Everett, WA skyline from Everett Station
Downtown Everett

Sunday’s open thread had a video about a new light rail line in Toronto, and people took the opportunity to have a little fun with Sound Transit’s expansion plans. The Toronto line is straight, compact, and has dense station spacing, and the Everett-Tacoma-Redmond spine is none of those things. Seattle doesn’t have Toronto’s transit potential in any case, but the complaints have some validity.

There is no objectively optimum way to build a rail line; any claimed optimum has some subjective values embedded in it. But given our community values, I propose the following aspects of the very best light rail lines:

  • Moves people faster and more reliably than a plausible bus operations plan serving the same areas. This is generally in paths without freeways, and/or where congestion dominates and taking right-of-way for buses is unrealistic.
  • Allows operating savings by aggregating passengers from many buses. This implies fairly high ridership demand.
  • Is useful not only for commutes to work and school, but also other incidental trips of a person’s week.

If a line doesn’t meet some or all of these tests, that doesn’t mean it’s not “worth it.” It means it’s not the best. Parts of the emerging Link system meet the tests quite well (the stretch from the U-District to Westlake stands out); others, not so much, mostly because they were built to serve a totally different set of values.

It’s fine to vent in a comment thread. But the implication that the ST Board and/or staff are incompetent is an inquisitive dead end, and in my view, wrong. A more constructive inquiry is to ask what institutional or personal forces are leading ST in its current direction. Is there some other set of politicians on the bench, or some other achievable institutional design, that would create more favorable outcomes? And how many decades will such a reconfiguration take?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. My suspicion is that ST is delivering a combination of what the electorate and the most vocal interest groups want. That’s a natural consequence of an enabling law that creates a large transit district, requires public votes, and a local culture of public process.

And that leads me to sometimes defend the agency against people with which I agree.* While I don’t think the spine plus some additional lines is the best possible yield for the dollars we’re going to spend, it’s probably the best this set of institutions and electorate can possibly do. And that’s OK! My lived experience with Central Link has exposed all of its flaws and compromises. And it’s still great — absolutely transformative, in a good way, to the possibilities in the neighborhoods it serves.

In the longer term, one answer is probably public persuasion and education, which is one of STB’s missions. Another important project is urbanizing the electorate, in which the obstacle is bad zoning and the people who defend it. We have a lot of work to do.

* and at the very least, seeking to explain its decisions rather than chalking it up to ignorance.

182 Replies to “Sound Transit and Good Transit Outcomes”

  1. “…urbanizing the electorate..”

    I’m sorry.

    Was that on the ballot?

    All we voted for in the 1990s was a rapid regional transit system to circumvent traffic.

    We traded new highway building for a system which still isn’t here.

    Light Rail is called that because it’s cheap, and fast to implement.

    We could have simply recreated the Interurban Trolley with the funding from back then and have it run from Tacoma to Everett mostly at grade or elevated by now.

    I would have taken years instead of decades.

    Clearly other forces are at work that are not in the interests of the great majority here.

    1. “We could have simply recreated the Interurban Trolley with the funding from back then and have it run from Tacoma to Everett mostly at grade or elevated by now.”

      Along what route would it have run, to be built with current funding? If you’re talking about running it down the I-5 Express Lanes and the Duwamish Bypass, then I agree it could probably have been built with current funding… but Seattle didn’t want that, and its tax dollars shouldn’t be shipped out to the suburbs.

    2. That interurban exists in the south end; it’s called Sounder. No need to build a completely new ROW; it just needs another parallel track to support all-day half-hourly service. But since mainline railways are a statewide issue, it’s more the state’s responsibility to take the lead on it, and it has been poking along. I assume it would have cost more than Link to build another track on BNSF’s ROW; otherwise it would have gotten higher priority.

      “We traded new highway building for a system which still isn’t here.”

      We did not “trade” highway building. There was no implication that ST1&2 would affect highway projects, and those are in fact still happening (405 widening, 509 extension, highway 99 tunnel two blocks from Link’s downtown stations). In Portland’s case, the federal money for the Mt Hood Freeway was traded for MAX. Santa Clara County voted down BART to put the money into expressways. Nothing like that happened here. You keep taking about “more highways” in south King County, but you never say exactly where you want them, so it’s impossible to determine how plausable they are or how much they compete with other projects.

      1. ” I assume it would have cost more than Link to build another track on BNSF’s ROW; otherwise it would have gotten higher priority.”

        I can’t imagine how that would be the case. How could building a single new track in a right-of-way that’s already there (at least, mostly) cost more than building an entirely-new double-tracked right-of-way?

    3. Well, if you haven’t noticed, link is anything but light. With large swaths of subway and elevated portions, and absolutely huge trains, it’s the heaviest “light rail” I have ever seen. And while that may be better for the region, that is why it takes decades and not years to complete.

      1. A heavier “light” rail is the Docklands Light Railway in London. It looks more or less like Sounder. It’s “light” only in comparison to the Underground and commuter trains.

      2. @Mik Orr: The DLR uses German designed light rail units that are designed with street running in mind, and have a maximum operational speed of 40mph. They have a single articulation point and run in two or three car sets. They certainly don’t look a long double deck diesel trains. To my eye the permanent way looks a lot like Link’s, and the stations are much more spartan than ours. It has a lot less tunneling than our system — basically just the stub into Bank and the two river crossings. Like our systems it uses a bunch of pre-existing infrastructure. I’d put at about the same point on the Light/Heavy spectrum as Link.

        One significant difference between the systems is that the DLR has been willing to go back and correct issues, often at significant expense: the extension to Bank, the Canary Wharf rebuild, getting rid of flat junctions….

      3. The Bank extension to the DLR cost more than the entire original system.

        The original system was built cheaply by the conversion of disused and underused railway lines. The Bank extension was a mined tunnel under some of the most complicated underground infrastructure in the world. And… they went ahead and built it.

      4. The richest businessmen commute to and transfer at Bank, and contribute to the economy. So of course they’d build a tunnel to it. It’s like giving Boeing tax breaks to encourage it to keep jobs here.

      5. Without the Bank extension, the entire DLR system would be damned near inaccessible from anywhere else in the city or region.

        That tunnel wasn’t about placating businessmen. It was about being willing to learn from errors and, as William said, amending your infrastructure as necessary to exponentially improve it.

        So on that count, nothing like Seattle at all.

    4. We couldn’t have “just rebuilt the Interurban”. It ran in mixed traffic on streets with way too much traffic to do that today. A lot of its ROW is no longer available, in ways that thwart the use of the ROW that’s relatively open. Many parts of the ROW couldn’t be operated fast, because they’re basically alleys in residential neighborhoods.

      Anyway, the old Interurban trains weren’t particularly fast for long-haul trips because they made a bunch of useful stops in the city and suburbs. Link is not all that different in conception: it attempts to go a long distance and make a lot of useful stops. But it must be faster, because the wide availability of driving has raised people’s expectations for travel speed and convenience. It needs more traffic separation and grade separation because the streets are more congested. It needs more complicated designs in places because there’s a lot more existing infrastructure to work around.

      1. I assume it means the Interurban concept and not the exact alignment and quality. When the Interurban existed only 10% of the population had cars, so there was a lot of need of trains and not much traffic to hinder them. And streetcars had the right of way over cars and pedestrians as all railroads did, so I assume the Interurban did too. Also, south King County was farmland, and farmers used to take their chickens and eggs on the Interurban to market. And each train had very low capacity, like San Francisco’s cable cars. But that capacity was sufficient for the population size then.

        Link is in some ways a revival of the Interurban concept in the suburbs, but it’s in a different corridor in south King County. The 99 corridor includes the airport, Des Moines, and Federal Way, which thinks it has special privilege for Link and all the express buses because I-5 goes through there. But the most populous and transit-riding and transit-dependent part of south King County is the center and east where Sounder goes and the Interurban went, so that’s part of the reason behind calls to increase Sounder (along with or instead of Link) or revive the “Interurban”.

      2. Nit:,”a lot of useful stops”

        MAX green line is 6 miles or so in length, and has 8 stations. THAT is a lot of stations. One for every major bus route, plus one at Home Depot just in case you need to haul home air conditioning duct on the train.

        That is closer to what interurban stop spacing used to be.

    1. This was my first thought as well when I read this, but Martin is right that there is a sizable contingent beyond d.p. that only ever hammers ST for the pitfalls of the system we have built, are building, and are planning without recognizing victories like ST’s good record of staying within budget and construction timelines or that the opening of ULink next spring is a real game changer for transit in Seattle.

      1. Let the record show that I have done both. I have praised ST for staying within budget and construction timelines while pointing out their bigger failures. I don’t believe the former makes up for the latter. I would much rather live with Vancouver BC’s transit mismanagement, than our planning mismanagement.

        As for ULink, it will be a game changer. But the Forward Thrust plan for UW to downtown light rail would have changed the game even more. The lack of stations is striking, especially since the area in question (Capitol Hill and the C. D.) hasn’t shrunk (quite the opposite). One station in a very large, dense area (for Seattle) has to be shocking to an outsider. The fact that the station doesn’t integrate well with bus service makes things even worse.

        There were complicated political reasons for the First Hill/Capitol Hill/Central Area failure, but the final straw for me is the station at NE 130th. If you asked a dozen independent transit consultants whether a station there is worth the money, all twelve would say yes, and give you a detailed explanation why. But we continue to fight for it, as if adding a station there is a luxury, not an essential part of a multi-billion dollar transit system.

        It is decisions like these that have forced me to reluctantly conclude that Sound Transit is incompetent when it comes to planning. It saddens me to say this, and I rarely say this about a public agency. I come from a political family, and I’m well aware of the fact that politicians and government workers take a lot of unfair criticism. But in this case, it is warranted. They have simply shown, again and again, an inability to design a cost effective system for the region.

      2. Well said and I agree with most of what you wrote here. I didn’t mean to suggest that ST isn’t deserving of criticism. Just wanted to push back on the notion that what we’re building is completely useless. It could have been much more useful, but it’s not useless.

      3. “forced me to reluctantly conclude that Sound Transit is incompetent when it comes to planning”

        But Martin’s point stands: is it really incompetency or is it recognition that the political realities and powers will not bend that way?

      4. @Kevin — I agree.

