Martin recently pointed out that having strong local constituents who care about transit is critically important to getting the most out of Sound Transit investments. We strongly agree. That is why we were encouraged by the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) recommendations for the next Sound Transit ballot measure (ST3). The SDOT recommendations get a whole lot right: Emphasizing the necessity of multiple underground stops in the downtown core, identifying the need for expansion east of Ballard and recognizing the need to serve both the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union as best as possible with the line to Ballard.

In addition to all that SDOT got right, we think there two important further improvements:

  1. downtownsplitSDOT identifies the likely best single line to serve the northern part of the Seattle core but this is an unnecessary constraint. SDOT’s suggestion leaves the second densest neighborhood in Washington State (Belltown) without a stop and serves South Lake Union (SLU) poorly. We should be looking to serve every dense core neighborhood with subway service.
    It is possible to achieve this by branching the system at Belltown as shown on our map. This branching and transfer location has several advantages to the SDOT recommendation:

    • Serves Belltown, Denny Triangle and SLU well while only adding a quarter mile of tunnel and one station.
    • A split service plan where West Seattle trains terminate in SLU and Ballard trains terminate south of the stadiums would add very frequent service through downtown Seattle where we know there will be a future capacity issue. It would allow different service frequencies to match potentially uneven north line/south line demand.
    • Transferring at Belltown will be a direct, center platform transfer and will take pressure off Westlake, which will be an even more crowded station in the future.
    • It may be possible to reuse the soon to be vacated Battery street tunnel for significant cost savings and easier construction.
  2. SDOT suggested further study of an at-grade option in addition to the publicly-preferred grade separated approach. The critical question here is performance. Grade separation improves the speed and reliability of not just the one line, but the entire system and grade separation’s advantages will be amplified as the system grows. We are not building a system for the next 10 years, we are building a system that will serve Seattle’s transit needs for a century or more. It’s important that studies consider the long-term constraints of the Interbay corridor that will be heavily used by freight, general purpose traffic, and alternative modes for generations. A system hobbled by unnecessary speed constraints, reliability issues caused by collisions at intersections, and inability to increase capacity due to limited headways does not meet our long-term needs as a city. As one of just two lines that crosses the Ship Canal, designing in unnecessary performance constraints will therefore risk losing the support of both advocates and voters.

Now is not the time to be considering compromises, particularly not for Seattle – the most critical transit market in the region. As we pointed out in our Sound Transit Complete article, the next Sound Transit package will be scaled to public demand. If we ask for more, it can be more. We look forward to working with Sound Transit, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle’s many pro-transit constituents to make sure that the next Sound Transit ballot measure is a plan that is very much worth voting for.

198 Replies to “Seattle Should Demand High-Quality Rail”

  1. I love this. This actually hits all the “must hit” neighborhoods, and hits them centrally rather than on the edges. This would take people straight home, straight to restaurants and shops, straight to jobs. The future is bright too; if funds become available, *maybe* the yellow line could be extended a bit into more of the “8” subway.

    The use of battery is inspired. That ROW is basically a free ride from 2nd and Bell to 7/8th-ish and Denny, and gets you most of the SLU portion for next to free.

    Lets do it!

    1. The potential use of the Battery St. tunnel should be considered very speculative. Even if WSDOT weren’t planning to fill it in, it would still need lots of work to convert it to LRT. Changes for fire and life safety, ventilation, realignment & undercutting to fit the trains, etc.

      1. It would be far less expensive to refurbish an existing tunnel than dig a new one. Utilities don’t have to be relocated, structures cant suffer damage and therefore liabilities are way lower, etc. Id agree that the tunnel couldn’t be used AS IS, but I don’t think it at all a stretch to say that it could be refurbished for LR. And that would save a TON of risk and money.

      2. “It would be far less expensive to refurbish an existing tunnel than dig a new one.”

        I *seriously* doubt that.

      3. I can’t begin to weigh in on comparative costs, but an available multiple-block-long rectangular void requiring no utility relocations is nothing to sneeze at.

        Cost would be entirely dependent on what you actually tried to do with the space. (Probably still cheaper to integrate it into a branched bus tunnel and attach it to Aurora, frankly.)

      4. Kptrease,
        It’s true. I’m surprised you find that controversial. Not having all the costs and risks that go with the actual tunneling is a huge savings.

      5. How do you know it has the right clearances? How do you know it has the right substructure to support a train? If anything has to be dug out, or substrate re-laid you’re now talking about *expanding* a tunnel, which they don’t make a machine for.

        The utility movement stuff: sure you’ve got a point there.

      6. I don’t see why it would be any different than converting existing traffic lanes to light rail anywhere else.

        The thing is wide enough I see no reason it couldn’t be used for this and buses in separate lanes. The thing is four lanes wide. You’d only need half of that for this light rail proposal.

      7. Glenn, what about vertical clearance? Add in the catenary, pantograph and rail and you would probably be pretty squeezed. You could put in embedded rail, but then you would be cutting into the surface, adding to the cost. For life safety upgrades, you would need to add walkways on the sides, so that takes away some of the width.

        They’ll have to go through the same stuff for the Mt. Baker tunnel in East Link, but that will be using the new tunnel which should have bigger clearances.

      8. Glen, existing traffic lanes aren’t converted to rail by simply laying rails on top. They’re dug up, down to the dirt, and not just to relocate utilities. This is done so a whole new underlayment can be put down – support for the weight of a train, electrical grounding, all kinds of stuff.

        I’m no traffic or train engineer, but there really is no guarantee at all that the base of that tunnel is anything like what’s needed. I’m not saying that digging a tunnel with a TBM is anything like standardized, but it’s a lot more so that all the custom, unique, one-off engineering work that would need to be done with refitting a tunnel formerly used for traffic.

        As I said, I’m no expert, so this is just a hunch. But, it’s a pretty strong hunch.

      9. Catenary space really isn’t an issue. If you had to, you could direct fix it to the ceiling. Truck traffic doesn’t seem to have any trouble fitting through there, so there is enough space for light rail cars and overhead wire.

        In New York, Amtrak operates a tunnel with about the same vertical space as the battery street tunnel and with 11,000 volt AC overhead wire. Insulating for 1,500 volts requires vastly less clearance.

        MAX blue line runs in road lanes converted to light rail in downtown Hilsboro, about 5 miles of East Burnside Street, about 5 miles of N. Interstate Avenue, and about 1 mile of NE Holladay Street, plus SW 1st Ave, SW 5th Ave, SW 6th Ave, and SW 18th Ave plus Yamhill and Morrison in downtown Portland. Both tunnels along I-205 (one just north of SE Division Street and another somewhat south of NE Knott Street) were originally built as bus tunnels with very similar dimensions as the Battery Street Tunnel. Today they carry MAX lines just fine. Take a look.

    2. I’m thinking it may be premature to assume that the Battery ROW will be available. If Bertha can’t pull off the new 99 tunnel, traffic will be routed under Battery for the forseeable future.

      Besides, the SDOT proposal does not preclude the option of a Belltown route in the future. Southbound trains could easily split off the proposed route in LQA, head though Belltown, and then turn east to cover the Central District.

      1. Do you honestly think we’d build a crossover tunnel just to serve Belltown in the next century? There’s no way: SDOT’s alignment will disclude Belltown from HCT for a century.

      2. A century is a long time. We don’t know what will be politically feasible in twenty years, much less a century from now. Predicting what SDOT or the city council will or won’t be willing to do is useless.

        The issue with the Battery Street tunnel is just whether it would be able to fit the trains within the reinforced perimeter. Then it’s just a matter of removing the rocks they’ll fill it with and touching it up.

    3. Got the wrong title for this article, should be “ST3 Should Deliver High-Quality Rail to Seattle”

    4. Filling the battery tunnel does seem a waste… But so does building a 2-stop tunneled spur line.

      How about using the battery tunnel and existing 99 alignment for the center city connector instead. Running the streetcar up 1st with a jog to westlake center is going to be worse than the slowest sections of the slut.

      But If the ccc instead went up the rebuilt Alaskan way, through the battery tunnel, then terminated at Denny park, it might actually be quickish. Stops at the ferry, aquarium, pike place, BELLTOWN and Denny park. Mostly grade separated on the west side of Alaskan way and through the tunnel. Grade on Alaskan way rising to the west battery portal might be tight though.

      Then most of the SDOT tunnel alignment could be used for Ballard Link.

      While we’re reusing existing infrastructure Why not change the Ballard Link crossing with U Link from westlake station to a rebuilt CPS? Ballard link could come in to CPS cut-and cover up 9th. It could terminate under the U Link stub tunnel double crossovers in an stacked configuration and aligned for an ST4 tunnel expansion out Union or Boren. U link Crossovers that are currently used for turn back could be removed and turned into an upper platform. Bet a service track could be squeezed in to connect SB Ballard Link to SB U link to swap vehicles between lines for maintenance.

