Steve Shelton Images (photo from wscc.com)
Steve Shelton Images (photo from wscc.com)

Yesterday, County Executive Dow Constantine announced the long-expected sale of Convention Place Station (CPS) to the Washington State Convention Center for a price tag of $147M. The long-expected move provides the WSCC with the largest parcel required for its vision of a $1.4B expansion (financed primarily by $1.1B in 30-year bonds) that would be the largest such development project in state history. Bounded by 9th Avenue, Pine Street, Olive Way, and Boren Avenue, the full block parcel will likely begin construction in 2017 and be completed by 2020.

The move clearly has massive implications for transit, as CPS provides the northern bus access to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), the only transit-only access to the I-5 express lanes, and the single largest bus layover facility in a downtown where such space is becoming ever dearer. Though bus service has long been planned for removal upon Northgate Link opening in 2021, some agency voices had called for the WSCC to find another property so that Metro and Sound Transit (ST) could retain joint rail/bus operations in perpetuity, noting that as long as Link headways don’t drop below 4 minutes, excluding buses wastes the capacity of the tunnel in an increasingly congested downtown.  With this sale, that option is now off the table. So what could losing CPS mean for transit? 

Find out after the jump…

Turnback Link Trains from 2019-2021? (Map by the author)
Turnback Link Trains from 2019-2021? (Map by the author)

Link and Tunnel Buses

The DSTT currently handles approximately 1,200 buses and 275 Link trains per day, with peak-hour bus volumes down substantially since September when Routes 76, 77, 216, 218, 219, and 316 were removed to allow Link to run every 6 minutes. On March 26, 2016, the big ULink restructure will reduce all-day bus volumes by another 21% with the removal of Routes 71, 72, and 73. Because those routes are also restructured or eliminated, their removal from the tunnel will not exacerbate Downtown surface congestion. In addition, closure of the D-2 roadway for East Link construction will cause Route 550 to move to the surface in 2018, so the marginal loss of service at CPS distinctly attributable to the Convention Center expansion is really about just 7 routes: 41, 74, 101, 102, 106, 150, and 255.

Once construction begins, Metro will close CPS as both a layover facility and active transit stop, but in a phone call yesterday Metro’s Victor Obeso noted that the terms of the sale will require WSCC to provide a temporary ramp for non-revenue tunnel bus access until at least 2019. This temporary ramp would likely connect to 9th Avenue, where routes such as Route 41 will travel to access the I-5 express lanes at Pike Street, similar to the way Route 64 does today. Relatedly, 9th Avenue would likely be rechannelized for two-way operation. Buses that currently layover at CPS, including Routes 101, 102, 106, 150, and 550, would have new layover space under the current Convention Center between Pike and Union Streets. No major interruptions to trolley service on Pine Street are expected.

Things get interesting as construction progresses. At some undetermined point after construction begins but before Northgate Link opens, WSCC will need to permanently close bus access to the tunnel. I spoke to Pine Street Group developer Matt Griffin yesterday, and he insisted that full closure would be contingent upon WSCC and the agencies having a plan to backfill the lost tunnel capacity. Asked about this, ST spokesman Bruce Gray confirmed what many of us had heard rumored for quite some time, namely that ST may operate turnback trains between UW and Stadium stations from Convention Place’s closure until Northgate Link opens.

Gray noted that although the new light rail vehicles (LRVs) won’t begin arriving until 2020, ST retains some operational flexibility with their current fleet that could potentially add tunnel service in the event that buses need to vacate in 2019. He noted that a rail-only tunnel will be up to 40% faster between UW and International District Station (IDS), with running times between UW and IDS potentially reduced from 15 minutes to 9 minutes. Those time savings would go a long way toward purchasing the service hours needed to operate the turnback trains. With even headways between them, this could mean combined core service every 3 minutes during peak and every 5 minutes off peak, with current 6 minute peak and 10 minute off-peak service south of Stadium. Speculatively on my part, aggressive bus truncations and the related operational savings could form the basis of an interlocal agreement that would help pay for the added service as well. Truncating or live-looping routes 101, 102, 106, 150, 177, 178, 590, 594, and 595 at Stadium could either yield significant operational savings while saving riders’ time, or free up resources to add service to neighborhoods not served by Link, such as South Lake Union (SLU).

A wild card in all this is the planned closure of the tunnel to allow East Link construction at International District Station. ST’s Bruce Gray said not enough is known yet about the timing and extent of those closures.

Non-Tunnel Buses

Convention Center construction will also heavily impact Olive Way and Howell Street, critical outbound connections for most Community Transit and SR 520 bus service today. Obeso and Griffin both admitted that significant disruptions should be expected at various times, and that restructures may be considered that seek both to mitigate the construction headaches while also providing better service to places such as SLU.

Walking and Biking

Griffin – a famously carfree cyclist who lives Downtown – also noted his company’s commitment to an activated, walkable environment for the Convention Center, with street level retail and possible covered walkways between the Convention Center and Westlake. He noted that the expansion will double the Convention Center’s footprint while adding ‘only’ 44% more parking, with 700 new spaces alongside the current 1,600. While I certainly think that it still far too much parking, it is admittedly better than expected for a project such as this.

It remains to be seen how the project will fit in with SDOT’s planned Center City Bicycle Network, which according to the Bicycle Master Plan includes protected bike lanes on Pike St, 7th Avenue, and Union Street. A study of the CCBN is likely to be released sometime next year,

Process

To tie all this together into an implementation plan, SDOT, Metro, Sound Transit, and the Downtown Seattle Association will be partnering on a Center City Mobility Plan, a new iteration of the same plans that have been repeatedly developed over the years, such as the Regional Transit Coordination Plan, the Downtown Access Strategy, and Access Seattle. The current version of this partnership will spend $1.5m to integrate Metro’s upcoming Long Range Plan with Move Seattle, the remaining ST2 projects, and a prospective ST3.

