[This seems a good a time as any to remind everyone that guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of STB staff or the editorial board – Ed.]

What exactly is Bus Rapid Transit (or BRT)? Perhaps, like the Supreme Court said about “pornography”, you know it when you see it. If the Wikipedia definition of BRT is any guide, I haven’t seen it in Seattle. To quote their definition, “To be considered BRT, buses should operate for a significant part of their journey within a fully dedicated right of way (busway) to avoid traffic congestion”. RapidRide is not BRT, falling well short by ITDP standards.

But we can certainly build a real BRT system for West Seattle that has almost every advantage of what we call “light rail” (mostly grade separated, off-board fare collection, station platforms level with the bus floor, priority at intersections, etc.). Unlike the light rail concepts being offered by Sound Transit, BRT to West Seattle would allow riders from all the key corridors of West Seattle (California, Fauntleroy, 35th, Admiral/Alki and Delridge) to enjoy a fast and frequent ride to downtown without having to transfer.

The Challenges of Serving West Seattle with Transit

West Seattle is a fairly large area, separated from the rest of Seattle by the Duwamish River. If you look at a census map of West Seattle, there are a few pockets of scattered density, but nothing over 25,000 people per square mile. The more densely populated areas are not in a line, either, making it all but impossible to connect the area with one rail line. A light rail line that serves the Junction is likely to miss Admiral, Alki and the Delridge corridor. A rail line on Delridge would miss Admiral, Alki, California, Fauntleroy and 35th.

Link to West Seattle would be expensive. It would have to traverse low-ridership Sodo and Harbor Island, cross water and rugged terrain. Martin Duke estimated the cost of getting to the junction at $2 – 2.5 billion, not including a downtown tunnel.

The city is unlikely to build parking around the stations, meaning that most riders would walk to the station or arrive by bus.  A comparison of population density and the proposed set of stations shows that no set of West Seattle stations will be within walking distance of a majority of potential riders. For light rail to be successful, a vast majority of riders would have to arrive to the station by bus.

Transferring from to bus to train incurs a transfer penalty: exiting the bus, walking to the station, getting to the platform, and waiting for a train (Sound Transit suggests headways of ten minutes). In most of Seattle, the train makes up for that penalty by using its dedicated right of way to outrun buses mired on surface streets. In West Seattle, however, there is easy access to a high-speed freeway if agencies execute several relatively low-cost infrastructure projects. For most riders on West Seattle’s major bus corridors, this would result in a faster trip to and through downtown than with light rail.

WSTT Initial Service Pattern
Maps by Oran Viriyincy

 Making it Work

West Seattleites are understandably skeptical about BRT, given their day-to-day experiences with traffic on the bridge.  Creating real, reliable BRT would involve more than painting a few buses. It would mean several major investments in our infrastructure capacity:

1) Build the West Side Transit Tunnel (or WSTT) — This is essential for any BRT plan involving West Seattle. The bus routes listed in the diagram serve as a good starting point for future BRT routes (serving dozens of neighborhoods in West Seattle).

2) Build ramps connecting the SoDo busway to the Freeway. This is part of the WSTT plan (as shown on the diagram) but it is worth mentioning.

Existing Bus Lanes on the West Seattle Bridge
Existing Bus Lanes on the West Seattle Bridge

3) Improve the bus lane weave on the West Seattle Freeway. The current situation is shown above. The bus lane starts midway over the Duwamish, between West Seattle and Harbor Island. Cars have to cross over the lane if they are getting on the freeway and want to continue past SR 99, or are getting off of the freeway at 99. There is also a bus only lane on the Admiral Way/Avalon Way on ramp, which starts midway into the long ramp. This bus lane does not have to merge with traffic where the other Admiral/Avalon traffic merges, but simply continues on, as another lane is added. Delridge traffic does not have to merge either, as a fourth lane is added there.

Proposed West Seattle Bus Lanes
Proposed West Seattle Bus Lanes

Two different measures would improve reliability here:

(a) A ramp meter on Delridge (see below) would limit the volume of cars trying to merge into traffic in the path of the bus.

(b) For even greater reliablity, a bus bypass lane further east would go over or under the 99 on-ramp. It would be to the south of the existing ramp (in the far right lane). This means that a driver that wants to go on SR 99 would not get in the far right lane, but get in the lane next to it (second to right). The far right lane would be for buses only (and connect to SoDo). Therefore, buses would only contend with (metered) traffic entering from Delridge. All other traffic would have no reason to enter the bus right-of-way.

4) Add a new bus only lane along the freeway from the current end (at SR 99) to the new ramp to the SoDo busway.

With the vast savings over a completely new rail right-of-way, Sound Transit could easily fund a series of smaller improvements to entrench the BRT time advantage:

5) Add ramp meters for most of the other on ramps to the West Seattle Freeway. This is pretty cheap and is done throughout the city. Basically, this pushes the traffic back onto the streets, and away from the freeway itself. For example, at the Delridge ramp, you would have two lanes — one for HOV and one for SOV. The SOV waits, the HOV doesn’t. This allows a bus to jump ahead quite a bit. Traffic is much worse heading out of West Seattle, rather than into it. By adding metered ramps, you reduce the number of cars on the freeway. You also get the buses up to the bus only lanes (without any additional work). This would be controversial. A lot of drivers won’t like it, but they should be used to it. I don’t think anyone feels that a trip on I-5 is substantially slower because of the metered entrances — they realize they only apply when I-5 is slow (and it doesn’t matter where you wait).

6) Convert street parking or general-purpose lanes to HOV on Avalon. HOV conversions are inexpensive at the scale of large capital projects. The city is doing this sort of thing on Aurora and is likely to soon do this on Madison.

7) Convert lanes to HOV on other West Seattle corridors (Delridge, Admiral Way, Fauntleroy). In some cases this will be very difficult or unnecessary, but in many cases, this would be a huge improvement. This sort of improvement often makes a bigger difference to more riders than would the creation of light rail. Not only do you avoid the transfer, but the trip is faster in areas away from the freeway.

8) Add signal priority along all the major routes. There are a few places where this would be tricky, but in many places it looks pretty simple.

9) Divert the 116 to Avalon. If Avalon is fast (as it should be) and getting on the freeway is fast, it really isn’t much of a detour. This simplifies the work needed to make all the buses run fast, adds a little connectivity to the BRT system and increases frequency for Avalon bus riders.


The most expensive part is the WSTT, but a downtown tunnel is common to both light rail and good BRT solutions. The branched configuration of the WSTT might be more expensive than the Link downtown concept, but only to get the additional service advantages.

The next two suggestions are expensive, but nothing compared to any of the plans for light rail to West Seattle. This isn’t a huge amount of new freeway, and it is in a fairly cheap construction area. It is not as expensive as dealing with the freeway west of there (which has very high bridges). Recently, the widening of the Spokane Street Viaduct cost $163 million, according to the state report. This proposal might be more expensive, but not a lot more.

The remaining items are fairly cheap. The city of Seattle has already done work identifying some potential improvements as part of the Transit Master Plan.

By my estimation, after you paid for the WSTT (also a part of any light rail proposal), you would have to spend another $250 to $500 million (and I think that is being conservative) to have buses run essentially unimpeded from West Seattle to downtown (and to Queen Anne). That is well over $1 billion less than an inferior light rail alternative.


While some in West Seattle would be better off with light rail, the vast majority of West Seattle riders would be better off with BRT. Riders from all over West Seattle would be able to travel faster and more frequently from their neighborhood to downtown without a laborious and infrequent transfer.

143 Replies to “Build Real BRT for West Seattle”

  1. Thanks for this writeup!

    One comment – to make this kind of plan politically viable, messaging will be *extremely* important. As you note, West Seattle residents are understandably skeptical of the efficacy of BRT. Among community leaders here, I’ve also noticed a broad sense of feeling overlooked by the rest of the city. I foresee a lot of pushback if Sound Transit gives West Seattle what many would (rightly or wrongly) see as an inferior solution, while the other three quadrants of the city get quality rail service.

    One question I’m curious how you’d answer: if “true BRT” is so cheap and effective for West Seattle, why not save the money and do true BRT for Ballard as well? Many of your arguments hold there as well: there are many dense neighborhoods which would not be well-served by a single line; crossing the ship canal is expensive; etc. If you want to effectively advocate for this solution, you’ll need a *really* good sound-bite-length answer to these types of questions.

    All that said, nice post, and thanks for getting the discussion going!

    1. There’s only really one dense area of Ballard: the neighborhood bounded by the ship canal, 65th St, 15th, and 24th. That’s the area that demands rail service.

      1. Sure, but the line would serve more than just Ballard. Lower Queen Anne, central Queen Anne, Fremont, Wallingford, etc. all have entered the discussion of this line.

        If I said “there’s only one dense area in West Seattle: the Junction” to counter Ross’ points, you’d jump on me for it, right?

        This is one of the false equivalencies that come up often in these comment threads: “Ballard” is assumed to refer to the densest parts of central Ballard, ignoring all the sparsely-populated outer areas. “West Seattle” is assumed to refer to the entire peninsula, not just the dense central areas.

        Let’s keep it consistent.

      2. LWC – look at a satellite image of Downtown Ballard and of the Junction. You’ll see a major difference: Downtown Ballard is a much bigger and more 3-dimensional urban environment. The residential areas immediately adjacent to Downtown Ballard are denser as well. Ballard in general has its dense development more centralized and is an ideal candidate for rail. Also, you’d grab LQA on the way, which is a big deal as well.

