Map by Oran.I ran Ross’s Open BRT plan for West Seattle because it’s a good analysis of the best the region could do with a budget roughly four times lower than what it takes to build light rail to West Seattle. There are many reasons Sound Transit may need to economize on the West Seattle segment, and in that case they could do worse than to follow Ross’s blueprint.

But Ross’s thesis is much stronger: that BRT would be better than light rail for most riders, largely because an open BRT system would avoid transfer penalties. This runs counter to a lot of work on STB that shows the merits of a transfer-oriented system, which largely involve the operating savings of not running downtown to enable other trips. This aspect doesn’t appear in Ross’s work because he completely punts the issue of operations. This is crucial, because it’s in the operational details where claims of “rail-like” BRT collapse.

(1) One can only assume that Sound Transit 3 would pay for the excellent capital projects Ross proposes. But does ST actually take over operations on the C Line, 21, 120, 37, 55, 128, 116, and all the other buses duplicating each other on the bridge? If so, that’s a lot of ST’s taxing authority tied up in running buses forever. It also assumes an unprecedented level of ST bus service provision in this corner of the region, and other corners without light rail may wonder why they’re not getting the same. Both problems would kneecap ST’s ability to deliver big capital projects.

If Metro keeps running these buses, then that forfeits the opportunity to seriously increase the frequency of buses within West Seattle. This not only would cut headways to board the bus, thus eroding the putative time advantage of no transfer to light rail, but would also improve all intra-West Seattle trips.

(2) On a related note, Ross blithely asserts that his BRT system will have off-board payment. Off-board payment either requires turnstiles (and someone to monitor them) at all stops (which is not going to happen), or fare inspectors, which are one of the big cost differences between light rail and traditional buses. But this is an open BRT system! So are these routes fully equipped and staffed over their entire length, with machines at essentially every bus stop in West Seattle, or do the rules change when they enter the BRT zone? If the latter, then that will impair reliability of what feeds into the zone. Or is it, as I suspect, not really going to be 100% off-board payment?

(3) Headways will not be evenly distributed in the core West Seattle-to-downtown BRT corridor. Buses coming in from various points on the peninsula will inevitably bunch, creating platoons that are train-like except for their traffic separation and labor costs. These buses are not going to get the nearly-perfect signal priority that Link gets, simply because there are too many coming at too many arbitrary times to support that and maintain a decent traffic level-of-service.

(4) Ross relies on ramp metering to reduce bus lane congestion on the West Seattle bridge. But what about when things really go south there? Will cars line up across the bus lane from the Delridge on-ramp waiting to merge, or will the ramp-meter simply turn to solid red when the bridge simply can’t take any more cars? I have my suspicions! A system that still relies on the single point of failure of the bridge isn’t the gold standard for West Seattle.

(5) The plan also points out how cheap bus lanes are, and how they’re being done elsewhere in the city. Bus lanes on all the feeder routes are an advantage over a baseline light rail scenario. But there are logically two possibilities here: bus lanes are cheap and politically easy, in which case they are in no way incompatible with a light rail scenario; or they’re actually very difficult because of local opposition, in which case they’re not so cheap and easy and may not materialize. In neither case are outlying bus lanes a discriminator between core BRT and core rail.

Sound Transit isn’t immune to these problems either, but they overcame it by spending money. They didn’t simply take two train-widths out of the MLK roadway; they rebuilt the entire road, on a wider footprint, to preserve general-purpose lanes. They also launched a community development fund to help businesses that suffered construction impacts. A cost of doing business in Seattle if you’re building high-quality transit, this is baked into the cake of the light rail cost-per-mile but are usually omitted in theoretical BRT proposals.

On the path from Junction to bridge, those bus lanes compare to (at least) MLK-style Link, eating up more of the transfer penalty.

(6) After Ross choreographs every detail of the Eastbound movement from the Junction to downtown, there is not a word about Westbound trips. I agree that these trips are a less serious problem than Eastbound. But this omission makes the plan neither futureproof nor robust. West Seattle is growing and the traffic will too. And the entire point of traffic-separated transit is to not melt down when the roads do! The problem, of course, is there are no quick fixes here and there’s a need for substantial new right of way. Once the project scope grows that much, the cost advantages of BRT dwindle. Meanwhile the other benefits of rail, a comfortable ride, surge capacity, lack of driver distraction, and seamless wheelchair/bike/stroller boarding, come into scope.


Many of these results are consistent with “BRT creep:” a line initially promised to be at rail quality gradually degrades into a mildly enhanced bus. A cursory look at the complexities of interagency cooperation and open BRT, the history of trying to win even minor bus reliability enhancements in West Seattle, and management of a freeway with less than total emphasis on transit suggests a bus line to West Seattle is particularly susceptible to many of these degradations.

It’s completely reasonable, depending on your values, to decide that a rail project to the Junction simply isn’t worth it. If you like low taxes more than transit projects, think lines to other areas should have other priority in the scope of a realistic budget, or have contempt for West Seattle as a transit market, then you’d prefer to economize on service there. But you get what you pay for, and the true gold standard to serve West Seattle is light rail.

179 Replies to “Light Rail is Best for West Seattle”

  1. How much would light rail to West Seattle cost, such as option A6 above? And how many folks would it serve?

    1. I don’t have the breakouts handy but I believe they’re both in the ballpark of Central Link if there’s already a DT tunnel to serve Ballard. So cost-benefit is neither unbelievably awesome nor unbelievably poor.

      1. So a stub route of 4.5 miles costs the same as a 14-mile line from SODO to the airport?

        What’s the cost v. incremental benefit? How much time will this line save riders over Ross’s buses? I propose that it will actually cost time, thanks to the transfer penalty; the only advantage would be if you increase service on feeder lines, and – as d.p. objects below – would the feeder ridership really be worth it?

    2. $2 to $3 billion for A6 based on ST’s estimates for similar alignments. Ridership is a guess and depends on how many people are willing to transfer.

  2. You probably should have addressed the inevitably weak frequencies that any West Seattle rail will be guaranteed to see, and which become the primary reason that transfer penalties — especially transfer penalties requiring out-of-direction travel — cannot be dismissed as negligible.

    There is also little demand for higher-frequency running on any potential feeder lines other than Delridge (whose transfer penalty and transfer location would be the most egregious). The C’s usage, for example, is so light once you’ve strayed more than a mile south of the Junction, that Metro would be hard-pressed to keep up current frequencies if the route were reduced to a non-through service. Your presumptions about intra-West Seattle transit outcomes and reduced feeder transfer penalties automatically following from the construction of rail are therefore as (or more) specious than what you describe as Ross’s operational presumptions.

    Many of your other bullet points involve either logical straining or weak tea.

    The world is full of non-redundant infrastructure, including our other rail projects. Thus we ideally work to minimize the likelihood and duration of any interruptions, scheduled or otherwise. We don’t double up on every large piece of infrastructure everywhere, at billions extra a pop.

    And the westbound West Seattle Bridge, which diverges in three near-unimpeded directions, will in fact remain forever congestion-free. The opposite of a bottleneck is a release valve.

    1. Westbound, the biggest problem is usually getting to the WS Bridge. Backups from the intersection with 35th SW will also tie things up. Not that you care, dp.

      1. Backups happen. And all it takes is one wreck or stalled car to muck up the entire system. And there really isn’t a way to take an alternate route. If you’re coming south on 99 or I-5, your one option to get to West Seattle is the bridge. If something happens, trying to get down to the low bridge is nigh impossible.

      2. Ross’s plan presumes a tunnel from downtown, connecting to the transit-only SoDo busway, and featuring a direct-access ramp to the Spokane Viaduct. No more 99-to-bridge ramp to contend with.

        And I fully agree that steps would need to be taken to ensure bus priority around the complicated 35th/Avalon/Fauntleroy intersection. But that is not the westbound bridge, and that does not clog up the westbound bridge, and that will never clog up the westbound bridge, as Martin falsely implied, because the westbound bridge is downstream from the true highway-volume clog point, which is 99

      3. There is no room for a WB connection from the busway to the Spokane Street, unless you close the off ramp to 1st S.

        And the problems at intersection with 35th can and has backed traffic up past the steel mill.

    2. You case would be stronger if you addressed Martin’s concerns. What would the end result of a DP-approved transit plan look like? How would it be immune from traffic accidents, would it really get enough transit lanes, what about the ongoing operational cost and diversion from intra-penninsula transit, etc.

      You also seem to be against the very idea of a gold standard for West Seattle (“It doesn’t deserve it; it doesn’t have enough density; parts of north Seattle are higher priority; etc.”), so what would be an appropriate bronze or tin standard?

      “And the westbound West Seattle Bridge, which diverges in three near-unimpeded directions, will in fact remain forever congestion-free.”

      “Forever” is a long time. Nobody in the late 1970s would have predicted what Seattle is like now; they would have said something like “declining into a Bailo ghost town”. Future results depend on future decisions and future public attitudes, which we don’t know now. But there’s a reasonable chance we’re underestimating the population growth, and that you’re underestimating the impact of West Seattle’s emerging urban villages and changing ridership patterns.

      “The opposite of a bottleneck is a release valve.”

      I have no idea what that means.

      1. People talk here like Ballard is the gold standard for density and why a neighborhood deserves LR. I’d love to see a late ’90’s early 00’s zoning map of Ballard. Even if it was upzoned at that time it certainly didn’t have any kind of realized density like it does today. People were still fighting to keep the Denny’s open on Market at that time.

        By the time any LR or BRT transit project to WS (if approved) gets built in the next 10-15 years the population density landscape in that area could look completely different. Which is why I agree with Mike here, I’d rather build infrastructure that allows for future growth that probably will grow rather than oppose projects because today the density is perceived as too low.

      2. In addition to having a significantly later start than Ballard — Ballard growth is far from done, make no mistake — West Seattle’s “density quarantine” is has a fraction of the scope, is not integrated into a tight historic street grid, and is mostly permitted in a 2-dimensional swath rather than a 3-dimensional urbanity.

        Meanwhile, West Seattle’s discontiguousness with the rest of the city will remain, while already-much-denser contiguous North Seattle continues to be stitched together by population growth.

        There will me no more equivalence between the two areas in the future than there is in the present.

      3. I’m not so convinced Ballard and WS will be so different in 10-15 years. The neighborhood plans were all updated in the late ’90’s which encouraged the density in the area (for example) around the Safeway in Ballard. Yet, it wasn’t until nearly 10 years later the Denny’s and Sunset Bowl were turned into condos/apartments. Changing the zoning in WS areas that will be well served by transit in the future will result in similar growth. If ST3 passes it will be over 10 years before revenue service starts anyway. That’s plenty of time for zoning changes and developers to construct similar buildings in WS.

      4. Denny’s was a special case because it was forced by the monorail. The monorail bought the land so Denny’s closed, then the monorail dissolved and a new owner bought it. If that hadn’t happened the Denny’s might have remained there for twenty more years because of intertia, and it was popular as one of the few late-night restaurants around. The one-story buildings going south on 15th t don’t show any signs of densifying yet, unfortunately. (What I wish most though is that Safeway would do something with its huge parking lot. talk about blight.)

      5. @ Mike Louie’s Chinese restaurant on 51st and 15th sold last year to an apartment developer.

      6. Does the $3 billion for a new tunnel include tunneling North to Elliot and Mercer as well?

    3. ST’s concept is 10 minute headways, which is in line with Central Link.

      This column explicitly doesn’t assert that Link to West Seattle is worth it, but the value proposition is MUCH higher if ST builds Ballard-DT instead of Ballard-UW. The former also implies higher frequencies that makes it operationally simpler to also serve the Junction that way.

      Westbound from the busway, you’ve got a merge with traffic from I-5, the 1st Ave onramp, the 99 onramp, the (less significant) weave to the Delridge off ramp, and of course a traffic light at the end. As I said, I don’t think these chokepoints are huge problems in 2015, but if your objective is to optimize West Seattle service in 2030 (rather than try not to spend very much money there) then you would address likely Westbound problems.