109 Replies to “Metro Sells Convention Place for $147M: What Does It Mean for Transit?”

  1. Seems like the natural progression will be fewer buses downtown and more people using Link to get downtown. As you point out, this does create some short term operational problems, but let’s look beyond short term. Is downtown really the best place for a bus layover facility? I heard this on the radio this morning and it seemed like a no-brainer. Long-term, buses won’t be in the tunnel anymore and many more people will be using Link to get downtown, once East and North Link are open. South Sound commuters will continue to gravitate more towards Link and Sounder as traffic worsens and gridlocks the one-ride commuter buses. (It’s already far worse than it was 5 years ago when I commuted to UW & Kirkland.) Despite the short-term operational difficulties, this sale could be a blessing of forced operational efficiency in the tunnel, a nice revenue bump, forced re-thinking of bus routing, and increased downtown density. A more efficient downtown light rail may also make a better case for light rail in other parts of the city. People are more likely to vote in favor of something that they have used and/or plan to use.

    1. Truncating S.King buses at stadium for a nifty little jaunt into the CBD sounds quite lovely – unless you’re one of the Kent, Auburn, or Renton residents that just got evicted from their nice warm seat to go wait for Link train.
      How about more trains along the BNSF corridor, keeping the same fare as the bus ride costs, and another stop near the N.Portal entrance of the railroad tunnel.
      Now, that’s mitigation!

      1. I’d like both, and then making the east-west routes way more frequent in the CBD travel and have them travel all the way down to 1st or the waterfront … lets use these ideas to make a real grid.

      2. If turnback trains got added, you’d be talking about a maximum wait time of just 3 minutes peak, 5 minutes off-peak, or an average wait time of just 90 seconds peak, 2 1/2 minutes off-peak. This is hardly a big deal, and that time will be made up by not having to deal with trains and buses getting stuck behind each other in the tunnel.

      3. I can already hear the Seattle Art Museum plotting to kill a station near the old historic trolley barn site. Probably too much hassle, so maybe ST/Metro can put in a hot dog cart and free lattes on alternate Tuesdays to ease the pain.

      4. Mic raises an interesting question: are there social equity issues with forcing South End riders onto the train like that?

      5. Given that we just passed a restructure forcing Northeast Seattle off-peak riders onto the train as well… probably not.

        But if you’re still concerned about social equity, how about truncating the 255 and 545 at UW Station to take advantage of the extra trains? And, maybe even beef up 271 service to allow a service reduction on the 550?

      6. There’s also that idea of truncating the 101 and 150 at Rainier Beach. Possibly through-routing them with the 169 and 180 to give a one-seat ride on RB-Southcenter-Auburn and RB-Renton-Kent. Possibly having that for the all-day service and peak expresses to downtown.

      7. The idea of truncating south county buses looks great on paper. But I think we have to take real, on-the-ground conditions into consideration. Imagine a Kent or Auburn rider who transferred to the 150 at Kent Station. They ride it for nearly an hour (in good traffic) but must exit just short of downtown to take a train for the extra mile or so. For many of those transfer riders, that’s a 3-seat ride to reach downtown. If the CBD isn’t their final destination, then it becomes a 4-seat ride as they continue onward in their commute. The factor of post-game crowds and the high volume of inbound peak commuters crowding the trains further deteriorates the quality of commuting via transit from the south.

        Truncating routes, I believe, works for shorter distance service like Capitol Hill buses feeding into CHS or having Pac Hwy service feed into Highline Station and Northgate/Bitter Lake service terminating at Northgate station. We must find a good balance between ultra-efficient operations and preserving quality service.

      8. The 150 is 55 minutes daytime, 45 minutes evenings. Truncating it at Rainier Beach would cut twenty minutes, so 25-35 remaining. That’s not bad for a trip from the outer suburbs. Soon Link will reach north Seattle and Lynnwood, where a one-seat train ride from Rainier Beach will be an even larger advantage, especially if the DSTT travel time goes down and because Link is immune to freeway congestion and accidents, and traffic lights in SODO and waiting for buses at ID. Plus, in Aleks’ proposal which the through-routing is based on, it would be 10-minute frequency to Kent Station (150) and Renton (101) and 20-minute frequency on the tails, so that would be a good advantage off-peak to offset the travel time. People don’t live at Kent Station or Southcenter; they live beyond it, so avoiding a transfer in those places would also be an advantage, again making up for the transfer at Rainier Beach.

      9. Reyes,

        I agree that truncating buses at Stadium doesn’t make much sense. I think that continues to be true even with the proposed increased frequency.

        However, there’s a lot to be said for revamping the network so that Rainier Beach serves the function that Renton TC/Kent TC/Southcenter serve today.

        A while back, I wrote an article on bringing frequent service to South King County. The basic idea is that routes like the 164, 169, and 180 are extended to Rainier Beach Station, replacing the 101 and 150. This provides 10-minute service between Link and Renton/Kent/Southcenter. Everyone in South King County has a one-seat ride to a Link station, and everyone’s ride gets shorter and more reliable, even riders of the current 101/150.

      10. Yes, MIke & Aleks, I do recall the post suggesting new routing via Rainier Beach. The ideas were interesting! However, I must reiterate that on-paper ideas are a great start. But as a former 150 rider and south county resident myself, I can attest how these buses can easily become bogged down with traffic. For example, the afternoon NB runs of the 150 often get choked by congestion at 180th & West Valley, waiting through several traffic light cycles. SB trips are vulnerable to bumper-to-bumper traffic along Interurban Ave in the evening peak. Like with any route, these trips regularly become lengthy beyond their scheduled travel times. Indeed, Aleks’ proposal shortens the travel times for these routes. But the rider will endure a 25-40 minute trip for their first leg and then have to go another 25 minute journey on the Link (and vise versa). I think most riders would prefer a single seat through all of that.