        West Seattle has dispersed nodes of density throughout the peninsula, but none that can compare with Downtown Ballard in terms of a dense and 3-D built environment. Also, there’s no must-have neighborhoods (like LQA) between Downtown and the Junction.

        Overall, I’m not even saying I fully agree with Ross’s plan and am sort of torn regarding West Seattle rail – I do think it makes sense to connect the peninsula to the rail system eventually but I’m not sure it should be a priority and am concerned given costs that it will compromise the northern ST3 Seattle line. However, there is a clear case to be made for why Ballard is a better candidate for rail.

      3. I’m not arguing that the Junction is larger or more populous than central Ballard. It’s not. I just want to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.

    2. One big problem with Ballard BRT would be that, unlike the West Seattle Bridge, the Ballard Bridge has no bus lane, nor any spare lane that could be repurposed for a bus lane. But, let’s assume a new bridge is built. (Seattle Bike Blog is pushing for that anyway, since the current one pushes bikes onto the much-too-narrow sidewalk.)

      How would Ballard BRT be configured? Unlike West Seattle where three all-day routes (the 120, 21, and C) use the bridge, only the D crosses the Ballard Bridge. The 24 and 31 join it further south; they could take advantage of the BRT too, but (a) they’re much less-frequent, and (b) this means we should maybe be calling it the Magnolia BRT. Okay then, suppose we reroute other buses – say, the 40 and 28. That gets us as many buses/hour as West Seattle BRT, but it means we’ve cut off Ballard’s connection with Fremont, ruined service on Westlake and Dexter, and messed up the northwestern grid. We’ll essentially need to duplicate the 40 east of 15th anyway, after we’ve rerouted the northern half into the Ballard BRT.

      Plus, what about the load factor? How full will these buses to Ballard be, compared to buses to West Seattle?

      If we’re going for some form of BRT in northern Seattle, I’d recommend a Fremont BRT down Westlake. There’s just as much room in the right-of-way, and it would allow us to improve connections immeasurably by rerouting the 5 to Lower Fremont.

      1. … and by “31” I mean the 33. (And the 32 which runs down 15th through Interbay, but I’d be surprised if that part of the route had any appreciable ridership.)

        I’m also ignoring the proposed 2016 changes, which would cut off the 28’s connection to Lower Fremont anyway. That would make a Ballard BRT reroute much more palatable, but we’d still be in the same boat regarding the 40. I think these changes would make a Westlake BRT still more important, though: it could serve three frequent, important routes: the 40, 5, and 16.

      2. Yes and while you’re at it with Westlake BRT, rebuild Westlake along the lake into a full tree lined European boulevard with separate transit lanes down the center. There is plenty of right of way to rebuild this stretch between MOHAI and Fremont Bridge as there is the old rail corridor now used as public parking that could be added to the street right of way with new parallel parking and a waterfront pedestrian promenade with separated cycle track.

      3. “Unlike West Seattle where three all-day routes (the 120, 21, and C) use the bridge”

        5, actually, with the 50 and 125. Not frequent service like the other 3 you mentioned but certainly an all day span of service.

    3. We’re not building light rail for the population today, but for the population of tomorrow. Even with the lie-PSRC numbers, Ballard is going to grow ridiculously quickly.
      WS, OTOH, seems to only want to grow via sprawl and not height.

      Not that I believe BRT for WS is politically feasible, but Ballard != WS.

      1. Zach, West Seattle is bounded on three sides by water, and to the south generally by White Center, and all of that area is developed. Much of it is single family, but it is already developed; there’s no room for it to sprawl. It’s already fairly sprawling in the sense that what we commonly refer to as West Seattle covers a large area of land, but it’s really not correct to say that West Seattle wants to grow “via sprawl”. As with every part of Seattle, growth is determined by zoning and demand, and the vast majority of growth in West Seattle is within a quarter mile or so of the Alaska Junction and along California, Fauntleroy, and Avalon.

      2. Zach – I don’t think your statement aligns with the reality of current development at Alaska Junction.

        Look – I’ve never disagreed that Ballard is a better rail destination than Alaska junction. It clearly is. But that doesn’t automatically mean that Alaska Junction is not a good candidate for rail as well.

      3. I think the main reason that light to the junction doesn’t make that much sense is because of geography, not because the area by the junction is not worthy.

        There just isn’t that anything along the way, or very little beyond it. There are reasonably good places, but serving them becomes ridiculously expensive. For the junction to be worth serving with light rail, it would have to be similar to South Lake Union or downtown Bellevue. This is very different than, say, Wallingford. Wallingford is lucky enough to be on the path of a very good light rail line. There is no way you would go miles out of your way (at great expense and without any new stations) just to serve it.

        There are lots of other places that are in the same boat as the West Seattle Junction. The area by SPU is similar. Density there is comparable to density in the junction (or any place in West Seattle) and there is a college there. But no one is proposing it be served by light rail. It is just too expensive to get there.

        The good news for folks at the junction, though, is that unlike the folks who live by (or work, visit or go to school at SPU) there is a wonderful alternative — this.

      4. We should not be making decisions about light rail based on conditions *now*. These are hundred-year projects, and we should be thinking on those timelines. The junction is dense and growing, and its further growth is primarily limited by lack of access to reliable transportation. It’s a great candidate for light rail, even with the cost of crossing the Duwamish.

        As for the expense, take a look at what this BRT plan is proposing: basically building entirely new onramp infrastructure on either side of the bridge. That is an *expensive* prospect. We’d be spending a lot of money either way to get a reliable transit solution – why not invest in something that will last, and will spur the right kind of development in the next 100 years?

      5. Because — surprise! — a massive new bridge/tunnel combination would be orders of magnitude more expensive than even a total on-ramp overhaul. We’re talking about hundreds of millions versus multiple billions.

        And those multiple billions for rail, as Ross makes so painstakingly clear, would buy less resultant benefit.

        West Seattle growth is limited by NIMBYs, not by transit capacity. In fact, there remains quite an excess of the latter even on the defective C Line. In Ballard, where the allowance for growth under existing zoning makes a mockery of West Seattle’s claims to equivalence, the speed of growth has not in any way been restrained by the drawbucks of the (much more crowded) transit or the (significantly more severe) bridge bottleneck.

        The West Seattle NIMBYs are not going to disappear tomorrow, and the peninsula is never going to evolve into a truly urban place. Not now. Not a century from now.

      6. Let’s go back to the definition of light rail.

        1. Cheap.
        2. Quick to implement.
        3. Able to ride at grade or elevated.

        Let’s look at Seattle’s definition:

        1. Most expensive per mile in world
        2. Takes decades to implement the lowest form of system while other cities implement complete underground subways
        3. When there is an option like a tunnel, always choose that because it cost 10 times more and take longer to finish.

        So, the question is already answered…because if we were doing this correctly and for the right reasons it would have already been built.

      7. >> We should not be making decisions about light rail based on conditions *now*. These are hundred-year projects, and we should be thinking on those timelines.

        As of the last census, the area around SPU (used in my example) is over 50% more densely populated than the area around the junction. At what point do you think the area around the junction will pass the area around SPU, and at what point do you think that this increased density will make up for the fact that SPU is a university (and thus a major destination)? Or do you expect a university to locate itself at the junction at some point 100 years from now? Do you think that bus service to the SPU area is similar to bus service (as I outlined) to the junction? Do you think that light rail to SPU will be cheaper than serving the West Seattle junction? If not, what warrants a major investment in the junction over a major investment in the area around SPU?

        I have no idea where the growth will occur in the next hundred years, and with all due respect, I don’t think you do either. The West Seattle junction area will grow. So will the area around SPU. Will the area around the junction ever catch up? I have no idea, and I don’t think you do either.

      8. Zach – why do you keep making it an either-or? My point is that rail will be good for the Junction in the long term, and allow smart growth there that would not take place otherwise. I don’t see how my comments could be taken to imply that rail would be bad for SPU, Ballard, Fremont, or other neighborhoods.

        dp – again with the mindless anti-West-Seattle rant! As I’ve said many times: there are NIMBYs in West Seattle, just as there are all over Seattle. West Seattle is not special in this. Sorry to be such a broken record on this topic, but your misplaced vitriol has no basis in reality.

      9. Yeah, but the NIMBYs in West Seattle will keep the overwhelming majority of West Seattle as remote and undense as it is today… which is not as acute a problem in places that aren’t nearly as remote or undense.

        “West Seattle is densifying as rapidly as other parts of the city” is a falsehood, plain and simple.

        When pointing out that facts matter can be described as “mindless” with a straight face, we’re all in serious trouble.

      10. Also, way to totally avoid addressing the total lack of correlation between rail and development pressure in a dozen other places around the city.

    4. William mentioned one point I was going to mention. West Seattle BRT would be better than Ballard BRT, assuming you spent the same amount of money on each. For Ballard BRT to work, you would need a new bridge, and that is expensive.

      There is also a different geographic situation for Ballard. Going east-west is about as bad as going anywhere in Seattle, whereas getting around West Seattle is not that bad. What people complain about most is the freeway. There are definite slow areas (e. g. around the junction) but nothing like trying to get from 15th and Market to the UW. This means that the bus routes would not serve “greater” Ballard that well. By that I mean areas to the east (Phinney Ridge, Greenwood, Fremont, Wallingford, etc.).

