University Link won’t be open for a couple of months, but the outline is already on Google Maps. The stations aren’t yet labeled, but the rest of the tunnel is there in all its glory.

Feast your eyes, and then take a moment of silence to mourn the phantom stations at Summit & Pike and Volunteer Park, senseless casualties of The Great Race to Snohomish County. 

56 Replies to “U-Link Now on Google Maps”

  1. Gosh! That would have been awesome, a Volunteer Park Metro Station. I frequent both the Seattle Art Museum and the Asian Art Museum. It would have been sweet to have hopped onto the University Street Subway Station and in a few short minutes emerged in Volunteer Park. I guess I’ll be left with the #10Bus for that journey.

    1. Stations need to be in the highest-volume areas or major attractions. Cal Anderson Park is a block away from Capitol Hill Station. If the streetcar extension to Prospect Street is ever approved, that would take you to Volunteer Park. I can’t think of a park in Seattle large enough or well-used enough to deserve its own subway station except Seattle Center. The waterfront is getting its own attention, and will probably become the Central Park we don’t have. All our other large parks are peripheral and therefore not well used. Of them, Lincoln Park has frequent transit access, Carkeek Park has frequent although it’s a walk to the entrance, and Discovery Park and Seward Park have basic transit access that could be improved (and would be if this were Chicago).

      1. Concur. Dropping the Volunteer Park station was about ridership – it never penciled out. And dropping the First Hill station was about construction costs and risk. Neither decision had anything to do with Snohomish County.

        This blog needs to stop promoting the myth that somehow Seattle is getting less because of the other subareas.

      2. What construction risks exactly? It was a stipulation of the federal grant that paid for ULink to drop the first hill station due to a cost/benefit analysis that, last I heard, would’ve included the station under today’s formula.

      3. What you say is all true, but you’ve got three destinations in Volunteer Park–the park itself, no small thing, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Conservatory. Also, a little bit away is the 15th Avenue East commercial area and a little farther along is the Group Health Hospital complex. Maybe not within the walk shed, I don’t know the parameters of that. As for walking to the park from any future Aloha extension, it’s all uphill. Some wouldn’t or couldn’t take advantage.

      4. There never was a Volunteer Park station to drop. The first Capitol Hill alignment went under Broadway with stations at approximately Pine and Roy, and then went under the Ship Canal on the west side of the U-District. The Roy station was deleted as excessive, and then the whole segment was deferred due to risk concerns about the Ship Canal crossing. Later a less-risky alignment was found (the current one), but the number of stations was not reopened. It was in between ST1 and ST2, when ST was especially concerned about costs, and there was no public movement for the additional station. As time goes on, people get more assertive about “urban” issues and building it right even if it costs more, and the opposition gets more accepting. So what wasn’t politically feasable in 1995 became more possible in 2005 and is now more possible, but it came too late for the Capitol Hill. Seriously, if there had been this much transit support in the 1970s or 1990s, we’d be a lot better off now, with a better Capitol Hill line and perhaps two lines (i.e.,, the Denny Way one).

      5. Oh come on Mike, you are smarter than that. You know the history of Link is a lot more complicated. You (and everyone else) can look it up if you have forgotten.

        Long story short: ST screwed up their estimates. They could not build what they said they could. There was talk of simply adding more bus service. But the folks in charge pushed for rail. I think we are thankful for that.

        But we still needed to decide on a rail plan. Some, looking at the research — the science if you will — pushed for a plan centered around the Central Area. Basically, a plan connecting the most densely populated parts of the city. Others felt it was essential to build a light rail plan to the suburbs, for political reasons. Those politicians won.

        So, that is what we have. A system with huge holes, but one headed with great enthusiasm to the suburbs. When Frank talks of a race to Snohomish County, it is simply shorthand for a system focused on the suburbs, despite the fact that it delivers very little for them. No station at 520 means that Kirkland is screwed. No station on First hill means everyone, including those in the suburbs, who work or have reason to go to First Hill (Pill Hill) are screwed. Same with “Volunteer Park”, which is right next to another major hospital, Group Health.