        @Martin — I believe it is incompetence. The political realities are one thing, and without a doubt they make things worse. The fixation on suburban light rail is crazy. But it is only part of the problem. I keep mentioning NE 130th because it is such a simple example of failure on the part of Sound Transit. To be clear, they haven’t failed yet. But the fact that they haven’t enthusiastically built a station there just shows that they are incompetent. I see no political excuses for that one. Nor do I see a political excuse for having only one stop between the UW and Ballard. Both of these decisions show a lack of competence. They are focused too much on particular areas (e. g. one part of Ballard) and not the greater region, and the part that good bus to rail service plays in them. This would be acceptable if no one lived in between there (e. g. skipping the “Whole Foods” stop is acceptable) but one part of Ballard is really not that more densely populated than the other. If population density were topology, then much of north end would sit on a very high plateau. There are some interesting peaks, but they don’t rise above the plateau very much. Yet the ST design of the Ballard to UW light rail line would only make sense if there was a volcano in Ballard, another one in the UW, and third half way in between. We just aren’t built that way.

        They ignored the fact that for light rail to be really successful it needs to integrate well with buses. We simply can’t build enough rail otherwise (e. g. SPU, despite its pretty good density and it being a popular destination, will never get light rail). Ignoring what is obviously a key to success (bus to rail integration) demonstrates incompetence.

    2. DP is the most outspoken for a radical urban reorganization, but a lot of people are on that continuum, that light rail beyond Lynnwood and Des Moines is not justified, and those suburbs there and beyond will never grow as big as Bellevue or Redmond and don’t really want to, and ST should just say no and offer them BRT. That of course does not work because they’re shareholders in ST itself: they partly “own” it to use a business analogy. Just as the people who want P&Rs in Rainier Valley are also shareholders in ST: even Seattle is not universally pro density and pro the most effective kind of transit network. So we either build a compromised transit network or nothing, and I don’t believe nothing is an option. “Nothing” is what we did from 1945 to 1995 that got us into this mess. Well, we did do one little thing, the downtown transit tunnel. And Tacoma got the 594. But that’s about it. Two or more subways voted down, no Swift, not even 15-minute evenings on the local routes. So people demanded highways and parking.

      Martin makes a good point that we should focus on the factors that are leading to bad outcomes, especially in suburban subareas but also in North King. These are the things that need to change before we can expect ST’s direction to change.

      1. It’s not just factors.
        It’s not just urbanization or sprawl.

        That awful quadruple S curve thing in Federal Way was created by appeasing the local elected officials.

        Solving that type of thing means trying to do a massive public education outreach to the people who elected those officials.

      2. That’s what I said though. They are the factors that led to that decision. Changing that means getting the people of Federal Way to change their values and whom they elect.

      3. But at a certain point shouldn’t sound transit beat people over the head with a map that clearly displays their stupidity? I thought the pointless DT Bellevue tunnel was bad but the S curves into Federal Way are absolutely mind-blowing! Worse still, ST will actually trot along and build it!

      4. According to a flyer ST distributed at the Sound Transit 3 meetings the population of Everett is expected to increase by 74% by 2040. The 2010 census put the city’s population at 103,000.

        Furthermore currently ST and CT commuter buses are often delayed 30 minutes to an hour during afternoon traffic.

        To say light rail will never be needed beyond Lynnwood ignores reality.

      5. To say that Everett will grow by 74% over the next 25 years ignores reality.

        And don’t most of the commuter bus delays happen south of Lynnwood, where the currently-funded light rail will fix matters?

      6. The 74% growth figure is copied from PSRC growth-target “projections”, which have long been aspirational at best, total bullshit at worst.

      7. Okay William what’s you area of expertise to say that’s wrong? The city had a population 50,000 when I first moved there in the late 70’s.

        Per the delays you can sign up for ST’s traffic alerts if you care to be informed.

      8. I’m observing how reality has so far failed to live up to PSRC’s growth predictions, and concluding there’s no reason to think the same methodology will perform any better in the future.

      9. The 74% growth figure is copied from PSRC growth-target “projections”, which have long been aspirational at best, total bullshit at worst.

        Yeah, someone linked to the PSRC 2024 (or around then) projections for Seattle neighborhoods, with updates on the progress so far. They ranged from 10% to 400%. Whatever they are, they’re not a number we should be using for planning purposes.

      10. “But at a certain point shouldn’t sound transit beat people over the head with a map that clearly displays their stupidity?”

        You want Sound Transit to commit political suicide and be disbanded? (Or at least halt any future expansions.)

      11. Even if you accept the number (which fly in the face of common sense as well as recent trends both locally and nationally) it still doesn’t make sense to build light rail to Everett. Light rail is expensive. Light rail is slow. Light rail makes lots of stops. Even during rush hour (heading with the worst of the traffic) a bus from Everett will beat light rail to Lynnwood nine times out of ten. During the rest of the day (and going the other direction) it will be 99 times out of a hundred.

        There are advantages and disadvantages to every system. The advantage of light rail in general is that trips between nearby destinations are faster. So, for example, a trip from Northgate to Capitol Hill be much faster than before, even if the trip from Northgate to downtown will be slower (much of the time). Lots of people take the trip from Northgate to Capitol Hill as well.

        But once you get past Lynnwood, the trips aren’t much faster, because the train travels right next to freeway. So someone getting from Everett to Ash Way will be better off driving 90% of the time. But more importantly, very few people take that trip. Those that do could (at worst) simply transfer in Lynnwood. This would not be ideal (of course) but very few people will take this trip. The money saved could be used for improved bus service, which would have a bigger impact on the average rider.

        Keep in mind, not everyone in Everett is headed to Seattle. Some of them (gasp) actually live and work away from the I-5 corridor.

      12. “a bus from Everett will beat light rail to Lynnwood nine times out of ten. During the rest of the day (and going the other direction) it will be 99 times out of a hundred.”

        Ross let me call bullshit on your statement. You clearly do not live in Snohomish County. I do.

        Traffic congestion in Snohomish County goes all the way to Lakewood these days. It does not stop in Lynnwood. That hasn’t been the case since the early 1980’s.

        Last Friday a trip I took on the ST 512 took over 2 1/2 hours to go from the South Everett Freeway Station to Century Link Field.

      13. Sound like you took your trip in the counter-peak, which is of course a nightmare thanks to the lack of bi-directional HOV lanes south of Northgate.

        But here’s the thing: even as you barrel along to your eventual counter-peak doom, the southbound HOV lanes run smoothly until they don’t.

        Where the terrible backup begins changes from day to day, but usually it is somewhere in Shoreline. If you’re driving (and have the proper number of passengers for access to the HOV), you can plan to get off at 145th or 175th and continue along a different path, and never be impeded on your I-5 segment in the slightest.

        The bus has access to the HOV lanes. The bus will transfer its passengers to the train in Lynnwood. The cascading congestion in the general lanes will not impede this connection.

    3. Look, what constituencies demanded that the First Hill Streetcar have stops which are NOT next to (a) King St. Station, (b) International District Station, or (c) Capitol Hill station? What constituency demanded the detour which makes the First Hill Streetcar slower than walking from First Hill to International District Station?

      Because I don’t see any such constituencies. It seems like plain incompetence on the part of Sound Transit.

      What constituencies demanded that all the ST stations have giant mezzanines yet only have entrances on one end?

      What constituencies opposed the construction of the pedestrian bridge over I-5? (None at all, as far as I can tell.)

      I don’t believe Martin’s argument because of stuff like this — what I’d call *unforced errors*.

      1. I think the first hill streetcar was planned by SDOT. Most of the mezzanines are in the DSST, which was planned by King County Metro. The pedestrian bridge is a funding issue – and it will get built, but everyone is trying to make others pay for it.

        I think possibly the worst thing ST has done is the lack of thought into bus integration. Most of the other compromises in our light rail system are political (station spacing, routing, DSTT dysfunction due to buses, etc)

      2. ST is building stations that are absolutely palatial at an enormous cost. Any other city could build three stations for the price ST spends on one. Sometimes they’re enormous for no reason (Roosevelt for example, which when completed will probably be the world’s largest light rail station by a very wide margin). What exactly is the purpose of all this wasteful spending?

        They cannot keep bending over and gleefully devouring everyone’s demands like a series of unlubed suppositories. Not without sacrificing some respect, anyway.

      3. I hadnt thought about it… But… Why ISN’T the FHSC international district station between 4th and 5th? Rather than a rather inconvinient 5th and 6th?

      4. TG Court: I’d love to know the answer to that question. As far as I can tell, the answer is simple incompetence on the part of everyone concerned.

      5. Also if they had built right side island platforms for the FHSC on Jackson the center lanes could now have become bright red transit only lanes and shared with the 7,14,36.

    4. Sound Transit study to assess correlation between poor transit outcomes, affinity for kayaking, and absence of a humor gene.

      1. not sure where to stick Barmans quote, but I plan to plagiarize it sometime soon.
        “They cannot keep bending over and gleefully devouring everyone’s demands like a series of unlubed suppositories.”
        and who said colorful language was dead?

  2. I really wonder about voters/riders in Federal Way and Tacoma. Are they aware their 57X and 59X buses might go away in favor of a train that will add hours of wasted commute time to their lives every week and take days away from their family, hobbies, etc every year, at the low low cost of a few billion dollars? I suspect many of them support trains because they assume they’ll be faster and more reliable (see Sounder!) and they haven’t delved into the details much at all. “We want this shiny thing Seattle’s getting, too” is a reasonable and understandable demand. But the devil is in the details, and there’s no reason to think voters and the general public have taken a good look at those details. The arguments trotted out for why this massive time suck will be “worth it” for commuters from these areas don’t come close to passing the smell test, but they don’t have to, because only us nerds are paying attention to this sort of thing right now.

    I generally endorse this message–don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, there are multiple conflicting values that infrastructure investment, etc.–but for South King especially, the particulars are really, really bad, and reflect grossly exaggerated ‘mode bias’ assumptions that are blithely dismissive of the demonstrated needs (and the time) of their constituents.

    1. Sounder is faster only until Puyallup. It’s not faster for Tacoma, and Pierce residents have had twenty years to get acquainted with that fact. So they should not assume Link will be faster. Who knows what Federal Wayans think since they’ve never been acquainted with rail transit. But none of the rhetoric coming out of Pierce or Federal Way even mentions travel time. Federal Way’s I-5 preference is based on cost and not disrupting the businesses on 99. Commuters seem to be looking mostly for reliability, secondly for all-day frequency, and only thirdly for speed. Highway speeds are projected to be 30% slower in twenty years, so that will slow down the buses and make Link more competitive. In other words, highway congestion will eventually catch up to Link’s slowness.

