Capitol Hill Station west entrance under construction

This is an open thread.

128 Replies to “News Roundup: Second Thoughts”

    1. A comment on reddit seems to expose proto as just being a huge corrupt dumpster fire.

      “SDOT wants to bail out the company that the city’s Transportation Director used to be the president of?”

      1. lol, SDOT can’t do anything without city council approval. People love to find conspiracies even if there are none.

      2. This is why I’d like to see it covered here, rather than reddit–I’m looking for real analysis, not clueless conspiracy theorizing.

    2. It was a good idea with terrible execution. They opened in late fall in areas with little weekend potential (downtown and SLU) and terrible infrastructure linking the two area with weekend potential (LQA and UW). If there’s any hope for survival, they need to add more Pronto stations pronto along the BGT between Ballard and U-Village.

      Their plan to expand to lower income areas should be applauded, but likely won’t generate enough money to keep it afloat. They need the higher income areas to offset the lower income areas.

      1. Any possibility bike problem has to do with Seattle terrain? In Strassburg, Germany, their streetcar system has cars with cog-wheels to climb very steep hills. And fairly large trailers full of bike racks pushed ahead of the trains.

        Wonder if FHS could handle the flatcars? Also something to thin about for Madison transitway- though standard bike racks will probably be ok.

        Anybody now average number of bikes on route 3 and 4?


      2. There are all those would-be riders along the Burke-Gilman who don’t have a station. And Greenlake, Alki, Central District, etc. Pronto already moves bikes uphill in trucks.

    3. It’s a combination of factors from what I can tell. First they launch it privately which means that Pronto has to pay back a huge loan for infrastructure. Then they decided to launch as others suggested in poorly planned areas that are not going to generate casual use (nobody want’s to rent a bike to almost get ran over in downtown). Finally they ignored the topography of the area and acted as if it’s easy to ride a bike that lacks gears and/or an electric motor up and down hills. This wasn’t in my opinion a showing that bike shares can’t work, but instead another sign that our city sucks at execution of almost any new transit or infrastructure related project. Besides light rail opening under budget and early (which some argue is only because they PRed it that way), what other project hasn’t been behind scheduled and over budget? Mistakes seem to be the source of all our problems because of forces I still don’t understand, but it seems to be a Seattle thing and more recently an American thing.

      1. The First Hill Streetcar has sponsored stations. Pronto has stations where the sponsors are. The sponsors’ locations are not necessarily where the bulk of would-be riders want to go. Imagine if Metro had routes based on who was willing to pay for a charter sponsorship.

      2. +1. Seattle process often causes this phenomenon, as described above as ” instead another sign that our city sucks at execution of almost any new transit or infrastructure related project. “

      3. Although it should be noted that SLU businesses and Children’s pay for extra peak runs on the 8 and 75 (or at least they did before Prop 1), and that benefits the large number of people in the corridor as well as their employees. So there’s an example of positive sponsorship. But those are cases of sponsoring a route that was already needed and established, as opposed to some arbitrarily-created route.

    4. I’m convinced Pronto’s critical mistakes were timing and financial planning. That is, the overall concept is basically reasonable:

      – They had to build a system around downtown, extending through Capitol Hill and SLU. The number of people there on foot (especially on weekdays, but on weekends too aside from some seriously office-dominated blocks) absolutely dwarfs every other part of the city. SLU and the Denny Triangle have an enormous last-mile problem with respect to regional transit. The U District stations, isolated from the others by lousy cycling conditions in Eastlake, are rightly questioned.
      – Given the funding they had, putting down stations in destination-poor areas along the BGT or Westlake/Dexter and extending to Fremont (common suggestions) would have stretched the system quite thin. Stations in Fremont (even without stations along Westlake) would have thrown gas on the fire of Westlake controversy, which was particularly hot in 2014. If they’d built a system around the BGT and it had, predictably, failed because there isn’t much within walking distance of the BGT, second-guessers would have said that clearly they should have gone downtown.
      – The details of station placement often aren’t perfect, but it’s always going to be a challenge to get stations right where you want them. This stuff doesn’t sink a system by itself.

      So they launched in fall 2014. The city rushed 2nd Ave to completion for that, but it was a tough time otherwise, with plenty of reasons cycling in the Pronto area sucked more than usual:
      – Mercer was torn up from Seattle Center to I-5, especially under Aurora, with constantly shifting ped/bike detours (sometimes having to cross Mercer multiple times with really long waits just to go a couple blocks) and inexplicably long sidewalk/crosswalk closures.
      – 99 construction was disrupting Dexter regularly.
      – The waterfront was/is still torn up — the old waterfront bike paths weren’t perfect, but what’s there now is chaos unless you take the lane on Alaskan Way (which is not typical Pronto-style riding).
      – The Cal Anderson area was still torn up with light rail construction (it still is a bit, but it was even worse then).
      – Lots of private construction impacts throughout the Pronto area.
      – Several Burke-Gilman closures and Montlake Triangle disruptions.

      With apologies to Eben Weiss, Fuck it, I’m taking a Car2Go!

