st3One of the most common analogies for spine skeptics has been a comparison between Link, BART, and DC Metro. The DC Metro, despite decades of neglect, has much higher ridership than BART in a similarly sized Metro area. Critics often give agencies too much credit — or blame — for ridership when the real causes are land use and competing freeways in commute corridors. Nevertheless, I thought the critique of BART was that there weren’t enough stations in dense San Francisco and too much in lower-density suburbs, whereas DC has a fairly dense network in the core city.

I think it’s important to get the critique of BART right: the problem is not that there’s too much in the suburbs, it’s that there’s not enough in the city. I’m not a BART historian, but it’s not abundantly clear that the dollars to build to Dublin would have been available to dig up the western part of San Francisco. It’s not constructive to get mad that someone else’s transit is a little nicer than it has to be, unless there’s a clear line between that and other neglected causes.

In Saturday’s article I shared a chart that shows the core city’s share of the spine-heavy ST3 proposal is nearly identical with DC’s core city share in the metric that matters most, stations, and is significantly better than San Francisco. But that didn’t satisfy the haters. Oakland and Berkeley are somewhat dense, and have destinations in their own right. But that’s also true of Everett, Tacoma, Bellevue, Redmond, and Seatac. Although the average density in the Puget Sound is lower than that of the Bay Area, that’s not a problem Sound Transit 3 can fix before it’s approved, and it’d be a good thing if we built high-quality transit at a lower aggregate density than what the Bay Area achieved.

In any case, my understanding of the complaint is clearly wrong. I’ll be the first to admit that city boundaries are imperfect measures of where the real urban places are. But they’re also a useful, easily measurable shorthand. So, critics, what’s the proper, quantifiable issue with BART that ST3 will replicate?

200 Replies to “So What’s the Problem with BART?”

  1. I’ve only been to San Francisco a couple times, but it always seemed to me that people used BART to get into the city, and SFMTA once they got there.

    1. This is the issue.
      ST is connecting the suburbs with a regional spine destiny, and leaves metro to fill in the Seattle gaps.

      But metro can’t build any infrastructure, and just runs buses in circles.

      Thus the distressing gap.
      It really is BART v2. The eastside gets gold plated rail to every transit center with right of way, and ballard waits twenty years for an at-grade line with one station.

      1. The eastside gets gold plated rail to every transit center with right of way

        Uh, the Eastside is using freeway right of way. Issaquah arrives after the much more expensive and complex Ballard project, and Kirkland just gets a study. But yeah, “gold plated”.

      2. “ST is connecting the suburbs with a regional spine destiny, and leaves metro to fill in the Seattle gaps.”

        That’s false though. I use Link as an in-city subway, six days a week now. People focus on the missing stations but ignore the actual stations, which do get you from Broadway to UW, Broadway to Columbia City, and soon Broadway to Northgate and Columbia City to Roosevelt. And all those places to the university and stadiums and King Street Station.

      3. One gap ST is leaving Seattle to go it alone on is 130th St Station. Graham St Station is also a long way off.

        UW-Ballard is likely to require Seattle to go it alone as well.

  2. BART truly reflects the 1960s mentality that mass transit is best designed for suburban domicile to urban workplace lifestyles. Of course, there are plenty of excellent local transit options overlaid in the city of SF, but the BART system (like the RER in Paris) was planned to facilitate suburb to urban core traffic.

    1. I don’t even believe that there are that many great local transit options in SF. I lived in SF around Japan Town for awhile and had to commute to south of the Financial District. BART was never an option since it doesn’t even go west of Market St. The only option I had was buses that still took 20 minutes longer than driving and parking in a garage. This was in one of the densest parts of the bay area. The bus system worked better if I was going from home to downtown but not anywhere else in the city.

      Then when I ended up taking another job in Burlingame, I found that I was better off using the company’s private shuttle than any public transit. The irony was my friend who lived in Fremont was using BART and it worked for him but still took him 3 hours a day to commute with. Finally we had some coworkers commuting from Oakland. They had to use BART when the Bay Bridge was closed since it was the only option and when they did they would get into the office hours late.

      Suffice to say, I agree with this post in that, the bay area is not the metro we should be emulating when it comes to HCT. They’ve basically shot themselves in the foot so many times that they are basically the example of what to avoid as has been mentioned here. In fact one of the reasons I moved back to Seattle was to get away from the terrible transit that had me spending more of my life thinking about how to get from A to B while the increase in pay makes you feel like you might as well be homeless when it comes to the living costs.

      1. When I think of the cities in the US with the best, most comprehensive transit in the city and metropolitan area (but not necessarily laterally between suburbs), New York is #1 by far, followed by Chicago and DC. I’ll skip Boston and Philadelphia because I’ve never been to the former and have only spent two days in the latter.) San Franscisco and BART-land come out a distant fourth, with a quarter of the transit level of the other three. SF’s buses are frequent and comprehensive like Chicago’s, but MUNI Metro is slower and less frequent and less comprehensive than the el or NY or DC subways. BART connects certain areas but not most of the city, and in the suburbs you get out of most stations and then you’re stuck with little within walking distance and infrequent buses. Caltrain is half-hourly or hourly, so it’s no substitute for BART, although it’s gradually getting better. In non-BART land (South Bay and Marin) transit is like Seattle was twenty-five years ago.

      2. Jon, maybe it’s because my visits to San Francisco have never been more than a month at a time over forty years that I’m not resigned to conditions that longer-time residents have just gotten used to. So can’t blame BART and Muni for having to overcome worse natural constraints than ours.

        For its whole history at least back to the 1870’s, San Francisco has been a pile of populated rocks where the whole populations of the entire world demand to live, including in neighborhoods that used to go up like matchboxes every time a quake splintered them.

        Would bet that the sewer system has worse problems than Metro Water Quality, for same reasons as condition of our respective public transits. Plate tectonics are literally Hell. And people always flock to live to hillsides. Like many 19th century mechanical problems, old-country engineers pitied murdered horses, and fit streetcars with same cables and grips that worked in mines.

        Which only trolley buses were able to replace, creating MUNI’s system, only now given diamond lanes up certain hills. Which return to parking much too early for non-bribery. Train Atlantic drivers on the 24 Divisadero and we’ll kiss dewirement and dead-spot trouble goodbye.

        Transit’s only lucky break is that the hills have wider flatter canyons between them, working well for surface streetcars. Also BART, one escalator-equipped story below the MUNI light rail subway under Market Street.

        Embarrassing pace of MUNI Metro, (letters for route numbers) results from stop signs in front of LINK sized LRV’s. Historic PCC’s they replaced were faster. Still on historic Market St. line. Worth a try.

        One of many SF inexcusables, whose expense current SLU-bracket residents shouldn’t mind paying taxes to fix if forced to. Whiners, Sam, spoiled whiners! Saw one of them block N-Judah for an hour literally squealing at a driver for a sudden stop.

        Would current criticisms be leveled at the freeway concrete BART pre-empted? Lane-load of passengers much faster on BART. And across empty land, State Capital isn’t that far from SF at BART speed. Passenger count? Keep BART repaired and they will come. Do same for freeways too, and they might collapse less than once an earthquake.


      3. I find LA’s light rail system much more useful than BART for getting around the area. SF probably has a more developed bus system than LA however.

        BART also offers service to both SFO and OAK while LA has no regular mass transit options to any airport other than some infrequent trains to BUR. Unfortunately, however, the AirBART train to OAK is just about the least efficient rail system ever built.

      4. New York is #1 by far, followed by Chicago and DC. I’ll skip Boston and Philadelphia because I’ve never been to the former and have only spent two days in the latter.) San Franscisco and BART-land come out a distant fourth, with a quarter of the transit level of the other three.

        New York is a city like few others in the world; London, Paris, Tokyo, et al. But look at fare recovery for the rest of US cities mentioned (Wikipedia):
        Boston (MBTA) 43.7%
        Chicago (METRA) 55%
        Washington, DC (WMATA) 62.1%
        Philadelphia/New Jersey (PATCO) 66.2%
        San Francisco Bay Area (BART) 68.2%
        BART is tops in the US. Toronto is better but Vancouver (TransLink) 51.9% is worse by a lot.

  3. I know little of BART, except that their long-distance fares and airport station surcharges are yuge, by American public transit standards, and may be playing a part in keeping their suburban ridership low.

    But one key difference that makes it hard to compare BART to Link is the presence of Muni’s own Metro railroad lines. Seattle has nothing comparable to that, so we expect Link to fill in the void, when, really, we will have to convince the City of Seattle to fill in the void and to do a go-alone variant of ST4 to get Link to West Seattle and Ballard, and from Ballard to UW, opened in a reasonable amount of time. (And no, voting down ST3 won’t make anything happen any faster.) Streamlining city and county regulations and decisions needed to allow ST to move forward with construction would also help. Heck, the state might even allow some SEPA streamlining for LINK, if we but ask. I’m sure ST now builds a lot of NIMBY cushion into the timelines.

    In no way are our streetcrawlers comparable to Muni Metro rail. But BART is what it is, in part, because of the presence of Muni Metro rail.

    If we want the ST Board to understand what’s wrong with the planned outer portions of the spine, Denver, and its low-frequency, low-ridership freeway-park&ride-oriented train lines, offer a much more stark lesson.

    1. MUNI Metro has some speedy stretches (The underground stretch from DuBoce park to Downtown, mostly) but the tails are brutally slow. The ones I’m most likely to use are the Church Street line and N-Judah, and they seem to have little to no signal priority, very slow speeds, and offer little advantage over buses beyond capacity. I’m not sure they’re worth holding up as an awesome thing SF has that we don’t.

      1. I don’t want us to build a version of Muni Metro. It is only fast in the tunnel; it crawls along streetcar speed in the outer areas. We should build something grade separated throughout.

    2. The Muni Metro Market Street tunnel was built by BART. Before that tunnel, Muni light rail ran down Market Street on the surface. Thus San Francisco got its major light rail tunnel project out of the deal.

  4. Suburban BART stations are dead, car-filled holes surrounded by fast roads. They have parking garages that are always full, because that’s the way most people use them – as an extension of their car commute. People from Vallejo, Davis, or even Sacramento drive all the way in to the end point to save money on parking* in the city. As a result it’s created sprawl – there’s no way someone would commute from Davis to SF without BART.

    And that worst part of the system is what we’re replicating here. Free Park and Rides in the suburbs, without TOD.

    * to be fair they’ve started charging for parking in recent years, but it’s still a tiny amount compared to parking in SF. and also to be fair we probably won’t charge a penny to our long-distance commuters.

    1. +1000. The 30 miles distant dead zones (dead because of all-day parking oceans with no turnover and little TOD of any consequence) don’t produce enough trips, so frequency downline in the city suffers.

      1. If suburban frequency suffers, urban frequency will be maintained by turn-back trips, which ST continues to consider at each step in the process.

    2. Suburban BART stations are dead, car-filled holes surrounded by fast roads.


      Riding BART to outer stations is depressing as hell.

      1. Not as depressing as 90% of the country that doesn’t even have BART stations. They have all the soulless land use and huge roads and parking lots without any non-car way to navigate it that’s even halfway competitive with driving.

      2. No, it’s actually more depressing. BART outer stations are horrifying. They are temples to cars, and they’re freaking train stations.

    3. Sound Transit should tell every city and county that they won’t open a station until they drop the parking requirements from their zoning code.

    4. As to:

      People from Vallejo, Davis, or even Sacramento drive all the way in to the end point to save money on parking* in the city. As a result it’s created sprawl – there’s no way someone would commute from Davis to SF without BART.

      That’s what concerns me as a Skagitonian about the Everett Station parking garage proposal… when we already have Skagit Transit 90X.

      1. Skagit Transit 90X runs only peak hours, so there’s no way to get to or from Mt Vernon on a Saturday or after 7pm, except the rare Amtrak and Greyhound.

      2. I thought people from Sacramento commuted on the Amtrak Capitols. They certainly commute on the ACE.

    5. I don’t think anyone likes commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco. And I don’t think BART is to blame for people doing it, but instead housing prices. Honestly, I think if BART wasn’t there, people would drive the entire way to SF, since the cost of parking is still way less than the housing premium.

      And if people from Skagit or Olympia park in park-and-rides to use Link here, I wouldn’t blame Link.

      1. Even if BART didn’t extend as far as it did, it’s effective range could still be extended by busses, operating on the freeway in HOV lanes. If the station parking were more limited and always full, while the buses were fast and frequent, people would ride the buses.

      2. Exactly, asdf. Even if they provided no parking at the station, people would still use it, and in greater numbers. They’d take a bus to get there because it’s their best option to get downtown. Maybe there’d be a park and ride for the bus somewhere, but subsidizing parking next to the only valuable land in your town is a really, really stupid idea.

      3. I think Donde is making an important point – the reason people commute from the far suburbs is often an affordability issue. Long distance transit commuting – whether it’s Sounder, Link, or ST Express – is an important part of the toolkit for addressing our housing affordability crisis.

        This, of course, only reinforces the need to enable things like TOD & walking accessability around stations. But I believe it’s important to enable people to live in the suburbs and commute to Seattle – that’s a benefit of ST3, not a drawback. While we should work to make those suburbs sustainable places to live, I don’t like the vibe I get on this thread about how people commuting to Seattle from, say, Issaquah or Sumner, are less worthy of transit than people who live closer to Seattle and that Sound Transit is only “enabling” them

      4. The Bay Bridge is already at “capacity” in the afternoon. San Francisco parking is twenty dollars a day. If you took the 400,000 people who ride BART into The City daily and put them in cars the place would seize up — as it has been doing during the BART interruption.

        At least now, people can take vacations and unpaid leave for a week or two while the worst problems are fixed. That does not work for “the rest of your life”.

      5. “I don’t like the vibe I get on this thread about how people commuting to Seattle from, say, Issaquah or Sumner, are less worthy of transit than people who live closer to Seattle and that Sound Transit is only “enabling” them”

        It’s not about enabling them, it’s about enabling new people who cause more houses to be built in the area rather than closer in. Lowering the commute barrier from the outer suburbs makes them more attractive and leads to more low-density development there. But as I said elsewhere, most people choose housing based on car access. Even if Link/Sounder is a positive factor for commuting, it’s not the only factor or even the main factor why they choose an outer-suburban location. Even if the extension weren’t built, most of them would move there anyway. And even if they have a job in downtown Seattle now, that doesn’t mean they’ll still be working there in five or ten years; people change jobs or get laid off all the time and their next job will likely be in a closer suburb where Link may or may not go.