      It would be great if somebody did a statistically-complete poll of Federal Way and Pierce residents about what they expect re the Link spine, and what they consider to be acceptable performance and cost. It should also ask how they would feel if the express buses were deleted and Link was 10-20 minutes slower. Then we could answer the question of how many of them understand Link’s slowness and its implications.

      1. Sounder is faster only until Puyallup. It’s not faster for Tacoma, and Pierce residents have had twenty years to get acquainted with that fact.

        Not true any more. WSDOT’s refusal to properly maintain their own HOV lanes to their own standard means that Sounder is now faster than the bus.

      2. t’s not faster for Tacoma, and Pierce residents have had twenty years to get acquainted with that fact. So they should not assume Link will be faster.

        For the times that it’s running it’s faster, isn’t it? Surely faster than average. My experience with the 590 series involved teaching late afternoon/night classes at UWT many years ago; at the time, the first Sounder was just a little too late for me. My average time on the 590 afternoon to Tacoma was definitely at least a few minutes longer than Sounder’s published time, even if I came in a few minutes under occasionally. Sure, my 9:00 PM return bus was faster, but so what? That’s not the relevant comparison.

        But even if Sounder takes slightly longer from Seattle–Tacoma, it’s a very small difference, and the enhanced reliability + experience is much greater. Link it looking more like 90 minutes. That’s a completely different scenario.

      3. “In other words, highway congestion will eventually catch up to Link’s slowness.”

        Maybe during rush hour, but certainly not in the middle of the day. It’s that’s the world we are moving toward, then transit will forever be uncompetitive with the private car at any times other than rush hour. Compared to the 594 we have today, this is a big step backwards.

      4. That’s a sad thing to look forward to: “highway congestion will eventually catch up to Link’s slowness.”

      5. You know what’s already faster from Tacoma to Seattle than the buses, driving, and Sounder? Amtrak Cascades, when it’s running.

      6. Good point Nathanael. That may be the answer, really. Washington D. C. has an outstanding light rail system, but it doesn’t go out to Baltimore, despite the fact that Baltimore is three times the size of Tacoma. Folks in Baltimore take Amtrak to get to D. C., which is the way to go. Of course, they are lucky in that the two cities are simply part of a bigger corridor. But even so, I could see that working, especially if they can solve the border problem High speed rail from Vancouver B. C. to Portland makes sense, and Everett and Tacoma would be logical stops along they way. Bellingham and Eugene could be part of the mix, too, just a little less often.

        Personally, I think that is better for everyone. The more these cities think of themselves as suburbs, the less appealing they become, in my opinion. I wouldn’t want to invest in Tacoma if I felt it was completely tied to Seattle.

    2. Also, many of them — especially the governments — want Link not for a faster commute to Seattle but to attract residents/companies/workers/prosperity to Federal Way and Tacoma. The think is that people in south King County will be more willing to go to those places with Link, and people in Seattle and the rest of the region will too. (Obviously, Lynnwood-Federal Way and Lynnwood-Tacoma will not be a common trip pattern, but Seattle-Federal Way, Seattle-Tacoma, and Bellevue-Federal Way and Bellevue-Tacoma is more plausable.)

      People in Federal Way and Tacoma have also asked for ST Express routes to Bellevue, and it’s likely that economic relations between those cities have been hindered by the lack of it. Link won’t be the same thing but it would generally fulfill the purpose, at its slower speed. (And an out-of-station transfer at Intl Dist because of the side platforms.)

      1. People in Federal Way had an ST Express route to Tacoma.

        It was amongst the first routes rolled out. It was 565 and it was truncated due to low ridership to/from Federal Way.

        Bring it back?

      2. Did you mean Bellevue? The 574 still goes from Federal Way to Tacoma. If there ever was a route from Federal Way to Bellevue, I don’t remember it. And it may have been only Tacomans who asked for a route to Bellevue during the last long-range plan revision; I may have misattributed it to Federal Way. The specific request I remember was from Tacoma Dome to Bellevue.

      3. “Also, many of them — especially the governments — want Link not for a faster commute to Seattle but to attract residents/companies/workers/prosperity to Federal Way and Tacoma. ”

        To do that they need decent station locations.

        Okay, that’s going to be impossible in Tacoma due to the hill and the severing of Union Station from railroad lines, so a next-best choice is solid local-transit connections to the train station at Tacoma Dome.

        But anyway, my point is that by stuffing the stations next to I-5, Federal Way is guaranteeing that they won’t attract “residents/companies/workers/prosperity”.

      4. I’m sorry Mike Orr; I meant Federal Way to Tacoma.

        It was in the first rollout of ST Express routes, nearly 15 years ago.

        Lasted about five before getting truncated to Auburn… low ridership to/from Federal Way.

      5. The problem is that Tacoma only has around 200,000 people and Federal Way is half that size. The city just isn’t that big, and neither are the suburbs. About the only city that size that has build light rail is Salt Lake City, and it serves the city proper (with three lines) as opposed to simply wandering off to one of the suburbs.

        I just don’t think light rail will ever pay off for Tacoma. Spending money on buses just makes more sense. But if you do build light rail for Tacoma, then it makes sense for it to be focused on the city itself (connecting various parts of Tacoma) as opposed to connecting it to the suburbs (and on to Seattle).

    3. I live in FW, and the fact that I will probably lose my 57X makes me mad. I don’t expect ST to cut the 59X, because that would be ridiculous, but what would also be ridiculous is Fed Way -Seattle taking longer than Tacoma – Seattle.

      1. If I were a Federal Way resident, a concrete commitment to not cut, and at most only minimally reduce, the 57X, would be a necessary condition to get my STIII vote.

      2. If the 594 added a stop in Federal Way (and made up the time by skipping SODO), that would make up for the loss of the 577/578.

      3. The Federal Way draft EIS claimed that by the time Link is built to Federal Way, it would be faster than the Express bus. They’re assuming a lot of degradation to highway speeds over that time frame.

        The implication is that Link’s ridership numbers assume those express routes get cannibalized.

        I don’t know if anybody ever asked the Mayor of Federal Way how he felt about such a feckless attitude to HOV lane speeds in South King County.

      4. The Federal Way draft EIS claimed that by the time Link is built to Federal Way, it would be faster than the Express bus.

        That is not remotely credible, and feels like a desperate effort to gloss over the obvious, inconvenient fact that Link expansion will likely result in a degradation of transit service for the city. It’s probably based on the same kind of VMT projections the DOTs just can’t stop using, trends be damned: http://daily.sightline.org/2014/03/10/can-dots-help-themselves/

      5. “The Federal Way draft EIS claimed that by the time Link is built to Federal Way, it would be faster than the Express bus.”

        Wow, that’s total bull****. Off-peak, it literally takes twice as long, slightly longer than missing a 577 and waiting for the next one. I think adding a FW stop to the 594 is a good compromise. Maybe it would also make sense to put an end to the SODO slog on the 594, and keep it on the 590. It’s hard to imagine them removing peak 577 trips. Maybe 590 and 577 could stay non-stop between Seattle and Tac or FW, and the 594 could take care of off-peak. Move the 578 to Kent and give Kent a real off-peak Seattle express, and make the 578 a better Sounder mirror. This would seem to be a very simple way to solve the problem.

      6. But the last time I asked one of the ST engineers, he gave me a credulous look, and asked me, “What is the problem you are trying to solve?”

        The problem we aren’t solving, because it isn’t readily visible, is explaining to ST why the off-peak 578 and 594 don’t cut it.

    4. Remember that not every potential transit customer from Tacoma is trying to get to downtown Seattle. That is just existing pattern based on what service is currently offered. With Link, even though it is quite flawed, it opens up trip combinations that weren’t possible or reasonable without a car. Still, that doesn’t mean I think it should be built to Tacoma, especially when transit service in Seattle is in complete gridlock and desperately needs capital investment.

      1. This is true as far as it goes, of course, but–again–the devil is in the details. Is there any good reason to believe there’s significant pent-up demand for better transit connections between Tacoma/Federal Way and Rainier Beach? There are lots of underserved possible transit trips in the region, because regional transit is woefully inadequate. The ones potentially served by Link don’t stand out as particularly important. The ones threatened by Link, due to the potential deletions of STEX service in favor of intolerably lengthy travel times, seem much more significant.

      2. Uh like what? The only useful station for any significant number of Pierce residents south of Stadium Station will be SeaTac. Tacoma residents won’t be going to the P&Rs that line I-5 in SKC miles from anything worthwhile and tell me with a straight face that Tacoma residents have been dying to get to Rainier Valley without a car.

      3. Well, clearly there is a lot of demand not necessarily based on existing service provision because the 590 at peak runs every 5 minutes, even though it’s redundant with Sounder. They wouldn’t just do that on a whim. Running a 35 mile bus route from mostly a single point (a certain fraction of the 590s start at 10th an Commerce, but the bulk of them only have one stop in Tacoma, at TDS) is very expensive. This makes sense given the trend that Tacoma is becoming a commuter city to Seattle. I don’t doubt that some people live in Tacoma and commute to Seattle because of good transit, I just don’t think that’s necessarily why there is excellent service for that use case.

        But given that trend, for the people who do move to Tacoma because of it’s commutability, then ST has all the more reason not to screw Tacomans over by taking away their fast express.

  3. One institutional question to consider is whether we should rebalance transit investment dollars between the regional agency and the local agencies. (and whether there is a path to doing this).

    King County’s share of ST3 is over $10 billion. As a thought experiment, consider what Metro could do with that kind of money.

    Pierce County’s share of ST3 is about what 17 times the operating budget of Pierce Transit. That would buy a lot of local mobility. Would we really prefer to put all of that toward a train to Seattle if the alternative were on the table?

    Is a solitary rail line the best way for sprawling South King to advance mobility?

    Realize my thought experiment breaks down somewhat in (and very near) Seattle. There are places in the urban core where there isn’t a good Metro alternative to the big rail investments. Metro’s not institutionally equipped for those projects.

    1. More questions for the South King and Pierce poll. This is one of the results of being joined at the hip by ST’s common tax rate across subareas and subarea equity, and the Legislature’s greater willingness to give ST billions in tax authority that it won’t give the county-based transit agencies. It all comes down to the fact that they know regional transit is expensive to build (“regional” here meaning across subareas and inter-subarea), but they don’t think most voters want local buses more than they want highways and parking.

    2. Well, Pierce County is using ST money for its local streetcar line, and for its Sounder stations and tracks, so that seems reasonable enough. There’s something really odd in the allocations in the other areas, though.

