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NOTE: This post is copied in its entirety from an article I wrote, titled LRT vs. BRT to West Seattle: A Mapped Comparison. It is the latest entry of my blog, Transportation Matters, a Pacific Northwest-flavored blog that discusses railway planning, urban planning, and related politics.

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Once again, the debate is taking place on what type of investment should be a priority within a Sound Transit expansion package, this time ST3. Lacking a coherent investment strategy that places due emphasis on the most critical elements of a pre-planned regional transit network (a plan that exists only in the abstract), ST3 is becoming a transportation grab-bag skewed by big ideas, politics, sub-area funding conflict and disorganization. Perhaps the messy process that characterizes these discussions can produce a meaningful plan on which to vote, but the nature of this animal leaves many doubtful.

Certainly, any investment in new rights-of-way and quicker, more efficient transit will become a welcome addition to the Puget Sound mobility system, but it remains essential that the public be critical of each proposal. Seattle and its environs must demand the finest outcomes within a constrained budget, and, indeed, force Sound Transit to respect the supremacy of any budget and maintain their promises to the public. Transportation “technicals” should be provided their due deference as they whittle expensive and complicated plans to their value-engineered best, if not nixing them entirely as white elephants that serve niche markets. With sensible budgets and scope limitation; with a critical body-politic led by a skeptical expertise, and; with logical projects that take advantage of existing infrastructure and urban development patterns, we can promote a finer Puget Sound region that is both more accommodating and affordable to those who choose to reside here. This process will ultimately be dictated by transit access.

A primary focus of the ST3 discussions is upgraded transit service to West Seattle, specifically Alaska Junction, and rightfully so. Here, a historic neighborhood center has been transformed, home to many new residential buildings, restaurants, grocery stores, cafes, and all the other urban amenities for which people clamor. The population density of the area, as evidenced by the 2010 census, is a defined, respectable block of orange in a sea of yellow, indicative of the new energy focused on the area. The energy is made manifest in development patterns that we should endorse through transportation investment that will not only sustain it, but encourage more of it. West Seattle, and Alaska Junction, in particular, are important places, and the city and Sound Transit should acknowledge this truth with a redirection of funds toward sensible, local rapid-transit projects.

Residents of West Seattle have plenty to be cynical about. While they have done their part constructing a secondary urban center within the city that is urbane and lovely, Seattle has responded with lackluster transit provisions that do not effectively tie the area into the urban core. Frustration has mounted with a freighted intensity. RapidRide C-line, popularly championed as bus rapid-transit (BRT), only marginally reduced trip times from the Junction to Downtown, but only on the best of days, and the buses are frequently caught in clogged traffic lanes that must be navigated in the absence of dedicated lanes in critical areas. The buses are frequently bunched at their termini as a result, despite scheduled 7 to 8 minute headways in peak hours, and are often jam-packed with local commuters. Many are driven to the King County Water Taxi and skip the buses entirely. The current solution is not working, and it arguably never has worked.

While the problem in West Seattle is clearly defined, solutions are not.

As Sound Transit and the region continues its unabashed love affair with light rail expansion, of which Transportation Matters is a critic, many in West Seattle are longing for inclusion into the system. This desire for incorporation into the Link network is sensible, especially in light of the failings of RapidRide. Rail can be swift, is usually unencumbered by traffic over dedicated right-of-way, and is typically a very smooth ride. These are true statements that speak to the value of quality rail transportation, and, indeed, rail services can be an intelligent investment for the public to make. However, these statements can be true of bus services, too, and, for the RapidRide C-line, the fact that they are not is a major failing of the corridor.

In the debate over upgraded service to West Seattle, it is thus imperative to remember the following:

Just because it rolls over rails does not make a proposal worthwhile, and, alternatively, just because it rolls over tires does not make a proposal inferior.

West Seattle residents are rightful in their indignation toward the current iteration of RapidRide, but rail is not necessarily the panacea that should be sought to address the C-Line’s issues. Nor is the indignation toward bus service deserved. The idea of BRT service for the area is not a misguided one, though its execution here is totally inadequate. For those who long for a traffic-free commute from one of the city’s most important centers and who seek rail infrastructure to provide it, they fail to envision the possibility of a better designed RapidRide providing exactly that. Such a transit luxury could also be provided for billions of dollars cheaper at the most expensive build-out when compared to any new rail extension to West Seattle’s densest neighborhood.