        If Link stopped closer to Southcenter or Renton, then truncating current south county service makes sense. Feeder service would be a quicker 10-20 minute jaunt. Aleks, have you considered shifting the 150 to Tukwila Int’l Station?

      11. To be clear, I was explicitly not proposing any changes during peak. The strength of the network is off-peak, when the 101 drops to 30-minute frequency, and when local roads aren’t super congested. I guess I can’t speak for riders in Renton, but I would personally be much happier with a bus that comes every 10 minutes than with a bus that comes every 30, even if the former required that I switch vehicles to head further north.

        When putting together my proposal, I ran the numbers for several different connection points, including Tukwila, SeaTac/Airport, Stadium/SODO, Angle Lake, and even a hypothetical Boeing Access Road station.

        For Renton, Rainier Beach is the unambiguous best choice. It’s even better than Boeing Access Road, if such a station were to be built.

        For Southcenter, the best station depends on which direction you’re coming from. Link does take a while to get between Rainier Beach and Tukwila. So if you’re coming from the south, the best way to get to Southcenter is RapidRide F. But if you’re coming from the north, Rainier Beach is faster (tied with a hypothetical BAR station).

        For Kent, the same thing is true today. But once the Highline CC Link station opens, that would be by far the easiest/fastest way to get to Kent.

        Another thing to keep in mind is that there are riders along all of these routes, not just at the major points. And not everyone is heading downtown. For anyone who currently rides the feeder routes that connect at Kent/Renton, or who is heading somewhere other than downtown (e.g. Mount Baker or Capitol Hill), the time savings from a connection-based network is dramatic, and there’s no extra transfer penalty.

      12. how about truncating the 255 and 545 at UW Station to take advantage of the extra trains?

        Works for me. Once the 255 gets booted from the Bus Tunnel I was figuring on getting off at Montlake anyway and hiking over to the Link station. I didn’t realize there was a possibility that would happen before U-Link was running.

      13. I agree that Renton->downtown service today is a mess. Besides the 101’s 30-minute frequency, there’s also the grand tour of Renton, so for anyone that the bus network forces through the transit center, you’re taking a good 20-25 minutes on the 101 traveling local streets within Renton, before even getting on the freeway.

        One big problem with a Renton->Ranier Beach shuttle being the way to get downtown is safety issues waiting for a bus or train (especially a bus) at Ranier beach after dark. One idea Metro could consider to alleviate this concern, at least for train->bus trips would be to have the Ranier Beach->Renton bus layover at Ranier Beach Station with its doors open so that connecting passengers can wait on the bus, rather than out in the street.

    2. How many hours does the 40 waste going all the way to and from central base every trip rather than laying over in Pioneer Square or the ID?

      1. A ton. From Bruce’s post last year, each round trip wastes 15 minutes deadheading so Sodo. There are 80 round trips on weekdays, 70 on Saturdays, and 55 on Sundays, or 525 per week, or 29,000 per year. At 15 minutes lost per trip, that’s 7,200 service hours. At $150/hour, that’s $1m per year.

      2. Add that to the time packed 40s spend crawling in GP lanes to Fremont … and that is pretty costly!

  2. So just to clarify… do express buses like the 41 lose not only tunnel access but also express lane freeway access after 2019?

    That’s news to me and would have a highly negative effect on ridership.

    The 41 is a very high volume route. Without a reasonable transfer point to downtown, there are going to be a lot of angry riders…

    1. I think the Pike St. express lane entrance/exit would remain open. If not, Metro could reroute the bus to use the 5th/Columbia St. exit.

      You are right that having the 41 use the general-purpose lanes peak hours would be unacceptable.

      1. I hope that they have a work-around. Using GP lanes or switching to an eastlake routing removes the utility of this route.

        A lot of folks are willing take a two or three seat ride because the 41 is so fast and efficient. If it becomes a really slow and difficult ride might make a lot of current commutes no longer viable.

      2. IIRC the old 41 (8 Blue Streak) used the 5th/Columbia exit, travelled south a bit then back north on 3rd. It may have done so all the way up until the tunnel was opened.

        Doing so means the riders to the south end of downtown now get there first instead of last, but the riders in the north part of downtown have a chance at a seat in the afternoon whereas now they don’t. Tradeoffs.

        (a possible advantage to returning to this routing until Northgate Link opens is an extension into Belltown or SLU at the end of the route)

      3. And the 76 went south on 3rd and north on 5th to the express lanes. So the most natural way to get to 65th or University Heights was to take the 71/72/73X northbound on 3rd, but the fastest way was to take the 76 southbound on 3rd if it was running.

    2. I think the idea is: 2017-2019 the 41 uses 9th to access the express lanes at Pike, from 2019-2021 it uses an undetermined surface routing but probably like the 76/77 etc do today, and in 2021 Northgate Link opens and the 41 is deleted anyway.

      1. Zach,

        Yep the 41 goes away in 2021, but that’s no reason to make folks just deal with bad service for the years in-between.

        Routing the 41 on Eastlake/Roosevelt negates the express usefulness of the route. At that point you might as well ask folks to switch to the new 67 route and switch at UW station instead.

        Until 2021 the city and metro need to work out a way to keep the 41 working as far as downtown (after which it can turn around) until there is a reliable alternative.

        The trade off here isn’t losing good bus service for better train service, but very specifically in this case losing good bus service too early because we don’t want to preserve express lane access while building the fancy new convention center.

        I don’t see why we can’t make both work.

      2. No one is suggesting putting the 41 on Eastlake/Roosevelt as far as I know. The only difference is a 2-block detour to 9th/Pike instead of direct I-5 access from CPS.