  2. Agree with all of this except grade separation. Interbay’s busy cross streets are already grade separated. Elevate the track through the Mercer intersection and you can run to Emerson with no grade crossings and little loss of vehicle mobility with an overpass at Gilman if losing the left turn there causes too much controversy.

    This would be much better than MLK quality and save money for your stub tunnel.

    1. I agree. Running on the surface is probably the biggest argument for the alignment in general. It makes it relatively affordable. It is still probably cheaper and better to run Ballard to the UW, but the difference in price becomes smaller with the surface running.

      1. @Ron All it takes is one drive down 15th at 8am on a weekday to see how “grade separated” the cross streets really are – only nominally. At the Magnolia bride and cruise ship terminal there is a perennial backup as Northbound cars attempt to head West. Cars and the freight trucks that use this route are constantly in the middle turn lane attempting to cut across traffic.

        “Much better than MLK quality” seems to be a pretty weak metric – if SDOT can make their proposal as performant as grade-separated (which they pegged at roughly 12-17) then I support it, but if it’s going to mean a 40 minute ride to downtown like the 15X or Rapid Ride D then they can kiss my vote goodbye.

        And @RossB maybe you can explain something: Why is everyone on STB so concerned with saving money in the short term? Watered down transit doesn’t save money in the long run! As transit wonks we need to be pushing for “the best,” and settling for “good,” not starting with “meh,” and moving to “poor.”

      2. It wouldn’t take 40 minutes even at 30 mph. If the D can do it in 30 and the 15X can do it in 22, then it would be around 15-20 minutes, especially since there’ll be a tunnel starting around Mercer Place.

    2. Ignoring the fact that it would run at half the speed (30 vs 55 mph) of a grade separated line, there are many intersections on 15th between Mercer and Emerson. I fail to see how you can just eliminate all intersections between Mercer and Emerson.

      Maybe I’m missing something in your comment?

      1. There really aren’t. North of Dravus, there’s already a median preventing turns. Dravus, of course, has a full interchange with room for a station underneath. With an overpass at Gilman and a short frontage road on the west side, the Armour, Wheeler and Armory intersections can be made right turn only. Same for Boston, Newton, Howe. They’d all have left turn access through Gilman. U turns would be possible at Dravus and Gilman. Not a big loss to auto mobility.

      2. You’d just need barriers high enough that cars can’t cross it; then there won’t be cars passing in front of the train.

      3. Why are we so obsessed with running our trains at 55mph to Ballard, when there’s plenty of people living in Queen Anne and Fremont would could be served by a train that averages 35mph?

      4. It’s not an either-or. 55 mph refers to the maximum speed between the stations, not the number of stations. The red line is hindered by surface segments in SODO and MLK where the city law does not allow the train to go faster than the adjacent road. A grade-separated line is not subject to that limit so it can run at the train’s physical capacity. Where stations are close together it won’t be able to reach 55 mph before it decelerates, but it could reach above 35 mph. And the city is threatening to lower all arterials to 30 mph and side streets to 20 mph as part of a road safety campaign, so that would affect surface Link too. It’s unclear whether barriers between center trains and peripheral car lanes on a street without intersections would be enough to exempt Link from the road’s speed limit, but it’s a possibility worth pursuing.

      5. @Ron Swanson:
        You’ve changed your angle. The difference between Mercer and Emerson (2.5ish) and Dravus and Emerson (0.5ish) is huge. Dravus is pretty much at the Emerson, so yes, you can eliminate all the intersections between Dravus and Emerson, because there are none.

        @Mike Orr:
        The speed limit is 30 from downtown to the Dicks on Holman Rd. SDOT silently changed it early this year so they can pat themselves on the back for doing their part in reducing traffic accidents. Problem is, nobody goes anywhere near 30, but at-grade LRT would have to.

      6. @rapidrider, actually I’m entirely consistent. My comment addresses every genuine intersection between Mercer and Emerson. All could be eliminated with one ”Texas T” overpass at Gilman.

      7. So if you want to partake in (or work at) any of the businesses between Mercer and Emerson, you are going to be forced to do a 3+ mile detour, because you can’t turn left into or out of any of the businesses, nor will any U-Turn routes be provided?

        All because you want to force an at-grade failure of a rail line that is nothing more than an all day 15?

      1. As long as Seattle Subway is a major influence ST3 will fail. They only want to serve Ballard and WS and little regard for the rest of seattle. If they have their way it will be 14.5 billion on 10 miles of LR for their pet areas.

      2. One comment is not enough to declare a Publicolification epidemic.

        Les could say something constructive, like what he wants ST to build instead.

      3. It must be your first time on this blog. In the past there have been other lines mentioned such as LCW, route 8, Ballard/Fremont to UW, all lines that would be less subsidized per rider mile than what Seattle Subway would want. Seattle Subway’s plans also exclude a good station in Fremont or one at the zoo. This group has a bad history of putting failed initiatives together because they don’t have the interest of the entire area at heart. Why they think we should follow them is beyond me.

      4. And why should we commit to 1.45 billion / mile for 10 miles of track in ST3 with no assurances that places like Bothel, LCW, Burien and etc will be addressed in ST4 or ST5?

      5. That’s what you could have said in the first place. Now try to put your proposals together into groups for ST3/4/5 phases, rather than just waving them around and not saying what order you’d build them. As for a zoo station, there would have to be a line to get to it. Where would that line go? In order to compare the value of a Fremont/Zoo line, we’d have to compare it to something else and know what we’re giving up for it.

      6. “And why should we commit to 1.45 billion / mile for 10 miles of track in ST3 with no assurances that places like Bothel, LCW, Burien and etc will be addressed in ST4 or ST5?”

        That’s exactly what Seattle Subway has been trying to address with its “build it all now” proposal. As the Sound Transit Complete link above says, Seattle Subway has come around to the position that ST should propose a complete multi-phase system plan in 2016, what we’ve heretofore called “ST3, 4 & 5”. That would give certainty as to when Lake City and Wallingford and Fremont would be addressed. The proposal above is just a small part of it. You may have disagreements with Seattle Subway’s suggested map, but that’s a separate issue from whether ST should propose a “complete network” in 2016 rather than just the next phase and leave the following phases unspecified (leaving Lake City in limbo whether or when it will get a line).

      7. “This group has a bad history of putting failed initiatives together because they don’t have the interest of the entire area at heart.”

        Which failed initiatives have they put together? Which initiatives have they put together, period? All I remember is one that was withdrawn after Prop One was proposed, and another that never got past the drawing board after it spurred ST to accelerate ST3 planning.

      8. I was thinking the “Seattle Citizen Petition No. 1” was theirs but I could be wrong on that one. Regardless, every article I have ever read about SS has involved public transpo for WS and/or Ballard and no other area. And there are ways to serve Fremont and Zoo which have been mentioned in this blog many of times.

      9. ” every article I have ever read about SS has involved public transpo for WS and/or Ballard and no other area.”

        That’s because they’re entire quarters of the city furthest from the Red Line. Ballard especially is the largest urban village beyond the three urban centers, so it should be easier to get there than the D and 44. Even though I said above that the downtown-adjacent neighborhoods would have higher ridership, we can’t just cut off entire quarters of the city and force people to have a 60-90 minute round trip penalty to reach those neighrbohoods from the nearest Red Line station. That discourages people from living/working/shopping there, which makes them crowd into the Red Line urban centers even more and drive up the rents there. We need to get good transit into all quarters of the city so that they can become more viable places to live in without a car.

        “And there are ways to serve Fremont and Zoo which have been mentioned in this blog many of times.”

        Our preferred Ballard-downtown alternative before this did include a Fremont station, and we successfully got ST to include it in the alternatives. If Fremont is off this line, then the issue of Fremont-downtown transit will arise again. But Fremont is close enough that a streetcar or BRT is feasable, both to downtown and to Ballard. It’s only Ballard that’s far enough that it requires grade-separated rail, because it should not take 30 minutes to get to an urban village on 55th (Market Street).

        As for a Fremont/Zoo alignment, it’s dubious that it should be in the front of the line ahead of Ballard-UW, Ballard-downtown, Central District, Lake City, etc. It’s like when people insist on a Georgetown bypass to make trips from Federal Way faster. OK, but after we’ve reached all of Seattle’s urban villages. If you insist that the Zoo should be first, then what exactly should it be ahead of?

      10. It is hilarious to see someone strongly stating that Seattle Subway is only about trains in Seattle.

        They’re about trains *everywhere*. That’s the issue many of us have with their advocacy.

    1. Why are you against authorizing ST to spend billions of $’s to produce something which may useable within the next decade? Based on ST’s track record?

      1. Considering how we don’t even have gravatars here, isn’t it more likely to be some random troll picking his name to post under?