  4. People like to complain about the “Seattle Process,” but an even more informative descriptor of what drives Seattle governance is the “Seattle Whine.” People in this city will whine about anything, and everyone with something to whine about expects to be heard and have their hurt feelings soothed. It can get a bit tedious…

    That said however, this blog has recently gone a bit beyond just your typical Seattle Whine. It’s as if “STB” stands for “Sound Transit Bashing”. It’s counterproductive and not informative.

    1. If you view advocacy for better solutions as bashing that’s fine, but I wouldn’t brand that effort as counterproductive; I’m pretty sure pushing for better solutions is the opposite of that.

      1. Everyone is an expert, although very few people get paid to actually be an expert.

        Call it what you will, but in Seattle everyone with something to whine about calls themselves an advocate.

      2. “Why won’t Sound Transit build me a magical tunnel that teleports through the Bertha tunnel with $150 million stations every few blocks, and then fill it with buses until we raise another $3 billion” is not effective advocacy for better solutions.

      3. True, James, and there is subjectivity around “better”. STB is also a forum to discuss what “better” might mean.

      4. “Everyone is an expert, although very few people get paid to actually be an expert.”

        Few people are qualified to be experts. They’re not always exactly the same group that’s paid to be experts. People reveal their qualifications in what they write. Or they hide their qualifications by not mentioning them, or talk like they’re qualified when they’re not.

    2. +1 million.

      Any news of anything slightly negative leads to dozens of comments declaring their vote against ST3, whether or not the article is about ST3.

      The mods need to start moderating. STB is fast becoming Publicola in terms of a comment section.

      1. The problem is that to many of us, we’re at – or past – a tipping point where we no longer have trust that Sound Transit will build lines that are worth it. I suppose even the worst Ballard-Downtown line will be better than absolutely nothing, but it might not be worth the tax money we’ll be paying for it. (Note some of that money might be transferred of money to Snohomish or Pierce, as a substantial minority of the Sound Transit board seems to be advocating for.)

        What’s more, there’s a school of thought that voting down ST3 – and maybe one or two other proposals as well – could lead to Sound Transit cleaning house and reinventing itself as more concerned with effectiveness. I’m not totally convinced of that, but it’s a defensible position. And, as we see more and more of Sound Transit’s incompetence, it seems more and more attractive.

      2. Sound Transit is run by a board of directors including the mayor of Sumner who wants rail to Orting, a vice-chair councilmember from Everett determined to get light rail to a zillion acres of pavement at Paine field, etc. Are you talking about running urbanist candidates against them?

      3. Seems like Sound Transit has a bad structure, dominated by people who have crazy ideas. Sumner has a very nice Sounder station and potential for a lot of improvements there… and the mayor wants LRT to Orting?!? Is he even representing his own *city*?

      4. Sumner has a very nice Sounder station and potential for a lot of improvements there… and the mayor wants LRT to Orting?!? Is he even representing his own *city*?

        The point of rail to Orting (it would be Sounder rather than LRT) is that it would serve riders who would otherwise drive to Sumner and park there all day when they’re commuting to Seattle. As an alternative to structured parking, it may even be economical.

        Certainly makes complete sense if you’re the mayor of Sumner and the regional agency is picking up the tab. Sumner doesn’t benefit much from serving as a P&R for commuters from Orting.

      5. Ah, I see the idea. The thing is that all Sounder trains are going to go to Tacoma because there’s still vast unfulfilled demand at Tacoma, so a Sounder branch is simply not going to happen.

        Sumner should charge for parking and collect the money ($$$ for the city) and then wait for *Orting* to ask for a DMU line, and split the funding with Orting. (DMU is about right for this purpose.)

    3. ” It’s as if “STB” stands for “Sound Transit Bashing”.”

      “STB” is the staff and most particularly the Editorial Board. They have not been bashing ST that I’ve noticed. The comments section is more like a free-speech zone, limited only by on-topicness and personal attacks. As the founders of our country believed, open dialog between people of all viewpoints leads to the best ideas and policies. We should not be surprised that some people in the comments section oppose ST’s direction and ST3. The average number of comments per Link-related thread has increased significantly since the beginning of the year, and new names are seen. (Link being the most popular topic.) That hopefully indicates that a wider cross-section of the city and region is participating in the debate and getting informed on the issues. Last year it was rare for an article to reach 200 comments; now it’s a common occurrence with any Link-related article, and the new “Wow!” threshold is 300.

      The amount of opposition to certain ST3 scenarios that has arisen here a couple times since the beginning of the year is unprecedented, and should make ST concerned about doing better. Some urbanists are clearly as willing to vote no as NIMBYs are if their concerns aren’t addressed.

      1. @MO,

        The staff of this blog “own” it, and as owners they can restrict what is posted here. It has nothing to do with free speech. The moderators can moderate as they see fit, and I’d say it is past time for them to tighten the screws a bit.

        If you want free speech then go stand on a street corner, or start your own blog – everyone is entitled to free speech, just not free speech on someone else’s nickel.

      2. Clearly OP meant the commenters in his comments and not the blog and its contributors in his post.

        And you don’t have a right to free speech on someone else’s front lawn. Unbridled free speech with anonymity leads to Publicola and Seattle Times comment section.

        No one wants that.

      3. What is the benefit of moderating it? There’s no comparison between STB’s comments section and the Seattle Times’ or the Strangers. One has mostly reasoned comments; the other two have a lot of nonsense or right-wing reactionaries. A lot of people in the transit agencies and governments read STB to see what transit fans are thinking. Moderating it would perhaps avoid their feelings getting hurt, but it would do less to give an accurate representation of what the whole swath of transit fans think, as well as other transit users and non-users that sometimes comment.

      4. I meant free speech as in the type of comment policy that has prevailed so far, not that people have a “right” to comment here in violation of that policy. The staff can obviously change the policy. The question is, what would be the consequences of doing so, and would it really make the site better and more effective as some above believe, or worse and less effective as I fear?

    4. People whine about everything. It is the nature of politics. Seattle has some of the best schools in the country, but you find a lot of people explaining why they moved to a suburb because “the schools are better” (and offer no evidence to back that up).

      This is a transit blog, so of course people will criticize the decisions that are made. But I think it is important to compare how Sound Transit compares to Metro when it comes to criticism. Lots of folks (d. p. included) have raked Metro over the coals in the past because of their routes. The lack of a grid makes things a mess.

      But look at how people treated the latest changes. These changes are the most radical I’ve seen in my lifetime (which is quite a few years now). There were specific complaints (Capitol Hill remains a problem) but overall, I think most people feel fairly positive about the changes.

      But Sound Transit has, over and over, shown that they fail when it comes to station or route planning. When it comes to actually building it, they are great. But simply getting a station where it will be effective is like pulling teeth. There is great reluctance to build stations so that Metro can actually do a good job when it comes to restructuring routes. Metro has taken flak over the changes on Capitol Hill, but those changes were made much more difficult because Sound Transit never consulted with Metro before they put in the stations. The same is true for NE 130th. They could have sat down with Metro and planned out future routes to determine how much time it would save riders (as well as how much money it would save Metro) and get an idea of how important the station would be. They didn’t do that, and it exemplifies the problems with the agency.

      This is a transit blog. The folks on here are fans of transit. We get excited when we see pictures of a machine cutting a tunnel that will someday hold a train. The last thing we want to do is whine about minor problems. But this isn’t a minor problem. I go back to the old “Forward Thrust” map. It isn’t perfect — I think most of the people here would build something a little different. But it is so much better than what we are building that it is crazy. Four stops between downtown and the U-District instead of one. The mistakes we are making aren’t minor, they are huge, and some of them will never be fixed. To point out flaws in a multi-billion dollar system is not whining, it is a civic responsibility.

      1. Ross is right on with what you see above.

        Dow told ST and Metro to kiss and make up, and get along, about a year ago.

        Where’s the results of that?

        Looks like business as usual to me.

        Joni Earl has done some great things at ST, but her inability to collaborate with other agencies to develop optimal outcomes is part of her legacy that will live on for many, many years.

      2. Spot on as usual, vigorously co-signed. It very much does seem to be the case that for Metro,the lion’s share of their poor choices regarding routes and allocation of service is driven by political considerations. They have issues of their own, but they’d be a lot better but for politics. That seems considerably less true of ST. I don’ think it’s politics that’s the primary obstacle to getting them to work toward a 130th station. They just don’t get it. (Or so it seems, my impressions could be wrong.)

      3. The primary obstacle to a 130th station appears to be that the fools at Sound Transit believe their own ridership models. Their ridership models are blatant garbage; they’ve been dug into rather carefully on this blog, and they’re just terrible, worst ridership models in the country. They start with the blatantly inaccurate PSRC population model (which is already grossly incorrect at describing *today’s* population, let alone future population), and to make it worse, they then proceed to ignore bus service completely. There are other major problems with the model; those are just the two most obvious. If you use a fantasy model you end up with ridiculous routings.

      4. @Nathanael — Yep. If your model doesn’t consider bus service for a city like Seattle, you have a stupid model. If you know this and follow it anyway, you have a stupid system.

      5. ST’s projections can’t include nonexistent routes run by other agencies unless that agency has committed to providing them. Otherwise the numbers are inadmissable for federal grant applications, because what if ST builds the station and the other agency doesn’t create the bus route, then the feds will have spent a lot of money for nothing. It’s the same principle as why it can’t include ridership from potential upzones until they’ve been approved by the city.

      6. This gets into the problem of Metro not committing to service levels around stations until a year before the station opens. What did Jarrett Walker say was his biggest wish about Link and ST2? That it had been a joint regional+local network proposal, so that there would have been some certainty about the feeder routes and complementary bus routes at the outset. Then this 130th issue wouldn’t have happened, because the bus route would be definite, and then it could be included in ST’s ridership projections and grant applications.

      7. @MO I see some great arguments here for one regional transit agency run by transit professionals.

      8. There’s problems with that too. A single agency loses its connection to the city or county that provides its operating environment (roads) and transit market (land use). In some cases the cities get hostile to the transit agency and won’t cooperate with it at all. There’s no need to merge the agencies; they just need to work together on a coordinated plan. Part of the problem is that Metro had no long-range plan to start from, since its budget has been squeezed since 2000 so it hasn’t been able to focus on long-term issues. It’s now drawing up a long-range plan, but that won’t be finished for a while.

