Map by Oran

Last December I made the modest proposal that the 5th and Madison Station in Sound Transit 3 move three, or even six, blocks east. This would reduce overlap with the existing tunnel stations. More importantly, it would bring First Hill — one of the densest neighborhoods in the Northwest, with three hospitals and Seattle University — into the Link walkshed after circumstances screwed them out of their Sound Move station. Oran’s calculations showed that it was as little as 0.09 miles more distance to tunnel.

Although the idea made it into a letter from the First Hill Improvement Association, it didn’t catch fire. Seattle-based activists have been more excited about elevating Link to Ballard, or 130th St. Station. Those are worthy causes, and the same order of cost as a First Hill Station — and chances are good that both will win. At the same time, I think most neutral observers would agree that, on the merits, First Hill should be a higher priority than either, and it’s a shame that no one in a position of influence greater than mine has made a stink about it.

As a further headwind, Sound Transit staff found tunneling under I-5 for U-Link to be a troublesome experience, and does not like the idea of doing so twice more in a matter of blocks. Sound Transit paid a contractor $23m to prepare I-5’s foundations for a tunnel boring machine to pass through. To do so twice would therefore probably cost around $50m and introduce some risk. It’s hard, but we know it’s possible, because they’ve done it (pretty much flawlessly) before.

It’s late in the day. In about a month, Sound Transit will lock down the package for November, and we should know most of the substance of the final plan by later this week. If the Green Line goes to the ballot as-is, the kerfuffle over “22 years to Ballard” will create extreme pressure to discard edgy alternatives early in the process. If anyone with substantial influence on the process is going to make this happen, the time is now.

89 Replies to “Who’s Going to Stand Up for First Hill?”

  1. As much as first hill deserves a station, there are too many conflicts for this to have a chance. The grade necessary to reach the hill is probably too much, and as mentioned, I-5 would have to be crossed twice. And whatever happened to the previous issue of the problematic geology? First Hill will be the Last Hill to get light rail.

    1. The DSTT made a mistake in not having a Madison station for the library. The official route would rectify this. I’d hate to see the library bypassed again. So while I see some merit in the First Hill arc, I’m not sure it’s necessarily better. The Madison/Boren station would be more effective than Madison/8th because of the walkshed would include more, but it’s still only one point on Madison. Madison BRT will go to all points on Madison, which seems more effective. If it achieves its goal of 10-minute travel time end to end, that’s only 5 minutes from 3rd to Broadway, which will be a major achievement over existing routes, and I think will lessen the angst over not having a First Hill Link station.

      1. Two steep blocks, somewhat mitigated if you cut through the Safeco Plaza and Fourth & Madison buildings, assuming they’re open (not on weekends, when libraries are pretty popular).

        Or you could wait somewhere for the 2/12 to take you up the hill for two blocks.

      2. It would be cheaper and easier to just relocate the Central Library if its so important to give it its own station. Then they could build a new library that actually works for users and not for the architect’s ego and self-promotion.

  2. Another way to look at this would be to find out the cost of tunneling (extremely high) per foot and do a cost calculation for your additional .09 miles.

    1. Then add 2*(cost of crossing I-5). Rough estimate: $500,000,000/mile *0.09 + 2*$23,000,000 = $91,000,000 to trade 5th ave for first hill. Then consider that ST already spent $240,000,000 to “serve” first hill with a streetcar and you have the tallest political mountain in the state.

      1. One detail, which may be neither here nor there, the streetcar is not a Sound Transit project.

      2. Actually ST paid for the Streetcar, so ir kind of is their project.

        Additionally we are building the Madison BRT which unlike the Streetcar will actually serve the center of First Hill.

        I’d love to see this station built, but its going to take a lot to convince the powers that be to allow this to happen.

        We’re going to need a lot more folks fighting for it.

      3. Because of the hills, a First Hill Station would have to be deeper than a 5th/Madison station, so the station itself, would also be more expensive. Unless, of course, you repeat the downtown Bellevue mistake and tunnel under First Hill without actually stopping there.

      4. Once again this comes from the crisis of no long-term planning. When First Hill Station was dropped, there was no planned Ballard line that the streetcar money could have gone to. First Hill didn’t want to be left out, and it bought the kool-aid that a streetcar was a reasonable substitute (even without exclusive lanes or signal priority). ST’s “Long-Range Plan” had two Ballard corridors, but the LRP corridors were just wishlist items with no idea when or if they might be built or what order they would be in, or exactly where they would go. What’s missing was a master plan and phases, so that people would know when a Ballard line might happen, and they could thus argue for moving that line a half-mile east.

    2. That calculation is hard because station costs are baked into the readily accessible per-mile costs. The marginal cost of an additional 1/10 of a mile are much lower than the proportional cost of something like U-Link. I’d swag it as $200m/mile, which would be $20m, plus $50m for going under I-5 twice, plus the potential cost of a mined station instead of cut-and-cover, assuming 5th & Madison would be cut-and-cover. The mined 99/Harrison stop is less than $400m more than doing nothing.

      I would be shocked if the total incremental cost for 8th & Madison was more than $400m given some honest staff work. It’s not chump change but also in the ballpark of some of these other add-ons.

    1. The Ballard Link line will make the monorail obsolete anyway. Once it is built, people will transfer to that line and ride, essentially free (from the rider’s perspective) to Seattle Center. After that station opens up, whatever local ridership there is on the monorail will evaporate, and the City will lose its willingness to keep funding the maintenance on it.

