeds a bit much.

        What the line does *uniquely* is provide a great, fast route that complements our bus service. You can read the entire post, but here is a quick summary (feel free to question any of these points):

        1) Outside of areas already served or about to be served, Seattle is a city of moderate population density. For example, the census tract next to 80th and 8th is about as populous as the one in the heart of Ballard.

        2) Therefore, for a transit system to be effective, it needs to complement the bus service.

        3) Buses run really fast north-south, and very slowly east-west.

        4) This means that a UW to Ballard line will provide for a much better overall network.The buses can easily be routed so that they travel quickly and frequently in a north-south direction, while the train travels very quickly in an east-west direction.

        5) As a result, more people will see a bigger improvement in their transit time than with any other improvement we are considering. A lot of these improvements may seem obscure (85th and 8th to Capitol Hill, Phinney Ridge to Northgate) but these are the trips that contribute significantly to driving in this city.

        That is one line of reasoning, but let me add another:

        1) The UW is the second biggest urban center in Washington (according to Sound Transit). It is also growing, and expected to grow a lot more in the coming years.

        2) This would provide a much faster connection to the UW than the alternative. It is a minor detour to go from Ballard to downtown via the UW (if there was a Ballard-UW freeway this is the way most people would drive to downtown). But the opposite is not true. To go all the way downtown and then back to the UW is a major delay.


        1) This provides a much better connection for those coming from the north. Lazarus seems to think there will be huge numbers of people coming from the north end every morning. He seems to forget that the issue has been discussed, and Sound Transit has said, essentially, don’t worry about it. The headways are very low (despite rumors to the contrary). But if we get half as many people as he expects, than it it reasonable to assume that those people are not all going downtown. It is reasonable to assume that those people want to get to Ballard, or the other places along the way. For example, it is reasonable to assume that folks in Lake City (a community about twice as densely populated as any in West Seattle) might want to get to Ballard or anywhere along that line (or places with frequent bus service).

        It really isn’t about Wallingford. You could take out the Wallingford stop and still have an outstanding line. Of course it will have a stop there, as well as several along the way (unless ST screws up again). But again, it is about the overall network. Too many people focus too much on their favorite little part of the city instead of asking “How can I save the most time for the greatest number of trips for the least amount of money in the city?”. From a light rail standpoint, the answer is UW to Ballard.

      11. Also, I remain unconvinced — and I think even ST’s own studies back me up on this — that anything shy of the Cadillac-level Queen Anne-Fremont-Ballard options would earn more riders than an east-west segment. Despite nearly twice the cost.

        The primary problem with any of the lesser north-south corridors is that their catchment above the Ship Canal is shockingly poor. To the point where the vast majority of the northern 1/3 of Seattle would see no change whatsoever to their current mobility options.

        Reaching the single Ballard catchment point (via any connecting method) will never prove sensible, and so for most it will be as if this grand, expensive radial line does not exist. And the two-mile swatch above the Canal, I remind you, is where the consistent, contiguous, aggregate density in this city actually resides.

        Yes, this. Very much this. I live near 8th Ave NW, along Route 28. My house is in what many people consider the edge of Ballard, yet a Link line that goes through Interbay and ends at Market Street would be useful to me approximately never. For me to get to the single Ballard stop would require a half-mile east/west trip (walking this distance is usually faster than waiting for and riding the 44), plus a one-mile north/south trip on the 28 or D line. There’s no way the train will be fast and frequent enough to be worth getting off the bus and walking half a mile. I’ll just ride the 28 all the way downtown instead.

        The “Cadillac” Queen Anne-Fremont-Ballard option is much more interesting to me. Transferring to the train in Fremont on the way downtown could easily be worthwhile to avoid the slow slog through downtown surface streets.

        The Ballard Spur, if it has a station at 8th to enable a quick transfer, would be a game-changer for trips to the U-District, Wallingford, and central Ballard. It might even make downtown trips faster despite turning a one-seat ride into a three-seat ride.

        I was excited to see Sound Transit’s earlier ideas for extending the Ballard-Downtown line north on 15th if they had room in the budget. Getting to 15th and Market from my house is not worth it, but if the train goes farther north on 15th, that could be good, right? I live only a half mile from 15th, so a fast train would be worth a walk, right? My excitement was dashed when I saw that their plan only had stops at Market, 65th and 85th. Why not put one at 75th as well? If I have to walk a half mile to get to 15th and then another half mile to get to a stop, guess what? I’m not going to use the train at all! I’ll just walk across the street to the same bus stop I use now and pretend the train doesn’t exist.

      12. Yeah, this too.

        Even when Sound Transits posits daylighting and extending its radial line further north (and at even further cost), the agency can’t be bothered to make it reachable from any lateral distance.

        The verdict is in: the east-west catchment and effectiveness are simply better. Full stop. Never mind costing a billion less as well.

      13. @RossB,

        Your post is a bit wordy to bother responding to in detail, but I will respond to this one point:

        1) It has been a long time since “capacity constraints” have been discussed on this blog, and ST has NEVER said that there aren’t capacity issues with building an unbalanced system north of Westlake Station. Yes, “capacity” has been discussed, but you seem to be confusing capacity with capacity constraints – they are two different things.

        Yes, the overall capacity has been discussed here (relatively recently), but the capacity of Link is a 2 min calc that makes a pretty good elementary school word problem but isn’t very insightful to this discussion. In order to understand if that capacity is limiting you have to look at the demand side too, and that is precisely where the issue lies and what ST is concerned about.

        The concern is that building an unbalanced system north of Westlake station will result in directional demand greater than overall capacity. Yes, the capacity is prodigious, but so is the demand, and that is the problem.

        Additionally, even if an unbalanced system doesn’t hit a true capacity constraint for 10 or 15 years, it will hit it eventually, and in the meantime the system will be incurring higher operating costs. That high directional demand leads to low headways or long trains that basically run full in one direction and underutilized in the other. I.e., your unbalanced system might require 3 min headways to satisfy directional demand, but a balanced system might require only 6 min headways (detail specific) to satisfy the balanced demand. So the unbalanced system has higher overall cost.

        Ballard-UW won’t happen in ST3.

      14. ST data-ed, Martin mathed, the capacity is very much in excess. Not just for a decade or two, but for the foreseeable future.

        But it is incredibly hilarious that your default response to a system intended for such “unbalanced” use — a dumb suburban commuter express and little else, as you readily admit above — is to explicitly refuse to increase its usefulness by connecting it to additional corridors of proven demand and value.

        That is, in a word, asinine. Heaven forbid the line should actually be appealing for more people in more directions at more times. That might almost make it look like a subway in a real city! Egads!