    6. That’s true of many suburban stations in DC, as well. Are you insisting on a minimum standard of no suburban park-and-rides, unlike all other postwar American rail systems?

      1. I’m insistent on less parking, and not subsidized. The parking ocean model is so 40 years ago; why design it for 40 years in the future?

      2. And Sound Transit built the central Seattle portion first and is just now building outward. Sounds like DC Metro to me.

      3. Seattle’s Red Line is Northgate Link, which is the next thing to open. We’ve also build the southern leg of Metro’s Green Line, serving the poorest area.

      4. I’m proposing that ST3 may overall be more sprawl-generating than is palatable even when including a new Seattle subway line. Although I get that it’s not my money spent on parking garages and miles and miles of rail to the suburbs, I do happen to have the power to vote against it. And unless the proposal is revised substantially I may do just that.

        Am I “insisting on a minimum standard of no suburban park-and-rides, unlike all other postwar American rail systems?” I suppose I am. Perhaps a compromise of charging for parking would be acceptable. But honestly, postwar American rail systems do a lot of things wrong. We need to stop building more car-based infrastructure.

      5. “I’m proposing that ST3 may overall be more sprawl-generating than is palatable”

        Sprawl generating or existing-community serving? Do you think suburban development will be less without Link? Why? If suburban development concentrates in downtown Tacoma and Everett, Totem Lake and west Issaquah, isn’t that a good thing? Do you really think that development would occur in Seattle and Bellevue without Link? If so, why does Redmond Town Center exist, and Mill Creek, and Canyon Park, and the Juanita growth, and the Woodinville growth?

      6. Sprawl in Redmond exists because we built 520. Sprawl in Issaquah exists because we built I-90.

        We are relatively lucky that we have a hub-and-spoke development pattern here. Not only does this allow for efficient transit, it also makes sprawl self-limiting. Only so many cars will fit on I-5 and the bridges at any given rush hour. That’s the fundamental limit to sprawl: the number of people that can physically come in and out of Seattle. The driving force of sprawl is Seattle’s land use codes, that limits the number of people that can live near their work.

        As long as we don’t provide parking at stations, we can have residential nodes at suburban stations. As long as we do provide parking we’re making it cheaper and easier to live in the far suburbs. It’s not as bad as building a new freeway, but honestly nobody’s going to build another freeway to Seattle.

  5. I don’t know what the problem is with BART specifically, but my problem with ST3 is that it degrades the quality of transit service between Pierce/South King and Seattle without an improvement in accessibility within the South area. I also don’t like that, as far as I can tell from listening to people who live there, it does not serve Seattle, East King, or Snohomish very well either, but that is of secondary importance to me.

    1. (+1) Another very important point. With the Paine Field Deviation, travel time from Everett to Seattle would be longer by train all the way than by an express bus to Lynnwood. On the south end, light rail all the way from Tacoma to Seattle would take considerably longer than the 594. On the east end, a trip from Issaquah to Seattle via downtown Bellevue would take considerably longer than today’s 554 (or a truncated 554 to South Bellevue P&R) – on a line that doesn’t even go to downtown Bellevue without a transfer at the Whole Foods Station.

      1. And thus, ST should run some express trains, Tacoma-Seattle with no stops. Or a huge number of Sounders, both north and south. Use non-express Link for the shorter trips like Tacoma-Federal Way, or Everett-Lynnwood or Issaquah-Bellevue

      2. I think Snohomish & Pierce county political leaders see Link as primarily providing transit within their county, and connection to Seattle’s core as a still key but secondary benefit. Tacoma definitely cares most about connecting to Seatac, and the I5 alignment this blog hates gives them quick access to the airport before the slow slog through SE Seattle. And Everett views the Paine field detour as enabling a destination, not a depature. I think Everett would rather have most of it’s residents working in Everett. The city doesn’t see itself as a bedroom community. Further, the deviation allows people south of Paine field to take the Link to work in a “reverse” commute.

        And the Issaquah 2 seat connection to Seattle is a bummer – but it makes for a quick commute to Bellevue & Microsoft, which can pull as many people from Issaquah as Seattle itself.

        Also, do we know the express buses are going to go away? I can imagine a situation where Community Transit still runs double decker express buses during peak commutes, and then Link provides transit during not peak hours. This mean people can take the faster bus most times, but they know when they, say, get stuck at work late, they can always catch the Link back home. And the same for South King, with KCM running express buses in the morning & evening.

      3. AJ is correct. These are Tacoma and Everett light rail systems that happen to interline with Seattle’s. If the objective was a quick commute into Seattle, there would be no reason for these cities to be interested in anything but improved Sounder service.

      4. @Donde

        Link isn’t designed to accommodate express trains. There aren’t long stretches of three tracks for passing or high-speed crossovers to make the quick move from one track to another.

      5. Take a closer look at the ST map. It shows a connection at East Main not Wilburton. Either they read Zach’s proposal and said, “This is the right thing to do, even though it costs more” or they had already figured it out on their own.

      6. CT and ST stated a few years ago that they would truncate all Snoho express buses at Lynnwood or Mountlake Terrace. Link’s travel time for Lynnwood-Westlake is in the midrange of STEX: slower than Saturday morning but faster than peak-of-peak. Suburbanites care mostly about the latter number. And Link is immune to the traffic accidents that close down a lane almost every day.

        The south end is unclear, but ST published some ST2 options last year and all of them truncate the buses at KDM Station.

    2. I think Snohomish & Pierce county political leaders see Link as primarily providing transit within their county, and connection to Seattle’s core as a still key but secondary benefit. Tacoma definitely cares most about connecting to Seatac, and the I5 alignment this blog hates gives them quick access to the airport before the slow slog through SE Seattle. And Everett views the Paine field detour as enabling a destination, not a depature. I think Everett would rather have most of it’s residents working in Everett. The city doesn’t see itself as a bedroom community. Further, the deviation allows people south of Paine field to take the Link to work in a “reverse” commute.

      And the Issaquah 2 seat connection to Seattle is a bummer – but it makes for a quick commute to Bellevue & Microsoft, which can pull as many people from Issaquah as Seattle itself.

      Also, do we know the express buses are going to go away? I can imagine a situation where Community Transit still runs double decker express buses during peak commutes, and then Link provides transit during not peak hours. This mean people can take the faster bus most times, but they know when they, say, get stuck at work late, they can always catch the Link back home. And the same for South King, with KCM running express buses in the morning & evening.

      1. With the way I-5 has been going for years now, I could foresee Community Transit getting out of the south-of-Mountlake Terrace commuting business and using it’s big fleet to provide serious Link feeder.

        I disagree that Snohomish County sees Link as an inter-county transit system. Judging by the resounding voice of northern politicians, lack of stations where people actually live (no stations for Downtown Everett proper and no stations for the ~5.5 miles between the Boeing Freeway and Everett Station!) and freeway-nature of the extension with serious last-mile issues, they just want to “complete the spine” to Everett. Usability and access be dammed.

      2. In order: Everett may be getting a decent internal rail system that just happens to interline with Seattle’s with the Paine Field deviation, but a decent internal Tacoma rail system would follow the Sierra Club plan and go to the Tacoma Mall before interlining with Seattle’s system. There is space for an O&M base near the existing Tacoma streetcar O&M base.

        We do not know for sure that the STEX buses will be cut, but we know that ST plans to truncate the buses at the ST2 Link endpoints in 2023. If truncation or removal of the 590/594 and 577/578 occurs before fast, frequent(ish), all-day Sounder is available, then travel from Pierce/South King to Seattle will be harmed. Even if Link had triple-track sections to allow for Tacoma-Seattle express trains, it would still be unlikely to be as fast as the bus (I don’t know the exact numbers on that).

        Tacoma’s elected officials who care more about the nebulous concept of “economic development” than about effective transit want a train to the airport; we don’t really know what the rest of the city wants.

      3. The city of Everett can call it a destination, but the reality is, if you don’t work there, it’s just a needless obstacle to have to get past – unless of course, you say “the hell with it” and just drive.

        One could make a similar argument about EastLink serving Microsoft, but there are several differences. First off, Microsoft is on the way from Seattle to Redmond. Paine Field is not on the way from Seattle to Everett. Second, you can actually walk to a lot of buildings from Overlake Transit Center – Paine Field, on the other hand, is so spread out (which it pretty much has to be because airplanes are very big objects) even people who take Link to work would still need to transfer to a shuttle to get anywhere useful. Rather than spending billions running the train to Paine Field, the shuttle buses could simply connect to a Link station along the I-5 alignment. Third, given Boeing’s attitudes towards its workers, it is not at all a given that Boeing will even still be in Everett by the time Link to Paine Field opens. If, in say, 2040, Boeing decides to jump ship and move its factory to China, one year before the new station opens, the Paine Field Deviation decision is going to look really, really stupid.

  6. “the problem is not that there’s too much in the suburbs, it’s that there’s not enough in the city.”

    The problem is – the level of service in the city and the level of service in the suburbs are intertwined. When every BART train within San Francisco means an 8-10 car train all the way out to Dublin or Pittsburg, it makes high frequency in the core of the city artificially expensive. The result is that, even in the middle of the city, the line runs only every 20 minutes in the evenings.

    Similarly, during rush hour, the further out you go, the fuller the trains get when they finally hit the city, which means less capacity available for people living in the city. In the case of the ST 3, this means the Sound Transit Board refusing to allow a junction in the mainline to Ballard, since the Ballard->UW line would take away capacity that “rightfully” belongs to people in Everett – even though the North King subarea paid for that capacity.

    1. This is largely a function of SF BART trains fanning out into multiple suburban lines, which is a problem we are specifically avoiding. With no branching, it is much more palatable to turn around some Seattle trains without going all the way to the terminus.

      1. I’ve read there are layover facilities as places like UW & Northgate, but are there turnaround points built into the system?

      2. There is a stub track planned at Northgate, but certainly no “layover” facilities in the deep tunnel between Westlake and 92nd Street. Apparently there aren’t even any cross-overs planned between the pair just south of HSS and Northgate.

        I find that incredibly stupid. What happens when a train derails and can’t be pushed by a follower? The system will be forced to twenty-minute headways at the best because you have a six mile single-track situation then.

        Penny-wise, pound foolish seems to be the motto at ST.

      3. @AJ For the ST2 system, Sound Transit will be able to turn trains at the following stations where pocket tracks are/will be located:
        Judkins Park
        Rainier Beach
        Seatac Airport

        @Anandakos It is 4.3 miles from UW Station to Northgate Station, with a projected travel time of 8 minutes, so you’d be looking at 10 minute single-track headways. This is similar to the DSTT, which is also 8 minutes (midday) from Stadium to Westlake.

      4. I’m sorry, but that’s not a “problem.” As someone who lives with BART daily, branching is a solution not a problem. Branching means that trunk density is higher. Every train passes from at least Daly City through all of the central city and to West Oakland. That means that at peak BART is operating trains—nine and ten cars in length—every 4-6 minutes. Try that on any light rail system.

        As for the need for most BART stations in the city? No, a thousand times no. The only way to have more BART stations in the city would be to increase stop density, which means lower speeds and more boarding/deboarding delays. BART is intercity transit, not a streetcar, it should be stopping as little as possible. I have never once thought “gee, I wish there was another station between X and Y” on BART. The only way I would agree with more BART stations in the city is if we were talking about a new line that reached new parts of the city, but only if that represented new service, not a reroute. Even then, because it wouldn’t be part of the spine, it would offer limited duplicative service density, so its frequency would be problematic.

        BART has several problems. Its recent breakdowns were a major pain—for some. But (if only because of the luck of them being at the end of a route) they had zero effect on me, living in Oakland/Berkeley. City center service was disrupted while trains were repositioned, but once that occurred, there was no noticeable difference in service for my frequent use of the line from a closer in point (on the Pittsburgh-Bay Point route no less) and Oakland or SF or SFO.

        Someone mentioned SFO premium fares were “holding back” ridership. This is a fundamentally flawed argument. First, BART’s primary purpose is not ferrying people to an airport, it is for daily commuting and urban mobility. Second, BART is not having problems attracting riders. It is having problems keeping up with demand. Third, SFO gets plenty of passengers for every flight, and most trains departing SFO (during conventional hours) are full or nearly so.

        This leads to BART’s primary problem: it was build to handle far fewer riders than it actually does today, and it presently operates with relatively similar densities of service across the length of each line. BART’s leadership want to move the system to a two-tiered service, with commuter-like full line runs overlaid by more frequent service in the more urban segments. To do so, however, requires more under bay capacity—probably another tube/tunnel—and possibly additional track capacity for staging trains on the inner core system. The question this begs for the Seattle region is if a spine can support a variety of service densities, or if it becomes a “fire and forget” light rail system like much of Portland’s MAX. (Two tracks, two cars,: run them like streetcars on every line.)

        The many commentators who mentioned the loneliness and deadness of suburban BART stations are largely correct. Much of BART’s outer reaches looks insane, not because it is freeway running, but because it is freeway running in an area nowhere near developed land, even suburban developed land. It begins to look like a subway to a nature preserve at times. This was, however, a political decision, and this leads to the problem that any transit critic must deal with: politics matter as much as function. I don’t know if the Puget Sound region’s spine is or is not a good idea, but it may be that it is a necessary one in order to gain the political support to build a full system. Fingernails on a chalkboard for dedicated rationalists, perhaps, but no less real because of it.

      5. “As for the need for most BART stations in the city? No, a thousand times no.”

        The objections to BART are about the miles of track, not the number of stations. There’s one missing station in San Francisco, 30th & Mission, and I know there were plans for it last time I was there so it may be approved now. “More San Francisco stations” does not mean closer stop spacing; it means another San Francisco corridor.

      6. @Jason, There is no pocket track at SeaTac, just a crossover track. It would be hard pressed to turn a train at a station without a pocket track. First, the train heading the other direction would have to be timed to have just gone by in order for the train switching directions to no hold up the next train at the station while the driver exits the cab, walks the length of the train, sets up the new cab to be ready and then depart without holding anything else in the system up. Obviously, the closer the headways, the less likely this would be able to be accomplished. Maybe at the beginning/end of the day would work.