This opinion in favor of BRT over light-rail transit (LRT) to West Seattle is neither an expression of anti-rail bias or even partisanism.

Rail infrastructure best serves areas that look and feel quite like Alaska Junction, or are even more urban, and whose importance as a key neighborhood center is undeniable. These areas are dense and likely growing, featuring healthy development patterns. Rail infrastructure links such centers into a system that builds the foundation for a greater city.  As an isolated case, Alaska Junction is precisely that: important, urban and growing properly. The context of Alaska Junction in the regional picture, however, upends the model that otherwise would support rail investments to the neighborhood.

First, the daily ridership totals on the C-line are not necessarily indicative of a corridor that will be better served, or even should be served, by rail. At approximately 8,300 daily riders (pg. 68), the C-line is not particularly impressive in numbers of people moved. Vancouver’s 99 B-line, for example, a preeminent bus corridor in North America,  hauls nearly 56,000 daily (pg. 65). There is clearly room to grow for the C-line. Though there are other bus routes through West Seattle, none approach the frequencies or prominence of the C-line, and the numbers are therefore telling of the demand for transit in West Seattle: increasing steadily, but not quite noteworthy—yet.

Second, and far more damning, is simply the political and physical geography of West Seattle and its neighborhoods.

Politically, not only are the neighborhood centers disjointed in their arrangement on the isolated peninsula that is West Seattle, the urban centers beyond Alaska Junction are not especially deserving of rail service. More troubling, the areas continue to be entirely surrounded by auto-oriented sprawl. Additionally, any extension of Link to West Seattle would not encounter a meaningful population center until Alaska Junction(!), representing miles of lost revenue and ridership in effort to serve this station. When compared to a hypothetical line serving Belltown or South Lake Union, then Lower Queen Anne, Fremont, and, finally, Ballard, the value of an extension to Alaska Junction is abysmal when we consider its value to the city or region holistically.

Geographically, the peninsula itself exhibits substantial disparities in elevation within short distances, from sea-level to 520′ at High Point (with Alaska Junction resting at roughly 350′). Though LRT can handle significant gradients, beyond 3.5% the machines begin to experience degradation in operational quality, especially on the long ruling grades that would be required to service the hilly terrain of the area. Add the effects of moisture to 4, 5 and 6% grades, or steeper, to multi-car trains and the challenges become self-evident.

Depending upon the particular routing chosen, deep-bore stations may be required. These stations, as they are on Sound Transit’s U-Link extension or New York City’s 2nd Avenue Subway, can often be the most expensive components of any new rail project with subterranean components.

On top of everything else, the rails must vault the Duwamish River, an engineering feat in itself. Compounding this challenge, as if the length of the two waterways (both east and west) were not enough, the span over the Western Waterway either needs a low-level drawbridge to open for shipping traffic, or feature an air draft (i.e., a vertical clearance) of 150′ to avoid this necessity. Pick your poison: keep rail elevation low and suffer service interruptions from tall cargo ships, or erect an extraordinary new LRT bridge with massive approaches.

Third, and the death knell to LRT in this author’s opinion, is cost. Not only is the cost destined to be outstanding—in the multiple billions—due to the challenges related to building rail infrastructure over an industrial river and up and into a hillside, but also due to the overall little benefit of the extension to Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region. The cost/benefit ratio of light rail to Alaska Junction is very poor.

Nonetheless, such an extension is technically feasible.

As with all new transit corridors, there are multiple rights-of-way that can be explored to deliver rail service to Alaska Junction and beyond. However, exhaustive research does suggest that the alignment proposed below, zig-zagging as it does through valleys and vaulting over highways and rivers, is the superior selection.