      Yet the WSTT is a still a great value for Ballard. It would represent a huge improvement. But without an expensive new bridge, you would not have the outstanding “light rail like” service along that corridor that West Seattle BRT would be. I think the answer is to simply live with less than ideal bus service for Ballard (via the WSTT) but pair it with the UW to Ballard light rail line. That serves the area I mentioned quite well. If you are on a bus heading down 15th (from say, Ballard High School) and you are headed downtown, you probably don’t bother with a transfer, even if going over the bridge is a bit slow. But you always have that option. From 15th and Market it is just about as fast to go around. There are exactly the same number of stops, and the time it takes to ride a subway can be measured in stops (more or less).

      If you are on Phinney Ridge or Greenwood, there is a similar dynamic. Aurora is pretty fast, so you can just stay on the bus. If you are between the main corridors (at say, 8th NW) then you can transfer to the train, and be there much faster than you would today. Meanwhile, for lower Queen Anne you simply walk to the (bus) station, where you can expect very fast, very frequent service (just as fast as light rail, but a lot more frequent). For upper Queen Anne, there is a transfer, but that is no worse than what SDOT proposed for light rail (only Corridor D is better for them). Magnolia, western Queen Anne (and even northern Queen Anne) either get a transfer or a direct bus. Either way it is better than light rail (just as fast but more frequent).

      So, even without a new bridge, most people come out ahead with the WSTT. The one exception are folks on 15th, north of Market headed to downtown and those on 15th headed to Queen Anne or somewhere along the way (e. g. Interbay). The first group has an alternative which is only a bit slower (requiring a transfer from the bus on 15th to light rail). The second group would come out ahead with a bigger investment in infrastructure along this corridor (either light rail or bus infrastructure) but with the combination of the WSTT and Ballard to UW light rail, even these folks would have an improved trip.

      So, basically, overall, I think the best thing for the area — the thing that will add the most value by reducing the trip time for more riders — is the combination of the WSTT, West Seattle BRT, and Ballard to West Seattle light rail.

      1. Great! For the most part I agree. But I’m someone who would read and consider all the points you make.

        Now try to make a campaign slogan that will get West Seattle voters to see your point. And consider the fact that your opponents in West Seattle will say something like “The rest of the city gets rail while we keep our slow buses.”

        Messaging is going to be a huge part of making any BRT plan work, especially in a post-RapidRide world where voters will be wary of being duped by BRT again. We have to be realistic if we’re actually going to make this happen.

      2. I should add: this type of messaging consideration is largely why we have the DBT rather than the vastly-superior-in-all-metrics surface/transit option. The subtleties of induced demand, choke-point capacity, etc. are lost in the face of populist quips like “McGinn wants to tear down the viaduct and replace it with nothing!”.

      3. Hmm… Trying out slogans (with apologies to Martin for using his name as an exemplar):

        “Martin wants to replace buses serving all your neighborhoods with an expensive train serving only one or two!”

        “Martin wants to make you wait ten minutes under the bridge every trip!”

      4. Nah. Not Armageddon enough.

        By the time you are done listening to a few of the anti-light rail advertisement that have run in the Portland area, you will think light rail is a Satanic army of scorpion like beings armed with hellfire and brimstone, just waiting for an opportunity to go on a pillaging rampage.

    5. Need a Jarrett Walker explanation of why this corridor and its characteristics screams BRT over LRT, the different advantages/disadvantages of BRT or LRT, and a great graphic designer to show it graphically.

  2. As a resident of WS, I like the WSTT—it would be real, or at least close enough to, BRT that would allow faster service w/ limited impediments to other parts of the city, but is it a serious option being considered by the decision makers of Sound Transit 3? It appears to be their political decision of either giving us the light rail, or nothing much else but possibly more buses running on the same pathways with no expansion of transit infrastructure pathways.

    1. If West Seattle activisits can’t come up with a coherent plan for BRT with dedicated pathways, it won’t happen. Planners put together good plans, take them to neighborhood groups, and get yelled at. When the planners offer plans for dedicated bus ROW, there is nobody there to back them up, especially not any organized pro-transit group, outside of STBers who happen to live in District 1. West Seattle civil society has shown itself institutionally incapable of getting behind serious BRT.

      But at least there is no West Seattle organization calling for BRT instead of light rail, with every intention of then abandoning BRT once LRT is defeated (which it won’t be).

      1. These are the guys advocating for better transit on the peninsula

        They’ve come out with numerous suggestions for improving transit service for West Seattle. It’s not a monolithic “don’t do anything” crowd around here.

      2. They are a transportation group, not a transit group, and their representation comes from neighborhood associations, which may not be functional model for keeping them pro-transit in the long run.

        Have they weighed in on BRT vs. LRT?

      3. There’s obviously mode bias at work in West Seattle activist circles, but I think it’s also a status envy thing. Why should Ballard get something shinier and cooler and more expensive that what we get?

      4. As djw said, there is definite mode bias, but I wouldn’t have written this unless I thought we had a chance of building something like this for West Seattle. I don’t believe that Sound Transit is so far along that they can’t consider this. I do think that folks from West Seattle are open to the idea. I’ve talked to my family (about half of whom live there) and they like it a lot. This is because, like a lot of folks in West Seattle, they are spread out around the peninsula.

        As for that organization, consider this blog post:

        Now look at the last part of their only bullet item:

        Provide a fully funded, integrated, West Seattle Peninsula ingress-egress plan with a scope of work, timeline, and funding source. Its structure should be fully compatible with conversion to a future Sound Transit dedicated right-of-way, Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit system

        So, I think they are definitely open to the idea. To be clear, I don’t think they will accept anything half-ass. But I don’t think this is half-ass. I think this is a solid system that would provide greatly improved mobility for the transit riders in West Seattle. Not only would it be much better than today, but it would be better (for most) than any realistic West Seattle light rail plan.

        I’m under no illusions that this will be an easy sell, but I don’t think it is impossible.

  3. Barring any major news events I’ll publish a rebuttal to this piece tomorrow.

    1. I’ll look forward to it. Every word Ross says makes a lot of sense to me, so I’ll be glad to read your rebuttal.

    2. Martin,

      If possible, focus on the non-political aspects in your rebuttal. (e.g., we know that it is not on ST’s radar, good luck convincing Dow Constantine, light rail was promised to West Seattle, etc)

      1. Meh, we spent over 300 comments shooting down ST3 because SDOT sloppiness led us to believe lower Queen Anne wasn’t being covered. West Seattle bogarting North King money leading to Ballard getting crumbs would lead to a large no vote in Seattle.

    3. I just got notice from Metro to complete a survey about the long-range plan that they’re working on. As part of the supporting materials, they included this map showing areas of King County that have “Transit Supportive Density” (at least 6,400 residents and/or 45,000 jobs per square mile). The materials state that past this level of density, demand for transit is likely to increase faster than population increases.

      West Seattle does have some “transit supportive density,” and this area is expected to increase in size by 2040. However, this part of West Seattle is positively dwarfed by a giant swath of north Seattle that already has “transit supportive density” (including Upper Queen Anne, Dexter/Westlake, Fremont, Phinney, Greenwood, northern Ballard, Lake City, Wallingford, etc.). None of these areas will be served by Link in the foreseeable future if the West Seattle to Ballard via Interbay line is proposed as part of ST3, as seems likely.

      It’s clear that ST3 will be unable to deliver Link service to every dense area within the city limits. We have to prioritize. Logically, the green areas on the map should be given improved service before the gray areas. These are the areas that already have sufficient density for high transit demand, and this demand is likely to increase super-linearly as population increases. However, the line that Sound Transit is supporting seems to mostly traverse the gray areas (Interbay, Sodo, eastern West Seattle) and only touches the green areas and at the very ends of the lines. On its face, this seems like a poor decision. Please address why I’m wrong in your rebuttal.

      1. Well said. Any argument for link to West Seattle as an urgent priority in the context of ST3 is fundamentally political, and obviously not governed by anything like a sober assessments of efficiently maximizing mobility improvements.

      2. Folks keep talking about some beautiful dream of an “optimized freeway” that BRT could run on. Don’t you think we’ve been working on that idea for YEARS in West Seattle. West Seattle is a priority for LRT precisely because the options for creating a BRT system are so expensive that the additional cost to get the higher ridership on Link is worth it. There are not many options for “optimizing” the West Seattle Bridge and Spokane Street Viaduct — which is not a “freeway,” but a SPD-patrolled city right-of-way.

      3. There’s an entire blog post above describing such a project in atom-level detail.

        Try reading it, maybe?

        West Seattle is a “priority” for rail thanks to an overestimation of the borough’s political importance, and thanks to a total misunderstanding of what makes transit work. (Hint: sprawl, remoteness from other neighborhoods, and a single highway bottleneck far from any destinations are Achilles’ heels for a rail argument, not selling points.)

      4. At the West Seattle/Spokane Viaduct is an non-tolled, limited-access, grade-separated stretch of 7-lane elevated road built to interstate standards.

        Not a “freeway”, how?

        The West Seattle freeway is also the only segment of the Forward Thrust plan ever built, thus allowing decades of faster transit access from West Seattle than from many parts of the city 4x closer in and infinitely more urbanized.

        But, yeah, keep telling yourself how West Seattle has been slighted over the years.