  5. As far as the spine is concerned, I think it shouldn’t be built beyond Lynnwood (no further north) and really shouldn’t have been built beyond S 200th (no further south). Looks like it will get to Federal Way unfortunately. Some recognize this as a mistake now; as a region, we’ll recognize this as a mistake 20-30 years from now.

    Building more rail in Seattle will allow people in Seattle to get around without cars, lessening the strain on local roads as well as I-5 and Hwy 99. This rail will have higher ridership and therefore require less operational subsidy going forward. In other words, it will benefit anyone who wants to come to Seattle. Unfortunately people in the suburbs don’t seem to recognize that an urban rail network in Seattle will help them too.

    Somehow we need to shift ST’s emphasis to focus on movement of people, period, not “getting rail” to all corners of it’s tax district. ST’s express bus service seems quite successful. For the outlying areas, focus investments on improving ST Express. For urban Seattle, focus investment on URBAN rail (closer stop spacing serving dense areas).

    1. What really bugs me is that I think there’s a case to be made for a suburban continuation of Link… but not THIS suburban continuation of Link, carefully avoiding all the good station locations while maintaining sharp curves and low speeds.

      Going from S. 200th to S. 272nd while ignoring the pleas of Highline Community College for an on-campus station, cutting off half the ridership potential by stuffing the line as close to I-5 as possible, speeding past the densest census tracts in the area? Really?

      You don’t have to know very much about public transportation to know that this is Not How You Do It. The line should really be running down 24th/25th Avenue (not even considered), or maybe even 16th Ave (not even considered); Pacific Highway was OK (so it was rejected); and instead it runs down I-5?!?

      These sort of errors are mildly problematic in isolation but they add up after a while and there are a whole bunch of them. And they do *not* seem to be forced by political considerations — the way Sound Transit ignored the pleas of Highline Community College seems a dramatic example of an anti-political decision, in a bad way.

    2. “ignoring the pleas of Highline Community College for an on-campus station”

      That’s actually a good thing. The best place for a station is right on 99 somewhere where RapidRide A and a bus from Kent can directly transfer to it. The transit market is not just the students, but the residents in the future TOD, and people visiting the businesses, and people taking the B from further down, and people coming from Kent. Putting the station in the middle of campus would be good for students but bad for everybody else — it would be a special interest taking over the station and preventing it from being a seamless part of the whole transit network.

      I walked all around the campus and on 99 several months ago to consider the station areas. On the west side of 99 is a multistory office building with some college offices and probably other things. West of that is a large parking lot. West of that are the campus buildings. It’s a two-minute walk from 99 to the nearest campus building. Highline College should think more about reorganizing its parking lot to bring some classrooms and activity centers closer to 99 than about trying to get the station west of the office building.

  6. I saw this comment in the Sunday thread regarding the Federal Way route: “It is obviously going to cost quite a lot more to build than a straight line, yet has no ridership advantages.” The reference reflected an incorrect perception that building light rail on Highway 99 would be cheaper than building on I-5. The comment went on to make a Portland comparison, saying a simple chart showing costs and ridership would be so helpful for people to evaluate options and understand decisions. And it led me to wonder, do people on this blog even READ the info ST puts out?


    See page 40.

    1. @railcan,

      There is a lot of manufactured angst on this blog. And manufacturing that angst often involves ignoring the data, or not reading it at all.

      That said, I am not a fan of the freeway routing for FW Link, but my lack of fan-dom has more to do with secondary issues beyond initial cost and ridership.

      But ya, lots of manufactured angst….

  7. The MLK stretch I think has the potential to meet that level of usefulness as well , it’s just taking longer then expected ( and a graham stop would help too!)

  8. All of this reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where some tailors make the king some clothes that are invisible (the king is told), to only those people who are unfit to hold a job or who are stupid. But smart people can see his new clothes. In other words, the government has brainwashed the masses so that no one dares say the obvious about a horrible decision, for fear of being thought stupid.

    Smashcut to today, with ST laying-out their rail solution to get from DT Kirkland to DT Bellevue. Rather than the current one seat 234/235 bus ride, ST would turn that into a three seat ride; one bus ride, then two different train trips on two different lines. And if we dare say the obvious, that this is not progress, that this is a stupid change, we’re called a luddite and accused of ST-bashing, and in need of further education and persuasion. I’m sorry, but some decisions are not worth it and are truly awful, and we should be able to say so without being patronized to by telling us we can’t always get the best.

    1. History shows us that the creation of ST train lines does not automatically result in the elimination of Metro bus lines. (Defunding Metro is more likely to do that.) But smart people don’t point out the holes in Sam’s logical leaps.

    2. I don’t quite follow how you would need a 3-seat ride to go from downtown Kirkland to downtown Bellevue. Can you please explain where each of the transfer points would be?

      Also, regardless of what rail does, I don’t see the 234/235 every going away. Just as Metro cannot plausibly use Link to eliminate the 70 (and abandon service along Eastlake), Metro cannot eliminate the 234/235 and just abandon north/south service along 108th/Bellevue Way.

      1. Based on Sound Transit’s plans, which were echoed in the recent post here:

        * Walk or bus from downtown Kirkland to the ERC.
        * Train down the ERC to Overlake Hospital
        * Walk, bus, or take East Link from Overlake Hospital to downtown Bellevue.

        If you think this’s reasonable… there’s a Sound Transit job waiting for you! /s

      2. If Kirkland actually wanted high capacity transit in their downtown they would upzone. Instead they want freeway mall Totem Lake regional growth center plus trails and gondolas and crap on the eastside rail corridor.

      3. If Kirkland actually wanted high capacity transit in their downtown they would upzone.

        Yeah. As a Kirkland resident, I’ve been pushing for smarter parking policies and land use and all of the rest, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

        But there’s a structural issue that you’re getting at which is bigger than Kirkland. Sound Transit is (perceived as) a big regional pot of money, and everybody wants their piece. So you get these wildly disconnected conversations where a City wants a train, and they don’t want to disrupt their land use. So the urban growth centers without any urbanity, and the freeway alignments, and the iffy station placement, and all of the other stuff which makes transit investments much less useful than they could be.

        Lots of cities say they want LRT, but they don’t want the package where LRT makes sense; they just want a train at the expense of the regional taxpayers and they want their strip malls to be left alone.

        For the most part, not Sound Transit’s fault. I’d love for ST to be able to say to the cities that they won’t get a train unless they do all the necessary stuff to justify that investment. But a board of regional electeds will never have a majority for that, and the ballot structure with an approved project list doesn’t really facilitate it anyway.

      4. The final alternatives in ST’s Kirkland-Issaquah study included both LRT and BRT not going through South Bellevue Station, and only BRT going through South Bellevue Station. The reason was something vague about Mercer Slough and the cost of environmental mitigation. The significance of South Bellevue is that it implies sharing the East Link track between South Bellevue and Spring District (120th). That would lower construction costs and give double-frequency in the highest-density part of the route. Having the two lines cross at Wilburton (Hospital) is stunning: how could ST think that they should not meet at Bellevue TC, the largest destination and most productive walkshed? Forcing people to transfer one station away from downtown Bellevue sounds like a huge folly. The new Chick Fil-A at the corner does not inspire confidence: it’s a low-density bad suburban design, right in 2/3s of the station’s best walkshed opportunities. (I assume the northwest corner is basically unbuildable due to the closeness of the freeway access roads.)

      5. Well, for starters, the routing between downtown Kirkland and Bellevue via the 234/235 is hardly direct – the deviations to South Kirkland P&R and Overlake Hospital add up to a lot of time. So, a 2-seat rail->rail ride (walking the first segment) may actually end up being faster.

        Still, even with that plan, I don’t see the 234/235 going away. There’s enough of a vertical gap between the ERC and Lake Washington Blvd. that Metro won’t be able to get away with eliminating those buses. If they change anything, it will be to eliminate the hospital deviation and just take Bellevue Way straight south, thereby making for a faster bus ride.

        That said, I still remain extremely skeptical of the ERC being a viable rail line for that stretch. Opposition to ruining the aesthetics of the trail to build it would be immense, and noise/safety concerns would permanently limit the trains to around 30 mph top speed. Meanwhile, parallel 108th Ave. is uncongested, and the passenger demand requiring the capacity of rail flat-out isn’t there, so rail down the ERC effectively spends a ton of money to do absolutely nothing that a simple bus down 108th Ave. can’t already do.

      6. ST did study ERC rail, and concluded it would have higher costs and fewer riders than the other north-south alternatives. ST deprioritized it after that, like it deprioritized the Burien-Renton line for the same reason, so it’s either not in the project menu ST is considering or is a not-very-likely alternative. However, ST’s alternative may not be exactly the same as some of the later unofficial proposals that have come up.

      7. ST set up the ERC corridor study to perform terribly as light rail.

        1. It had four miles of single-track sections for light rail, but did not for the other portions of the segment. Why pay for double-tracking the whole way (rather than just bypass tracks) when there is this four-mile single track segment?
        2. If single track is required for the ERC, the study should have looked at a self-propelled option. The cost of building electrical infrastructure and its associated visual impacts did not have to be included.
        3. The assumed station locations were in places that did not take advantage of increasing ridership potential. The alignment did not link include a deviation to serve Factoria, nor did it serve the activity nodes in Renton/Tukwila well. The corridor stopped in Renton, when the bottleneck is on SR 167 so that Kent and Auburn to Eastside travelers have little incentive to quit driving. It also did not link to Link in South King to facilitate SeaTac connectivity or anything else.

  9. Martin, am I right that your problem with “The Spine” is that you think see a conflict between the need for high speed transit over longer distances- like Everett and Sea-Tac Airport- and transit that serves the needs of denser urban neighborhoods?

    Essentially same as the same as say, between MLK and I-5 for automobiles? If so, answer is that our rail transit needs are pretty much the same. Our rail system needs San Francisco MUNI and BART both.

    Ccompared with the hundred years it took for present sprawled patterns to develop, we are in a very early phase of the total re-organization we need. So it’s a fair argument which kind of service we choose for our first steps. Central LINK- or BART. GPSRRT?

    Central LINK first was right decision. I think a decade’s passenger service at LINK speed is worth many more years of high speed power point. NorthLINK will give us light rail’s best advantage: good start on both modes.

    90 mph Everett to Sea-Tac? Every morning’s traffic report indicates more “yes” votes holding a steering wheel with white knuckles topped with fury-red faces.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark the alignment along 5 from Northgate to Everett could handle 110 mph but you would need to have some Link ROW. But if you had an RER like system, that would help and if it can accommodate high speed passenger trains, Vancouver to Seattle travel time goes down by 20-25 minutes.