      And there are reasons you’d expect Pronto ridership to pick up over the next several years, beyond what it would have been without all those construction impacts! The next several years relative to 2016, not relative to 2014.
      – U Link. U Link! It’s kind of a big deal!
      – A ton of new buildings still filling in, especially in SLU, Denny Triangle, Pioneer Square.
      – Improvements on the U Bridge’s northern approach — this is a big deal, fixing a very prominent bike lane gap.
      – Maybe, maybe, we’ll get some kind of decent bike route through Eastlake out of that ongoing process.
      – The planned at-grade crossing of Aurora, at Thomas or Harrison or wherever, will really help bridge the gap between SLU and LQA. Unless it just turns into another stupid car sewer and messes up Dexter.
      – An actual network of downtown bike lanes to be planned 2015 and implemented 2016-2018. Oh, wait, the city is apparently kicking the can down the road again on that.

      So if you’re opening a bike share system in 2014 in Seattle you should basically expect some lean years. Pronto launched with higher costs than most systems, due to helmet infrastructure and debt service; this imposed a requirement that they’d have to achieve high revenue immediately or else go insolvent. To launch in 2014 they needed more robust finances. Maybe their plan could have worked in 2018, with U Link, a stronger bike network in the densest parts of town, an intact waterfront, a continuous Burke-Gilman Trail, etc. Maybe the steep hills and idiotic helmet requirement will doom Pronto forever and we’ll be pulling all the stations out in 2022 — but at least a later launch would have given it a chance.

      1. The whole deal with Seattle transportation director Scott Kubly being previously involved with other bike share programs and Pronto being set up as a non-profit smells a bit fishy. The Mayor announcing “out of the blue” that not only was the City ready to step in but they already had plans and a budget to expand suggest the back room deal was, “You get this thing started and then we’ll step in as the white knight and save bike sharing in Seattle.” It doesn’t take an MBA to figure out this program was never going to run without a government subsidy.

      1. The distance covered is far more in NYC, and it runs perpendicular to most subway lines in NYC, whereas waterfront in Seattle mostly runs parallel to existing transit corridors

      2. Except crossing Alaskan Way, climbing five flights of stairs, almost getting killed crossing Western Avenue due to the traffic coming off the viaduct ramp, and then two more blocks of hill climbing isn’t exactly close to those parallel transit lines, in reality.

        And that’s to the 99 on 1st, which only runs occasionally.

    1. No one thinks this is a good idea. “Let’s remake the G train but make it even worse”. It’s a real estate development tool, nothing more.

    1. That would be a nice upgrade.

      I hope they also add more runs to the Port Orchard – Annapolis – Bremerton foot ferries. Its the spine of transit in Kitsap, which makes it a bit of a bottleneck for folks trying to get through the Sinclair inlet via transit.

    2. Might be time for an initiative to amend the Washington Constitution so elected bodies themselves would have to handle everything financial? I, part of the People, am not in a position to know how one expense will affect another one- or thousand.

      That’s why I help pay the salaries of my elected officials. Though I’d also vote for a measure that a certain percentage of legislators have to be accountants. Or at least pass a test for ability to read a balance sheet.

      And put basic accounting in civics class for the WASL, not math class where all the students are too frightened to study anything, especially math.


    1. It is a darn shame Washington State Ferries economically turns passengers away through failure to honor PugetPass, and doesn’t reward those who leave their cars at home well enough. Raise both the vehicle charge and the passenger fare, but honor PugetPass, and watch the upper deck fill up more.

      I still see the impending Kitsap cross-Sound water taxis boondoggle as a result of ill-thought-out fare policies by WSF.

      1. +1.

        I’ve met those that take their car onto the ferry just because it is cheaper than parking it in one of the pay lots.

      2. Glenn,
        I think they were pulling your leg. The most expensive U-Park lot is only $15 for overnight (24 hr) parking. Cheaper rates for day (0 – 10 hr) and evening.
        A round trip with car & driver costs $22.50, and that is the seasonal low rate.

  1. 1. Crawling streetcar speeds through business districts historically are probably more the rule than the exception. As is the crawling car traffic around them. If either cars, or streetcars, or both had been able to move at all at the time the rails came out and the catenary came down- it wouldn’t have.

    Street-side businesses have probably always viewed the sub-walking speed as great for window-shopping. Something like a moving walkway inside a mall. But flash ahead to 2016, with both transit and motorists less blockage tolerant than before.

    All the street parking in the world won’t make Broadway into the clear automobile arterial it never was.
    But a car-line with very little in its way can easily start bringing in a lot more, and happier customers. Whatever speed these changes will move at- community will eventually not just tolerate, but demand them.

    2. I think that Deep Bore Tunnel choices will become a lot clearer when the viaduct comes down- whether by machine of plate tectonics. As with whatever got Bertha, we nowhere near know what else is down there. I expect a steam ship or two.

    But calculation- and public acceptance, or hostility, might mostly depend on one missing major question: What is the Tunnel really for? As witness the freight needs that probably killed the Waterfront Streetcar, at least where it was, DBT as planned can’t replace the viaduct for local trucking.

    And for car traffic, as for any freeway- only question is how little time it will take to be blocked solid? Again, leaving passenger transit on same street as trucks. But if anybody really comes up with a believable use for the tunnel, a project this big, and to date expensive, won’t be killed no matter how slow the progress. Boston Big Dig was a lot worse.

    But, 3: Considering inevitable worldwide future, however far the machine gets before it has to be dismantled at the north end of a transitless tunnel, we might someday really want a very large storm surge drain in that exact location. Not kidding at all.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Oooh, you just figured out a good use for the tunnel. Congratulations. They’re building tunnels like that for storm surge in a couple of Midwestern cities with combined sewer systems.