      2. It didn’t sound like Joe; I wondered if an earlier comment of his got vandalized somehow.

  3. Since we are talking about decades in the future (which I fully support) but we need transit options now how crazy would it be to run a quasi light rail or commuter rail on the BNSF line with stops in Interbay and Ballard, maybe a park/bus/bike and ride at Golden Gardens and a stop downtown before the tunnel?

    Maybe if we ban explosive oil trains from running through downtown Seattle they may have the extra capacity for more passenger service?

    1. Because it would be slower than the existing buses are today, even in traffic, when the access penalties inherent in the pervasively terrible stop locations are considered.

      This idea has been put out of its misery repeatedly for very good reason.

    2. Somebody ask Seattle Fire Department about the clearance between the DSTT roof and the BN trackbed a block north of Jackson.

      Some bad luck for a mile of tank-cars full of a type of oil with a rep for being unusually explosive will show how Fire Zone 810 gets its name.

      Mark Dublin

  4. I’m all for what Seattle Subway does, but I question their grasp on reality on this. SDOT sensibly requested a set of stations that is within the realm of possibility while serving as many places as possible. SDOT had Denny (which is close enough to SLU) on the way to Ballard, and this is brilliant because it’s only one tunnel to build, and it’s one line. You can go Ballard to SLU to Downtown to West Seattle on one line. Want to go to Belltown? No problem. It’s just a 5 minute walk from either Westlake or Denny, whichever one you’re close to.

    Aw, but you see, five minutes is too far to walk. They will settle for nothing less than a train that goes to the geographic center of Belltown and SLU whether or not it makes sense. And it doesn’t. To save five minutes of walking, Seattle Subway is proposing turning one subway line into two, breaking one-seat rides between destinations that would otherwise be sensibly linked, not to mention that adding another tunnel will increase the cost of the project very significantly. They also want to build light rail to SODO, even though we have light rail to SODO. Not only is this redundant, but it’s also expensive and redundant.

    Also, you see how that yellow line bends? You think that’s a trivial move, Seattle Subway? A light rail train can’t turn like a bicycle. It’s even harder when it’s merging with another subway tunnel.

    Or we could go with SDOT’s suggestion and have a sensible linear path to Ballard that does a reasonable job of covering major destinations. But that would require one to use one’s legs to get to Belltown, and we can’t have that.

    1. To be fair, all the West-Seattle-über-alles partisans are similarly demanding extra double-your-fun light rail lines through the scintillating environs of SoDo.

      1. In case you’re talking about me, dp, I want to clarify something: I would most definitely advocate for a comprehensive center city subway before building-out expensive lines to far-flung lower-demand locations like West Seattle and Ballard.

      2. I was talking about the generalized problem that any “rail” to West Seattle would seem to require laying 2 miles of track across the SoDo wastelands… again.

        Just one of the many components that make West Seattle rail terribly expensive and shockingly useless on a mile-per-mile basis.

        [ad hom]

      3. > Just one of the many components that make West Seattle rail terribly expensive and shockingly useless on a mile-per-mile basis.

        Actually, SODO makes West Seattle much *better* cost-wise on a per-mile basis. Surface rail through SODO will be incredibly cheap compared to bridging the Duwamish and tunneling to Alaska Junction, thus it would bring *down* the per-mile cost metric of the full line.

      4. Not that “cost per mile” is the best metric… if it were, you’d be championing the I5 routing to Federal Way. I’m just trying to keep you honest :)

      5. No, but ridership/mile, destinations/mile, and usefulness/mile are all extremely important.

        SoDo isn’t the most expensive part to build of the destination wasteland from downtown to West Seattle — that would be the from-scratch Duwamish crossing — but if one insists on “rail”, one still adds significant expense that does not exist if one attaches a bus tunnel to the existing busway.

        It’s still nearly two miles of additional corridor-reworking and rail-laying, for precisely zero additional benefit. And as Alex said above, that would be duplicate uselessness for SoDo!

      6. Agreed. But all this discussion of SODO strikes me as pretty specious. We should be choosing routes based on efficacy of service to our growing population over the lifetime of the line, not perseverating on current demographics of the neighborhoods the lines go through/to.

        That “here and now” reasoning you tend to lean on is exactly why Seattle didn’t build rail in the 60s and 70s, back when it would have been (relatively) easy and cheap to do so.

      7. Sure, but growth since then has fundamentally doubled down on areas with certain preexisting characteristic in place that made them amenable to it, plus some nudging here and there from regulatory forces or individual actors.

        It is fundamentally fallacious to suggest devoting the overwhelming preponderance of Seattle funds toward “reaching” West Seattle, just in case the Junction magically becomes a top-tier urban demand center or the mile radius surrounding it suddenly abandons suburban entrenchement and quadruples in density, when 30-40% of this city already has significantly higher density, more unified intra-city symbiosis and movement patterns, more dire transit challenges, and no politicians demanding they get a cadillac rail line.

      8. Again (and again, and again), I’ve never said I don’t think light rail should be built in the rest of the city as well.

      9. Spending well over 50% of our money just on West Seattle is, sadly, the only rail-related option on the table today, and will remain unavoidably so from the moment we’re forced to accept a “West Seattle Rail because future!!” mindset as self-evident.

    2. Let’s also skip the hyperbole regarding a “5 minute walk”. I’d estimate the current center of residential density in Belltown is somewhere around 1st and Cedar or 1st and Vine. A simple google directions search estimates a walk from that area to be 17 min to Westlake Station, 15 min. to 1st Ave N/Mercer, and approx. 15 min to 99/Harrison. The walk would be more for people who live or work along Western, Elliot and Alaskan Way. Comparatively, One can walk from Westlake Station to Westlake and Republican Street in 16. min according to google. Similarly, much virtual ink had been spilled lamenting the lack of a station on First Hill. University Street Station Is within a 15-17 min walk of most of First Hill as is Pioneer Square Station. One key difference is that it is still reasonable to believe that First Hill May still one day get a station though not in the foreseeable future, but I have a hard time believing that the SDOT recommended alignment of the West line would ever allow for a Belltown Station.

      So like SDOT you’re trading Beltown for SLU with little or no possibility for expansion in the future that could add Belltown to the system…. Serving SLU with a different line is the most appropriate way to get there, though it is inconvenient for the moment. Sacrificing the future for the sake of the present is the antithesis of planning.

      1. Or you could walk to 3rd & Bell and wait 30 seconds for a bus that will take you to any of those destinations within a few minutes.

    3. As far as the curve goes, it is a schematic. The turns are possible, they would just take a lot more space. It is essentially a 90 degree turn, not much different than the SoDo to Beacon Hill turn. The train would curve back and forth though — so you have a good point. For it to connect to Capitol Hill, I think there would be lots of curves, which means it would travel very slowly. That being said, the distance here is small, so it doesn’t matter (two minutes between each station would mean a very slowly moving train but would be much faster than walking or driving). It isn’t an ideal configuration, though.

      You could also give up on Denny (I’m not sure why people think Denny is such a great stop) and curve further north. For example, the second line could split from the red line further up, closer to Denny, then curve around with a stop at Aurora, and the second stop as shown. At that point the line is headed straight towards Capitol Hill, which is what you want.

      I still don’t think any of this is as good as the combination I listed below, I’m just saying it is plausible (or something like it is plausible).

    4. I tend to agree with you Alex about the SDOT concept being better than this one. The viability of an alignment is indeed affected by curves as well as grades, existing tall buildings, soil conditions and existing tunnels.

      I also think there is utility of an alignment that follows 6th Avenue generally, and turns north using the soon to be vacated 99 corridor before turning west. That picks up the SDOT theme yet also gets closer to Belltown and seems to be more constructable.

      From a regional political vote perspective, showing SLU as the main line alignment from both north and south is going to a be more convincing diagram. I have had lots more reasons to go to SLU than I do Belltown personally and I think more voters would feel the same.

      The designers can finesse the alignments and stations later. The big question is whether we can design ST3 for expansion and branching. That’s the “systems” view that is missing at ST.

    5. So we ask ST to study it. Then we’ll know how big the turning radius has to be, whether it’s tight enough for the proposed stations, and how much it would cost compared to SDOT’s suggestion. Then we’d have a basis for discussing whether the cost is worth it.

      But one general thing has come up in the past year: the need for more service in central Seattle, the downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. This has been postponed until the rest of the city is connected, but an increasing number of people are questioning that because “Center City” has the highest density and ridership potential and can most lower its car-ownership rates. So we should consider this two-line overlapping system rather than dismissing it prematurely, because it would improve the effectiveness of the network in the same way that the multiline “branching” alternative for 405 BRT is better than the single-line alternative.