      3. @Charles B,

        A forced switch to Link at UW Station actually isn’t a bad idea. Thanks for bringing it up — Hopefully someone is taking a serous look at such options.

        The rumors about interlining with a turnback at Stadium Station have been relatively persistent for awhile now. One aspect of these rumors has been that interlining like this could be used to reduce the number of buses in the downtown core.

        So, yes, I think you are probably right about more transfers and Link carrying more of the transit burden in the CBD

      4. @Zach looks like I misread your mention of RT 76 as RT 67. Sorry about that.

        Is there an existing offramp route being used from the express lanes that avoids the tunnels that 77/76 are already using? If so that sounds like it could be viable.

        @lazarus
        Using the Spring 2016 version of the 67 routing to UW would be a lot slower than an express lane alignment if its available. Its completely valid to use that as a reverse commute option in heavy traffic though, especially if we can get SDOT to invest some of the “Roosevelt Corridor” bus improvement funds in a way that would also benefit the route 67 heading north.

        To be clear though I am not necessarily suggesting that route 41 would not appear in the reverse peak route, but that we might encourage riders to ride to UW, and take a 67 to Northgate since it might well be faster than a 41 stuck in heavy freeway traffic.

      5. I think Spring 2016 will tell us more about the amount of 41 commuter traffic. I know that I’ll use Link + 372/65/75 as much as I can. Its possible that by 2017 the 41 is less of a commuter workhorse than it is now.

      6. @baselle,

        The 41 goes away in 2021 (hopefully earlier) anyhow. So the question becomes, “How much are we willing to spend/waste on a situation that we know will only last a few years anyhow?” My put is that we shouldn’t spend anything on infrastructure that we know will have a useful life of only a few years, but that operational spending is OK.

        That said, WSDOT is already making noise about changing the config of the Express Lanes. WSDOT views their foray into HOT lanes as so successful that they want to extend the concept to I-5. Potentially this would also include full-time bi-directional Express Lanes, and if they do that all bets are off regarding the utility of the Express Lanes for things like the 41.

  3. This is the last location between Northgate and Stadium on Link that is not or will not be in a tunnel. Is ST absolutely sure that there is no need for a siding or for non-revenue light rail access to a second line? Fixing a systems loss is much more expensive than $147M.

  4. a temporary ramp for the I-5 bus only to/from the express lanes? Though they would be no stop there, need to incorporate a permanent entrance into the Convention Place expansion (like the building that is top of the 5th and Columbia express lanes exit). don’t make the same mistake when the Seattle Art Museum REFUSED to incorporate a car barn for their waterfront art park and KILLED the WFSC.

    Maybe KC Metro may need to think about having more routes use the 5th and Columbia Exit (Routes 303, 304 and 355 currently uses them, plus some Community Transit routes).

    Only if Sound Transit could speed up the construction of the Seattle-Bellevue segment of East Link, that would allow the 550 and some I-90 disappear from downtown Seattle streets would be a plus.

    As said, the big issue is the 4 years between 2019 and 2023, when East LINK and Lynnwood LINK is complete, is what to do with all the buses in downtown in the meanwhile.

    1. No, as I understand it is a temporary ramp from the remnants of convention Place Station to 9th Avenue, from which buses will access the express lanes at Pike Street.

  5. Who gets the $147MM? Can that fund some Metro capital projects?

    The additional parking is strange. As has been mentioned before it is not like there is a shortage of parking downtown. Pacific Place is only a few blocks away. What is the parking demand they anticipate? The mega-conventions they are trying to attract have people flying in from all over the world, not driving in from Kent. Parking garages rarely pay off financially (and if they do, the ROI is generally lower than other uses) so it obviously isn’t a good investment.

    It would have been a lot better for transit and the city in general if this was housing or a mixed-use development. But that’s a story for another day.

    1. A lot of local people go to conventions too, especially if it’s rotating through their hometown. Also, the organizers, workers, and vendors want to park at the Convention Center and not several blocks away.

      1. We think walking several blocks is a non-issue for transit service. Not sure why it would be any different for conventions people might attend once a year.

        Most of the out-of-town visitors have to walk several blocks from their hotels today. Seems to be working out ok. I’d hope that local people can also walk a few blocks from an existing garage, or (gasp) use transit.

        Of course, when it doesn’t matter whether you make an economic profit and you can borrow tax-free, there isn’t the same level of scrutiny on how money is spent. I’m sure they will be bragging about how “green” the new facility is, but conveniently ignoring the garage.

      2. Walking a few blocks is less of an issue at the beginning and ending of a trip than transferring in the middle. Walking three or four flat blocks from Westlake or University Street to Pike Place Market is perfectly normal in a downtown, as is walking three or four blocks from the convention center to Westlake. But the two blocks between Convention Place Station and the eastbound Pike Street buses is a significant problem because a good transit network wouldn’t design transfers like that, and it deters riders from making that transfer. Instead most people transfer at Westlake. If you come up from the southwest entrance and walk north and west, you can reach the bus stop with going only halfway around a building and across one street. That’s still less than ideal (either the bus stop should be on Pine Street or the tunnel should have another entrance at 4th & Pike), but it’s better than at Convention Place.

        And I use Convention Place five or six days a week because it’s my closest station, so I’m not talking about an area I haven’t seen firsthand for years.

      3. A lot more people than you might think rent cars just to go between downtown and the airport because either:
        1) Their employer is paying for it, as a business expense
        2) The idea of getting from the airport to downtown without renting a car at the airport is so far-fetched to them, they do not bother to look – they won’t realize that Link even exists until they see it from the freeway.

      4. Well I will say for larger conventions the current garage does fill up. There are several shows/conventions/events a year where most of the visitors are local rather than out of town. (In other words good luck finding parking during PAX).

