[CORRECTION: Michael James of SDOT wrote me to clarify that their request does include “a station in the vicinity of Mercer St. and 1st Avenue N.” Apparently the excerpt “… a station at State Route 99 and Harrison, serving Uptown and the Seattle Center,…” refers to two stations, not one. I regret taking the sentence at its most clearly understood meaning, rather than asking.]
If there’s any takeaway from Sound Transit’s Federal Way Link alignment decision, it’s that input from jurisdictions carry significant weight in those decisions. This is understandable both in theory (elected officials ought to be more representative than self-selected public comment) and in practice (local jurisdictions are important to both winning the vote and getting permits to execute the projects.) This can turn out good or bad, depending on the values of the electorate and their representatives.
Last week Sound Transit staff presented the sum of both public comment and local government input on ST3. There are dozens of government letters, but today we’ll start with Seattle, signed by SDOT director Scott Kubly. The letter touches on most of the themes in previous Seattle-area rail discussions, but also sets a clear priority. Here are the bullet points:
- The main request is light rail from Ballard to West Seattle.
- Through downtown there must be a tunnel under 4th, 5th, or 6th Avenues because a surface alignment would have serious traffic impacts and “inability to serve South Lake Union.”
- As a lower priority, evaluation of Ballard/UW rail with “considerations to extend the line east in the future.”
- “Full evaluation” of Graham St. and N. 130th St. stations. In the latter case, consider the new urban village option there and the impact of feeder buses on ridership.
- Madison BRT
The meatiest part is the Ballard segment, which would have stations at:
- 15th Ave & N 65th St.
- 15th Ave & Market St.
- 15th Ave & Dravus St.
- 15th Ave & Newton St. (the Interbay Whole Foods)
- “in close proximity” to the Elliott Trail Bridge (near Expedia)
- [UPDATE: 1st Ave N & Mercer St.]
- SR 99 & Harrison St.
- Westlake Ave N & Denny Way
- “A below grade station with pedestrian connections to the existing Westlake Station platforms”
The proposal suggests either surface or elevated options on 15th and Elliott, as well as a new Ballard Bridge with “no more than 4 general purpose lanes”, bike, and pedestrian lanes, potentially not high enough to avoid openings due to shipping.
The West Seattle segment is much more vague, with an endpoint at the Junction running elevated, at-grade, or tunneled. The letter specifically calls out “early implementation items’ that could improve bus service to West Seattle more quickly.
[UPDATE: See the correction post for analysis. Original text follows.]
The Ballard-downtown segment is the most specific, and so invites the most interesting critiques. It’s not worthwhile to get too wrapped up about the precise intersections in the letter, but let’s use them as a starting point. Serving Lower Queen Anne is almost inevitable on the way to Interbay, but it’s hard for a reasonably direct line to serve both Belltown and South Lake Union. The 20 or so blocks at the western edge of Belltown are the biggest losers here, not within a half mile of any station. SLU gets two stations on its periphery; virtually all of it is within a half mile of a station, and quite a bit in 1/4 mile. Lower Queen Anne is a curious case: 99 & Harrison is the Seattle Center stop, and the heart of LQA just west of Key Arena is in the walkshed, if not terribly close. For the rest, a lot depends on the “Expedia” stop. The more that drifts south, the better it serves the variety of uses in Lower Queen Anne, and the less it’s limited to the peak-oriented patterns at Expedia itself. Somewhere around Mercer and Elliott might balance things out nicely. But a stop on Elliott is wise because it’s above ground, much cheaper, and therefore gets an extra station for the core. One interesting thing about the 99/Harrison and Expedia stops is that they seem calculated to minimize construction impacts, although the former is complicated by being very near the DBT portal. There won’t be a giant station box pit in the heart of LQA or SLU, although there will of course be disruption. It’s a 0.4 mile walk between 99/Harrison and Westlake/Denny. Moving 99/Harrison west towards the Seattle Center grounds would probably space things out somewhat better and may ease project construction.