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This is a time comparison of two different ways for getting from Ballard to downtown Seattle. The first is a fairly direct route, as proposed by SDOT. The second involves going from Ballard to the UW, then south, via the main line. As it turns out, not counting the transfer, the time difference is minor: roughly two minutes.


Generally speaking, trains spend a good part of their time stopped at a station or accelerating or decelerating. As luck would have it, both of these routes have exactly the same number of stops (eight inclusive). This simplifies things considerably. I also determined that the distance between each station is just big enough for the train to reach maximum speed (although in many cases, only for a second). Again, this simplifies things.  Both trains would spend the same amount of time at a station or accelerating or decelerating. Thus the difference in time between the two routes is simply the difference in distance divided by the maximum speed. Based on my calculations, the SDOT route is 5.25 miles, while the route via the UW is 7.35 miles (a difference of 2.1 miles). Since the trains have a maximum speed of 58 MPH, going via the SDOT route saves 2 minutes and 10 second, not counting a transfer (if there is one).

Total Time

The estimates are a bit rougher when it comes to the total time for either trip. I take two different approaches to figuring this out. Both lead to roughly the same amount of time: 18 minutes via the UW and 16 minutes via Queen Anne.

The first approach is to look at our system as it currently exists or is being built. Since stop spacing varies widely in our system, so too does the time it takes to travel eight stops. But I think we can start by ignoring the trips that include Rainier Beach to Tukwila, since that trip dwarfs the others in terms of stop spacing (over five miles). This gives us a range of 14 to 20 minutes. So, splitting the difference gives us 17 minutes. I think it is reasonable to assume that the SDOT route would take 16 minutes to get to downtown, while the route via the UW would take 18 minutes. This is roughly in line with other measurements. It is going to take 8 minutes to get from the U-District Station to Westlake, so it is reasonable to assume it will take 10 minutes from Ballard to the UW (the distance isn’t far, but there is an extra stop). This gives us 18 minutes via the UW and 16 minutes via Queen Anne.

The other approach is take the estimates that Sound Transit gave with the studies. Sound Transit did not include a time estimate for a Ballard to downtown route like the one that SDOT proposed. The closest route that resembles it is Corridor A, which gives an estimate of 14-19 minutes. The SDOT route adds two stops, so it is reasonable to take the far end of that proposal, or 19 minutes.

Of the various proposals for UW to Ballard high capacity transit, only one involves a light rail in a tunnel: A3. The time estimate for A3 is 6-9 minutes . However, there are  only two proposed stops with that route. With the addition of two more stops, I think we can take the high end of that estimate: 9 minutes. Once you add the known time (8 minutes from the UW to Westlake) you get to 17 minutes. Using this approach gets us within a minute of the other estimate (17-19 versus 16-18).

Given the imprecise data surrounding actual travel time, it is not known exactly how long it will take to get from one place to another. However, based on the distances, the number of stops and the capability of our trains, the difference between the two routes will be around two minutes.

14 Replies to “Fast Train to Ballard”

  1. It looks to me like Ballard-UW improves travel times for folks using both RR D (22 minutes from 15th & Market to 3rd & Pike) and 44 (15 minutes – 2 hours from 15th & Market to 45th & Brooklyn), depending on traffic).

    So in other words, the only loser of the Ballard-UW plan is going to be folks living in Interbay, since presumably RR D will become a lot less useful. Last I checked, Interbay was about the least populated area of Seattle. Maybe Elliott will need more transit options after Expedia opens, but that road is basically a highway so it seems there’s plenty of ROW available to do dedicated bus lanes.

      1. …neither of which is guaranteed to produce much additional ridership than an east-west line would, per even ST’s own imperfectly-premised studies.

      2. It seems that it’s a round-about way to serve SLU, especially since SDOT/Metro will be making improvements to transit in SLU (RR C extension and hopefully SLUS dedicated lanes). Similar improvements are much harder for the 44.

        As far as LQA, I’m not there that often, but it seems like it’s already really well-served by transit.

      3. “complementary bus route [1]”

        By this I mean a route that a rapid/limited/enhanced line (broadly defined) doesn’t fully replace. It can be parallel as in CT 101 (more stops than Swift), or with a different midpoint as in the D and B (different transit markets). The rapid line makes the overall network better, both for its primary markets (Ballard to UW, Ballard to downtown), and various transfers to the other line (Interbay to UW), etc. The greater general ridership spills over into greater ridership just on the complementary line (Uptown to Interbay, Uptown to Ballard). That was the experience with Community Transit, where Swift + a shorter 101 replaced a full-length 101. Both routes increased ridership and are the highest ridership in the CT system.

      4. “the highest ridership in the CT system”

        Er, for local routes. The Seattle expresses are probably higher.

    1. Glenn pretty much nailed it. As I said, there are trade-offs with every route. The winners with the SDOT train are that are headed from:

      1) Ballard to Interbay, lower Queen Anne or SLU — A new train would have a new bridge, which means that traffic would flow a lot better in the middle of the day (when the bridge opens).

      2) Interbay, lower Queen Anne or the SLU areas to downtown — The west side train would be substantially faster, since it avoids the bad traffic in the heart of the city.

      3) Magnolia or West Queen Anne to downtown — Even with the transfer penalty, this is still faster for a Magnolia rider when traffic is heavy. Likewise, a trip to Ballard would be a bit quicker when the bridge is up.

      4) SR 99 corridor bus riders — It is isn’t clear they come out much ahead. If they are going to the Denny or 1st and Mercer stop, they come out barely ahead (it might not be worth the transfer). To Expedia it is probably worth it, but not a lot better than going the other way (head west at the zoo, then head south).