      Your contempt for West Seattle as a transit market is well documented. But the premise of the post is what’s best for West Seattle.

      1. And I simply do not believe that you have demonstrated superior outcomes from your 10-minute stub train and questionable feeders than Ross’s expedited routes into a high-quality, bottleneck-busting downtown approach corridor.

        10 minutes can be quite an egregious transfer penalty if you’ve just ridden all the way up from Delridge, on (what you presume will be) an unimproved Delridge bus with no off-board payment, and when your transfer point sits all of 8 minutes from downtown on Ross’s unimpeded proposed ROW.

      2. Oh, don’t worry, I fully believe that you would steal 60-70% of Seattle permanent bonding capacity, and forcibly compromise the quality or likelihood of exponentially more worthy high-capacity projects, for the sake of building a West Seattle rail that won’t even be good.

      3. Important to note that there is money in the new transportation package for rapid ride upgrades for Burien-Delridge. So I don’t think anyone is presuming that the rider experience prior to the transfer will be completely unimproved.

      4. Good point, Ron, and that’s a very good thing. But that will be happening regardless of which West Seattle option is chosen – with the BRT plan, the improved buses will feed right into the bridge bus lanes.

      5. What does “West Seattle spur” mean?

        The word spur is ambiguous because it can mean a branch line from downtown, or a shorter line from a transfer station. Where would this spur line terminate?

    4. > inevitably weak frequencies that any West Seattle rail will be guaranteed to see

      [citation needed]

      1. Sound Transit’s latest studies?

        The Rainier Valley line’s eight-minute frequencies?

      2. Low demand, high-capacity vehicles.

        Sound Transit will not be running very high frequencies even at the height of peak on East Link, whose demand will be nearly double West Seattle’s (and unlike West Seattle’s, bi-directional).

        West Seattle rail would never see better than 10-minute headways even at rush hour. It will be lucky to see 10 minutes maintained in the off-peak, and certainly not nights or weekends.

        This is a real problem for any argument that transfer penalties in horrible locations should be deemed irrelevant.

      3. I don’t think ST is willing to drop below 10-minute midday frequencies. If interlined with Ballard, i don’t think it will need to. Of course, a 10 min headway is a mean penalty of 5-7 minutes.

        Intra-West Seattle demand is likely to pick up with a train, as it has in the Rainier Valley, but in any case those bus hours don’t go into the ether. I think the community will find some uses for that money, and it’ll relate to connecting people to the station.

        In particular, night and weekend frequencies to West Seattle are atrocious, and Option A6 would probably improve overall travel times there.

      4. Just for reference, the current weekday ridership of the 120 + C lines alone is comparable to the weekday ridership on Central Link during its first year. If there were a reliable rail connection from the Junction to downtown plus a transfer from the 120, these numbers would almost certainly increase.

      5. I don’t recall Central Link ever having 17,500 boardings or lower.

        And why would ridership increase when so few people period live, work, or congregate in the vicinity of the $1.5-billion-a-piece rail stops, and the transfers to anywhere else make for slower aggregate trips than existed before?

      6. > I don’t recall Central Link ever having 17,500 boardings or lower.

        Take a look at year-1 numbers here:

        > And why would ridership increase when so few people period live, work, or congregate…

        Because SOV drivers would switch to rail, Alaska Junction would continue to expand, and for this sort of investment we should be concerned with 100-year timescales, not 100-day timescales.


      7. Probably has been thoroughly discussed before, but has the idea of extending East Link westward been explored to solve the anticipated transit needs of west seattle? If and when the need presents itself, couldn’t east link be extended instead of integrated into the headways on the mainline? There would be a transfer in sodo but that would be from one rail line to another and the frequencies of trains would make the delay negligible.

      8. As far as ST has said, East Link is going to Northgate and Lynnwood. There’s an unofficial suggestion to reroute them west from U-District Station to Ballard, thus realizing the Ballard-UW line, but ST has not been interested in a junction in the U-District. This is the first time I’ve heard about connecting East Link to West Seattle. My first thoughts are, it would collide with the East Link timeline which is already underway, and how would it reach central downtown? If it just buzzes the edge of downtown at Intl Dist, Eastsiders would probably say that’s not what they expected or what they voted for in ST2.

      9. Take a look at year-1 numbers here…

        I looked. Not since month-1 have numbers been nearly that low.

        Because SOV drivers would switch to rail

        Just because? When the point-to-point trip from the auto-oriented 90% of West Seattle will actually be slower than the transit options that existed before (much less driving)?

        Rail ≠ magic

        Alaska Junction would continue to expand…

        Perhaps, but not enough. (That’s the zoning/political reality as much, or even more than, the clamor for rail.) And certainly not as much as 20-30 other parts of Seattle that aren’t nearly as expensive to reach with rail (yet somehow aren’t in line for it).

        concerned with 100-year timescales

        Sure. But that’s not the same as counting chickens that haven’t hatched (and might not ever), which is what you appear to be doing.

      10. > I looked. Not since month-1 have numbers been nearly that low.

        Perhaps you should look a bit closer? Average weekday boardings were at or below ~17,000 for at least the first seven months.

        > Just because? When the point-to-point trip from the auto-oriented 90% of West Seattle will actually be slower than the transit options that existed before (much less driving)?

        People drive from every neighborhood. People take transit too. I’m not sure you understand how horrible the RapidRide service is from West Seattle, and how much demand there is for reliable transit from folks tired of being stuck in traffic, both in their car and on the bus.

        > Rail ≠ magic

        Totally agreed. But rail is reliable, and when you give people reliable options they will use them (case in point: growth of ridership for central link, which primarily serves neighborhoods far less dense than the Junction is currently).

      11. You are correct on the first point. I was looking at the top chart, which begins in ’10 rather than ’09. Mea culpa.

        I’m not sure you understand how horrible

        But here you are wrong. If you think that RapidRide C represents an especially egregious traffic- or delay-prone Seattle transit service — at rush hour or at any other time — then I can only assume you have never used transit to traverse any other part of this city.

        Simply put, RapidRide C is one of the fastest, and one of the only direct high-frequency services there is, in keeping with West Seattle’s distance and freeway-based connection to the rest of the city. Ballard’s RapidRide remains slower in no traffic than yours in standard rush-hour traffic, and doesn’t even bother to head in a straight line.

        And this city is full of much busier buses to much busier places that move exponentially slower than that.

        case in point: growth of ridership for central link

        Central Link cut in half the travel time between the center city and southeast Seattle. It revolutionized the ability to get in and out of that quadrant, even despite a less-than-perfect routing and the less-than-perfect built environment of the Valley.

        West Seattle rail offers no such advantages. As previously detailed, for a very large number of trips the time required to transfer to the rail would actually make the trip slower.

        I have never argued that West Seattle does not contain pockets of density and almost-urbanity, modest as they may be in comparison to the wider world (or even the wider city). But the fact remains that these pockets are remote isolates.

        Central Link cost a few billion to travel 14 miles and serve multiple purposes moderately well. Those billions bought it a tunnel through the barrier of Beacon Hill, and elevated running all the way to the airport. A similar number of billions would buy you access to the Junction, and severely compromised transfers to a handful of other areas, and no other connectivity whatsoever.

        It simply cannot be objectively justified, nor expected to snowball into some ridership revolution. The geometry just isn’t there.

      12. Why does RapidRide C have to be more egregious than other areas in order to be egregious? You seem to think I’m arguing that WS needs rail more than other parts of the city. That’s ridiculous. I’m arguing that WS needs a rail connection *period*, full stop. Other parts of the city do too.

        Finally, your “objective” arguments that WS rail can’t be justified revolve tightly around your assumptions about transfer penalty, which is directly related to ridership demand, which you just *explicitly admitted* you had mis-read (“Mea Culpa”). Perhaps with your new, correct understanding of this data, you should re-think your conclusions as well? After all, what would it imply if you didn’t update your conclusions based on new understanding of the data?

      13. No, I admitted I misread the chart of Central Link ridership history.

        I misread nothing of West Seattle ridership potential, which is inherently hampered by the fact that most trips would be made slower rather than faster by the hypothetical train.

        This is fundamentally opposed to the example of southeast Seattle.

        I’m not arguing that RapidRide C, or that present-day West Seattle transit in general, are sufficient or without problems that demand to be addressed. Sometimes those problems are egregious.

        But the fact that they are significantly less egregious than other areas — combined with the fact that West Seattle rail would siphon the vast majority of transit money available for Seattle for the foreseeable future, combined with the fact that it would be largely ineffective for anyone, is absolutely relevant data for adjudicating investment prioritization.

      14. > the fact that most trips would be made slower rather than faster by the hypothetical train.

        This “fact” is your interpretation based on presumed headways inferred from faulty ridership numbers.


      15. No, it’s not d.p.’s interpretation; it’s been clearly stated by ST in all their corridor studies. What the reinterpreted data shows is that West Seattle ridership is indeed comparable to Central Link ridership in its first year. And how often does Central Link run? Every eight to ten minutes. This backs up Sound Transit’s figure.

        Please, how should this force d.p. to change his views?

  3. Ya, I noticed the omission of any sort of treatment of the WB problem too. What RossB proposed is not BRT in any sense of the word, it’s just a mildly enhanced bus.

    This would be a very hard sell on a variety of levels — I don’t think it is even going to get a serious discussion.

      1. As noted above, the problem getting to West Seattle is usually getting to the West Seattle Bridge because of problems on 99 or the streets in SODO.

      2. As equally noted above, Ross’s proposal avoids those troubles entirely via the SoDo busway and direct Spokane access.

        And Martin’s objection (falsely) presumes a future congestion problem in the “valve”, which is an impossible outcome by virtue of being downstream from the aforementioned problems.

      3. The WB plan that Ross is proposing is a fantasy. There will not be a connection from the busway to the Spokane Viaduct because there is not enough space between the ramp bringing in I 5 traffic and the off ramp to 1st Ave S for slow moving buses to merge onto the Spokane Viaduct.

      4. I like how the subtext of these objections is always “but there’s plenty of room in the immediate vicinity for a gigantic new rail bridge“.

      5. Paul, perhaps you could raise that argument over on Ross’s post, where we could discuss it, rather than simply dismissing his plan as a “fantasy”? It seems like a strong argument at first glance and definitely worth discussion.

      6. Who said anything about a rail bridge in the immediate vicinity? I think the most plausible outcome is crossing the river around Idaho st south of the cement plant and crossing under pigeon point. Plenty of room and right of way down there, and it creates a transfer point at Genesee for Delridge buses which is much nicer than by the steel mill. Run elevated along the north side of the golf course, more ‘free’ right of way. Tunnel begins at the stadium with a station at the 35th portal. Great transfer experiences all around.

      7. As far as I can gather, ST has long presumed a Duwamish bridge because otherwise the tunnel into West Seattle’s tallest ridge would be inaccessibly deep.

        So yes, a large and tall bridge. And yes, lots of property takings.

      8. I’m not suggesting a tunnel under the river, I’m suggesting a bridge further south can utilize essentially unused ROW: south Idaho street. Along the north end of the pathfinder school property you’ve got the opportunity for a cut and cover tunnel from a tall bridge. Station over the Youngstown elementary parking lot, and run elevated to a tunnel portal at 35th along the north edge of the golf course. Very little private property taken. A few houses on the point, and some pillars in the industrial area to fly over to the busway from marginal.

        There’s no need to thread the needle

      9. …further north, unless the port would like to donate some terminal 5 land for a O&M facility.

      10. I agree that the bridge crossing location needs to be studied in the context of how tunneling would be done, Ron. The assumption seems to be that ST wouldn’t need to buy right-of-way or that they could get it from the Port so that isn’t to be questioned.

        I did not read about any other crossing assessments in any of the prior ST3 studies to West Seattle. Isn’t it amazing how we can spend millions in engineering studies like we just did — but not ask such a basic cost and constructability question like where should the crossing go?