  2. Murray proposed doubling housing levy.

    “The council will begin discussing the proposal in March, hold a public hearing in April and in May decide which ballot to put the measure on — the primary election in August or the general election in November, Councilmember Tim Burgess said.”

    If November what does this mean for ST3 and how many property tax levy’s will Seattle voters be willing to support?

      1. Your property taxes are incredibly low, though, and property taxes are the maximally progressive tax well the city has to go on. Unless you’re an anti-tax conservative, you should support paying for big stuff via property taxes.

      2. Congratulations on being a homeowner, you’re one of the rich in town and have a long-term place to live. Others want to live in Seattle too. Now would you please support duplexes and ADUs so that the 75% of Seattle’s residential land doesn’t become castles of the rich or those who managed to buy a house before 1995?

      3. As a renter, I too pay property tax through the cost of my rent. Your opinion on property taxes doesn’t matter more than mine.

      4. As others have noted, property taxes are scandalously low. If Seattle maxed out it’s legislative authority on property taxes, they’d still be extremely low compared to most other cities.

    1. Thanks, I’ve been put in my place. I will dutifully hand my wallet to the mayor whenever he comes knocking.

      1. For reference, my total property tax rate in poverty-stricken rural upstate NY (school + municipal) is about 3% of property value. Yours is WAY LOWER.

      2. I have to agree, compared to other large cities Seattle’s property taxes are VERY low. Yet all I hear any time someone proposes a new property tax levy is how overtaxed Seattle and Washington is.


  3. Is there anything definitive WRT eastside restructures? I talked with a driver this morning on the 255 and all he’s heard for sure is that they are adding more trips so presumably headways will be shorter. He also said there was a rumor that they would terminate at Montlake but that wasn’t official.

    WRT the 238 I know it’s going to extend from UW Bothell to Woodinville but will it then transform into a 236 for the SB trip. It would seem to do that and have the NB 236 morph into a 238 and continue on to Bothell instead of just having the 238 loop back. I know it would be strange to have a route that morphs twice (once at Woodinville and at Kirkland TC where it currently switches).

    Also heard the 550 is getting booted out of the Bus Tunnel. What routes will be spared the surface treatment?

    1. The driver of my B Line yesterday gave an announcement about the restructures while we were sitting in traffic. According to him, the new 541 is only going to have seven trips, but the 542 is going to run all day. Has anyone else heard anything like that?

      And if there’s one route that should stay in the bus tunnel, it’s the 550. That gives it all-day access to the I-90 ramps, and also, it’s going to get entirely replaced by East Link. I hope it’s kept.

    2. There’s nothing definitive. When the last Eastside restructure fell apart, staff were hopeful they could revisit it in the next week or two.

    3. In the Alternative 1 restructure plan for 520 that was shot down last year, the 255 was set to go to Children’s Hospital, I believe, while a new 256 (or 255X?) would continue on the 255’s current route to/from downtown but during peak hours only.

    4. Metro originally included the 520 routes in the U-Link restructure but withdrew them because it didn’t get enough feedback from Eastsiders to feel confident about the changes, and it decided it really needed to be done in the context of an Eastside restructure that may be coming this year. If not, the Eastside restructure is apparently due and will come up whenever Metro gets around to it and has the funds for it. Seattle’s transit funding is being supplemented by Prop 1, while the Eastside doesn’t have that.

    5. In March, virtually nothing is changing outside of peak-hours. During peak hours, route 542 riders (at least between Microsoft and the U-district) will have the combined 541/542 to choose from, on top of peak-hour frequency improvements on the 545. The 542 will also extend all the way to Bear Creek P&R.

      Another item in the changelist that has often been overlooked is that, starting March, the 542 will begin doing the Overlake Transit Center Deviation, along with the 545, leaving no option for anybody north of Overlake Transit Center headed to Seattle to bypass it. During peak-hours, with both Sound Transit and the Connector running, Overlake Transit Center is already at capacity with respect to the number of buses per hour it is capable of handling. The inclusion of the 541 and 542 in there could prove to be the breaking point. Expect to see buses routinely waiting multiple cycles to get out of the transit center onto 156th after this change.

      Suggestion to Microsoft – move the loading area for some of the Connector routes to the parking lots of nearby buildings to free up transit center space.

      Longer term, who knows what will happen. I would like to see an all-day 542, but something really needs to be done about the Montlake exit ramp. During peak hours, it actually takes longer for the 542 to wait for its turn at the stoplight than it does for a route 545 passenger to transfer to a 43 or 48.

      1. “Suggestion to Microsoft – move the loading area for some of the Connector routes to the parking lots of nearby buildings to free up transit center space.”

        While I agree that routing all 541/542/545 buses through the transit center may not the best idea, asking Microsoft to move routes won’t really work either. The transit center is basically the transit hub there allowing someone to come in on a bus and transfer to a local shuttle to their building. On the other hand, maybe this will force improvements like adding bus lanes or the like

      2. I didn’t think private bus companies were allowed to use public P&R facilities. That seems to be my recollection when Starline (or whoever) wanted to pick up passengers for sports events. Seems even more bizarre that MS would be allowed to do it when those buses are restricted to employees only. Or does MS own the P&R?