      As for one-seat rides between Ballard to West Seattle, that’s not a priority. An overwhelming number of people are going to central Seattle than are going between Ballard and West Seattle. There’s both (A) people going downtown, (B) people going to the downtown-adjacent neighborhoods (which this pair would help with), and (C) people transferring downtown to a different multimodal line. The single-line Ballard-West Seattle proposals are merely operational efficiencies, not a reflection of ridership demand. Somebody in Ballard is just as likely to be going to Rainier Valley or Bellevue as to West Seattle.

    6. “Let’s also skip the hyperbole regarding a “5 minute walk”. I’d estimate the current center of residential density in Belltown is somewhere around 1st and Cedar or 1st and Vine.”

      The Western/Elliott Avenue density has been wholly left out of transit. I wouldn’t call it “Belltown” west of 1st, but whatever it is, there are midrise apartments that are a steep hill from 3rd Avenue, and the 99 is a joke. If that’s what people mean by wanting HCT in Belltown, they should be clearer about it, because the waterfront district is a heckuv a better reason for a station than 1st Avenue which is two blocks from buses running every five minutes.

    7. The current fleet of Kinkisharyo LRVs can negotiate a curve with a minimum radius of 25m or 82 ft … it just can’t do that at speed.

    8. I agree with your questioning of their reality. This stuff seems childish and unrealistic. These are fantasy maps.

      It takes decades to raise the funds to build a subway line. Under this plan, in order to keep people in Belltown from walking half a dozen or so blocks, we’d wait several decades to serve denny and SLU.

      And this is the outcome we should “demand”?

      Come on.

      1. I don’t get it. This plan has connections in all of the neighborhoods you mentioned, and is only a small increment larger than the SDOT plan.

      2. How much will this spur line cost? Definitely on the order of a $2~3 billion Right? With financing, that’s about a decade of ST money for North King.

        If you build this at the same time as the red line on your map (the to-ballard line), then you will make everyone on that line wait a decade or so, as you have to raise the money for the spur.

        If you wait till after the red line is finished, you are making SLU and Denny wait a decade.

      3. Andrew, we have to ask these questions for sure, but the only way to get the actual answer is to have ST study it. The time for napkin math has passed.

        Seattle Subway isn’t saying this must happen, they are saying this must be studied.

      4. The line to SLU off Battery would not cost 2-3Billion. That’s just not accurate. This proposal estimates about 1/4 mile new tunnel over the SDOT alignment, and only 1 additional station. Retrofitting Battery would cost money, but not even close to “new tunnel money”. This proposal does not add anything even close to 2-3B to the project.

        2-3B would get you a whole new tunnel with 4 stations extending through the entire downtown core. Why are you assuming that refitting a tunnel + 1/4 mile tunnel +1 station = 3+ miles of new tunnel + 4 stations?

      5. Seattle Subway isn’t saying this must happen, they are saying this must be studied.

        Studying these things isn’t free, either. And asking ST to “study” every hair-brained idea because “the time for napkins is over” is silly, especially when the idea in question came from the back of a napkin.

      6. Andrew, what are you talking about? Now is exactly the time that ST is going to be studying options. This is a good one. Back of napkin estimates are all we have until studies come in, and that’s fine. Except your “back of napkin calculator” looks like it blew a fuse. This is a reasonable sized expansion of current plans in order to hit all the major neighborhoods.

      7. I think this will cost on the order of $2 billion, based on comparisons to UW-Ballard, which is a tunnel with a few stations:
        $1.4~$1.9 billion.

        The $2-3 number is with financing, adding to the end cost of ST3. That’s how much future transit spending would be forgone to build this. If it were put into ST4, it wouldn’t have as high financing costs, but again, that would delay ST4 even further.

        1) 1/4 miles is a lie, your picture has a connection to Capitol Hill. If you take that out, it would reduce the cost somewhat (I am not sure how much, because there’s not really anything to compare it to), but if you don’t put that in first, it’s not ever going to get built: where would you drop the TBM?

        2) Transfer stations are more expensive than normal stations.

        3) I consider the reusing of the battery street tunnel extremely unrealistic and the part of this plan that is most “childish”. WSDOT is currently planning to close and fill-in the Battery Street tunnel:

      8. ST2 has money budgeted for ST3 studies. It has not said that that money is running out. In any case, it’s like getting a second opinion before a surgery: it costs a little bit but it’s a lot cheaper than making the wrong decision because you didn’t study a worthwhile alternative.

      9. I don’t really have a problem with ST studying this. My point about the study was only that it is unfair to say my back of the napkin calculation is bs, but this back of the napkin plan is fine. You can’t have it both ways. That comment was in reply to Steven.

        I would wager substantial money, that if ST did study this, connecting to Capitol Hill would cost at least $1.4 billion, possibly more, and that the use of the battery street tunnel is complete unfeasible. That would be, with financing, $2-3 billion, and would delay ST4 projects by a decade. I am not sure the cost without capitol hill, but keep in mind Angle Lake, with no tunnel, no transfer station and just one new one station costs about $400 million. This would be more than that.

      10. “1/4 miles is a lie, your picture has a connection to Capitol Hill.” It would be extend-able to a Cap Hill/Central District line. Given a limited ST3 package, the SLU line would be a stub.

      11. “extend-able to Capitol Hill”

        “Re-use the battery street tunnel”

        I am sorry, this is fantasy map stuff. It is super fun, I like to think about it, too. But neither of those two things are going to happen.

      12. What Seattle Subway has said in its earlier proposals is that it wants ST to study SS’s ideas and give them a fair comparison against ST’s other alternatives. And of course SS recommend this as the solution and wants to generate public pressure for it. But it’s not trying to short-circuit the selection process or railroad its solution through without full studies and the board weighing the pros and cons of it. Perhaps SS should clarify this in this case. It’s not about taking a napkin idea as gospel. It’s about making sure it gets full consideration.

      13. I am a hundred percent on board with that, we need engaged people challenging the plans St comes up with. I am just worried when I see “use the battery street tunnel”. That seems like fantasy map, sim-city stuff

  5. This is a good proposal, it makes sense for ST4 or ST5. I’m not talking about the additional stub, I’m talking about everything proposed here. I know we are supposed to be building for the next hundred years, but it still makes sense to build the most important, best performing lines first. It is what every transportation agency does. Just because we have failed to do this in the past (building an under performing line to the airport before building a line from the UW to downtown) doesn’t mean we should continue with that silly tradition. What makes sense to build in ST3 (for Seattle) is:

    1) The WSTT (for buses)
    2) UW to Ballard light rail
    3) West Seattle BRT (i. e. bus infrastructure improvements).
    4) NE 130th Street Station
    5) Graham Street Station

    This provides much better mobility for those in Ballard, Queen Anne, Belltown and West Seattle. Those along the Aurora corridor, or those in “greater Ballard” (all the way to Wallingford) come out way ahead. The only advantage to this plan are those traveling between Ballard and Queen Anne (a new bridge would make that trip more reliable) and those in South Lake Union. Those riders are important, but they don’t make up for the huge number of riders who would benefit from the combination I describe. It is important to keep in mind that east-west bus service through South Lake Union is a given once the SR 99 tunnel project is complete. This means that someone would be able to get off of a bus at Aurora and Thomas (after traveling in the WSTT or in the BAT lanes of Aurora) and then take a bus east or west along Thomas. Obviously a train ride like this would be faster, but such a bus would still move well, since it wouldn’t compete with car traffic (the street is not connected now, so “taking” it for transit should be easy).

    Overall, the combination I list is simply better. It makes life a lot easier for a lot more riders.

    1. ” it still makes sense to build the most important, best performing lines first”

      These are the best performing lines though. :) Anything that provides better connectivity across SLU and Capitol Hill and possibly First Hill will dwarf the ridership to Ballard or West Seattle or Lake City.

      1. Meh. Don’t be Martin “I Had No Idea People In This Town Go Anywhere But Work/Capitol Hill/Sportsball/The Empty Seattle Center” Duke.

        Transit will succeed when people can get around the contiguous urbanized area with ease. Especially where transit usage is presently depressed by excruciatingly poor current conditions. Time saved per rider/l per trip matters.

        There are merits and demerits to any potential downtown arrangements (in any mode), but the notion that it is more important to stick more “rail” stops in a single 1-mile radius — to the point of advocating short diagonal stubs in pursuit of that technology-first purpose — than to get people to and between busy places just outside of walking range from one another is absurd.

        A tiny fraction of this town lives or functions within this mile radius; you can’t earn a critical ridership mass shuttling them (and them alone) very short distances.

      2. I’m assuming the lines would continue to other parts of the city, such as Ballard or West Seattle, not short shuttle lines.

      3. You may be, but Seattle Subway is not. That’s a stub line, right there in the plain text above: “…while only adding a quarter mile of tunnel and one station.”

        Sure. Adding only a quarter mile of tunnel if that stub never goes anywhere else ever.

        It’s not that I even think this a “bad” idea, or that I think its flaws are any better or worse than the SDOT map’s flaws.