      Yes, I know the monorail makes an operating profit, but if the Seattle Center stopped looking at it as a lucrative perpetual bake sale with the kitchen space paid for by someone else (Seattle taxpayers) rather than a way to get millions more customers to the Seattle Center, and join the ORCA pod, the monorail could become part of the Link planning process.

      1. There are already buses every few minutes to Seattle Center with a free transfer. I rode them for years to avoid the monorail fare, but now I often take the monorail when I’m going to the Center because it’s an experience, it’s elevated, and the cost is not that much for a few times a year — it comes out of my entertainment budget anyway.

      2. If the monorail tracks could be converted into a High Line-style elevated park, I could see it being quite popular. Besides Belltown severely lacking green space, it would also provide an opportunity for walkers and joggers to avoid all the stoplights. I’m sure a person could easily run the monorail route in about the same amount of time as riding the monorail (maybe even a little less), once wait time is factored into account.

      3. Or another crazy idea, the line to Ballard could be an extension of the existing monorail.

      4. When the Ballard Line is complete in 2038, it will be so crowded that folks will be happy to pay the extra for a direct ride to Westlake on the monorail.

      5. RiseAboveItAll attempted to engineer their monorail plan as an extension of the existing monorail. It didn’t work, for a whole bunch of reasons.

      6. Keep the monorail. Make it a Westlake-Belltown-SeattleCenter-LQA shuttle within the ORCA system. Add an infill Belltown station on the existing tracks, and extend to the LQA Link Station. True it’ll be a little redundant but for all the talk about missing Belltown with Ballard Link, just utilize this HCT line that is already there and adapt it to make it work for Belltown.

  3. This begs the question: Is ridership going to be higher from Ballard to CBD or Ballard to First Hill? If the former, I’d rather see the 5th avenue alignment, with frequent Madison BRT. If the latter, or roughly equal, then the First Hill alignment would make sense. I think we should try and force the fewest transfers possible at Westlake.

    1. Agreed. Considering transit patterns today, I would say that the business district has much higher ridership from ballard or anywhere else on the green line.
      Speaking of westlake station, why is it shown here that the new tunnel hits westlake at 6th ave instead of 5th? I think it might be frustrating for paasengers headed to the green line entering at Macy’s and then finding out that they still have to walk 2 more blocks to catch their train. Because 6th alignment deviates from the street grid, there would be more conflict with building foundations. But on the plus side, it is closer to first hill, making the first hill station that much more appealing on paper.

      I really hope for a westlake entrance at Westlake/olive for maximum transfer with the SLUT/1st ave streetcar.

    2. Downtown is higher overall because of the destinations and transfers to everywhere. But First Hill would create a kind of crosstown connection, which is not unlike how the St Petersburg Metro and DC Metro have lines that cross in a triangle or a square to do double-duty as a poor man’s ring line. Those aren’t as effective as a true ring line like Moscow or London in my opinion, but they’re better than nothing. The First Hill arc could possibly work this way if it’s easy to transfer at Westlake or Intl Dist for the other destination (University Street or First Hill). I’m not sure if that’s really effective though given Seattle’s context (only one different station rather than several neighborhoods, a smaller downtown, and a strong north-south orientation concentrated on 1st to 5th Avenues). If it went way out to be a Ballard – Denny Way – Broadway – Swedish-or-CD-loop then it would be more like that.

    3. A Green Line that serves First Hill still serves downtown! There are stops at Westlake and Chinatown, and transfers to reach the other two DSTT stations.

      Moreover First Hill is effectively part of downtown, and has no service.

      1. Correction, it has no good service. It has buses. It also has a streetcar that skirts around the edge of First Hill without ever going inside.

        It also will likely be getting a new electric BRT line going right through where this station might go.

        So it will get service… just not light rail express service

        Unless a lot more folks fight for it.

  4. If it were me I would want that Boren station turned north-south, the Capitol Hill station made into the transfer station, and make this a Ballard – sorta Metro 8 route.

    1. Some cool possiblities with this, like having multiple first hill stations (James&Boren, Broadway&Madison), but I think it would be too difficult to hit the Capital Hill station and still turn fast enough to get near a station Westlake and Denny … it would be much easier if the Cap Hill station was at Pike/Pine.

      You’d have to totally rethink the SLU station pairs … maybe drag the Denny station a few blocks west might help, but then that would increase the Belltown “gap” … I suppose you can move the Harrison-99 station to somewhere around 5th & Denny before heading to to Mercer & QA Ave? Maybe even have three station along Denny (Fairview-9th-Broad be too close?). You would lose the 99 station that’s good for interfacing with the E-Line, but you’d serve Belltown better.

  5. What about Belltown, what about LQA, what about SLU, what about upper QA, what about etc. Ya sure First Hill would benefit from better access to light rail but right now First Hill has some of the best bus routes and access to DT compared to other neighborhoods. Plus they can bus easily to Capital Hill station if they want to go north or they can go to Mount Baker just a bit south when east link becomes an option. There are a lot of other neighborhoods that could benefit from light rail that don’t have the options or the central location of First Hill. So I would argue that this is actually one of the lowest priorities for Seattle.

    1. And with Madison BRT, first hill will be 3 minutes away from the 5th ave station anyway.

      1. A high quality-bus connection is no substitute for an actual station. That’s the whole point of the deviation to serve SLU.

    2. First Hill will have some of the best routes (actually one). It doesn’t yet. Anyone who has taken the 12 or 2 or 3/4 up the hill and gone through the left-right turn jog and their slowness would not say they’re some of the best bus routes. They’re impressively frequent on paper (especially the 3/4) but that gets eaten up in the time it takes crawling and waiting for late buses.