      3. I’m not sure whether Microsoft still owns the Overlake TC or whether they sold the facility to Sound Transit on condition they could still use it. Either way, yes, it’s a special permission.

        Regarding Microsoft moving the pickup sites – keep in mind that there aren’t any buildings facing 156th in that block. They’d either need to stop at building 50 (to the north of 40th, away from the main campus), reconfigure driveways, or send the Connector buses somewhere else with a lot of stoplight delay. Plus, there already is the Commons Transit Center on the other side of 520; most Connectors serve both specifically so they can get both sides of campus – and dozens of people get on at both.

      4. re: the abominable ramp at Montlake, the solution seems pretty simple.

        On the weekend that Link opens, WSDOT – or a third-party – merely needs to take five or so stencils, and put down “Right Lane HOV 3+ only”

        This would help the traffic merge for through buses also.

      5. re: the abominable ramp at Montlake,

        Riding through on the 255 to experience the FHSC I noticed that there seems to be a large new concrete structure leading up to Montlake that looks like a path for the existing flyer stop. I sure hope all this isn’t a temporary thing because it looks like a relatively expensive piece of work with not a lot of benefit. Does anyone know what if anything this does for current or (more importantly) future access? And, since it doesn’t sound like Metro is going to follow through on plans to run the 255 up to Childrens instead of DT what are the options (headways) left after the restructure for getting off at Montlake and accessing the UW, Shanks Pony?

    1. While this is a troll comment against road diets, I’ll bite against my better judgement.

      This business isn’t the first, and it certainly won’t be the last, to be affected by construction. Businesses have weathered construction in the past and SDOT typically does an OK job of signage and wayfinding to businesses affected by construction.

      And I’ll repeat what has been said by countless people in the past: the owner of the failing business opened up a year ago and knew that 23rd was going to be under heavy construction during that vital first year of being in business.

      It’s not SDOT’s job to mitigate terrible business choices. ST does mitigate businesses during construction, but they kind of have to, since regional mass transit is a political minefield and they need to do everything they can to stay on the public’s good side. SDOT is here whether we like them or not, so they don’t need to do any butt kissing.

    2. Only where people develop bulimia when diet ads and fashion magazines convince them not to eat enough roads.


    3. Businesses tend to overestimate the # of customers that get to their shops by car, and underestimate the # that come by sustainable means. This is just the manifestation of that perception.

      Though it’s rich that STB-endorsee Sawant is not against the thing she was once for.

      1. There’s no question that there’s a real construction impact on 23rd, affecting all modes of access (I have to say, as a runner, it’s never been easier to scoot across 23rd, but I’m not a customer when I’m out for a run). There are real impacts from many road construction projects. That seems to be what most of the article is about.

        That’s all independent of the street design adopted when construction is over. The pavement on 23rd needed to be rebuilt, and the redesign followed from that. That’s happening on lots of roads around here after decades of neglect.

    4. road diets take a week or, at most, a month to implement, its full street rebuilds and sewer projects that take years. that’s what’s causing the issues on 23rd

    5. I say we need to bring back the RH Thompson Expressway. Though with population growth this should probably be a 22 lane highway rather than the modest 4 lane freeway it was proposed as. Unfortunately the ROW for this new highway will completely obliterate 23rd and any businesses located there.

  4. Really hope the two additional stops can be completed on Capitol Hill. I understand the businesses’ concerns, and don’t agree with the tax on them, but these are two critical additions. If the tram had a designated lane, I think more would have a different view. Right now it’s a bus on rails, with very little added benefits. When you implement a new system (route, etc) it has to have a big positive impact that leaves people wanting it in their area too. The First Hill tram had the opposite reaction, it put doubts and fears into potential beneficiaries minds. That’s a result of poor planning and execution.

    1. The center of Broadway’s commercial hub is between John and Republican Streets, so the streetcar is missing out by terminating south of there. I understand the position of “The streetcar is so mediocre, let’s not extend it further.” But at the same time, it misses the destinations that a large percentage of the people on Broadway are going to.

      1. It’s funny, because people on this blog said the exact opposite when the RR C/D were changed to miss the entire south half of downtown, including the stadiums, early in the design process. Anywhere from “it’s a quick walk” to “there’s plenty of easy transfer options”.

      2. The center of downtown is Pike/Pine Street, which the C/D serves.

        But in any case, D riders wanting to go to Pioneer Square finally won the day. And I’ve been coming the conclusion that downtown is different and bus routes should go all the way through it, because for every rider who’s going the Pioneer Square end there’s another rider going to the SLU end.

        I used to think the arbitrary north-south interlines like the 26/28-131/132 were silly, and people from Fremont are no more likely to go to 4th Avenue South than anywhere else. But the interlines do save money and layover space, and I have found it useful when routes go all the way through downtown and beyond the other side, because sometimes I *do* want to go to 4th Avenue South, and other times even if I’m not coming from exactly the 26 and 28 are, if’s just as easy to go to Fremont and transfer to them as it is to go any other way.

      3. As bad as the streetcars is, once you view the existing line as a sunk cost, extending it to Roy definitely makes sense. Of course, I could only support it if the Broadway bike path is extended north along with it.

      4. I think there is a stronger case for extending the bike path than the streetcar. The bike path just sort of dumps you out into a very tough place to bike, whereas the streetcar will never be popular, no matter how far up it goes (and the longer it goes, the more likely it will be delayed by an accident, a parked car or a stalled car.