      1. Dan, Skane Province- southern tip of Sweden- has a fine example of Regional Electric Rail, for distance pretty much equivalent to our region.,

        They call the trains “Pagotog” (I don’t have key for the Swedish letter which is an “a” with a circle over it. So. Skone-a and Poge-a-tog. Which means “Little Boy Train.”)

        Purple electric streamliners with bathrooms. Readout on TV screen in every car lists speed in km and mph- on some stretches, over a hundred mph.

        For Everett-Seattle-Sea-Tac-Tacoma-Olympia- exactly what I mean. No need (or question of using) LINK tracks. Though maybe right of way where both sets of tracks fit.

        Until then, just as with Central LINK, other LINK lines are just fine as intermediate step. They’ll help orient development, and build passenger support, for the fast regional rail.


  10. In response to the “whining” I’ve heard about ST governance structure, allow me to point out some simple math: There are ten elected officials from King County on the ST Board, including the County Executive, four county councilmembers, four mayors including Seattle’s, and a Seattle City Councilmember. Instead of trying to stack the Board with more suburban reps, why not just have King County’s contingent consist of the County Executive and the County Council?

    Yes, I realize there is a small sliver of the county’s population that lives outside the ST taxing district, but since most of them shop in the taxing district and pay taxes here, I don’t mind them being represented. I do find the endless calls for “governance reform” (and any governance reform that leads to another apparently weird structure will lead to another round of calls for governance reform) annoying, given the solution is right in front of our faces.

    We got here, in part, because the county council had 13 members until recently, so having all of them on a hugely unwieldy board was not a workable option when ST started up.

    I’m actually fine with the Board, as is, but those calling for governance reform would do better by not repeatedly calling for the Board to be less proportionally representative.

  11. Land use is key, transit really supports denser land use, d.p.and others are correct there are many existing and proposed alignments that are terrible. But land use can change! You can add stations!

    I was riding the newer Metro Green Line in St. Paul the other day and they are in the same boat to a certain extent – but I noticed some nice new multifamily housing going up right next to the Hamline Ave stop — http://www.ppl-inc.org/the-hub/housing/ppls-hamline-station-apartments/

    I am in Paris with my family at the moment, I am amazed at the transit infrastructure but I see some evidence of the same struggle our region has with balancing land use and transit infrastructure. I think denser more compact development is what future USA generations will want. I think the region is not on a perfect path but it would take a king and Charles de Gaulle type power to do what some want.

    A Robert Moses with only a transit agenda? Someday maybe, but that would have some negative aspects too.

    1. The Paris metro stops so frequently you can sometimes look down the platform and see the next station. You’re never more than a 10 minute walk from a station at any given point in the city. Paris is also half the land area of Seattle, infinitely more dense, and is the capitol city of a major world power.

      Link is in a completely different league.

      1. Minneapolis – St. Paul is in the same league as Seattle, in terms of public transportation…

        …and your bus system is better. But your rail system is substantially worse, although it *is* more expensive.

        The Minneapolis – St. Paul metro area is now trying to make the sort of stupid mistakes with their “Bottineau line” and “Southwest Light Rail” line which you’re making with Link, but it looks like fortuitously they *won’t get funded*. This creates an opportunity for much better and more important rail projects to get built in MSP.

      2. M-SP has two lines, so they beat us there. But on a line-to-line comparison Central Link actually out performs there Blue Line substantially, and either ties or out performs their Green Line too depending on what source you use. This despite the fact that Link is a younger system.

        Additionally Link is higher average speed, has higher design capacity, covers more distance than either of their lines, and is experiencing higher ridership growth. And of course when U Link opens in a few months their will be no comparison.

        But they do have two lines……other than that, I wouldn’t say their system has many advantages.

  12. I’m not sure exactly what folks consider the “Seattle Process”. I would call it the seemingly endless discussion about a topic before acting. This leads people to yell “Quite talking, just do something!”. But quite often, the Seattle process works well.

    For example, a committee was formed to discuss what to do about the viaduct. The committee had representatives from various interest groups (environmental groups, port officials, transit and highway experts, etc.). They basically came up with two proposals. The first was a new viaduct. The second was a combination of improvements to I-5, surface roads and transit. They were split between those two proposals, but opposed a new tunnel. Unfortunately, the mayor rejected their findings — going against the “Seattle Process” — and basically just did his own thing. Long story short, assuming the tunnel ever gets built it will only have two lanes each direction, no downtown exits, and no exits on Western. Either option would have been better from a transportation standpoint — as the committee stated.

    Another example is HALA. This was a similar committee, and they discussed various options to make housing more affordable. They came up with a detailed plan that is result of a lot or hard work. It is a compromise document — it doesn’t go as far as many would like — but I think it is a solid proposal.

    The mayor’s committee on raising the minimum wage is another example. They managed to come up with a plan that balanced the needs of low income wage workers along with small business owners (many of whom make low incomes).

    The biggest problem with Sound Transit is that there is no “Seattle Process”. It isn’t just the suburban focus (although that is a very big problem) but the lack of creativity when it comes to building out the system. I really think a committee made up of transit experts would do a better job. But right now the experts at Seattle Transit are hamstrung. They are basically told that we need to build “X”, and then asked how best to build “X”. The biggest problem is that they aren’t looking at the bigger picture. The bigger picture involves buses. It is fairly obvious, for example, that a station at NE 130th would greatly improve the bus routes in the area. It is a great value for the money from a transit perspective.

    Since they have trouble with the simple stuff (a very cheap station added to a line that will be built anyway) you can’t expect them to nail the harder stuff. It may not be as obvious, but building light rail from Ballard to the UW would change the way that people view both buses and rail in this city. Much is made (justifiably so) about our numerous bottleneck problems. But buses going north-south in that end of town do so quite well. The idea of fast moving buses interacting with even faster moving trains is nothing new — it is a formula that works really well all over the world. It works really well in a similar city — arguably the city most similar to Seattle — just to the north of us (Vancouver). But so far, that idea — that transit can be made up of fast and frequent trains and fast and frequent buses seems lost on the folks at Sound Transit.

    Other ideas seem lost on them as well. For example, light rail is not especially fast. It is only fast compared to city traffic. UW to Capitol Hill light rail will be faster than driving, even in the middle of the day. You can’t say that about most of system. In the middle of the day it will be much faster to drive from Lynnwood to Northgate, then it will be to take the train. The same is true for the southern suburbs. It is this way all over the world — this is nothing new. But that is why cities rarely build light rail that extends as far as are extending this. It doesn’t work. Commuter rail is a reasonable option, as are express buses. Even a major park and ride as the terminus is a good choice. All are very cost effective options. Light rail to these suburban locations will never be as popular as an urban rail line, because it never delivers the same sort of improvement over driving. To be clear, it will be used, but the number of people using it will never justify the cost.

    In a similar manner, there is focus on a line from Ballard to downtown, and yet little consideration is given that a line that goes from Ballard to the UW to downtown would be just about as fast. The current SDOT proposal would have the same number of stops as you would have if you went via the UW. There would be (at worse) a transfer penalty. But the two lines are considered separate, as if no one would go via the UW on their way to downtown. I’m guessing it is because they haven’t done the math, and figured out that there is no speed advantage to going on a route that has, historically, been fast for drivers. They also have ignored the geometry. A (sideways) “T” is a much better design than a “V”, even if everything else was equal (and it isn’t). Northgate to Ballard is very fast with a “T”, but very slow with a “V”.

    I often wonder if Sound Transit officials view light rail stations as one would view a community pool. These are politicians, after all, so this would be understandable. Put a pool here, and a pool there. Don’t get carried away and put too many pools close to each other. Don’t worry too much about how to get to the pool, people will find a way. Every community deserves a pool — we should be fair about this and not cluster them in one neighborhood. That makes sense for pools. But light rail doesn’t work that way. Light rail has to interact with other systems (buses and the other light rail). Distance to stations matter. At some point, people will just abandon the entire transit system, and continue to drive.

    I have no idea how to fix Sound Transit. I would like to see an independent assessment of what we are building and what we have built (understanding previous mistakes is a good step towards improvement). But I doubt that Seattle Transit thinks it needs an assessment. They are focused on building what they think people want and have not considered the big picture. It is sad, and I think we will all pay for it, one way or another. We don’t think we have an unlimited amount of money to spend here. If we build expensive systems that aren’t effective, it means we pay for it down the line, either by forcing huge taxes (which are generally regressive) onto the populace or (more likely) never building the things that are really needed.

    1. “I’m not sure exactly what folks consider the “Seattle Process”. I would call it the seemingly endless discussion about a topic before acting.”

      Yes, but there’s also the reason behind it. The reason is that all the different factions have about equal political power, so each one pulls in a different direction just as strongly as the others, and the result is that nothing gets done because it would displease the majority of factions.

    2. You are aware it is the same model cities in the Puget Sound Region use when approaching highway improvements.

      And if you follow you local governments, they have no compunction about spending local taxes on those (un-voted) projects.

      It’s what makes Shoreline the walkable mecca that it is.

  13. There are many things at play with ST3 and politics, but I think that your comments are as much about the essence of having a blog in the first place.

    Blog comments are by their very nature going to lean to the negative side. Many people who don’t disagree with ST don’t often submit comments of approval. There is the occasional “+1” but there isn’t a culture to widely use that. One solution: Some boards that I read have a “thumbs up” opportunity on the comments — and that would be a reasonably constructive way to promote insightful comments and demote the negative ones. I don’t think a “thumbs down” option is that productive, by the way — just a “thumbs up”.

    I’ve posted on other comment boards, and I have to tell you that it requires personal discipline to write a comment here without the opportunity to edit it later. Given that many commenters are in a general comment mindset, they may writing quickly and so we read more raw emotions. Solution: I’d love an edit capability to my comments — even if it only available for an hour or two after submitting the comment.

    I’m not a web designer so I don’t know how difficult it would be to implement things like this. These are mere suggestions to address concern about negativity in general.

    Opening and operating a rail system is a heck of a lot more “real” then the fun of spending money to build one. You may love that brand new home design you see in an open house, but if you lived in that house for awhile, you are going to see the little problems and they are going to aggravate you. Using transit is the same way; you can see when people are regular riders because their comments reflect experiential topics.

    Finally, I have to compliment the majority of the commenters on this blog. I’ve heard stories from other blogs where as much as a majority of comments have to be deleted because of offensive language or free self-promotion. Even when there are disagreements, we are general civil to each other.