        We screwed up, big time. A starter line, with several stops connecting the UW and downtown would have been better. For everyone. Just like the surface option would have been better than the tunnel. Time to stop making excuses and admit that the politicians ignored the experts and blew it. Big time.

      6. RossB, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s a difference between arguable shortcomings in the plan, and what was or wasn’t proposed and how we got here. I don’t remember any plan centered around the Central Area between the 1972 subway and 2014 when the C-shaped line (West Seattle-Jackson-23rd-Denny) was a candidate for the LRP, and that led to other Central Area suggestions. Since the beginning the LRP has been focused on an Everett-Tacoma-Redmond spine, or something for every subarea as they would say, and thus why the spine idea remains alive. ST wanted First Hill Station but believed it was too risky. 15th and 520 stations just weren’t part of the goal. You can call those flaws in the design or a poor intention, but you can’t say they went against the experts because there were no experts saying that. If you ask an “expert”, they’ll say the recommendations are relative to the goal and what is the goal? The goal was not a city line, but something that reached the major urban centers on the way to the suburbs, which is what it does. It was assumed that city transit outside those stations would be served by something else; i.e., buses or some future modes. You’re essentially blaming Link for not fulfilling a goal it never had. You can say it was a screw-up and perhaps it was (although it will still fulfill some people’s mobility needs better than the status quo), but the time to influence this line was in 1995 and 2005, not now.

      7. @Mike Orr,

        You are correct pretty much across the board. I don’t know where RossB gets his history, but it is not the history of Link nor of ST.

        Regarding a Volunteer Park station, there was some early consideration of such a thing in the very early conceptual phase, but it was so quickly rejected for obvious reasons that for all intents and purposes it never really existed – and it certainly never existed in any serious proposals.

        The deletion of the first hill station was for cost and risk considerations, and the move to a Montlake crossing was for similar geological reasons. It gave us the station at Husky Stadium, and that too is probably the right call based on ridership considerations.

        Incidentally, I went to the game yesterday and I must say I can’t wait for U-Link to open. Every time I see those buses stacked up and waiting I am embarrassed for this city. How we got to such an ineffectual transportation system is shameful.

      8. If typing on a crappy tablet, so my apologies for the crude typing and lack of links. I would start with looking at the History of Link light rail, in Wikipedia. Read references 16 and 24. Both times, the system would have been completely in the city. Reference 24 quotes Earling as pushing for a city only alignment because it would carry more people. That is what I me when I say ignoring the experts. We knew that the airport route wouldn’t carry that many people, but started with it anyway, to please suburban interests.

        The biggest point is that we really could have built any number of things, as should be obvious by reading those articles. A First Hill station, another Central Area/Capitol Hill station, a 520/Mountlake station were all possible, and the transit experts would have validated those decisions. It, like replacing the viaduct with improvements to I-5, surface streets and transit, would have taken only political will. We would all, eventually, if not by now, be better off.

        This is all worth mentioning so that we can avoid similar mistakes in the future.

      9. Good point Mike about 520 and the fact that they never ignored the experts – they never asked them. That is really my point. If they asked transit experts for a system that favored the suburbs, they might skip a station making life easier for Central Area residents. But they would have included First Hill, and sure as hell would have included 520. But the experts aren’t asked that. They’re aren’t asked to help answer the big questions, only the little ones. The folks in charge are focused solely on building in certain areas, not on improving transit the most for those areas. The experts are left trying to figure out things like the best alignment for a Federal Way station instead of figuring out the best set of projects for Federal Way (and Kent).

      10. I still don’t quite follow how a First Hill Station even fits geographically on a line that serves Capitol Hill and the downtown transit tunnel. First Hill is east of the downtown tunnel, yet the downtown tunnel faces north/south. It could have possibly been squeezed in between Westlake and Capitol Hill Station, but it would have involved an inchworm-style deviation, along with some very tight turns. Even the best case scenario would be several minutes added to any trip between north Seattle and downtown (or anywhere south of downtown).