    3. What about Belltown, what about LQA, what about SLU, what about upper QA, what about etc.

      Huh? SLU and LQA are getting stations. I would support a Belltown station if there was an equally straightforward way to get there. And there is no comparison between upper QA and First Hill.

      1. SLU and LQA MAY get a station. Alignments can still change in ST3 right? Plus ST3 actually has to pass.

      2. SLU and LQA MAY get a station. Alignments can still change in ST3 right? Plus ST3 actually has to pass.

        The First Hill proposal obviously exists in the context of the existing draft. It therefore implicitly includes service to SLU and LQA.

    4. >> What about Belltown? Good point, but that was a case of picking one or the other (Denny and Westlake versus Belltown).

      >> SLU? This sort of, kind of, skirts South Lake Union. Serving more of South Lake Union would be nice (and there are two proposals suggested by Lukas and Glenn above) but doing so would mean serving First Hill as well, unless you want to go well out of your way. So that means spending a bunch more money, or having a train that might as well cut off from Capitol Hill Station, instead of Westlake.

      >> Upper Queen Anne? Much more expensive and much less populated (with a lot fewer jobs) than First Hill.

      >> First Hill has some of the best bus routes and access to DT compared to other neighborhoods. Plus they can bus easily to Capitol Hill station if they want to go north or they can go to Mount Baker
      just a bit south when east link becomes an option. There are a lot of other neighborhoods that could benefit from light rail that don’t have the options or the central location of First Hill. So I would argue that this is actually one of the lowest priorities for Seattle.

      That misses the point. The UW has some of the best bus service in the city. When I mentioned that Link would get there, my son (a frequent bus rider) thought the idea was crazy (it is easy as hell to get to the UW — why bother with that?). But (of course) it is by far the best thing Sound Transit will ever build. It will save more people more time than any public transit project other than the bus tunnel (now leveraged by those very trains). There are simply large numbers of people there, which means that those five minutes will matter to way more people than things like serving upper Queen Anne.

      As to the alternatives, including the Madison BRT, I again think this misses the point. The fact that there is great bus service (and will be even better bus service) is a strong argument for building it, not for skipping it. In the case of Madison BRT, it is much better if the station is in the middle of the route, not on one end. It means that you can get more places within the same amount of time. It also puts less pressure on the bus (people will take the bus both directions, not just one).

      This would also open up the possibility of a lot more bus routes, including more BRT routes. For example, the 36 and 7 are both very frequent, and both share Jackson to get downtown. But if a station was placed on Boren and Madison, one of those could be sent on Boren, and then onto South Lake Union. If bus lanes could be added, that bus would be one of the most popular within our system. That could be build on its own of course, but the station makes for a much better network (similar to the way that NE 130th will justify much better east-west bus service in the north end).

      1. That’s a good point, that a Madison/Boren station could be a valuable asset for restructured crosstown routes. And that being in the middle of Madison BRT could also be an advantage. I’m not 100% convinced yet but those are significant factors.

        My main concern is that it’s a month before ST3 must be finalized and North King is already maxed out with projects and now people want to add another expensive thing. Which would be easy if we could convert West Seattle to BRT but ST is not going to do that, especially with the number of endorsements West Seattle LRT got in the public feedback. So I’m concerned that there’s no time to study it and if ST commits to an unstudied option that could be bad if it goes sour. The most ST could do is commit to considering it as an alternative and budget enough for it. But that gets into North King already being maxed out on projects and people are trying to squeeze in 130th and a Ballard-UW EIS and a Metro 8 EIS…

    5. Belltown are LQA are primarily residential neighborhoods, while SLU and First Hill are job centers … I see strong reason for Link to both SLU and First Hill (if technically & fiscally possible). Belltown, however, is primarily a destination for people who live & work downtown, so it is better served by great local transit. Either bus (BRT-ish) or streetcar with dedicated lanes running down 1st and up QA Ave is a much more effective solution to serve these residential neighborhoods than tunneling light rail

    6. The congestion on 1st hill is unlike anything else in Seattle due to small streets and the hospitals so it should be a high priority. As a 1st hill resident and transit/bike dude I think getting cars off of broadway and using the existing street car is the best solution but I’m biased and anti-car.

    7. What about Belltown, what about LQA, what about SLU

      Unless you go for a seriously curvy route, you can’t serve all of those with the same line, and such a line wouldn’t serve anywhere else very well.

      My personal preference would be Ballard -Belltown on a straighter line than is being proposed, and build a Metro 8 variation to get LQA, SLU, and a bunch of other stuff.

      Perhaps the Metro 8 variation comes first as part of a line to Ballard, and the straight line through Belltown has to come later.

  6. I agree that we should look at this as an opportunity to smartly cover more destinations rather than just run parallel to the current DSTT.

    Does anyone know how deep ST is planning the tunnels to be for this new tunnel? That might factor into the feasibility of this first hill station. If they are going to be deeper than the current DSTT, then this proposed station could end up being extremely deep (and extremely $$$).

    1. They simply have to be deeper. At both ends the track level will be one story (Westlake) and two stories (IDS) deeper than the DSTT. For some reason ST wants a full Mezzanine above the new IDS platform. That’s going to be a terrible transfer, though green to red changes can be done at SoDo.

      Then the street is 60 to 70 feet higher at Madison and Fifth than it is at Madison and Third, so Midtown will be at a minimum three stories deeper at track level than University or Pioneer Square. Martin’s suggestion to go to Eighth would add another fifty feet and Boren probably seventy.