    2. FWIW the other two parcels that are being developed as part of this project, between Howell and Olive, 9th and Boren, are set to be mixed-use residential/hotel/retail. Plus the other two big developments going on the north side of Howell currently that will be either hotels or hotel/residential combos.

      I’m not the biggest fan of the huge boost in parking (feels like wasted space to add nearly 50% more), but the convention center expansion really is aiming to spur several different kinds of development in the area.

    3. I’m wondering what the walk between the facilities will be like for conventioneers. Will most conventions be fully within one facility or the other, or will some be split? It’s only three blocks but it’s around a corner and the facilities aren’t visible from each other, so we could end up with people lost like they do now coming to Convention Place Station and asking how to get to Greyhound or Amtrak or the airport train or Westlake Station or Redmond, and you have to try to explain to them how to get to Westlake which they can’t see from there either. So they’ll either need maps in the convention centers or signs at the intersections or an underground tunnel between them.

      1. Depending on what portion of the convention center buildings you’re talking about, they’re as close as one block apart — it seems WSCC is focusing on 9th Ave as the “main” entrance for the expansion, which puts it closest to the rest of the existing convention center.

        WSCC is going to have to do a better job of explaining how folks will get down to 6th and into the DSTT for most transit needs. Signage will be important, but I think we already realize the ST and Metro system is already short on appropriate signage for new/infrequent riders. It’s tough to expect convention-goers to hop on buses around downtown, but it’s a bit smaller ask to get them into the tunnel where they can then figure things out … now we just need the tunnels themselves to better explain things.

    4. Forget any supposed “need” for parking. There isn’t enough road capacity to fill the lots and garages we have.

      There shouldn’t be a single stall of parking added to downtown or SLU ever again. It should be a city law.

    5. I’ve done setup for one of those mega-conventions (thank goodness that gig is no more), and there’s definitely an attitude among the corporate types that go to those conventions that public transit is for the poor. There’s also the people like me who had to setup for the convention and schlep hundreds of pounds of crap, which is a pain just in the convention center, and will be more so after it expands.

      If they could pull it off, I would have no problem with the on-site parking going to the workers rather than the pointy-haired bosses, but I doubt that’s feasible and might make it harder attracting conventions to pay off the bond debt.

  6. KC was sitting on a gold mine in terms of potential property taxes, but they chose to sell to someone who was tax exempt? Smart.

    1. I believe WSCC can use eminent domain. So, even if it was sold to developers, WSCC could still take it. That crushes King County’s negotiating position.

      Blame state eminent domain laws, blame the convention center arms race, and blame the “stadium/convention center industrial complex” for promoting the notion that government has a vital role funding gigantic meeting halls for out of town dermatologists and insanely profitable sports leagues.

      Don’t blame King County.

      1. The convention center is more than just dermatologists meetings. I’m not sure the exact rankings in terms of economic impact, but shows like Emerald City Comic Con, Saukura Con, and especially PAX are huge in terms of money pumped into the economy and happen to attract a lot of locals. The meeting space is fairly important to local companies as well.

      2. I used to do some work for Supercomputing, a huge convention+vendor expo+research exchange conference that brings in something like 20k people and millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. They also provide some “free” upgrades to Internet connectivity in convention centers they visit, and the surrounding areas.

        They were last in Seattle in 2010. The rumor was that they would not be returning because of the limited size of our convention center. Not only did they fill up the convention center that year, but they also spilled over into surrounding hotel’s convention spaces, which definitely broke up the conference.

        There definitely is a market for bigger conferences/conventions. The question is whether we can break a profit after the upgrades in managing to attract them.

    2. The state says the convention center will pay for itself in a couple years with tax receipts, by conventions that currently bypass Seattle because there’s not enough space for a large conference or not enough vacant space for multiple simultaneous conferences. The money would go to the state rather than the county, but if you stop being parochial for a second you’d realize that we benefit when the state is flush, and it would be a perpetual gold mine once the construction is paid off, and we could maybe get the state to commit to spending the money in ways that benefit Seattle since that’s where it’s coming from, and Seattle benefits would also make the center more attractive to conventioneers.

  7. The “early” blue line presented here is a good strategy!

    My only concern is the capability to quickly reverse trains at the UW Station. That operational challenge has constrained rail operations with other systems.

    The siding south of Stadium should be good for reversing trains too. The big challenge is how to schedule driver breaks. These operational challenges with work rules seem to require that operators will need to constantly play “musical chairs” with trains during their shits.

    1. Stadium was designed for turnbacks, and it’s occasionally used for that when there’s a crowd spike or part of the line is shut down.

    2. Al,

      This will be the same as it is currently. A train pulling into the Stadium turnback track will have 6 minutes until the next train needs to pull onto that track (the train that follows 3 minutes behind will continue southbound on the mainline). At UW Station there’s only a three minute window for the driver to switch ends of the train and move back onto the southbound platform, so there’d be no opportunity for the driver to take a break there. But providing a driver break station at only one end of the line is similar to what happens with buses that live loop.

      1. I think that most drivers get at least 8-10 minutes at one end of their round trip. This doesn’t allow more than 4 minutes (assuming it takes a driver two more minutes to turn off the train, go to a different car, and initialize the train again).

      2. Yes, I didn’t take into account that at the current southern terminus, the trains wait on either side of the platform instead of a common turn-back track, thus giving them 12 minutes (with the current 6-minute headways) before their section of track is needed by the next incoming train. With the single shared track at Stadium it’s only 6-minutes.

      3. The current SeaTac terminus turn-around doesn’t give a driver a full 12 minutes at a 6 minute headway. That’s because a train must pull out and pass by the cross-over tracks before the next one can pull in. I’ve been on trains that have to wait to pull into SeaTac several times because of this — at 7.5 minute headways. At most it’s 10 minutes and it’s less if the trains are slightly off schedule by just a minute.