      5. As far as I know, West Seattle is the only part of the City to increase population in the last five years and yet DECREASE transportation capacity at the same time as well… Is that the kind of transportation planning you support?

      6. Watch your mouth, and stop playing games d.p. I didn’t say “transit capacity,” I said “transportation capacity.” Between West Seattle and Downtown we have seen one general purpose lane removed from SR-99 northbound (although we eventually got a PARTIAL bus-only lane in return). All that money spent on the Spokane St Viaduct is nice, but it didn’t add any general purpose lanes; and again only extended a bus-only lane and again only in one direction. Returning to West Seattle, we lost the westbound on-ramp from 4th to the Viaduct from SoDo and received a slightly less convenient one that forces buses not on SR-99 to traverse a fairly active railroad crossing. When the Tunnel is completed, tens of thousands of cars will be dispersed onto streets by the Stadiums or through SoDo, including all buses from West Seattle. While we may get transit-only lanes extended into Downtown, the Tunnel’s own EIS predicts an average impact to travel times for all vehicles of up to 10 minutes.

        Shall I continue? I’ve been at this for awhile… We’d be quite satisfied with REAL BRT in West Seattle, but that will require some VERY expensive infrastructure, which may make LRT cost competitive based on increased ridership.

      7. It’s clear that ST3 will be unable to deliver Link service to every dense area within the city limits. We have to prioritize. Logically, the green areas on the map should be given improved service before the gray areas. These are the areas that already have sufficient density for high transit demand, and this demand is likely to increase super-linearly as population increases.

        I would also like to point out network effects.

        In one of the cities in Brazil I have visited, there is the big, impressive multi-lane highway with a wonderful median. It has great traffic handling capacity and could probably move a lot of traffic very quickly….

        …Except it runs for three blocks and is completely surrounded by narrow single lane streets.

        If the lightly populated mostly residential areas get the biggest transit improvements first, where exactly are they supposed to travel to? A twice daily trip to downtown Seattle for downtown work is something you could do just by running a couple of Sounder trains across the bridge. To really meet regional needs there needs to be a regional network for those people to go. If the rest of the regional network sucks, then adding a branch to a lightly populated place isn’t especially effective.

      8. Micky’s “decreased transit capacity” might be referring to the Deeply Bored Disaster, which has already killed the bus lane on SR 99?

      9. That has been awful. But that would be “decreased transit expeditedness”, not “decreased capacity”.

        I wonder how much sympathy the Central District, a mere mile laterally from downtown, has for West Seattle’s moderately and temporarily reduced transit speed.

        Or Ballard, whose best-case trips on the detour-ridden RapidRide are slower than West Seattle’s worst-case trips. (Hint: we don’t have a freeway.)

      10. Well, it’s decreased lanes, so you could call it decreased capacity. And it’s permanent, since the freeway bus lane isn’t coming back. Though now that you point it out, since the buses aren’t even close to filling up SR 99 on their own, I might not call it decreased transit capacity.

        But… yes, as you point out, the Central District (to pick one neighborhood) doesn’t even have the freeway that West Seattle has now, or the surface street bus lane that West Seattle will be getting at the end of all this.

      11. West Seattle gained a bunch of service hours, for a few years, after the monorail failed. The monorail money eventually ran out, and so the service hours went away. Then, lots of Seattle politicians lobbied to get state money for SR 99 mitigation, for bus hours, but that too has dried up. Prop 1 came along, but now service guidelines allow other neighborhoods to compete for that pool of money, and it goes away right before Northgate Station opens.

        Some of the monorail money was wasted on mostly empty circulator routes. 40/40/20 made it difficult to just move those hours to packed peak routes. It has taken decades to get the politicians out of the way of the transit planners. WSTC may not realize it, but you have benefitted tremendously from the hours Martin spent on the citizen committee that drafted Metro’s new Service Guidelines.

      12. I am well aware of the great work Martin and others did in support of changing those guidelines… I too lobbied hard for them. Some of us on the WSTC have been working on transit in West Seattle for well over a decade. Slowly we’re building a better system…

  4. Great Job of phrasing the issues and providing some well thought out solutions to the bottlenecks.
    One of the key selling points you touched on is how BRT can serve a variety of destinations with one seat rides from many locations in W.Seattle/White Center to downtown, whereas a single rail line, because of expense, cannot.
    Explaining this trade off (many times over) would convince me that getting from A to B just as fast as rail, for 1/3 the cost just makes a lot of sense. And not just me, but everyone else going from A to C, and A to D, etc
    This reminds me of all the debates of how to best serve the Eastside with HCT. Of course we all know how that worked out, with the politicians and ST skewing the numbers and capacity issues towards Link and discounting true BRT as ‘just as expensive, but does far less’. If history repeats itself, WS will get in a long line waiting for the $1/4b per mile variety of HCT..

    1. It’s really easy to convince someone who doesn’t want to pay for LRT to be in favor of BRT long enough to kill LRT. My recollection is that mic opposed BRT the last time he got to vote on it (KC Prop 1, 2014).

      1. Wow, STB staff must keep an FBI file on me. Am I now under constant surveillance as threat to ST and Link?

      2. When you state your opposition to a ballot proposition, on this blog, several times, the North Remembers.

        The question at hand, I suppose, is whether having BRT instead of LRT to West Seattle, in ST3, would cause you to change your mind and vote for ST3.

      3. I can’t speak for mic, but BRT would absolutely make me more likely to vote in favor of ST3. BRT to West Seattle might reduce some of the pressure to build rail through Interbay to meet up with the West Seattle line, which might in turn make even the Sound Transit board admit that Ballard-UW is the better choice.

        Put simply: an ST3 package where West Seattle rail gets half or more of North King’s funding is an automatic no vote for me. The West Side Transit Tunnel plus West Seattle BRT plus a Ballard-UW subway is something I would gladly support.

      4. I’m in the same boat as Eric. I will vote based on the value of package, and such a package would provide an excellent amount of transit for the money.

      5. My primary focus is also on the value of the package.

        We can’t build it all at once, but we should be thinking about the long term–both practically and politically. If we spend billions on a rail line to West Seattle that very few people ride, then the public becomes less likely to support future rounds, citing expense, waste, and poor planning: “Look at all those empty trains in West Seattle. Sound Transit doesn’t know what they’re doing, and I’m sick of them wasting my tax dollars”.

        The consensus here seems to be that Ballard-UW + WSTT + West Seattle BRT would move far more people for about the same amount of money as rail to West Seattle, and thus be a far more responsible use of funds. That, in turn, would help enable future projects. So the question becomes “How can we message this to the ST board and the voters so that it’s obvious enough to overcome the politics?”.

    2. Its important to see proposals of what routing would look like for BRT in West Seattle and how it would branch out of an Open Busway.

  5. I’d be curious to know what Ross’s qualifications are when it comes to transit planning and recommendations like this. That seems like pretty critical information for readers who want to evaluate his claims.

    1. That seems like a snobbish question to ask of someone who probably, like most of the rest of us, is not a certified, working transit planning professionals doing this for a living.
      They all get to sit in on staff meetings, do serious planning and get paid very well to do that. We Don’t, but care about outcomes just the same.

      1. Mic, when someone is attempting to plan transit improvements for a large part of the city, I don’t see how it’s snobbish to state their qualifications either at the beginning or end of the piece. It’s perfectly fine if Ross has no standard qualifications for this sort of thing, but it really should be clearly stated somewhere whether or not that’s the case. Those of us who read this site daily are aware of his positions generally, and realize that he’s not a ST or Metro employee or (as far as I know) a transit planner of any sort, but casual visitors to the site, or folks following links from other sites, likely won’t realize that and I think that’s misleading.

    2. I’m a software engineer and have no standard qualifications as a transit planner or civil engineer (other than classes I’ve taken).

      1. nice to know Martin’s ‘non-expert’ rebuttal is also a software engineer.
        Level Playing Field

  6. The 116 as a candidate route has some flaws. 116 is part of the route group that includes the 118 and 119 (so riders have to choose where to wait for bus, in the PM peak). Also, route 116 goes on the dock in the AM peak, hence no use of artic buses on this route in the AM (some 116 trips in the PM peak do use artics).

    Also, having the 21X use the BRT roadway, while the 21 local stays on existing route? again, where do you wait for bus in downtown in the PM peak? Just put both 21 local and express on the BRT route.

    1. I didn’t try and get into the details too much about which buses would make sense for BRT and which ones wouldn’t. In general, one of the nice things about these improvements is that all buses could take advantage of them, even the buses that don’t go into the tunnel (e. g. buses headed to Beacon Hill have at worse a huge jump ahead). I figure that the buses that do go into the tunnel will be BRT. It makes sense to have off board payment and level boarding in the tunnel (thus making it BRT, at least there — where it is also grade separated). Since I didn’t write the WSTT article, I deferred to them for bus selection. In general, I think people would take a good look at bus routes and decide what makes the most sense. There would likely be a little shakeup, but it could easily serve most of the peninsula. At least that is my understanding. The Seattle Subway folks did an analysis and found that there is plenty of capacity from the south. This makes sense to me. The old bus tunnel (back when it ran only as a bus tunnel) handled quite a few buses. They had off board payment through the tunnel (via the ride free zone) but no level boarding. But buses did pass other buses, and that would be the case here (although with level boarding there would be less need).

    2. There are 3 AM 116 trips that start at 45th and Wildwood instead of the ferry dock, so artic buses could be used on those trips.