      At those depths you’re in elevator territory or two minute escalators like on the Washington Red Line.

      As much as it is attractive to allow First Hill to grow, it’s probably not practical.

      1. The grade difference is even worse than that. According to
        the difference between 5th ave to 8th is 78 feet, while Boren is 139 feet higher.

        Ground level at Boren is 331 ft vs 40 ft at IDS. Assuming the new platform at IDS is 15 ft lower because of the mezzanine, there is 306 ft that either passengers would have to descend or the train would have to ascend. Generously assuming the train can climb 150 ft of that, there is still 156+ ft that passengers have to descend.

        It is simply impractical to serve first hill like this.

      2. The elevation changes makes the stop more attractive, not less so. That’s because the escalator or elevator + train is itself a valuable amenity that gives access to First Hill that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. The grade changes that makes it hard also makes it valuable. Also, once you’re tunneling and sinking elevator shafts, is the marginal cost of going deeper really that much higher? Might even be easier if the soil is more compacted.

        The argument that we shouldn’t do it because it’s too hard is the same as putting bike lanes on calm under-utilized streets but not the busy intersections where they’re actually needed.

        The reason we shouldn’t do it is it’s a lot of cost and extra commuting time for one additional station.

  7. It’s a worthy argument to say that 8th is better than 5th, but there are too many other pressures.

    1- Line ridership is predicated on Ballard to downtown, not to First Hill. Downtown is not the tail wagging the dog, Ballard is.

    2- I think it’s fair to say that there is definitely political hesitation to drill under I-5. Bertha has been a traumatic experience for most of us, and while the comparison to Link TBMs is patently unfair on engineering and experiential grounds, don’t expect it to go away. (I can hear the dog-whistle hot takes now: “What happens when they have to close I-5 for three days?!?”)

    3- FH’s big connection to the regional system is going to be Madison BRT. It’s not perfect, but it’s a connection that runs in a cardinal direction perpendicular to that of the Link tunnels: a win for a gridded network. It will also come a whole lot sooner, and cheaper.

    1. 1) Not really. One of the big arguments for building another tunnel is that we need it (for capacity reasons). Otherwise, we simply connect at Westlake, or better yet, build the Ballard to UW line. I personally don’t buy the capacity argument, but I am simply repeating what ST has said. I would say the strongest argument for the Ballard line, though, is that it serves lower Queen Anne and adds a couple stops along the way. For Ballard, Ballard to UW is obviously better, but not if you are trying to get to Queen Anne (or are on lower Queen Anne trying to get downtown). Ballard to downtown via Interbay was chosen at great expense so that lower Queen Anne (and South-ish Lake Union) would have some good service. It stands to reason that you would spend a lot less to add service to First Hill.

      2) Fair enough — people may be scared of going under I-5 (although I think most of the time they wouldn’t even notice — unlike the Viaduct, the thing isn’t falling down).

      3) I agree that Madison BRT is going to be great, but this would make it better. You are much better off with a station in the middle of a line, rather than at the end. It means that folks go both ways on the bus, reducing the load on a particular bus. It also means that you can get to more places faster. As far as the overall network is concerned, a stop higher up the hill (especially at Madison) could dramatically change the network. It would justify BRT service on Boren, from, say, Rainier Valley to South Lake Union (e. g. have the 7 just keep going straight). That would be a much better grid for the area. Of course that could be built without a new station, but it makes a lot more sense with it.

  8. Martin, what’s involved in posting a tunnel engineer’s perspective on this project? The Swedish Hospital station was one of the most important in the system. I think that, while I can think of other reasons and fixes for the First Hill Streetcar, it’s insulting to claim it’s a fair substitute.

    But the question of getting under I-5 is example of critical real-world considerations that change over very small distances. We need YouTube “cab rides” at the TBM controls. (OK, Ok!) But on the Channel Tunnel dig, a core drill in the hub of the cutter brought in a windshield view via fossil samples.

    Boren or Ballard? Tunneling technology is advancing fast. So it’s a good bet that planetary outweighs political over which of two equally important projects will be done first. Though we’ll eventually dig both.

    Mark Dublin

  9. I tend to think First Hill is a lost cause, but ST ought to stack Madison station so that we can eventually extend service east towards towards First Hill.

    1. First Hill is currently serving as a warning to all community activists that we have to fight hard with ST to get what we need at the earliest possible. Seattle at that time thought, well, we’ll get something for First Hill next round or something else that has been shown to not be Link.

      Now everybody has looked at First Hill and said to ST not us. The ghost of First Hill and to a lesser extent, Graham Street are animating the discussion in Ballard, Paine Field, and 130th.

  10. Wonder if soils and geology would let us use a proven technology between Harborview and Pioneer Square. There’s proof it can carry streetcars and horse-powered freight. So no reason trolley buses can’t ride too. And even tandem bicycles!

    Bet maintenance record beat LINK elevators and escalators all hollow too.


  11. BTW: Meant to second Glenn’s motion that included new Route 8. Also all other motions about Route 8. But in general, Brent’s usually on track too. Got to hang up now, because traffic court judge says next time they’ll seize my cell phone and give me two cans and a long string.


  12. I wasn’t living here at the time, but I’ve heard there were structural reasons why First Hill did not get a station. Has STB ever determined/analyzed whether the reasons put forward were wrong? IIRC, some commenters thought ST was full of it.