        I don’t drive trains, but I’d think the operational solution that will emerge is that the Red line will return to 8-10 minutes headways and the Blue line would have the same. Pushing it to be tighter could get quite challenging. That may be enough for future demand until when Northgate opens.

      4. I’m also not an expert on the Link driver labor agreements, but at some point Link drivers will probably get breaks at both ends of their trip. With Angle Lake and U-Link, a one-way trip time is already approaching an hour; Northgate or Lynnwood will push it over an hour.

        Is anyone familiar with Link driver agreements about breaks?

      5. “I’d think the operational solution that will emerge is that the Red line will return to 8-10 minutes headways and the Blue line would have the same.”

        That’s what somebody said, that it would go back to 10 minutes when East Link opens.

  8. Another thing to mention is the sale of the property will create a revenue stream for metro for additional service hours, per what DowC told me on Twitter.

    1. Transforming capital funds/resources into service hours instead is almost never a good idea.

      Its short term thinking. You don’t want to rely on grant style funds to support your transit services. One time large chunks of money need to be used for long term assets and capitol projects.

      1. I agree. Metro should use this money to improve the 3rd ave bus corridor, more bus-only lanes, signal priority, etc. All of that should help alleviate the move from tunnel to surface.

      2. Unfortunately $147 million won’t go far for capital projects. But ironically it’s close to the $200-240 million the DSTT was in 1980s dollars. So we can dream of a down payment on a second tunnel, and note that WSCC is just two letters different from WSTT.

  9. I think this is ultimately good news for Link and for transit in the area. Joint operations in the tunnel should not be a long-term goal given the billions that we are pouring into Link. Link truly needs to be a high capacity system that runs as unimpeded as possible. I think we can all observe that the current set-up, while squeezing more capacity out of the tunnel, makes the Link travel experience less than optimal.

    The tunnel has been used as a political hot potato for too long by the pro-bus/anti-rail/anti-change crowd. Time for Seattle to grow out of its bus obsession and fully leverage the multi-billion dollar investment it’s making in rail.

    1. To a lot of us the tunnel isn’t the issue. The loss of express lane access downtown for transit is.

      We all know the tunnel access is going away. This could be mitigated until North link opens by running on surface streets when the buses get to downtown.

      If we lose the access to the express lanes though its a completely different story. An express connector route that took less than 20 minutes could now take 40 or more… that would put a major dent in ridership if its true.

      1. @CharlesB, I don’t get your concern on this part. Sure the best ramp goes away, but there’s still transit access to express lanes at Columbia, Pike, Howell, and Mercer, and no one is suggesting taking any of that away.

      2. @Zach the lack of a clear plan is the concern here. If there was a clear plan on paper for how the buses were going to continue to use the express lanes after 2019 I would be a lot less concerned.

        Lack of evidence of planning ahead leads one to believe that no planning has been done and that we might end up with an “oops” moment in 2019 when the buses suddenly don’t have a planned route.

        Now I don’t suspect they don’t have a plan, I just haven’t been given the impression that a plan is already in place given the lack of information.

        The language in the article here implied that there were going to be mitigations in place until 2019 (and no subsequent info on mitigation). That information gap leaves area for concern.

  10. Personally, I think it makes much better sense to have a light rail stop right under new convention center where people can get off and right in the convention center from either coming from Sea-Tac or north light rail.

    Without the convention center stop, people who are going to the new convention center will have to be in the winter cold and rain.

    1. Agreed. Too bad Sound Transit thought differently, and didn’t even put a level space in the tunnel to add a station later.

      1. Isn’t the track where the Link trains terminate by the Paramount Theater flat and flat enough for two car trains? Seems they could build a station here if it’s flat by adding an eastbound platform under the sidewalk east of the Paramount and add the westbound platform in the new convention center building.

    2. Convention Place Station was built partly for access to the express lanes, partly for conventioneers going to the airport, and partly for Capitol Hill riders. Of these only the first is succeeding well. Conventioneers don’t go directly to the convention center, they go to their hotel. Or if they do go from the tunnel to the convention center they just as often use Westlake Station which is not much farther, has more lines, has all lines at the same platforms rather than split across platforms, is fully enclosed, and doesn’t have an ugly concrete design with an ugly neon sculpture. Capitol Hill riders are miffed that it’s two blocks away from the eastbound bus stops, and you have to walk past the express lane entrance which is like another block and signal. Westbound the buses stop near the station but then there’s the split-platforms issue, so often it’s better to go to Westlake. And if you’re walking from Capitol Hill to Convention Place, only the corner of the hill is within walking distance, and you have to walk across the unpleasant freeway.

      1. “and doesn’t have an ugly concrete design with an ugly neon sculpture. ”

        That’s my biggest concern when choosing where to catch the bus.

        Seriously, a new light rail station adjacent to CPS should have been included when they built the stub tunnel, especially after the First Hill station was deleted.

      2. To me that’s the same kind of muddy thinking as “We must build a Georgetown bypass to the airport.” The way to design a line is to start with the largest transit markets (the largest concentrations of pedestrians), which are at 5th & Pine and Broadway & John-Pine, (and ideally First Hill), and then you add the secondary transit markets around them and draw a line between them. Convention Place Station is not a primary or a secondary transit market, it’s an out-of-the-way station looking for a purpose. Westlake is close enough to the Convention Center for conventioneers.

      3. Oh, you mentioned CP as a substitute for First Hill Station. If I were near Swedish or Virginia Mason, I would not use Convention Place Station. It’s a steep downhill, out-of-the-way walk, and a walk across the Pike-Pine freeway bridges. Madison BRT is coming; the 2 serves Virginia Mason, and you could just as easily walk to University Street Station as Convention Place Station.