Alignments farther north of the West Seattle Bridge, including those to Admiral, are superfluous and serve small centers at an extraordinary cost. Otherwise, they become entangled in freeway access ramps and elevated roadways. Alignments farther south of the bridge, especially through Pigeon Point, require taller and longer bridges over a wider, busier section of the Duwamish; require additional and separate segments of tunneling; have direct and unavoidable impacts on the residential community and streets near Delridge Way and the port-industrial clusters along the Duwamish, and; simply do not merit the substantial engineering and planning expenses for a straighter, modestly swifter travel time. Other possibilities, many with popular support, serve the “Avalon Triangle” area adjacent to Fauntleroy Way, but this seems to be a relatively minor net-benefit when compared to alignments that serve the general area with far less community impact.

Mapped below is what a light-rail transit corridor to West Seattle could look like.

LRT, WEST SEATTLE to DOWNTOWN.

BRT, on the other hand, can handle stiff grades and unexpected route changes; can take full advantage of existing surface infrastructure into Alaska Junction and beyond, and; can take full advantage of the existing multi-lane bridge over the Duwamish River. Additionally, using buses to serve the key stop of Alaska Junction is a far better use of funding and resources than having trains perform the same job. In every conceivable area, not only is BRT better for West Seattle and Alaska Junction over trains, but Alaska Junction is a paramount example of a locale perfectly suited for such services.

Needed to save billions of dollars while rescuing West Seattle from the depravity of clogged freeways, wasted hours, and ruined days is little more than a reallocation of space on existing streets; dedicated BRT-lanes. Unfortunately, this has been complicated for Seattle and the region to accomplish, and it spends billions on new rail infrastructure as a consequence of this ridiculous inability to challenge the primacy of cars (even on key transit corridors).

To ensure precision schedules and guarantee trip times, new access ramps to these dedicated lanes could be constructed onto the West Seattle Bridge and State Route 99, and new transit-only lanes should be reserved on the new Alaskan Way Boulevard, on Avalon Way (and possibly Fauntleroy Way), and finally Alaska Street at a terminal situated immediately east of the traffic light on California Avenue. The forthcoming mapped plan has many of these new BRT lanes in the center of the roadway, but such details can be debated and changed should alternatives prove more intelligent.

The most expensive components of this proposal are the new transit-only ramps to the elevated freeways, which, although their cost is not insignificant, are nowhere as astounding as the cost of a new railroad. If the cost for new ramps prove to somehow be unappetizing to taxpayers, metered access points, or even controlled intersections, could be explored at those areas where buses must cross general purpose lanes to access their transit-dedicated lanes. This would mitigate the need for separated access routes for BRT from general traffic, but metered roads or intersections would push traffic jams into West Seattle streets, and freeway speeds could be hampered by cars accelerating from a stop after the passing of a BRT service. Additionally, if BRT services became very frequent, say every 1-1/2 to 3 minutes, conflicts at such areas may prove too much of a traffic-inducing nuisance. This is why separate lanes and access ramps for BRT are proposed outright.

Mapped below is what an authentic bus rapid-transit corridor to West Seattle could look like.

BRT, WEST SEATTLE to DOWNTOWN.

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VERDICT: Seattle and Sound Transit Should Invest In Bus Rapid-Transit to West Seattle.

33 Replies to “LRT vs. BRT to West Seattle: A Mapped Comparison.”

  1. Suggestion: either make some lower resolution versions of your maps or get another hosting company. I have never seen a “progress bar” back up and “take a run at ‘er”, but these do.

    To the content of the proposal, almost everyone who posts on ST agrees with your conclusion that LRT to West Seattle will be an expensive boondoggle and is certainly “overkill”. I certainly do. And your proposal for construction of new elevated lanes across the Delridge Valley is an excellent one. The current weaving and breaks in the eastbound bus lane encourages violation of the lane and is prone to accidents and delays.

    So technically you have a very good proposal.

    Politically it is DOA, however, because West Seattle would vote against ST3 by probably three to one if no rail line — however gold plated a ridiculous project it is — does not come to the peninsula. And the powers that be know it and are performing triple back flips to placate them. Thus is transportation sausage made.

    On a “wayback machine” note, three months ago you were all “We gotta’ do this!” about spending the “astounding … cost[s] of a new railroad” for a whole lot fewer people in Olympia. So are the residents of Olympia “more equal” than those of West Seattle?