  7. As long as routes operate in mixed-flow traffic, the reliability of the entire route will be compromised. Part of the political a attraction in West Seattle for LRT is the tacit assumption of exclusive lanes.

    1. This is a very key point. You are hard pressed to find a single BRT line in the US that hasn’t been a severe victim of “BRT Creep”. Its too easy to appease a NIMBY, angry motorist or penny pincher by ruining the project eliminating dedicated lanes where they are most needed. I have personally been making a point of doing everything I can to make sure Madison BRT isn’t also a victim of BRT Creep and I hope my fellow STB posters share this concern and effort.

  8. Nice article that, if not completely neutral, at least is biased the opposite way the blog usually is, namely, cover everything with light rail. I have been critical of the blog’s automatic “light rail” stance in any BRT versus light rail discussion, when there are complicated points that this article brings up that makes the pros and cons much more complex than is usually portrayed. Even ST’s decision to choose the I-5 alignment has caused me to lose faith in the light rail position in general. If we do decide on light rail, what if Sound Transit screws it up again like they did in Federal Way? If we had chosen to build real BRT to Federal Way instead of Link, it would probably be along 99 and replace the A-line, but even if it went along I-5, it would still be faster than link because link has fundamentally limited speed due to its type of train. Not to mention that light rail costs billions more than BRT in capital.

    1. Thanks. The folks here helped me write this.

      I agree with your other points. I think BRT gets a bad rap because RapidRide is so poor, and because opponents of light rail often simply push for more bus service, even if light rail makes more sense. Light rail from the UW to downtown (via Capitol Hill) for example, makes a huge amount of sense, but I’m sure some opponent of the project said basically “just spend the money on buses”, when what they really meant was “don’t spend the money”.

      Good bus service and good light rail go together. Vancouver has the third highest transit ridership per capita in North America, and that is how they do it. It is more than just their BRT (featured here, along with SkyTrain: but their very frequent bus service ( One interesting thing you might notice is that North and West Vancouver (an area very similar to West Seattle, although with bigger pockets of density) is not part of that first map. There is no subway to those areas (there is a boat service). But despite that, buses go there very frequently (in some cases, every minute or two).

      1. I too don’t doubt that University Link is a good use for light rail. The only issue I have with it is that it might have been better to wait and include the U-District station at NE 45th Street instead of moving forward with only the University station as it is now, since many people going to the U-District are heading north of the stadium. It would have also opened the door to have the University of Washington station be better named to differentiate it from the NE 45th station, like “Montlake Station” or, my favorite, “Husky Station.”

        As for Seattle’s multiheaded downtown, Capital Hill station makes sense because it’s on the way to UW, but I personally think increased bus service is sufficient to serve other areas of the “new downtowns” without building out new rail lines that terminate only a mile or two away from Westlake or Pioneer Square stations. Not to mention that a lot of time saved with new rail lines is wasted by descending stairs into a tunnel station downtown, only to re-ascend once you’ve reached SLU or First Hill.

        Frequent routes, like the current, proposed, and hopefully-to-open-eventually streetcar lines are smart in my opinion, although the first hill streetcar has some weirdness to its route that could prove to be detrimental. For suburban expresses, I like routes like the 309 much better than routes like the 193. The 309 serves both South Lake Union and First hill quite well with simple routing, while the 193 (which I take every weekday during the school year to get to SU) has a take-every-road approach to serve basically every medical center on Pill Hill door-to-door, in a tangled mess of a route, different in each direction, that takes over 20 minutes (or 30 minutes during rush-hour), when if it went down Boren to SLU, it could take less time and serve many more people. But I digress.

  9. Great post, Ross, thanks. I’m curious to see what tack Martin will take in his rebuttal, but if I were assigned to write it I’d focus on the problem of insulating the HCT plan from the kind of death by a thousand whiny little cuts. This seems particularly problematic in West Seattle, where activists demanded all C riders waste 2 minutes a day for the bus can take a pointless detour. In other words, the policy argument seems very strong: BRT can do more for less, and there’s a piece of existing infrastructure that can effectively be repurposed for it. The political argument is unfortunately weaker. The existing political structure in Seattle generally and West Seattle in particular empowers busybodies who are both willing and able to impede the implementation of transit plans for their own selfish goals or foolish theories. Light Rail isn’t immune to these fools, obviously (see Eastlink, passim), but BRT offers a wider array of opportunities for this kind of mischief.

    1. Yes, even those who see themselves as allies of transit in West Seattle used the presence of a few cars in what should have been a bus lane as a reason to add 2 minutes to every through-rider’s travel time, so that one set of riders would not have to cross the street.

      And then, they haven’t actually done anything to clear those few cars and create a bus lane.

      But it isn’t just a West Seattle problem. The model of letting neighborhood associations have veto power over micro-elements of a transit line is problematic all over town. The neighborhood associations do not represent the views of transit riders, and should stop being treated as the go-to place to have these decisions made. Now that we have district representation, can we skip that dysfunctional process?

      As a transit rider, I am still furious that neighbors got to force that extra two minutes on every rider of the C Line beyond the Junction … because the neighbors weren’t consulted first (but they were consulted, and didn’t express any gratitude for being consulted). The treatment of city employees by the neighbors was crass, but the treatment of transit riders by the neighbors continues to be brazenly uncaring.

      1. I think that neighborhood planning needs a major overhaul in general in Seattle. Most neighborhood plans cover very small areas of no more than 1/2 square mile — and otherwise we do city-wide plans. All that does is allow a single neighborhood group to control the dialogue and allow the City to limit the solutions to only minor ones like crosswalks and transit stops and minor changes to intersections.

        I think that if we had multi-modal district plans that covered larger areas of 1 to 3 square miles a piece, we’d be able to have a frank discussion on tradeoffs between all the modes and travel patterns. I’d see between one and three district plans for West Seattle, for example. I also think that with the new council districts forming, there will be an eventual push to do this.

      2. “The neighborhood associations do not represent the views of transit riders.”

        They don’t claim to represent the views of transit riders; they represent the views of the neighborhood. We can’t allow those transit-riding alien invaders to ruin our neighborhoods.

      3. And perhaps everyone should stop commenting about “neighborhood associations” if they don’t know what they’re talking about… Perhaps you’re not aware that some of these associations were the first folks to have citizens involved in transit planning on a regular basis in our city. Or maybe you could come visit one of the meetings in West Seattle, where these “neighborhood activists” have worked to create new bus routes, add a peak-hour bus lane on Delridge, argue for signal priority, repeatedly call for impact fees on new construction to pay for transit, and create a transit center at Westwood Village.

    2. Yes, that is one of Martin’s arguments. It is a reasonable one, but I don’t want to make decisions based on fear. I don’t want to argue, for example, that UW to Ballard light rail doesn’t make sense because Sound Transit would never add all the stations necessary to make it work properly. Given their history, that is a reasonable counter argument. But I do believe that Sound Transit can do the right thing (with enough pressure and oversight) and that includes both light rail lines as well as BRT lines.

      I also think that this plan could withstand a few cuts and still be better than most of the proposed light rail lines. For example, let’s assume that light rail is built, that it involves a station in the junction, but no station at Delridge (and several of the proposals have that). At that point, Delridge riders are really no better off than today. Now assume that the changes to the freeway (along with new ramp meters) are implemented, but that Delridge itself (away from the freeway) doesn’t get the changes that it should. A rider is still way better off with that half-ass system than they would be with light rail.

      I don’t want to go too far into those scenarios, because I certainly don’t want to encourage such thought. I think what is happening on Madison is a great thing. I think it will change how people view both BRT and view how major streets need to change. This would, hopefully, lead to similar changes on similar streets (like Delridge).

      1. but I don’t want to make decisions based on fear.

        Making decisions based on fear *sounds* bad, but if the fear is a reasonable one we’re not in a position to overcome, it’s not a bad thing at all. I support policies that aim to significantly reduce carbon emissions, for example, because I’m very afraid of the consequences of global warming.

      2. Right, I should be more clear. I don’t want to make decisions based on the assumption that the agency in charge is incapable of implementing them properly.

      3. I don’t want to make decisions based on the assumption that the agency in charge is incapable of implementing them properly.

        I agree that assuming gross incompetence is a recipe for never doing anything about anything. However, when comparing an uncompromised concept against one that has been through a few rounds of compromise, you have to adjust for that.

        It’s not clear to me how much the West Seattle cost estimates reflect those kinds of compromises, so I’m not sure where your exercise falls on that continuum. Certainly to the extent that cost-per-mile reflects historical data it captures a lot of that.

      4. Let’s see. Ramp meters are cheap. Gaining right of way on surface streets is cheap. The only expensive segment is the addition to the Spokane Street Viaduct, and just for giggles, I doubled the cost of that. So, as I see it, the entire thing is cheap. As d. p. said above, it is a matter of millions versus billions. This is for something that moves better than light rail (from neighborhood to downtown).

        As I said above, even if they screw things up, and chip away at some of the obvious improvements (like Delridge, away from the freeway) it is still better for more people (like those on Delridge, who at least would avoid the transfer).

      5. Now I’m trying to understand what you guys think is wrong with a Transit center… Or do you just want one-seat rides for everyone to Downtown?

        We spend lots of time on here taking about the need for a frequent trunk network – rail or bus – with frequent transfers from local tours to access it.