      11. First Hill Station was a backtrack, but given that its ridership would be like Capitol Hill Station, it would have been worth it, and its loss is a significant hole in the Link network. The suburbanites must certainly have supported it since it’s one of their top three commute destinations in Seattle, as Metro is gradually recognizing. That’s not like say Roosevelt or 139 that does “nothing” for the suburbs. If the suburban boardmembers killed First Hill without realizing this, then they worked against their own interests.

        520 station would have mostly benefitted suburban transfers.But the benificiaries Kirkland and Redmond conspicuously did not ask for it, so they don’t think it’s important. You can say that experts would call the station a necessity but I expect expect they’d be half and half on it, and would be concerned about recommending a station practically next to UW Station.

      12. PS. Link Light Rail references 16 and 24 are “Not Found”. And 24 is about Tacoma Link. Are those the right references?

  2. Speaking of opening, is there an official start date for Ulink? I remember the STB had a countdown feature for the first Link opening.

  3. And since the tracks are inclined throughout the alignment except at Capitol Hill Station, there’s no hope of retrofitting for additional stations.

    1. How steeply inclined are these sections?

      Stations are best.when flat, but if they must be inclined (say, at street level as you see along ML King) they are possible to do so long as it isn’t too steep.

    2. There are some stations in New York (Rector Street BMT comes to mind) that are at a fairly steep grade. I wonder whether the historical lack of stringency in construction allowed for that or if it’s still feasible.

      1. As long as the platform and track are at the same slope I don’t see why not, except obviously you can’t be too severe.

        Certain tunnel stations have to be sloped slightly due to drainage issues. All tunnels leak slightly, so they need to be built to take that into consideration.

        The final station on the new MAX orange line had to be built on a hill. I don’t know the exact grade but walking the platform it seems like it is about 1.5%. At least one or two others are sloped but of the new stations that is the most severe.

      2. ADA now strongly discourages stations with grades steeper than 2%. (The length of the platform basically follows the *cross-slope* rules because people have to travel perpendicular to it to reach the train.) If it’s below 2% it’s close enough to flat. If it’s over 2%, you probably won’t get approval for a new station.

    3. It’s not that steep. If I remember right it’s between 1 and 2 feet over the length of the station box…

  4. The Link security check northbound at Westlake Station seems to contribute significantly to the DSTT backups at peak times. Given the increased Link frequency (yay), is there any word if Metro/ST will be providing additional security officers so the Link operator can stay in the drivers seat and expedite this process? Once U Link opens, this should greatly shorten the dwell time.

    1. Anybody driving or supervising LINK can correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of the train-check dwell NB at Westlake is that delay has nothing whatever to do with security, and everything to do with guards having to bring all lost items to the driver.

      If this is true, like many things in the way of DSTT traffic, problem can be cleared with a single phone call as long as the King County Executive is on one of the phones.

      But more serious complaint of mine: if security gates can smoothly drop the gate-plates ahead of a train, and raise them behind it- why can’t bus mechanism do the same? My guess is gate speed is one of many results of a single bad idea:

      “DSTT will be rail only, so why bother speeding up buses, which everybody knows are supposed to be slow?”. Nod to actual Seattle history should be a file category labeled “Alki.”. Native American for “You gotta be patient.”


      1. The guards at Westlake do a security sweep at Westlake NB on Link trains – but they don’t need to. All we Link operators need them to do is make certain that all the people get off the train in as little time as possible. We operators do a complete security and lost item sweep at Pine interlocking when we switch ends of the train to prepare to move southbound.

        We were told Friday evening that security will be responsible for clearing both cars of Link trains during most hours of weekday service (5am – 11am and 3pm – 10pm if my memory is correct) allowing us to remain in the cab ready to depart Westlake as soon as they are done. I worry that security will continue to do a “complete” sweep of the train instead of just clearing passengers and little if any time will be saved. There is no reason why we should not be able to clear Link trains of passengers and move out of Westlake station in 30 – 40 seconds.

        You are correct that our lost item handling procedures have the potential of adding many minutes to the dwell time at Westlake and other locations. Whether to leave the cab to check for a lost item while in service or to return a lost item to its owner or wait for the security guards at Westlake to first find a lost item and then transfer custody of it to us, it takes many minutes for the train operator to do so while the train sits motionless.