    1. It is also quite possible that there will be a lot of people from throughout the city that vote against ST3 if it includes West Seattle light rail. Some of those people will be from West Seattle (especially parts of West Seattle that won’t gain much by a train). From a political standpoint, I think it is always a good idea if you build what makes sense. Favoring one region over another within that context is OK (and might be politically necessary) but to build something stupid is usually a bad idea. To do nothing for West Seattle would probably be a political mistake (even though it could be justified, given the needs of the region) but to do something stupid for them might cost you more votes than you gain.

    2. More people will vote based on service in their area than on West Seattle. Voting against rail in West Seattle that also prevents it from going to other areas is like cutting off your foot to spite your shoe. It would only be worthwhile if the other areas are so minimally upgraded that they won’t be much of a benefit.

      1. I think that is a given, though, Mike. If we spend money on West Seattle light rail, then it is highly unlikely we will spend money on anything for the Central Area or First Hill. Nor will we spend anything on Lake City or Bitter Lake. We may not even spend anything on the area between between Ballard and UW (which would be served quite well with a subway). That means that most of the city is minimally upgraded (if it is upgraded at all) while we minimally upgrade West Seattle at great expense. It is hard to see much enthusiasm for that, based on personal benefit or a critical analysis of the system.

        If a set of stupid plans are proposed for Seattle (and the whole region) and it passes in Seattle, it will be because Seattle simply is so desperate for good transit that they will vote for anything. I do wonder how many people would vote for, say, a subway from Discovery Park to Madison Park, just because it is a subway.

  2. Anandakos,

    Any recommendations for a better PDF document host? I know the current host takes forever to load the maps and it is a problem I wish to correct.

    To your wayback point, any rail corridor to Olympia would serve many established centers and, collectively, a very large urban area population (with Olympia’s alone easily besting the core of West Seattle); is simply an upgrade of existing trackage as opposed to wholesale new infrastructure; establishes a logical rail corridor linking our region’s financial, cultural, military, and government centers; provides a mass-transportation backbone beyond the interstate; will have both a far higher capacity and far lower maintenance costs than the interstate while also providing a strong foundation for growth; can be upgraded and opening in segments; and; amongst other attributes, features a high enough speed to affect the economic and political geography of the Puget Sound region for the improvement of the lives of area residents, commuters and businesses.

    While the TAC-OLY corridor may be a secondary extension of the TAC-SEA core project, it nonetheless has value as an upgrade of existing rail infrastructure—really, the only rail infrastructure in our region. While the allocation of tax dollars to any project will be controversial, I believe the TAC-OLY project has merit as a consequence of the many aforementioned points. We can agree to disagree to this point, though, mister. :)

    West Seattle rail advocates, and there are many (even on this blog), do not have anywhere near as compelling of a case for investment.

    Thanks for commenting!

    1. Myself, I don’t know about good PDF hosts, but I’d recommend adding some lower-resolution maps too. Detailed diagrams are great, but sometimes people just want to take a brief glance. Maybe screenshot Google/Bing Maps?

      1. Try the new host; hopefully, this corrects the issues or mitigates the time required for viewing.

        ArcGIS saves map files as PDF’s.

    2. Wow, yes. That’s much faster and more useful. Kudos to you for finding a solution so quickly.

      Also, you now have the Holgate Street LRT link pointing correctly. In the old host the link pointed to the same map as “Stadium Station”. Good work.

  3. Being from West Seattle, I am always interested in these route planning exercises. However, I think you may have a huge flaw in this plan. There is little to any consideration for the route 120. If I remember my figures correctly, the route 120 is actually a higher volume route than RR C.

    From this plan, the route would either continue to progress to downtown as it does today or would have to detour to the Avalon station using a series of roadways subject to congestion.

    What does this plan do to address any of these issues?

    1. Of course 120 would continue downtown. It’s planned for RapidRide Plus treatment by SDOT. It would just climb up the existing on-ramp and move into the reserved lane headed northbound and continue merge into the new Delridge off-ramp southbound.

