This evening, Sound Transit will be holding the first of its open houses on the ST3 draft plan. Being in Ballard, a key point of discussion will be the downtown to Ballard light rail extension. Ridership on the 7-mile line from SODO to 15th and Market in Ballard is going to be very high, with a projected 114,000 to 144,000 riders from across the entire region. How significant is this?

Imagine moving the entire population of Bellevue along this corridor every weekday. In fact, these 7 miles of track would carry more passengers than the entire 69-mile MAX system in Portland or 58-mile light rail system in San Diego. It is equivalent ridership to LA’s busiest (17-mile) line and competitive with major corridors in SF’s BART, where 423,000 riders are split between 5 lines. The ridership between Westlake and Ballard alone (60,000-74,000 riders) is higher than many lines in the above cities. Only select subway lines in Boston, Chicago, DC and New York have clearly higher ridership than what ST is proposing to build in this 7-mile section.

Sound Transit is preparing to construct a second serious subway line through Seattle in ST3. Such a workhouse route requires high quality rail, which admittedly come at a cost. Though ST is not deciding precise alignments prior to the vote, the representative alignments they do choose (for budgeting purposes only) may effectively eliminate certain alignment choices due to budget restrictions. Therefore, doing the right thing on this corridor requires a few changes to the current ST3 draft plan. Here is your guide to key points of feedback to Sound Transit for the Ballard corridor:

  1. Grade Separation. In the draft plan, Sound Transit proposes a second downtown subway tunnel from SODO to Lower Queen Anne via IDS, Madison, Westlake, SLU and Seattle Center. It then transitions to an elevated line from a portal north of Mercer and 15th Avenue. After that the representative alignment becomes at-grade at Prospect Street, resulting in four street crossings along 15th Avenue–a roadway with nearly double the vehicle throughput of MLK Way in Rainier Valley. This is repeating the errors of the Rainier Valley alignment, where blockages and delays occur regularly due to collisions between trains, cars, and pedestrians. In fact, a proposed Interbay at-grade representative alignment compounds the reliability issues of the Rainier Valley because they both could hobble the same high-use line, with a cascading series of service delays affecting Ballard, SLU, Downtown, SeaTac Airport, Federal Way, and Tacoma. This presents an unacceptable reliability issue for the region’s heaviest-use line and must be fixed. The Ballard corridor must be grade separated. That includes avoiding almost all disruptions due to shipping traffic when crossing the Ship Canal.
  1. Recognize that both Downtown Subway Tunnels will be regional assets. Reliability challenges, left unaddressed, will have impacts on the entire system. Train delays in the Interbay section will have direct impacts all along the Ballard to Tacoma line. Interruptions on this line during rush hour will also push overwhelming crowds (remember those 100,000+ daily riders?) into the existing tunnel that serves Everett, Lynnwood, West Seattle and Bellevue/Redmond as riders crowd just one downtown subway tunnel. This points us to a key fact: the second tunnel in downtown Seattle is a regional asset, just as the original DSTT is (which was built and funded by King County voters in the 1980s for $455 million). Resourcing the tunnel as a regional asset can ensure funding available to resolve reliability issues north of the tunnel that will affect the entire system if left unaddressed.
  1. Timeline. Building a subway system properly in Seattle takes time, but we must recognize there are ways to speed this up, and all stakeholders–beyond just Sound Transit–must do their part. We hope to see a timeline for Ballard delivery under 20 years. To accomplish that, there are really two key levers:
  • Of the 22-year delivery timeline, approximately 4 years are due to saving up to be able to afford construction. Reducing that timeline is either a zero sum game of making some other (perhaps Seattle) project happen later than planned, ST using more aggressive financial plans such as utilizing the full 1.5% debt coverage ratio that is board policy, or achieving some unanticipated federal funding early in the program that shaves years off the finance plan. It’s either zero-sum (another project loses), more aggressive financing, or laboring for something outside our control (federal funding).
  • What clearly isn’t outside our control? According to Sound Transit staff, of the six years dedicated to alignment study and environmental impact work, up to 3 years could be shaved off with increased collaboration by the city (Seattle) and agreement to limit the number of alignments to be analyzed down to around three (as opposed to the 19 studied in Bellevue). For Ballard to downtown, this means that our communities have the power to cut the timeline by a number of years just by streamlining City of Seattle permitting, making grade-separated rail an approved use in Seattle zoning code rather than an exception granted by the council, and reducing the number of alternatives required to be reviewed in the EIS. Sound Transit alone cannot reduce the delivery timeline on these issues without the City of Seattle–with the support of neighborhoods along the line–taking aggressive action to speed the process along. But we have to come together to make it happen! We ask that Mayor Murray, the Seattle City Council, and community stakeholder groups commit to the actions outlined above with the stated goal of shaving 3 years off delivery timelines for all high ridership projects within the City of Seattle.
  1. Plan and build for the future. We believe it a safe prediction that the lines from Downtown to Ballard and to West Seattle will not be the last subway lines built in our amazing and fast-growing city. Therefore, we must future-proof our plans appropriately. This includes:
  • The Ballard terminus needs to be built to allow for lines East (to UW) and North (toward Crown Hill) to be added in the future without shutting down the ST3 line. We look forward to seeing ST’s terminus alternatives to ensure North and East lines can easily be added from the Ballard terminus.
  • The highest ridership lines studied in the region that aren’t built in ST3 are Ballard to UW and West Seattle to Burien (each would carry 20-30,000 daily riders once built). Ballard to UW and West Seattle to Burien need to receive full EIS/Record of Decision status, potentially shaving up to 6 full years off future construction timelines (according to ST staff) at very limited cost. Furthermore, language should allow property acquisition and construction to be funded if savings on other projects allow.
  • Additionally, more can be done to ensure our future system reaches farther into more economically diverse neighborhoods of Seattle. Sound Transit can conduct future High Capacity Transit (HCT) studies on two key corridors with significant transit ridership and more affordable housing than many existing lines. Each study would cost $5 million–a drop in a bucket for a package this size. These HCT corridor studies get us closer to light rail for the following:
  • Lake City Extension HCT Corridor Study: Lake City to Ballard via 130th or Northgate, Greenlake, Phinney, Greenwood and Crown Hill (orange line on this map and Project P-09 on Sound Transit’s Candidate Project List).
  • Metro 8 Extension HCT Corridor Study: Mirroring KC Metro’s route 8, alignment serves Seattle Center/Belltown via Denny Way & 23rd Ave to Judkins Park serving Belltown, SLU, and un-served parts of Capitol Hill and the Central District (amber line on this map)