        @Anandakos was talking about the lack of crossover tracks between the south end of UW Station and Northgate. This isn’t about turning trains back, but about shortening the length of single tracking required if there’s any problem on the system. Ideally there should be a crossover between each station, so that any stuck trains or track problems are isolated to the smallest distance possible, in order to not disrupt the headways of every other train in the entire system. As it is now, if a train were to have problems near U Dist Station, they would have to single-track all the way from UWS to Northgate. That puts headways for All trains at 20 minutes (twice the travel time from NGS to UWS). and by all trains, I mean every train all the way to the farthest south the line goes, and all the way out to Redmond on East Link.

    2. “The line runs only every 20 minutes in the evenings. ”

      Nope, because even evenings and Sundays the Dublin line and Pittsburgh line overlap between Daly City and West Oakland, and each runs every 15 minutes. That was clearly part of the planning for the Dublin line, that it would not only connect a new East Bay area but also double the full-time frequency in San Francisco. BART lines have sometimes gone down to 20 minutes during recession periods but last time I was there they were back up to 15.

      1. I grew up in the Bay Area, spent most of my life to date there, and rode on BART in 1972 when it opened.

        Alexander, how can you say that BART does much for urban mobility? The nearest stop to UC-Berkeley requires a 20+ minute walk. The stops in Oakland are useful if: a) you work in downtown Oakland (and how many people do that – even now, let alone 44 years ago), b) you are going to the Coliseum, or c) want to transfer. But SF is the WORST. BART fails to serve two-thirds of the City – and until the last 15 years most of the other one-third was an urban wasteland (SOMA and the Mission). If you live between the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Park, Market Street, and the Bay, there is no rail transit available. And to say that Muni buses fill the gaps is comical.

        BART is fine if you live close to a suburban station and work either in downtown SF or downtown Oakland OR if you live close to a station and want to go to an airport. But otherwise, it is useless.

        And MIke, yes the # of stations is a problem – but you are correct another corridor was/is needed. The Civic Center station should have led to a line straight down Geary Boulevard out to at least the Outer Richmond.

    3. asdf2 is correct. The other aspect of this is that it is extraordinarily expensive to (a) build the extreme suburban BART lines and (b) operate the extreme suburban BART lines, and if you’re going to spend that amount of money, it would be better to put it in a cost-effective location where you get lots of riders.

      The money for the money-sucking Warm Springs extension certainly could have gone to a Second Transbay Tunnel. It was in fact the same pot of money. But it didn’t; ti basically got wasted.

  7. “A lot of decisions made 50 years ago about this system really limit what we can do today,” said Tom Radulovich,” Example: “BART’s 1,000 volt electrical system is unique. So is its station design and even its ticketing system. Having such custom features, according to Radulovich, means that projects are not only more expensive, but take longer. Added to that, he said, “there’s a chance it won’t work — or at least won’t work the first time.””

    1. Voltage (Link has a unique 1500V system), wide-gauge (ok, this one is weird), and ticketing (really not that unique) may add some extra costs here and there, but the primary driver of high BART costs are the scale of it’s system; 100% grade separation with very secure ROW, massive 700′ station platforms, and full automation.

      Commenting on Mr. Radulovich’s maintenance analysis, many of New York’s “easy-to-change” AC’s are on it’s newest trains, yet both NYC and BART have propulsion and most serious equipment under the train. The BART-age trains in the NYC system are challenging to maintain and don’t have AC. Nearly all subway cars world-wide are a 100% custom order as each system is unique. NYC has several different specifications within it’s own system which are incompatible with each other. At least BART only has one. (Link can’t buy “off-the-shelf” rail cars either due to our voltage and level-boarding requirements.)

      1. BART claim to be is paying $2.2 million per car.

        DC METRO is paying $2.1 million per car (886 M for 428 cars)

        CTA is paying 1.5 million per car. ($1.3 billion for 846 cars built on the SE side of Chicago)

      2. Voltage on these systems really isn’t that specific. This isn’t consumer electronics we are talking about.

        As an example, the systems on the Portland Streetcar is 750v nominal, with a design range for voltage sags as low as 550v and spikes as high as 930v.

        In the old days, voltage mattered a lot more than it does now. Light bulbs on many older trolley lines were connected in series – parallel so they were a series of 120v bulbs across a 600v supply. Electric heat was direct from the overhead, and heat output varied with the voltage in the overhead.

        Today, for $75,000 or so, you buy a massive static converter that takes in a wide range of DC voltages from the overhead and converts it to 208 volt 3 phase or 480 volt 3 phase, and also usually has outputs on it for emergency battery charging and control system voltage (usually 24v DC). Some parts of the heat system may still run directly off the overhead, but it is extremely difficult to work with it because of the widely variable output. Specifications call for a certain amount of heat capacity, and if it runs directly off the overhead you wind up severely overdesinging it because you need to be able to deal with excess heat buildup at the 925 volt range, and you need enough heating elements in the system to provide the capacity in the specification at the 550v point. So, in my opinion anyway, you’re really better off running everything off of the regulated output of the static converter.

        Since the static converter runs directly off the overhead power and since they are built for a wide range of voltages, I don’t see Link’s different voltage as that big a problem in terms of the car production. The basic products required are already available in the USA thanks to Chicago also using 1,500v on the electrified commuter railroad lines.

        If I understand correctly, Link uses 8 inch platform height above the top of the rail. Some systems use 11 inches, so the floor height is a bit lower than some systems. However, the Ottawa and Toronto Eglinton Crosstown cars will be designed for very low platforms too.

        The fact is, many light rail car designs today are designed for the international market, and have variants for a number of different widths and platform heights. Different modules and different check boxes checked at time of order gives you something that fits.

        Therefore, I wouldn’t be too worried about these features of Link. They are already features that are dealt with by the car manufacturers.

      3. The wide gauge was absolutely horrible in terms of pricing for BART and has driven costs up.

        BART also used cylindrical wheels, which was *completely idiotic*. For the latest order of cars they are getting standard conical wheels, thank goodness, so at least they’re fixing that.

  8. Attached is a link to an article of one of the earlier (1982) DC Metro maps. (lines that are not solid indicate that they have not been built yet). This tracks with my memory of Metro. So far, Seattle has built the equivalent of the Blue and yellow line to the airport (and the stops along the way), and with the recent opening to UW, the blue/orange line to Foggy Bottom (George Washington University, where there is a hospital as well as a university, and sort of close to Georgetown and Dupont Circle)) What is missing in Seattle’s rail transit (and in ST3) is the Red line, which was built in DC.

  9. Alright, as of 9 AM I see a lot of general criticism of suburban rail, which I certainly understand. But this is a general critique of all major American postwar rail projects, not BART, which is a uniquely bad example of the genre.

    Again, the original chart shows that ST3 approaches the best of the postwar system designs, not the worst.

    1. As a DC area native, explain to me, another DC area native how ST3/Link has built the equivalent of the red line from the core of DC outwards. (I will grant you that Seattle has built the equivalent of the blue/yellow line to the airport as well as the blue/orange line to Foggy Bottom/George Washington University).

      1. Northgate Link is equivalent of DC’s Red Line: passing through prosperous residential neighborhoods on the way to the far suburbs.

      2. Remember the Metro map I linked to is what was available 6 years after Metro opened for business. Ballard (somewhat similar to Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan) and West Seattle (arguably similar to Ballard, although less so, in terms of density) won’t have light rail for 22 and 17 years (and Fremont, Wallingford won’t have light rail until ST 4), but Lynnwood (the equivalent of Shady Grove arguably) will be open before then.

    2. Should we not seek to duplicate avoidable mistakes? Postwar was a long time ago. We know better now.

      1. Sure, but I think Martin’s point is that the postwar land use patterns are still with us, which means that suburbs have much more political clout than they did 100 years ago. You can’t ignore the fact that in 1960 Seattle had the majority of the regional population and today it’s a minority.

      2. The DC Metro and BART were also 90% financed by the federal government. Having a Seattle-focused Link system would require abandoning subarea equity and a suburban-majority board. The entire issue is that Snohomish and Pierce and the Eastside don’t want their taxes going to Seattle lines while they get no extensions, and their boardmembers are responsible to them.

      3. Actually, BART was NOT financed by the Feds. It was almost totally financed locally or by the State. Very little (proportionally) came from the Feds.

    3. To call BART “a uniquely bad example” of “American postwar rail projects” is laughable. We may dislike part of how it was designed or how it operates, but it is clogging under its own popularity. Flawed? Sure. But a system that people are clamoring to use is hard to see as a failure.

    4. Yes, that is exactly the problem: ST3 looks like a plan from the latter 20th century because it is based on latter-20th-century thinking. The postwar systems are not very good; why should we set our sights that low? Our parents and grandparents were high on gasoline; why would we want to emulate their thinking? We are in the 21st century, so let’s design a 21st century transportation network, and to the degree that historical models are useful we should be looking back 100 years, not 50, because it is precisely that suburban, highway-driven model of the 60s that we need to compensate for and begin to repair here.

      1. What Mars said. This is the 21st century. Copying the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s seems frankly insane.

        We already have better role models for urban transit from the 1980s and 1990s. And I wouldn’t recommend copying the mistakes of the 1990s either (San Jose VTA, I’m looking at you).

    5. The difference between the DC Metro and BART is distance traveled from the core. While the Washington Metro may have a similar percentage of suburban stations as the ST3 build out would, they are on average much closer to the core city than the ST3 stations would be. If we consider the core of DC to be the Mall, only one of the nine original suburban branches (Shady Grove Red Line) has stations more than about 12 miles away from the core. And even that line only reaches about 17 miles away from the city core. These distances are comparable to the ST2 lines. Lynnwood station will be about 11 miles away from the University District and Kent/Des Moines station will be about 15 miles away from the International District.

      However, the extensions to Everett and Tacoma would be 25 to 30 miles from the Seattle core respectively. Those distances are similar to the distances between the BART stations in Pittsburgh, Dublin and Fremont and Downtown San Francisco and generally more than double the suburban reach of Washington Metro lines. That difference is huge because stations further than about 12 miles (maybe 30 minute ride time) from the core are really quite far from the dense places lots of people want to go. This means that these extensions will get very little ridership outside of peak when people are willing to tolerate a longer commute in order to avoid traffic. And you can see this in the ridership numbers. Lynnwood Link is expected to attract more than 3 times the number of riders per dollar as Everett Link even though both are pretty suburban oriented lines along I-5.

      It’s also worth noting that Link doesn’t hold a candle to the Washington Metro when it comes to TOD. Densifying Alexandria, Arlington, Silver Spring, Bethesda was a part of building Metro. It’s hard to imagine that kind of TOD occurring without extremely effective planning on Link’s freeway based alignments. I agree that land use planning is outside of ST’s control, but the rail isn’t worth it that far from the city core without at least a pretense of effective land use.

      1. Hi Alex, thanks for this reply. This is the first coherent response to the question I asked in the post. I agree that distance from the core is an issue.

        As for TOD, I think you’re overstating the extent to which Link stations (in particular the ST3 stations) are in freeway Right of Way. A lot of suburban cities are doing a good job with their station area plans, although some others (Federal Way, Everett) are laggards.

  10. Even though many of you think BART is bad, you have to give them some credit on their high fare box recovery, which has been above the 70 percent range for quite sometime.

  11. In the lead up to the Iraq War, President Bush relied heavily on Condoleezza Rice, an expert on Eastern Europe. Secretary Rice noticed the similarities, and encouraged Bush to intervene. Martin is making the same mistake, although with obviously less dire consequences.

    Oakland and Berkeley are not like Everett, Tacoma, Bellevue, Redmond, and Seatac. Oakland and Berkeley are more like Seattle. Not super dense, like Manhattan or even Brooklyn, but more like Queens. Just look at the numbers, in people per square mile

    Seattle — 7,969
    Oakland — 7,417
    Berkeley — 11,351

    The combined Oakland/Berkeley city (if it was one) would have over 500,000 people, making it a bit smaller than Seattle. Extend the borders out to encompass as much land as Seattle, and you would get as many people.

    Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of the Northwest cities you mentioned:

    Tacoma — 3,990
    Everett — 2,100
    SeaTac — 2,682
    Bellevue — 3,827
    Redmond — 3,325

    How does that compare to some of the areas that BART serves:

    Fremont — 2,500
    Richmond — 2,000
    Pittsburg — 3,300
    Dublin — 3,346
    Concord — 4,000
    Walnut Creek — 3,200

    You get the idea. Our best suburban cities (Tacoma, Bellevue) are similar to the Bay Area satellite cities. Of course, city borders can be quite arbitrary (which is how we got into this mess in the first place). All of these cities contain areas that are fairly dense, but also areas that are extremely sparsely populated (West Magnolia, Oakland Hill, etc.). It is best to take a more detailed look, which is fairly easy when you look at census maps.

    East Bay —
    Seattle —

    I recommend viewing these maps on two different windows, so you can get an idea of the difference in density (otherwise it is hard to remember the colors). These maps are also interactive — you can select individual census blocks and figure out the density. The Berkeley/Oakland area has a huge, contiguous swath of blocks over 10,000 people per square mile, with the clumps of higher density (over 25,000) and lower density (under 10,000). Much of Seattle is like that. None of the cities you mentioned are like that (nor is West Seattle). Tacoma has a small cluster (six) of medium density (over 10,000). Bellevue has a similar cluster, along with a few higher peaks (over 25,000). Kent also has a similar area (but won’t get light rail). But outside Seattle, there is nothing that looks like Oakland/Berkeley. It is just a very different area.

    Oakland, Berkeley and San Fransisco are also very close to other other, unlike Tacoma, Everett and Seattle. Oakland, Berkeley and San Fransisco operate much like Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Both have their own identity — neither is a suburb of the other — but they are co-dependent. Tacoma and Everett are more like Baltimore and DC — they influence each other, but operate largely independently (given their distance from one another).

    Worth mentioning is Daly City, which sits on the other side of San Fransisco. It has high density overall (13,843/per square mile) and you can find the same sort of continuous high density swath all the way to downtown San Fransisco that you see in East Bay. Thus a rough definition of the urban part of the Bay Area would be Berkeley/Oakland/San Fransisco/Daly City. A similar definition for Seattle would not leave the city, and not include much of it.

    With that out of the way, I’ll answer your question (what is wrong with BART) in another comment.