  13. Overall, I’m neutral on the idea. First hill needs service, but requiring a transfer for people coming from Ballard or the Rainier Valley to get to a good hunk of the middle of downtown is a significant loss. Add Madison BRT into the picture and I think it’s a wash, or maybe better to keep the station where it is.

    However, I think the cost could be much more substantial than Martin’s estimate. The proposed path pretty much ignores the street grid, which means more conflicts with building foundations and as a result a deeper tunnel with a penalty in construction costs and in time to read the surface. That is especially concerning for the first hill station, as First Hill is much higher than downtown. The zig-zagging escalators eat into your time savings for first hill passengers. (In fact, if Madison were as steep as an escalator between fifth and eighth, you could just put an escalator on the street and achieve the same travel time with the station at 5th as at 8th. It isn’t quite that steep, but that gives an idea of the time penalty).

    Lastly, the depth might mitigate the problem, but the better measure of freeway crossing cost is probably not “times crossed” but “distance spent crossing”, because you have to adjust things for that whole distance. The diagonal means that our distance under the freeway is more like 4x what it took to reach Capitol Hill than 2x.

    1. >> requiring a transfer for people coming from Ballard or the Rainier Valley to get to a good hunk of the middle of downtown is a significant loss.

      I think that is a given, though. Having only one stop between I. D., and Westlake means that lots of people will transfer. But this is a train to train transfer, on the same track, going the same direction. It doesn’t get any easier than that. It seems like a trivial distance to bother with a transfer, but ST is betting on large numbers of people doing exactly that. Otherwise, it is hard to see how they get such high numbers for the downtown part of this project (such as Westlake and Denny).

      >> Add Madison BRT into the picture and I think it’s a wash.

      I disagree, and said as much above. Madison BRT just adds another argument for moving the station. You want the station in the middle of the BRT line, not on one end. You want people taking the bus both directions. But more than anything, it argues for a bus route on Boren. With the current station, there really is nothing to add — Madison is very much like any other downtown stop. Buses serve it by going up the hill or along one of the numbered avenues. But with a stop on Boren, you can (hopefully) add a BRT route there. Maybe have the 36 or 7 not go down Jackson, but continue on Boren, then up to South Lake Union. Now Link serves an actual crossroads, and Ballard/West Seattle/Lower Queen Anne riders have a fast seat ride to a lot of places.

      As far as cost, that is the big issue. Well, that, and the steepness of the hill. I do like Al’s idea — I think it makes a lot of sense. Given the topography, there is no reason to build a station right under the place you want to serve. That would simply mean an elevator, or a set of switchback escalators, neither of which make as much sense as something that actually heads the same lateral direction as you want while it is going vertical.

    2. The point is NO ONE knows how feasible this is because ST hasn’t studied it. So before every armchair quarterback opines with depth, soil, route, I-5, whatever concerns, let’s have the experts take a look at it and score it against the other alignments.

      If we are going to leave out First Hill AGAIN (and for the next 50 years), let’s at least do so consciously.

    3. EHS,

      I’d go one further and put the escalator underground from the Midtown Mezzanine to an entrance at Eighth passing under I-5 but at a right angle and much narrower than a Link tunnel so it would fit between existing footings.

      I’d also punch an entrance through to Fourth Avenue from the Mezzanine. That might be level enough for a moving sidewalk or simply no people mover.

      The grade on Madison eases east of Eighth so it would be possible to walk on to the hospitals relatively easily from an entrance there. Whatever is done, Midtown station will be deep. It simply has to be because of the proposed depth of the Green Line platforms at IDS and Westlake and the fact that Madison is the “high point”. I very much doubt that ST plans a “humped” alignment rising into the Madison summit, because it would make the grade between the below sea level platforms at IDS and Midtown too steep. No, there is no water on the rails but there are comfort issues for standees on steeply banked railways. Have you ever ridden an SRO J Church up the Dolores Park grade? It’s pretty hard to hold on.

      Now of course the grade between IDS and Midtown wouldn’t be that steep, but it would be significant.

  14. The last time this was discussed, it was suggested that it would be cheaper to bore a diagonal tunnel from the 5th and Madison station up the hill to Boren and put in either escalators or a funicular in that tunnel. I still think that idea has merit.

    1. I think that’s a clever idea, but I would rather spend that money on gold plated Maidson BRT for 10 blocks with 5 minute frequency.

      If there was no road corridor, I would support this, but it seems duplication of the bus route. A great example of when this would be a good idea of when the “Ballard via Fremont then Westlake” alignment was being considered … you could serve UQA with a station at Galer-Westlake & an escalator or funicular up to the top of the hill. In this case, you were creating a transit path where no road existed. Here, you’d be running the “station extension” under an avenue.

      1. >> I would rather spend that money on gold plated Maidson BRT for 10 blocks with 5 minute frequency.

        That is a given, anyway. OK, 6 minute frequency, but still. By the time this gets built, it will probably be down to 3 minute frequency and every obstacle in its path will be eliminated. As it is, most will be gone once it opens.

        But the great advantage of this proposal is that you are headed the direction you want while simply exiting the station. It would probably take roughly the same amount of time to exit the station either way, which means you save a considerable amount of time. I could even see ORCA users simply walking on and taking the escalator or funicular (if it ran often enough). It would put more pressure on the escalator, but at the same time, relieve some of the pressure on the bus.

      2. With Madison BRT, riders will still be traveling at an incline. That’s really umpleasant for standees.

        A funicular or escalator means the riders would be not be traveling at an angle.