How can you help?  We are building one of the most consequential lines on the entire West Coast. It’s important to build it with sufficient quality and urgency to meet the need. That’s why your input matters now. Please do any or all of the below!

  1. Email the Sound Transit board with your input
  2. Fill out the online survey
  3. Attend the Ballard Open House tonight, Tuesday, April 19th, from 5:30-7:30, with a presentation at 6pm
  4. Email Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council (CMs Herbold, Harrell, Sawant, Johnson, Juarez, O’Brien, Bagshaw, Burgess, González) asking them to step up to the plate before November with clear commitments to remove barriers and speed Seattle lines to completion.
  5. Encourage community, business and neighborhood groups of which you are a part to support the best practices above to fast-track light rail in Seattle. It can only help us solve our transportation mess and get light rail to your door faster.

130 Replies to “Ballard to Downtown Must be Done Right”

  1. Again on the Interbay grade-separation – How do you propose to pay for it? What are you willing to remove from the plan to make that happen?

    1. It’s not the activist’s job to figure out arcane financing plans, it’s the agency’s. It’s our job to demand what’s right and organize around the vision.

      1. Yabut, that is how we got the monorail. Big promises and demands completely disconnected from financial reality. We can’t repeat that fiasco.

      2. The monorail was run by cranks and sound moves was plagued by construction issues. Sound tranist is staffed by knowledgable, if conservative, planners who can figure out financing if we give them a clear vision.

      3. If you don’t think there is enough money *somewhere* in a 50 billion dollar plan to commit to grade separation on the busiest line by far… um… ok.

        Their cost estimates have fluctuated widely over the development of this draft plan. We aren’t arguing over dollars and cents right now. We are arguing about priorities.

      4. Snohomish county is getting around $2 billion from other sub-areas to build the Paine Field diversion on the Lynnwood-Everett line. Kill the diversion and you have at least $1 billion (with 99) or $2 billion (with I-5) to put into the downtown tunnel portion of the Ballard line.

    2. remove the connection to Bellevue? We just built a bridge for them with better bus service.

    3. This stuff should be paid for by the state. They need to step up and pay for some of the costs. It’s ridiculous that the stuff funds regional highway projects (e.g., Seattle-Kirkland-Redmond over 520) and doesn’t pay for regional transit projects.

      1. We should be glad that the State isn’t paying for this. If they were, it would be paid out of State taxation, where King County only gets about 70% of the money it puts in back. As things stand we come pretty close to getting all of out taxes back.

      2. No doubt, Jeffrey. I’d like to see the state match the $50 billion if ST3 passes. Finance wise, that allow completion of everything in 2029, with much more to come. And if ST3 fails, provide $50 billion anyway.

    4. Other than a few maintenance and similar employee only crossings, the BNSF has zero crossings through that area. It doesn’t seem like such a big stretch to be able to pull of the same thing with a parallel light rail line.

      1. Exactly. The elevated portion should continue to Armory (swinging around “behind” the Magnolia Bridge approach ramp) and then descend. It can run alongside the easternmost railroad track and barely squeeze between the Interbay Playfield and the tracks. A station under the Dravus Bridge over the railroad yard would be more evenly spaced between West QA and East Magnolia; of the two East Magnolia is the more likely to be redeveloped because of the gentler grade.

        Doing this also sets the line up for a 17th Avenue landing in Ballard which will be necessary to achieve the ability to have both north and east extensions.

      2. Yes I agree with this! I think the Seattle Armory and environs are perfectly situated for a massive TOD project. Perhaps the revenue from that could then be used to fund the subway.

    5. The Seattle Subway recommendation doesn’t require enormous expenditure. Four retained cuts would eliminate level crossings for a comparatively small amount of money.

      1. Yeah, I don’t see how it would be really hard to grade separate the whole alignment. The engineering shouldn’t be that difficult. I don’t know how bad the capital costs would be, but there are also some cost savings from grade separation: no collisions, improved service reliability, no crossing equipment to buy/maintain, simplified signaling.

        Not to mention that Vision Zero would clearly favor full grade separation.

      2. Normally, I’d say pay the money to get the train where people are rather than follow an existing rail right-of-way, but this is so close to the BN alignment. Why not just use that? I would think that would actually lower cost and eliminate all crossings.

    6. You start by dumping the useless line going out to Issaquah that no one wants.

      1. I’m sure that will go over well with the 50,000+ voters who live in Issaquah and surrounding areas, not to mention the local politicians and city staff that spent a decade fighting to rezone downtown Issaquah to allow 125′ mixed use buildings that accommodate 16,000 residents and 14,500 jobs.