      4. If you want a better station for southwest Capitol Hill, try Bellevue & Pine. That would be more effective than Convention Place.

  11. A 40% reduction in travel times from UW to IDS? Ahievable just but surfacing the buses and ending Joint Ops? That is a huge reduction in travel times.

    Why on earth would we not want to end joint ops as soon as possible after U-Link opens? Why even wait?

    1. +1. When I have timed Link, I get 10 minutes leaving Westlake to leaving Intl Dist in the daytime, and 2 minutes arriving Intl Dist to arriving Westlake after 8pm. (My northbound trips are usually later than my southbound trips, but it should be symmetrical at the same time of day.) That suggests that at least 4-5 minutes could easily be shaved off when the buses leave. Also, the Westlake-SeaTac travel time is 39 minutes which feels like most of an hour, but if you start from IntlDist daytime it’s only 29 minutes, which is within a respectable half hour. Same for the 150: it’s 45-55 minutes from Westlake but only 35-45 minutes from Intl Dist, which is a respectable amount of time to get to Kent (and only twice as slow as Sounder). So our travel times look especially bad because we usually quote them from Westlake and that includes 8 minutes of DSTT bus/train overhead.

      1. Scheduled travel times for Link currently include a three minute cushion in the DSTT – If nothing is in our way the reliable travel time from IDS to Westlake is six minutes not the nine minutes that is currently scheduled (Yes it currently takes much more than that today especially during the peak of afternoon peak). If you expect Link to transport everyone that currently uses a bus in the DSTT then station dwell times alone would need you to maintain that six minute travel time possibly a bit more.

        Stadium Station turnbacks would cost you a couple of minutes just to sweep the trains before exiting the mainline into the Stadium pocket – and another couple of minutes once there to switch ends and be ready to operate NB – not impossible but it would be begging for anything to go wrong and create a delay which would have a greater impact than any joint use problem that we regularly experience today

        There are sufficient facilities at UW Station for operator breaks (and seat slides) to accommodate operator needs assuming that the needed hours are built in to the schedules.

      2. slang for an operator change. Train pulls into terminus and another operator takes over and leaves (after a few minutes), the original operator then does the same on a subsequent train.

  12. too bad we don’t have some sort of SODO bus/Link station that could be enclosed (including LINK) to allow for more pleasant transfers for all southern bus routes … maybe near Boeing Field or something like that or between SODO and Stadium.

    1. Maybe we could upgrade the SODO stop to make the interaction between buses and rail work better. Awnings to protect passengers from the rain would be a good start…

    2. Good transfer station(s) would be a +1+1+1! Toronto has a northern subway station with bus bays around the corner all within the fare paid area, and it may also be a streetcar terminus if I remember. Denver has an underground bus depot. The first proposal for the DST had a trolleybus shuttle within downtown, with bus depots at both ends. That wasn’t chosen because suburbanites complained that they didn’t want to transfer at the edge of downtown, so dual-mode buses were chosen instead to give them one-seat rides. But now it’s 30 years later and Link is higher-quality service, and the DSTT degrades horribly with its current overcrowding, so maybe it could succeed now.

  13. “Though bus service has long been planned for removal upon Northgate Link opening in 2021”. really? Link extent does not end joint operations; very short Link headway would. According to the ST SIP, six-minute headway is planned for 2021. If CPS is lost, that could change, as the piece later explains. If joint operations continued, different routes not in the DSTT today, to and from the south, could use the DSTT. Could ST and Metro improve bus fare collection in the DSTT? Could the WSTCC expand on a different block? Could a much larger building be built in the CPS block, one that provided even more revenue to Metro?

    1. Where are you looking at and which routes? The 41 will be truncated when Northgate opens. The Snohomish County ST and CT buses will continue going downtown until Lynnwood opens in 2023, because Northgate Station was not designed for hundreds of buses, Northgate Way is clogged now, and the freeway exit probably can’t fit them and the existing cars. I haven’t heard about the Shoreline Metro routes (e.g., 301).

      1. There’s not much of the 41 left if its actually truncated in 2021. I suspect the route will simply end and the hours will be redistributed in the far north end (Bitter Lake/Lake City) or a new route will be drawn.

  14. That seems like not very much money for a parcel that could be worth billions.

    Someone is getting away with murder and shortchanging the taxpayers.

    1. Seattle was above 500,000 in the 1960s but went down with the Boeing Bust and white flight and bottomed out at 420,000 in the 1980s. Then it started going up again with the new urbanism in the 1990s and passed 500,000 again in the late 90s or early 00s. Growth sped up after 2010 and we reached 620,000 pretty quickly. So with normal growth in the 90s or accelerated growth now, we could easily reach 850,000 within thirty years.

      1. Where do you get that 420,000 number, Mike? The 1980 census is the lowest data point the city has, where it was 493,846. The population actually increased by 5% in the 1980s and by 1990 was nearly back to 1970 population at 516,259. As bad as it might have been (and I was here then), we never lost 110,000 people, or 20%+ of the population, in 10+ years. That’s Detroit-level stuff (or worse).

        Interestingly enough, the city’s rank nationally has been nearly unchanged since 1910, showing that while perhaps trends here lagged or led national ones, the same major effects other cities were dealing with were also felt here.

        I’m happy that in those lowest population years we still had enough foresight to build the tunnel through downtown, which was (and is) truly a game-changer for the future of transit in this city. Imagine being tied to surface running like Portland, San Diego or Phoenix and trying to go through downtown, not just to it.