      15. Eric, d.p.

        If there’s anything at which surface light rail is good, it’s frequent stops a la MAX or even more radically, the Muni Metro outside the subway. They don’t cost much (for Muni just the paint on the utility pole) and they draw high ridership in what might otherwise appear to be rather low-density areas. That’s because though they may not have a higher maximum speed than a bus in the corridor, they are much more reliable. People are willing to have their commute take ten minutes longer than some Aristotelian ideal if they know they’ll get to their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time nineteen times out of twenty.

        Now of course you don’t want frequent stops on a regional line carrying people to and from the suburbs. But the West Side line will never be that, SeattleSubway maps to Carnation notwithstanding. So, whether or not the part south of about Mercer Place and Elliott is grade separated (it absolutely should be….) having half mile stops on a surface line north of Leary Way just makes sense. The more people who can walk to a “true” LRT line — we all know that the “Spine” is BART del Norte with the wrong technology — the better.

    3. Ballard-UW is dead. It’s an orphan line that isn’t extendable in any rational way, it doesn’t directly serve the main ridership demand (Ballard/Fremont to DT) without forcing a transfer, it creates capacity issues on the UW-DT line, and it ignores all the neighborhoods south of the ship canal just to serve Wallingford – and Wallingford DOESN”T EVEN WANT LR. In fact, Wallingford is already gearing up to fight it.

      Plus, Ballard-UW will end up being estimated as primarily a tunneled line, and that will increase the cost significantly. It will end up being a loser just on economics, never mind the political and design issues it also creates.

      We really need to focus on Ballard-DT-WS. That will be Seattle’s next line. We need to figure out how to build it to Central Link standards within the budget we have.

      1. Ballard-UW is totally extendable: you can extend it east to Children’s Hospital and across to Sand Point and extend it northwest to serve western north Seattle and shoreline.

        And the line, which will be all tunneled (good!) still has the best capital cost/rider, MPH increase and ridership increase, whereas WS has by far the worst.

        We can convince the Wallingfordians, I’m sure. We shouldn’t wave the white flag before even starting, especially on such an important project.

      2. And, even if it isn’t extendable, so what. It’s still a good line, as is. The only big issue I see with it is how to get the trains to and from the maintenance base. It would have been better had they designed Brooklyn Station with the idea that they might want to add a junction there at some point in the future. Sadly, they did not.

      3. Maybe there’s a good argument that Ballard/UW is a bad idea, but “isn’t extendable” isn’t it. There are lots of very useful, functional, heavily used, lines as short or shorter in good transit systems. If it isn’t extendable when the time comes to do the extending, we’ll simply extend other lines.

      4. Ballard-UW was already estimated as an all-tunneled line, and it was still cheaper than 4/5 of the downtown options — half the price, in some cases — with more potential passengers than 3/5 of the downtown approaches.

        And that was with the faulty premise of reasonable stop spacing on the north-south options but too-few stops on the east-west study.

        You just can’t stop being wrong on this matter, can you?

      5. There is no room at Forest Street for the trains needed for a Ballard-UW line or a Ballard–Downtown-WS line. You will have to build another maintenance base. You can do that easily on port property in Interbay. Good luck siting one in Ballard.

      6. Wow, lazurus, you have been wrong so often on this issue, I admire your fortitude for sticking with your tired arguments. You’ve even come up with new ones. So, let me counter the arguments once again:

        1) Orphan line — What does that even mean, and why do you keep calling it that? You keep repeating that line like it should matter to anyone. Put the orphan line in a nice foster home and I’m sure the line will grow up to be just fine. The point of building a light rail line is not so that it can be extended, but so that it serves the people. That line would serve plenty of people. Calling it an orphan line is really a side show, and a lot like trolling. Folks will once again point that it *could* be extended, and next thing you know, a great debate of possible future lines has commenced. But again — who cares? If Seattle never extended that line to 24th NW or to U-Village it would still be one the best performing parts of our system.

        2) Capacity issues — You should try reading this blog sometime, or actually listening to Sound Transit. That issue was put to bed months ago (

        3) It ignores all the neighborhoods south of the ship canal just to serve Wallingford — Nonsense. That is just ridiculous. You obviously don’t understand the network advantages of a well engineered transit system if you truly believe that is why UW to Ballard makes sense. Here is a summary of the advantages of UW to Ballard light rail ( and they have nothing to do with a Wallingford stop.

        4) Wallingford DOESN”T EVEN WANT LR. Say what? I haven’t heard or read anything of the sort. Even if it was true, who cares? As I said above, it isn’t about Wallingford. Put in a flat spot so you can add a station later, but build it initially without a Wallingford Station. Then count the second until the neighborhood demands a station.

        5) It doesn’t directly serve the main ridership demand (Ballard/Fremont to DT) without forcing a transfer So what? The main ridership demand from the north end is Lake City to downtown, yet the Lake City neighborhood (which is more densely populated than Ballard or Fremont) is out of luck. They will have to make a transfer. But if they have a fast, frequent bus to a station (at NE 130th) then it will be just fine. Most of the city will have to transfer. It is just the way the city is. We aren’t big enough for light rail to everywhere, and we don’t live in handy little urban pockets — just look at a census map. Besides, even in big cities with way more established subways people have to transfer. To get from the middle of Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan you have to transfer. That is a trip that is dozens of times more popular than any taken in this city, yet there is a transfer.

        Meanwhile, for the second most popular trip (Ballard to UW) it is way better than the alternative. For Ballard to Capitol Hill it still requires a transfer (Oh No!). For every other trip (Ballard or Phinney Ridge or Wallingford to Roosevelt, Northgate, Lake City, Shoreline or Lynnwood) it is much better.

        6) Ballard-UW will end up being estimated as primarily a tunneled line, and that will increase the cost significantly. It will end up being a loser just on economics. Nonsense. Sound Transit has already estimated the cost based on that. Are you saying that we can build other lines without digging a tunnel? If so, I would like to hear about them. Please tell us — what lines can be built cheaper than a (tunneled) UW to Ballard light rail line?

      7. If Ballard – UW gets built I really don’t see a transfer at UW being an issue. Either of two scenarios:

        1. I just don’t see the vast sprawling mass north of Northgate demanding extremely frequent trains. Sure, downtown to UW will need high frequency, but north of there I think this operates better with some of those trains branching off and heading for Ballard since there won’t be a way to turn trains at the U district station.

        2. If I’m wrong and somehow half of the west coast decides they need to shop at Northgate, then Northgate to downtown trains will be so frequent that transferring won’t be an issue anyway.

        Mixing the schedules up a bit isn’t unheard of either on other systems. For example, when demand drops off in the evenings north of Northgate, run the Ballard – UW trains as through trains but during peak periods when the capacity isn’t there then terminate them at U district.