      2. Where is the outcry for rail in Issaquah? Who among fiscally conservative eastside thinks that line makes financial sense?

        Are those 50,000 voters really going to swing the vote against the regions best interests? Something about that seems awfully backwards.

      3. rezone downtown Issaquah to allow 125′ mixed use buildings that accommodate 16,000 residents and 14,500 jobs.

        It’s not downtown Issaquah. It’s not even near downtown Issaquah. It’s an unpopulated (literally zero people) collection of strip malls by the freeway in western Issaquah.

      4. That sounds like it will be downtown Issaquah rather than the Gilman area, if it ever builds out close to what the plan envisions. (Admittedly a leap of faith.)

        I guess I assumed that that is where an Issaquah light rail stop would be – has that not been determined yet?

        My broader point is that it’s insanity to ask voters across a three-county area to vote for a package that doesn’t cover the entire eastern half of King County. No one is suggesting that it’s ever going to pencil out on a cost-per-rider metric (nothing outside of the densest Seattle stations and *maybe* Bellevue will anyways, right?), and anyone who is swayed by the poor cost-benefit analysis isn’t going to vote for it anyway. But by cutting out the entire line you lose not only the stodgy old Seattle Times Ed Board sect, but the votes of thousands of reasonable people in Issaquah/Sammamish/Snoqualmie Valley that probably won’t be regular riders but might vote for the project because they recognize the wider benefits to society and like the idea of riding the train into Mariners games or Pike Place on the weekends. Sound Transit is the system that our civic leaders bequeathed us – it’s flawed as fuck, but it’s stupid to torpedo it in hopes that another 5-10 years of planning and focus groups will get a better plan.

      5. It’s a brownfield area like the Spring District and Totem Lake, where they can put a large midrise development without single-family NIMBYs obstructing it. Who cares if it’s empty now, the point is it will be something like Northgate. Issaquah’s downtown is nearby even if it’s not right there, and they probably want to keep the downtown historical after restoring it. A bus can easily go between the transit center, this neighborhood, downtown, and eastern Issaquah and/or the Highlands.

    7. Uhhh… all of bullet point 2, including this section below in bold?

      “Resourcing the tunnel as a regional asset can ensure funding available to resolve reliability issues north of the tunnel that will affect the entire system if left unaddressed.”

      They are expecting about 50% of the new tunnel ridership to be suburban riders… so… maybe they should all kick in to help pay for it?

      1. Yes, this. Dividing costs to subareas based on where the physical infrastructure is located works very much against Seattle, because the tunnels we need to make the line any good are way more expensive than the elevated/at-grade structures that can go just as fast in the suburbs. The costs should instead be divided according to where the people who use the infrastructure live.

      2. At the TCC forum Murray mentioned getting Pierce to contribute to the second tunnel since it would benefit Tacoma. I think Seattle Subway is dancing around this and doesn’t want to name names for some reason. There’s probably inter-subarea negotiating going on among the board. But we can put in our comments that the downtown tunnels are a regionwide asset and North King shouldn’t have to fund them entirely alone because the entire network depends on them.

    1. Let’s see, $1 in 1962 equal to $30 in 2016? Seems reasonable, considering inflation.

      1. No, a dollar in 1962 would be $7.89 in today’s dollars, so $4.2m would be $33m for a one mile system, which is 30 times less than 1 bil per mile.
        Ponder on.

    2. The whole EIS process didn’t exist in 1962. That’s at least some of the difference.

    3. Subways are always more expensive than aerial, and take longer to build.

      One question should be if it’s worth it to go subway and get a shorter line. Are there any recommended subway segments that could become aerial so we can afford to build a longer line?

      1. I am often amazed at the disconnect between the infatuation of Vancouver’s light rail lines, which were built cheaper and faster because most of the system is aerial, yet be so unwilling to even consider aerial segments in places like Lower Queen Anne or Ballard-to-UW.

      2. Cheaper because it’s outside the US, where the provincial and federal governments support transit via streamlined regulations and money, and where NIMBYs can’t block or delay a line. Also, the country wanted to showcase Bombardier’s technology (which is not light rail BTW) for the international expo. The US has more regulatory hurdles, a pro-highway attitude, little federal or state support (especially in Washington), and suburbs and neighborhood NIMBYs have much more clout. The reason ST doesn’t propose elevated in Queen Anne or Ballard-UW is it’s obvious it will get major opposition by affluent neighbors who have the ears of local politicians, so it’s easier to work around that if it possibly can. If you notice Link’s elevated sections are along freeways, industrial areas, and state highways.

      3. I personally find elevated lines more appealing. They offer a much better rider experience than underground tunnels.

      4. Those are politically valid tradeoffs, Mike.

        I’m saying that some other posters shouldn’t be so naïve to think that if you they a house that they want to add to, that a basement is going to be more expensive, more potentially difficult to build and take longer to build than adding a second floor. Subway supporters shouldn’t be so outraged that their dream has lots more cost and time.

        Let’s merely be clear that this is an expensive and time-consuming tradeoff.

      5. @Al S: Bad analogy. Actually it’s way easier to lift up an entire house and add a floor beneath than it is to raise just the roof and add a floor on top. You can be sure that the existing house will hold itself up and you can design the new bottom floor to hold it. You can rarely be sure that an existing house has the load capacity to support (effectively) a second house on top.