        I would also point out that a deep excavation to reach platforms will be required no matter where the station goes – so why not put in something that not only serves Link but adds a connection up and down First Hill?

      3. RossB, the alignments east of I-5 would make the station so deep that all riders will need to use elevators to get out of the station. A funicular works like a diagonal elevator! It’s the same general cable-pulled car and it’s not an extra transfer.

      4. Oops. I misunderstood your ‘this proposal’ Ross. I thought you meant the author’s proposal rather than mine!

        Thanks for agreeing with me!

      5. Yep, I definitely agree with you. I would guess Martin does as well. Both of these ideas should be studied. But if you can keep the track alignment the same, but still have a station entrance on the other side of the freeway, then I think it would be fantastic. Boren would be ideal, but even 8th would still be great. That gives you close access to the hospitals, as well as some good crossing bus routes (at worst a couple blocks away).

  15. Bluntly, and this has been just my experience as I fumble along and try to participate in Sound Transit’s “open comment period,” the answer is nobody…absolutely nobody will stand up for First Hill. Why? Because, if Sound Transit didn’t study it, come up with the idea, or have a member of their board or another influential person living right on the line of service, it is a non-starter in their world.

    As I’ve seen written elsewhere in various flavors, I don’t know what Metro and Sound Transit have against the actual “central” part of central Seattle but it seems insurmountable. (Sorry, but the “yeah we left a bunch of parking anyway” Madison BRT doesn’t count, nor does a single light rail station to serve an entire “area,” a la Judkins Park.) Sorry, First Hill, but you’ve just found out what those of us who live a tad east of you in the Central District learned two or three years ago: Don’t bother asking, your proposal won’t even get studied. Never mind that our transit service is used more heavily here than my old neighborhood of Lake City (or out to Issaquah).

    To Mike Orr’s point above, and it dovetails nicely with mine, the service through First Hill and the CD looks frequent on paper…until you observe a total of five trolleys packed up at the two stops around Harborview because there’s nowhere for them to move. Or you see a line of three route 2s sitting to cross IH-5. That Metro and the city couldn’t figure out a way to include trolley wire on the Yesler Bridge rebuild is just another star in the column of “eh, they’ll just figure it out or drive” when it comes to east-of-5-north-of-90-and-not-Capitol-Hill.

    But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I did write a nice letter just recently as did some of my neighbors…

    1. You are absolutely right about the ST process. Had ST2 not specified all of the ST3 potential corridors, ST3 could have been based on travel needs rather than past ST2 corridor study promises. At the time of ST2, the FHSC was the political mitigation so better First Hill and CD connectivity was never included.

      I see the same possible mistake in ST3 but the eligible corridor list is much shorter. And if ST3 fails, maybe it would be time to go back to examining travel patterns and density more objectively.

    2. I agree with what you said, but you are talking about three different agencies. What you said certainly applies to Sound Transit, which is why I find them such a frustrating agency. They are focused on regional service, but are wedded to a mode that is appropriate for urban areas. The result is a mess. Folks will vote for it (because they really want rail, which does make sense for the inner city) yet it provides so little for them. I’m not sure what the answer is, but at this point, I think it may be time to give up on them, or, at the very least, ask them to scale back big time. Regional bus service that crosses jurisdictional lines is a great idea (Swift/Rapid Ride should cooperate). Commuter rail also makes a lot of sense. But we have funded every regional light rail line that makes sense (and then some).

      Metro gets a lot of criticism, but they still do the heavy lifting around here. They simply are pushed around by more powerful interests. Given the one, solitary stop in the region you mentioned, how exactly were they supposed to rework the bus routes, anyway? That stop — good as it is — was never designed for bus to rail interaction. Metro could only do so much, and when they tried, it got watered down (in part because it wasn’t obviously objectively better). The next big change for Metro will be what they do in response to Madison BRT (arguably a bigger change in the region than Link).

      Speaking of which, that leaves the city. Like all the agencies, it is easy to be cynical. But their biggest problem (by far) is funding. Most of Move Seattle did not go into BRT projects (let alone light rail lines). They simply have a very limited budget. I really don’t see them blowing a bunch of money on service to Magnolia (or similar areas) instead of laying wire on Yesler. They are simply trying not to run out of money. Madison BRT will be expensive, and (if the engineers are right) quite effective. If it encounters congestion to the east, they will fix it (unlike rail, it is fairly easy to fix). They have said so, quite explicitly. To do so will require a bit more money, though, so hopefully they will have it. Meanwhile, Roosevelt BRT has great potential, but again, money will be an issue.

      In general, I see the city doing the right thing (every corridor makes sense to me). They just don’t have the money. Metro staff seems to know what they are doing as well, but they get jerked around by politicians. Sound Transit seems to be nothing but politicians, who seem to know nothing about what it takes to build a decent transit system. I feel like every board member should have to go on a trip to Vancouver BC before they join the board. Spin a wheel and try to get somewhere on public transportation there and see how things work out. Now do the same here with or without ST3. A bit different, eh?

  16. I agree, Martin. Very good post. Before the Seattle Times article about the WSTT, I was asked for my opinion on the proposal by Seattle Subway. d. p. came up with the same idea (a stop on First Hill). We all agreed it made a lot of sense, but decided not to muddy the waters by proposing it. How often does that happen (d. p., Martin, Keith Kyle and I all agreeing on something)?