    1. I’d love to have an edit function. Other comment boards have them, so it can’t be that difficult.

  14. The Everett Station, which is what your photo is of, is not downtown Everett. One has to go a little further west to about Broadway where the downtown area begins.

    The Everett Station was built at that location because it offered both easy access to I-5 and the BNSF tracks.

    I-5 pretty much bypassed downtown Everett when it was built.

    1. Except access to I-5 from Everett Station (especially towards Marysville) is actually not all that easy. It requires several turns and stoplights. The location is strictly about access to the BNSF tracks and having lots of open space to build a big parking lot.

      Another thing that must considered is what percentage of the people who drive to Everett Station to ride the bus/train even live within the Sound Transit district. I’d be willing to bet quite a few of them are driving in from Marysville/Snohomish, or other areas that don’t vote for or pay taxes to Sound Transit. Sound Transit’s spine-first philosophy is essentially prioritizing free-loaders from outside over people who actually live within the district.

    2. Everett Station is roughly the same distance from the epicenter of Downtown Everett — half a mile — that the likely Ballard station would be from the epicenter of Ballard.

      Except with a whole lot less stuff and people along the way, and a whole lot more surface parking.

      Perhaps that should remind us of the absurdity of deferring to ST’s sense of “major regional destinations” as branded by the manifest-destiny meme factory.

      1. Not just along the way, but the immediate station vicinity itself. 15th and Market at least has real homes and businesses there, even if it’s not the “epicenter”. Everett Station, by contrast, has nothing but parking and a transit center – the only reason to ever go there is to switch over to another transit vehicle or a car parked in the parking lot. The only people that would ever need to go there for jobs are bus drivers and janitors.

      2. The only people that would ever need to go there for jobs are bus drivers and janitors.

        A gross exaggeration. There’s also whoever’s manning the coffee shop. Sometimes two people, even!

      3. I’ve been stuck there on a long layover.

        That half mile walk takes a long time and is horribly unpleasant thanks to auto traffic surrounding the area.

        There’s also a restaurant in the old train station that looks like it might be interesting, but wasn’t open on the days I was going through there.

      4. Yeah Broadway in Everett is just not pleasant to walk on, bike on, look at, etc. The station is located in an unfortunate location, especially because the track basically goes right under downtown Everett. Would have been a way better idea to place the station above.

        But then again Everett on the weekend is a GHOST TOWN and I’m not sure there really is any push in Snoco to change that.

  15. My jabs at ST and the political process over the years stems from my utter disappointment that after multiple votes, over many decades since the pro rail vote in 1989 that this is the best we could do. We’ve mortgaged our grandchildrens future to a Bart System that will barely move the ‘Mode Shift Meter’ after all is said and done.
    For me, it’s all about opportunity cost of decisions made. If you believe we can build ‘Everything at Once’, then my argument falls apart. If you believe the transit revenue pool is finite, then we have squandered away our opportunity to move massive amounts of people in exchange for moving lots of existing bus riders to a train, plus some new ones as our population increases.
    The most egregious examples of this waste are things like the Bellevue tunnel, bus integration failures, missing stations, and the whopper, cutting the capacity of the existing tunnel in half.
    Is it hopeless? No, but the investment to date will have to be taken as a given, and the next generation of politicians facing the reality of Global Warming and fossil fuel shortages will have to make the best of a bad situation and move forward the best they can.

    1. Metro was never able to operate the DSTT at much more than half the capacity they claimed before they built it. That has little to do with ST, and is only a transient issue as the buses will be leaving in 2017/18 anyhow for Convention Center expansion.

      Once the buses are out, and with U-Link in full operation, we will begin to realize the full potential of the tunnel. There is a lot ST can do to utilize the tunnel better, but they are hamstrung until Joint Ops ends.

      1. I was referring to original ST documents showing 2 min headways (including station dwell of 30 sec), which has been reduced to 4 min. per the latest Lynnwood Link transit capacity study.
        That’s half.
        That’s tragic for the future, prompting endless discussions for the mcuh needed 2nd tunnel, when one would have done nicely, and maybe even justified enormous stations.

      2. @mic,

        ST never said they would run 2 min headways on Lynnwood Link, nor did they ever say they could do that in the RV on Central Link.

        But in the DSTT? It is at least still a theoretical possibility, although it would take some operation experience and maybe some control upgrades, and service reliability might be an issue. Plus it is unclear how you would get there with 2 interlined lines where one is limited to 6 min headways by SDOT (no fault of ST). In the meantime ST will probably stick to 3.75 min headways.

        But ya, none of this is even a possibility until the buses get out. After that? Lots of things are possible.

    2. The Bellevue tunnel situation is egregious and ridiculous and terrible, but at least we know the cause: Kemper Freeman and his lackeys. It can be said that Sound Transit tried to make a good design before they got involved.

      Some of the more recent mistakes are just *mistakes*. There’s no giant lobby fighting to prevent a pedestrian bridge over I-5; there’s no giant lobby opposing the 130th Station; there’s actually a lobby fighting for Highline Community College to get a station on its campus on the west side of Pacific Highway.

      But the mistakes are being made regardless. At that point, you’ve gotta blame Sound Transit.

      1. The tunnel was City Hall’s fault, not Kemper’s. Kemper agitated to route Link away from Bellevue Way and his mall (successfully), and tried to get a judge to rule that ST couldn’t put rail on the bridge because it was built with gas tax funds (unsuccessfully), and in other ways tried to scuttle or delay East Link. But the tunnel is due to the City Council not wanting a train in front of their front door, and fears that a level crossing at NE 6th would hurt downtown car circulation and cause traffic jams. Never mind that Link crossing an intersection has the same impact as a bus, and the council isn’t worried about a dozen buses crossing downtown, one every couple minutes.

      2. You do remember that Freeman got several his candidates on the city council just before that particular set of hissy fits by the City Council?

  16. I see Sound Transit board still in the “grow” mode, and not the “operate” mode. The tacit mantra is “if we build it, they will come”. It’s a fun thing to spend money and build things!

    Having said that, ST seems hell-bent to expand with light rail. Any other technology is considered a compromise. DMU, cable technologies, guided double-articulated buses or rubber tired trains and even monorail are summarily ignored in this round of ST planning. Even BRT is perceived as “the cheap way out” and is tainted with the assumption of creating another RapidRide — mere limited-stop buses operating with porous BAT lanes or potentially congested freeway lanes, limited transit signal priority and pretty bus stops. (Side note: Why aren’t we marketing the 520 system or the I-405N system in the rail map with colors like LA does with the Grey Line or the Orange Line? This alone makes my point about light rail bias.)

    I can’t blame ST for their light rail bias because this is what they have been designing, building and now operating for 20 years. This is what ST board and staff assume is always the appropriate technology. Still, when things like the monorail debacle occur, we should be asking how did the idea get political traction in the first place. We should push to change the ST planning to include a legitimate look at other technologies so it doesn’t take a citizen initiate to do it.

    At the core of the debate is a macro issue: Is the bigger political objective still to “complete the spine” or “expand light rail”? There are plenty of less expensive ways to not only complete the spine but provide longer extensions. There are plenty of ways to introduce connectivity to some areas without manned light-rail vehicles.

    1. “I can’t blame ST for their light rail bias because this is what they have been designing, building and now operating for 20 years.”

      It’s not just ST, it’s the voters. ST is not pushing light rail to West Seattle over their objections. West Seattle is demanding light rail, and that’s pushing ST and the city council to accommodate it.

      1. It’s not light rail which is the problem (light rail is great!)

        It’s Sound Transit’s implementation of light rail which is the problem. Someone should take the board on a tour of other light rail systems around the US. The typical section could be described as “MLK-like” but with more frequent stations.

        Is that what Seattle is building?

      2. You’ll notice that my proposal for Spokane Street rail to West Seattle had a lot of stops, so that people could get to all the industrial districts separated by waterways, hills, railway lines, etc.

        If you’re going to express out of town with really wide stop spacing and parking lots everywhere, you’re not building light rail, you’re building something else.

    2. Wait isn’t light rail bias exactly the kind of thing that we can blame ST for? With the acknowledgement that BRT is generally disliked most other rail technologies like automated trains, rubber-tired subways and DMU vehicles shouldn’t be susceptible to this sort of bias. And yet they are completely ignored as if they don’t exist and even if they would be better tools for the job.

      1. Not entirely; it’s a real thing to a degree, although they promote the hell out of it. (And undersell the value of their not perfect but very good express bus network.)

  17. A moment of clarity: Until our leaders discuss connecting “places” (station areas) rather than connecting mere cities, they are tacitly more interested in another political objective than they are in cost-effective light rail…

    … and let’s monitor our own language choices to affect this change!

    1. I agree. I think we stop talking about getting light rail to Federal Way or Everett, or any other region that is more than one square mile. So light rail to Northgate, U-District, UW and Roosevelt is fine. But even light rail to Ballard or West Seattle is misleading. It implies that one station is adequate for the entire region. Even Ballard, which is tiny in land mass compared to West Seattle, is simply too big to serve with one stop. Same with Queen Anne.

      We can’t serve all these places with light rail — but we can serve them well with a combination of light rail and good bus service. It is what every successful city our size (as well as plenty of bigger ones) does.

  18. “A more constructive inquiry is to ask what institutional or personal forces are leading ST in its current direction. Is there some other set of politicians on the bench, or some other achievable institutional design, that would create more favorable outcomes? And how many decades will such a reconfiguration take?”

    This is a very good question. The ST Board is made up of politicians, each of whom are pulling for their own outcomes, and they don’t seem to have a united purpose. It is also my understanding that ST’s CEO is basically MIA. If and when her successor takes over, I would hope that they’ll be able to implement some guiding principles and get the board to work together, rather than each of them continuing to try to “get theirs”.

    1. Here is the listing that has the advertisement for the CEO replacement for Sound Transit:


      Clicking on the item will send you to a PDF showing the application details.

      Reading the application details is a bit disturbing to me. ST didn’t hire a national transit management search firm, but instead hired a firm in Olympia. ST wrote in the description that the candidate need to be someone familiar with the local political landscape, as opposed to calling in a national rail operations specialist from somewhere else what has objectively successful light rail experience (Portland, San Diego, Boston, San Francisco for example).

      I was hoping on someone new who could cast ST in a more professional and cost-effective light. I was hoping for someone who would point out that the current set of projects in final design need some change orders for switches and sidings to enable expansion (like enabling a feed from East Link to a possible second Downtown tunnel) so that we don’t again have years of delay in 2025-30 because ST didn’t plan for expansion in their design. That doesn’t appear to be what the board wants, though.