        Your main point is a good one though; I do believe it to be true that building a rail tunnel is more expensive than building a rail viaduct.

      6. Subway is considerably more expensive than aerial! At least by a factor of 2!

        Your house analogy is more akin to aerial construction than tunnel construction because it isn’t digging a giant hole one floor down. It actually wouldn’t be a bad strategy for rail in some places – building tracks at street level and elevating a street to the second level. That’s how Park Avenue in Manhattan was built as well as some streets in Pioneer Square.

      7. I doubt elevated would be practical on an east west route. The hills are very steep traveling that direction. You could wind up with some VERY tall stations.
        Vancouver is on flat river deposits, so they don’t have that issue

    4. Mic, what’s been the balance sheet on the Interstate Highway System? If its wartime purpose had been needed, no one would condemn the red ink. As it turned out, the effort paid for itself thousands of times over.

      With the results you and I and the rest of STB readership will spend the rest of our lives trying to correct. But maybe Kemper Freeman will finally relent and cease fighting us in return for a station under Bellevue Square.

      Containing a statue of him honoring him for his service in helping assure that the accounts on the world’s most monumental transportation project came out so far on the credit side.

      You gonna be at the meeting tonight?

      Mark Dublin

      1. Technically yes, but politicians don’t sell the project on x miles of express bus turned into BRT service, or y number of parking stalls built. They focus on simple things like more than 50 miles of light rail built. The public can do the basic math on 50 bil.spent.
        If voters were all given a cab ride on MBTA cars, with 4 lines (B,C,D,E) all running 6 minute headways, then merging at level junctions to yield 90 sec headways, they would seriously question why ST is asking for a second tunnel in Seattle to handle an additional 70,000 riders to Ballard.

    5. We should stop using CPI to calculate construction cost inflation – ESPECIALLY over the time that includes the ascendance of China and its massive influence on commodities prices. The rate of inflation for things like copper, steel, and concrete have gone up faster than core inflation for decades now.

    6. Check your math and sources.
      $50 b is year of expenditure. Roughly a 60% premium is added for yoe from 2015 dollars.

      Still a crazy rate per mile but $1B

    7. The Monorail was only intended to last for the duration of the worlds fair, so it was built on the cheap. Also, in the early 60s you did not have the Alternatives analysis process, the EIS process, Community involvement, etc. They also did not care much about earthquakes when building stuff back than as well. Also the monorail did not have to buy much ROW since most of it was in the street, or on already existing public lands, etc. Sound Transit is trying to build infrastructure that ideally has a service life of 50-100 years, meet all current local and federal requirements, meet all the requirements imposed by the FTA and other branches of the Federal Government for environmental processes, appease the local community and live up to the high standards that construction quality and service delivery that they have already set. Part of the higher costs rests on their existing past practices, for better or worse, and now they have to continue meeting their own standards. So basically comparing the monorail’s construction expenses to those of LINK are like comparing apples to oranges.

  2. As far as project priority why doesn’t ST just release the Benefit-Cost analysis for each of the proposed improvements and use that as the primary basis for project schedule? If the greatest benefits come from the Ballard line prioritize that, if they come from Everett do that.

    But if you are going to push out Ballard for 20+ years then the city needs to put a moratorium on all new developments in Ballard. We can’t keep growing a neighborhood that has insufficient transit (standing room only on buses), major roadway gridlock, dependency on a 4 lane bridge that opens more frequently for boats and increasingly doesn’t close, no direct and safe bike routes to downtown, and no reliable east-west access. Ballard could possibly be the worst location in Seattle for more density and development.

    1. ST really isn’t into cost benefit analysis. This should be obvious just by browsing the various projects (West Seattle light rail? Issaquah to Bellevue light rail?!). ST builds things by first up coming with an idea (e. g. West Seattle light rail) and then designing it. There has been little consideration as to whether it provides the greatest good for the greatest number for the available money (or, specifically with transit, the time savings of each rider multiplied by the number of riders divided by the cost).

      1. It’s is noteworthy that the expert panel had to come up with the numbers themselves, as noted in the March board meeting. The panel report politely chastised the ST Board on this, but the ST Board members were too busy mutually admiring their political skills to notice.

      2. If you note the expert review panel numbers West Seattle doesn’t come out too badly. On the other hand Sounder to Dupont and Link to Issaquah are simply insane from a cost-benefit standpoint.

      3. There does appear to be some in the ST 3 project design process, however a lot of it seems to be politically orientated. The basic question of “Does this project help complete the Light Rail spine?” seems to weigh in a lot more than it should. Also, it has to do with how much money each “subarea” has to spend, which helps decide which pork also gets added. Personally, I don’t like how vague some of the projects are. There are no concrete projects for ST Express, Sounder improvements are very vague (most likely because they have to negotiate with the BNSF, however it does not make me want to vote yes when I don’t know what they are even in negotiations for)

    2. Well, it will be interesting how ST3 does in Seattle if the draft remains the same including timelines. I am also curious how the mayor (and to some extent, Dow) does in the next election in North Seattle if the draft remains in tact.

  3. Great article. I’m still surprised the ST3 draft made the mistake of putting the Ballard line on the road at all. That seems insane. The other issues I have with it – timeline, suburb-centric planning, etc. – were understandable and easily revisable due to input, but no one should be considering keeping that line at grade. It’s worth paying for it by any means necessary, even if other project timelines get pushed back. As you say, it’s an asset and investment in our future.

    You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’d love to see that Metro 8 line terminate at Discovery Park. (I am a dreamer, but as long as this all remains fantasy I’m willing to dream big :p ). Discovery is an underutilized gem in the city that would be a huge hit for visitors if it were within the rail system.