      2. The chart I saw said around 410,000-420,000 in the early 80s. I saw it ten years ago so I can’t find it now.

        In the early 80s First Avenue was full of prostitutes and downtown was declining, although it never got as bad as most American cities. Frederick & Nelson went out of business, losing one of the three department stores. The DSTT was part of a slew of projects that included building Westlake Center and Park, shortening the monorail a half block, building Pacific Place and its garage, and relocating Nordstrom to F&N for a new flagship store. Those all happened around the same time and were somewhat related. The prostitutes were pushed out to Aurora and Pacific Highway by police crackdowns. The Newmark building at 2nd & Pike was built then or a bit later, and had a movie theater which lasted a few years and now has Target. The Nordstrom Rack opened around then, and the Downtown Seattle Association began employing ambassadors and street cleaners, partly to advise tourists and partly to advise homeless people where to find shelter and services away from the retail core.

      3. Scott,
        Seattle is currently the 13th largest Primary Statistical Area and the 15th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area, I don’t believe that ranking has held constant for 105 years. CSA and MSA is the preferred way of comparing US cities due to wide variance in how city boundaries got drawn. Furthermore MSA and CSA indicate market size much better for things like airport O&D, employment market size, and retail market size.

    1. The current convention center isn’t going anywhere. I-5 isn’t going to be expanded in Seattle basically ever.

      Deal with it.

      1. I know that it is not going to change because Seattle has a war on cars and does not caout how the rest of us are impacted.

      2. Seattle won the war on cars? Really? So I guess parking minimums are gone now. And those dilemmas about transit lanes on Madison, 45th, and Aurora just melted away. Hooray!

        For a real war on cars, see London, Paris, and Copenhagen. They make decisions for the convenience of people rather than cars. There’s one city I can’t remember that decided to cap its parking spaces at the current level, so every new space implies deleting an old space. And Paris is actively eliminating a quota of parking spaces per year to make room for transit lanes and bike lanes.

      3. There’s a war on cars in Seattle? I didn’t know that. How many cars have been killed in this war so far?

      4. Obvious troll is obvious.

        …or does not comprehend the miniscule effect Seattle has at the state (let alone federal) levels, where decisions relating to I-5 would be made.

        The days of clearing out huge swaths of central cities for freeway construction are likely (and thankfully) done forever, and not just here.

      5. I-5 is at the end of its design life and needs to be rebuilt now. WSDOT is postponing it because of the price tag and because it’s working on the DBT and 520 now. Widening I-5 downtown would require knocking down a row of expensive office towers and losing that office/housing capacity at a time of record demand. Widening it on the east would require cutting into the hillside. So the current ROW footprint is as big as it’ll get, and WSDOT would have to look at more double-decking if it wants more lanes. But it implicitly rejected putting more lanes on I-5 when it decided to build the DBT.

        Of course, ideally I-5 would be downgraded and some of the lanes converted to high-speed rail or restored to neighborhood blocks, but the public is a long way from approving this. And extend the lid over the rest of it downtown.

    2. The state and local powers that be could be the most pro-highway ones in the U.S. And there would still be no way I-5 would be widened through Seattle. The cost of buying property alone is enough to kill the idea dead. Due to terrain building the highway itself would be expensive as well. The only real alternative would be a ‘big dig’ type project and without a huge check from uncle that isn’t going to happen.

    1. Yes, there’s a crossover track just south of the platform. Could be done just like it is at SeaTac today, or like it was at Tukwila before SeaTac opened.

  15. 1. I wonder if a corridor through the construction job could be kept for the 41, considering that it’s still our mainline, very heavily-used, service to Northgate. If not, trip via Ninth to Pike Street I-5 ramp should be bus-laned and signal-pre-empted.

    2. Right now, of all Tunnel routes, at PM rush hour, the 41 is the least well-managed of any DSTT service. Buses don’t have to bunch up the way they do. However, this problem, along with others, could be eliminated by supervisors exercising some dispatch control at IDS. As DSTT design always intended.

    Of all northbound pm DSTT routes, the 41 spends most needless amount of time loading coaches and collecting fares. Partly, drivers need training to speed up loading. If platform Proof of Payment can’t be instituted, also as per design, all DSTT passengers could buy passes using existing TVM’s.

    3. Before anybody says anymore about sending NB buses through town and down to Columbia- ask somebody who remembers about the “Wall of Buses” making northbound passengers spend a half hour going south through Downtown before heading off in correct direction. Just forget it. Period.

    4. But most important, for all the rest of joint use, KC Metro has to get bus service under the disciplined control that the DSTT always presumed. Supervised dispatch from portals. Most of “Security Guards” repurposed to duty like wheelchair assistance and passenger information. Intensive special training for all Tunnel drivers.

    If our transit system, from Management to first-line drivers and supervisors can’t, or as I suspect don’t feel like making the effort, most humane thing is to get every bus out of there as soon as ULink opens. Not only will bus passengers be miserable, but LINK passengers will absolutely refuse to tolerate a fifteen minute wait in a backed up subway. Or longer, the more trains pile up.

    5. If and when buses are forced to the surface, SDOT will have no choice about bus lanes and signal pre-empt through entire CBD. I’m afraid “forced” could be key word. Of course it would be best of the conversion could be done in a measured, orderly way.

    But based on the mentality of DSTT operations since 1990, most likely handling will be business as usual until faceless and powerful people miss planes while stuck in the tube above Westlake. Or whole three or four-car trainloads of passengers open the doors and file south on foot.

    Then, buses will suddenly go “surface”, and the city, after maybe a year, will have to do that bus priority. With all my feelings about the DSTT, I’ve still got no problem with removing the buses right now. Before the ACLU, Amnesty International, and the Justice Department people already here call for UN troops.

    Upon which, politicians desperate to distract attention to the fact they can’t govern will forbid passengers from escaping from the Tunnel until they are “vetted”. Recent terrorists doubtless used the Paris subways, so…

    Mark Dublin

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