      1. Likewise for buses coming from Alki. That is what makes the BRT plan so much better than a light rail plan. It serves all the major corridors east of the Duwamish. Even non-BRT buses would be able to take advantage of the new ramps.

      2. No buses to Admiral or Alki via either Junction or Alki Boulevard are planned for RapidRide Plus, so not exactly “Ditto”. But certainly the peak hour expresses could use the Red Lanes

  4. Second, and far more damning, is simply the political and physical geography of West Seattle and its neighborhoods.

    Additionally, any extension of Link to West Seattle would not encounter a meaningful population center until Alaska Junction(!), representing miles of lost revenue and ridership in effort to serve this station.

    Many people said the same thing about building light rail into Rainier Valley. I remember going to a community meeting in Ballard and listening to one commenter say that he objected to the fact that a trip to the airport on Link would require a ride through “the ghetto” (yes, he actually used that term). Today, Rainier Valley is a very different place than it was 20 years ago, and much of the change was spurred by Link.

    But you are right, there currently isn’t much of value for a high capacity transit line to serve between downtown Seattle and Alaska Junction unless there are some serious land use changes in the Duwamish and SODO areas. In some ways, the Duwamish area currently resembles South Lake Union of 30 years ago: it’s a close-in industrial area that isn’t really maximizing its potential. SLU has been built up with tech and research firms while Duwamish/SODO has lost many of its warehousing and light manufacturing firms and the area has kind of withered away. But that doesn’t mean that Duwamish/SODO is hopeless, it just means that it needs some serious attention.

    A point of emphasis in any plan to grow the Duwamish/SODO area should be to make sure that there is a good transit plan for the area before building. Unlike SLU, where the transit plan was half-ass and inadequate, a Duwamish/SODO plan should include pre-planning for transit access and not try to shoe horn buses, streetcars or light rail in later. Creating a good transit plan for Duwamish/SODO that doesn’t create more traffic jams would make the area more attractive for industrial and manufacturing businesses.

    What kind of transit should be serving a thriving Duwamish/SODO area? Looking at traffic volumes on 509 makes it clear that there are thousands of people driving everyday from Burien, Des Moines and White Center to downtown Seattle. Would a light rail line connecting those places to downtown via Duwamish/SODO be feasible?

    There’s also the airport that many people would like to see connected to downtown with a faster trip than the Rainier Valley line can ever offer. ST3 isn’t the time to think about building a new south end light rail line, but in the time beyond ST3, there may be a need to look at a possible Downtown/Georgetown/White Center/Airport/Burien alignment (although including a stop at the West Seattle Junction doesn’t seem feasible for that line). Unfortunately, ST seems to be committed to a single spine from Tacoma to downtown.

    1. Sorry, they aren’t the same. Objections to the Rainier Valley route were based on ignorance (and racist ignorance, as your comment suggests). Even before the area gentrified, there were plenty of people there. The same just isn’t true of the route to West Seattle. A lot of it is simply geography. You aren’t going to build apartments in the Duwamish. It is also because of industrial zoning that certainly won’t change. You aren’t going to kick out industry there and put in skyscrapers. You also have a greenbelt (on the side of West Seattle). There will never be a station there (of course). Sound Transit will never build a station between West Seattle and SoDo, which greatly decreases the value of a light rail line. It means that it will be extremely expensive to run, which means that it won’t run that often.

      Even if West Seattle becomes the new South Lake Union (with skyscrapers replacing most of the homes on the quiet side streets) there is no reason that BRT (as Troy described) couldn’t do the job quite well. BRT can handle the volume of passengers. Right now our light rail line carries 40,000 people. This would carry less (a lot less). A bus line in Vancouver carries over 50,000.

      1. “A bus line in Vancouver carries over 50,000”

        I live in Metro-Vancouver and use the 99B line daily and it is a hellish ride, despite the number of buses at rush hours..
        Same with SkyTrain and the Canada line that are both over capacity…

        More and more high rises are being built by these lines and one wonder how these lines will cope, especially the Canada line with its short platforms in underground stations…

        I have used the LRT in Seattle and liked it. However the vehicles are old fashioned, with 2 different floor levels, compared to the last generation of Portland trams.