    1. I readily concede that Puget Sound Cities (including Seattle!) are less dense than their Bay Area counterparts. The conclusion you expect me to draw from this is that the Puget Sound should have crappier transit. I disagree. It certainly doesn’t follow that Seattle deserves more with respect to its suburbs than San Francisco does with respect to its suburbs.

      1. I don’t know that the natural conclusion here is the Puget Sound should have crappier transit, especially since it seems we’re at least somewhat willing to pay for more transit than we have now—unless by “crappier” you mean something that isn’t Link Light Rail.

        We all know that there are better solutions for the City and suburbs than Link (or BART), but what we have and what we’re going to get is partially a result of ST picking the tool before knowing the (transit) problem to be solved. Not a whole lat that can be done about that.

      2. Also consider Seattle & Eastside are building much more & at greater density than the Bay Area. As much as we complain about Seattle not doing enough with up-zones, the Puget Sound area is much more pro-development than the Bay Area, so the gap in density is only going to close, especially in cities like Kent, Lynnwood, Bellevue, and Redmond that are clearly gungho about building up around specific ST2 stations.

      3. “I readily concede that Puget Sound Cities (including Seattle!) are less dense than their Bay Area counterparts. The conclusion you expect me to draw from this is that the Puget Sound should have crappier transit. I disagree. It certainly doesn’t follow that Seattle deserves more with respect to its suburbs than San Francisco does with respect to its suburbs.”

        Ok – but could you accept the idea that they should have less expensive transit? The ridership per dollar spent in ST 3 is pretty abysmal. I’m not sure why nobody seems to care about the opportunity cost of spending the region’s money the way ST has proposed. Places like Everett, and Issaquah will loose the direct, relatively fast service they have to Seattle now, which realistically will continue to be the biggest travel market for suburban residents living in car-dependent areas. Do you really that $4B for Issaquah is actually the best value for the money for people who live there? ST is not going to run service that duplicates it’s own multi-billion dollar investment, and most likely the region will reach a limit on appetite for funding transportation. We may end up with a few moderately performing suburban rail lines in ST3, and one urban (Ballard), but at what cost? What about all the parts of the region that don’t see any new transit service at all?

      4. I readily concede that Puget Sound Cities (including Seattle!) are less dense than their Bay Area counterparts. The conclusion you expect me to draw from this is that the Puget Sound should have crappier transit.

        No, and please, for the love of God, don’t put words in my mouth. How fucking hard is it to just read the comment — with an open mind — and then move on.

        This comment is to give readers (ignorant readers — such as yourself) an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the respective areas. Oakland ≠ Bellevue. Berkeley sure as hell ≠ Redmond. Daly City ≠ Tacoma, Everett or SeaTac. You made a statement suggesting otherwise. I expect you (as well as other readers) to draw no other conclusion than the premise you stated is simply wrong.

    2. Moreover, even accepting the premise that Seattle is more deserving than San Francisco with respect to their suburbs, the data show that ST3 will in fact provide a greater share of the rail transit in the core city.

      1. First of all, what the hell does “deserving” have to do with anything? If you mean performance, then it is a ridiculous premise (as I stated). None of the suburban stations have the density of the Bay Area suburbs, nor the proximity to the core city, nor the overall population, nor is the core city as big; thus it is absurd to think that they will perform better (have higher ridership) than those on BART.

        As for the data, one can clearly conclude, after comparing the systems, that ST’s data is flawed. As they have been in the past. As you, in a previous post, acknowledged. (No, I can’t find the link).

        It is hard to imagine how our system will carry more people than BART’s, given the fact that ours will have fewer stops in the urban areas, and that just about all stops (both urban and suburban) are better on BART than on Link. Just go through the list ( Now imagine a similar list for Link (starting of course, with downtown stops). At what point do you think Link will actually have a station that carries more people than BART? The obvious answer is never.

        With fewer stations (or at best, roughly the same) and fewer riders per station (sometimes tens of thousands fewer) it should be obvious that Link’s ridership numbers are simply wrong, and basing your conclusion on them is nonsense.

    3. The first thing worth considering is how BART operates. There are 45 stations, and most of them are outside of the core city (as I defined it — Berkeley/Oakland/San Fransisco/Daly City). Then there is station placement. In general, a lot of the stations are placed in pretty good, relatively densely populated, locations; not that many are placed next to the freeway (unlike Link). However, the distance between stations tends to be very high. It is nothing like subways in DC, New York, Toronto, Chicago or Vancouver. The lack of stations is designed to make it run faster. It does. With a top speed of 80 MPH, and large distances between stations, it manages to average 33 mph, which is extremely fast for a subway.

      Yet despite the very fast speeds for city to city travel (or suburban to core city, if you will) and the reasonably good station placement in the suburbs, the core city dominates the ridership. Even though most of the stations are outside, over 70% of the ridership is within the core city.

      Ridership in general is very low outside the main area. Fremont, a city roughly the size and density of Tacoma, has ridership of less than 9,000 people per day. This despite the fact that a ride from Fremont to Oakland, Berkeley or San Fransisco is very fast (and the combined population and employment of those areas much larger than Seattle).

      As a result, headways per line are relatively high (15-20 minutes). It just isn’t worth it to run the train to these far flung areas, since they will be mostly empty. Speaking of cost, it should be mentioned that by and large, cost is a function of mileage. There are exceptions, of course. In this case, the tunnel was very expensive. Commuter rail (like Sounder) is the opposite (very cheap per mile) because it can leverage existing infrastructure. There are savings to be had by running on the surface, or leveraging freeway right of way, but in general, the longer the system, the more it costs to build and maintain. Thus you can make a very good case that if BART had not been built outside the core city, it would have been much cheaper to build and maintain, yet still had pretty decent ridership.

      As for ridership, like all systems, it is hard to measure how successful it is. Ridership is just one metric, but a good starting point (if you don’t have that, then nothing else matters). But cities that are very dense should have higher ridership, even if their transit system isn’t ideal. San Fransisco proper has very high density, while the other cities that make up the core are fairly high as well. With daily ridership a bit over 400,000, I’m not impressed. Vancouver BC has close to this (and will have more than this soon). If you just include the BRT line that should be converted to rail, then Vancouver ridership exceeds this. Yet Vancouver is a much smaller, less densely populated area.

      The big difference between the two systems is that Vancouver has lots of stations within the urban core. Unlike DC Metro, it doesn’t have a lot of criss-crossing lines (although it has more than BART, and has more than Sound Transit proposes), but it makes up for that with stations designed to work really well with bus service. As mentioned, a single BRT line carries over 50,000 people. But it isn’t just the BRT; there is a comprehensive set of bus lines that work in conjunction with the rail line to ensure a very efficient system.

      Hindsight is 20-20 of course. We can look back at BART, and wonder “What if?”. What if, instead of focusing on areas like Fremont or Concord, they had just focused on the areas nearby and more densely populated. There would be more stations in the core city, maybe an extra line, and likely much higher ridership (probably greatly exceeding DC Metro). But we can’t go back and fix BART.

      We can, however, avoid that mistake here. We shouldn’t build something like BART, we should build something like SkyTrain. Not only would this work better for those in the city, but it would work better for those in the suburbs. By having very frequent, fast transit in the city, those in the suburbs can get to where they want to go within the city easily. BART was a mistake, SkyTrain was a success. It is obvious which one we should mimic.

      1. I love Vancouver’s system. But it’s telling that you have to go to a country with an entirely different political economy to find a good example. U.S. Federal policy has done a lot to make infrastructure more expensive and boost the size and importance of suburbs.

        Moreover, SkyTrain would be limited without the impetus of the Olympics. And the TransLink model has been so successful at keeping people happy that the latest expansion was annihilated at the polls.

      2. the core city (as I defined it — Berkeley/Oakland/San Fransisco/Daly City)

        This is very convenient cherry-picking. Along the whole continuum — from core city to suburb — the Bay is denser than the Sound. I could just easily define the “core city” here as Seattle plus the whole Bellevue alignment, where all but perhaps one station is zoned for high density, as the “core city”, and cook up similar numbers. In fact, many of the station areas are zoned for higher density, with a few regrettable exceptions.

      3. A numerical clarification: Fremont has 9,000 boardings and that is a total ridership of 18,000 – for one station. That’s better than SeaTac/Airport station.

      4. I’m not sure how “telling” is that we would rather compare our future to that of other places with transit mode shares over 5% than to outdated and under-performing systems built around suburban park-and-rides like BART. We’re striving for a future where transit really works day in and day out, and people can start leaving cars behind, not to mention making a real climate benefit. Why not shoot to be more like Vancouver, Zurich, Barcelona, Bogota, Prague?!

      5. Because the suburbanites have the voting power and 4/5 of the population and a severe case of entitlementitis.

      6. I have to gainsay Martin’s comments about Vancouver and Canada in general. The political economy here is similar to that of the US. For all the talk, even government expenditure as a percentage of the economy isn’t that different. Skytrain is successful because it offers good service. Fast and frequent. The bus system is well integrated with the trains, but this too is enabled by the good service. There was never any debate about maintaining express bus services from Surrey, Richmond or Lougheed because those services would never have been able to compete with Skytrain on both speed and frequency. And Skytrain got started in the early 80’s, well before any olympic dreams, and the line connecting Richmond, Vancouver and the airport was planned in the 90’s, also before any olympic dreams. The olympics moved it ahead of the Evergreen Line, now under construction, but it wasn’t the impetus for the line.

        The transport referendum was indeed a flop, but it wasn’t a vote on transit as much as the agency. And that referendum was essentially hopeless. The provincial government promised in in an off-the-cuff election comment, but there was no plan ahead of time. That was drawn up afterward. And the plan also had no real proponent until late in the game. Translink itself essentially thought itself neutral in the campaign and did little in support of it until the final weeks, and the Mayor’s Council that actually drafted the plan and promoted it did not have enough institutional support. The supporting mayors relied on the staffs of their respective cities to put together materials and presentations.

        Really the best comparison with Vancouver is DC. Both built fully grade-separated metro systems from scratch relatively late in the game. Obviously DC is way bigger than Vancouver and has a bigger and busier system, but the ethos of the systems are the same: quality counts.

        SF’s biggest transit problem isn’t BART but SF! The transit system is just inadequate for a city of its size and density. There is only one transit tunnel through the whole of the core with the new 4th Ave tunnel under construction. Even that expansion of far too modest. No Geary subway, no Van Ness or other north south subway. No grade separated light rail. It’s just inadequate. And then they choose to spend their money on things like the Transbay Transit Center which is costing a enormous pile of money to not improve transit much.

        BART does indeed have problems. Its op costs seem way out of line which is draining money that could be used for improvements. It is partially automated but not completely. The driver still operates the doors? And it isn’t frequent enough. Through the Market Street Tunnel this thing ought to be running every two minutes, something that full automation ought to achieve. Would improve the branch frequency too, but obviously turnbacks would be warranted off peak. With optimized frequency and capacity, BART ought to be able to take more of the transbay bus passengers. That SPUR video you folks posted says that 12,000 people bus over the bay, but actually I think that is more like 120,000. Getting those people on to BART ought to speed their journeys and provide them better transit connections downtown. The Transbay Transit Center is meant as a transfer point for those bus passengers as well, but BART already has transfer points along the Market Street Tunnel that will be more convenient than a single transit centre.

      7. I love Vancouver’s system. But it’s telling that you have to go to a country with an entirely different political economy to find a good example.

        I have to go to the next nearest city to Seattle. I’m sure if I wanted to go farther I could find other examples, but why bother?

        U.S. Federal policy has done a lot to make infrastructure more expensive and boost the size and importance of suburbs.

        That is irrelevant. Vancouver has plenty of suburban land — including the dreaded single family houses that people so often decry around here — right within the city proper, to say nothing about the surrounding suburban cities. The difference from a transit perspective is that Vancouver is not obsessed with serving every suburb with light rail. Even suburbs far more urban than West Seattle don’t have light rail — they have a boat. It is simply a case of building things differently. Neither the very successful (but very expensive) DC model, with light rail everywhere, nor the largely ineffective, suburban centered mess that is Dallas or Denver (to be fair, both of those are built very cheaply — which is different than Link). The Vancouver model, based on the Toronto model, relies on transfers. Some very high quality, very frequent, very fast rail, combined with very frequent, complementary bus service.

        Moreover, SkyTrain would be limited without the impetus of the Olympics.

        Another irrelevant point. Really — what are trying to say here? Vancouver has a kick ass light rail system because of the Olympics? So your point is we should make a bid for 2040? You completely miss the point. Vancouver does not have more miles — they didn’t spend a bunch more than us — but they simply have a better system, because they designed it better.

        And the TransLink model has been so successful at keeping people happy that the latest expansion was annihilated at the polls.

        Are you that ignorant of transit issues? Did you even follow the happenings of our nearest neighboring city? I know they speak funny up there (eh?), but really, it isn’t too hard to figure this out. They have major operation issues. The people in the region rarely get to vote on taxing issues, and they voted no as a protest vote. That doesn’t mean that folks don’t use the system. Vancouver has over three times the transit ridership per capita that we do — and that is because it simply works better than our system does.

      8. You may be able to chalk up Europe’s good transit to the Olympics too. I’ve been told rhat Munich was the first city to develop a modern driving competitive transit system because they realized they would choke otherwise. Other cities looked at what they did and improved and imitated what they came up with.

        Traffic in Seattle is already choking. It been gradual enough that there isn’t any sense of emergency about it.

      9. >> the core city (as I defined it — Berkeley/Oakland/San Fransisco/Daly City)

        >>>> This is very convenient cherry-picking. Along the whole continuum — from core city to suburb — the Bay is denser than the Sound. I could just easily define the “core city” here as Seattle plus the whole Bellevue alignment, where all but perhaps one station is zoned for high density, as the “core city”, and cook up similar numbers. In fact, many of the station areas are zoned for higher density, with a few regrettable exceptions.

        Did you even bother to read my long, in depth analysis? Read it again. Slowly this time. Look at the maps. I gave a pretty clear definition of what “core city” is. It has nothing to do with relative density, but everything to do with density overall and proximity. [ah, expletive]

        You could define the “core city” as including Bellevue, or SeaTac, or Moses Lake, but such definitions are meaningless without an argument to support it. I’ve made it very clear what the difference is — contiguous high density areas. Seattle has them, and is the only city in the state that has them. I chose 10,000 people per square mile because it is a pretty good starting point, and the data supports that (or are you saying the census data is fabricated?).