        Baby steps?

      2. Another big time-waster is the signaling system. The fact that the back end of a train has to completely exit a station (plus a 10-second delay for the signal to realize that the train has actually exited) before a trailing bus is allowed to even enter that same station at the other end is nuts.

        There is absolutely no reason why a bus can’t just follow the train ahead of it at the same following distance that the bus would follow another bus. Or, for that matter, there is also absolutely no reason why a bus can’t stop behind a two-car train to load/unload passengers at the same time as the train. The practice is particularly frustrating when you are trying to make a connection from train to bus. The train catches up to the bus you are trying to catch, only to sit and wait between the stations, so as to make it impossible to actually get on that bus.

  5. I think I would have preferred a Volunteer Park station be a bit further south more in the heart of the 15th Ave commercial area where it would serve more destinations and then just have an easy walk to the park. The area around VP is also all large very expensive single family houses whereas around 15th Ave commercial area there’s still a ton of historic apartments. Then again its all a moot point.

    1. The nice thing about a Volunteer Park station is that it gives the 10 something to do. It gets pretty empty towards the end. A Link station would fill up some of those empty seats.as it would have a major connection point at each end. Further down 15th would work too, but might require adding a few more buses.

      1. This is basically the only reason I like the Volunteer Park station location, but then I think about it and realize that giving the bus something to do is really only a benefit in my transit fantasy mind.

        In reality, I think a station further south on 15th would be great. While the 10 wouldn’t have a solid anchor at its north end, it would still fill up pretty early to drop people at a 15th and Harrison/Republic station. At this point the southern end of the 15th alignment for the 10 would be busy northbound as a station connector too.

        It would be awesome to have a station at Pike/Summit, Broadway/John, and 15th/Harrison. But again, nothing we can do about that now aside from try to orient buses around the one station we ended up getting. Better than nothing I suppose.

  6. So the 15th station would not have been near Harrison or the 23rd station near Aloha. d.p. was wrong about how useful those stations would have been. In that case I don’t feel as bad about losing them; they would not have helped east Capitol Hill that much.

    1. Under the current tunnel design, yes. However, if those stations were planned, the tunnel could probably have been moved to put them in better locations. Remember, it was Sound Transit who gave it its routing.

      1. Exactly. It is not about the park. It is about connecting the other destinations in the area with good bus service or a direct stop.

    2. A volunteer park station would have been insanely expensive. It’s the deepest part of the entire tunnel, so it would have had to be structured similar to Beacon Hill Station. Even if money were infinite, the construction impacts of building such a station would have brought forth massive NIMBY opposition.

      As it is, Volunteer Park is not that much of a walk from Capitol Hill Station, and there are plenty of side streets to do it on to get away from traffic noise.

    3. Kind of a ‘cheap shot’ at d p who can’t defend himself and probably doesn’t care anymore about STB – Seattle loss.

  7. Considering cost and construction time of another Capitol Hill station, as well as likely schedule delay serving one, best assist is to do what First Hill Streetcar is going to have to do, Volunteer Park Station or not:

    Deal with street parking, lane reservation, and other self-inflicted roadblocks so surface transit can get people to LINK all along the route.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I agree. The whole point of the Central Link line is to be a fast trunk route, not a streetcar-esque local. Adding more stops would not be an effective use of time or money.

      1. ttraveller, I invite you to visit any city with a subway that has actual urban stop spacing to see how misguided you are.

      2. Keep in mind, Seattle is a north-south grid which doesn’t lend itself to the typical radial transportation grid that most cities have. Seattle is probably better off spacing the stations north-south and adding more traversals to keep trip times down.

      3. I have come to accept half-mile-to-mile spacing as a possible goal for a city line. However, something like that on Capitol Hill would serve Bellevue/Pine, Broadway/Pine/John, 15th/John, and 23rd/John to reach the centers of pedestrian and transfer activity. Not Volunteer Park. But the biggest issue is the cost of the stations. Underground stations are expensive, especially when you can’t just cut-and-cover in our hilly terrain. It would have cost more than ST was planning to spend to add those stations, and it would have required a proportional increase in the other subareas’ budgets, which in turn would have pushed the total budget up, and you’d then have to look at the consequences of hitting tax ceilings and political support.