    Putting the station on First Hill is a game changer. Otherwise, what exactly does this add for downtown? Not much, really. There is tremendous overlap between Pioneer Square, University, and Madison, if they are all downtown. I can’t imagine someone transferring to any of those stations. It just isn’t worth it. The line through downtown (which is very expensive) is just redundant. If someone said they found a magic way to increase the headways from I. D. to Westlake, would we even consider running a train? Of course not. There is so little added from a station perspective.

    But by putting it on the other side of I-5, it changes everything. Of course you would transfer to get to that station. It is a long steep walk, otherwise.

    The best stop, by far, would be at Boren. That would open up the possibility of some really nice bus routes (hopefully BRT routes) on Boren. Given the ridership, both the 7 and 36 are prime for BRT (the 7 will happen soon). That means a lot of great service on Jackson (both bus routes and the streetcar). While very high frequency on that stretch of road is justified, I don’t know if it needs to be that high. So take one of the bus routes and head it up Boren to South Lake Union. Of course you would need to do a lot of work to avoid congestion, but that seems like an easier task than dealing with the Denny crossing of I-5 (which Seattle has said they will deal with). Such a bus route would be extremely popular, and adding a station there would be a huge bonus.

    Of course, cost is the big issue. While I would agree with you that this would add more value than projects like NE 130th, the station at NE 130th is dirt cheap (25 million). This is not. It may be possible to do as Al said above, which would be the best of both worlds. This would mean entrances in various places, without actually moving the tracks. Given the topography, this makes a huge amount of sense. These stations are very deep, so the possibility of going to the side a long ways while simply exiting the station remains quite plausible, and would likely be worth the money.

    1. Thanks Ross, it’s fun when we’re all on the same side!

      For the record, I generally agree with people like you on what a good rail alignment looks like. Sometimes my explanation of “why” is confused with a technical defense of the status quo. I also generally am willing to take a decent compromise with other interests.

      And we definitely disagree on how good of a substitute BRT can be in practice. But now I’m drifting off topic.

      I agree that Boren is the best long-term solution, but I fear it simply amplifies the complications of the 8th/Madison station.

      I hear everyone that a First Hill station brings additional technical challenges vs. 5th and Madison. But my point is that these challenges are surmountable, and for a non-negligible but plausible additional cost. What’s lacking is a concerted political push to make it happen, like we saw for 130th. Debora Juarez turned out to be a much better advocate than Sawant/Bagshaw. Local citizens in Lake City did a much better job organizing than on First Hill, which is somewhat surprising given the job they did to get a Streetcar.

      Of course, it was presumptuous of me to expect a blog post to launch a movement, but I simply have personal limitations in that regard.

      1. >Of course, it was presumptuous of me to expect a blog post to launch a movement
        Nope. The Tunisian revolution, which was the start of the Arab Spring, was started online.

      2. It started with a real-world person setting himself on fire. His desperation inspired the movement, which spread online. It didn’t start with a blog proposal.

      3. Having been involved in the NE 130th Station “movement”, I would say we got a bit lucky. First off, it is more intuitive than this. I think this makes a lot of sense, but it is moving a station, not adding one. There are some big technical issues that need to be studied, whereas the NE 130th station is just a station (the line doesn’t have to be moved).

        But it also helped that we had community leaders who really knew what they were doing. Renee Staton, especially. But other folks, including all the people who ran for city council really wanted it, and stood up for it. That made a huge difference. I think this district had a lot of really great people running for city council (which made it hard to pick a candidate). Juarez won, and I think she is great, but Elizalde is now an aide for her, and is also doing a great job. I think in some ways, the fact that this was an “open seat” meant that everyone who ran really was a community leader, rather than a city wide leader. Both have their place. When it comes to say, police issues, i would rather have someone with city wide experience. But when it comes to someone fighting for a station on First Hill, it would have been nice if a local community leader was on the council.

        As to your last point, it isn’t presumptuous at all. That is why you do this (and why I do this as well). It is hard to say why it didn’t happen. Maybe First Hill folks were preoccupied with other issues (the streetcar or the BRT). Maybe they were more fatalistic, or simply weren’t paying attention to ST3. The push for the NE 130th station has little to do with ST3 , it really should be considered part of ST2. So, with that in mind, it might not be too late at all. ST2 was a long time ago, and yet the NE 130th Station looks more likely than ever (with or without ST3). The same thing could happen here. It will be years before they get close to building this, which gives us a lot of time to push for either a track alignment that is closer to First Hill, or (better yet, in my opinion) an escalator or tram as Al suggested. The latter might even be an add on after the fact (like Graham Street).

      4. The same thing could happen here. It will be years before they get close to building this, which gives us a lot of time to push for either a track alignment that is closer to First Hill,

        For a while after the December post, I was content to wait for post-election wrangling. But the whole push to speed up Ballard is going to squash new ideas, both good and bad. That spurred me to write today, although I fear it’s too late. We went very quickly from “there’s plenty of time to fix this” to “too late for new ideas.”

        But I hope you’re right! If a board member gets fired up about it, we might have a chance.

    2. Ross,

      “University” and “Midtown” in no way serve the same people; it’s even more so with Pioneer Square. Fifth Avenue is seventy feet above Third Avenue at Madison. But all the biggest towers are along Fifth, not Third though it does have a few. Having a station at Fifth with a flat access to Fourth and escalator access under the freeway is at the absolute centroid of development. It would allow Seventh, Eighth and Ninth to sprout new high rises as well, if the ground would support them.

      Leave the station at Fifth and Madison where the people want to go.