        As far as the complexity of the junction goes and adding a new line to an existing junction, there have been some extremely complex subway addition projects over the years in many cities with far more complicated underground arrangements than what you are likely to find around the U District. Even downtown Seattle, with its railroad tunnel, bus tunnel, regional steam heat lines and all manner of antique infrastructure underneath. Now there is talk of a second transit tunnel. Really, compared to downtown Seattle, the UW area seems relatively virgin underground in terms of obstacles to tunnel around.

        If you are somehow worried about the complexities of a UW-Ballard line junction, then the complexities involved in the second downtown transit tunnel should really have you concerned as that is far more complex in terms of what is already there. However, in reality, cities drill new holes under themselves quite often without incident. Furthermore, they do so in far more complex underground conditions than can possibly be under the U district.

        Seriously consider what has to be done when the occasional new tunnel needs to be added to the London Underground, for example. There’s holes down there going back a few thousand years. New York isn’t much better.

        You do what you need to do to build what you have to build without causing undue interruptions in water, gas, subway, power, sewer, or whatever else happens to be in tunnels under there.

      8. Glenn,

        It’s not the “complexity” of a spur off North Link to Ballard that is the problem, it’s the exorbitant cost. Whether d.p. likes it or not — and he has excellent examples to demonstrate that level crossings work in high frequency lines — Sound Transit is NOT going to put a level crossing just north of U District station to serve Ballard.

        That means that one of two things would have to happen:

        1) the TBM drilling south of Roosevelt would have to be shut down this week or sooner in order to do the engineering for interlaced tunnels — one humps up the other sags down so that the diverging track connecting to the “farside” through track can diverge in the intended direction; or

        2) the the northbound to westbound track connection has to belly out to the east while dropping down to pass under the through tracks then swing back to the south to join the eastbound track for the run across Wallingford. To make such a move at a decent speed would require curves of rather large radius [decent being about 20 mph given the long distance required]..

        Can there be a “non-revenue” interconnection between a Ballard-UW line and North Link for trains not in service somewhere between U District and Husky Stadium as d.p. suggested about a year ago? Absolutely; it could even be single track with a cross over to get to the southbound side. But the barn door has closed on a “Ballard Spur” with in-service scheduled trains.

    4. West Seattle is 16% of the city’s population. It is where growth will happen over the next 15 years while ST3 is being built. No one in West Seattle will vote for a package that doesn’t include them. You need a 65-70% vote in Seattle to pass an ST 3 package at the ballot.

      1. It is where growth will happen over the next 15 years while ST3 is being built.

        Not if [the same people screaming to jump in line for a subway] have anything to say about it!

      2. Also, in what universe does 16% of the population and some of the sprawliest “sacrosanct” land use in the entire city magically deserve up to 70% of the expenditure?

      3. He said West Seattle is where growth will happen in the next 15 years. I guess that means all the construction in Ballard, Capitol Hill, the U District, and Rainier Valley will come to a screeching halt.

      4. @Mike Orr

        Not to mention what is going on in the U-District, what has yet to happen in Northgate and what is on the edge of happening in Lake City. Nearly every neighborhood near the current red line alignment has plenty of development capacity, and developers will continue to build in places that will have good access to downtown.

        I have no doubt that West Seattle has capacity to build and will build more in the next 15 years, but its not going to be the next leading development center in the city. It won’t even be close.

      5. No one in West Seattle will vote for a package that doesn’t include them.

        The package may very well include them, but with dedicated bus lanes that solve more transportation problems than a light rail line could. Not building a light rail line doesn’t necessarily mean being left out.

      6. Folks on this blog keep suggesting that West Seattle can be served just fine with more buses… Where exactly do you think those buses are going to go? And, if it’s true BRT and requires the main expense of a new transit bridge or tunnel to cross the Duwamish… then why not just spend the additional money for light rail in order to secure significantly more ridership?

      7. Because (as you’ve been told before) your existing (designed with transit in mind) bridge already provides about 90% of the necessary right-of-way for a traffic-uninterruptable BRT approach.

        No new bridge required.

        And there is no “significantly more ridership” to be earned from your suburban built form and awkwardly arranged potential transfers anyway.

      8. @Mickymse — Yeah, what d. p. said. It is what makes West Seattle unique. In general we run light rail on the freeways because it is cheap. Of course it would be cheaper to just end light rail in Shoreline and run buses there, but overall, extending it to Lynnwood was very cheap.

        This just isn’t the case with West Seattle light rail. You can’t run the light rail on the freeway. It is too steep. This means you have to build a brand new bridge (over a huge river) followed by a bored tunnel. This is really, really expensive. For just one stop in West Seattle, you are talking billions of dollars. For that kind of money (for a lot less than half that kind of money) you can make West Seattle the envy of the rest of the city from a transit standpoint.

        As for the particulars, it really isn’t that expensive. I plan on writing a post soon, but we aren’t talking about building a new crossing of the Duwamish (thank God) but a new lane on the Spokane Viaduct (which, as you are no doubt aware, recently had some work). It is complicated, and I would rather not get into now, but imagine a new lane to the south of the exit for 99. Now imagine if the bus lane was moved to that lane (at the south end of the freeway). This basically means bus only from either the Delridge or Admiral/Avalon on ramps. Add ramp metering so that the buses jump ahead on the surface, and add bus lanes on Avalon (and other streets) and you are pretty much there. Buses run unimpeded from West Seattle to Queen Anne (with the WSTT, of course). Like I said, I don’t want to copy that entire post, but I was surprised at how relatively inexpensive first class BRT is for West Seattle.

  2. At grade will NOT work in downtown Seattle at all. They forgot that a 4 car train is 380 feet long and downtown blocks is only 200 ft. I would prefer underground or elevated. I hate light rail mixin with traffic.

    1. The Westside line will not need four car trains for decades. Two car trains on four minute headways (like MAX in downtown Portland) would be sufficient for demand until about 2040.

      1. Yeah, it’s really not a demand issue, but a speed / understanding-bottlenecks / not-spending-billions-to-accomplish-little issue.

      2. [“Capacity issue”, I mean. Capacity and demand are closely related, but the words should not be used synonymously.]

      3. d.p.

        Of course, reliability is much more important for long-term attraction to LRT. Galen’s objection was to four car trains, not to unreliability. I just wanted to point out that four car trains are not necessary.

  3. I don’t get why you think that MLK quality is anywhere near satisfactory for ST3+, so prehaps you can expand on that. Running on the street is the slowest part of the trip to the airport, and Angle Lake commuters will feel it’s wrath in 2016. We may even need to create a bypass line to speed up south king to DT trips because of “MLK quality”.

    1. I love how people from outside Seattle always complain about how our transpo system is “Seattle Centric”, but then if they are provided with a system that actually serves more than just DT Seattle they complain that they can’t get to DT Seattle fast enough.