        It does, however, remind us why the bus-based WSTT plan’s bottleneck-bucking and Battery tunnel reuse achieved so much better city-wide connectivity than any possible new downtown rail plan… even this exponentially more costly one.

        But you err as badly as Martin did in his “I have no idea if people go to Ballard” podcast flub — there are statistics on stuff like that, you know — when you insist that 8 permutations of downtown-adjacent running would “dwarf” ridership to and between other genuinely transit-amenable pieces of the urban continuum. That is simply poor transit thinking, and objectively wrong.

      4. “Meh. Don’t be Martin “I Had No Idea People In This Town Go Anywhere But Work/Capitol Hill/Sportsball/The Empty Seattle Center” Duke.”

        Way to completely ignore the context of that podcast discussion, which was that ST is oriented towards destinations that attract the entire region. I’m sure the Ballard Farmer’s Market is very nice but I doubt people are coming in from Kirkland or Federal Way for it.

        If you have statistics on people coming from well outside the city to Ballard, that would be great to share. Your point that connecting places like Ballard to adjacent neighborhoods is valid. And I support transit to Ballard! But yeah, call me names.

      5. ” That’s a stub line, right there in the plain text above: “…while only adding a quarter mile of tunnel and one station.””

        What stub line? The yellow line goes “to Capitol Hill” and “to West Seattle”. ST has already proposed a Ballard-West Seattle line, and this is just the incremental cost over that. It’s not a stub or shuttle; it’s two lines going to West Seattle and Ballard that overlap downtown. I’m not 100% convinced of the West Seattle – SLU – Capitol Hill alignment, but it does bring in these east-west trips that ST has so far not addressed, and it could be a less-expensive and more-useful alternative to a separate Denny Way line (aka “Metro 8 line”).

      6. I’m sure the Ballard Farmer’s Market is very nice…

        Hilarious. Irrelevant and willfully obfuscating and more than a bit condescending, but hilarious.

        Listen, I understand why you wouldn’t have witnessed NW Seattle’s rise in city-wide and regional prominence. You live south, you have a family, you tend to recreate via transit, and transit to Ballard from anywhere further than LQA or downtown is notoriously terrible.

        That said, if you’re going to try to use Ballard as a comparative example in a debate about activity generation prominence, then you should probably keep yourselves up-to-date with developing facts.

        Yes. People “go to” Ballard. Yes, even from outside the city. As an “entertainment” destination, it has generated large numbers of “bridge and tunnel” visitors on the weekends for years, and the spread of that to the weekdays in the recent past has been notable.

        But even that is a bit beside the point, because single-sector visitor habits are not what mass transportation is about. No place can support mass transit on the basis of work alone or entertainment alone. I’m quite sure Sound Transit doesn’t get that, but I’m not sure you do either.

        Ballard is one of just a few primary week-round intra-city destinations. It receives more visitors from elsewhere within Seattle, for work/commerce/appointments/recreation/kitchen-sink-life-stuff than anywhere else other than downtown, Capitol Hill, or the U-District (and outside of the youth demographics, may be more prominent than the last of those). It emphatically does not fit the transit “origin only” category into which both of you on the podcast ignorantly assessed it.

        And yes, this is about citywide habits and demand, not just adjacent neighborhoods. In the past, SDOT has done studies measuring total daily trip patterns between each city area and each other, via all transportation modes. Ballard dwarfs most others you can name, from near or far. Even our notorious transit, still unreliable but much more frequent as of just this June, boasts obviously bi-directional demand on all 3 core lines, in a way that is highly uncharacteristic of Seattle.

        But not if you’re intentionally ignoring it because it doesn’t fit your narrative.

        I know that you tried to distinguish your own biases from Sound Transit’s extreme “regional marquee name” approach, but you’re supposed to be aiming higher than them, and your appeal to ignorance was arguably even more egregious.

        Because you go on to cite Seattle Center as one of those places we can all agree has “regional” appeal. Seattle Center, the 357-day-a-year ghost town. Seattle Center, the very definition of urbanity-interrupting spatial waste and poor 1960s master planning. Seattle Center, the place an average city resident would be lucky to find herself once in a given year, and a Kirklandite or Federal Wayan half that often.

        These are the fundamentals of urbanity and transit, Martin. The sub-basics. That wasn’t a problem of context, but a serious and potentially catastrophic blindspot in your approach to understanding and advocating on these matters.

      7. I mean that would be a good point if you hadn’t written a post for STB arguing why West Seattle needs rail instead of BRT. Do you think those people from Kirkland or FW want to go to the Junction more than they want to Ballard with it’s larger nightlife scene, brewery district, and, you know, something that vaguely represents an actually urban place? How do you reconcile that?

      8. d.p.

        I won’t dispute that special-event traffic is less significant in aggregate ridership terms than everyday use. That’s just not what ST is doing, which is my point. I do agree that work alone and special events alone are not the best way to organize high-capacity transit.

        Yeah, I appealed to ignorance, and asked it as a question, because I don’t/didn’t know. If you aren’t willing to consume anything from STB that isn’t meticulously researched you should probably stay away from the podcasts. I didn’t declare categorically that it isn’t a destination, and in fact I said it was one of the strongest cases for a neighborhood to serve. I can’t figure any other way to discuss an issue informally than pose questions about things I don’t know.


        If you read my West Seattle post again you’ll see that you’re most definitely mischaracterizing what I wrote. I didn’t even seek to answer the question as to whether West Seattle “needed” light rail. I absolutely didn’t compare it to Ballard! I personally think that Ballard is a much higher priority than West Seattle, to the extent that if ST3 didn’t serve Ballard but did serve West Seattle I would vote against it.

      9. d.p.,

        While I wish you hadn’t distorted my argument, I do appreciate the info about what’s going on up there. Like you say, it’s just too damn far for me.

      10. What stub line? The yellow line goes “to Capitol Hill” and “to West Seattle”.

        It’s a stub line when its criticise for it’s cost, and it goes to Capitol Hill when it’s criticised for it’s utility.

      11. It’s a stub line given a 15 year ST3 package like ST wants, it’s a Cap Hill-Central District line given a larger “Seattle Subway” package.

      12. Where would the “stub line” terminate and what’s wrong with that in the first phase?

      13. Not only do people go to Ballard, but there is enough traffic on the 44 it was converted to trolley bus some 25 years ago.

        Many of Seattle’s trolley bus lines are historic routes from the 1940s. Not that one. That one dates from deep into the diesel bus era.

      14. It was part of the 43, and when I started riding Metro in 1980 it was a trolleybus then. I was a junior high kid hanging out in the U District going to the used record shops and bookstores, and I remember the 71/72/73 were the fast diesel routes, the 7 (49) was the cool route because it went on Broadway, and the 43 felt like a laid-back route when you weren’t in a hurry and just wanted a quiet back way.

      15. D.P. – I enjoy reading your posts and think you add an important voice to the conversation, even if I don’t always appreciate your tone or agree with your viewpoints (although I often do). However, you calling someone else condescending is about as “pot, meet kettle” as it gets.

      16. Second time the “farmer’s market” joke was employed, and not in response to anything I said or any use case I would have cited.

        Clearly Martin was quite proud of the line — fair enough, it’s a funny line — but let us not pretend it doesn’t reflect a prejudgment about destinational relevance, contradicting any claimed desire to be better informed of mobility trends outside of (obviously) limited personal experience.

      17. I think it was Keith Kyle that cited the farmer’s market as a regional attraction. I didn’t just make it up.

      18. I don’t think Martin ever argued that Sound Transit was right in focusing on areas they see as destinations, only that Sound Transit thinks that way. As d. p. said, that thought process is flawed for two reasons. First, it ignores the fact that Ballard is a destination — a huge destination — for entertainment. It is also a growing destination for employment. I think it is funny that people write about “100 year plans” but then ignore the obvious trends that have occurred over the last few years. Office jobs can go anywhere. Way back when, they were located downtown. In the 80s, they moves to the suburbs. Now they are moving back downtown, but they are also, increasingly located in desirable neighborhoods (e. g. Brooklyn). Ballard has already seen the beginning of this, and Fremont has had this for years. Meanwhile, the suburbs aren’t going away. So how does someone from Lynnwood get to work in Ballard (or Fremont). As of now, they drive. With this light rail plan, they drive. But with UW to Ballard light rail, they take transit. Meanwhile this is not true for South Lake Union. South Lake Union (like Belltown) is just part of downtown. People take transit to downtown because the alternative is terrible. At worst they walk a few blocks (or take a slow bus/streetcar) after they get downtown, but they still take transit.