  5. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at SDOT as the Soft Launch streetcar lifted off the pad. Pressures from above to ‘get the damn thing running’ to rank and file ‘it’s not close to fully ready’ would probably be trading shots to opening day.
    Originally, it was going to be fare free for just a week, but with the schedule rarely being met, I suppose you can’t complain too much when free. Most days I see only 3 or 4 trams running to make 12 min scheduled headways which results in 15-20 min headways. Only one day did I see 5 cars on line.
    King 5 ran a story on Monday morning that they were meeting there ridership projections of “3,000 per week”, when that should have been per day. Too soon to tell until they fill the schedule and start charging.
    Stay tuned.

    1. I’ve been on the First Hill line a few times now, and I’m disappointed that SDOT or KCMetro or whoever, isn’t staffing the stations or cars with employees to greet first-time riders and answer any questions they have.

      1. This could be Sam’s great volunteer contribution to the transit-riding community.

        You could start with a visit to San Francisco and ride the 71 (Haight-Noriega) bus. There’s sometimes somebody shouting out the stops and tourist destinations in multiple languages.

      2. People in Clackamas County are illiterate enough about how to use transit TriMet still has people at the Oak Grove MAX station. It’s been open slightly over four months.

        This has proven useful. One of them showed me a feature of PDXbus on her phone that I didn’t know about that shows which train is leaving next.

    2. In the category of you get what you pay for, I was on the FHSC Tuesday round 1:15 heading from Pioneer Square to Cap Hill. At 12th & Jackson passengers were told the streetcar couldn’t proceed due to a blockage on Broadway, and we were give the option of bailing out there, or staying on and turning around at the next top and heading back down to Pioneer Square. Most people bailed. Will this be standard operating procedure when there’s a blockage? Is the problem they can’t have the streetcars queuing up at the terminus or midroute station because they block traffic?

      1. It’s the same thing that happens when a bus breaks down or is stuck in gridlock. What do you expect them to do, keep everybody on the train for possibly an hour or more?

      2. Or they could remove the parking and solve the problem. But hey, that would get in the way of making sure FHSC is a half-assed solution.

    3. Talking to an MTA mechanic years ago about the Boeing Vertol streetcars, built by aircraft engineers, he said: “It’s like the Baldwin steam locomotive company building a helicopter!”

      Too bad me crashing Page 2 few weeks back. In other words, somebody with only Word experience trying to learn WordPress- to show people PDF’s. Like my SolidWorks 3D model of a Brill helicopter.

      Only hard part was power collector. Pantograph would keep snagging trees, or if placed on roof, necessitate catenary three stories high. So envisioned a couple of hundred feet of cable on a reel at the back of the car.

      So I industrially pirated the interesting safety-line buckle on the Federally-mandated safety lines on crewmen at the Ballard locks. Who, while questioning Department of Labor’s insistence on drowning lock-keepers, said: “Yeah! That’ll be perfect for a power collector on a flying streetcar.”

      Flying elephant? Have to ask Walt Disney, wherever he is right now. “Dumbo” was probably made while the Red Cars were still running. Though, knowing their intelligence, generally trust the observations of crows about transportation-related cuisine.

      Though they generally can’t afford a road-killed elephant except if it’s part of a company picnic.


      1. This is actually what’s wrong with BART too: it was designed by aircraft engineers. And it’s a complete mess of a system technically compared to ones which were designed by, y’know, railroad engineers….

  6. I really look forward to the new sounder trips. In many regards improving sounder is a better investment than completing the spine. I just wish ST would stop charging more for a rail trip than a comprable bus trip, which really is absurd.

    1. Farebox recovery is 22.4% (comparable to ST Express 20%) and cost per boarding is $13.61. If you want fares to go down your beef is with Amtrak and BNSF who continue to extort money from ST in return for maintenance and access.

      1. Isn’t that the figure for Sounder? What’s the recover ratio and cost per boarding for South Sounder? That figure, which is surely lower, is the relevant one because it’s only South Sounder (the successful and far more efficient line) we’re looking to expand.

      2. The cost per boarding statistic of $13.61 is meaningless because it combines the north line and the south line into one number, which means the pathetic ridership on the north line appears to drag down the productivity of the south line.

        Furthermore, the cost to operate a train is independent of the number of passengers on board, and no matter how much it costs to operate a particular trip, the marginal cost of carrying an additional passenger is practically zero – not $13.61. Even if the parallel express buses are packed, their capacity is so tiny compared to the Sounder train, that if every person on those buses switched to train, operating costs would go down, not up, as the cost of operating the buses would disappear, the costs of operating the train would stay the same, and the same total number of riders would be transported.

    2. Time is money (just ask WSDOT and the toll lane crew), so I don’t have a problem paying a proportionally higher fares from Kent to Seattle over an express bus. Now, with that said, transit should be investing in the best hammer to hit said nail with. Finish work doesn’t need a sledge, nor will a ball peen work on rail spikes. If commuter rail is the best choice all around (speed, cost, comfort, reliable, etc), then it should get the investment and buses weaned down to shadow service.
      Unfortunately, CR ranks high in everything but cost because ST, BNSF, US and WSDOT couldn’t get their respective acts together and quit the turf wars long enough to cooperate in the 90’s. The best overall solution was to run CR on one line (UP) and all but local freights on the other (BNSF) crossing the Puyallup River near Tacoma and building a 2nd track on the UP. Shortest, quickest route.
      Even the existing line for CR is OK, as cities saw their stations as the middle of downtowns, and not on the UP line (Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup). The rub came from going all-in with BNSF and worrying about time slots and how much each would cost later on.
      Here we are with really expensive costs and little room to ‘beg’ for additional slots later on.