      What is it? Do you hate DT Seattle? Or do you love it so much that you can’t get there fast enough?

    2. Downtown Seattle and MLK is not the same thing. If they chose at grade in downtown, it will be lot slower than MLK area.

      I was disappointed that they chose to run on the streets thru MLK. It’ll be faster than the cars as traffic gets worse on I 5 or elsewhere anyhow.

    3. I could accept at-grade through Interbay, provided that downtown->Belltown->Lower Queen Anne was tunneled and the train had a separate bridge across the ship canal. Interbay is the only segment along the way between downtown and Ballard where MLK-style could possible work. But at-grade the whole way – that would be a disaster.

    4. Running on the street adds maybe two minutes to the trip. Detouring to MLK adds at least five minutes. (Not that I care to debate alignments of routes already built.) The zig-zaggy path between Rainier Beach Station and TIBS also adds a couple minutes or so.

      The real costs of add-grade are less reliability, and therefore higher minimum headway, inability to run the trains driverless (meaning higher operational cost in perpetuity), and orders of magnitude more accidents and deaths, which bring the commute of tens of thousands to a halt, as the police-blocked line turns into a single point of failure for those commuters for the next several hours.

      Building totally grade separated pays off in spades over the life of the system.

      1. Unfortunate truth time. This is important and, to my recollection, rarely stated on a blog so often dominated by platitudes and Seattle Subway overreach.

        If your city is anything shy of an aggregate (and fairly consistent) density at least a couple rungs higher found in this one, then “always grade separation everywhere” is not going to be feasible. The cost:benefit ratio simply falls too short; the areas traversed where you will earn marginal ridership for your separation costs too many.

        In short, insisting on this one characteristic as paramount will inevitably lead to you covering little ground at great cost.

        Or alternately, making the devil’s trade that Denver and other Western cities have made: serving only the fringes via existing highways and freight-corridor backwaters, thus spending moderately but achieving absolutely nothing.

        That’s not to say that a city like Seattle has zero corridors where total grade separation is both operationally prudent and economically wise: Ballard-UW is one of these, as is anything that penetrates the downtown core. But speaking in “payoffs over the life of the system” in order to justify… what? Stanchions across Interbay? Tunnels to Fauntleroy? That smacks of denials about the reality of this city’s built form, and denials of math.

      2. I agree with d.p. here as well. He makes a lot of good points, and asks really tough questions about the best way to spend ST3s money.

        Too many posters here are living in a fantasy world about endless sources of cash for transit expansion. These folks, I believe, are coming from Matthew Johnson’s “idiologically pure” world view he discussed (and expressed as a goal to work towards) in a post a couple of days ago.

      3. FWIW, I don’t sense that Matthew belongs to the “ideological purity” faction of Seattle Subway, although those that refuses to acknowledge right-sizing clearly retain an excessive foothold there.

        What tends to strike me as Matthew’s Achilles heel is overambitious inputs: more people, more density, more high-growth satellites, more presumptive political horsetrading, more money than is remotely plausible. If one were to accept these (faulty) inputs, then his expectations would tend to logically follow.

        That’s a wholly different problem from knowing that land-use/demand relationships will fail to justify the cost of grade separation or the need for extreme frequencies, but insisting on such perks anyway.

      4. Grade separation doesn’t make sense everywhere, but I think it makes sense on the downtown Seattle to Ballard corridor, and in central Seattle generally. I think that the Interbay segment may be an exception, but if you are already tunneling through Belltown and have an expensive Ship Canal crossing no matter what, you don’t gain much by going along the surface in Interbay. My rule of thumb would be that any lines south of 45th or north of the stadiums should be fully tunneled, and anything outside that probably should not be tunneled. I guess an ideal universe might support a tunnel through the denser parts of Rainier Valley, but it’s too late for that.

      5. But these à-propos-of-nothing armchair-planner “rules of thumb” are exactly the problem here. Interbay is 2 miles long. Pushing a boring machine that kind of distance is never a “nothing” proposition, no matter what you’re connecting to at either end.

        There’s a topographical case to be made for plowing straight under the Hill — you may not reach that many additional people — but the travel-time saving for each person you do reach is enormous! But that is very different from arbitrarily insisting on full subways between within broad arbitrary boundaries, “just because”.

        Real professional planners do have rules of thumb, wherein at certain ranges of population and activity density rail (in general) begins to be advisable, and wherein at certain higher ranges full grade separation is needed (regardless of topography). But precious little of Seattle meets even the first baseline, never mind the second, especially on a continuous basis.

        Really, downtown to Mercer and east to Broadway are the only “lines in the sand” that we can draw on a numerical basis. Further grade separations may be thoroughly justified on the basis of topography and/or known congestion bottlenecks, but that isn’t the same as pretending we must tunnel everywhere because our numerics support it. They don’t.

        *(caveat to the caveat: the top of Queen Anne actually has better aggregate density than many would expect; better than, say, anywhere near Alaska Junction)

      6. I would like to add something to d.p.s comments:

        There are times when it is absolutely not desirable to tunnel under everything if you are trying to get really good bus to light rail transfers. Crossing a street in 40 seconds ata traffic light cycle beats 5 minutes stuck in a rat maze.

        For the 55 mph running between Westlake and UW, the speed increase is worth the extra time on the Seattle Transit Stairmaster.

        The current 15 mph speed limit in the rest of the tunnel? That could be done on the surface in dedicated right of way.

      7. Glenn, you need look no further than your own hometown to understand why downtown segments — and those entering and leaving downtown — are more often than not the wise places to spend your grade separation dollars.

        Invoke all of the hypotheticals you want, but Portland has permanently ensured that no trip requiring a cross-downtown connection will ever be a sensible trip to make on transit. Even the (slightly) faster-gliding 5th/6th couplet is entirely done in by the stupidity that happens at its northern and southern ends. You are straight-up wrong to defend this approach.

        On the other hand, look no further than Seattle to understand why station placement and interior circulation design matter.

      8. d.p. My rule of thumb is just that: an approximation. I do think you have to go by what pencils out based on well-understood transit principles. Personally, I would be happy with an at-grade Interbay segment if the line as a whole was good. But I fear that it would just be part of an overall line that was more like a streetcar.

        For my survey answers, my top three were UW-Ballard tunneled, the downtown tunnel (though with comments that it should be for buses and not light rail for now per the WSTT idea), and 405 BRT (which would help me and I think is the best improvement that could be made after getting to Redmond, which is happening regardless). I was otherwise very similar to Martin in my thinking and suggestions.

      9. I share your worry, especially as it applies to Westlake, as discussion of that corridor was always about streetcar repurposing and has thus far never included a peep about grade separation where it matters most.