        I’m still a fan of studying a streamlined version of the West Seattle “U” option that crosses near the First Ave S bridge into a bored tunnel that would loop around and open to Alki Beach at the other end — with bored interim stations at Admiral, Alaska/Fauntleroy, High Point and east of White Center. A branch could even be easily extended to become the Duwamish Bypass or a more direct Burien line using SR 509.
        While there are lots of nuances on an alignment, one general alignment concept is presented here:

      11. @Paul — The WB plan that Ross is proposing is a fantasy. There will not be a connection from the busway to the Spokane Viaduct because there is not enough space between the ramp bringing in I 5 traffic and the off ramp to 1st Ave S for slow moving buses to merge onto the Spokane Viaduct.

        The west bound plan (I assume that is what WB stands for) is not my plan, actually. It is part of the WSTT plan. You will have to check with them if they have researched it, but my guess is they have. From what I can tell, I think it would be just fine, but your concerns are valid. But keep in mind, the picture shows the ramp heading way east before it heads west. This serves too purposes. One, the buses would be up to speed by the time they merge and two, they would be well away from 1st avenue. The merge would probably be a new lane, extending quite a ways. It would not be ideal, by any means. The bus driver would have to merge into the lane that contains traffic headed northbound to 1st avenue, then change lanes again to avoid going to 1st avenue. But the speed limit is actually fairly low here (if memory serves) and this merging would take place on a straight section of road (with good visibility). There would be two merges, but based on my calculations, each merge would be much longer than the merges that people have to do in the area. For example, if you are headed southbound on 1st and want to go to West Seattle, you have a much shorter distance to get into the next lane. You have cars and trucks going into that lane headed towards the lower level (e. g. Harbor Island). Compared to that merge, the new bus merge would be a piece of cake.

        There are other alternatives, of course. As I mentioned in my post, it might be cheaper just to leverage SR 99. Heading out of West Seattle, add another lane on the inside of the cloverleaf turn. There are already bus lanes from the end of the ramp to well past Lander. Build another viaduct connecting SR 99 with SoDo over Lander. Such a viaduct would be bidirectional. So buses from SoDo could get on 99 (in the far right lane) heading south. Those buses would exit at West Seattle.

        There are a lot of ways to do this, and every one of them would be cheaper than light rail. Light rail is a lot more limited. Light rail can’t go up and around various obstacles the way that a road can. Keep in mind, the road doesn’t have to be set for 55 MPH. The road can have turns so tight that it forces drivers to go 20 MPH. As long as the bus can get up to speed when it merges, it doesn’t matter. But the biggest savings come from the fact that we aren’t talking about huge distances, nor are we talking about going over the Duwamish (or building tunnels). This is just an extension to the freeway. We have done far more elaborate things in various parts of the city and all those little improvements didn’t cost that much. We are talking hundreds of millions, not billions.

    1. @Lazurus — That’s because the west bound problem is extremely rare. Even during rush hour, once you get past the Spokane Street Viaduct, the traffic flows quite nicely. If you add it up, the time spent during the once in blue moon event that causes a west bound delay would still be a lot less than the transfer penalty.

      But as I said in the second paragraph of point 4 of my rebuttal to this rebuttal ( if it ever did become a problem, the obvious solution is another freeway over the Duwamish. For a lot less than the cheapest light rail plan, you would have 100% reliability from Delridge to SoDo. I still don’t think it is worth spending the money to get from 99% to 100%, but if you insist, there is your gold plated plan. It is way better than any light rail line that will ever be built for West Seattle, and it is a lot cheaper.

      The great thing about this plan is that you could build it in stages. Build this first, then, if needed, build the new freeway. I don’t think it will ever be needed, but I would have no problem with folks planning for it.

  4. This is going to depend a lot on bus connections, but I see a lot of issues with people attempting to use these stations as massive park and ride lots. You could build such a thing above the parking lot for the steel mill maybe? That would maybe take some of the pressure off Alaska Junction as a park and ride area.

    1. People do that now, but it does not work well. Very few places to park, except for the park and ride under the bridge along Spokane St by the steel mill. More often, I see people hide and ride farther south along the bus route. I suspect that would continue with buses feeding into a light rail line.

      1. I don’t think they will continue to do that due to the transfer penalty between buses and the station.

        People have stopped doing hide and ride at the stations on the Banfield section of MAX, but current blue line frequencies at peak period are once every four minutes, plus interspersed green and red line trains. Being able to see the headlight of the next train when one has just left the station is a bit different case than 10 minute headways.

        The bus connections are going to have to be extremely well timed, and I mean something along the lines of the Swiss Rail + Bus 2000 plan. US transit agencies as a whole seem terrible at planning such timed transfers, even within the same agency.

      2. Glenn, if there is no place to park near the station then the transfer penalty will be negated by the time spent searching for parking near the station.

      3. Then you have gained nothing because if there is that type of transfer penalty people will just continue to drive.

      4. The problem is the bus frequencies and coverage, not the train frequency. People who hide n ride in Rainier Valley are coming from Rainier View, Skyway, or east of Rainier Avenue, where a bus is half-hourly if it exists and it may be a long walk to the bus stop. It’s not like a Portland grid route which is more akin to the 48 or 40 in north Seattle.

      5. I think that is just one of the reasons why the light rail plan wouldn’t work that well. In general if your light rail plan is dependent on people driving to the station (especially in the city) then you are doing it wrong. But drivers can lead to a decent number of riders. Unfortunately for light rail, I think it will go something like this:

        1) I’m excited to try out that West Seattle light rail. I’ll drive and park near the station tomorrow.
        2) Oh no, that was terrible. I’m never doing that again. There is just no parking nearby. Hmmm .. Oh, I know, I’ll drive to a bus stop, then catch the bus and get on the train.
        3) Arggh, that took forever. Parking was easy, but it took a while for the bus to come, and after I rode the bus a while, I had to make a transfer and wait for the train.
        4) Screw it — I’m back to driving. I can’t spend half my life waiting for buses and trains.

        Consider what happens if BRT is added:

        1) I want to check out that BRT people mentioned. I’ll drive to the nearest stop.
        2) Wow, that was cool. The bus came really quick and once I was on it, we cruised. I was at the north end of downtown really fast. Even to Bellevue it is awesome (just one transfer).
        3) Hey, it is nice day out, I think I’ll walk the half mile to the bus stop.

        This sort of thing happens all the time with good bus service. I know people do this with the 41. I’m not talking about people driving to the park and ride, either. I mean they drive to a stop in Pinehurst (between Lake City and Northgate). Some people just don’t like to walk. They will drive six blocks and then catch a bus. These are the people who will come out ahead (way ahead) with BRT.

  5. I’m 100% for West Seattle LR if the following conditions are met:
    1. This is connected to a Ballard line with that is rail separated through the central core and no worse than mlk elsewhere.
    2. Future branching is provided at Ballard(north and east), Delridge, the Junction and highway 99.

  6. Check the urbanist article re:jobs in the region.

    WRT to West Seattle, there aren’t any. Georgetown and the Rainier Valley look great by comparison.
    and picture…

    That said, if we’re going to spend a ton of money in West Seattle, it should be Light Rail (or something streetcarish down both delridge and california. ) Red paint on buses isn’t going to cut it.

    Off topic, but [ot]

    1. That’s a great idea. Having sounder stations close to link would be utopic. The fact that I will be able to board at the UW station to dt, then catch a Cascades to dt Portland from which I can then take a Blue line to Beaverton is awesome and his how public transit is meant to be. Only if link could feed sounder trains in the same way.

      1. As long as the Sounder tracks are not owned by the public, getting more passenger trains is going to be tough. This is especially true given the anticipated uptick in Port activity in years and decades to come — so that the tracks will increasingly be eyed to move freight..

      2. I know Cascades is adding a couple train sets in 1-2 years, so all is not lost for expansion. They’ve put a 1 billion into the line lately so I find it hard to believe they don’t have plans for future choo-choos. New by passes for cargo seem to be the norm lately.

    2. Or we just make Sounder half-hourly to eliminate the persistent requests for a Link line to Kent and Auburn. There’s already a Sounder-Link transfer at King Street Station, and any other Sounder-Link transfer points would be of minimal value as long as Sounder is peak-only. People talk about a transfer point at Boeing Access Road, but nobody has been able to explain who would use it, going from where to where, at what time. If you’re going from southeast King County to somewhere beyond downtown, you should stay on Sounder till King Street Station because it’s faster. If you’re going to the airport, you should take an east-west bus. That only leaves trips between southeast King County and Rainier Valley. That’s doubtless an underserved transit market, but it doesn’t sound large enough for a Sounder-Link transfer at BAR. Rerouting the 150 to Rainier Beach would also serve it.

      1. Just like a parallel bus line along Roosevelt would feed into Roosevelt station so to could a parallel link feed into Sounder. And of course, this is with the assumption that Sounder is beefed up.

      2. What parallel Link line where? There has been talk about a Rainier Beach – Renton – Benson Rd – East Hill – Kent Station line, but that’s as far from Sounder as the existing Link line, so not the same transit market.

    3. Red paint on buses isn’t going to cut it.

      I agree. That is why I wrote an entire post on why BRT is not just red paint on buses. Simply put, you can have crappy light rail or really good BRT for West Seattle. Why anyone would want the former is beyond me (unless, of course, they were one of the lucky few to live next to a station).

  7. I’d be really curious to see a cost estimate assuming this West Seattle LRT route plus SDOT’s proposed Ballard route (MLK-style along 15th Ave NW) – is there any chance that would fit into the alloted North King budget?

  8. Judging from the “We got better service on the 11 and it got taken away” post on Page 2 of the blog not too long ago, people are very resistant to losing their one seat ride.

    What are the chances of there being such a protest over the lack of a one seat ride from so many places in West Seattle that significant West Seattle to downtown bus service remains after this is built?

    1. I agree that this is something that ST, SDOT, Metro, and West Seattle interest groups work out beforehand. If all of those routes continue to run then the value of this investment drops precipitously.

    2. Let’s say I ride the 120 around noon every day from White Center to I. D. Traffic on the freeway really isn’t a problem. Even downtown things are OK. Now you are telling me that I have to make a transfer, just as my bus is less than five minutes away from downtown? WTF?

      It’s not a good sign when the current set of buses is better than a new light rail most of the day. It would be unique within our system. Even at Northgate, where the station is inconveniently located right by a freeway ramp, the light rail will be much faster. It helps that the frequency will be low (owing more to the rest of the line, not Northgate’s density). But it also helps that at noon, the bus stinks. At noon, the express lanes have switched, and now the bus is forced to use the main line. Meanwhile, even when the bus is faster, folks will understand why Link exists and why Link makes sense. They will see huge numbers of people getting on and off at stops that never existed before. But with West Seattle rail, it will serve the exact same stops. Simply put, those riders will be worse off.

      I could see rush hour riders accepting a transfer, but everyone else will want a ride into downtown. So either a huge number of the riders get hosed, or there goes the operational savings.

      1. everyone else will want a ride into downtown

        Nit: I don’t think everyone will necessarily want to ride into downtown.

        For example, with the BRT plan, all buses don’t necessarily have to go to downtown, but one or two routes could also go directly to Bellevue or Renton, or even just directly east to the edge of the lake and cross every other rail and bus line going north and south, or make an inverted C shape that covers the Metro 8 route and connects north-south AND east-west routes.

        Of the 58,000 that live in West Seattle, what percentage actually work in downtown Seattle? Maybe 50 at most%?

        Of those that work in downtown Seattle, how many of their trips are going to and coming from work, and how many of them are recreational trips for everything else? Maybe another 50%?

        So maybe West Seattle to downtown Seattle is 1/4 of the actual transit market?

        The BRT plan hits the potential to reduce transit travel times for a lot more of those non-downtown trips.