        Consider the area east of I-5, north of I-90 and south of 520. There is a big section there, of about fifty census blocks over 10,000 people per square mile (it is hard to count the number because there are so many). There are over a dozen over 25,000. This is part of Seattle, and there is one station to serve it. If ST3 passes, there will still be only one station to serve it.

        You can find similar areas in other parts of Seattle, but none outside. None. Zero. Zilch. The best you can do is find a couple small clusters of 10,000 people per square mile in Bellevue and Tacoma. There are only three blocks over 25,000 — one in Kent, and a couple in Bellevue (which happen to be surrounded by low density blocks). All the areas in Bellevue will have light rail soon, while Kent will get nothing. As mentioned, while Tacoma has better than average density, it is too far away to produce decent light rail ridership.

        Relative density is meaningless. It is about absolute density. Ridership in Brooklyn is very high, despite the fact that Manhattan is much more dense. Ridership in Queens is very high, despite the fact that Brooklyn is much more dense. Above a certain level of density, a well designed set of lines and stations can do wonders. Below that level, it won’t. BART fails when it falls below that level, and shines when it is above it, despite the fact that is geared towards serving the former. Despite the fact that there aren’t that many stations in the core city (as defined above) the core city carries almost all of the riders.

        For low density areas (such as most of the region) light rail simply isn’t appropriate. It is too expensive, and unnecessary. Commuter rail and express buses fit both the travel pattern as well as the budget of the area. A billion spent on improving the bus transit system in the area buys you a lot — a billion on light rail in the region does not.

      10. For low density areas (such as most of the region) light rail simply isn’t appropriate. It is too expensive. Commuter rail and express buses fit both the travel pattern as well as the budget of the area.

        And here the gig is up. I return to my original point that you think our lower density means we don’t deserve high-quality transit. You just don’t want to spend money to make transit as good as it can be, with light rail, OR you are simply wishing away the interest groups that prevent us from having high-quality bus transit. I can design the rail system of your wildest dreams, too, if I wish away the interest groups that put constraints on its design and potential. As it stands, Link as actually implemented >>> BRT as actually implemented.

        Commuter rail isn’t a low-cost solution in places that don’t have tracks. Buses are stuck in traffic, even express buses, because WSDOT doesn’t care enough to raise HOV thresholds. Suburban voters know this and are asking for a true alternative to traffic, but that makes you so angry that you’re happy to sacrifice good rail transit to some of the densest neighborhoods in Seattle.

        You think I’m too stupid to look up population numbers. But my priority is to deliver rail to the areas that need it, rather than obsess over who’s getting more than I think they deserve. It’s a good thing if our transit is higher-quality for a given density than the Bay Area has been able to deliver.

      11. @yvrlutyens — Thank for a very good description of the various systems. The takeaway from my perspective is that it is unrealistic to think we can build what DC has, but quite realistic to imagine building what Vancouver has.

      12. For 50 billion you ought to be able to build a system to Washington DC, call it the “Presidential Line”. Realistically, at 200 million per km, this is 250 km of rail. That is the full DC treatment in metro Seattle.

      13. Canada has totally different institutions with fewer veto points at all levels of government. There are also fewer crippling federal regulations on rail construction.

      14. >>>And here the gig is up.

        Nope. I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that they don’t want high quality transit in this region. But by building the proposed ST3 package, we actually jeopardize our ability to provide people with fast, frequent connections to where they want to go and an express network with direct connections. We jeopardize our ability to fund more innovative local service solutions that actual meet the needs of more rural areas. The problem with your argument that there’s no problem with over-delivering is that there is a problem – it is EXTREMELY expensive. Households across the region will be footing a bill, largely through regressive taxes, for something that many won’t ever use. And, we may use up most of our willingness to pay more for more transit.

        >>But my priority is to deliver rail to the areas that need it, rather than obsess over who’s getting more than I think they deserve.
        Well it is clear that your priority is to deliver rail. To areas that need it, not so much. Huge swaths of the center city are neglected for at a minimum decades, so that we can build the wrong solution for places like Issaquah. It’s not a given that we need to accept the suburban-dominated ST governance structure. What do you think will happen if ST3 fails?

      15. >> I return to my original point that you think our lower density means we don’t deserve high-quality transit.

        I never said that, and once again — after admonishing you for doing this over and over again — you put words in my mouth. No wonder the most brilliant and informed writer that ever commented on this blog is banned for life. He ran out of patience, and you are sure as hell taxing mine.

        It really has nothing to do with who “deserves” or doesn’t “deserve” good transit. Folks in various parts of the world “deserve” clean water, a chance for a full belly, and, I don’t know, shelter from the storm. What the fuck does that have to do with what we are discussing?

        We are arguing whether the plan you propose is actually the greatest good for the greatest number. No, strike that. You have obviously conceded that point. What you are arguing is that this is the greatest good for the greatest number in this particular region.

        The simply answer is that it isn’t. If only a very small fraction of the people who live in the region ever get to experience the wonders of a train running every twenty minutes then it is a failure. That is it. No need to discuss whether you are simply replacing bus riders with train riders (i. e. the Seattle streetcar effect). It doesn’t matter. If only a very small percentage of the people in the region actually take this wonderful train, then it doesn’t matter how much faster it is than the alternative. Very few people benefit. Might as well send them all taxi cabs.

        That is the reality of these systems. In the less dense suburbs, very few people ride them. You are better off making every bus trip in the region just a little bit better. They won’t be perfect. The buses may average 30 MPH on the freeway (oh, the horror) but at least they don’t average 8 MPH on the side streets. At least people don’t have to wait forty minutes for the fucking bus after working the evening shift, wondering if the neighbor taking care of the kids will complain too much when you once again arrive way too late. Don’t lecture me about who deserves or doesn’t deserve good transit. I’ve been there. This is not good transit. This won’t work for the vast majority of the region that it purports to serve. Those who have a car will use it, and those that don’t will be burdened with the heavy cost of owning one.

      16. I concede you never literally used the words that these cities “don’t deserve” transit, but I believe your contention is that none of these cities have the densities to justify building new transit right-of-way. Is that not an accurate summary? If so, it amounts to exactly the same thing, unless you have a secret plan to overcome the vested interests that prevent taking existing right-of-way.

        We are arguing whether the plan you propose is actually the greatest good for the greatest number. No, strike that. You have obviously conceded that point. What you are arguing is that this is the greatest good for the greatest number in this particular region.

        Now it’s your turn to make up positions. This is certainly not the “greatest good for the greatest number” — that would be to take the tax money and build a Metro in Delhi, or even better to provide clean water somewhere else in the world. The returns would be fantastic. Even in this region, I can certainly imagine a package that results in higher ridership and more dense development — which is not exactly equivalent to “good” in everyone’s eyes — but are objectives that I think you and I would agree with.

        My contention is that this is very close to the best package, by those metrics, that can actually pass in the Sound Transit District. Most municipal leaders are very convinced that rail is critical for the future of their cities, and if those leaders going around saying that the ST3 package is a raw deal for their cities, it will be fatal. Moreover, many voters look at BRT promises from the past and are underwhelmed, while Link (for all its flaws) is clearly awesome. And some cities, like Everett and Federal Way, are simply unwilling to disrupt businesses on the SR99 corridor even though that would greatly increase the system’s potential.

        I think that the Ballard/DT project is just about the best thing that the region could build. It has many of the positive aspects of both Ballard/UW and a Metro 8 subway and avoids untouchable single-family neighborhoods. You and I have to agree to disagree on whether Link to West Seattle is good or bad for West Seattle. Whatever flaws there are in the suburban lines, I am confident it will spur dense development in Issaquah, Downtown Redmond, Lynnwood, and possibly Paine Field. Those are relatively inefficient, but beneficial, add-ons to a core project that is utterly worth doing.

        To just run a cost-per-rider calculation and compare it to the optimum mix of projects you can generate neglects that there are other objectives this system is supposed to meet, and that a majority of voters will not care much about this metric at all. They will care that the lines are useful to them or people they love, sometimes every day, but often for occasional trips to sporting events, festivals, and the airport. These demands add little to everyday ridership, but are important to the electorate.

      17. @Martin what’s the difference between needing something and deserving something?

        >> It’s a good thing if our transit is higher-quality for a given density than the Bay Area has been able to deliver.

        While simultaneously delivering worse-quality transit for a given density?

      18. Martin, bluntly: Ross is right. You are completely wrong. Reread what you wrote. You’ve been reduced to making bizarre emotional arguments.

      19. “My contention is that this is very close to the best package, by those metrics, that can actually pass in the Sound Transit District. ”

        The package
        (a) sucks up suburban tax funding in perpetuity for extensions which will never be popular or successful;
        (b) sucks up *Seattle tax funding* in *perpetuity* to operate suburban extensions — yes, it does, even subarea equity doesn’t prevent this (because “North King”, not “Seattle”);
        (c) provides, at best, a small amount of severely substandard transit in Seattle — even downtown to Ballard is stuck with a DRAWBRIDGE which has to open for every boat —

        It is actively detrimental to good transit in the region. If this is the best that can pass in the Sound Transit voting district — and I do not believe it for a minute — then you need to make the district smaller, like Pierce Transit did.

      20. “Whatever flaws there are in the suburban lines, I am confident it will spur dense development in Issaquah, Downtown Redmond, Lynnwood, and possibly Paine Field. ”

        The simple answer to this is: No, it won’t. We know this. Look at BART.

  12. perhaps the comparison with BART is less helpful than considering what else could be done with the fiscal resources needed to provide the Link spine. could an acceptable spine be provided by an option that cost less than Link?

    1. An acceptable spine to many of us would be BRT from Lynnwood and Des Moines. It could even have multiple lines to Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds, Tacoma, Puyallup, and Kent, while a Link line would be singular. But that’s not acceptable to Snohomish and Pierce because that’s what they’re rejecting.

    2. could an acceptable spine be provided by an option that cost less than Link?

      Given an entirely different WSDOT and legislature (i.e. a different Washington State electorate), yes. Otherwise, no.

      1. Or, we could realize that we don’t actually need a “spine” and that most people would be better served by a wider range of choices, instead of spending all of our money on just one. I understand this is not where the political support is, but electeds aren’t the people that ride transit. Maybe people who do ride will question the value of ST3 compared to other ways to spend the money.

      2. one can see the center HOV lanes under construction in Pierce County. Sound Move provided center access ramps at South 317th Street in both directions. of course, an acceptable spine could be provided by express bus. the savings relative to Link could fund a robust transit network in Tacoma and South King County. that has not been studied. consider how little of Link’s capacity will be used between Tacoma and SeaTac. do South King County riders really want slower trips? variable tolling will be implemented. why build new costly transit right of way in markets where there are few pedestrians and where buses can already go fast?

      3. So, Martin, you’ve just provided a very good reason to kill ST3 and wait four years.

        You will have a very different electorate and a very different Washington State legislature in four years. People will die; people will turn 18. People will move into the state; people will move out of the state. The legislature is actually extremely narrowly balanced, and four years could *easily* tip the balance in it.

    3. This is effectively 405 BRT. It’s a “second spine” – not that anyone would call it that – but it’s certainly an experiment to see if you can provide LRT-level service using buses along a multi-county interstate corridor.

  13. City boundaries might be a useful, easily measurable shorthand if we were comparing to Chicago or DC. SF’s boundaries are unusually tight (for historic and geographic reasons). Here’s something that’s useful and easily measurable: SF represents about 1/10th the population of the Bay Area; Seattle is a bit over 1/5th the population of this region. Bellevue is not Oakland, nor even San José. Saying Seattle is “the city” here is much fairer than saying SF is “the city” in the Bay Area. The two regions have their differences, but in general, if we count much of Central Link as “in the city” here, then we’d have to consider a lot of Oakland’s Bart stations “in the city” there.

    The big parallel between BART and ST is in the suburbs. Both agencies tend to spend a lot of money building transit that stops primarily in the shadow of freeways and has a limited ability to drive sustainable land use. Both the Bay Area and greater Seattle have lots of money. In freeway projects we spend a lot to mollify opponents by hiding the road and putting up lots of amenities right next to the worst air-quality corridors we have. In transit projects we do much the same, except that “hiding the transit” means putting it along the freeway, where its benefits are most limited. And we “hide the development” by putting that along the freeway, too. And by doing all these things at cross purposes, we end up magnifying the negative impacts of freeways. All the new development goes next to the most dangerous intersections and the worst air quality! What could possibly go wrong? We end up with places like SLU, which have everything that sucks about big cities and not much of what’s great about them.

    A lot of the politics here can’t really be blamed on ST or BART, but these are public agencies, representing the people. Both the politics and the agency contortions they require ultimately come down to us. So it’s not necessarily that there’s a problem with BART, but with the cities at large: neither the Bay Area nor greater Seattle have shown much will, through these agencies, to build great transit and reshape the cities around it.

    1. Bellevue is not Oakland, nor even San José.

      And Seattle is not San Francisco, which is far denser. This is a general critique of land use and the overall size of the Seattle area, which I agree with, but is orthogonal to the discussion.

      I disagree that cities are, in general, trying to “hide the transit.” Kent, Fife, Tacoma, Issaquah, Lynnwood, and Bellevue are all very much interested in reshaping their station areas into something denser. Everett and Federal Way are laggards.

      1. Not really. Al’s point is that Seattle deserves more transit compared to the suburbs, because it has more of the people. San Francisco has a smaller share of the region’s people. Why can’t we build the best, most expensive transit first to the places with density to support that level of investment, and build lower cost solutions for areas that have nowhere near enough demand to warrant billions of dollars in investment?

        Finally, it is wonderful that many cities are clamoring for transit and have great ambitions to redevelop. But how much of this will really materialize? Do you really believe we should be using limited regional dollars to invest in highway stations and that they will then become multimodal, dense, walkable hubs of activity? Sound Transit capitulates to the whims of local politicians with no regard for basic tenants of urban planning. But, I look forward to seeing the magic take place all along I-5!

      2. @BEL: That’s not my point, either. This isn’t a “city good, suburbs bad,” thing. My point is that if you compare station areas by adjacent land use the ST plans look much more BART-like than if you compare them by which city they belong to. With all the money the suburbs stand to put in, they ought to get something out of ST (the same was true of BART back then, including auto-sprawl suburbs… the whole South Bay opted out, which is another interesting thing)! But if they put a lot of money in, then turn around and demand all the stations and all the growth go on top of the freeway, we’re all going to be disappointed with the result!