        But I think this misses the point. If you want to make a down payment on the Metro 8, then be my guest. But lets not pretend that this proposal is anywhere near as useful than what I proposed. For the most part, a lot of the stops are identical. Subtract the two and you are left with this:

        1) Denny and Westlake (this plan) versus Denny and Aurora (WSTT). In truth both of these stops would be moved north a block or two, so they could intersect with a bus line on Thomas and John (once the SR 99 work is done). At best, this is a draw. There is nothing special about one part of South Lake Union over another (no area has more people) and since both stops are about the same distance from other stops, neither one is much better. But since Aurora could carry lots of people (on Aurora) then I think it would have a lot more people. So, ultimately the WSTT plan is better.

        2) Fairview and Harrison versus all the stops east of 15th and Market on the Ballard to UW subway. This isn’t close. Each stop along the Ballard to UW subway is excellent because each stop would connect extremely well to bus service. It is a three to one advantage, but it is more than that. One route provides a connection from one part of town (the north end) to another end of town (the west end). It provides a much faster route from, say, Lake City to Ballard, or Lynnwood to Wallingford. All the while it provides service from 15th and Market to downtown that is only a couple minutes slower than this plan ( Oh, and with that route, you could get to a really big destination (the UW) with the area you are supposed to be serving (Ballard). It is pretty hard to argue that Ballard deserves light rail to downtown, but doesn’t deserve light rail to the UW, even though one line could serve both, for less money, be just about as fast for the former (two minutes) but substantially faster for the former (fifteen minutes).

        What I proposed would make a much bigger difference for way more riders than what was proposed in this post. This isn’t bad, it’s just that what I proposed would be much, much better.

    2. I agree that comment did come off as mildly condescending (something which I’ve been guilty of on this board as well). I’m just saying – come on – in your responses you don’t seem to shy away from being condescending when you feel it’s appropriate.

      1. Seattle Subway would help their cause but picking a line color other than red for this diagram. Green would be a good start — forest green, Seahawks green, ST green.

        I’d also suggest that the current link alignment be shown as a red/blue double line as it is currently proposed (noting that Seattle Subway advocates keep asking for more systematic planning so they should be showing this in their graphics of the existing line). To advocate for systems planning but not show the double-service on U-link in the graphics is a contradictory message.

      2. ST just decided the line colors recently. You can’t expect a volunteer organization to rush to redraw its map colors immediately. That’s cutting into evening hours with their families.

    1. The “blue” line on the SS map should actually be a blue/red double line to reflect the main north-south Link and East Link lines serving downtown via the DSTT. And these should be noted in the key to avoid confusion.

  6. A symbolic suggestion: Use rectangles rather than circles.

    Light rail stations can get more accessibility if a rider can enter a station at either end than If there is just one point. A rectangle also shows where the platform would be. ST often uses rectangles. Finally, it highlights the importance of a straight-lined track alignment in places.

    I do love DC Metro graphic design like Seattle Subway is channeling here. Still, I just think it’s important to stress the benefit of platform entrances at either end and reinforce the mindset to do that where reasonable.

    1. This is a conceptual sketch, not a final alignment. The dots represent must-serve transit markets, not exact locations or entrances. To pursue this, first ST or Seattle Subway would have to commission an engineering study to confirm the assumptions in the map and get a ballpark cost, then ST would have to decide to pursue it, then there would have to be another engineering study to look more closely at potential stations and entrances. And I;ve left out a bunch of other phases in the EIS process, which would involve more studies and comparing alignments.

  7. I think it needs to be made crystalline clear grade-separation is vital to mass transportation in Seattle. Otherwise… it’ll just have the same problems buses are having today keeping up with capacity and schedule demands.

    Just spent three days, two nights in Seafair Seattle. I know what I speak of…

  8. “In addition to all that SDOT got right”???? What the heck are you talking about? SDOT has screwed over this city time and time again. Have you even left your apt or house in the last 3 years? SDOT’s decisions and rules have created a frickin’ mess all over town. I will let everyone else critic your article, telling everyone why buses are better for West Seattle, why Belltown needs or doesn’t need a stop, why Ballard/UW is better than Ballard/WS…. it goes on and on and on. Also ST3 is not a given to pass, may want to provide a argument for passing ST3 vs your above thesis which will divide the ST3 vote.

    1. This is specifically talking about SDOT’s letter to ST proposing a certain Ballard-downtown alternative, not about everything ST has done in the past decade.

  9. 1) Just run your red line up 4th the whole way. Bouncing over two blocks to 2nd in the urban core is needlessly complicated, and a station at 4th and Bell/Battery is closer to where all the current construction is going in anyhow. 4th/5th/6th is where the action is going.

    2) Your split service plan is unnecessary. Just through run from Ballard to WS with one line. If more frequency is required in the urban core than add a second “shuttle” line between the appropriate turnbacks. This is simpler and adds much more operational flexibility.

    3) Skip the odd yellow line turn towards Cap Hill. If we have money left over, use it to turn the Ballard Line east towards Lake City, or to extend the WS Line South to White Center.

  10. The Yellow Line as depicted would be better to have its junction closer to Broad St so that you can have a Space Needle / Seattle Center station … would be much better for festivals as well as that part of Belltown

    1. The whole point of the junction at Battery is to reuse the Battery St Tunnel corridor.

      If the junction were to be put elsewhere we might as well redraw the line entirely to avoid 90 degree turns.

      Either way would be more expensive.

  11. I’m curious about the feasibility of their eastward turn from SLU to Capitol Hill as shown here. On U-Link, the train climbs ~205′ in 1 mile from 60′ under Westlake (60′ net elevation) to 65 feet under Capitol Hill (265′), or roughly a 4% grade.

    Consider SLU to Capitol Hill as shown here, tunneled from 65′ feet under Fairview/Harrison (25′) to the vicinity of CHS (265′). That’s a 240′ climb in only .6 miles, or a 7.6% grade. To achieve a U-Link like grade of 4%, the second Capitol Hill station would need to be no more than a 125′ climb from SLU, leaving you two options: a winding switchback underneath Capitol Hill to lengthen the approach, or building a station no higher than 150′ elevation, or roughly 180′ feet deep (20′ feet deeper than Beacon Hill). While not precedent busting by Moscow or Kiev standards, that would be very deep for a North American station, on par with Forest Glen in the Washington Metro (196′), though not as deep as Washington Park MAX, which is the deepest in the U.S. (260′). But this would ostensibly be a transfer station with access to the Blue and Red lines, so how the hell would you build that? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. You don’t have to do it on a perfectly straight line. Ulink didn’t. Those curves are there to solve the exact problem you are describing.

      1. Yeah, I was updating my comment to add that in at the same time you replied. Yay editor privileges!

    2. Well, this’s supposed to be a transfer station, so let’s suppose they build it right under the existing U-Link Capitol Hill station: say 95 feet under, 230′ elevation. Also, let’s assume no mezannine above the Fairview station, which ups the starting point to 55 feet. That’d be 175′ gain in .6 miles (3168 ft) = 5.5% grade, which is doable. Some curves would make it even more doable; 4% grade would require only 4375 linear feet.

    3. Well a rubber tired subway could do it. But I agree, alignment proposals should do a better job of explaining how obvious technical constraints might be addressed.

    4. What about high speed elevators to/from CHS to the Yellow Line station below? A bit unorthodox, I agree, but possibly a way to facilitate both transfers to the Red Line and surface access from a very deep station.

    5. Zach –

      I agree that the yellow line would likely be tricky past downtown but I think we’ll leave that to the engineers.

      There is a lot of demand and dense neighborhoods to the east of the SLU stop. We would want to see HCT analysis documents before speculating on what the best confuguration is.

      We suspect a very good line could be built to the east of SLU – it would be expensive to build but have very high ridership.

  12. The turn there would make require the train so slow down substantially, which would slow down both the red line here and the yellow line, reducing capacity of both lines.

    I would how much this would cost? I don’t think connecting to the Capitol Hill station is realistic with the depth issues Zach noted. It seems like something on the order of $2~$3 billion. Not sure that’s worth it.

    1. But the turn would be just north of the Belltown station where both lines stop, so they’d be traveling fairly slow there anyway. It’d still slow down things marginally, but only marginally.

      (Your points about the cost are well-taken, though.)

    2. Andrew, I am convinced you do not understand the finance behind these lines. There is no evidence that a 1/4 long line would cost anywhere close to $2-3B. You need to get over that idea.

      1. $2-3 billion was for the capitol hill connection, not for the 1/4 mile line. That would be maybe more like $500 million, I dunno.

      2. The U link connection came in at $1.9B for 3.15 miles, so a cost of $600M/mile. However, we know that the project is coming in under budget by over $100M. The $600M/mile a number is not an accurate number to use, because of the massive contingency ST placed in the budget. It had to tunnel under I-5 and the Cut. Your earlier comments about the above proposal do not take this into consideration.

        The yellow line could be more reasonably estimated as an extra $150-$200M for the entire Ballard line.