      2. Good point, Glenn. I should have mentioned that in my piece (I thought of it, but didn’t mention it). The infrastructure improvements would be used by all buses, including non-BRT buses and buses not headed downtown. Even a bus headed to Beacon Hill (like the 50) would benefit greatly with theses changes. That’s a decent bus route that runs over thirty trips each way, and it would be made a lot faster.

  9. What about a joint bus/light rail bridge like Tilikum Crossing in Portland?

    At opening you could serve the Alaska Junction with light rail and other corridors (like Delridge) with RapidRide or BRT. Lay the rails up front and if the RapidRide corridors ever get popular enough, you can upgrade them to Light Rail.

    The major downside is that a joint bridge would be more expensive to construct and difficult project decisions are already being made.

  10. Setting aside the BRT vs LRT debate for a second here…

    Would it be possible to get SDOT’s version of light rail to West Seattle? I would hope since they are talking about cutting corners for Ballard and running surface rail for a large portion of it, that they would also consider cutting some corners on the West Seattle portion.

    It just seems like a misuse of funds to me to spend the majority of the North King subarea on both a bridge and a tunnel to the lower population West Seattle and surface rail for the higher population, higher demand Ballard.

    If its not possible to cut corners on West Seattle while still doing Light Rail, that seems like a stronger argument to me for building the WSTT first and building light rail later.

  11. You say light rail is the gold standard for West Seattle, and I basically agree. I think Ross’s transfer penalty argument has merit, but if you want gold-plated service a multi-billion dollar rail line is certainly an obvious way to achieve that.

    The question is how many people will have access to “gold standard” transit service if this line is built, compared to other options. The line Sound Transit seems hellbent on building (West Seattle to 15th/Market via Interbay) would provide “gold standard” service to West Seattle, at least the part of it that’s right next to the station. Would it do the same for Ballard? Not for most of its residents. What about other neighborhoods? It won’t help them at all.

    We have a few other options that have been pretty well studied, including a tunnel through Queen Anne and Fremont to Ballard instead of running through Interbay, as well as the Ballard-UW subway. Each of these options would provide “gold standard” service to neighborhoods that will receive none if rail is built to West Seattle. These neighborhoods are much more densely populated. By any logical standard, they should be given service first. That’s how I’m going to decide my vote: is the proposal designed to give great service to the highest number of people? I just don’t see how that standard can be met if West Seattle is served before these denser neighborhoods north of downtown.

    ST3 looks to be designed to complete the spine, giving the suburbs no reason to ever support an ST4 package. Therefore we should see this as our last great chance to use the Sound Transit taxing authority to build better rail within Seattle. After this we’re on our own. Let’s maximize the number of neighborhoods we give “gold standard” service. West Seattle’s remoteness means that if they get it, we can’t afford to give it to anyone else. Perhaps “silver standard” BRT service should be seen as sufficient for now.

    1. Eric,

      I have absolutely no quarrel with that value judgment. I would vote for an ST3 package whether it included a line to West Seattle or not. If I were dictator, with no political constraints whatsoever within the North King subarea, I probably wouldn’t build it given the available funding.

      If I controlled the ST board but still had to win a public vote, I’d have to look at the polling and do some interest group outreach but I suspect it would be worthwhile to build.

    2. “Gold standard” light rail to West Seattle would include at least three lines. It would cost around ten billion (if not more). It will never be built. We can build crappy light rail (like that shown in the picture) which only works well for a handful of people in West Seattle, or we can build really good BRT (which works for way more people).

      I really wonder if people are forgetting that West Seattle traffic is really not that bad 90% of the time that buses run. At noon, for example, when the 21 is running, and carrying plenty of people, it runs just fine (even east bound!). West bound, it is hardly every a problem, once you actually get on the bridge. The changes I mentioned will only make the bus faster once it gets on the freeway. So you are basically asking every rider who is not next to a station to put up with an infrequent and tedious transfer without any benefit at all. As I said, the vast majority of riders come out ahead with BRT — way ahead.

  12. I think it’s worth pointing out that there is this major macro capital cost service assumption tacit in a lot of this discussion that doesn’t have to be made. A West Seattle line doesn’t have to tie into Ballard! There is no compelling reason to build more tracks between the Central Link tie-in and a second Downtown Transit Tunnel. We can both save the cost of building a second set of tracks in SODO as create more of an understandable north-south-ish/east-west-ish two line system that is diagonal through Downtown.

    Option 1: If the second Downtown Tunnel ties in with East Link, ST would free up the main tunnel for West Seattle trains that can continue northward to UW and beyond.

    Option 2: We could have two Ballard lines that branch in Downtown Seattle — one to East Link and on into the CD somewhere (creating a Metro 8, Madison, Union , Cherry or Jackson line). East Link could have two lines — one for each tunnel.

    Option 3: We have two lines entirely through each of the two Downtown tunnels, and branch them as appropriate away from the main core of Seattle. It would give us the option of adding a branch from Downtown Seattle to Fremont-UW from Ballard, 522/Bothell from North of Northgate, Issaquah from East Link, or Renton or Burien from Central Link.

    The overarching point: W e need rail service scenarios that look at passenger loads and frequencies! Right now, every one seems to be speculating on how to spend billions without seeing how the lines would need to operate. We need to know if/when we need to have four-car trains, more station throughput capacity in Downtown, major transfer point design treatments and things like that. I’ve not yet seen a study with ST3 that looks at passenger loads to quantify the utility of particular connections on a rail system so that we can get a better handle on where there are opportunities or constraints.

    1. All the ST alternatives have ridership estimates. That’s the same thing as passenger load, no?

      1. Sort of, Mike — but not really. ST doesn’t appear to be publishing results of different service scenarios in its forecasting. I also haven’t seen any presentation of aggregate forecasted travel patterns or rider loads with the new Link lines proposed in ST3.

        For this discussion, I have not seen where any West Seattle residents would want to get off Link once they get on the train so I’m even speculating that Ballard isn’t a population trip pair for West Seattle. There just isn’t anything presented.

        For general discussion, I’m not convinced that ST has even updated their peak load methods since 2000. PSRC and ST seem remarkably slow at recognizing that flexible work hours is much more of a norm, and peak loads are more spread today than when their base year peak load multipliers were developed.

      2. What we have now is individual ridership/cost/impact estimates for the individual corridors ST studied last year. They’re in the planning section on ST’s website, called something like ‘HCT corridor studies”. There’s a baseline frequency assumed for planning purposes; it may not be explicit in the reports but I assume it’s 10 minutes off-peak, higher peak.

        Aggregate ridership estimates will come after ST has selected some corridors and put them together into a system plan. The first draft of those will be around the end of the year or early next year.

        An interlined Ballard-West Seattle line is for capital/operational efficiency, as some of the costs can be shared between them, not because the majority of Ballardites want to go to West Seattle or vice-versa. However, there are similar interlines with the buses; e.g., 126/128/131/132. If you’re in Burien you may wonder why Metro thinks you want to go to 8th Ave NE or Latona Ave NE rather than University Way or Ballard Ave or Aurora, which probably get more riders. And you may hate the fact that the 24/124 are interlined. (“Why the hell would I want to go to Magnolia? Why does this damn bus go to Airport Way?”) However, over the years you find it sometimes useful, as you’re near Fremont going to Costco, or it’s just as easy to transfer in Fremont as to go another way. So the interlines do come in handy more often than one might realize, and they save Metro money and downtown layover space.

        I haven’t seen anything about peak mode multipliers, and your assumption may not be accurate. ST has six years of actual ridership on Central Link, and it knows that there are spikes at ballgames and when tourists are in force and other random times, and that somebody transfers from Link to the 36 late night because they complain if they can’t.

      3. Given the time penalties from transfers and the multiple transit transfer opportunities in and near Downtown, the corridor passenger forecasts can vary widely.

        I went back and looked at the Recent LRT studies for West Seattle and Ballard.

        The West Seattle data was presented with a segment “break” as West Seattle and not SODO. I’m not sure if that’s at the West Seattle Bridge or south of Alaska Junction. If it is south of Alaska Junction, many of those riders on the segment north of that may just be using Link because of the second Downtown Tunnel. The next segment from West Seattle to White Center is listed at about 18-22K in Alternative B4 and 19-23K in Alternative C5.

        Interestingly, Alternative B4 ridership is much higher on a Burien branch (29-36K) than on a West Seattle only branch (18-22K).

        Finally, there is nothing here about what the ridership of a second tunnel would be if it is a Ballard-only line and/or a Ballard-East Link line. The Ballard segment as recommended by SDOT is not listed in any of the studies, but would appear to be between 22-26K without the second tunnel and may be a bit higher with it. I think Ballard ridership may go higher if more people transfer from buses onto rail in South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne.

        In all of these cases, it’s daily ridership by broad segments. It’s not presented on a station-by-station load. The impact of feeder buses or parallel buses is not presented at all. There is a huge amount of assuming and reporting that isn’t explained here.

      4. But Al S. is, I believe, correct in contending that having a second downtown tunnel connect to East Link is more efficient, both in terms of capital and operationally, than having a second downtown tunnel connect to West Seattle Link. This is because it avoids the redundancy and cost of having two lines through SODO. There could be issues with maximum frequency on the at grade SODO segment, but at the very least those two different operational scenarios ought to be on the table, especially as this discussion could have implications for potential service to the CD, Yesler Terrace and First Hill.

      5. The reports for all the lines say the same thing: 10 minute headways. I would assume this is peak, which means they would run less often off peak.

  13. In a rail scenario, I think there needs to be some more thought on stations and alignment. Having these stations as they are placed here does not optimize ridership. Near each of these station dots, there are nearby locations a few blocks away which would seem to have a much denser population within 1/4 of a mile. Delridge/Genessee seems better than Delridge/Spokane from a horizontal perspective and the elevation changes at Delridge/Genessee could be profound coming off the rail bridge. Alaska/Fauntleroy would seem to have a denser nearby population than Alaska/California as the densities west of California seem to be much more restricted and an Alaska/California station will have to be quite deep.

    Finally, I really bristle that there isn’t a proposal to go the extra distance to at least High Point if not White Center once we build the expensive rail crossing. This is especially true if we are boring tunnels; why stop and remove the machine after boring just a mile in West Seattle?

  14. I’m trying to figure out how realistic some of these bus routes would be.

    Stuff coming down Admiral Way would transfer at the Delridge station, then maybe continue east to Beacon Avenue or Lakewood?

    Stuff coming down Harbor Ave would transfer there too, then maybe continue south on Delridge? Maybe Marginal Way?

    I’m thinking to make this work well you need a bunch of the stuff Ross proposed to improve the bus speed and reliability.

    1. Right. I kind of left that argument out, but that is one of the big things about BRT versus light rail politics. Every thirty years or so, West Seattle feels like its been shafted. Folks there want a new bridge, because the old one opens too much. Now folks want better transit. Fair enough. But if light rail is built, then I don’t expect anyone to do much of anything for West Seattle for a very long time. If someone says we need to invest in bus lane improvements, someone else will say (incorrectly) that West Seattle has enough. They have their light rail (and we don’t) so just use it (or something to that effect). That is a huge problem, in my opinion. I think West Seattle will be screwed by light rail because the city (and certainly Sound Transit) will do very little for it, because light rail (very expensive light rail) was supposed to cure all their ills.

      On the other hand, if you build something like this, West Seattle can keep up the pressure. They can continue to push for more and more improvements. After all, unlike the rest of the city, they didn’t get the shiny new light rail. This means that not only could all these projects (a tremendous value) be built, but future projects as well. Its not that crazy to think that the state could build a new bridge like the one I suggested (in the second paragraph of 4 here: WSDOT builds those sorts of things all the time. Meanwhile, SDOT would focus on the surface. This is all politics, but if West Seattle plays its cards right, it could come out way ahead.

      1. ” Every thirty years or so, West Seattle feels like its been shafted. Folks there want a new bridge, because the old one opens too much. ”

        It was one of the worst ways around the city — I have it on good authority from old timers — and then a new bridge was needed because a ship collision destroyed the last one. It’s not a feel, it’s a fact.