        A huge mistake is using elevated tracks all the way to Tacoma..Elevated tracks are way to expensive for a LRT.
        Traditionally LRT and subways are only used in the core city of a metropole.
        Suburbs are serviced by commuter trains.

        In Europe even metropoles with a population around 1-1.5 million with suburbs manage to have a dozen lines of commuter trains..

      2. We keep making the point that a 2nd light rail line to the south doesn’t make sense because of the emptiness of SODO/Duwamish/Georgetown. What if we decided to fill in those areas with industry, schools and features that were transit friendly? SLU is now full of tech companies, biotech research centers with lots of glitzy skyscrapers, but 25 years ago it was half-full of auto body shops, car dealers and small single story buildings. We won’t be building skyscrapers next to Boeing Field, but if So/Du/Ge can be transformed into an area of intense commercial and social activity, projects like a more direct line to the airport or light rail to Burien and other communities wouldn’t seem so wasteful.

        It’s not hard to predict that in the future there will be growing dissatisfaction with the Rainier Valley alignment for trips to the airport. There also should be dissatisfaction with ST’s plans for extending Link south of the airport with all the slow turns and meandering right-of-way to appease local governments (just look at the plans for the alignment around Highline CC–yikes!). If ST replicates that process all the way to Tacoma, how long will a Tacoma to Seattle trip take? Two hours? There’s got to be a better way to build south of the airport and if the emptiness of the Georgetown/Duwamish area is a barrier to building smarter, then we could start thinking about ways to build in SODO/Georgetown that might make it sensible to build a 2nd southern line–unless we’re fine with the 2 hour trip to Tacoma.

      3. “A bus line in Vancouver carries over 50,000” — “I live in Metro-Vancouver and use the 99B line daily and it is a hellish ride, despite the number of buses at rush hours.”

        Exactly. The 99B is not a model; it’s extreme underservice for the area. Buses come every two or three minutes but they’re still overcrowded and subject to bus bunching. The closest equivalent is the 71/72/73X here. An equivalent of the 99B that functions well would be in an area with less demand and traffic, thus lower ridership.

  5. Excellent work, Troy. I suggested some different solutions, but came to the same conclusion. BRT makes sense for West Seattle — light rail does not. I think someone could use West Seattle as a great example of why it makes sense to pick the appropriate technology for the job. Buses, trains, even gondolas have their place, but only within the context of the existing geography.

  6. One last thing (I should have mentioned earlier). While the census map you chose is adequate, I prefer this map: http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?useExisting=1&layers=302d4e6025ef41fa8d3525b7fc31963a. It has its advantages and disadvantages. It is interactive, so you can actually see the density of each area. Unfortunately, there is no way (that I know of) to create a link that zooms into one area (like Seattle). That means that the user has to zoom in. Of course, you could zoom in yourself and take a screen shot, while also linking to the interactive map. This is the best of both worlds.

    If you use the interactive map, then the case for West Seattle light rail becomes even poorer. For example, a subway route from Ballard to the UW that serves upper Fremont (45th) is often criticized for not serving the heart of Fremont (lower Fremont). But a stop there would have three census blocks over 15,000 people per square mile (a couple of them close to 20,000). None of the census blocks near the West Seattle Junction are close to that. In other words, a stop that just happens to be “on the way” is substantially more densely populated than the station that is the focus of this much more expensive project.

  7. Ross,

    Do you not see that the “planets are aligned” for a new Light Rail tunnel through downtown Seattle linking Ballard to West Seattle, even if not in the same train? If you can’t see the writing in the staff recommendations and the board discussions, then your political ear needs a hearing aid,

    Now maybe ST3 will crash of its own weight because it has four natural constituencies against it:

    Snohomish County residents who live south of about 164th,
    East King residents in Renton and Bellevue,
    South King residents east of the Green River valley, and
    Everyone who hates transit as “socialism”,

    Those four voting blocks aligned on a single question are pretty formidable.

    1. I guess I should have explained why I chose those four constuencies. Here goes:

      Snohomish County south of 164th: They got theirs.
      Bellevue: Ditto
      Renton: They know they’re never gonna’ get theirs.
      South King residents east of the Green River Valley: they want better Sounder and it isn’t clear that’s included
      Everyone who hates transit as “socialism”: self-explanatory.