      3. Costs don’t work that way, it’s not just distance/per mile. Stations costs money, and transfer stations cost more.

  13. If you’re thinking really long term, you should be focusing on regional commuter rail not subways.

      1. Because this stuff all costs fantastic amounts of money. Like truly fantastic amounts. Seattle has ~650K residents, and these lines costs on the order of $3 billion. That is $5000 or so per person, not even counting financing costs, and keeping in mind some people are children or retired. When things costs that much money, you have to choose which ones you get.

      2. If we had built them fifty years ago they’d cost a fraction of the current amount and they’d be paid off by now. Not building them now doesn’t remove the need for them; it just repeats the earlier mistake. There’s a cost to not having these lines, to not being able to get around the city easily, to needing a car even if you live in a Seattle urban village. Not only does it waste people’s time, but it dampens the city’s commerce and cultural interaction, and makes us less competitive compared to other cities than we could be or should be.

      3. 50 years ago. Sigh… Forward thrust is getting close to that long ago. MARTA is the 8th busiest heavy rail system in the country, and it would work that much better had it been here.

    1. Even living in Kent, you still care about subways in Seattle if you ever want to take transit to anywhere in the city besides King St. Station.

      1. @asdf2

        I’m pretty sure John only wants a single seat ride to get to the stadiums downtown. King Street is the only thing he needs.

        For those of use with actual jobs in the city, what you say is pretty obviously true.

      2. JB has been eager to get a two-seat ride via Angle Lake Station. On a bus even. Even after I tell him it will be slower than a one-seat ride on the 150. His other ideas about “more highways” and “lots of bungalows” and “BART to Spokane” and “a streetcar on KDM Road” are all orthogonical to that.

      3. The other principal destination would be Seattle Center.

        You still have no good (all the time, late at night, integrated) solution.

    2. Is that really the way you think things are trending? Really? While you are at it, invest in film photography and cassette tapes.

      No offense John, but the suburban wave is gone. Dead. Over. It was fueled in this country by both a desire for more space (way too much space, as it turned out) and fear. Fear of crime, fear of noise, and (let’s face it) fear of people who, well, let’s say had a darker tan. But the fear is gone (or at least the suburbs are just as scary) which leaves the desire for more space. I know there are plenty of people who want that big yard and that big lot, John, but a minority. People are moving to the city, and they are willing to live in small ass apartments (apartments the city has to artificially restrict) just so they can avoid spending a substantial amount of their time on a bus, train, car or boat. They want to walk half the time, then take a fast ride to some other neighborhood. They don’t want to feel isolated, too far away from their friends for a visit, needing to jump into their Oldsmobile just to grab a bit to eat. They want to walk to the market, walk to the bar, walk to their friends, and walk to the park. In short, they want to live *in the city*. That is the trend (evident here as well as all over the country). No accounting for taste I guess.

      It is extremely difficult to retrofit the suburbs, too. It would be great if Federal Way looked like Wallingford (a bunch of houses on small lots mixed in with suburbs) but it doesn’t. It never will. Not in a hundred years. It is extremely difficult to buy a small house on a small lot in the suburbs, and the end result is that people simply choose to compromise by buying a small place in the city.

  14. A serious request. Would the Seattle Transit Blog please petition the courts to change Seattle Subways’ name back to the one on their birth certificate?

    Personal memory: When plans for the DSTT got thumb-tacked to the drawing board, some Metro Council board members spoke to ATU Local 587 when the IBEW building was still our headquarters.

    Someone asked a delegation member: “Who is the leader of this project.” Answer: (Something like) “We don’t have any one leader. Many of us are working together on its design.”

    Miracle the TBM’s aren’t still ten fathoms deep in “Bertha’s Locker”. But the statement explains the number of DSTT things that would now work a lot better if the statement had been a joke.

    “Lack of Leadership” is worse than a cliche. Leadership isn’t sprayed on like deodorant. It’s an agreement by a project’s every worker that one actual person will make the basic decisions governing the work.

    Whose given name is at the bottom of the project’s every communication. If Guest Contributor is really the author’s name here- sounds sort of like a Slavic superhero-then I apologize.

    But if not, unless the author has a justified fear of losing their jobs or having their remains dug out of an Argentine garbage dump for Doggie Dinner, would the Seattle Transit Blog please insist on a printed signature in the heading?

    You can even let them pretend they’re Ben Schiendelman.

    Mark Dublin

      1. You’re right, Dan. I found out awhile ago. I just hope the Argentine secret police don’t have a pro-BRT squad.

        Their funeral practices weren’t a joke, though. A lot of the last junta’s political opponents ended up just where I said.


    1. Hi Mark –

      Ben S. hasnt been part of Seattle Subway for a very long time.

      I am the president of Seattle Subway and you can find our board members at

      Generally there is a Seattle Subway communication team link on these posts but its not working for some reason.

      We do, actually, co-write these posts.

  15. While I have met up with Seattle Subway for discussions, these represent my personal views

    So let’s start from the top

    Grade separation is a must for downtown. We need reliable transit travel in the city and we need it now. Trains averaging 35 require a higher top speed given station dwell times, acceleration and deceleration. Ballard should be around 15 minutes to and from City Center.

    Next on cost, $1.5 billion per mile? Where do you get that estimate? 2nd Ave in New York City is $2 billion per mile but we are talking an Island with having to cross old utilities left and right in one of the most expensive places to live in the United States let alone it is a different climate. Somehow to do this extension in the core, it would cost $3 billion, if you reuse the Battery Street Tunnel, that would cost significantly less. It will likely be better for re using as an electric rail right of way rather than having cars going through there to where retrofitting for rail would be significantly cheaper than building a new tunnel. Besides, Canada Line which is the same distance from Morgan Junction to 85th in Ballard via Interbay costed $2 billion CAD when the exchange rate was in Canada’s favor. Mind you, Cambie was mostly cut and cover but downtown Vancouver was bored. Given you will have an at grade section from the Stadiums until West Seattle, that may help with cost.

    I will take a look at the grades into Capitol Hill for my own due dilligence but my best guess is you could probably do a 300 meter curve radius if you have the Belltown station approach right where it curves on the approach. This would be okay for coming into the station given trains have to slow down there anyways.

    I am not sure what the obsession is with making sure it is one line. That is always preferred but at the same time, if we have a fully automated system in the future. Will Ballard need 2 minute headways or should it be limited to every 4 in the rush and then how much headway during the later hours and middway, once you know that, then we determine if a branch makes sense or not. I do prefer having full frequency available but if SLU is served via the Metro 8 subway, then why not?

    It will be interesting to see how ridership works when the 8 becomes split to 8 and 38.

    Service is either to Belltown or SLU, SDOTs alignment I see simply services a station without potential at 99/Harrison and at Denny. This branch would help service SLU which needed service yesterday. If it is determined you can re use Battery Street versus filling it with rocks, why not?

    We need the studies going on now for these options.

    In terms of not best interests of the region, the focus is to use ST 3 to get as much of a package for the Seattle area. I don’t agree with this method but one point made is if a group called Seattle Subway was advocating for SR 99 alignments in your neighborhood, would that bring more pushback? I think there is some legitimacy to that argument.

    I still think we need texpress rail and could produce greater benefits to the further reaches but that is for another day.

    1. You can’t compare the Canada line costs to Seattle area costs. “Central Link” cost more to build than the Canada line did, $3.5 billion USD versus $2.5 billion CAD, and you have to add in an additional $500 million for “Airport Link”. It’s also worth noting that Central Link already had the Bus Tunnel built. (It was put in the 1980s for something like $565 million then, maybe about $1 billion in 2012 dollars).

      So they paid half as much all told for something much better.

      1. Well in a ways I am not surprised that for $2.5 billion CAD they got something better.

        However, the stations are underbuilt in comparison to ST Link stations which associates the cost difference. Comparing Mount Baker, TIBS, and Sea-Tac airport stations versus what you see on Skytrain, a lot of concrete was used to thread in between the highway interchanges likely adding to cost.

        Still, makes me wonder why our system costs so much more unless it has to do with the labor costs involved.

      2. You cannot just keep comparing lines like you are doing to the potential yellow stub shown. The stub tunnel is a small distance, use a $/mile number and stop using total build out line value, it is ridiculous.

      3. builditup, what are you responding to? We’re having a conversation about relative construction costs, not comparing yellow lines to green ones.

      4. Thanks for the reference links. We can sort of compare Seattle’s costs to other midsized American cities. We can’t at all compare them to Canadian cities because it’s a totally different regulatory regime, the province and cities have more power to plan and build good transit lines, gas taxes are higher which affects the public’s desire for transit, single-payer healthcare removes a large chunk of the labor costs, different exchange rate for American and overseas materials, etc. All we can do is point out how much better Canada’s system is and that we should have a transit planning-and-building environment like that, are DC and Olympia listening?