    1. I can hear the racist classist banshees shrieking from Magnolia already…
      But I cannot disagree with you. Our large City Parks ought well be readily accessible by frequent high capacity transit as we density our city.

    2. It is nice to dream. But when you consider that light rail is extremely expensive (e. g. just this piece is $12,000 for every man, woman and child in the area) it is a bit silly to worry about light rail to Discovery Park. It isn’t like we don’t have other needs (health and human services, police, education, day care, etc.). We can’t possibly run light rail to places like Discovery Park. Even if we ran it there, the trains would come so infrequently as to be practically useless. There are some places that are simply better for buses, and Discovery Park is one of them.

      Keep in mind, places like Vancouver, BC, which have much better rail systems than us, still have way more in the way of bus ridership. The key is to have the buses work well with the trains. As for Discovery Park, it already has a couple bus lines that go to it, which seems more than adequate given the year round popularity of the area (as someone who frequents it, I can tell you that on a cloudy Monday, it is pretty empty there).

    3. Chicago has frequent buses to its outlying tourist attractions and parks. We should do the same. Link doesn’t have to go to every low-volume destination.

  4. I’m surprised no mention is made of the termination in Ballard.

    In my opinion 15th is too far east of the major development areas that are happening in Ballard, and that corridor already has had RapidRide added. It seems to me that if this thing is going to take 20 years it needs to include a set of alternatives that puts the terminating point in other locations than a horrific auto-centered intersection that isn’t so great to get across on foot to access transit.

    1. Ideally, a 15th/Market station would have entrances on all four corners of the intersection, allowing anybody to access the station from any direction, without needing to cross 15th or Market St.

      1. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ,ha HA! That can only happen with a subterranean or elevated station. Remember, this is going to be at-grade there.

        The actual station will probably be south of Market so there will be access from the south via the new cross-walk at 52nd.

      2. If it winds up elevated, then maybe 14th would be the place to put it?

        14th has the old right of way for the freight railroad still built right into it and there are even a few places where the rails are visible. It could make a great place to put columns for an elevated line. It’s not filled with let turn lanes and all that garbage that goes along with the major through traffic route of 15th.

      3. 14th runs right into the high school at 65th. Seems like an awkward place for something that should be destined to continue north.

      4. I guess I figured by that far north the transition to subway would have happened.

    2. Which is yet another argument for Ballard to UW light rail (along with real BRT along 15th). You just put stations at 15th and 24th. That integrates really well with the existing buses, allowing you to get just about anywhere in the region very quickly.

      1. It’s not that far of a walk from Ballard to Discovery Park via the locks – in fact, my preferred transit route from the U-district to Discovery Park is to take the 44 to the locks. Unfortunately, Ballard->downtown doesn’t go west of 15th, which is still pretty far, but if Ballard->UW one day has a station at 24th, that will come as close to rail to Discovery Park as one can reasonably expect in our lifetimes.

      2. Unless some radical changes happen in Sounder service, like extending Sounder South into the North Interbay area or something.

    3. The thing with doing anything north-south on 15th is that so far the big condominiums are along 24th. 15th is a busy north-south road that isn’t that pleasant to be near, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the development is happening on a somewhat more pleasant non-through street.

      Which also means that 24th is also a bit more amenable to a transit improvement, since it has a much more time consuming roar route going south.

      1. Except Holman isn’t an alternative to 15th. Either route, if extended north, would probably go to Holman.

      2. I was just comparing the atmosphere of these car sewer arterials – and stating that the walkable environment of 15th isn’t so bad by comparison.

      3. SeaStrap,

        Who drives 25 miles an hour on 15th NW, except the bus drivers. And even they speed when they can.

      4. I was just driving on it the other day (Sunday) and it was flowing at about 25-28 mph. To my pleasant surprise. The narrower, older sections of it are not too fast, much like the narrower, older, sections of Aurora between 80th and Greenlake. It’s where the road and lanes widen that speeds pick up – because lane width and vehicle speed is directly linked.

      5. There are also plenty of apartments being built right near 15th and Market right now (or at least being proposed to be built) Several of the proposed buildings have no parking. If the stop is not on 15th or 17th, plenty of Ballardites will grab their sharpened pitchforks and torches.

      6. And if it doesn’t serve the area around 24th there are probably plenty of others that will grab pitchforks as well.

        Which one does d.p. live closer to? My bet is on whatever group he decides to lead.

    4. There’s lots of development on either side of 15th, and to the north. I think it’s the ideal corridor, even if the historic “downtown” Ballard is west of it.

    5. You raise a great point, Glenn! There really isn’t much density planned east of 15th. Ideally, the station should be west of there by at least a block.

      I suspect that the contributing factors for 15th as the corridor are the bridge strategy combined with 15th being the best way to continue north of the bridge as an aerial structure.

      1. To me, it seems like a better place for the bridge would be on the west side of Fisherman’s Terminal it puts the vertical supports on the south side over net storage areas and other stuff that shouldn’t be too difficult to put under a bridge. Along 15th there are actual buildings in the way.

        So, with that being closer to where the development is going on in Ballard anyway, all the way around it seems like a better route than along 15th.

    6. In any event, all of this illustrates the fact that a good terminus station should probably also be part of the discussion, but isn’t brought up in this article.

      Somehow, the line runs north and ends at 15th and Market, as if a Safeway parking lot is the most vital place in the world to have at the end of a light rail line.