      1. A refinement. How about putting an “escalator mezzanine” between Seventh and Eighth. The long main three escalators (middle reversible) from the Midtown Mezzanine terminate at the escalator mezzanine from which people can walk ahead a few yards and then continue on escalators to Eighth or turn west and use escalators to an entrance at Seventh. Having the mezzanine allows the escalators to be at normal gradient even as the street gradient eases east of Seventh. I fully expect the freeway to be lidded between Seneca and Madison one day; property in downtown Seattle is too valuable to waste on a car sewer. This entrance would serve that lid.

      2. It is three blocks from the University Street Station to the 5th and Madison Station. To be fair, two of the those blocks are up a steep hill. Still, I really doubt many people will bother with the transfer, which really lessens the value of the entire line. The other stations are redundant (SoDo, I. D. and Westlake exist already). But put that station on the other side (where we might add new towers, as you say) and the transfer is definitely worth it.

        As far as the escalator mezzanine, yes, absolutely. Al mentioned that, and I’m all for it. It is the best of all worlds, and probably cheaper. Both ideas should be studied. In general that is what we should be doing. If moving the station to Boren costs a billion dollars, then forget about it. But if you can build an escalator/tram to 8th or 9th for 100 million, then let’s do it.

  17. I really like this plan. This forms an interesting sort of grid, with the two tunnels and the northern portion of the streetcar line forming north-south lines, and Madison BRT + the western portion of the streetcar forming east-west lines. Also, there would be rapid transit options from Madison/Boren to several sections of downtown, instead of just Madison street. If you want to go west, take Madison BRT. Southwest or northwest, take the red line north or south. Going north or south? Take the streetcar (these are shorter distances presumably, which is good since the streetcar is slooooow).

    Additionally, when this opens, light rail will also be operating in most places where the current route 193 operates from, and these lines will use this tunnel, so this tunnel is also inadvertently a direct replacement for route 193.

  18. Martin – I think you make a good points regarding why moving the stop to 8th makes sense. In fact, if I was the ST czar I would choose 8th. We need rail service on the other side of I-5 – First Hill is a prime destination for a light rail stop. However, I think the reason this issue isn’t getting the same advocacy as the others you mention – (even among the people who see its merits) is because:

    1) There is a sense that a stop is needed in that section of Downtown. It’s a steep hike from the University St. or Pioneer Square stations to get up to 5th. The employment density is so high around there (and there will likely be a dramatic increase in residential and commercial density) that people think it’s more critical to have a stop *right there*. The walk down from 8th isn’t too long, but it’s enough of a trek that it doesn’t really serve that area better than the current stops.


    2) Madison BRT. There is a sense that it will provide an easy transfer from 5th and Madison to the heart of First Hill.

    That said, I’m with you. It’s crazy to me that we’re going to have two subways through Central Seattle and neither First Hill nor Belltown will be served. Those are two of the three densest residential areas in Seattle. But if the case is going to be made effectively, the two points above need to be addressed.

  19. The idea for a stop at 8th is not very good IMO. Too close to the freeway (like 5th) but without the employment density in the immediate blocks like 5th.

    Boren though would be great.

  20. Although my “shortest path” route is a small increment over ST’s proposal, upon further thought it will likely be longer than that. You could have a deeper tunnel to mitigate the I-5 undercrossing risks (like Bertha under downtown skyscrapers) but you’d need deeper stations; tunnels and stations closer to the surface would require a longer track length to handle the grade difference (see Westlake-Capitol Hill) and carefully threading under I-5.

    In any case, a station that serves the heart of First Hill would do wonders for regional and local connectivity and merits further study. Even the creative ideas for a hillclimb from a Midtown station should be looked at.

    1. I’m inclined to accept that this proposal involves really deep stations, probably mined.

  21. How about a deep elevator from Swedish and a movable sidewalk/tunnel to the transit tunnel? Or an underground spur line perpendicular from the transit tunnel running to 23rd and Cherry/Yesler, big residential development will be happening there soon I’m sure.
    1st hill is a gridlocked mess 5 days a week.

  22. Your proposal makes a ton of sense Martin. I wasn’t excited about a second tunnel downtown because it seemed redundant and expensive with little new value to the rider. Your proposal though showed me that there are other options with the second tunnel that can open up a whole new walkshed and provide lots of new benefits. I’m a huge supporter of having it swing as far east as possible before going back to Westlake.

    Here’s the thing though – ST doesn’t want to study anything that isn’t “easy”. They don’t want to think outside the box. They don’t care if something is better for Seattle, because they’re focused on this dumb “spine” idea. A tunnel that has to cross under the freeway twice is going to be “hard” – although not impossible – but that seems reason enough for ST to cancel something. So an extra $50M or so of construction cost and an extra few months of disruption would likely be a deal breaker, despite the decades of benefit it will provide.

    Yes, I’m cynical about ST and their planning efforts. So many shortcuts and missed opportunities. I’d like to think something like this could go against this pattern, but I’m resigned to the fact that we’re going to be stuck with yet another uninspired “half solution”.

  23. Curious if the costs of crossing the downtown grid at an angle and the south crossing of i5 might be better spent in a perpendicular station under Amtrak/ IDS station and a routing up Jackson and under the existing i5 bridge?

  24. The whole “22 years to Ballard kerfuffle” shouldn’t cause people to throw out edgy ideas, it should be encouraging the edgy ideas. ST3 so far seems to be representing “business as usual” in terms of projects, ideas, alignments, and timelines. I think that that “business as usual” approach is what’s going to kill ST3 if it gets killed. Instead, the edgy ideas should be the ones that get included because that’s what’ll get the voters enthused.

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