        But I don’t think that the way to fight Sound Transit’s god-awful assumptions about urban transit form is with our own unsubstantiated assumptions about geometries.

      10. Even the (slightly) faster-gliding 5th/6th couplet is entirely done in by the stupidity that happens at its northern and southern ends. You are straight-up wrong to defend this approach.

        I’m not defending “this approach” by saying I like the “stupidity that happens at the northern and southern ends”. I didn’t say anything at all about our own local mistakes.

        I’m simply pointing out that if you are after overall transit speed increases, having a really good surface alignment that allows for faster, easier bus transfers may be preferable than a deep level tunnel and a rat maze of stairs and passageways.

        This is particularly the case for those making shorter distance trips.

        This is particularly the case when the speeds in a tunnel must be limited.

        Sure, I get that there are streets in Seattle that can’t have a really good surface alignment due to I-5 entrances that back up, and all that.

        I also get the fact that the tunnel speeds are limited by the mixed traffic that will one day be gone.

        That doesn’t change the fact that getting down and up at each station in a tunnel means added total trip time – so it is another reason beyond expenses that tunneling everywhere may not be the best solution, depending on the desired result.

      11. Yeah, but “surface trains in downtown areas hypothetically rock because subways are inherently hard to access” is counterfactual on many levels, and smells a little like you’re straining to defend MAX-isms.

        I cannot think of a single surface transit line that doesn’t experience some sort of delay in entering its downtown zone, usually in the form of some slow-snaking complicated-grid-or-bottleneck navigation. This is true even on the best-planned European systems, though it matters slightly less in smaller cities (the only places Europe would build new downtown surface rails).

        A non-botched subway, meanwhile, can be accessed in seconds.

        Your napkin-math argument (and its hooray-for-slow-transit corollaries) really is not valid.

      12. @ d.p.

        Agreed on the downtown surface connections. I have ridden some of the few remaining street rail systems in Japan, and basically all of them have exclusive right of way, and operate in areas that are low traffic or in their own surface rail corridors (left over from when the whole city was run this way).

        In many places where they still use roadway in Tokyo, they have essentially given most of that road space to pedestrians and the streetcars (I put a few pics of this up on Twitter).

        Even in Hakodate where they have still run mostly in the middle of the arterials, these arterials are very low traffic (small town) and even then they still have the Rainier Valley problem of cars cutting across the tracks and nearly getting into accidents with the streetcar. (I saw one such near accident in person).

        You can’t expect an actual long distance train to get any kind of useful connection by running on the surface downtown with the complex grid interactions. A short run streetcar (like the CCC) might be able to get away with this, but we would be foolish to attempt to connect the primary Ballard downtown train to something like this.

      13. Believe me, I would love to see faster transit.

        There’s quite a different variety of surface alignment types though. One of CTA’s lines spends some time running down what is essentially an alley on each side, but with full crossing gates. MLK with a much narrower street with lots less traffic and far better road protection.

        You do what you have to that best meets the needs.

      14. Yeah. Nowhere near downtown, and nowhere near downtown.

        5th MAX line and Portland transit modeshare isn’t even up a tick. Trips that require switching lines or crossing downtown remain, without any equivocation, trips to be taken by car.

        How is that meeting Portland’s needs?

      15. Also, if your MLK reference was trying to describe CTA’s Brown Line for comparison, then you may need a remedial Chicago visit.

        I lived at the end of the Brown Line one winter. That isn’t a street at all, but a railway-specific ROW that also happens to function as an alleyway for residents. Not all that different in effect from where the line runs elevated behind buildings further inbound. And as you say, with fully gated and prioritized crossings.

        Listen, there is one reason and one reason only to be at the surface: to save money. Whether driven by moderate demand or by topographic difficulty, that is the only reason. Not because the platforms are “more convenient”. Not because it makes railfans smile every time it chugs by. But only to save money in order to make the otherwise-unaffordable affordable.

        And if you have a busy city center and any money at all for grade separation, there’s a pretty strong chance that separation will pay off best there.

    5. I live on MLK and it’s fine for intercity trips. In fact, it enables shorter stop spacing, which makes it better as urban corridor. All that’s missing is the land use. Where MLK fails is as part of a regional spine — something certainly not relevant to Ballard, and I’m skeptical the West Seattle line will ever go out as far as the long-range plan indicates.

      1. Mostly yes, but it’s not clear to me if that study is a “rapid streetcar” treatment or a “surface light rail” treatment, the main difference being nearly absolute signal priority. I’m also willing to sacrifice endpoint speed if it means serving really important growth centers like SLU and Fremont.

        I’m interested in this corridor (and wish there was a grade-separated option for it); we’ll see what the next round of studies produces.

      2. I want to add as an addendum that though MLK is “fine”, grade separation would have been even better. I don’t want to diminish the additional benefits of elevated and tunnels; merely to say that at-grade doesn’t have to be streetcar hell.

      3. The problem with surface-Westlake is not the bulk of Westlake, where surface rail would work just fine. The problem is that it implies two things:

        – At-grade through SLU and into downtown. There is absolutely no possible way you’re going to get seamless signal priority across Mercer (!), Denny, and the multitude of signalized intersections in the Denny Triangle. This will be painfully slow and unreliable.
        Mixed-traffic operation on the Fremont Bridge (and through major intersections on either side).

        These aren’t issues of “endpoint speed” that can be traded off (least of all because downtown is the middle of a lot of people’s trips, not just the end), they’re the things that become a large fraction of overall trip time when they go wrong. “MLK-quality” light rail simply does not include elements like this. Central Link, for example, does not go through Rainier/MLK at-grade. Some lines in SF go through intersections like that, and they’re routinely delayed there. And Rainier/MLK would be a cakewalk for signal priority compared to Mercer.

    6. The biggest problem with MLK is not speed, but frequency. The biggest problem with low frequency is not overall capacity, but inefficient transfers. Run fewer trains more often and it simply works better for everyone. MLK is limited by the city in how often it can runs the trains, because they don’t want to screw up traffic for folks going east-west.

      Interbay is a bit different. Mercer is the biggest issue. Once you get north of there, it is essentially grade separated. There a handful of cross streets, but they are so minor that people will just have to wait. The big streets already have overpasses — (Garfield Street Bridge which goes to Magnolia, Dravus and Nickerson). So I don’t see a big problem with running on the surface. It would run almost as fast, and could run just as frequently.

      But in general the devil is in the details. Can a train fit underneath all of those bridges? Eventually the train has to go over a new bridge (to the west). This means that it will be elevated at some point. It probably saves money to go on the surface and then go elevated, but who knows? If it is within a few dollars to just say elevated the entire way (from somewhere north of Mercer) than I would pay the extra money. My guess is that the savings from running along the surface are substantial.

