When the Sound Transit board next convenes, it will advance a set of light rail and bus expansion projects to go to voters in 2016 as a package known as “ST3.” Based on the project list, financial constraints, and desires of local leaders, informed observers assume that this package will include a light rail variation on the aborted monorail “green line” route, running from Ballard to West Seattle via downtown.
Before the final list comes together, let’s stretch our minds for a moment and consider an alternate vision, one that’s been kicking around here on this blog in the comments section and on Page 2. It comes from several Seattle Subway posts and arguments from from commenter RossB, among others. As we contemplate $15B in new transit spending over the next few decades, this idea is worth one last hearing. I’ll call it the peanut butter plan, because it attempts to spread the benefits of light rail and rapid bus lines over as much of the city as possible.
What makes a good high-capacity transit network?
Before I get into the details, let’s list some things we know to be true about Seattle public transit:
- Buses can be time competitive with trains if given their own lanes on freeways or wide, freeway-like arterials. Therefore, in the rare places we have wide, flat, straight roads, we should take exclusive lanes for transit.
- RapidRide buses work decently well outside of downtown, and could be even better if we gave them exclusive lanes, off-board payment, and got them off downtown streets
- Rail, in general, ought to get built where geography or density make rapid buses impossible
- East-West routes in this town generally suck and are great candidates for rail
- Even after light rail is fully built out, most transit riders will still be using the buses, therefore…
- Transfers should be great experiences: you can benefit more total riders if you optimize for useful bus-rail and rail-rail transfers
With those principles in mind, let’s take a look at the current state of Link light rail and RapidRide lines in the city, including planned Link extensions set to open in a few years. The yellow areas in the map below represent the main choke points for transit, and therefore where the majority of our investment should occur: crossing the ship canal, downtown, and the entrance ramps to the West Seattle bridge.