        @Martin: My point is also not a general land-use critique. Seattle’s land use is largely a result of its transportation infrastructure and history, for worse and for better! We’re a city that actually killed some freeway plans! Yay! I’m just sayin’ that trashing BART to hold up ST is unfair to BART, which ignored certain parts of SF for broadly similar reasons to why ST ignores certain parts of Seattle: they’re not regional destinations, and not on the way for longer routes.

        The cities that are trying to “hide the transit” have successfully got lines and stations moved right next to freeways. Take Bellevue. The original idea was a station near Main Street/Bellevue Way, and a station near Bellevue TC, probably with some surface running for better or worse. Bellevue’s involvement put the train underground, moved the Main Street station to within a block of 405 where there is (for a variety of reasons) much less walkable development potential, required a couple sharp curves in the tunnel… and dropped the Bellevue TC-area station also a block from 405, its walkshed nearly halved by highway infrastructure. That’s Bellevue, who are really far from outright villains! Tukwila’s freeway alignment and freeway-adjacent station were driven by the same impulse. Same with Shoreline and the Snohomish County suburbs, which preferred I-5 alignments and opposed stations that weren’t near horrific interchanges.

        Seattle’s impulse has been largely different, and its influence pulled ST off the freeway for Capitol Hill, the U District, and even Roosevelt. The zoning hasn’t come immediately; maybe in the future. And maybe some other towns have this impulse, but didn’t have the pull to get those big, expensive alignments. So we do big, expensive projects, and put them by the freeway where the impact is limited despite our best intentions. That is the BART analog. We should hope to do a little better, because we don’t have all their problems, but we share some of their big problems.

      3. “the whole South Bay opted out, which is another interesting thing”

        There’s an exhibit at Diridon station that explains this. Santa Clara County opted out because they wanted expressways instead. So that’s where the Lawrence, San Tomas, and Montague Expressways must have come from. They also focused on local light rail, which they thought would bring back the usefulness and feel of the former streetcars they ripped out. They were planning these in the 1950s, but I’m not sure they realized the population would double by 1980, and double again since then. If they’d had maybe they’d have rushed to BART. So now they’ve got congestion and a skeletal bus system, and land use that makes the light rail ineffective.

    2. “The city” goes back to a historical period when San Francisco was the cultural, finance, and business capital of the west coast. 1800s and early 1900s Seattlites saw it that way, and even into the 1980s many of them still saw it as the high-culture and financial capital even though LA had surpassed it in population, mass culture, and business. San Francisco lost its leading role because the entertainment industry moved from New York to Los Angeles where copyright restrictions were less enforced, and the military-industrial complex grew in WWII much more in southern California than in the Bay Area, and many people moved along with them for the California weather.

  14. I’m not a BART historian, but it’s not abundantly clear that the dollars to build to Dublin would have been available to dig up the western part of San Francisco. It’s not constructive to get mad that someone else’s transit is a little nicer than it has to be, unless there’s a clear line between that and other neglected causes.

    This was my main takeaway from the post and the one that puts much of the argument and discussion here to bed (at least from a Seattle-centric point of view). Because, while I don’t necessarily agree “it’d be a good thing if we built high-quality transit at a lower aggregate density than what the Bay Area achieved” —because in this case “high-quality” seems to mean a train that isn’t useful for very many people and costs a lot per person served—, realizing this vision doesn’t really put more useful transit in urban areas at risk (given the current sub-area equity situation).

    1. Two important points with that comment:

      1. Each county has its own transportation authority, and that independent funding agency builds the referenda and divides the proceeds to the projects on their own list. Thus , San Francisco does not directly pay for BART extensions in other counties. It would be as if all the Snohomish transit and highway projects were allotted by only Snohomish County voters.

      2. BART has toyed with a Geary line several times. The major problems beyond the cost is that the switching and radius required in the area around their City Hall would be terribly disruptive, and that NW San Francisco still has such tight height limits that added density is not legally possible in a significant way west of Japantown.

      1. BART funding is actually substantially more complicated than that because of federal and state funding. Which has repeatedly gone to the far suburban extensions.

    2. #1 is exactly the reform many people would like to see in ST. Then Seattle could make its own decisions on lines and tax rates and timelines without all subareas having to agree on the same proportional amount of investments at the same time.

  15. I agree with the criticisms of BART being too suburb-focused and having too much technical specialization. The overcrowding and delays that have been reported in the last year are signs of a flawed system finally rearing its ugly head in a significant way. That said, having lived in both the bay area and Seattle, a couple of points in its favor for users of the system:

    -To an SF city dweller who’s lucky enough to live near a a stop (not an insignificant part of the city’s population), it’s essentially a standalone intracity subway line with 8 stops that is 100x more fast and reliable than Muni’s streetcar/metro lines and buses if you’re going between downtown/Civic Center, the Mission district, Glen Park, and/or Balboa Park. I used to commute from Balboa Park to Civic Center this way, and made occasional trips to Glen Park and the Mission.

    It’s not dissimilar to Link in that respect, although BART is fully grade-separated and faster overall. For example, traveling from Balboa Park to Embarcadero and from Rainier Beach to Westlake are roughly the same distance and time traveled in a car; BART takes about 12-13 minutes, and Link takes about 25.

    -As a way of getting between dense urban cores (downtown and south Berkeley, downtown Oakland, SF) it really can’t be beat. A lot of people groused about the cost of the SFO expansion but the convenience and time savings of exiting the train just steps from the international terminal is undeniable.

    -BART originally was going to have a line from Marin County across or under the Golden Gate Bridge and through the Richmond district, but Marin rejected it. The tunnel where Muni trains are currently running was intended for this planned but scrapped BART line. Yes, that would have meant another suburban line into the city, but it would have also provided a fast, reliable connection between dense residential neighborhoods (the inner Richmond, Japantown/Fillmore) and the downtown spine.

    The labored effort to install BRT along Geary Blvd. (which had been proposed and was being actively debated 10 years ago and STILL has not broken ground!) is a legacy of Marin’s rejection of BART.

    1. Your history is excellent, but the upper deck of the tunnel was always planned for Muni. I lived in San Francisco when it was under construction and there was never any discussion about the Geary Subway deviating down to Civic Center. It was going to go all the way on Geary to Market.

      Here’s a link to a 511-hosted copy of the 1961 map.

      And here’s the original plastic fantastic 1956 version. Since the proposal was to replace the N Judah with BART to UCSF and on south along 19th Avenue, perhaps this plan would have required a bi-level BART-only subway. But you can see in it that the original GG Bridge route was through the Presidio, Marina, North Beach and Chinatown. Basically the Central Subway extended west.

      The link

  16. Link, by itself, won’t combat sprawl. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote for it.

    To combat sprawl, we need to build more housing. Here. In Seattle. Especially next to the planned train stations.

    In short, we need to upzone, and lift height restrictions around the stations, as well as get the whole HALA passed. And we need to allow private landowners to be part of the solution.

    San Francisco’s housing supply stagnation, and accompanying gentrification, has a lesson for us.

    1. Link might not only not combat sprawl, but it might accelerate it. Making provision for cars to access Link with plentiful parking while simultaneously making it more difficult to access by bus (because transfers from feeders to the trunk will be required, at least for those who used to use commuter buses that began in neighborhoods) and walking/biking (by locating transit stops in the noise/fumesheds of highways, severely limiting the desirability of living nearby) may result in helping some people replace one commute trip, but does nothing to alter the built environment on the origin end of that trip. So some people who would drive normally now take transit to work, freeing road space for new people to drive during congested hours, enabling more people to live further away.

      1. I don’t think it will contribute to sprawl. One, I don’t think Link is actually going to decrease traffic*, and two, Link is never time competitive to driving outside of South Sounder. I think you can make an argument that building parking along South Sounder might allow sprawl in South King & east Pierce, but I think in general Link is going to enable densification when coupled with up-zones.


      2. 1) I’m not suggesting Link will decrease traffic, just allow some people who currently drive to take the train and some who currently ride the bus to drive to the train. With the people who would otherwise drive without Link no longer on the road network, space is available for people who weren’t taking trips by car or who were using different routes to use arterials and highways in the corridor, including people living farther afield who must pass through the corridor Link and the highways serve—the so-called induced demand effect.

        2) Link may be time-competitive during rush hour if we are comparing it to an SOV. Reliability is a factor that should be considered as well as having 1-2 hours of your time back each day that would otherwise be spent paying attention to the road in front of your car.

        On balance, I think Link will be a good thing, especially for our denser and more economically vibrant areas. I don’t think we should expect Link to contribute to a lot of land use changes when it is placed next to highways, though.

    2. What is sprawl? To me it’s low-density houses on quarter-acre lots, often in cul-de-sacs, with strip malls and big-box stores, and many highways and exit ramps, built in greenfields on the edge of development. Wake up and smell the coffee: 99% of sprawl is enabled by highways and will happen with or without Link or Sounder. Link is not going into new sprawltowns, it’s going to the largest and most-established cities in the metropolis. There’s no Link proposal in Spanaway or Lake Stevens or Woodinville, no! There’s not even one in Redmond Ridge, which is unfortunately greenfield but more compact than peanut-butter sprawl. New developments are all denser than previous ones: central Issaquah, Canyon Park area, Ash Way & 164th are all starting to approach New Holly’s density even if they’re walkability-challenged. We’re extending Link to where the concentrations of people formed twenty years ago, not to empty sprawl-land. Of course I’d prefer if Seattle had two or three times as much housing and these areas had a third of theirs, but it’s not the 1960s anymore and the horse has already left the barn.

      1. Of course sprawl will happen with or without Link or Sounder, no matter how judiciously and appropriately they are used. But, I certainly don’t think Link in its planned manifestation is the agent of change it could be in the suburbs; I fail to see how building a high capacity transit line adjacent a freeway that is only easily accessible by car is substantially different from adding a lane (or lanes) to the freeway along that segment of corridor—from a suburban land use and transportation perspective.

      2. Thank you, we’ve now gone from “sprawl enabling” to “bypassing the potential mixed-use corridors”. That’s a more reasonable criticism of the extensions, but it’s also more about the alignment choice than the existence of the extensions. Every extension is going to a higher-ridership location beyond those corridors; it’s not being built primarily for those freeway stations.

        Link is like adding a freeway, and that’s the point. People miss the fact that subways function like freeways: they’re the fastest way to get around and you can only enter/exit at certain points. So building a subway line is like building a freeway, both in cost and in providing mobility. So we need to look at Link as compared to building another freeway in Seattle or another freeway in the suburbs. The difference is that subways are a different kind of mobility: you don’t need a car or a driver’s license. And trains are centralizing while freeways are decentralizing. Everybody sees the benefit of living within walking distance of a station, or having a frequent feeder bus to the station, or driving to a P&R. They don’t think like that with a freeway because they drive right off it to their cul-de-sac which can be anywhere within a 3-mile radius. Freeway stations can preclude development around them, but that doesn’t mean there’s no demand to live there: it just means the zoning won’t allow it. A successful frequent train can cause people’s attitudes to change, to demand upzoning around the station, and to be less interested in those cul-de-sacs. It may not happen, but at least it gives it the possibility, and the train line gives it more of a reason to.

      3. Not sure how an airport and industrial area that has been there for decades would count as a “new” sprawlzone.

  17. But that didn’t satisfy the haters.

    I wouldn’t necessarily classify the criticism that way.

    If you were building a road network, would you build first a freeway between Seattle and Issaquah when all those people in Issaquah have to use unpaved roads to get to the freeway in Issaquah and again once they arrive in Seattle?

    You can hope that BRT treatments in various places helps get better transit in places where rail transit isn’t going. Unfortunately, those hopes are also easily dashed.

      1. It will be really nice for people to be able to get from Lynnwood to Seattle or the U District on Link. It will only cut a small amount of time from overall travel time. Once they get to the crowded end of their trip, they will still face the long, slow final leg to get where they actually need to get from or get to that they have always faced.

        Freeways are great at reducing overall driving time. They wouldn’t have done too much to reduce driving time if we had built them first and left all the local roads stay unpaved 5 mph dirt.

      2. It’s a good thing, then, that the project includes a ton of underground stations in Seattle with 1/2 mile spacing.

      3. Each MAX line has also produced stations in Portland as well as its suburbs.

        That’s good for those who live and/or work near the stations, but the majority of people still live near slow bus routes. Our transit usage here remains pitifully low despite the light rail investments.

        Projects like the RossB BRT plan for West Seattle would have better results at improving transit for far more people than the current light rail plan for West Seattle.

      4. The Ballard-Downtown line includes a small number of underground stations in Seattle — unfortunately mostly a block away from to existing stations. In terms of being able to *get to places in Seattle*, it’s actually pretty awful.

        Look at DC Metro. They attempted to cover the city with stations. With the exception of Georgetown, parts of Anacostia, and various large parks, most of the city is within walking distance of a station.

        Now look at BART. To get to most of San Francisco, you have to take Muni Metro, or the buses. At least they *have* Muni. They don’t have a Geary train line, though, which should have been the second line built after the Market St. route. This is just *bad design* — it sabotages the entire BART system.

        I’m going to San Francisco next month! I’m going to be taking TAXIS because the public transit is fundamentally broken. To get from my hotel to one of the densest parts of town, where the wedding is, the options are a bus-stuck-in-traffic, and that’s it.

        This is not how you design a good system. Don’t copy it. You are copying it.

      5. Huh? I don’t see where Ballard-Downtown is putting the majority of stations “mostly a block away” from current stations.

        This is true of exactly two stations which are needed for transfers to other lines and other modes (IDS and Westlake). The Madison station in theory is kind of close to Pioneer Square and University but the station to station distance is at least the same as University to Westlake with a steep hill in-between (5th vs 3rd). Madison serves a different part of the downtown transit market than the current stations, especially with Madison BRT.

        The Denny, 99, and Lower Queen Anne stations are all quite a ways away from current Link stations and serve entirely new parts of the Seattle core. Even Denny & Westlake is at least as far from Westlake station as University and Pioneer Square are from each other. Considering how many square feet of office space and how many residertial units are already within 1/4 mile of Denny & Westlake (or will be soon) putting a station here is not unreasonable even though the walkshed overlaps with Westlake Station (IOW given the density urban downtown stop spacing makes sense).