      1. “Run fewer trains more often and it simply works better for everyone” should be “Run smaller trains more often and it simply works better for everyone.” There are a couple more mistakes, although the meaning should be more obvious.

        Wow, I’m sloppy today. Sorry about that.

    7. Zach,

      MLK level (north of Elliott and Mercer Place) is acceptable for “Ballard Link” because its riders are not looking at a 30-plus minute ride in any but the “Rapid Streetcar” version of Option E. Having the tracks run down the middle of 15th Northwest north of Leary or certainly north of Market is not going to increase travel times OR unreliability much at all. It’s the tail and will always be the tail of the line, which is not going to Carnation.

      Sure, occasionally an idiot will pull a Houston in front the train and there’ll be a delay. That can be remedied by allowing left turns only at streets with station stops (Leary, Market, 65th, 75th, and 85th) so that the train is at least going slowly.

      1. But as noted earlier, Option E is still on the table, if not the leading candidate (i.e, any light rail to West Seattle is provided in ST3 will probably result in Option E for Ballard).

      2. It’s more than an occasional idiot in Houston, because their street design is awful. (If I’m not mistaken, it literally calls for cars to merge into the train lane in order to turn left in places.)

        Obviously, Houston-level design is not what any of us are talking about here.

      3. Also, I share MD’s concern about where ST’s halfwitted monetary and “political” calculations are leading us.

  4. Obviously, none of these directly impact my daily life. However, I did follow the instructions for “other feedback” and say that a DuPont to Tacoma service should be examined. The line will soon be upgraded to passenger standards, and there will be little freight interference. It’s not as good as a Tacoma – Olympia would be, but there is no cost effective or political way to do that. You could at least make the DuPont to Tacoma section fast enough by train to make the bus from DuPont south more effective. I suggested that Tacoma south needs smaller and more cost effective trains of some sort anyway.

    1. I thought DuPont was on a future docket, but was dependent on WSDOT’s Point Defiance Bypass, which currently isn’t slated for completion until after the ST3 vote. Really, once the track is in place, it’s just a matter of additional service hours and a “temporary” platform (ala Tukwila). It’ll likely be pocket change that ST can scrounge around in the ST3 couch for, when it comes time (provided construction costs don’t skyrocket in the coming years).

      1. If it’s not a project in the ST3 plan, it won’t be built. The Point Defiance Bypass is supposed to be completed by fall 2017, long before the ST3 capital projects will be built. If there’s not money in the budget for a station at Dupont, some amount of O&M cost and potentially some additional layover space, the ST board is not going to suddenly create a new pot of money for it.

    2. What “other feedback” instructions? I was surprised that there was no text box for other comments, and wondering if I should email everything not on the list to the board today.

  5. Thank’s Martin for this clear, well thought out post. You’ve made your points and let us know why. STB is at its very best with this type of writing.

    1. I appreciate the note! There’s obviously a mix of personal interest and impartial judgment here — I hope I didn’t promise any more. I’d intended for several staff writers to post their responses in a series but the deadline crept up on me.

  6. While I prefer the Ballard spur, I can understand choosing Ballard to downtown down 15th–it’s the old monorail line, promises made in the past, etc.

    Ballard to downtown at grade on Westlake as a “4” (and equal to Ballard to UW)? Isn’t that option E in the old choices they were the studying– the slowest but cheapest option.

    If Ballard gets that in ST3, you are likely to see Seattle Subway come out against ST3.

    1. The Westlake option should be given a -1. We currently have the Westlake option, called King County Metro Route 40, which is actually very nice and runs well, outside of rush hour (which actually isn’t all too bad).

    2. My understanding is that this would be paired with a downtown tunnel. I agree that if it’s somehow the streetcar tracks or something, that’s DOA.

  7. All major destinations should be put on the network first in order to draw the most riders. Downtown, UW, Pill Hill, Airport, Stadiums, Northgate, DT Bellevue are all taken care of. Only lesser draws remain but should be covered as well to maximize system usage. U-village, Children’s Hospital and Woodland Park Zoo are what’s left (destinations like Paine Field should be part of their own network.). A line from Ballard to Sandpoint would catch the 3 significant remaining destination points.

    1. The more destinations you offer voters the more likely they’ll vote for it. Use whats left, grants and ST4 to finish the neighborhoods.

  8. Finally took the time to do the survey. Basically went along the same lines as Martin but I added support for the Edmonds Station project as it would do quite a bit of good for the North line, plus it does add the double track project that was defunded during the great recession.

    I also wrote in regarding expanding Sounder to DuPont as it really is a matter of adding a platform and a siding to store the trains (I asked nicely for at least 4 of them, hourly to Dupont or every third train will be a Dupont train)

    I wasn’t too sure on West Seattle for the simple fact I still believe a BRT system (an actual BRT system) would be better in the long run and less obtrusive to the surrounding areas. My choice was elevated but a tunnel would most likely be the best overall solution (even though it would be grossly expensive)

    Ballard – DT Seattle with a connection to Ballard – UW is definitely needed and 100% tunneled.

    Future – In-Fill Sounder station between Auburn and Sumner, Issaquah LR, I-405 BRT via the ERC.

    1. If WSDOT would allow buses to run on widened shoulders between the Nisqually Bridge and Center Drive, a Dupont Station on a little spur toward the McDonalds would be a real winner for Olympia-Central Puget Sound commuters.

  9. Martin;

    As to, “Sound Transit’s study shows that SR99 has as much ridership as Paine Field with lower cost and shorter travel times. I applaud Snohomish County’s plans to add tens of thousands of jobs at Paine Field, and their desire to serve it well with transit. But those jobs won’t all be within walking distance of the stations, meaning feeder bus service will be necessary. These buses can just as easily go to SR99 as some other point closer to the airfield.”

    I agree. I also have some Community Transit e-mails that note the difficulty in providing transit to many of Paine Field’s tenants such as “a billionaire’s toy plane collection”. Heck getting transit service to the Future of Flight is going to take a Community Transit levy lift and a new route!

    If we’re going to be putting in light rail, I want to see a minimum 500 word op-ed from an advocate for it. No, seriously. Win the argument, win the vote or it’s all over now.

    1. In the past year, rail extensions have opened to Dallas and Oakland. Both places are reporting disappointing ridership. (SeaTac is having more success with airport station rail ridership; it’s one of the best things that Link does even with that awful walk to and from the terminal.) Light rail to an airport is not an automatically good idea.