      To me, this isn’t an obvious terminal point at all and should be part of the discussion at least about what needs to be done to this line to make it fall into the “done right” category.

  5. Great timing of the post since the Ballard Bridge malfunctioned yesterday for an hour and a half at the start of the afternoon rush hour—the folks at tonight’s Ballard HS open house should be sharpening their pitchforks a bit more).

    I am not sure how ST3 passes without something sooner built— such as the Ballard to UW line. (I am skeptical you can make Ballard to downtown that much faster– 18 years instead of 22?). If necessary to Ballard to UW, just push back Ballard to downtown further (or even drop it since Amazon and Expedia aren’t fighting tooth and nail for this)

    1. Yep. Drop Ballard to downtown and replace it with Ballard to UW. We should also drop West Seattle to downtown and replace it with the WSTT. Build whichever one is cheaper first.

      1. As long as South Lake Union and Seattle Center are part of the Ballard-to-Downtown line, Ballard-to-UW is not going to be more strategic as a high-frequency subway corridor. It might be different if Wallingford and Fremont are to also have 40-story buildings, but they aren’t.

      2. RE West Seattle – IMO, the only thing West Seattle needs is a completely separate and unimpeded bus lane to downtown. No merging/crossing with autos, just a true bus only route, all the way. I think that would do a lot to alleviate their transit woes.
        Light rail to WS in 20+ years would mean for many people, a bus ride to connect ti light rail at Avalon or the Junction, and possibly a transfer to another train at SODO.
        The screams for WS light rail are because the busses are in the same jam-ups as the autos.

      3. My general relationship of density to technique is something like this:

        – 5-10 stories is needed for surface rail

        – 10-20 stories is needed for aerial

        – 30-40 stories is needed for subway

        Of course there are always other attractions and factors, but this general rule of thumb is a good way to assess the appropriateness of potential rail corridor track-building techniques.

      4. Like I said, Mike, there are a number of other factors, such as car culture, parking availability and cost, use of existing tunnels or bridges, underground building constraints, innovative construction techniques (Park Avenue was built on top of a rail line so it’s more akin to a reversed aerial in concept, for example), terrain, Federal and state funding and lots of other factors.

        I do think that given today’s rail capital funding environment and Seattle’s cultural relationship with autos, the rule of thumb is a good starting point. There does seem to be a disconnect between discussions of different corridors related to ST3 when it comes down to per mile costs and potential for growth.

        It’s most striking with the Ballard-to-UW corridor, where I seriously doubt that we would ever see blocks and blocks of continuous 10-story buildings in Fremont and Wallingford. That’s more likely to happen with something like an Eastgate, Spring District, Northgate or a Federal Way redevelopment project.

        The larger point is that there is a real tendency to want the most expensive kind of light rail in one’s neighborhood, but there isn’t any tradeoff given to a neighborhood resident that this massive public investment at the scale of a subway probably shouldn’t be made where most people are in a single-family home or a townhouse.

    2. If you want to have quality service to Ballard in the short term, Paint The Town Red! Seriously. Grab those lanes on 15th West 24/7 every day and extend them down Elliott at least to Mercer Place. Add a left turn from the curb lane bus jump to get the D Line up Mercer Place in a reasonable amount of time and let express buses continue on down Elliott.

      This is not rocket science: run more buses, run bigger buses, and give them priority.

  6. First of all, why do you believe these numbers, when they are produced by Sound Transit, with no transparency in terms of the methodology? ST has a long history of greatly exceeding the ridership numbers when it is convenient (i. e. before the election) and then quickly lowering those numbers after the election (and then subsequently trumpeting their success).

    If you accept these numbers, then you have to accept that most of the riders will be riding it downtown (as ST does). That means to a large extent, this tunnel is simply redundant. If this tunnel is known for being inconsistent or less frequent, then folks will simply switch to the other tunnel.

    Finally, if this is the Green Line (as shown here: then it means that Ballard is paired with Rainier Valley. Rainier Valley has limited headways. Rainier Valley has the same issues as this would. In other words, a train will travel down 15th the same way that a train travels down MLK, infrequently, but with a fair amount of certainty.

    If we really want to do “Ballard to Downtown Right”, then we would should build the Ballard to UW subway. That be more frequent, and provide more mobility for the region.

    1. RossB, you make a good point about the Green Line operation plan. The loads look terribly imbalanced given the Rainier Vally segment frequency limitation. A fourth line through Downtown seems to be needed — 2 through each tunnel.

    2. It’s gives 20 years for Ballard to develop and eastern Magnolia to get more apartments and condos. It would be interesting to see what they predicted would happen in terms of population along the line for the next 20 years.

    3. Actually, Ross, they aren’t thinking that those half of folks not coming from or going to Ballard are going to be riding in the “classic downtown core”, but rather to and from SLU, Harrison, LQA and Smith Cove.

      There really aren’t that many riders between two of the four downtown stations. Some, to be sure, but probably not more than 20,000 per day.

  7. Build light rail over a moveable bridge they said; what could possibly go wrong they said.

    I think last night was a good indication that light rail to Ballard needs to go under Salmon Bay. Granted the Ballard Bridge is 100 years old, but still. Building light rail over a draw bridge will be akin to the at-grade portion through Rainier Valley. Within 5 years, we’ll regret it.

    1. As noted in other posts, the drawbridge issue is not the biggest issue with Ballard to downtown, but just where do you get the money? (In past posts, I have suggested the Ballard to UW line as a way to avoid the over/under ship canal issues/cost).