        Do realize much of the projected ridership on Ballard to Downtown project comes from the stops between IDS and LQA not from the Interbay and Ballard sections of the line.

  18. One BART history item that may be replicated post-ST3: the Dublin – San Francisco line. Originally the East Bay line was to be shifted from Fremont to Dublin. There was a strong demand to connect the Dublin area with San Francisco as well as keep two lines to Fremont, so that the new Dublin – San Francisco line was created instead.

    I see this scenario playing out with Issaquah/Eastgate. With Kirkland Link off the table, this configuration is likely to be popularized. It might even help build ST3 support in the East side.

    1. I think ST wants to keep Kirkland as a single line toward Bellevue, esp b/c I think they are holding out how to go to Kirkland, eventually. But there will be strong political pressure 5-10 years from now to tweak the line to go straight to Seattle in addition to Bellevue. Will be interest to see how much ST3 evolves, because the Issaquah alignment won’t be finalized for many many years.

    2. San Francisco now has four overlapping lines with 2-3 minute combined frequency weekdays, and it needs all of it from what I hear. So the Dublin line doesn’t just benefit Dublin, it also benefits San Francisco, even if few people in San Francisco ever go to Dublin. If they had merely rerouted the Fremont line (which I gather would have put Fremont solely on the Richmond-Fremont shuttle), then that frequency boost wouldn’t have happened. (Although that might have forced a short Daly City – West Oakland line and turnback to avoid overcrowding.)

      The Dublin line also gives more capacity between San Francisco, Lake Merritt, and Oakland airport. An Issaquah-Seattle line would do similar, so what’s wrong with that? Although Mercer Island and South Bellevue aren’t exactly Lake Merritt or Oakland airport. But the distance is shorter too.

      1. I’m not advocating for either configuration. I will note that the Pittsburg line has much worse crowding of all the transbay lines. BART even runs extra trains that terminate at Pleasant Hill to help. Morning riders from Walnut Creek inward complain that they can’t board overcrowded trains. BART would increase Pittsburg trains if Dublin trains weren’t slotted in the mix, so SF residents wouldn’t have actually benefitted.

      2. Part of that is because the Pittsburgh line is so long: it has a lot of ridership cachement areas. The other part I suspect is that it runs full-time to San Francisco, while Richmond and Fremont have to transfer evenings and Sundays. That may have biased regular transit riders to live along the Walnut Creek corridor rather than the Richmond or Fremont corridor. Of course Dublin is also full-time to San Francisco, but the Walnut Creek corridor had a 30-year head start in influencing people’s housing decisions.

  19. I’ll keep asking this question until somebody who knows the Bay Point can tell me why a place that attractive, with BART only a bus-build away from convenience, stays so lightly populated? Also, though, why housing prices are so high with so few residents?

    If I knew answers, I’d start investing to replace the vanished canneries with an economy that doesn’t pack some fish while poisoning both other fish, and ducks. New industry will probably quickly start to cure both the low local bus ridership and complaints about BART.

    There are also express buses out of Bay Point BART station. Which is good. Buses certainly do attract future passengers for rail.

    And Matt, threaten ST3 for better reason than Park and Rides. Like persisting lack of a LINK express from Downtown to Sea-Tac Airport. From second tunnel if first one’s full. Name me one city in the world that puts makes an airport line cross street intersections.

    It doesn’t take dynamite to demolish a parking lot when its time comes. Weeds will do it in less than a year. Look at Seattle streets! Same with eminent domainifying any lot full of weed-broken tarmac. Just stop repaving and then kill the weeds with spilled espresso from density-driven ground-floor cafes.


    1. East Contra Costa is laid out mostly like a cul-de-sac with over 300K people. It’s inaccessibility keeps it from attracting unique employers, so it has a very high out-commute.

      The major historic bottleneck on SR 4 was the Willow Grade, between Bay Point and Concord. The steepness of the highway meant that trucks would crawl uphill and that created major delays for miles. The commute from Antioch was so difficult that at one time all home owners had to receive a disclosure statement acknowledging the traffic congestion!

      Getting BART over that grade is why BART ends at Bay Point. Of course, highway widening has relieved much of the past delays. Still, the area continues to grow so the congestion is predicted to return.

  20. One Bay Area failure is that most public college campuses are not on BART, with UC Berkeley and CCSF being the major exceptions. Cal State East Bay campuses are notably far from BART, and most community colleges are also far from BART. College campuses generate all-day activity that BART doesn’t fully get to attract.

    ST3 has not visibly promoted new additional campus links. It should! Bellevue College, UW Bothell and UW Tacoma are particularly worthy of highlighted focus. (Of course, UW Seattle, Highline and two Seattle community colleges are sort of covered in a post ST2 system). Ideally, our higher education boards would plan their capital programs around rail transit, rather than expect transit boards to come to them.

    1. ST3 has great campus links, though maybe these have not yet been sufficiently highlighted:

      UW Bothell will host a transit center at the end of the 522 BRT, which is clearly highlighted in the project details.
      The “Issaquah” line – which has only one non-provisional station in Issaquah – will have a station at Eastgate. While the project description doesn’t highlight this, the city of Bellevue has been clear that they see this station service the Eastgate area, including Bellevue college, not simply the existing Eastgate park & ride.
      UW Tacoma is already near Tacoma link, right? And big-boy Link will go to Tacoma dome, which is <15 minute walk to UW Tacoma according to Google maps.

      And I think Shoreline CC could be served by the 522 BRT, but ST3 is current very clear the BRT line will terminate at the 145th station.

      1. Well, it can’t “terminate at the 145th station” can it? At a minimum it’s going to have to continue west to Aurora to find anywhere to loop. It certainly won’t be allowed to turn back on the likes of Corliss and Sunnyside.

    2. So, uh, to go back to Martin’s original post – if Al is right in that missing key education centers is a mistake of BART, I think ST3 does a decent job of connecting to key campuses in the Puget Sound area, especially considering both UW Bothell & Bellevue College may grow significantly.

      1. I agree that ST is generally doing much better. The only gap that I see is a failure by the higher education boards to embrace rail transit better, not only supporting ST3 but also revisiting their campus plans to be better connected to transit. They are just as much if not more culpable for light rail connectivity than ST is.

    3. My pet name for Link is “The Train to the Five Malls”. If it’s also “The Train to the Seven Colleges”, that’s much better.

    4. You missed a few : UC Hastings (Civic Center), downtown campuses for CCSF + SFState (Powell), and UC Berkeley Extension (Montgomery). Also, two large private schools are near BART – Academy of Art has buildings near the Civic Center Stn. and Golden Gate University is on Mission near the Montgomery Stn.

      Both SFState and UCSF (Mission Bay) have BART connections via shuttles / SFMuni buses and are tied into the SFMuni Metro network. Plus, that UCSF campus is close to Caltrain which provides a peninsular connection to their colleagues in Palo Alto (Stanford Univ.).

    5. Oops – I missed one. CCSF has three (3) campuses served by BART : their main campus – Ocean / Phelan (Balboa Park), Downtown @ Fourth + Mission (Powell), and Mission on Valencia near 23rd (24th + Mission).

  21. As the comments show, there are a lot of problems with BART.

    But for me, if you want to boil it down to one, quantifiable thing, the problem is freeway alignment.

    It’s great that the suburbs wanted to get high quality transit before reaching urban density and walkability; the problem is not the land use when BART was built. The problem is how little BART did to improve land use after it was built.

    High quality transit should be a catalyst for the growth of walkable neighborhoods, for the development of urban character rather than suburban sprawl, but you don’t see this where BART stations are along the freeway. What is scary is that the bay area has had plenty of time to change its land use around the BART stations, and more economic growth than you could possibly ask for, but that hasn’t been enough to get urban hubs to grow around the BART stations.

    The effect of BART, where it follows the freeway, has been more like that of a freeway widening project than a good public transit system; it has increased capacity on a busy corridor, pushing growth further into the hinterlands. People (with the help of zoning) just haven’t been interested in living next to the freeway in car oriented super blocks, so they use their cars to get to BART and support car oriented land use.

    On the technical side, lack of real places at freeway BART stations causes traffic that skews enormously towards peak time and peak direction, because there’s nothing to go to at so many BART stations. As a result BART bumps into capacity problems before it actually utilizes the system very well.

    But the real problem is that the Bay Area has continued its growth with sprawl rather than density, and BART has done little to change this dynamic. (Zoning gets even more blame, though)

    1. I think zoning is much more to blame than freeway alignment. It will be interesting to see what Kent can develop around the Highline college station, which may be just off of I5 enough to allow a little TOD neighborhood to develop in the walkshed. Same for Lynwood’s ambitions around its downtown station. While not ideal, you can certainly allow for some major development that is a block or two from an interstate station.

      I do think it’s interesting that as much as people critique BART / LINK for adherence to freeway alignment, the one major deviation – Paine Field – gets eviscerated on this blog

      1. Yes, I should have been more explicit about zoning. Obviously it doesn’t matter where you build rail if you don’t allow people to live and work near it.

        I didn’t address zoning because neither BART nor Link has control over zoning, and the question at hand is what kind of a system we would like to build.

        However, I would suggest freeway environments don’t help with zoning. It’s harder to change zoning to something transit friendly in a place where everybody uses a car and the infrastructure is built around cars than in a place where there are a mix of uses and modes. It’s a bigger change because the existing zoning is further from the needed zoning, and its a greater loss to those who have invested in cars and houses with garages because they are dependent on parking and wide roads for those cars.

        The land adjacent to freeways is some of the most car-oriented land you can find. As such, it’s the land that drivers are least likely to support changing to non-car uses.

      2. I think it really depends on the freeway section, because often the best opportunity for re-development is commercial “brownfield,” which are often near freeways. Totem Lake is a great example of this, as is Factoria, Northgate, Alderwood, etc. (A non-shopping mall example may be Interbay, where that driving range footprint could be the centerpiece for TOD redevelopment). On the other hand, something like the 135th street station is by single family homes & a golf course, so yes that freeway station leaves a lot to be desired.

        It may be car-centric now, but the large lots are much more conducive to redevelopment than an existing town center with lots of little buildings with distinct owners.

    2. You’re blaming the transit agency for the cities’ land uses? Rezoning and development is not within its budget or authority. It’s a failure of the cities to leverage their investment in rail corridors. The reason the cities have bad land use has nothing to do with BART. It’s because they’re affluent enough to drive everywhere and they believed the postwar siren song, “Two cars in every garage, three eyes on every fish.” (The Simpsons) They should have leveraged the transit investment but they didn’t because it wasn’t their priority. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have built BART or something else as a freeway bypass and for those who don’t want to/can’t drive. It means they should have made the most of their transit investment with complementary land use.

      1. By the time BART was extending to Warm Springs, it was getting into areas where it doesn’t even make sense to try to upzone. Another problem with extreme suburban alignment.

    3. “I do think it’s interesting that as much as people critique BART / LINK for adherence to freeway alignment, the one major deviation – Paine Field – gets eviscerated on this blog”

      There’s another potential deviation, highway 99 in Fife. You don’t see evisceration about that. Instead you see lamentations that highway 99 wasn’t chosen in Des Moines and Aurora. The Paine Field detour does not go to any potential mixed-used corridors: at most it crosses 99 twice for two potential transfer stations. Nothing denser or mixed-use will be built closer to the airport than that, both because of airplane noise and the industrial area. The detour will add 10-20 minutes to Everett-Lynnwood-and-beyond travel time. The stations can’t possibly be within walking distance of many employers because of the scale of those industrial facilities.

      1. SR-99 is less than two-blocks from I-5 in Fife, so it’s not accurate to call it a deviation. It adds no distance or time to the route.

      2. I agree with Donde – this is more akin to the deviation for Highline college. I think ti does add some cost to the route. But if Fife is genuine about wanting to build up around the station, I think it’s worth the extra outlay for the 99 alignment.

      3. Highline College is the highest-ridership location in the corridor besides the airport, and has the greatest possibility of becoming an urban village if TOD is built next to the college. It’s not a deviation; it’s the reason for the extension.

      4. Barman,

        As Martin and countless others have stated, the illustration grossly exaggerates the east-west deviations of the I-5 route. It’s only a couple of hundred yards between I-5 and SR99 at K-DM Road. It’s a little farther at 288th, but not terribly so.

        The big problem with I-5 is not that it’s longer — it’s not — it’s that it forever precludes building intermediate stations with high TOD clusters. Just because today’s political leaders in Sea-Tac, Des Moines and Federal Way are addicted to the crack of auto sales taxes does not mean that in a different tax structure those cities might be better off with high rise density in new centers along SR99.

        But, other than Federal Way, they will not be able to create them.

    4. Since this post is asking for BART to WMATA comparisons, I would note a few related to station areas.

      1. Cities served by WMATA have been much more willing to allow 10 to 20 story buildings. They encourage buildings this high! There is nothing like Crystal City on BART — a large low density area completely transformed into an urban center.

      2. The Downtown DC height limit (top of the Capitol dome) requires developers to build outside of Downtown. If Seattle had such a severe height limit, there would be 10 to 20 story office buildings all over the region today!

      3. WMATA stations are usually designed with two entrances rather than just one, which is how most BART stations are designed. That lets them do things like put a parking garage in one exiting direction, and an urban village in the other.

      4. While WMATA has lots of parking, the garages and lots were always designed to allow for collecting revenue. I used to love how they would have charged parking between 3 and 9 pm or something like that, so that if you left at other times you got to park for free.

      ST cannot create these situations by itself. The communities getting stations need to commit to high-density development. I’m not talking about 4 or 6 or even 8 story apartments. I want to see a commitment to 15 or 20 story buildings at the very least! Otherwise, we end up with the Shoreline situation, where nearby residents put up such a fight that we can’t get urban development around our ST stations.

      For example, if Federal Way was turned into something like Crystal City, the usefulness of Link would be significant! If Issaquah was turned into something like Silver Spring or Rockville, the usefulness of Link would be significant! Even if SW Everett was turned into one of these villages, I would have no qualms supporting the deviation. It’s mostly about the station area land uses!

  22. The ST3 Link system is more similar to BART than DC Metro in network typology. DC Metro has higher capacity and ridership than the other two because of its more heavily meshed network.