      5. Thanks Andrew for the links.

        It seems like an all of the above from inefficiencies, over regulation of the wrong things (procurement process), and contractors.

        Given having to pay everyone’s overhead, it makes me wonder what would happen what if you move stuff toward an in house solution. Alon Levy had a quick posting on this one but I consider him to be highly regarded on these types of projects.

      6. Complaints that the difference between Seattle’s project costs and those of the other cities cited here are due to incompetence or overpaid labor are ‘way off base.

        Answer has to do with terrain, and even more with bodice-ripper romance-level inheritance. True, San Francisco’s residential neighborhoods need either cable cars or trolleybuses.

        But are interspersed with valleys exactly where transit needs to go. And the past left MUNI with streetcar tunnels through several major hills.

        Likewise, I doubt they had to condemn a foot of right of way east of the Bay.

        But SkyTrain deserves a close-up walk of surface right of way on foot, and a few days in whatever transit library Vancouver has.

        If there had not been a decades-old freight tunnel under the CBD perfectly placed, there would not have been enough money in the Dominion to build Skytrain at all.

        Even for the Expo, for which the Federal Government considered the system a major advertisement for Canadian technology.

        Look out the window as the Cascades train brings you into the city. The miles of existing rail right of way wide enough for Skytrain pillars as well as regular track might as well have every pebble be a gold nugget.

        And the diamond in the crown is the decades old freight tunnel on the perfect subway route through the Vancouver CBD.

        Especially fact that the steam locomotives the tunnel was built for needed a tall roof to vent the vapor. Configured for an over-under shotgun setup, where direction change is by elevator.

        So would be good if we could get ourselves the part of the hero who is poor and ragged, but will really come into a fortune.


        But pure gold of all, the tunnel was

      7. Coordinating the construction in-house might be cheaper, though I am almost certainly it would require a legal change in Olympia

      8. I agree with mine that labour costs or unionisation are not the main issue, if they are even issues at all. Vancouver has a more unionised construction industry than we do!

        It’s (in approximate order):
        1) political planning (this cheapens the system before it gets built, hence this post)
        2) contracting rules
        3) bidding rules
        4) regulations
        5) lawsuits
        6) construction motivation

        The last couple are actually surprising minor, but they do add up to approximately the spur described in the above post between st1,2&3.

        The first couple are the difference between spending $20 billion and building all of Seattle subways map, and just a couple of lines.

  16. Evergreen Line currently is a $1.4 billion CAD project, even assuming parity with the CAD, 6.8 miles, a few in the tunnel. Why are Seattle’s costs so much larger than British Columbia’s? Given we are spending almost $500 million/mile versus what they can do for $200 million/ mile says quite a bit.

  17. If we build a new shared bus tunnel…does that mean our train stock would be same as link? I would like seattle subways to use automated trains with a flat interior instead of the awkward trains we have now on link.

    1. I would like it to be that way but I am not sure. It would be costly to build parallel tracks through the Stadium area to West Seattle but at the same time, I would rather use a heavy rail metro stock with level floors and make good utilizationd of space. Canada Line uses 40 meter long trainsets that can carry 334 people with 400 in crush loads. That middle section of the current trainsets has wasted space because of the wheel wells.

  18. could the need for this extra belltown line be obviated by orca on monorail, and a (300million ish?) new monorail station at 5th and bell?

    1. The monorail is privately owned. Why should my tax dollars go to that organization and not connect my neighborhood to Link destinations without a transfer penalty?

      1. Some fact checking here:

        The monorail is NOT privately owned. The city owns it.

        We lease it to a private company who handles daily operations. If we wanted to end the contract and have metro run it though, we certainly could.

    1. This may also be the best/cheapest way to serve Upper QA and then Westlake as the large buildings continue to move Northwards as they have done for decades.

    2. So Denny Way gets dissed again? Why is Greenwood higher priority than SLU-Capitol Hill?

      1. Because with this design, SLU – Capitol Hill will have a nice, painless transfer at Westlake?

  19. I’m sorry, but I just cannot get behind this plan if it doesn’t include the critical 99 and Harrison station.

    In all seriousness, the more I analyze this the more I like it. The stub sets up well for a future and critical extension east to other parts of CH and the CD. And in the meantime this option will provide important connections to SLU and Belltown. I’m not buying the “5 minute walk” argument. Improving coverage in dense core areas will greatly improve ridership and accessibility. The next phase could include UW/Ballard and the east extension of the yellow line.

    1. [wanted to post this as a separate comment but for some reason only had the option to do it as a reply] Haven’t followed this entire thread, but as a West Seattle homeowner I wanted to chime in. West Seattle is a much larger area than most people realize, and is undergoing huge development and increased density.. Every time I travel to the junction (I live in North Delridge) I hardly recognize it. Many of the new condo/apt buildings are being built without sufficient parking for residents, in some crazy scheme where they’re hoping everyone will take public transit. However the West Seattle area is not very well served by transit currently (unless you live within a short walk of the C line). It takes me at least an hour currently to take public transit to my work at the UW, and often 90 mins on the way home (as a consequence, especially since I drive a hybrid, I drive 90% of the time). When the UW light rail station opens I will be quite a bit better off (at least for the ride to work – it won’t help the frequently long wait when I transfer to bus downtown going home).

      Rapid transit to West Seattle would not be going to some podunk village in the sticks. The WS population is now about 92,000, with a median age of 39. That’s an awful lot of people who are probably commuting to work, may of them downtown or beyond since there are few workplaces in West Seattle itself. Our need for transit will be even greater when the viaduct is torn down, since it is a main thoroughfare for many of us (and with a toll we’re likely to seek other options).

      1. 1. Yes, West Seattle is huge. Physically huge. And therefore significantly more spread out, and with weaker pockets of density than almost any other agglomeration of 93,000 people your could point to anywhere in this town. In the context of a mass-transportation discussion, “huge” is a bug, not a feature.

        2. Some areas of West Seattle are indeed seeing development. But this development pales in scale next to almost any other growth area you can name. It is also relatively driving/parking-oriented. The “Triangle” is no Ballard, regardless of any false equivalencies you may have seen.

        3. In terms of access, the proposed West Seattle subway would be like the C, but 10 times worse, because instead of the limited access catchment of the single high-frequency C bus, you would have 1 station total on top of the peninsula. With all sorts of labyrinthine, ineffective feeder routes that would almost certainly convince you to keep driving. This is why Junction rail, as already studied, would receive depressingly low ridership, in spite of exorbitant costs and a population that claims to really, really want it. The geometry of West Seattle is simply too poor for such a thing to work well.

      2. 4. The area that seem to be having the biggest change in development patterns is along Harbor Avenue and Alki Avenue, which have no catchment on one side (its water) and little on the other side (there’s a hill with few access points there). Lots of new multi-family buildings there, but nothing that is sufficient to really justify a dead-end light rail line that would go there.

      3. >> The area that seem to be having the biggest change in development patterns is along Harbor Avenue and Alki Avenue

        an area that will never have a light rail station, despite being clearly part of West Seattle. It would be kind of funny if it wasn’t so sad. Saying you will build light rail “to West Seattle” is a bit like saying you will build light rail to “Seattle”. Fine, but what part? The fact that there is no light rail plan for West Seattle that includes the most iconic part of West Seattle — an area that is just about as populous any other in West Seattle and (according to Glenn) poised for more growth — shows how ridiculous it is to build light rail to West Seattle. Great light rail to West Seattle would be great, but it will simply never happen. We have a choice between really crappy light rail (serving less than a third of the residents) or damn good BRT (serving most of the people on the peninsula).

      4. Hey! I’m just going to politely chime in and mention that a version of the West Seattle “U” alignment could extend to Alki Beach. It would be a NW/SE West Seattle alignment. A bored tunnel machine could arrive by barge, punched into the hill and pointed near the First Avenue Bridge and be under Admiral, Alaska/Fauntleroy, High Point and near White Center — and wouldn’t require going across the West Seattle bridge. It’s been mentioned a few times on the STB but I don’t know if it’s ever been studied in the past 50 years of light rail studies.

    1. Thank you for the link. Nick Taylor has some horrifying comments there:

      I spoke to the planning committee of ST and their team at one of their open houses. Only one had ever been to Europe, zero to Japan, and one lived previously as a child in a city (Chicago)that had a train system. Their main media relations employer has taken the opinion of the group that building a station at South Center would be a waste because he believes no one would use it and says studies show malls are dead zones for stations.- even though the bus terminal is packed and many stations in places like Tokyo have malls built on top or inside the station! This is a main hub with lots of traffic between 405 and i5 and just one example of short sightedness on ST’s part.

      1. That is horrifying.

        I would also note that SouthCenter and any other shopping district can be redeveloped. As an example, I’ve seen pictures of Downtown Bellevue in the 1970’s and it was mostly one story commercial structures then.

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