        The Junction Transit center does that, and does it well. Over the years we’ve feed more local routes to it. It’s next to the main business center in West Seattle. What could you possibly object to other than all the parking nearby? Which isn’t for a park-and-ride and isn’t maintained by Metro. And would be developed into TOD as part of building rail.

      6. “Now I’m trying to understand what you guys think is wrong with a Transit center… Or do you just want one-seat rides for everyone to Downtown?”

        First, this article is all about one-seat rides downtown, as opposed to light rail. So, all the talk about low density and lower ridership than other denser parts of Seattle points toward a bunch or one-seat rides with BRTish elements between Youngstown and downtown. I don’t think anything remotely resembling real BRT is being suggested here. Doing that would require condemning as much ROW as light rail, and really more because of the split tails.

        Second, good transfers don’t require transfer centers. Rather, transfers end up being required to happen at transfer centers in order to justify the expense of building the centers, but they are almost never justified by improving the transfer or rider experience. They just seem to be a fetish of past Metro boards, who like building capital improvement projects for the sake of building capital improvement projects, even when most riders end up with a worse trip. They allow politicians to cut ribbons in their district, and that seems to be their primary purpose. But bus operations and the riders experience suffer in perpetuity after the guilty politician gets his photo-op.

        Westwood Village is, thank the Creator, not a real transit center, since the buses don’t have to loop around a town square or other piece of gratuitous architecture. Yeah, it got designed poorly with the routes of color stopping a quarter mile from the routes of pallor, but some organized complaining got that partially fixed. I assume MickeyMouse played at least some small part in that. The 120 has to make some turns, but that is the price of getting to Westwood Village, rather than multiple turns so that a set of riders doesn’t have to cross the street. Metro was able to claim layover space by Westwood Village.

        Contrast that to the formal Burien Transit Center, the bane of my rider experience for the past decade and a half. Okay, the current piece of architecture is fairly new, but mostly serves as Art in Public Spaces to go along with the layover parking lot. The diversion has been there for a long time, to get pedestrian traffic away from 1st Ave. If Burien were truly concerned with bus riders and pedestrians, they would have implement a road diet on 1st Ave through the downtown business district. Instead, they concocted a place to keep transferring bus riders away from nearby businesses — a transit center!

        My 132 has to keep diverting away from TIBS, despite there being no serious destinations between the Riverton Heights medical park and downtown Burien any more, now that the drug clinic has been replaced by retention ponds. I’d gladly transfer to the F Line at TIBS for any trips I have to make to Burien, and donate the saved hours to another route, but Burien TC continues to need justification for its annoying existence. I’d also gladly walk from the street to the transit center at TIBS for connections between the 132 and the F, if it allowed the F Line to stay on the street. The minute I spend walking would end up being converted into a minute saved in travel time to Burien or Southcenter (and 2 minutes saved for the half of F-Line riders who stay on the bus at TIBS). The nearby convenience and fast-food joints would also love to have customers who could drop in and buy something when they know the bus won’t get there for a few minutes. Having the chance to get to a restroom? … priceless.

    3. “Activists” did not demand anything regarding the C Line. The C Line was kept on its existing routing because that is where we have historically maintained a transit center in The Junction. And that was agreed to through extensive community discussion during the original planning of the line — so suggesting a change without FIRST holding a new conversation with the community was a little foolish. Finally, after pushback by the WSTC, it was clear that, rather than speeding things up, the new routing would actually make the trips SLOWER during rush hours when the most buses and most riders are on the route.

      1. Transit in Seattle has “historically” been god-awful.

        So maintaining an existing location or practice on the basis of sheer community and/or institutional inertia will never be a winning argument.

        Furthermore, the suggestion that driving 3 blocks out of the way will ever “be slower” than a simple left or right turn — especially one intended to involve SDOT signal changes and a perfectly feasible lane rechannelization to facilitate the bus movements — does not pass the smell test.

      2. The C Line was kept on its existing routing because that is where we have historically maintained a transit center in The Junction. And that was agreed to through extensive community discussion during the original planning of the line — so suggesting a change without FIRST holding a new conversation with the community was a little foolish.

        The mentality on display here–we’ve always done this irrational thing exactly this way, how dare you even suggest not doing this irrational thing without lots of pointless discussion and process that effectively amounts to kind of veto power by exhaustive, pointless process–is *exactly* why I’m less bullish on West Seattle BRT on than Ross.

      3. @DJW, I don’t understand what y’all find so irrational about this decision. We have a well-developed transit center that is heavily used, particularly as a transfer point between bus routes. Aren’t we always complaining about the lack of planning for these things elsewhere in the City? And, as I said elsewhere here, this proposal would have actually INCREASED travel times during rush hour, when the highest number of buses and riders are traveling because of the traffic backups on the proposed routing down California. While I think a rational argument can be made that the new route might be worth it if it speeds up travel times for riders at other times of the day, I don’t personally see why you’d want to compromise the travel time of 35-45% of riders in order to do so when there are better areas to spend money on for time improvements.

      4. Seems like the kind of thing that should be rewarded with $4 billion of rail, on everyone else’s dime and at the expense of permanently compromising better projects (and which the West Seattle Process is certain to worsen too).

      5. Not really sure what the two have to do with each other, but you go right on trolling with your anti-West Seattle and your incorrect statements…

      6. Mmmmm… “We only ever use transit at rush hour. Please build us a multi-billion-dollar subway.”

        Always my favorite position statement.

      7. Don’t play games, d.p…. We build transportation facilities for peak capacity all the time. Look at our highways. Besides, our two highest ridership bus routes are full most hours of the day — not just rush hour. Of course, Link also isn’t full most of the day either, but we don’t just build transit systems to satisfy the demand on a Sunday afternoon or at 1:30pm in the afternoon on a weekday.

      8. Disagreement with a neighborhood group that happens to be in West Seattle is not “anti-West-Seattle”, any more than disagreeing with me makes one “anti-South-Park”.

        Transit centers aren’t really transit amenities, since they almost invariably add time to transfers, even more time to through-rides, are unpleasant places to wait for a bus compared to a TOD business district, and are designed to keep pedestrians at a distance from the neighborhood. Metro should implement a moratorium on these anti-amenities known as “transit centers”, stat. The one positive thing I like about the Junction, as a de facto transit center, is the presence of the porta-potty. But I’d still rather wait for my bus in front of a vibrant business. I won’t miss the Junction “Transit Center” when it is gone.

        IIRC, part of the reason for the three extra minutes is the presence of the parking lanes. Do we agree that that parking needs to go away? Can we work together to make it happen?

      9. p.s. Many of us think the problem is not just a “lack of planning”, but a lack of good planning stemming from a near-pathological aversion to researching best transit practices from the thousands of potentially-instructive examples around the globe.

        Relying on poorly-sited “transit centers” peripheral to actual destinations, where they invariably represent egregious time-sucks for through-riders and transfer-seekers alike, is a “worst practice” that is rightfully lambasted on these pages.

        But please continue insisting that multiple blocks and multiple left turns are better than optimizing a single signal for one turn, because “historicism”.

      10. Also, the restructure that resulted in having several routes meet up (at least within a half mile) pre-dated the WSTC. I was one of the people who lobbied to get the 60 and the 120 to reach Westwood Village. So, be careful who you accuse of not knowing what they are talking about. I’ve been doing West Seattle transit activism much longer than the WSTC has. I’m glad it exists, but I feel no compunction to defer to them on any matters of transit activism. When we share a goal, I’ll be glad to work together. When we disagree, we’ll just have to agree to do so agreeably.

      11. I’d actually put the monstrosity out of my mind, since I haven’t been there in years, but the Junction transit center is exactly the kind of thing that, if they’re actually willing to take credit for it, is exactly why West Seattle’s self-appointed neighborhood activists should have as little role in transit planning as possible.

  10. I don’t think it is a BRT vs LR issue. I think it is an issue of where billions serve more citizens and can improve the most citizens quality of life. LR outdoes BRT on most key metrics except for upfront cost of coarse.

    Personally, I’m one drawn to using Public Transit in cities like Melbourne Au because of their LR and streetcar infra-structure whereas cities like Las Vegas and El Paso and their BRTs don’t inspire me to leave my car.

    ST should use ST3 to attain more miles than the 15 miles suggested thus far and give the city more destinations such as the zoo and children’s with a uw link to Ballard. Give WS and Ballard a dt tunnel for now, and do Ballard to dt in ST4 and WS in ST5.

    1. There are areas where light rail makes sense, and there are areas where BRT makes sense. This is an area where BRT makes sense (for the reasons mentioned). It will simply be better than any plan that could be realistically constructed. Of course a LR line serving all of the areas would be better. Run it in all directions — out to Alki — out Delridge — to the junction — then another split with one line going out 35th and another out Fauntleroy. But there is no way we are building that. It is simply too expensive. But we could do all of that (easily) with BRT.

      In other words, I would rather have really good BRT versus half-ass light rail. There is simply no way we can have great light rail for West Seattle because it is too expensive and the potential ridership is too low.

      As far as cities with BRT — how do you feel about Vancouver? It has huge numbers of riders, an excellent light rail line, but most people ride the bus. It also has good BRT. I see no reason why we can’t use them as a model, and doing so means building light rail where it makes the most sense (like Ballard to UW) and BRT where it makes the most sense (like West Seattle).