      1. The UP route may be shorter, but if it misses the downtowns of Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn and Kent, why bother?

    3. I can understand that it’s a little frustrating to have the Sounder cost more than a bus for the same trip endpoints, but if you’ve ridden both a long-range bus and the Sounder you’ll know that extra couple bucks is well worth the improvement in speed and ride quality.

      The money would of course add up if you’re commuting roundtrip on Sounder five days a week, but looking at individual trips on the Sounder, which for most people is $3.75 to $4.75 each way, it’s a pretty small premium to pay for a better and faster ride.

    4. Points taken, but I made my statement regarding rail in general (LR too) not just Commuter Rail
      $3.25 for UW -> Angle Lake is… a bit much

      1. With one-zone peak fares now at $2.75 and two-zone peak $3.25, that Link fare for the entirety of the current line (UW to Angle Lake) seems completely fair to me.

        Not to mention that you pay less if you get off at earlier stations, which I suppose upsets some people but I’m a fan of not paying the full fare if I don’t ride the full length of the route.

    5. Maybe snobbery, but to me, worth the difference between a moving vehicle with wide, comfortable seats and also bathrooms, and a stationary bus that still won’t let somebody get off, no matter how many roadside bushes there are that could also be poison oak.

      Like the bumper-stickers say: “Freedom From Freeways Isn’t Free!” I think a lot of our troops, contemplating present traffic I-5 past JBLM ,are glad to have helicopters. Even the old-fashioned Brill ones trailing a power-collecting cable.


    6. “Farebox recovery is 22.4% (comparable to ST Express 20%) and cost per boarding is $13.61. If you want fares to go down your beef is with Amtrak and BNSF who continue to extort money from ST in return for maintenance and access.”

      “if you’ve ridden both a long-range bus and the Sounder you’ll know that extra couple bucks is well worth the improvement in speed and ride quality.”

      No, the fares are arbitrary. ST has positioned Sounder as a luxury service by making the fares higher than ST Express. There’s no intrinsic reason why farebox recovery has to be a certain percentage, or has to relate to the cost of BNSF timeslots. Those are just the Board’s decision.There’s an argument that ST should have made Sounder’s fares the same as ST Express or lower, and should have deleted the 59x buses that run simultaneously with Sounder. It goes like this:

      A transit agency’s primary responsibility is to provide the most effective mobility for the predominent trip patterns of the largest cross-section of the population. In general, a train fulfills that well, because it can simultaneously serve overlapping trips between any of its stations, and those overlapping trips allow it to be more frequent than point-to-point express buses between stations would be. So we should be funneling as many trips as possible onto Sounder, Link, Swift, RapidRide, and trunk routes like the 150 and 255, and not discouraging them with a higher fare. Higher fees should be reserved for long-distance express buses, and for all forms of driving (which should be considered a luxury because of the space it requires and the environmental impacts it imposes, and there should be comprehensive transit so people don’t have to drive). Capital costs are paid by our taxes; they don’t have to relate to the fares. We don’t charge every driver on I-5 with the cost of building it; we took it on as a general regional good for everybody. (Some would argue it wasn’t so good, but the point is that the civic leaders in the 1960s thought it was.) So the issue of Sounder is whether it’s the most effective transit for Seattle-Tacoma trips and the in-between areas it happens to go through. There’s a reasonable argument that it is, so it should be positioned as at least almost-frequent transit with proletarian fares, regardless of the capital costs or operating overhead. If it doesn’t fulfill the mobility needs that well, then that would be the reason to downsize Sounder.

      1. Indeed. If it were all about the costs per rider of providing the service, there are a couple of suburban buses that could probably use a fare increase.

  7. It hasn’t been the Aloha extension for some time. The extension would only go to Roy if built.

    Let’s stop calling it the Aloha extension to avoid this confusion.

    1. I like the Volunteer Park up to the Tower and the Greenhouse and the Asian Art Museum better.

      And in the absence of the 43, the car-line could continue over the hill to 23rd, and provide even better transit between Husky Stadium and the Capitol Hill one. So agree with those who don’t like an Aloha terminal.


  8. It seems Mercer Island, Shoreline, and Bellevue are not particularly interested in light rail, as they’ve all opposed stationion locations, housing development, track locations, construction impacts, bus restructureing, drop off points, raising contrived environmental concerns, and pretty much any other excuse they can find to oppose rail while still saying they support it. Wishful thinking on my part, but it would be nice if we could cut out or bypass the suburbs that don’t want rail and redirect that money to expanding rail in Seattle, where there is strong support.

    1. Yes, except that a large percentage of the population live in Bellevue-Redmond, and a large percentage of the region’s trips are between there and Seattle, and will always be so, like Minneapolis and St Paul, and San Francisco and Oakland. An effective transit network must have an HCT line between those places, and the existing buses can’t keep up with the demand and get stuck in highway traffic. Bellevue and Mercer Island and their neighborhoods shouldn’t obstruct Link, but at the same time just bailing on East Link would be a big F* U to a large percentage of the county’s population who didn’t cause the obstruction, supported Link, and are paying ST taxes.