      2. It was the only piece of Forward Thrust ever built, and it has been expediting trips into and out of West Seattle for decades.

        But somehow the “slightedness” can’t abate until we give you $4 billion more.

  15. My rebuttal to your rebuttal:

    1) Operation costs are always a tiny fraction of capital costs when it comes to big projects like light rail. A $3.65 billion project would mean the equivalent of ten Proposition One bus improvements every year for 100 years (not counting the interest savings).

    Even so, this would save money on operations. WSTT would save some just by itself (3.5 million a year according to Seattle Subway).

    Meanwhile, any project is likely to save on operational costs. So if this money is spent elsewhere (and it probably would be) than it would result in similar (if not greater) savings. Martin has provided no evidence that this project would save more in operational costs than any other project, nor has he provided any evidence that this project would cost more to operate than light rail. Operating trains is expensive. Until recently, the cost per boarding for Link was higher than the cost per boarding for express buses.

    2) Off board payment is a given, just as it was with the old bus tunnel (until they got rid of the ride free zone). There are a number of ways in which off-board payment can take place, and RapidRide actually has one. For some stops, you pay at the station. For others, you pay the driver. Fare inspectors (like those on Link) roam the buses. This would be an easy way to handle things in the tunnel (and a few more stations). For the most part, the stations where off board payment is essential are contiguous, which means the fare inspectors would not have to ride for long distances, like they do Link.

    3) Headways will not be evenly distributed, but it won’t matter as much. Buses can pass other buses. Buses can tailgate other buses. With off board payments, it will be similar to the old bus tunnel, in that buses move quickly through the tunnel, except without the delay caused by the occasional wheel chair lift. As you can see by the old video, the buses moved quickly, even though it carries a bigger volume of traffic than the West Seattle buses would carry.

    4) There is plenty of room for the cars to back up before it impedes on bus traffic. If you look at the diagram, there is a section where cars (headed to 99) are not allowed to merge. This section could easily be hundreds of feet long, meaning dozens of cars (let in via a meter) could pile up before it is a problem. This could still be a problem — this system isn’t perfect — but no system is perfect. Light rail along Rainier Valley still gets shut down by the occasional idiot who cuts in front.

    This system could also lay the groundwork for an even more grade separated system, which would involve a new bridge over the Duwamish (connecting to Delridge as well as the Avalon/Admiral ramps). This would be expensive, but cheaper than the cheapest light rail line (involving a similar bridge connecting to Delridge). It would be cheaper because there is a lot more flexibility with roads versus rail. You can make tighter turns and steeper grades. This also means that the bridge could be higher (with steeper approaches) and thus involve fewer openings that light rail.

    5) Martin neglects to point out that not all bus lanes can work as light rail lanes. For example, Madison is being considered for BRT (not streetcar) because the grade is much more shallow. West Seattle (like much of Seattle) has very steep areas (and the highest point in the city). You simply can’t add surface light rail for most of West Seattle — it would have to be elevated, which often elicits opposition. The original light rail projects ran on the surface because folks in the area didn’t want to run it elevated. I could easily see the same thing happen with much of West Seattle.

    6) I agree, this is not a gold plated solution. But neither is any rail plan that is seriously being considered. Gold plated rail would involve a similar structure. A series of lines all converging next to the bridge. But that is too expensive.

    This project would be better than any serious light rail line the day it opened. It would provide a faster trip for most of the riders. Some would certainly be better off with light rail, but not as many as would benefit from open BRT.

    Meanwhile, it would (as mentioned earlier) lay the ground work for further improvements in the future. Building a new bridge (with two lanes) connected to Admiral/Avalon and Delridge would be cheaper than any light rail plan, and provide the sort of bidirectional, 99.99% reliability that Martin wants. My plan wouldn’t provide that, but it would provide a huge improvement in mobility, while laying the groundwork for such a plan in the future (if it was ever needed).

    1. I forgot to copy references: — Contains data about operational cost savings from the tunnel (this doesn’t include costs savings from the other changes I mentioned). — Money going into service improvements (how I got the “ten times” figure). — Cost per boarding numbers.

    2. There’s a lot here, but briefly:
      1) Operation costs are always a tiny fraction of capital costs when it comes to big projects like light rail. A $3.65 billion project would mean the equivalent of ten Proposition One bus improvements every year for 100 years (not counting the interest savings).

      Are you suggesting that the ST tax revenues would go into some interest-earning account to fund bus service? Such a structure would be unprecedented, and once again would incur why-not-us questions that unravels the whole ability to fund big capital projects. Raising money for bus operations is inherently centrifugal — roads are everywhere! — that makes it hard to concentrate it into high-quality corridors.

      Cost per rider is an awful metric to use for the comparison. IIRC the cost per platform hour for rail is about twice that of a bus, and it’s smaller if the bus has fare inspector. You have a very high multiple of vehicles running downtown in an open BRT version vs. a LRT model. I submit that’s it’s self-evident that your plan has higher operating costs between the Junction and Downtown.

      Most of the rest seems to be an acknowledgment that the BRT proposal isn’t quite rail-like quality but that it doesn’t matter very much. I see a bunch of things that amount to a minute here and there weighed against perhaps a 6-minute transfer penalty mid-day and about 4 in the peak, with a typical bad case giving rail significant advantages. Readers can decide how they weigh those tradeoffs.

      I don’t share your confidence that two-way dedicated bus ROW would be “much” cheaper than a light rail plan. Even if it does turn out to be a bit cheaper, there are numerous second-order advantages (as I describe in the column) that make that small funding increment worthwhile.

      If I lived in West Seattle around the junction, I’d definitely prefer rail. If I lived elsewhere on a bus corridor, I’d still prefer rail for the reasons I described.

      1. >> I submit that’s it’s self-evident that your plan has higher operating costs between the Junction and Downtown.

        Yet you offer no evidence to back up that claim. Again, you offer up no evidence to my larger point, which is that money spent elsewhere (and let’s be serious — it would be spent elsewhere) wouldn’t result in even greater operational savings! But that is largely besides the point. The savings are miniscule. Besides, do you really think operational savings should be our highest priority? If so, feel free to promote surface streetcars everywhere, because believe me, that saves a huge amount of money. Take every flat road in the city and run a big streetcar (much bigger than our current streetcar) down it. Run it every ten minutes or so. Force everyone to transfer. Ta Da! Huge operational savings. Is that your dream system?

        As for a 4 minute transfer during peak — that is a nifty trick. The train runs ever ten minutes during peak. It takes about 3 minutes (if not more) just to get off of the bus, get to the station, walk down the escalator and then get to the doors. So you think the bus will magically appear four minutes before the train each time, so that the connection is perfect? What happens when the bus is a couple minutes late? We are back to fourteen minutes. Great. Excuse me if I don’t think that sounds like a very good deal when the bus will beat the train every time. 99% of the time the bus beats the train when you time it perfectly. By the time you get off the bus, run to the station, run up or down the stairs and get on the train just as the doors close, I’ll be on the bus, half way to SoDo.

        As for a new bus bridge across the Duwamish being cheaper than a new rail bridge — of course it would be cheaper. Here are three reasons:

        1) It can travel at a steeper grade.
        2) It can make sharper turns.
        3) It can end at a city street.

        The third one is important. If you build a new BRT bridge over the Duwamish, it can go straight into the road. But if you build a new light rail line there, it would (again) force a transfer. Or it would have to be elevated or in a tunnel (which is a lot more expensive). Rail simply can’t travel on all the surface streets that a bus can. So either you build a short, awkward, force everyone to transfer light rail line, or (for less money) you build a new freeway that delivers just as much reliability while giving everyone a one seat ride.

        There are places where light rail makes sense. There are places where BRT makes sense. West Seattle, for various reasons, is an area where BRT makes sense. Holy cow, it makes sense there. It should be a poster child for BRT. Existing roadway that can be leveraged? Check. Trunk and branch ridership pattern? Check. Dispersed ridership? Check. Moderate ridership? Check. Extremely expensive light rail costs because of extremely challenging natural geography? Check.

      2. Yet you offer no evidence to back up that claim.

        Are you seriously contesting that
        (Bus $/platform hr) * (Bus platform hrs) > (Rail $/platform hr) * (Rail platform hr)?

        Again, you offer up no evidence to my larger point, which is that money spent elsewhere (and let’s be serious — it would be spent elsewhere)
        wouldn’t result in even greater operational savings!

        Spent where? I have no doubt that improvements elsewhere in the region will yield bigger savings. But those operating savings are unlikely to come back to West Seattle. And that’s fine, except that your argument is that the outcome will be better for West Seattle.

        Within West Seattle, the leg between the Junction and downtown is tens of thousands of service hours — there is no speed and reliability project that can possibly outdo removing that burden from Metro.

        You cling to this 10-minute peak headway assertion like it’s holy writ when it’s in fact a planning assumption that may not even mean what you think it means (I contend it’s probably mid-day frequency). You have no idea what the bus/rail interface will be. It’s terrible from the Northbound 7 to Link, it’s great (much < 3 min) from Link to 554 at C/ID. ST has good and bad examples. "the bus will beat the train every time" This flies in the face of everyone's experience riding the bus, anything short of Curitiba-style mega-busway. Shorter stop spacing, far from perfect signal priority, routine violation and obstruction of the bus lane, less than total off-board payment, wheelchair/bike/stroller handling, using the driver as a trip planner, just off the top of my head. If we accept a larger transfer penalty and grade-separate it's 55 mph vs. the road way speed limit on Alaska, 35th, and Avalon. And that's eastbound, where you've made the improvements! I concede that all that stuff, when things haven't gone wrong on the bridge, might be similar to the transfer penalty of bus to train. But on past form virtually all the bus hours that light rail saves will be reinvested in West Seattle. That dramatically shrinks the train-to-bus transfer penalty and time waiting for the bus in the first place.

      3. Martin,

        Contrary to the widespread meme that treats rail as inherently achieving “efficiency” by virtue of existing, rail platform hours are indeed quite a bit more costly than bus platform hours, usually by a factor of at least 2 or 3x.

        This is why efficiency is only truly achieved with trains that are reliably, relatively well-used, at all hours, by a ridership multiplier that bests the cost multiplier. It is also why defenders of the weakest recent American light rails invariably strain to describe costs of sprawling, poor-access, wide-spaced projects in “passenger-miles”, so as to mask the emptiness and inferiority of investments that sprang from the same misplaced faith in the “inherency” of efficient rail.

        Of course, an agency could also respond to low demand and meme-bucking cost metrics by running its new rail much less frequently (another common outcome of recent American light rail). But you insist not only that West Seattle rail would take no frequency hit, but that its frequency would likely best the 10-minute standard on which Sound Transit based its presumption, despite Sound Transit having long tended to describe headways in best-case peak terms, rather than in baseline off-peak terms.

        Ross is correct to question whether any operational savings would be seen by building rail, even along the common segment of his proposal. Ridership consolidation would have to best existing demand conditions by quite a bit, and/or vehicle frequency would have to be quite a bit lower than promised, worsening the already-troublesome transfer penalty inherent in the “shuttle” subway design.

        And we’re only talking about O&M costs here — those that would exist in perpetuity. Never mind the literal billions per station that the rail plan would require to exist in the first place.

        Position statements like the one above always depress me. Though you have worked hard to stake your claim as a rationalist, a middle-way pursuer of aspirational realpolitik, and though you pepper your endorsement of ST’s march to West Seattle boondoggle-rail with a caveat that it might not be your personal highest priority, your arguments in favor remain built entirely upon the “if you build it, they will come” thinking that defines rail fanatics, and that has failed so spectacularly in the many American cities now stuck with expensive, useless transit.

        Inefficient, ill-designed, impractical transit is a waste, in Seattle as anywhere. Limited funds should not be squandered on a field of dreams.

      4. I really want to push back against the idea that I’m endorsing a line to West Seattle. I am most explicitly NOT making any value judgment in this post about whether building Link there is worth it.