      1. To do a fair assessment I would need to look at the ridership projections and the impacts of an extension to Burien. And I haven’t been to WS in 40 years so I’m not sure where the density pockets are. But I think the city should be very careful about ruling out LR. And if they do implement BRT as an interim then it will be very costly as short term solution.

        And so what, most people ride the bus in any city. And most people drive cars than buses. Not sure of your point. As the link above points out, given the choice, more people will ride LR over BRT.

        But I agree, LRT to WS is too expensive and shouldn’t be done during one initiative. It should be spread out over 3-4 initiatives, each with some short term benefit.

      2. Your “Railway Age” link deludes itself in all the standard-issue ways, measuring value only in “ridership-miles” rather than in number of riders served or even quantity of time saved per trip.

        That blog even outright applauds recent American light rails for carrying their (relatively paltry) riderships longer distances on average. As if traveling long distances were meritorious in its own right.

        Better luck next time.

      3. Like the “B” Line to Richmond, which was an expensive BRT line built to a bedroom community just across a bridge from Vancouver? Which was then upzoned for density? And built the Canada Line within just a couple years as part of the Olympics infrastructure? And now it’s regularly crowded? Yeah… Let’s follow that example for West Seattle, please.

      4. There are ample studies that have shown “riders served” is greater also. no time or mood to relocate.

      5. Um, no, like the very frequent trunk buses that meet Skytrain perpendicularly all throughout the city, or which serve the exceedingly dense center and less dense peripheries of North Vancouver, which is moderately analogous in location to West Seattle (though far more urban).

        The 99 B-Line to the University unequivocally demands a rail conversion because it carries 55,000 passengers every day. West Seattle will never have that many transit trips in your great, great, great grandchildren’s lifetimes, no matter what hyperexpensive mode you attempt to shove through the process.


      6. Les, your own link — tiny data sets from which it pulls notwithstanding — applauds LRT for achieving a whopping 11 cents lower O&M cost per passenger-mile.

        It then goes on to congratulate its sample LRTs for carrying each passenger twice as far on average.

        So tell me, based on the simplest of math… which is carrying more passengers for less cost?

      7. @d.p., How is commenting on the bus line to UBC — which certainly needs rail — a response to my comment about the former BRT line to Richmond which was upgraded to rail?

      8. [Cp whining]

        O&M/passenger on recent U.S. (true) BRT is objectively better than on recent U.S. light rail.

        And Mickey, I addressed the remaining Vancouver B-Line comparison because the Richmond B-Line-to-Canada Line conversion is even less analogous, having been relatively slow, less direct than its replacement, while still traveling through parts of the city and inner suburbs with consistently high demand and on the way to other valuable places.

        Richmond B-Line ridership still bested existing West Seattle ridership by a factor of about 2.

      9. The 98 B Line to Richmond “only” carried about 18,000 riders per day on the bus. We would surpass that right now with ONLY the 120 and C Lines crossing the bridge. We’re easily putting 28-30,000 bus riders across the Bridge every day RIGHT NOW. Without further upzoning and building.

        The West Seattle Bridge is at capacity for rush hour. If folks want density than something has to give transportation-wise. A new bridge for cars, or better transit. The existing buses just get caught up in traffic in one spot or another.

        Light rail isn’t the answer in West Seattle because we have the most ridership. It’s because we have the most need. But are numbers aren’t terrible either.

      10. No, you don’t, and that doesn’t change just because you make up some numbers, fail to understand transit geometry, and won’t bother to read the details suggestion for W.S. Feeway transit fixes above.

        The C Line has fewer than 9,000 daily riders. The 120 is similar. Other routes are distant 3rds. And since (unlike the Canada Line) West Seattle is neither on the way to elsewhere, boasts no intermediate destinations of service value, and won’t significantly improve trip times for anyone at any point, it would barely grow ridership at all. (Even ST’s most growth-generous studies showed as much.)

      11. The 120 carries well over 10,000 riders a day, and could easily increase in the future. Other routes would carry more if they had more frequency. Over 28,000 bus riders cross the Bridge every day. And what makes you think no one has West Seattle as a destination for visiting friends and family or for recreation? And what about folks who would take Link FROM West Seattle TO UW or Cap Hill or Beacon Hill for work, school, and recreation?

      12. “Regularly crowded” is actually a best transit practice, not evidence of overwhelming ridership. Agencies adjust schedules to achieve near-fullness … because efficiency.

    2. There are a couple of different problems with the Railway Age column (and it is a column not an actual article – I read Railway Age pretty regularly since I am, after all, involved in building stuff for the railroad). One of the most important of those issues to consider as you read the column is “How many times has light rail proven to be cost ineffective for a particular route, and therefore BRT was built in its place?”

      This is an important thing to consider with this column, because it compares operating experience for lines that are already built. It does not compare what BRT would have done had it been used in place of various light rail lines.

      When a transit agency looks at what it needs to accomplish, and what serves its needs better, it decides based on what it sees to be the most advantageous.

      A light rail train can be 400 feet long if it needs to be. In the USA buses are limited to 60 feet, and the biggest in the rest of the world are 100 feet. Naturally, if huge numbers of passengers need to be moved, then light rail has a considerable operational advantage.

      So, basically, if the places that find light rail have an advantage over BRT built light rail instead of BRT because light rail has an advantage, then light rail has an advantage in the final statistics.

      A self-fulfilling prophecy, don’t you think?

      However, not everywhere on earth has the potential for that level of ridership.

      To really tell what would work best for West Seattle, it is necessary to compare the construction and operating costs for both FOR WEST SEATTLE and not do a global comparison of already built systems worldwide, or even nationally.

      Also, please lets not think that investing in BRT and building light rail are necessarily mutually exclusive. I know that the DSTT had to be rebuilt completely due to the poor initial planning when it came time to add light rail in the tunnel. However, assuming really good planning, then BRT should be a first step towards light rail. Eugene planned its EmX route based on the idea that one day track would need to be installed. Track is not installed, but the planning is there for it to be. However, EmX is also a nod to the reality that currently the surrounding area is terribly oriented around vast parking lots, wide roads, and probably more freeway lanes per capita than any non-negligible community in Oregon.

      To me, the West Seattle situation really looks very similar to that of Eugene. There are simply too many corridors spread over too much of an area converging on one spot. The best you could hope for is really good timed transfers between buses and light rail, and that is really difficult to do well in the USA.

      Oh, yeah, and then there is that little ridership deal: within several months of startup, EmX had twice the ridership of the bus service it replaced. It is going to be very difficult for any sort of light rail line to get that kind of ridership improvement in West Seattle. It’s not that easy to find a light rail line that has done that anywhere in the USA. Something like EmX in West Seattle might do that due to the large area over which it could impact over the very limited area over which a light rail line would work.

  11. Ross,

    First of all, by your own criteria, why do you leave out the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel as a busway? One with some pointed lessons for all urban transit service, whatever the wheel coverings. First being that entry, spacing, and headways need constant coordination and control.

    But mainly, for trains, buses, or combination, in a service area steep or narrow or both, efficient service requires both underground and elevated structure. For Downtown Seattle, meaning two stories above or below street level.

    In West Seattle and its approaches, either transit-only lanes on an existing bridge, including flyover ramps. And since nobody’s home or business around West Seattle Junction will stand anything elevated, anything fast will need subway station. Existing streets mean existing corners, however streamlined the vehicles.

    Two blocks in any direction along California, there’s same space for street running as in the streetcar days. But curb or center reservation still takes lane space- with more speed demanding no cars or fewer ones, including those turning left.

    Also, every single cross street will need to be either blocked off or signaled, with guaranteed transit priority. Again, streetcar systems past an present run this way worldwide. Often faster than you’d think, on narrower streets than ours.

    Generally through public familiarity and also laws that make it a crime to have your car damage a streetcar by getting in its way. Transit also works well on boulevard medians- which were often originally built by streetcar lines as to reserve their right of way.

    Too bad that like the rest of Seattle except the parking lot that used to be Beacon Avenue past the hospital, doesn’t have boulevard block one.

    But on same right of way, two disadvantages of buses versus streetcars. One is that since buses cannot be coupled, the higher the speed, the more lane length is passenger-free following distance. The second is that by both perception and the tape measure, a bus needs more room.

    For both transit and pedestrian comfort, people know by instinct exactly where the edge of a railcar body is. With a short bell-tap, walkers step aside without looking up. With both South Lake Union and First Hill tracked lanes, I’d seriously suggest an experiment on exactly this point. Would settle the question in a few hours.

    No question that transit here absolutely demands street lanes reserved for buses, especially through heavy commercial areas. Seattle CBD- no rush hour street parking whatever. And at very least, no bus should ever have to wait through a red light to stop at a zone across the same intersection.

    When Tunnel buses go back upstairs, without these measures, for several hours a day not one tire will turn between Jackson Street and Lower Queen Anne. Though at minimal expense and no construction disruption, signals set to flashing either red or yellow all night will save transit a fortune in time and vehicle maintenance.

    Mainly, at the end of the day, this isn’t about ideology. Running lanes or table space, cash, check or card, for higher the meal quality, higher the bill.

    Mark Dublin

  12. Years ago, I attempted to convince the folks at TriMet that a certain area was worth serving with light rail.

    After some time, I got a response from the TriMet engineering department (this was back when their engineering department not only responded to letters from riders, but did so via paper for public records reasons).