  9. Last week SDOT changed the light cycle at Denny & Stewart. Previously when Stewart went red, the Denny westbound through lane, and left turn lane would go green. Followed by the turn lane going red, and westbound and eastbound being green. Under the new scenario, after Stewart goes red, Denny east and west are green, followed by eastbound going red, and the westbound turn lane getting its turn. While this sounds like a simple change that shouldn’t have much effect on the overall traffic flow, I’ve noticed that afternoon eastbound through traffic is now backed up past Minor where previously the backup extended only to Pontius. Those vehicles past Minor are not able to get through the Stewart intersection on one light cycle. On the days I drive to work (my office is across from REI), I used to leave the office southbound on Pontius and turn left at Denny to head up the hill. Worse case, I’d have to wait 2 light cycles to turn onto Denny. This past week I haven’t made it in less than 4, and then only due to a kind person signaling me to let me in.
    I have no idea why this change has caused the increased backup (is the eastbound light shorter than it used to be?) but can only imagine that it’s made the Route 8 situation worse.

    1. I’ve actually found that the 8 has been better the past month. Moving the stop at Fairview and drivers aggressively getting in the left lane afterwards has made a big difference. I usually ride eastbound around 6pm though – your mileage may vary.

      1. This seems like the kind of route where travel times can very dramatically depending on who the bus driver is. I could be wrong, but I have trouble imagining more than about 10% of Metro drivers aggressively getting into the lane after Fairview. Unfortunately, you don’t know who the driver is until you actually get on the bus, so it becomes something of a crapshoot.

  10. At some point they need to drop the “commuter” distinction from Sounder as the service starts to add more midday trips. Sure a majority of people using it now are riding to/from work, and maybe for sporting events on weekends when ST offers it, but surely there are aspirations to have people riding it for more than just the commute.

    If they want the midday (and hopefully overall expansion to the evening/weekends) service to get popular they’re going to have to promote it as a regular/consistent/reliable way to get between cities in the south Sound, not just as something for people with a structured commute.

    1. “Commuter” rail originally meant riding on a commutation ticket; i.e., a multi-trip discount ticket like a 10-pack. Our monthly passes are the descendant of those. Commuter runs ran all day and evening and weekends, and the tickets were valid on any run. Commuter transit is just a run between two places that are expected to have a high volume of trips, as in between two nearby cities or between a city and a suburb. People take Caltrain, Metra, PATH, New Jersey Transit, Metro North, etc, not just for 9-5 jobs but also for alternate work shifts, ballgames, tourism, visiting family and friends and events, going to the airport, etc. The problem is that the term “commuter rail” and “commuting” got hijacked by people who only cared about serving 9-5 jobs. That happened for a variety of reasons over the mid 20th century. But the point now is that we should take back “commuter rail” and “commuting” from the peak-only types, and recognize that it’s the same thing as “all-day regional transit”.

  11. 2 reasons why West Seattle (and Lake City for that matter) is more deserving of LR then Ballard.

    1) there is the potential of another urban connection and thus more riders and less subsidies required. “they’d like it to continue on to White Center, Burien, etc”

    2) 2 major destinations, the UW and DT with a single line. For Ballard two lines are needed.

    1. 1) This is expansionist nonsense. If you can solve 30,000 daily Ballard trips for $2billion, but it costs $6billion to solve 30,000 Downtown trips to/from West Seattle and points south, which is more cost-efficient? By your logic, we should be chasing expansions to Kirkland, Everett, and Tacoma before even considering any new expansion within metro King County.

      2) This is also a farce. We could solve 90% of Ballard’s transportation needs with the Ballard-UW spur.

      1. your logic is true if a ballard-uw spur is all that is built. but I doubt that is what they’ll push for.
        If they spend 5+ billion for a downtown tunnel and another 2 for a uw line then 7+ billion

        Also you must look at the life of the system and not just the capitol cost. the populations of WS and Burien offer lower long term subsidies over the 100+ year life of the system then the lower population of Ballard.

      2. Depends on how you look at the politics of the situation… LRT to Burien/points south crosses multiple jurisdictions and two ST regions. LRT to Ballard covers only Seattle neighborhoods and North King funding.

      1. it all depends on the choices ST decides to put on ST3 but from what I’ve heard to date I’m not too optimistic about Ballard going on the cheap.

    2. UW had 50,000 students and staff when I went, and I understand it’s considerably larger now. The U-District is Seattle’s “second downtown”. The 45th corridor is the largest crosstown transit market in the city, except possibly Denny Way and Madison Street. That’s why Central Link goes to the U-District, and why Ballard-UW is justified. Many of us would prefer Ballard-UW first and Ballard-downtown maybe later, but Sound Transit and the city government don’t agree. West Seattle has nothing comparable to UW or the U-District. It never will unless it’s radically upzoned beyond the current plans and multiple large institutions move there. The institutions won’t move there because of West Seattle’s isolated location and barriers getting to it, and the fact that the means through the barriers sometimes break and then people have to go around.

      A line going through Ballard, Fremont and/or Wallingford would serve more people, and more transit-riding people, than a line extending to White Center and Burien.

      1. A lot of politicians live in West Seattle (Dow being the most obvious) and they have an organized group that wants light rail. It is likely inevitable unless the cost of crossing the Duwamish is just too prohibitive.