        For the record, whether I would advise (as a quasi-expert) that we build the line depends a lot on the context in whom I’m advising and what other hoops the plan would have to jump through, and it’s too intricate to go into here. As a voter, my priority is to serve LQA, SLU, and Ballard, and I will vote on ST3 based on the plan’s ability to do most or all of that decently — no matter what they do in West Seattle.

        I agree the cost multiple is between 2 or 3, which if Link headways are 10 minutes in mid-day makes the actual dollars spent more or less a wash (though not if your headway assumptions are true). But I’ve somehow been sidetracked into this argument from the true point about agency boundaries. ST will pay for rail operations, which allows Metro to redeploy its service hours to intensify West Seattle bus service.

        I know that basing arguments based on agency boundaries seems grubby to some people, but it these details are important to the issue of BRT creep. As I said in other comments, bus operations spending has centrifugal tendencies, and I don’t think there’s any plausible path to have a wildly disproportionate bus service subsidy to West Seattle. Now maybe that’s a case to not spend a lot of money on West Seattle, but from the perspective of a West Seattle resident it’s a geographically focused rail project that will maximize the actual transit service quality at the end of the day.

      5. Back to a speed discussion.

        Let’s assume for a second that we build both systems. So there is the light rail line as well as the BRT as described. Let’s assume someone is traveling from White Center to downtown. When will a rider ever get off the bus to get onto the train? This would only make sense if the freeway was so backed up that the bus is moving at a crawl. Looking at the diagram again, for this to happen, the far right general purpose lane (the lane second to the right) has to be backed up so far that the cars entering at Delridge make it impossible for the bus to use the bus only lane. Let’s assume that this happens once a month, and that the slowdown means that for a quarter mile the traffic is moving at 5 MPH. Assume that the train is moving at 55 MPH, zooming by the cars and even the bus. Now plug in the speed and distance numbers to figure out the time difference:

        Train — 16 seconds
        Bus – 3 minutes

        So, basically, if you can get off of the bus and onto the train in less than three minutes then you come out ahead (assuming the train comes at the right time). I just don’t think that anyone would ever get off the bus. First you would have to time it extremely well, and second, you would have to run up the stairs or hope the elevator/escalator is running very fast.

        99% of the time the bus will be moving faster than that. Most of the day it will move just as quickly as a train. You claim operational savings by truncating bus routes — but which bus routes? Only the ones at rush hour? Of course not. To get substantial savings, you would have to truncate all the bus routes (including the 90% that run outside of rush hour).

        So basically, in my scenario, once a month someone sprints from the bus, gets right to the train as the doors are closing and gets to SoDo a minute or two earlier. The rest of the time — well over 90% of the time — the rider stays on the bus and gets there well before the train.

        In the other direction (which you are very concerned about) the same thing is true. If you are at SoDo and headed to White Center, and see the bus and train arrive at the same time, which one do you take? It should be obvious that the bus is the right choice. There is no way that the train is fast enough for you to get on the previous bus (even it passed a couple minutes earlier). It’s just not that far and the speed difference will never be that great. As you should well know, the transfers from bus to rail for Link (in most cases) are not easy. Even if the bus stop and rail stop are perfectly aligned, you have a significant elevation difference. This would certainly be the case with any set of light rail stops in West Seattle.

        Keep in mind, a 5 MPH average speed for this section is highly unlikely. When it does occur, it seems much slower than it actually is. 10 MPH on the freeway seems like a parking lot. It is painful. At 10 MPH, that would be an hour and 45 minutes from downtown to Lynnwood. At 5 MPH, that is three hours. With the changes I described, you won’t see that kind of slowdown once a month, you will see it once a year. I’m talking about a fish truck colliding with a truck carrying bees. Yes, it happens, but so too do idiots drive into trains.

  16. I am so tired of this argument about Ballard VS West Seattle. Both areas are almost 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 cities 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 at solutions that have been proven.

    1. This proposal gets you two stations with service improvements. For the rest of West Seattle, things might actually get worse due to the transfer time to get from the buses to the trains, as opposed to a direct one seat ride.

      Subways work in places where they are an improvement to the transit system. However, there isn’t enough money to make it work like that in West Seattle. It would need at least three lines to work that way.

    2. Facts! How do they work!?

      Pretending that aggregate density, land use, and movement patterns don’t matter, that all places are the same, and that “subways everywhere” is the only answer would be “reinventing the wheel” in the extreme. No place on earth has that, not even the megacities you name. A burb like West Seattle wouldn’t be 1,000,000th in line for rail in greater Tokyo.

      1. First of all I am comparing Seattle as a whole to New York, Tokyo and Paris not West Seattle. I am suggesting a complete transit solution that moves someone throughout the city like these cities. Yes Seattle hopefully will never be as large as Tokyo or New York, but they are using these solutions because they work.

        2nd your facts are for proposed population growth, but here are the facts for existing population.

        West Seattle: 58,964 Source:
        Ballard: 58,964 Source: 41,459 Source:

      2. Notice that the area defined as “West Seattle” by that map is about two or three times the size of the area defined as “Ballard.”

      3. Jane, if it was Ballard only, your point about equity would be valid. However, the chosen recommendation by the City of Seattle includes serving South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne in addition to Ballard. If transferring riders from the Aurora corridor north of the line are also added in, I think that’s going to tip the scales for the Northwest (Ballard/LQA/SLU) line as being more strategic.

      4. Can we all please stop using those awful outdated, ill-defined, population and neighborhood numbers from sketchy websites? Seattle neighborhoods aren’t strictly defined; the population data we have is from 2010, and also poorly suited to this purpose; and none of you ever make any effort to actually define the boundaries of the areas you’re discussing. There’s no more recent data. Is the intersection of 14th Ave NW and 73rd St in Ballard, Whittier Heights, or Phinney Ridge? It depends upon whom you ask. These arguments are pointless enough already; please at least take the time to argue over recent, relevant data instead of just talking past each other.

      5. That’s a density heatmap, not a map of “neighborhood definitions”. Nice strawman.

        Growth since 2010 has occurred in roughly proportional ways that wouldn’t substantially alter the results. You can’t merely dismiss facts because you “feel” they should be different.

        But go ahead and click the other link, which is Metro’s read on where density in 2014 and density 25 years in the future will necessity high-volume service of any sort. (Hint: it doesn’t change all that much, and West Seattle still pales in comparison to large swaths of the rest of the city.)

        It’s a real problem that the Seattle culture trains the Janes and the Jasons to think facts don’t matter. Not because they’re powerful at that age, but because they grow into Dow Constantines who somehow amass dangerous influence by thinking in the exact same fact-free way.

      6. West Seattle has a population of 58,000, but the population density is about 5,000 per square mile range.

        There are two stations that this line would be able to build, and one of them is next to the Steel Mill in the industrial area near Delridge.

        So, this line would definitely improve transit for perhaps 5,000 people.

        The rest of the 58,000? They will still be on the bus, only now they will probably have to transfer at one of the two stations. Weather they continue to use transit will depend on the details of those connections. For this line to improve over existing service, the quality and timeliness of the transfers is going to have to work as well as international best practices. It’s possible, but very very rare in the USA.

        However, with RossB’s proposal yesterday, you don’t have to worry about any of that because it actually could connect and improve a much broader area.

        For both plans, the details will be the killer.

        However, when I watch the people boarding and detraining at various Link stations already existing, there really don’t seem to be that many transfers between bus and Link – at least not compared to what you would hope to see. It doesn’t encourage me much to hope for lots of bus to Link transfers in West Seattle.

      7. d.p., I was mostly referring to Jane’s links, not yours, so try to relax. [ot] Honestly, not everything you disagree with is a strawman. Also, please point out where I dismissed any facts. Because I didn’t. I just pointed out the lazy reliance on outdated numbers and poorly undefined areas. Unlike you, I really want folks to use STB to have robust, interesting conversations that are grounded in reality, and that’s not possible because garbage in = garbage out.

    3. So are you saying that population who would access the service is irrelevant, I am not even including the people who use transit to travel from Vashon and Southworth to West Seattle to make transit connections.

      1. So are you saying that population who would access the service is irrelevant, I am not even including the people who use transit to travel from Vashon and Southworth to West Seattle to make transit connections.

        Like I said above it is about a complete functional interconnected transit solution not about one area or another.

      2. If the subject in question is “high-capacity rail transit”, then yes, Vashon Island is pretty damned irrelevant.


    4. Jane – Ballard is much denser than West Seattle. Look at your maps and how much smaller Ballard is than West Seattle. That means it’s going to be a lot more difficult for the WS population to access that station. That’s why density matters so much for subways and Ballard is a much better candidate (not only because of that but because, as someone already mentioned, it picks up SLU and LQA on the way – two very dense neighborhoods)

      All that said, I’m not opposed to West Seattle rail since I do think as a solid grid there is the potential for much increased density in the coming decades (a la North Vancouver) and it is a logical route for getting to Burien and Renton, which I could see making sense many years down the road.

      I guess you could say I’m not as anti- building on spec as many others on the this board, as long as those spec builds are further down the list of priorities. But what does concern me is that it will compromise the Downtown to Ballard route, which for the reasons I mentioned above is a far better candidate than Downtown to West Seattle and should receive the lion’s share of the North King allotment.

      1. D.P. the ferry terminal does come to west Seattle from Vashon and Southworth, so yes they are not dense areas, but they have an impact on adding to West Seattle’s transportation needs and capacity. These communities must use West Seattle as a transportation corridor to go anywhere from the ferry.

      2. A logical route for getting to Burien, not Renton. The most logical route for Renton would go through Rainier Valley.

      3. You’re correct, Mike – I misspoke. It is most definitely not the most logical route for getting to Renton, although if the route does eventually connect to Burien cutting across to Renton could make sense (way down the line).

      4. ST studied a downtown – West Seattle – Burien – Renton line and found, not surprisingly, that it would be expensive and have low ridership. It was another “interline for convenience”, since South King had long ago requested a Burien-Renton line and that just happened to be where the downtown – West Seattle – Burien line would terminate. Total Renton-downtown travel time was somewhere around 40 minutes, which is the same as the 101. It’s in the HCT corridor studies if you’re interested. Since then, RapidRide F opened, and its ridership is so low as to throw into question a Burien-Renton line, especially when Kent has much higher ridership and no HCT when Sounder isn’t running. Also relevant, Tukwila’s mayor didn’t even ask for a Burien-Renton line in his ST3 wishlist. (He asked for a Boeing Access Road infill station.)

      5. These communities must use West Seattle as a transportation corridor to go anywhere from the ferry.

        May I remind you that with this light rail proposal, those coming from the ferry and headed to downtown Seattle would likely have an additional transfer to make at Admiral Junction over the RossB proposal.

        There simply aren’t enough passengers coming from any one direction to build a very expensive tunneled light rail line to any of them. If there were a road where you could sacrifice a pair of lanes and build a cheaper median based light rail line, that would be a different story because that would be less expensive. It would be slower, but the money available would be able to build more line.

        That hugely expensive new bridge and new tunnel through downtown that would be required rather eliminates a lot of distance on the West Seattle end.

        So, if light rail happens it will wind up having to be by bus transfer.

      6. “Jane – Ballard is much denser than West Seattle. Look at your maps and how much smaller Ballard is than West Seattle.”

        This is part of the problem for comparison. People are falsely and mistakenly referring to West Seattle itself as a neighborhood. It’s an area of MANY neighborhoods the same as South Seattle or North Seattle. West Seattle has as many as twenty neighborhoods, depending how you count them.

      7. Yeah, your neighborhoods just happen to be single-purpose, spread out, approaching zero density by urban standards, and rendering arguments of rail suitability utter hogwash.

    5. Jason – my point was that these statistics are not relevant and that we need a comprehensive solution to transit throughout the city and West Seattle is part of that comprehensive solution.