    Their response said that the real primary thing they looked for to determine if light rail was worthwhile for an area vs continued bus service was peak trips. In their opinion, it wasn’t worthwhile to do light rail into a place unless the peak period trips required for buses was at least three times that required for light rail. Thus, some areas that appeared to be deserving of light rail aren’t necessarily so, because they would need the frequency to make their grid work or because demand along the corridor didn’t necessarily lend itself to high capacity pulses that light rail allows. These cause certain areas to need the frequency no matter if they had light rail or bus service.

    When I have ridden through West Seattle, it seems to me like one of these areas that may require frequency to attract riders, and that any savings from light rail caused by reducing the number of bus trips isn’t going to work too well because trying to save money that way is going to decrease the number of bus trips.

    As far as planning for 100 years from now, that would be nice to do. However, my impression of Seattle’s transit system is that it still has to catch up with the failed improvement attempts of 15 and 20 years ago. There are areas that are much more in need of the huge capitol investment for a rail line than West Seattle right now. 2 billion saved here can produce something along one of the other desperately needed corridors. 30 years in the future, when the bonds have started to be paid off, you can start dealing with the stuff that is 100 years in the future (which by that time will be 70 years in the future).

  13. Stepping back a bit, light rail to West Seattle is an attractive idea. Link to The Junction with a station at Delridge would allow for some graceful bus route truncation. Most of the express lines can be terminated at one of those stations. Becoming similar to the A line in that it feeds into the trunk light rail line, RapidRide can be extended up to Admiral Junction, with a few runs extended to the Water Taxi for the moments it is there. Funneling most of the transit in the peninsula to a Junction Link station would remove one seat rides, but is an agreeable service pattern otherwise.

    1. So… forcing transfers from moderately frequent buses to a rail line that will lack the demand for more than middling frequencies — rather than running those buses directly onto an optimized freeway mere inches away from the transfer point — will be good for people how?

    2. Link to Rainier Beach Station has allowed for graceful transfers from routes 101, 102, and 150.

      Link to TIBS allows for graceful transfers from route 121-123.

      Link to Mt Baker Station allows for graceful transfers from route 7, and the former 42.

      Link to Mercer Island will allow for graceful transfers for all the I-90 buses.

      Grace is not sufficient for reality, when it comes to the transfer penalty problem.

  14. One note: that proposed east-bound extension of a long ramp past the SR99 cloverleaf will be very expensive as SDOT will not build a flyover like that over the underlying businesses. They and their land would be eminent domained away in such a scenario, is my understanding from speaking with SDOT in the past about similar ideas.

    1. That’s a very good point. It looks like most of that land is already taken up by the Spokane St and Marginal Way right-of-way, though; you’d only need to buy out two or at most three buildings. You’d probably need to do more than that just for the space for light rail stations.

  15. An entire post about BRT and not a single cost or ridership estimate? OK, we get it, for whatever reason you love buses, but without cost or ridership estimates this is not a serious policy proposal. This is in fact just another fan proposal.

    A few comments though:

    1) What you propose is not true-BRT. True-BRT has fully separated lanes dedicated just to buses. Your proposal might be an improvement, but it isn’t “true-BRT” and wouldn’t give you the benefits of true-BRT.

    2) Dedicated bus-only lanes cost about as much as LR without providing the capacity improvements of O&M advantages of LR.

    3) The WSTT won’t be built, or at least not built for buses. Our experience with the current DSTT insures that. A forced transfer to rail outside downtown would be required, or your buses would need to surface run in downtown at no overall advantage

    4) You’ll lose the marketing discussion. There is no way that WS is going to be willing to accept what will be perceived as little more than “more express buses” when the rest of the region is being tied together with LR. Just try to explain to WS why Lynnwood gets LR and WS gets more buses.

    1. Um, because I-5 express trains are fundamentally overpriced nonsense too, and not to be taken as an argument for throwing good money after bad.

      A forced transfer to rail outside downtown would be required, or your buses would need to surface run in downtown at no overall advantage

      Congrats on your effective incineration of your most contorted straw man yet. But the whole point of the post is that a multi-billion-dollar rail tunnel that effectively forces anyone not headed to the Junction into a substandard transfer situation is a bad outcome, no matter how much you might wish for rail to be “the only answer”.

      Some of us around here long for effective transit. What a shocking concept! Fortunately, we have the perpetual Laz & Les show to remind us that access geometry and service math and established human behaviors are no substitute for really wanting to spend billions to run empty BART-like trains around the region.

      1. Oh, and I forgot to say: This is a true “open BRT” proposal.

        Buses are 100% uninterrupted and unimpeded from the moment they reach the W.S. Bridge approaches all the way through downtown.

        Because that’s where the most serious troubles exist today.

        Outside of this area, more consistent lanes and off-board payment can further improve reliability and trip times for each branch, but when they come together to cross the Duwamish and head under downtown — again, where speed improvements over existing traffic are most crucial — they are expedited as flawlessly as any rail proposal you can imagine.

        The whole point is that dispersed demand with a unified bottleneck makes for a terrible case for a subway, but an excellent case for open BRT. The further point is that the Duwamish and SoDo sections of the BRT can be entirely insulated from traffic impacts using 98% infrastructure that already exists today.

        You cannot insist that from-scratch, billion-dollar rights of way be built where not necessary, just to even the playing field between your preferred choice and your straw man. This is an argument for transit to a real place, not to your anti-BRT listicle blog.

    2. the rest of the region is being tied together with LR. Just try to explain to WS why Lynnwood gets LR and WS gets more buses.

      That’s the issue: the rest of the region isn’t getting light rail, including areas that really should be getting it.

      Let’s look at a map. All of these at the same scale so we have something to compare:

      Hmmm. Sure, there is lots of vacant parking spaces, but that can be fixed.

      Lake City, Northgate, Bitter Lake:,-122.3232181,8326m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en
      Lots of stuff there too. Could use some work.

      Ballard – UW:,-122.3395255,8333m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en
      If there’s an empty parking place, it can’t be seen from the air.

      West Seattle:,-122.347466,8355m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en
      You can fit maybe 6 or 8 of WEst Seattle’s largest commercial areas into Lynnwood’s. It would get lost in Ballard – UW or the Metro 8 Corridor. You could fit several of them in Northgate. The central commercial area is somewhat larger than Magnolia Village, but light rail is currently not being planned to go there.

  16. A 2-track monorail built in the median of the West Seattle Bridge would’ve been less expensive than LRT. Once downtown, splitting it into two single-track lines on 4th Ave and Alaskan Way which meet at KOMO Plaza and from there split again to circle Seattle Center. Single-track would also be less expensive as well as impose less impact through the urban setting. This idea got shouted down by the Seattle smart ass culture, each smart ass trying to out smart ass the other in the climb up the Microsoft ladder of ultimate smart assedness, as seen on smart phone app ad dancing fools.

  17. I am so tired of this argument about Ballard VS West Seattle. Both areas are equally sized, dense, populated and of equal distance to jobs. The real issue is proper funding for a long term transit solution. When you look at putting more buses on already crowded roads – subway is an obvious choice. Why do major cites that move 100,000 of people daily use subway systems that do not run on roads. It is for the increased capacity – Tokyo – Paris – New York. I don’t even understand why this is an issue or a topic of conversation. Look at what successful systems are doing now. None of these cities choose to simply increase BUSES!!!!! Seattle should not be reinventing the wheel here, but looking and solutions that are proven to work.

      1. Jane, I dislike d.p.’s “style” as much as anyone, but those really aren’t “facts” that you’ve presented. They’re from an unreliable source, and they’re outdated and poorly defined. None of us has current population data for any of Seattle’s neighborhoods. It simply doesn’t exist. The latest census was 2010. On top of that, Seattle really isn’t a city with strictly defined neighborhoods, and there are real boundary issues all over the map, so it’s basically impossible to have a useful discussion about neighborhoods and population. Lots of folks living in Whittier Heights or Loyal Heights, for example, consider that neighborhood to be part of Ballard. So do some businesses. Others consider those same businesses and homes part of Phinney Ridge, for example. And the city doesn’t care either way.

    1. Pretending that aggregate density doesn’t matter, that all places are the same, and that subways everywhere is the only answer would be “reinventing the wheel” in the extreme.

      1. I don’t see how using solutions that work is reinventing the wheel – it is using the wheel.

  18. I think Ross B’s plan makes a lot of sense, and I thank him for making it. I’m not really committed to either mode but, as I stated earlier, WS could make a stronger case for rail (especially direct service to the Junction) if it started a “we <3 density" campaign and truly shook off its nimby reputation.

    Ross' plan makes a lot of sense for the WS of today. If the WS of 15 years from now is substantially more populous and dense, I could see rail being a wise investment.

  19. There should be more discussion on streetcar coming over the bridge. Streetcars do not require the expensive infrastructure that light rail does, can be built with the signal priority going for transit, and eliminates ST from the picture all together.

      1. BRT should be called frequent ride, not rapid ride. There is nothing rapid about it. The C and D lines are being split in March, meaning both will terminate downtown requiring a transfer to the D line to Ballard from WS. A streetcar could have the signal priority system like LRT, the smoothness of a train, because it is a train, better reliability, and can be built on any surface street. It would also eliminate relying on Metro and ST to build a system that the City owns therefore better serving the community interests.

      2. But a bus can also have a signal priority system with very good reliability on any surface street, and a streetcar would also require a transfer in downtown (or SLU). Also, a bus can maneuver around obstacles in the track. I’m still not seeing any real advantages to a streetcar.

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