      I’m sorry but I just don’t see how Paine Field will ever attract large numbers of rail riders. Not only will Paine Field get anywhere near as many flights as Oakland (let alone SeaTac) does if commercial planes ever go there, but as it’s been pointed out in prior posts, the Boeing shift change times are horribly scheduled to attract transit riders in one direction for every shift (something those ridership models don’t look at). By the time the line opens in 15 or 25 years, Boeing may have even moved those jobs! Finally, Boeing shifts are pulsed and not gradual throughout the day, so any workers that use light rail would end up on maybe two or three trains arriving or leaving. Paine Field would be more cost-effectively served by a DMU of six or eight cars on a single track to the mainline Link trunk line– if at all.

  10. As to Edmonds Sounder Station and the rest of Sounder North, I reiterate my view we need to find a good alternative to trade Sounder North in for. Having Community Transit able to drop people off at the Lynnwood light rail terminus next decade will be huge and open up some options.

    Again, if some have decided in Olympia in their bubble that we the people are going to siphon off $500 mil from Sound Transit – shouldn’t Community Transit see some of that money instead of the education sector/educational industrial complex? I can think of a few places where transit grants to Community Transit would make a massive difference – like building places for buses to feed Paine Field flight schools, manufacturing and the Future of Flight into light rail.

    As to, “Downtown Seattle-Ballard, elevated/tunnel (both options); New Downtown Seattle Tunnel; Madison St. BRT” – I’m sold.

    Joe is off hot!

  11. At-grade to Ballard might be workable today and for the next 5-10 years, but beyond that we’re going to need grade separation if we’re going to get the kind of density that NW Seattle needs. So I prioritized at-grade for that route.

    I’ve never quite understood why some transit advocates think it’s wise to tell a neighborhood that’s screaming for rail that they don’t deserve it, so I also gave a high priority to grade-separated rail to West Seattle. That puts a stop to the endless chicken-and-egg argument of “well they don’t have enough density to support rail so let’s not give them rail and ensure they never get that density.” Density is great for rail, but density shouldn’t be linked to rail quite so strictly. More importantly, building rail first helps erode anti-density arguments and makes it easier to build more units in West Seattle.

    I do support finishing “the spine” from Everett to Tacoma, and following my “if they want rail, they get rail” guidelines, I’m fine with a Paine Field diversion. Maybe we make that conditional on an SR 99 alignment?

    Less familiar with the east side but Totem Lake to Issaquah is a good place to start.

    1. Breaking news: Robert endorses more stuff everywhere, no mathematical minimum standard for top-tier investments, untenable growth predictions, and denying the reality that the same people agitating for certain rail lines are the ones “amber lining” their neighborhoods (and that nothing will “erode” their anti-density sentiment).

    2. West Seattle deserves something better than a single light rail line. West Seattle deserves BRT — real BRT. That would give more riders a better transit experience.

      To put is a different way, it isn’t that that the entire peninsula is screaming for light rail because the entire peninsula will never get light rail. There will never be light rail to Alki, which, last time I checked, is in West Seattle. If the junction gets light rail, then Delridge gets nothing. On and on it goes. Why force all of these people to transfer, when it is much faster for them to travel a brand new BRT line to downtown?

      1. West Seattle is no different from Ballard in that the rail will only serve one corridor. That is why train/bus coordination in those neighborhoods are important. Rail doesn’t need to go to Alki anymore than it does to Shilshole. Buses will meet trains and do the work. It isn’t hard to envision rail to the dense Junction and repurposing the C Line to link Alki, Admiral, Junction, Morgan, Westwood, and White Center. BTW–Delridge is getting Rapid Ride in the state transportation package just passed.

      2. I think you can make a very good case for BRT to Ballard as well, and the WSTT plans do just that. But there are important differences that make for a stronger case for light rail to Ballard:

        1) More people along that corridor (Ballard/Queen Anne/Belltown). You might need the capacity of light rail (although I doubt it).
        2) BRT in West Seattle can serve the entire peninsula without spending that much money. I estimate less than 500 million (and probably less than that) and every bus that leaves West Seattle would run unimpeded until it gets to the SoDo busway (and then onto the WSTT). To be clear — you would still have to spend the extra money on the WSTT, but not much more. To do the same thing in Ballard you would have to build a new bridge. So in that sense it is similar.
        3) But if you build a new bridge and a new tunnel for Ballard, you might as well run rail on it. It doesn’t cost much more. This is the biggest difference. To get first class BRT for Ballard requires only a little bit less money than first class light rail. To get first class BRT for West Seattle requires a lot more money. A huge amount more. You can’t leverage the freeway because the grade is too steep. That is really the crux. There is a huge cost difference between rail to West Seattle and BRT to West Seattle, while there is less of a difference between rail to Ballard and BRT to Ballard. I’m still not convinced that light rail to Ballard makes a huge amount of sense, but it doesn’t cost much more.

        Now light rail from Ballard to UW is different. It would lead to much better transit network.

      3. For BRT to West Seattle you would at minimum need to expand the Fauntleroy Expressway and build an on-ramp from 4th/6th/Busway to the westbound Spokane Street Viaduct. You also either need the new WSTT or to put those BRT buses in the existing tunnel. With all of that, why not just build LRT and get higher ridership?

      4. Apple.


        I’m sorry, but they’re nothing alike. West Seattle (“17% of the city!!”) is a quite simply enormous area, and its sole arguable pocket of “urbanity” is quite simply a minuscule pockmark — it wouldn’t be a top-20 “node” elsewhere in the city — surrounded by a sea of permanent SF5000 zoning.

        And that’s before you address your lack of contiguousness with other populated or multi-use areas!

        What really steams myself and others about West Seattle’s forays into this discussion is your apparently deeply-held conviction that you have been screwed from a transit standpoint in the past. This could not be more false.

        Are you aware that the West Seattle Freeway was originally seen as a major piece of the Forward Thrust plan, and that as the only part ever built, you already enjoy faster transit access to downtown and elsewhere than places 5x closer and not remote-by-design?

        Are you aware that you are the only part of the city with any all-hour bus lanes to expedite your journey?

        Are you aware that when Metro through-routed RapidRides C & D, it balanced frequencies between the two poles by actually reducing Ballard service, including evening service that had long been well-used?

        Did you know that without traffic, the Junction enjoys a 17-minute lightning-fast bus trip into downtown on the C, while D riders from (closer) Ballard continue to suffer an enraging detour that drags their trip out to 30 minutes? (Again, that’s before any traffic!)

      5. West Seattle has long been suburban in form, suburban in scope, suburban in commute pattern, and suburban in cultural and off-peak engagement with the rest of the city (i.e. there is less of it).

        But when it comes to infrastructure, you want to be seen as equally urban-engaged. Sorry, but there is not one facet of the math that supports this rail-requirement queue-jumping.