    6. Ballard versus West Seattle is a straw man argument. As I said in my earlier post, BRT is simply better for West Seattle. It has a little to do with the density, but everything to do with the density plus natural geography. The pockets of density for West Seattle are spread out. The destinations for West Seattle are spread out. If you asked me to name three destinations for West Seattle, I would name Alki, the Junction and South Seattle College (my alma mater). Guess what, Link would serve one at best. Half the plans — the most cost efficient plans — serve none of them.

      I really don’t think people get this. “West Seattle” light rail won’t serve West Seattle anymore than “North Link” served Ballard. I know, you would think that Ballard — which is in the north end of town — would be well served by North Link. But the train goes nowhere near Ballard. The same will be true for light rail if it gets to West Seattle. It will go nowhere near the vast majority of riders.

      Which leaves people with a transfer. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people will transfer. The people in Lake City are begging for a station at NE 130th so that there transfer will be better. The problem is, the transfer for the people in West Seattle won’t be better than BRT. It will be worse. The Lake City rider gets a quick ride to Northgate, Roosevelt, the UW (the UW!) and Capitol Hill before the trip downtown. That beat the sh** out of the old 41 (as fast as it is). But someone in West Seattle gets … the exact same stops. They get nothing out of the transfer, except the opportunity to get off the bus, ride an escalator and wait for a train that runs every ten minutes.

      There are some places in the world where BRT makes sense. There are some places in the world where light rail makes sense. To get light rail as good as the BRT I outlined for West Seattle you would need to spend around ten billion dollars (if not more). Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen. We can either build really crappy light rail, or really good BRT. BRT is cheaper. The choice seems obvious.

  17. I still favor BRT to West Seattle, because the non-linear geometry of the population centers just doesn’t favor trains. However, Martin’s perspective makes me feel better about the LRT solution we are likely to get (and which, given the political realities, I’m relatively resigned to being our only option).

    The thing missing from this discussion so far is zoning. West Seattle’s low density is not a coincidence, nor is it due to zoning, I would argue. The real reason for WS’s low density is how isolated it is, reliant on one, highly unreliable connection out for almost all trips. It has Shoreline-like density because it is Shoreline-like in how long it takes to get to most of Seattle (very approximately, of course).

    Although the current density (and likely future density) don’t justify the billions needed for a train to WS, at least not before a bunch of other more cost effective projects are complete, grade separated transit would make WS vastly less isolated, creating the demand to support density.

    The question is if zoning will allow it. With relatively cheap land eight minutes away from downtown, in an area with a pretty good street grid, development could boom. It wouldn’t necessarily make rail out there worth it, but it would at least justify operating expenses for high quality rail, if not the infrastructure itself.

    1. This is exactly what WS rail skeptics should be pushing for. Like it or not, rail to WS is a political necessity. And Ross’s option really isn’t even on the table, and anyone who understands ST and city politics realizes that it’s never going to be on the table. But we can work to make the most of it. For example, with Hansen’s arena plan almost certainly dead, all of those parcels are very likely going to be developed into office and hotel space. The surrounding area to the south is included in the restrictive Duwamish M/IC, but I have every reason to think the post-HALA city council will be receptive to allowing a much broader range of uses if a rail line is running through the area. Tech companies are already starting to move in (see, as the most recent sizable example; King5 is also in the midst of TIs a bit further north). The maritime/port objection to other uses is all about traffic flow, but a nice rail line through the area would basically negate that concern. The SoDo area has very real development potential, and now is a great time to start having that conversation with the city in the context of ST3 and a line to WS.

      1. Yes – this will happen in the city. The port will move to Tacoma. 20 years ago South Lake Union was Sodo. There is no where else for the city to expand.

      2. Tacoma already has a major port. It’s true the Port of Seattle may diminish somewhat in the coming decades but it will not just go away. So, no, you will not see SODO become the next SLU, although obviously there will be a substantial increase in residential and commercial development.

      3. The vast majority of the businesses in SoDo have absolutely nothing to do with the port. I agree that the port isn’t going away (though I do happen to know about some planned downsizing and minor contractions related to the new seaport alliance with Tacoma), but I do think that many of the manufacturing businesses and various warehouses are going to be redeveloped into midrise office space. There’s certainly much more potential than in Interbay.

    2. The port of Tacoma doesn’t exactly have a lot of spare capacity. I am doubtful that the Port of Seattle is going anywhere.

  18. Thinking outside the box, If rail is the gold standard, true BRT the silver, could the First Hill Streetcars be our Bronze?
    Extending the FHSC out the low waterway bridge, then wandering all over the hill could be a good fall back position if rail is too expensive, BRT is to unreliable, and the new mayor and exec get elected from the Zoo neighborhood.

    1. That ranking would only apply to cost.
      As for value, I think the FHSC is ‘plastic standard’ transit. ‘Light’ rail (neither very light nor fast), as implemented here, is bronze.

  19. I’m not convinced that RossB’s solution adequately addresses the needs of W. Seattle, but I also think that the geography, geometry and density of W. Seattle lend themselves much better to a BRT style solution than light rail.

    First in critique of RossB’s proposal, I don’t think it adequately addresses the WB problem, which, contrary to d.p.’s assertion could plausibly become a problem, if the Seattle freeway WB becomes congested. Indeed, the benefit of the proposal comes from a downtown tunnel and avoiding SR-99 with SODO off ramps, which though extremely helpful and a great value proposition, wouldn’t match the reliability of Light Rail or open BRT.

    But a light rail line isn’t particularly well suited for West Seattle either because the extreme grades of the area make it impossible to build rail without expensive tunneling in addition to the bridge and because the peninsula nature of the north end limits the network effects gained by running a rail line to the junction. In contrast a BRT system with a new bridge either just south of the existing span, or as Ron proposes slightly further south at Idaho street could be designed to get all the way to the junction while also facilitating the transfer and frequency advantage of open BRT.

    For example a bridge from Idaho street could lead into an alignment that follows the south side of Genesse. There would have to a few property takings and a viaduct (or short tunnel) to handle the grade down towards Delridge, but the majority of the ROW is more or less grass. Then just before Avalon the alignment could head SE along the edge of the golf course, climbing up the hill towards 35th and Alaska where bus lanes are already present and which represents the eastern edge of the junction density. Such an alignment would be impossible for rail due to the grades but is very doable for buses. Moreover, such an alignment would probably be better overall than a rail proposal at far less cost due to its ability facilitate both open BRT (eliminating transfer penalties) and exclusive right of way service to the junction.

    1. That’s a very reasonable suggestion. I believe that my suggestion would be cheaper, and work almost all the time. I believe that both ideas would be better than light rail because both ideas would be better for the vast majority of riders.

      But I think that suggestion is the type of thing I mentioned in the second paragraph of item 4) in this comment:

      So basically, I think BRT works for the reason you mentioned. I believe my solution would work, say, 98% of the time. But if you really want 100%, then building a new bridge would do it, and not be a horrible value. Either way it would be better for riders than light rail, which would cost more money.

  20. My preference for rail in WS would be a line straight down Delridge, with a high quality transfer near the bridge for the Junction and other WS areas. The 120 is an absolute beast for ridership. Let’s take advantage of that and terminate the C line at “Luna Park/Delridge Jct”

    1. Seattle Straphanger –
      “My preference for rail in WS would be a line straight down Delridge, with a high quality transfer near the bridge for the Junction and other WS areas.”

      I think that having rail down Delridge might be a great solution vs the Junction. I like your idea of a transfer station at the bridge. It would be great if there were a park and ride.

      1. I’m glad you’re on board Jane. Just to be clear though I am not interested in a park and ride at the transfer station, as this take up valuable land that could be used for revenue-generating development. Additionally park and rides increase car trips on local strips, adding to congestion. My idea is that if West Seattle is sufficiently urban for high capacity transit, fewer people will need to drive.

    2. That is probably the most likely line to be built. The problem is that you make everyone but the folks on Delridge transfer. The 21 might be the most important line, but it still represents a lot less than half of the potential West Seattle riders. So basically you are asking more than half of your riders to put up with an infrequent and time consuming transfer. Keep in mind, Sound Transit expected ten minute headways on that line as well. So Delridge riders would get less frequency, while everyone else gets a transfer.

      For a lot less money you could build what I proposed. For more money, but a lot less money than Delridge light rail, you could simply build a new bus only freeway where the light rail line would go. Then buses coming from other areas would use the same freeway, and riders wouldn’t have to transfer. Meanwhile, riders from Delridge would have higher frequency. An elevated line through Delridge would be faster, but not that much faster. It would only be only for a small percentage of riders on West Seattle. More riders overall, would benefit from BRT improvements.

      1. Sure, most will have to transfer with this plan. But, it seems like that is true of any LRT to WS idea. But I think it makes sense to have the one-seat segment a straight line along the route of highest ridership. I just don’t think it’s crucially important to serve the junction directly.

        I like your BRT plan too, Ross. I think it would work very well. If there’s going to be rail, I want it to go where it can benefit the highest number of people. I’ve got no mode preference, I’ve got a usefulness preference.

      2. @Seattle Straphanger — Agreed. If someone put a gun to my head and said we must build light rail to West Seattle, then Delridge is the clear winner. But until that happens, I will push for BRT, because it will be better for more people, overall.

  21. Here a curious question about West Seattle that’s been sitting in the back of my mind when it comes to ST3:

    Would West Seattle politically accept having just one station near Delridge/Genessee that is also a major transit and park-ride hub?

    I could see this station with a ground-level major transit center (like Bellevue’s) where any West Seattle route would lay over, in addition to maybe supporting retail. Above that is several layers of a parking garage that has low cost (maybe $2 a day) parking. At the very top would be the end-of-line light rail station (coming off a high bridge) and a view deck — maybe with a rooftop restaurant or coffee house. The signature piece would be a funicular or long escalators (adjacent to glass elevators) that would showcase the view while getting to the rail station on top. Maybe the building could even be designed in some post-modern shape and become an architectural symbol in decades to come.

    That would accomplish several things:
    1. It would bring light rail to West Seattle, satisfying that base requirement.
    2. It would allow for many buses to pulse out of one point anytime the train is running. Imagine never having to wait more than 5-10 minutes for not only light rail but any connecting bus!
    3. It would give access for all those low-density dwellers who prefer to drive but want to ride transit into Downtown. Let’s face it, lots of them would be willing and even prefer to drive to a location like this.
    4. It would be a godsend for bicyclists who could get easily to West Seattle without pedaling through the Port areas and SODO.
    5. It would save $500M to $1B in extra costs to tunnel to Alaska Junction. (I note that the main people who would directly benefit from an Alaska Junction station are immediate neighborhood residents. Everyone else would be transferring to a bus or parking or getting a ride to/from the station anyway. If we don’t have the money in ST3 to spend that kind of money for just one station, can’t we defer it and do this instead?)
    6. It could defer the cost of building further into Seattle and the messiness that is likely to ensue when picking and building further into the area.

    I know it’s not ideal for local residents, for anti-parking advocates and for others. However, we do live in a world where compromises are needed, and I wonder if ending the line here would be detrimental for ridership if local transit routes are restructured. It would get a station in West Seattle so residents could no longer say “we are left out” of ST.

    Would this compromise be enough to satisfy most neighborhood groups (except the ones near Alaska Junction) to get some ST3 support, or would most cling to the Alaska Junction Station as an all-or-nothing ultimatum?

    1. Seattle would have to change its policy of no more P&Rs, and Rainier Valley would want one too since it’s been asking for a P&R ever since Link opened.

  22. According to the Sound Transit Survey Results from June and July, West Seattle elevated light rail is the top choice of transit projects for the Central Corridor to everyone who took the survey. It was a higher priority than the Ballar U District link. Apparently the majority agrees that Light Rail in West Seattle is a priority.

    1. We’ve been through this already – that’s because the way Sound Transit set up the survey there were multiple options (at-grade and tunneled/elevated) for the Ballard-Downtown route and only one option for the West Seattle-Downtown route. If you combine the two Ballard-Downtown options, it easily beats West Seattle.