      1. We had Tom Matoff as the first Director of ST, and he pretty much threw up his arms trying to undo several years of political bias convinced that connecting Seattle to 3 anchor cities with Bart was the only way to go.
        Tom built and operated the Portland and Sacramento systems you mentioned. When I visited the ERC with him, RDC’s came to mind as a pre-cursor to LRT. When he proposed one leg of LRT proceed to SLU and the U-Dist, saving enough to have other lines, he was criticized by the Board for not thinking big enough ($$), and on and on. In hindsight, if the Board had listened to a seasoned transit professional, the post by Martin today would not be necessary.

      2. Qualifications (not listed):

        1) Must know where all the bodies are buried.

        2) Not be afraid to dig them up.

      3. No managerial experience or transit-agency experience, sorry. I just listen a lot, attend open houses and occasional board/council meetings, and remember things.

      4. You’re one of the few that posts here who seems to be old/lived-in-the-PNW-long enough to understand the dynamics of the region’s politics. The way to change things
        what transit advocates think things should be is to understand how and why things are the way they are.

  19. Shorter version: Martin picks up tube of lipstick and applies it to the pig. Audience remains underwhelmed.

  20. Certainly Sound Transit is very constrained today in what to build given the political structure of the agency and its prior decisions, but Sound Transit also has a long record of making poor technical decisions.

    The most fundamental poor decision made was to use a technology poorly suited to the task of creating a “spine”. Light Rail’s top speeds are simply too slow to cover such long distances in a time effective manner. Heavy rail technology would have been much better suited to this task and would have shaved at least 5-10 minutes off an end to end trip on operating speed alone.

    This technology mistake is compounded by the choice to forgo using automated rail, despite heavy rail being a better technology choice for the task. Automation would have had substantial operational and frequency benefits that are not readily feasible due to the poor technology choice made. Simply put, if most of the system is going to be grade separated anyways, the better technical choice, if remotely possible, is to select a routing that allows the system to be 100% grade separated allowing for the implementation of automation.

    In terms of station placement there are some obvious mistakes, such as missing Montlake/SR-520, having a poorly located UW station (even acknowledging the physics tests issues), having only one station between Downtown and Montlake, the proposal to build a Ballard/UW line with only one intermediate station, not constructing Northgate station at an existing cross street (either 92nd or Northgate Way) that easily integrates with bus service and doubles the walkshed. These are low hanging fruit and demonstrate that Sound Transit isn’t thinking about how rail and buses integrate to form a transit system. This is especially true given that there is little evidence that these station and routing decisions would have faced substantial local backlash.

    I’d also add here that I suspect building rail through the Kent Valley, much of which could be built at grade, would have been a more cost-effective way to cover long north/south distance in South King County. Such an alignment would have also had better TOD potential compared to an alignment along I-5. If you needed to service the airport a stub could built off the mainline. Of course stubs aren’t possible given the frequency limitations of light rail on MLK.

    And there are even more nuanced mistakes. For example, going south from IDS, a preferable alignment would have been Holgate, Spokane, Lucile, Corson and Michigan, Beacon Ave and Raymond Street, Oracs and MLK and Orcas and Rainier. Such an alignment could have maintained the goal of automation and heavy rail, provided the opportunity for fast service to south King County (by spliting south of Georgetown), offered a seamless transfer experience between W. Seattle buses and rail (with competent design anyways), and still given the Rainier Valley high quality service by offering useful connections between buses and trains and by greatly improving East/West mobility in the area. And even if you contend that a starter line would have to reach Tukwila from the get go (I think this debatable) such a long term systematic plan does a far better job of providing local and regional service than does Light Rail on MLK.

    None of the aforementioned errors were driven by political concerns or an over-emphasis on the spine but rather a failure by those planning to think through the on the ground transit outcomes desired and the ways to design a system to achieve those goals. The planners failed both in picking a technology well suited to the task and in the minutia of routing lines and station placement to facilitate a transit system that serves both local and regional trips effectively.

    And while the biggest Sound Transit choices have already been made they still seem to fail to adequately think through problems. Ballard to UW is an example of this, but Paine field is as well. If Snohomish County is so insistent on having rail to Paine field, shouldn’t an alternative with an automated connection between Link and Paine field be studied? A shuttle line along SR-526 connecting to a Link station and Paine Field would provide a seemingly better balance between having a direct line to Everett, and having capacity to deal with Boeing work shifts. Such an alignment would require about the same amount of track, but would provide faster trips to Everett while also saving service hours. This isn’t to say that I think serving Boeing Field is worth it, but rather noting that there are probably better ways of serving the same political goal, which is on Sound Transit planners.

    1. It’s about 28 miles from Everett to Seattle. Being able to go 65 mph vs 55 mph in 18 miles of that gives you about 3 minutes time savings.

      You’re concentrating on the wrong end of the spectrum.

      Higher speed is a nice psychological boost, but the reality is the slow speed areas area the killer. 20 years ago parts of the DSTT had 30 mph segments. Bring those back for the same or better improvement.

      1. The 5 to 10 minutes refers to the entire segment Everett to Tacoma not just Everett to Seattle. I agree that the savings would be closer to 2-5 minutes on Everett to Seattle. But while that doesn’t seem like much it’s not exactly negligible either. Stations were seemingly dropped from North Link precisely because of the extra 2 minutes stopping would add to trips to Snohomish County.

        I also agree that the slow speed areas, which are also effectively inherent to light rail, are the real killers. In particular, my discussion above addresses the fact that link in south King County isn’t very useful as a regional rail system (or just useful generally) precisely because of the slow nature of getting through the Rainier Valley. And as I note, better alignment decisions could have addressed this problem.

      2. the Rainier Valley really isn’t too bad. That quadruple S curve in Federal Way is going to really suck though.

    2. “Simply put, if most of the system is going to be grade separated anyways”

      It wasn’t though. The original proposal had a lot more surface alignment, essentially from Mt Baker to SeaTac. It we look ahead at what would have been built after that, it would likely have been in the center of 99 from SeaTac to Federal Way and Tacoma. Light rail was chosen because it could cover three alignments: surface, elevated, and underground. Heavy rail and driverless and monorail were unchosen because they can’t do surface. Surface was the key to low cost, and it’s how all previous American light rails had been done. But the public balked at the slowness of surface, and Tukwila balked at cutting up International Blvd for construction because it had just beautified it a couple years before, so gradually the surface sections were lessened, until finally it was just Rainier Valley and SODO. And Rainier Valley was all put out because they felt the poor nonwhite part of town was getting the cheap end of the stick again, although in fact it was because the valley is flat enough that surface was possible.

      When ST2 came around, the public was sufficiently convinced about grade-separated speed that they pressured ST to make all the ST2 segments grade-separated, and for a while they were. But then Bellevue wanted the tunnel and ST had to economize somewhere to afford it, so it made it surface for a short stretch around 130th and maybe around Overlake TC. But the 130th section crosses only a very minor street so it shouldn’t be that big a deal. ST found another way to economize by putting it in a trench on 112th, and at grade along the freeway in Shoreline but going under the cross streets so there’s no level crossing. That same technique is proposed in the I-5 alternative for Federal Way.

      So we backed into a mostly grade-separated line. Which is good, it’s better than a mostly-surface line. But it would have been even better to plan for 100% grade separation at the beginning as the minimum quality. Then some of these other technologies would naturally have been considered. But ST was more concerned about keeping the capital cost low so that it would pass the ballot, and only accepted more-expensive grade separation piecemeal as it saw that the public really preferred it.

      1. “But the public balked at the slowness of surface”

        But the public balked only upon realizing that Light Rail at grade is simply too slow to service a the long distances of the spine, a goal that predates Sound Move, effectively. It’s fine for the public to not get this, but it is less acceptable that (or if) planners failed to point this obvious reality out and make design decisions accordingly. And maybe more accurately if Tukwila balks at a surface alignment, something that happened well before any shovels where used, it may make sense to revisit the underlying assumptions of your planning and mode choice.

        Additionally while all previous American light rails relied on its ability to run in medians (of course, that’s the benefit of the technology), I doubt that any light rail proposal attempted to cover over 61 miles. Indeed, technically speaking the slowness of at grade light rail just doesn’t work for lines of that length or anywhere close to that length.

    3. Preaching to the choir here. You have to convince the voting population that these plans are not the best. Especially for Snohomish and Pierce. I do think voter education and outreach is the best way to get to peoples minds but I would be curious to see what the voters actually think about these proposals.

      I am considering putting together a proposal with a spine, but not a light rail spine. I am thinking RER, 10-15 minute frequencies, 35 minute express travel from Everett and Tacoma, 45 local, 60 minutes from the ends (Marysville and Lakewood). Would people want that? Or would they rather have LRT? Because that was a major thing that was lacking in the ST 3 draft proposals was true all day Sounder rail that covers the longer distances better than LRT. Some will say that the decisions are already made. I say, if enough noise is made, it is far from over.

      1. Sure as compared to the public and politicians I am preaching to the choir. But alternative options other than light rail* don’t even seem to be on the table and I’m not convinced that this is a political problem. There doesn’t seem to be a clear political reason that there are not more non-light rail projects on the Sound Transit 3 draft priority list. For example, where is WSTT? Or consideration for other technology for rail alignments.**

        *There are a few exceptions but in general the only alternatives are light rail in most subareas. For example, in the “north corridor” all major projects are light rail between Lynnwood and Everett, which doesn’t really offer a choice even if a SR-99 alignment would be fairly different from an I-5 alignment. This may be the result of politics dictating what projects get to be on the survey or it may be the result of a lack of creative planning by ST.

        **At the very least ST should use the term “rail” as opposed to “light rail” when proposing new independent alignments such as Ballard-UW. There are real technical reasons why other forms of rail are preferable for such alignments, an idea that seems lost on ST. I still don’t see how this mode bias has anything to do with voters or politics.

  21. One of the few benefits of being last in doing something is you get to learn from everyone who came before you. You can make a note of what worked in the past, what didn’t work, and use all that information to make a better light rail system. But sadly, ST, after studying dozens and dozens of other rail systems before ever laying an inch of track, decided, “Forget history. We’ll let loud voices in small towns design our alignments. Even though we do have a mandate and could throw our weight around to create a great system, that would step on some toes and might mean not getting reelected.”

  22. You kids are funny in the way you think the career professional planners and forecasters at Sound Transit are the decision makers.

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