  8. While a theoretical BRT system could perform as well as LRT, real world BRT systems never do, especially in USA. It is far too easy politically to create compromises to preserve parking, cut cost, etc. In addition boarding and dwell time are less convenient, and capacity much more limited. LA wishes they had built their Orange Line as LRT. Look at the compromises already being introduced into our Madison BRT. Generally BRT in USA is an excuse in underinvesting in infrastructure.

    1. Sadly very true, Carl. And where lane reservations are made, they’re only enforced in the most desultory manner. The police ARE on the drivers’ team, after all.

      1. In NY, where they only have a few dedicated bus lanes such as on 34th St and on 2nd Ave, they have painted them red to try to get respect. But the police routinely use them as a parking lane for their cruisers, and FedEx, UPS and other delivery trucks seem to be free to use them for deliveries, too.

        On the LA Orange Line all the crossings with streets are signalized intersections, and I believe they are not really timed for the buses and they effectively create 3 minute minimum headways. BRT can bunch, too.

        While I wish Link frequency were higher, at every 6 minutes the wait isn’t too long, and with 8 double doors the dwell time is never very long and everyone can get on. BRT can’t duplicate that, so above a certain ridership level – which West Seattle ought to support – LRT does offer something different. The real trick is going to be whether we finally prioritize fast protected transfers.

    2. a theoretical BRT system”

      Yogi Berra had a great thing to say about “theoretical” anything:

      “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

  9. A very thoughtful piece. The critical objection to LRT to West Seattle is cost because of elevations — first at the Duwamish River crossing, requiring a 150-foot rise, and then just to ascend West Seattle, which is Seattle’s highest hill (yes, higher than Queen Anne.)

    You can fight physical geography, which is Seattle’s constant history, but it is really costly. Dedicated busses that can reach West Seattle far faster than light rail are a big point, too.

    So, LRT to West Seattle is too costly and too slow. Sounds DOA. Let’s get working on the relative tweaking of infrastructure to find faster bus lanes between West Seattle and Downtown. That is very doable and very cheap.

    1. Wow. This sounds like a coordinated argument to minimize investment in transit infrastructure.

      What will make BRT cheaper is not building infrastructure, using existing roads. That’s kind of what we already having in RapidRide. Hard to imagine it will ever be faster, given sharing roads and traffic lights, and extended dwell times for boarding and disembarking. Certainly not whenever there is congestion on the roads.

      You already see the activists pushing to eliminate the bus lanes from the new Alaskan Way, the bus lanes that were promised as part of the tunnel project which eliminates the bus route into Seattle.

      It’s entirely possible the anti’s will succeed in eliminating rail to West Seattle. But don’t expect them to achieve BRT that’s in any way comparable. Expect them to achieve RapidRide.

      1. Carl,

        For me I’m not coordinating against rail infrastructure. Let’s just put it where density supports it.

      2. Sadly there are plenty of liberal neighborhood activists who do the same thing. Opposing things like using the CRC for transit or permitting more density near stations. While advocating for free parking, parking minimums and more roads.

  10. Thanks for this initial cut at looking at layout and elevation issues for STB.

    I think that the subway extension into Alaska Junction is the biggest waste of money of the entire corridor. The densities in Alaska Junction are no greater than many other non-rail areas of Seattle — Lake City, Greenwood, The CD along 23rd and a host of other areas. (Yesler Terrace/Harborview/First Hill is much denser and we aren’t talking about any rail service there!) Meanwhile, West Seattle is pretty much single family homes beginning just one block west of the California Street platform. Is it really worth probably $1B just for that last station!

    I also think that wherever the end station is placed, a seamless connection to a BRT hub of multiple lines is optimum. I’d be happy with this compromise: a major terminus station around Delridge/Spokane/Avalon with several BRT lines heading to Delridge, Alaska Junction (RapidRide C), Admiral/Alki from there. I would even suggest considering a large paid parking structure of several hundred spaces as an optional add-on!

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