      5) Upper Queen Anne to downtown — It is probably worth the transfer.

      6) Lower Queen Anne to South Lake Union — This is definitely an improvement, especially if the rider is headed towards an area close to the stop. But once Bertha is done (and the SR 99 project is complete) a bus route from lower Queen Anne to South Lake Union is a given. This will be much better than the SDOT train route, since it will cut through the heart of South Lake Union (e. g. along Thomas from the Seattle Center to Eastlake). For many riders, this bus would be more popular from lower Queen Anne than those two stops would be.

      7) Upper Queen Anne to South Lake Union — It is probably worth the transfer, but only assuming that there the aforementioned bus does not extend up the hill, to upper Queen Anne (a reasonable extension).

      That’s about it, from what I can tell. I don’t think that exceeds the improvement made by UW to Ballard. There are more riders saving more time with the other route. This is largely due to the fact that the UW to Ballard route has a much bigger “bus catchment” area. But it is also because the heart of the SDOT route is a road that is already quite fast. The bridge is a problem, as is traffic close to lower Queen Anne (and on into downtown) but the section in the middle (where three of the seven new stops would be added) is very fast.

      Which leads me to my last point. The first group of users are the only ones that would be better off with this instead of the WSTT. The next six would be way ahead with WSTT. In some cases they would simply have more frequency. In other cases they would have both increased frequency and a one stop ride.

    2. Thanks for the article. I still think Ballard-UW is superior because it addresses two transit markets simultaneously: Ballard to UW and Ballard to downtown. But I just one one of the lines to get built so that Ballard isn’t so isolated, and if the powers that be favor Ballard-downtown, OK.

      “the only loser of the Ballard-UW plan is going to be folks living in Interbay, since presumably RR D will become a lot less useful.”

      Why? Are you assuming it would have fewer runs? It can’t go below 15 minutes because that’s the minimum standard for RapidRide and the basis of the federal grant. Peak runs may be fewer than now but I don’t care about that; I assume it’ll be whatever capacity requires. Usually when a rapid transit line goes in, ridership increases both on it and on the complementary bus route [1], because the greater usefulness of the network as a whole leads to an increase in general ridership. Also, we’re living in an era of increasing population and increasing general ridership, so that will eventually make up for whatever is diverted to Link.

      If Link is in Interbay, it may be able to replace the D only if it has a sufficient number of stops. I don’t know all the D’s stops or minor ridership markets so I can’t comment further on that. The Ballard-UW line RossB and I are assuming would have enough stations to retire the 44, with transfers to all north-south bus routes. ST’s alternatives so far have fewer stations, but that will be an issue for later. If Link goes to Interbay, could the D be rerouted to serve different transit markets in the general Ballard-downtown direction? I don’t know. It could theoretically become a D/8 line (Ballard, Uptown, SLU, Capitol Hill, Madison Valley) if the feds permit. But there would still be that bottleneck on the Denny Way I-5 bridge, which may cause Ballardites to recoil in horror at the lingering unreliableness. On the other hand, reports say that the D doesn’t win any reliability records daytime anyway.

      If Link is on 45th, then the D probably won’t change except perhaps losing some peak frequency, because its shorter-distance transit markets will remain strong (Ballard-Uptown, Interbay-Ballard, Glenn going to Magnolia). Most likely it would dampen the calls for an Elliott alignment (a 15X alignment) because Link will be an alternative. That would reinforce the Queen Anne routing, which is the status quo and Metro’s preference.

      1. @Mike,

        I’m not an expert on Interbay either, but the few times I have taken the D south of Ballard, it doesn’t seem like it gets a lot of on/off traffic until it gets into the LQA area. Granted, those few times were on weekends, so maybe there’s more peak activity.

        Interbay is mostly industrial (train yards, docks, etc.) and the Queen Anne side has a big hill that limits access to stops. The D only has a couple more stops than SDOT’s proposed light rail line would, and some of those are only in one direction, so I wonder if sending something up from downtown would be more useful than trying to continue to negotiate the Ballard Bridge.

        I suppose having a local shadow for Link could be useful, but I do like your idea of replacing the 8 with it as well, assuming SDOT can get dedicated lanes in SLU for it.

      2. I used to live in Interbay (back when there were only about five houses and no apartments) and I think Skylar is right. There is little there. I don’t think you would need a shadow bus line. At most you could have something like the 32 go on 15th for a while, but instead of cutting up to Queen Anne, it could stay west (on Elliot and Western). That would be a bit redundant, but provide a decent connection as well as a pretty fast ride (it is much faster to just stay west than to cut up towards Queen Anne). Probably the biggest hit would be the folks who live on the west side of Mercer (one of the most densely populated parts of the city). But these riders would only have to walk an extra 1,000 feet or so (not the end of the world).

        With the Ballard to UW subway, you would retire the 44, but you would still have buses go for short segments on 45th. The 16, for example, would connect riders on Stone Way to the Wallingford station without being modified.

        As I mentioned above, the Interbay riders (along with most riders along the corridor) would be better served with the combination of the WSTT and Ballard to UW subway. The only big connection that is better with the SDOT plan is the section between Ballard and lower Queen Anne. If you are headed downtown, you will go around. But if you are trying to get from Ballard to lower Queen Anne, a new bridge would make a substantial difference. There are tradeoffs with every choice, and asking riders from lower Queen Anne to Ballard to ride a slower (although more frequent) bus is a small price to pay for the overall improvement to the system.

    3. RR D taking 22 minutes from 15th and Market and 3rd in Pike would occur only in a non-rush hour world. It generally takes 30-35 minutes in the AM rush.

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