    System Miles of Track Ridership # of Services Endpoints Unique Core Tunnels

    DC Metro 117 712,000 6 10 3

    BART 104 423,000 5 6 1

    ST3 108 525,000 4 6 2

    DC offers a greater number of shorter lines with more system redundancy, and hence has more capacity to bring people into the region’s core. BART has 4 services running through a single bay crossing and downtown tunnel, and struggles to provide capacity for only 400,000 riders.

    In this comparison, ST3 is more similar to, but not as bad as, BART. We would have even fewer lines (services), but at least we’ll have two downtown tunnels and much less interlining/branching. The ST3 system will be limited in how many people can be brought into downtown Seattle by this network typology. The only way 1,000,000 riders per day could be accommodated is with a large amount of seat turnover along the two “spine lines.” (Such as a Tacoma-FW rider being replaced with a FW-SeaTac rider, then a Sea-Tac-CC rider, a CC-downtown rider, and downtown-SLU rider, then a SLU-Ballard rider.)

    All that said, the physical geography and political environment of the Puget Sound dictate that a system like ST3 be built. It will just have lower ridership than the DC system per track mile and $ invested.

    1. “(Such as a Tacoma-FW rider being replaced with a FW-SeaTac rider, then a Sea-Tac-CC rider, a CC-downtown rider, and downtown-SLU rider, then a SLU-Ballard rider.)”

      That’s pretty much how it’ll be used. Tacomans don’t go to Seattle very often, and Seattlites don’t go to Tacoma all that often. It’s these shorter hops that will fill the trains.

    2. And that’s exactly what Tacoma and Everett are arguing. I don’t think Tacoma is expecting a lot of people to commute from Seattle to Tacoma jobs; they’re trying to attract workers from south King County, and reflecting the travel patterns that are already there.

      1. I think that’s a good goal, and this thread has better explained this perspective to me. However the Everett tail should have more stations.

      2. The Everett tail already has more stations than Seattle for the same distance. It would be ironic if we put urban stop spacing in totally the wrong place. And ST should think about why Everett should have so many stations and a Paine Field deviation.

      3. Right, because cities of 200,000 which struggle to pass regular bus levies should invest in a single light rail line next to the freeway to attract riders from one of its suburbs.

        Hey, if that is the pitch from Tacoma, have at it. Good luck convincing your average Pierce County resident that they should go for that. While you are at it, try and sell them on Ice Town — that is the ticket to prosperity.

        That might be what the folks in the big Tacoma meeting halls have schemed up, but it sure as hell isn’t what they will try and sell. They will try and convince everyone that this will be extremely popular and hope that folks don’t spend time figuring out how long it takes to get to Seattle. Of course, as always, they will tell everyone that this will fix traffic (because they know that very few people will ride it — but they figure some of the people who drive will believe that). In short, I wouldn’t expect of an honest campaign from Sound Transit.

  23. Part of the issue, in my view, is that Link isn’t more like BART. It’s slower (55mph vs. 70mph, has tinier more camped cars, skirts key destinations, and takes longer, more circuitous routings. It has far less capacity, yet somehow costs nearly the same.

    Look at BART across SF bay – runs in a tunnel that is a direct route across the bay and is shorter than the bridge crossing. Once in Oakland it goes through downtown with stops at key locations, and does the same in Berkeley. Also, BART is designed to be more of a regional, S-Bahn type service.

    In contrast to the above, Link barely touches Downtown Bellevue, it takes a slow and long route across Lake Washington, and it’s about to avoid the Hwy 99 corridor in South King County. It will have slow curves under UW and it has the bottleneck in RV. Link seems to be trying to accomplish everything and at the same time doesn’t accomplish much.

    1. Light rail was chosen because it can run on surface streets to cut costs. The original proposal was surface from Mt Baker to SeaTac. Presumably it would have remained surface to Federal Way and Tacoma. I don’t think those cities realized what the travel time of that would have been. But what happened afterward is more significant for understanding why Link is the way it is. Tukwila objected to construction on 99 because it had just beautified it (for cars). That forced an elevated alignment, which incidentally lost Southcenter Station. Rainier Valley objected to a surface alignment but was ignored. Roosevelt asked for an underground station at its center, and got Link rerouted from an elevated freeway station. Rainier Valley said, “If Roosevelt gets a tunnel, we want one too, and it’s unfair to put surface in a poor brown area when a rich white area gets a tunnel.” Rainier Valley was ignored again. By then everybody wanted grade separation and at one point all the ST2 extensions were. But Bellevue wanted a tunnel downtown, and ST could only afford that by surfacing in Bel-Red and Overlake. So that’s how we ended up with a mostly grade-separated system with a technology designed for street runnng and limited to 55 mph.

      If ST and the public had said, “Grade separation is the highest priority”, then we might have gotten a heavy rail system. But the initial demand was, “Low capital cost is the highest priority.” So we got a surface-compatible technology. Then when people gradually realized surface-running was slow, they demanded grade separation. But the technology had already been decided.

  24. I take BART to work every day and it works brilliantly for me. There is an increasing amount of Transit-Oriented-Development in my city, El Cerrito. Our building isn’t really TOD but we chose our particular duplex because it’s walkable to BART. I walk the four blocks to El Cerrito Del Norte station and ride three stops to my job at Berkeley. I then catch the campus shuttle bus at the Berkeley BART stop or walk the 10 minutes across campus to my office, depending on the weather and how many books and crap I have with me. For commutes from any of the suburbs into Berkeley, it is fantastic. For access to the airports, it is expensive but, still cheaper than parking so I give it high marks. The Oakland football & baseball stadiums in Oakland are right on BART too. And AT&T park is a quick MUNI connection.

    Outside of The City, the transit systems do an excellent job of designing service around BART. The #7 bus, for example, which serves the bourgie Medina-like suburb of Kensington does a u-shaped route up the hill to connect the village to two BART stations. My county seat, Martinez, has a good loop shuttle to connect you from BART to the courthouse. For downtown Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, the Oakland ballparks, and destinations near the Financial District core of San Francisco, BART is fantastic.

    For destinations in San Francisco outside of the Financial District core, it’s a crapshoot. We get invited out to the Castro often but rarely go, because it’s over an hour and a half on the J-Church and then BART to get home from our side of the Bay. I had a work function recently near the Golden Gate Bridge and it was way, way easier to just drive and pay to park.

    Remember that back when BART was being conceived the plan was to extend it out over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin, but Marin said no because they didn’t want transit-riding riff-raff in their bourgie little hamlets. I suspect (and perhaps someone here can confirm) that when the Marin extension was pulled, the entire in-city route that would have taken it from the FiDi to the Golden Gate Bridge died with it.

    Overall, as a regional transit system BART is phenomenal. If you need to get from one suburb to another or from the suburbs to the city, it’s fantastic. But yes, when it to getting from point A to point B within San Francisco city limits BART is nothing to write home about.

  25. Martin,

    There’s no problem with BART per se. The problem is that Link wants to be BART del Norte with the wrong technology! If Link had high-platform, third-rail HRT type vehicles without articulation, it would be able to run 15 miles per hour faster through those long “Interurban” stretches between stations. It would, in fact, be rather “BART-like”.

    The original Seattle-Eastgate alternative for the I-90 Bridge was to have been heavy rail, because the designers realized that have so few stations along the way would allow high speeds and high platforms made for easy boarding. In those days there were no “low-floor” articulated LRT’s.

    Now I realize that ST is stuck with 360 foot trains; nobody is going to extend the platforms at any of the three deep stations in the DSTT. But a 6-car “subway” train geared for high speed would serve these far-flung suburbs much better than LRT with its serious hunting problems in the articulated section will ever be able to do.

  26. One huge advantage that WMATA has is the federal government. The federal government is the largest employer in downtown DC, and it’s not encouraging people to drive, not providing large swaths of parking. The DC Metro has the second highest ridership of any US heavy rail system, even though Chicago and Los Angeles are substantially bigger regions. It’s interesting to look at the DC Metro, and it was built in the same period as BART, but in some ways DC is a special case.

    BART was never planned to be an urban subway, whether it should have been or not. The earliest BART documents talk about how BART (it didn’t have that name yet) should be the express transit system and of course there would have to be a trunk local transit system. That more or less happened with Muni Metro in San Francisco, for whatever its shortcomings. In Oakland and Berkeley, AC Transit’s fill that role to some extent. In San Jose, the transit network is much weaker, the land use is very sprawling, and the light rail is extremely slow (it fits into the urban fabric downtown beautifully however!).

    There were all sorts of politics in the early planning too. Oakland leaders were worried about San Francisco getting too much and wasting a bunch of money!

    BART’s high farebox recovery ratio is not an unmitigated good. It pushed them to keep fares high and not offer discounts, not even monthly passes. It also seems to have created pressure to skimp on maintenance, which is now catching up to the system in a huge way. It probably would have been better if the ratio wasn’t so high.

    By my count, 7 of BART’s 45 stations are within or adjacent to freeway rights-of-way. They are miserable places to wait for a train. Thank goodness there aren’t more.

    TOD was very slow to catch on along BART, but has been better in more recent years. It’s mostly been in the more central cities, but Union City has done an impressive job around that station, and Pleasant Hill is not too bad for an edge city environment. Walnut Creek seems to have been stopped politically. We are kind of allergic to tall buildings in the Bay Area (outside San Francisco and Oakland) but historically the region’s gotten a lot of density out of closely built 4-6 story buildings. That’s what’s dominant in Oakland and Berkeley, and pretty common in San Francisco too. Portland was able to play hardball with its suburban cities–no TOD, no train.

    BART has been talking about a “BART Metro” concept where they’d run more frequently in the core of system, less frequently outside it. At this point, with a few exceptions, they pretty much run every train to the end of the line, which is really wasteful. They need more turnback tracks to do this, some lines don’t have any turnback tracks at all.

    BART is also thinking somewhat seriously about a second tube under the Bay, which would cost many billions. But it would allow, finally, some new stations in San Francisco, and in relatively dense East Bay locations (e.g. Alameda). But of course there’s a non-stop clamor for more BART extensions to deep suburbia (e.g. Livermore) for other wasteful rail projects, etc.

    LA Metrorail, contrary to the images of the two regions, is a much more city-oriented system, with many stations not having parking.

    1. LA Metrorail is a great system. The only concession to “suburban extensions” is the Gold Line to Azusa. Meanwhile, there are half a dozen urban lines under construction.

  27. A few more points :
    1) BART in SF has a face mostly reserved for SF residents – express, rail-based travel with tight fare integration (SFMuni’s A pass). As another poster commented you can get downtown in ten to fifteen minutes from Balboa Park which is faster than the 14R (40+ mins.) or Metro (J/K/M). My route of choice from Geneva and Mission to SFPL’s Main Library (Civic Center) for several years.

    2) Another BART plus is the core service for the east bay region. If BART were only an SF feeder there would NOT be a Richmond-Fremont line. This line promotes Berkeley / Oakland to hub status while being junior to SF. (Where’s the equivalent in NYC ?)

    3) YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR !!! [A] Berkeley wanted a subway, BART offered an El, Berkeley raised the money, and got a subway. [B] The very busy station in downtown SF called ‘Embarcadero’ is an INFILL station. It was NOT in the original plans. But SF paid to put a station in the midst of bayfill and got a boomer as a result. The other SF boomer is its neighbor Montgomery. Both stations may get side platforms so as to permit double-sided passenger flow (egress on one side, boarding from the other).

    4) Please try to avoid BART’s mistakes : no tail tracks in downtown SF (the turnbacks are done at 24th + Mission), idle platforms (Colma + Millbrae), un-needed branching (SFO extension – s/b a people-mover), and over-built stations that preclude a sister service, Caltrain, from readily expanding to host CAHSR (Millbrae).

  28. The main “problem” with BART was, early on, and I lived in that region during the early years, is that it did not go completely around the bay. For instance, if a San Jose resident wanted to access BART, it was either bus(es) or 17 mile drive to Fremont (CA) on the SE side of the bay, then board BART and pay only $1.35 each way to San Francisco. The west side option was taking a Cal-Trans commuter (heavy rail) train @ $7.00. Keep in mind that San Jose was about the same population as Seattle back in the 1970s – about 600,000. Now, their population is on the cusp of 1 million.

    With their latest expansion, which was made possible by a remarkable two-thirds affirmative vote for funding, BART will reach San Jose and curl northwest, towards the other orphaned end of the BART line (Millbrae, just southwest of San Francisco International Airport). Back in 1999, an attempt to bring the line southeast from Millbrae past San Mateo and Palo Alto (home of Stanford University) towards Silicon Valley.

    We’re making the same mistake in the Seattle region, for the southeast side of our “circle,” in this case Renton, continues to be left out of the light rail equation, as eastern suburbs of Redmond and Issaquah have muscled them out. Imagine if light rail did go from the forthcoming E-Link South Bellevue station to Tukwila International Station, with connections to the robust Sounder-South near Southcenter? Imagine all of the commuters to/from the eastside that could migrate part or all of their commute to public transportation! Imagine all of the Boeing employees in Factoria, Renton, and perhaps even points south that could substitute public transportation for their personal automobiles?

    Not quite so dramatically would be to complete the circle at the northeast side, from Bellevue to Lynnwood, for unfortunately, there is no Sounder to give a “super boost” to the ridership there.

    1. TransitRider – ringing the bay was, and will ALWAYS be, a form of economic and political suicide. BART ran out of money due to an inflation spike during initial construction. They have repeatedly fouled their own nest : wrecking the economy of S.F.’s Mission District, overbuilding and misbuilding (Colma, Millbrae, and SFO), saying Foxtrot-Uniform to a community (Oakland Airport Connector), and screwy routing (San Jose / Santa Clara). BART has essentially sabotaged Caltrain by vacuuming up every transit dollar it can find instead of partnering with them to divide and conquer the bay ringing problem.

      Please re-read my post just above. Some rail fans would consider the demolition of the Millbrae Station to be the best use of transit dollars to come along in a long while. The optimum configuration for the tracks there is quad track (Caltrain, FSSF, stubs on the ‘F’s), double track (BART with mini-yard), and a mezzanine level loop for SFO’s people mover. Such a configuration would allow CAHSR to tie into the stubs without disrupting other services. Instead, we have a hog wallow that’s going be a nightmare to fix.

      an SF-based railfan

      P.S. Having Quentin Kopp as a champion is considered by many locals the equivalent of a kiss from Lucretia Borgia – thoroughly TOXIC !

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