      1. Once you build a 70 ft bridge with approaches, how much are you saving over a tunnel (that doesn’t have to be that deep; I think Salmon Bay is not quite 20 ft at its deepest)? A tunnel might be more expensive, but it would be a much better design and would better serve Seattle and future growth.

      2. The cost of a tunnel depends on what is underneath.

        Tunnels like BART and some Florida highways are easy to build because they can lay the tunnel like it is a hose in the sand. In contrast, ST had to bore under the Ship Canal at Montlake.

        I believe the planning study looked at what it would take. I’m not a tunneling expert so I don’t know how thorough the analysis was.

  8. Why can’t the city offer some of our bonding capacity to speed up the ” 4 years are due to saving up to be able to afford construction?” We’re offering Chris Hanson $200+ million in our bonding capacity for an arena, surely we can do something similar for a far more worthy project (Ballard HCT)?

    Also, yes to the Metro 8.

  9. I thought that Seattle Subway wanted Metro 8 subway to end at Mt Baker. Why the change from the map released by the group a few months ago?

    1. It’s still shown as continuing to Mt. Baker on the map. I think they just wanted to emphasize the direct connection to East Link. After all, in the current plan, South Link will go directly to SLU.

  10. Lazarus, and Mic, for a considerable number of board meetings during the last days of the last Monorail Project. If I had any company, and they’re reading this, would appreciate their verifying or disputing what I’m going to say.

    Every single public project anybody can name could have been born, motivated, and energized very largely as a much-deserved protest against an establishment that, if they weren’t lazy and arrogant, were certainly acting like it on the subject in question, transit on a needed corridor. Happens outside transit too.

    And every such project can be initiated by a very few people, whose excellent qualities do not include the technical knowledge necessary to design a massive public works project of any kind- and show it from the get-go. Starting with a demand, written into enabling legislation, specifying structure of the trackway and material covering the wheels.

    And all such leadership can openly express the belief that trained engineers calling attention to real-world impossibilities are either blind to new technologies, or personally corrupt. And so appoint as project chief, by acclaim and without a talent search, someone who never oversaw a footing for a flag-pole.

    And any such effort can always have its last meetings attended by professionals whose careers entitled them to head the project…seeking employment from an organization their own professional ethics demanded they denounce.

    And everything above capped by elected officials sworn to better judgement uncritically and energetically cooperating with the project until abruptly shutting it down. Leaving, hopefully, at least a few studies for a responsible project to use, in return for the hundred million dollars of public money spent.

    Lazarus, Mic, and anybody else seeing I’ve described attached to tonight’s subject, would appreciate seeing you at Ballard High tonight so you can go to the media with it. And you can also join me in insisting that every public presentation from here on include technicians who can analyze a pink dotted line in section view.

    ‘Til tonight.

    Mark Dublin

  11. I’m looking at this map: and wondering, why does Belltown get nothing? It seems like it should be much higher priority than most of what is on that map (Burien, Lake Forest Park, etc.). Belltown seems like one of the few places in Seattle where a light rail investment might actually be worth it (because it is one of the few places in Seattle with Brooklyn style density and employment).

    1. Ross, does Belltown have room for more than one station? Because to me, KC Metro has a lot to answer for regarding the bus service that used to be there and isn’t. I seem to recall First Avenue used to be trolley-wired.

      Does it carry any buses at all? In CBD, compared to decades past, hardly any at all. Repetitious, but Belltown and elsewhere, it’s long past time when no bus should have to stop anyplace but a bus-stop. Or when no street lane be for parking.

      Also foresee a lot busier and more pleasant sidewalk scene over next few years.

      Not saying don’t do a Belltown station. But I do wonder if with some long overdue transit improvements, LINK route planned- which is very preliminary- might not already work?

      Mark Dublin

    2. +1

      If it were me, I would put this line through Belltown and have the Metro 8 subway serve South Lake Union.

      Means this line gets a slightly shorter tunnel and less sharp curves.

      If the reason this gets built first is because South Lake Union needs it, then maybe the Metro 8 Subway should be built first?

  12. A major part of the anger fueling the monorail project arose from a public who refused to accept that the system they needed and deserved would take 30 years. “Arrogant and lazy” may have been inaccurate perception.

    But accurate perception of something immediately necessary being written off as unachievable for decades energized a major mistake. And reaction to “Opening in 30 years” is clear and present danger to ST3.

    One thing going for Ballard/CBD/West Seattle corridor is that it’s probably the easiest one to equip with steadily-advancing interim improvements while major civil engineering is in progress. For instance, the surface transit-way along Elliott could be built, signal-pre-empted and trolleywired.

    Providing a necessary surface line, rail, bus, or joint-use after the regional line is completed. Really same approach as with DSTT. A decades long project kicked off with passengers riding- with increasing speed and frequency- while the machines are digging. Second lesson from the past for work present and future.

    Mark Dublin

  13. Grade separation is too expensive. Link runs fine on MLK 99% of the time, and that’s plenty.

    1. You must not be one of those who’s bothered that it takes 28 minutes from Rainier Beach to Westlake, or 36 minutes from Rainier Beach to UW, or 37 minutes from Westlake to SeaTac. Meanwhile on the north side 28 minutes will get you from Westlake to… Lynnwood.

      1. Mike,

        You’re complaining that Central Link is real Light Rail. That’s sort of ungenerous. The trips to the north and the extension beyond Rainier Beach are BART del Norte. Hardly a fair comparison.