      2. Yes, the politician count in West Seattle is quite high, and that’s probably the main reason that West Seattle Link is being fast-tracked.

    3. Come on, WS and Burien are not anywhere as dense as Ballard. Ballard is the wet dream of transit planning because its gridded, logical, has huge walksheds, the terrain is mild, and the development potential is huge (you can realistically double or triple the population of central Ballard in 10 years). Plus, considering the UW-Ballard combos of adding Fremont/Wallingford and the UW-Downtown route adding LQA and SLU (and indirectly Magnolia), its simply a no-brainer compared to the wasted sprawl that a WS line would run through.

    4. No line to Ballard means ST3 goes down in flames. This blog has sort of accepted West Seattle light rail as a political reality (as opposed to a smart, cost efficient idea).

    5. What exactly are you saying anyway? That Ballard is less dense than West Seattle? That Burien is a more popular destination than the UW? That a transit grid is less important than extending a line to a very sparsely populated suburb? Or that running a long distance subway to such a suburb is more cost effective (and thus would need less in the way of subsidies) than a short urban line?

      Or is this all an attempt to be sarcastic? I get it now. West Seattle is a great place for a subway because there are no logical alternatives — no freeway to leverage. It is tightly connected to the rest of the city, and one of the more densely populated places in the world and thus dirt cheap and appropriate for rail. Ha — yeah — funny.

      1. First, reflect on a bit of history:

        1) Even ten years ago, Ballard was not that far ahead of parts of West Seattle in terms of density. The fact that the density took off much more quickly there shows the demand for transit to the neighborhood, but let’s not pretend that a peninsula with 70,000+ people on it is some sort of backwater.

        2) Both the NW and SW quadrants of the City have repeatedly been promised HCT over the decades. And both have a history of streetcars. It should come as no surprise that people expect to be served sooner or later.

        Finally, as I have repeatedly tried to point out to people… There is a huge connection problem to the West Seattle peninsula by virtue of the limited crossings over the Duwamish. As we have seen in recent years, it’s not that hard for a small incident outside of the area to clog traffic into nightmarish proportions. The West Seattle Bridge also has the highest daily traffic of any City-owned arterial, last I looked.

        What further complicates things is that increased bus service is less and less of an option due to the congestion on the bridge. So BRT is not an option to the neighborhood without significant infrastructure expenses. At that point, many folks argue it’s worth spending the extra $$ in order to gain the vastly increased ridership that comes with rail.

  12. What is the Surrey Downs issue? The article says ST wants them to sign some forms to give it, what, an easement? Why can’t it just cite eminent domain and the City of Bellevue’s building permits? What rights are the Surrey Downs residents transferring? Why hasn’t this been an issue in other neighborhoods? Does ST have to get something more from Surrey Downs residents because their houses are closer to the track? Is this really the only place with houses so close to a track?

    1. The Surrey Downs issue seems to center on what ST can do with lots in Surrey Downs that will be buildable after construction is finished. I imagine these are staging lots of some sort that were acquired from Surrey Downs residents by ST for East Link. ST is trying to make a deal with the neighborhood rather than using the power of Eminent Domain to force the changes, it appears (I’m not a lawyer).

      Here are some articles: and

      1. Sound Transit didn’t do their homework. Instead of purchasing commercial property on 112th–or heck, standing up to Kemper Freeman–they decided to railroad an aging neighborhood.

        The current lawsuit is about Sound Transit trying to clean up their mess. I, for one, am enjoying watching them pay for their past ineptitude.

        Surrey Downs doesn’t have veto power or any power for that matter. You can’t fight Sound Transit unless you’re a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

  13. >>The Roy terminus has drawn some strong criticism among those who wanted to see the streetcar land closer to Volunteer Park.<<

    It shouldn't land close to Volunteer Park. It should land IN Volunteer Park with a turnaround loop at the terminus. Toronto has a turnaround loop terminus just inside the Eastern edge of High Park. Check it out on Google Maps.

    1. Loops also let vehicles get by with doors on one side. But turntables definitely more interesting for kids, and take less space. In San Francisco, balanced out so well that passengers can help train crew turn the table with the cable car on it.

      In Germany, works for trolley-buses too. Including overhead above table that engages stationary wire on entry and exit from the table. Both would doubtless save space on our Waterfront, creating one less excuse for putting the car-line back.


  14. Remember when streetcars were pulled by horses? The First Hill line is a lightning bolt, man! Youse guys are just spoilt!

    1. Before combustion engines were invented, Coach Operator, horses were what motors are now. Leading to pollution problems that would’ve made people glad for global warming. Even though city life was already hot enough to “fry and egg on the sidewalk”, though probably no two-legged creature would eat it.

      Also serious economic and logistic danger from outbreaks of animal diseases. But worst victims were doubtless the horses themselves. It’s said that one reason Andrew Hallidie invented the cable car was that he couldn’t stand to see horses killed in action in San Francisco.

      He got the idea of grip and moving cable from the coal mines back in England. Project discovered that a lot of 19th century Scottish engineering knew some things long forgotten here. That nobody can figure out now, either.

      Thanks, Andrew Smith for posting on Seattle’s cable cars- not bad idea for some of our steeper routes. Except MUNI has high weight minimum for “grip-men.” No power assist. Might save some trolley wire expense for Yesler, the 3 and 4, and Madison.


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