      4. @Mike
        Correct about the alignment. I would add a 520 station as well.

        Yes, stations are expensive, but very cheap compared to tunnels. Money can be saved by making them smaller. But the real money could have been saved by simply starting with that line. For ST1, let alone 2, they could have easily started with UW to downtown, with all the expensive stations, and had higher ridership. Quality over quantity (from a mileage standpoint).

      5. They couldn’t “easily” have done the north side first or they would have. If it had gotten mired in delays and cost overruns it might have set back rapid transit another thirty years. They wanted to do the north side first because even they realized it would have higher ridership, but they thought it would be better to get a “safe” line on the ground first and demonstrate they could do it.

      6. “I have come to accept half-mile-to-mile spacing as a possible goal for a city line.”

        Note “city line”, as in urban-village density. Seattle’s problem is it has so many low-density residential-only areas between the urban villages, where the ridership just doesn’t justify a station. There are also physical barriers that act like no-man’s-lands; these prevent urban villages from growing together and consolidating, which would multiply their ridership. We can’t do anything about the natural barriers or the man-made barriers like I-5 and 520, but that means we should double down on urban villages in the spaces between the barriers. Then there would be no doubt about half-mile station spacing.

  8. I concede that sometime in the future, adding new stops may be useful. However, I do not believe that at the time of planning it would have made sense to include more stations to serve relatively residential neighborhoods, instead of using the money to provide service to exiting urban centers.

  9. I remember going to a design charette/neighborhood meeting back in 2005 when I lived in Bellevue/Crossroads for the Bel-Red Corridor, now known as the Spring District. I gave my “outsider’s” opinion, as I had only lived in WA for about two months, that there needed to be a light rail line connecting Microsoft, Overlake Hospital, the University of Washington, and downtown Seattle, since, as they stated to me, the SR 520 bridge was being replaced. Seemed pretty plain and clear to me that this was the solution for all of this purely cross-lake commute-to-jobs parking lot that existed in both directions of 520 at the time and continues today. But, oh, no, we can’t do that, as they are already too far along with the bridge design. Well, then, why did you ask me?!?!?!? Why even hold a public meeting if you already know what you plan to build????? I recall that they even said that they wanted input on transit. Sure you did! I guess, only if the input fits their pre-packaged ideas, right? This is how it goes: the politicians decide what they want, they pretend to ask the public, they get input from experts on the minute details but not the big picture, then they build what they wanted to build to begin with. I am completely sure that the same goes with Link. The politicians didn’t ever want or plan for a Volunteer Park or First Hill Station, so we never got one, despite whatever rhetoric they issued.

    1. Reminds me of a public meeting in Bellevue about the 405 crossings being redesigned In which the predominant sentiment in the room was that pedestrian crossing on NE 8th was shamefully dangerous and needed to be addressed by the new bridge. Ha ha.

    2. I-90 was already rebuilt for rail, so why not use it? Why is 520 better than I-90? East Link goes almost exactly where you say it should, except that it goes to downtown and then UW rather than the other way around. 520 may look better from Redmond’s and Kirkland’s perspective, but from Bellevue’s perspective it’s one half dozen to the other, and Bellevue is the largest city with the widest range of destinations. Using 520 would add a delay because the light rail design would have to coordinate with the bridge design, and we need Link NOW!! or actually twenty years ago. But I-90 is already designed for LR and it’s not being otherwise modified, so it’s full steam ahead whenever LR construction is ready. (Actually, it’s being held back by the tax rate and bonding limit, which forces the projects to be spread out over time rather than simultaneous.)

      The 520 neighborhood between Lake Washington and 148th is very low density, so it’s not a good place for stations. And the cities are unwilling to put urban villages there. Going to downtown Bellevue and back to 520 requires backtracking. If downtown Bellevue is must-serve, and either bridge is equal from Bellevue’s perspective, then why not go with I-90 as we originally planned to in the 1980s and designed the bridge for?

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