      2. No, Light Rail as it is practiced throughout the world. Do you think those 1975 Duewag cars in Germany never run at grade? Of course they run at grade in the outer portions of their routes, else Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Bremen and twelve cities in NordRhein-Wastfalen would have built heavy rail lines instead. They do know about those in Germany; in fact many of the cities that have Light Rail Stadtbahn (think MAX) also have heavy rail U-Bahn as well.

        Seattle is not a special snowflake. If you’re going to accept the speed and capacity limitations of Light Rail technology you need also to utilize the mode’s ability to run on the physical earth with neither elevation nor tunnel in the right places. The Rainier Valley is not a “right place” because it’s right in the middle of a longer line. But from Expedia north where ridership will be lower and operations will affect only local riders, it’s fine. Just not in the middle of a very crowded arterial where stations will be extremely unpleasant.

  14. Good points, Seattle Subway, except those of us who live in Rainier Valley are quite happy with our at-grade alignment. Service interruptions have been few and short, what with switches that allow trains to bypass the sites of many incidents. 3 and 4 car trains will reduce this impact substantially. Also,rebuilding MLK with the center train alignment has dramatically reduced the number of vehicle collisions.

  15. Half the people who will be riding Ballard-Downtown will be traveling between Westlake (or possibly IDS because the transfer will be quicker) and Expedia. I very much hope that ST has the good sense to put a turnback pocket just beyond Expedia.

    Ballard to Sea-Tac and Expedia to Tacoma is a great operating pattern. It puts double service in the heart of the urban core and the rapidly gentrifying Rainier Valley while allowing the Ballard line to be extended either to UW or on north without unacceptably long runs. And without running useless trains south of Sea-Tac.

    1. @anandakos Great point. Another big priority with this system is to allow for different service schedules. Including express trains, peak hour trains and off peak trains. I like what Seattle Subway has proposed and believe there proposal can get done before 2035.

  16. After-action report. There’s not much news for those who’ve been reading STB the past month. The open house was well attended like the previous two in Ballard, but not overflowing the gymnasium. ST and Metro both had posters and presentations about ST3 and Metro’s long-term plan. The only new thing I hard is that some group in Ballard and Magnolia is advocating moving the alignment a few blocks west, to the Interbay rail yard and 17th-20th NW, and a Ship Canal tunnel. This is the “West is Best” proposal. There were a questions after the presentation about the usual topics: a shorter timeline, a grade-separated Ballard alignment, 130th Station (by a Bitter Lake resident), a Ballard-UW line.

    There were two disruptors who shouted over the speakers and other questions. One seemed to complain that all area city and state officeholders are Democrats, not a single Republican. Does he not know what the majority of area voters are? Does he think Republicans should have a quota of seats? After he was ushered out, another person started shouting about taxes and how people can’t afford a tax increase, and something about Murray’s budget being large. So, not like Mr Zimmerman calling officials fascist or the one saying ST is in league with Agenda 21 (a UN world-domination conspiracy). Methinks ST needs a security guard at future open houses. Somebody to do the intimidating “You, you’re out of here” as soon as somebody starts shouting over people.

    Mike Lindblom has a Seattle Times article today. It mentions the western alignment proposal and says it would cost $600 million which would have to come from somewhere. Then it says something mysterious, “That would leave fewer dollars to finance the $2 billion light-rail spur that transit-bard Chairman and King County Executive Dow Constantine has promised his neighbors in West Seattle, using the Seattle area’s share of future transit tax.” Is this the smoking gun of Dow promising a few people in West Seattle light rail so now it’s non-negotiable for all of North King? Does it mean the West Seattle line itself, but how can that be when it must cost more than $2 billion? Or does “spur” mean a branch, but if so where? On Delridge?

    1. It’s the temporary “spur” from SoDo Station to the Alaska Junction which can operate without the second tunnel that he’s talking about. The plan is for SoDo to the Junction to open and run with forced transfers at SoDo for six or eight years while the tunnel and the Ballard extension are completed.

    2. If “West is Best” is only $600 million the City should pick up the difference. Really; it’s worth it and the City can certainly squeeze that into its tax limit. Use a LID in central Ballard to pay for part of it as well.

    3. I have an idea. Lets take $600 million from other sub-areas and put it toward the IDS/Westlake/SLU/LQA tunnel. Use the extra money to build the rest of the line fully grade separated.

      How to pay for it? Get Snohomish county to give up on serving Paine Field, at least in ST3. See Martin’s post about the “wye”. Snohomish county is receiving nearly $2 billion from other sub-areas to pay for their folly.

  17. I agree wholeheartedly. This project is expected to have an eye-popping number of riders – up to 145,000 per day, quadruple what the proposed line to Everett is forecast to have, and at about the same price. The Ballard line is tailor-made for light rail. The Paine Field excursion to/from Everett is tailor made for BRT, which could be operational by 2020, with an I-5 light rail line to Everett by earlier than 2031.

    I say earlier than 2031, as Snohomish County politicians recently hatched a revision to the ST plan that shaves 8 years off of the initial estimate of 2041, they say that it’s due to following I-5 in the northern segment, from SR-526 to Everett Station, which involves only dealing with WSDOT vs. many property owners (on Evergreen Way, per the original proposal). What they don’t say, of course, since they’re not their preferred options, is what those same changes they’ve come up with do to the time estimates for the “all I-5 options,” which includes the spur from I-5/Everett Mall to/from Boeing and the BRT loop. I don’t believe that it only takes 2 years longer for several more miles of rail and dealing with private property owners (2033/light rail loop, 128th to Boeing) vs. WSDOT (earlier than 2031/Iight rail on I-5).

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