      6. And to be clear, I’m really not trying to beat up on West Seattle here. The place is what it is, and it is fine. Though I am clearly very frustrated by some West Seattleites who feel superlatively entitled to $4 billion of city-wide taxpayers’ money, in addition to being entitled to ahistoricism and their own “facts”.

        But the truth is that West Seattle and Ballard are not analogous. Not population wise, not geometrically, not in terms of development speed or form, and certainly not in terms of transit situation*. And with a West Seattle subway costing potentially 70+% of all of Seattle’s available rail transit money forever and ever and ever, we need to stop putting up with the falsehood that they are.

        *(Yeah, I’ve never heard of the grade-separated freeway to the 7-lane Ballard High Bridge either.)

      7. @ Mickymse — Fauntleroy expressway? Sure. I am all for surface street extensions to West Seattle BRT. That is one of the strongest arguments for West Seattle BRT. If you blow all your money on West Seattle light rail then you have nothing left over for street improvements. Do you really think the city is going to spend billions on even one station in West Seattle and then turn around and make West Seattle transit a priority. Sorry, but hell no! The rest of the city will basically, ignorantly, say “Hey West Seattle, you’ve got your light rail, just use that!” without ever considering the fact that much of the peninsula doesn’t have good access to the station. They will let Fauntleroy, and Alki, and Hilltop, and Roxbury and most neighborhoods in West Seattle just muddle along, because “you have yours” just like Capitol Hill and First Hill and the Central Area have theirs. It is, of course, not true. The C. D. (or Central Area) doesn’t have squat, and neither will West Seattle if we only build one line. Because the one line will be half ass. Of course it will. We just don’t have enough money to build a good line. If you want to extend the line, then, well, you will have to wait until far more populous places (like the Central Area and South Lake Union get theirs first). Be patient. In fifty or maybe a hundred years you might have a light rail line that will work well for one third of West Seattle.

        Or you could build very good BRT.

  12. I have been looking for some guesstimates as to relative costs and ridership for each of these options, so I could express informed opinions on each. But I can’t find that information. It looks like Sound Transit is asking the public to give them our feel-good opinions, and that I find difficult to do. Am I missing something here? I’d appreciate other takes on this.

    1. North-south:

      All of the numbers should probably be deemed extremely rough guesstimates. It has specifically been noted that they universally undercount Ballard’s growth — both past and present, never mind future.

      Meanwhile, the east-west subway option presumes an appalling anti-urban stop spacing, thus low-balling both cost and ridership versus a well-designed version of the line. (The at-grade east-west option, since deleted, contains a laughable travel-time spitball.)

      Nevertheless, since these charts come as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as we are likely to see, it is worth noting that only the very unlikely Cadillac-level plans guarantee ridership that bests the east-west subway. And only by a hair. And at $1-$2 billion extra.

      Study a properly-spaced (full catchment) east-west line, and the ridership advantage of the Upper Queen Anne gold-plated plans may disappear entirely.

      1. I think it is safe to assume that Sound Transit has never considered ridership gains that come from improving the transit network (which explains why they didn’t initially support the station at NE 130th). For the UW to Ballard line, this is key. It simply integrates better with buses. So if we assume that those numbers are artificially deflated (because of both the lack of stations and the underestimation of bus to rail riders) then UW to Ballard is an even better value.

        Finally, they have never considered how light rail improves the overall transit network. Consider the NE 130th example again. A Light rail station there would probably lead to frequent bus service between Greenwood and Lake City (and beyond). That would increase overall transit ridership, even for those who never ride Link (e. g. Lake City to Aurora).

        So, basically, what I’m saying is that ridership of Link per dollar is not a great metric. Transit ridership per dollar is a great metric, but it requires a lot more work. It requires that Link cooperate with Metro in coming up with bus plans *before* the light rail is done, and then plug those numbers into a model that estimates the increase. That is all very complicated, and since they don’t even consider the obvious improvements to Link itself from good bus service, I wouldn’t expect them to do much of that anytime soon.

  13. My concern about the Ballard-UW route is that I have no confidence that Sound Transit would get the transfer there right.
    The other transfer point in the system, at ID station, will require folks to take an escalator upstairs, walk across, and then back down the stairs to transfer from East Link to get to the airport.
    I doubt they’d come up with anything better here. They don’t seem willing to make changes stations that are already built.

    1. Sound Transit would be equally likely to botch the transfer points from new downtown tunnel to old.

      The lesson here is that there need to be mechanisms to protect against future design botches. This applies to anything chosen, designed, and built.

    2. Let’s consider the worst case scenario – that you have to go all the way up to surface, cross a street, and go all the way down again to make the connection. Even then, it’s still a big improvement over the 44.

      For what it’s worth, even Vancouver has a connection between two SkyTrain lines like this – right in the middle of downtown.

      1. An “in-system” transfer like that really would be a deterrent and an abhorrent outcome, to be prevented at all costs.

        The evidence? You presented it yourself: nobody transfers between Skytrain lines at Granville. Anyone who needs both lines continues to Waterfront.

        The good news for Vancouver is that few people need such a transfer. The arrangement of the total network is such that infinitely more trips work better with a single lateral bus and a single train, rather than a trip to a downtown that, by virtue of geography, demands backtracking from almost anywhere.

        Similarly, there were be precious few transfers between Central Link and East Link, simply because the two lines travel to disparate places in anti-urban manners and therefore boast near-nonexistent network effects.

        But U-District is different. That’s a transfer point for countless common trips that would be made via both North Link and the Ballard Spur. Indeed, that’s the whole point of building it — it most certainly isn’t all about getting folks to the Ave.

        This would be the Seattle subway system’s transfer point par excellence… but not if it requires braving the weather and crossing streets and walking half-blocks and diving five stories down again. In-system means in-system means in-system.

        Don’t give Sound Transit any more stupid ideas.

  14. Wherever ST is designing new lines that are entirely grade-separated, and where any likely extensions should be grade-separated, they should be considering driverless-trains operating out of a new maintenance base. Vancouver has two different technologies operating their skytrain lines; there’s no need to be wedded to a single concept forever.

  15. Survey Smurvey: This is a push poll to reinforce what staff and board want to hear.
    Any first year marketing student knows the placement of multiple choice lists is biased towards those listed first. (Mathews, 1927, or Payne, 1951, et al).
    I dare ST to run the survey again, but this time put Ballard to U-Dist first, not last.
    or any other of the questions designed to get a result they want to hear.
    Reverse the order, and see that you get.

    1. Excellent observation! Being that it’s an online survey, it should be randomizing the order that it gives answers to different participants. Has anyone seen if it does that? If not, that’s a good suggestion for future ST surveys. It’s also possible to create a regulation mandating randomization of response options, or a checklist of best practices to avoid bias could be written in law or agency policy.

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