      1. Except that’s incorrect. There were three WS options: elevated junction, at grade junction, Delridge. All three had strong support. D.p. was right to be bitter about West Seattle activism. The artifact of survey design argument doesn’t hold water.

      2. @Ron

        There were well more than three Ballard options. West Seattle voters were free to vote all three for west seattle or for the clearly grade separated one.

        The Ballard alignment choices were a lot more mirky. There were several grade separated options and at grade options. Plenty to dillute the vote just enough to put West Seattle over the top.

      3. Seems you choose to ignore all facts that contradict your position.

        Recently I saw populations numbers by district and yes west seattle has 90,000 residence to Ballard’s 80,000 – but you insist that West Seattle is undeserving of light rail – I just don’t get it.

      4. As defined with West Seattle borders thrice as broad — and, thusly, with 1/3 of the aggregate density.

        Never mind that the “core” areas of Ballard contain more and higher contiguous density by a long shot, and sit adjacent to additional urban areas rather than distantly removed from nearest neighbors.

        As has been explained to you already.


    2. Jane,

      The servey was loaded to give West Seattle a higher priority.

      Ballard had several good options and split the vote, West Seattle had only one good option.

      The servey results would have been very different if there had been the same number of choices or if folks were asked to choose between Ballard and West Seattle.

    3. Ballard to UW “won” the Ballard race. And as discussed here and in other threads, it makes the most sense, but least likely to be built by ST.

      1. this is the problem with transit planning in the US, its is now done by the general public, neighborhood groups and politicians… people who are clearly experts about transit planning (roll eyes), no wonder we end up with underperforming lines that serve no one and bypass the important places made for transit

  23. I, like the VAST majority of Seattleites (and North King residents, more broadly), do not live in West Seattle, or Ballard. Nor do I, like the aforementioned VAST majority, work in either of these neighborhoods. Therefore, my interest in how new service provided for these neighborhoods serves the overall transit network of the city (specifically) and region (more generally).

    That is the general frustration with the apparent promotion of ‘gold-level’ (or whatever descriptor of the circa $3-Billion package) service to West Seattle. The argument of what West Seattle ‘deserves’ based on its relative density and real and/or perceived needs may be political. This doesn’t change that the needs of the subarea in general, and Seattle in particular, would not be well served by prioritizing this piece of a fully-realized transit network before other areas with larger and more pressing transit problems relative to their populations.

    This is DOUBLY so when prioritizing spending on two stations for West Seattle inherently brings down the size/scope of what can be delivered for Ballard, which has demonstrably greater network benefits for the city/region, due to the realities of present and future density, and contiguity. We should refuse any packages that would preclude useful expansion of our network. There is no excuse for ST continuing to constrain ST-Next (Denny/Ballard-UW) to build the most politically expedient ST-Now.

    New infrastructure should be built it in a way that serves the interest of the network and the city as a whole. No neighborhood ‘deserves’ anything. We’re all on the hook for taxes, and we all benefit from spending the dollars wisely. This means spending on rail when it’s cost effective, BRT when it’s cost effective, and standard bus service when it’s cost-effective.

    Why should we advocate for poor transit that does not provide cost-effective solutions, when there are clear options proposed that would do that. Commenters repeatedly trot out ‘political reality’ as if that is something intractable? It simply isn’t. Political realities can and do change, if with time. What’s frustrating is many folks here appear to be asking us to advocate from a compromised position. That seems to me to be abdicating our position as advocates to push for the best system. It’s the politicians’ job to decide how to prioritize them, but they should be under no illusions of the utility of what they prioritize. That’s how we end up with the pols in charge able to shirk responsibility for pushing through poor planning decisions (“that’s what the advocates wanted!”).

    We made a political decision to not build good transit during Forward Thrust. That was a mistake for which we are still paying dearly. To further hamper our ability to SOLVE our transit problems going forward by exhausting bonding capacity and political capital through poor prioritization of transit projects with questionable merit is equally inexcusable.

    Martin says, “Light rail is best for West Seattle.” What’s best for West Seattle isn’t the question. West Seattle isn’t building itself a transportation system, the whole North King Sub-Area is. The real question is “What is best for North King’s transit network?” That answer is clearly not $3-Billion spent on two stations that only improve transit for a small portion of trips for a small portion of the city.

    Yes we are building infrastructure for the future, but we are still decades behind on solving transit infrastructure deficiencies of the past. That our political and planning institutions devoted to solving transit problems have produced packages that pander to the squeaky wheel is an indicator that these institutions are failing us.

    1. The first two sentences of the fifth paragraph should read:

      “Why should we advocate for poor transit that does not provide cost-effective solutions, when there are clear options proposed that would do that? Commenters repeatedly trot out ‘political reality’ as if that is something intractable.”

      Punctuation was a casualty of hurried editing.

    2. West Seattle could be a good light rail priority if West Seattle were in the same subarea and funding generation as that awful Federal Way drunken stupor zigzag thing.

      I think even d.p. would agree that West Seattle takes priority over a Federal Way to Wild Waves express or whatever the far south end of King County gets, but that isn’t the direction this is headed.

      1. As I said below, it really isn’t about priorities, necessarily. It is more about building what is best for the area. West Seattle can have crappy light rail, or really good BRT. Good BRT will be better for West Seattle, and cheaper.

    3. “Political realities can and do change, if with time.”

      Yes, I believe they’ll likely change in the next twenty years. But they’d have to change in the next one year to affect ST’s decision. The new city council may be the biggest factor, but it’s unknown which way it will go. Right now the reality is that West Seattle has a large number of current and former city and county councilmembers, and they’re a little myopic. That combines with the strong West Seattle activism to make them the most politically potent force. The 45th corridor has lots more reason to get HCT and would ride it and vote for it, but they have no visibly organized voice except what Seattle Subway has been able to generate for Ballard. All that is making ST put West Seattle first, downtown second, and Ballard third, which basically means Ballard gets whatever fits in the leftover part of the budget. That has been immovable so far.

      1. I do think that once the SLU station is put into the forecasts, the Ballard-Downtown Line (which I call the Northwest Line) will be the head and shoulders winner for ridership over West Seattle. My read on the SDOT letter is that there is strong backing for this as well.

        As for the other two corridors:

        Downtown details are so vaguely defined that there may not be enough time to build a consensus on what to do before 2016. Also, it makes little sense to save money with a “partial subway” through Downtown and or fewer stations Downtown. Finally, some sort of operational connectivity is needed to move light rail vehicles between the two corridors. A second Downtown Seattle tunnel is probably an all-or-nothing project.

        In my mind, West Seattle is where the cost cutting should occur. That’s why I suggested a few things above — like dropping the Alaska Junction station and dropping new track in SODO. Those two actions alone would seem to drop the capital cost at least $1B for West Seattle.

        I do wish more elected officials on the ST Board would be more public about supporting decisions based on cost effectiveness when setting priorities. The politics are fun at some level, but ST needs to approach expansion to serve more riders per $100M of investment and not merely try to keep advocates and survey respondents who have the luxury of free time happy. I think they did that with the Federal Way corridor a few weeks ago — as the only thing that matters for generating riders is where stations go when the options are so close to each other (only 500 feet separate SR 99 and I-5 at Highline College even though the graphic made them look almost a mile apart).. Showing some fiscal considerations might even persuade a few swing voters to vote “yes” in 2016.

    4. A reasonable argument, but I think it is simpler than that. West Seattle can either get really crappy light rail or really good BRT. It is easy to argue that they deserve neither right now, but as luck would have it, really good BRT (like what I proposed) is relatively cheap. So, from a network standpoint, this is good. Yes, I know, it is a bit selfish of me — I have three close relatives that live in West Seattle and would like good transit there — but I also think the type of spending I am talking about (a few hundred million) is proportional to the number of people who live there or the number of trips taken there. It is a bit like arguing that a bridge over the freeway at Northgate should be a high priority. It is by no means the most important thing we can build in this city, but it is a great value, and thus important enough to build now.

      1. I would say the Northgate Bridge is definitely among the top 5 most needed projects in Seattle right now. And has been for decades.

      2. @Seattle Straphanger

        Most needed from a cost/benefit standpoint, sure. But most needed altogether? No, I think it is well below light rail from Ballard to UW, Metro 8 Subway, the NE 130th station, improvements to bus corridors (Madison, South Lake Union/Eastlake), the WSTT or BRT to West Seattle. All of those projects would make a bigger difference to more people. The bridge is needed and it is a great value, but it still won’t improve mobility as much as any of those other projects.

    5. Trivialex states the case against disproportionate spending for minimal outcomes remarkably well here.

      Each “rebuttal” proferred from inside the West Seattle echo chamber boils down to a politics of smug entitlement.

      Entitlement is not a reason to spend the vast majority of future available funds on something whose dearth of broader public benefit ripples across the network, compromising outcomes everywhere. The political case made for W.S. rail is thus as flimsy as the transit case.

      1. That map showing the grand sum of 2 stations in West Seattle with one in an industrial/highway interchange I would hope would drive home the point of the insanity of spending a ton of money to serve almost no one in WS. But I think you are spot on about what WS LRT is really about.

  24. West Seattle rail is If it doesn’t mess up the Ballard line. I’m fine with a line that is MLK-style at grade along 15th as long as 1) the line is underground between Westlake and 15th and 2) the Ballard station is either elevated or underground and allows for a connection to a Ballard-U District tunnel line in the future.

    #2 is critical – an at-grade 15th and Market station with no possibility for a future connection to an E-W line is a dealbreaker for me.

    1. You again lose reliability doing it like that. We should be focusing on doing it like Skytrain with full grade separation as it will pay dividends later from having a consistent travel time.

  25. I love this debate. Thanks for having it and I hope it continues as there are some huge decisions to make about ST3 funding. I agree with Ross and hope Sound Transit (preferably in partnership with Metro and SDOT) develop a true world class BRT alternative. As Martin says, ST3 money would go much further on BRT and for me that is what this is all about: the need to cover a huge geographical area without the funding to get as far as we would all love to go with a truly high quality rail system. I am glad Ross is making the case that more people’s lives could be improved with a series of West Seattle BRT lines rather than one short rail line.

    If you prefer rail, this debate is important because if we end up with a rail line, we better be sure that it will outperform BRT. Unfortunately, until we can build out rail to a scale that is hard to imagine in my lifetime, BRT is going to have major advantages. In many ways buses are better equipped to handle our our vasty geography, topography and natural barriers.

    To cite an example of the way connectivity to rail could be an issue, we will soon have rail to UW Station with 8 minute trips from Westlake, but even with that colossal time advantage over cars, many U District riders will not see significant time savings over what Metro can do with its bus tunnel and the freeway. The potential transfer issues with rail are not an imaginary issue that Ross cooked up. Bad transfers or subpar connecting service could be a huge problem on a rail line to the Junction.

    I also have to add that we have grown to enjoy an awesome bus tunnel that I am sure everyone on this blog has benefited from. Before we lose and forget about the bus tunnel (the way we forgot about the old bus to the airport that was faster than Link and didn’t drop you off a half mile from the terminal), let’s actually look at the details of any BRT or rail proposal to make sure we know what we are getting. Seattle also needs to think about how what we build next can be the best compliment to Link. A world class BRT network would bring many more people to Link faster and just as efficiently as rail.

    Martin brings up operational cost which is important, but don’t forget that while buses are expensive, Link is also very expensive to operate which is why there seems to be agreement that West Seattle rail service would be infrequent. Wouldn’t anyone prefer buses every 2 minutes that can travel just as fast as rail instead of rail every 10 minutes? Depending on how feeder lines were dispersed, BRT lines could feed into a trunk in West Seattle with extremely high frequency. And if Metro and Sound Transit share operating costs and make smart decisions about how to allocate money together, this could be a better investment of operating dollars than two separate service plans that aren’t in sync.

    Thanks again for having the debate.

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