Although it hasn’t gained any support at all among regional decisionmakers, a longtime favorite in the STB commentariat has been the “peanut butter” plan. It would build rail and bus tunnels where surface buses are hopeless, namely the Ballard/UW corridor and in downtown Seattle, and try to address the worst bus bottlenecks on Elliott Avenue and West Seattle, where Sound Transit 3 will build light rail. It’s a great plan for which I wouldn’t hesitate to vote.

This plan would undoubtedly serve more areas of Seattle than the existing ST3 proposal, although it would do so with buses somewhat less reliable than light rail. Whether that tradeoff is worth it is comprehensively addressed in dueling articles by Ross Bleakney and me, and readers can read those and draw their own conclusions.

Though the ST3 decision process is over, peanut-butter advocates might comfort themselves with the idea that ST3 failure might result in a smaller retry, where a cheaper BRT-heavy option is the only alternative. Unfortunately, the latest cost estimates suggest that the peanut-butter plan is actually more expensive than the existing ST3 plan, unless Sound Transit strips out the features that give it the advantage of geographic breadth.

Throughout this article, I will use high-end cost estimates, as is my custom, and 2014 dollars because all corridor studies use them.

The ST3 package will spend a total of $5.833 billion to get from Ballard to West Seattle, of which $1.752 billion is the tunnel from International District/Chinatown to Denny St. Some fraction of the $2.550 billion to finish the line to Ballard will complete the tunnel from Denny to Lower Queen Anne, but ST doesn’t have a readily available figure for the portal-to-portal costs combined from the two segments. There is also $65m for Rapid Ride and Madison BRT that the peanut butter plan might arguably address, so make the total $5.9 billion.

As the name implies, the peanut butter plan is a series of somewhat smaller projects. The easiest to estimate is a Ballard/UW tunnel, which would cost $1.9 billion for a 3-station line. Seattle Subway, among the strongest advocates for this line, believe with many Sound Transit critics that there should be at least two additional underground stations. We know from the separate 99/Harrison Station study option that an underground station costs in the area of $367-393m. So if you would like a proper Ballard/UW line, we’ll charitably charge that as a further $400m, for a total cost of $2.3 billion.

The new bus tunnel downtown is much harder to price. To simply replicate the 3.4 mile Sound Transit 3 tunnel (a “D Line tunnel”) is probably roughly the same cost as the rail version. I estimate that the tunnel from Chinatown to the Lower Queen Anne as about $3 billion.* The original, 3.5-mile branched concept has better service for Belltown and Aurora buses, and worse to South Lake Union. It also has the same number of total stations, so I’ll once again be charitable and assign it the same cost.**

At this point, our high-quality Ballard/UW + bus tunnel concept is $500m short of the actual ST3 proposal. And we haven’t even gotten to West Seattle, aside from benefits from the bus tunnel. Frank’s post comes up with a total of $1.9 billion to do a good job in the Delridge and West Seattle Junction corridors. Interestingly, that’s more than the total cost of finishing the same light rail segment, though with more geographic scope.

Segment Sound Transit 3 Peanut Butter Plan
Ballard $1.3 billion $2.3 billion
Downtown $3 billion $3 billion?
West Seattle $1.5 billion $1.9 billion
Total $5.8 billion $7.2 billion

So the pure peanut-butter plan, using our new estimates, is about $7.2 billion. This is $1.4 billion over the actual Ballard/West Seattle project cost, and about $1.2 billion over the total subarea budget (not counting SR522 BRT). Given that the existing strain on the subarea budget required a 25-year timeline, the question becomes what to cut. There are lots of choices: the infill stations at 130th and Graham St, the two extra stations between Ballard/UW (an irreversible decision!), applying standard “BRT creep” methods to service for West Seattle, or likely some combination of the above.

And now that the ST3 decision is made, the budget vise is even tighter. Given likely interpretations of a no vote, a future measure is unlikely to exceed $54 billion in Year of Expenditure (YOE) dollars, while the cost of all projects will go up.


The peanut butter plan emphasizes different things than the ST3 package, and it’s logically coherent to prefer one to the other regardless of the relative cost. Without fiscal constraints, one might reasonably believe it to be a superior package. As it consists of a series of smaller projects, it’s easier to cut bits and pieces without blowing everything up. On the other hand, cutting those pieces either reduces the key attraction of the plan — geographic scope — or erodes quality with “BRT creep”, which is the reason many people distrust bus projects in the first place.

Personally, I think the Seattle projects in ST3 are great, and will vote for them enthusiastically. People who think the ST3 projects are actually counterproductive should absolutely vote against the plan, as large projects will crowd out some smaller ones that might make a more positive difference. But anyone who thinks ST3 is pretty good, while inferior to some other grand scheme, should vote yes, because we simply can’t get to other grand schemes from here.

*As I said, Sound Transit doesn’t have a readily available portal-to-portal estimate for the tunnel’s cost, as the Denny-to-LQA tunnel is buried in the Ballard-to-Denny cost. Generating our own estimate is fraught: simply prorating the overall length yields $3.2 billion; prorating the number of stations, $2.6 billion. Alternatively, if the trend holds that the tunnel costs three times more per mile than the rest of the Ballard segment, the algebra works out to $1.2 billion for Denny-LQA and $3 billion total. Given all this noise, I settled on $3 billion. 
**For the branched tunnel, there is the same number of stations, but it is 1/10 mile longer. The doomed Battery St. tunnel (0.3 mi) would need substantial work but could save a bit. Branching will add cost and complexity. And for any rail-convertible bus tunnel, there are presumably additional costs to support buses. Your mileage may vary.

107 Replies to “Whatever Its Merits, “Peanut Butter” Doesn’t Save Any Money”

  1. A Ballard-to-UW rail line doesn’t work as a stand-alone. Either you build a separate operations and maintenance facility (where…?) for a dedicated fleet or you build a very expensive underground junction with Northgate Link, to allow access to existing O&M facilities. Difficult to imagine, especially with Northgate Link is in full operation.

    1. Exactly. ST seems to clearly prefer to only build a cross-over at U district, not a junction. That plan needs Ballard-Dr to be completed already.

      1. Is there any indication that ST is preparing U District station for a future crossover or are we going to waste millions of dollars and cause a huge operational headache at some point in the future? Oh who am I kidding, this is ST we’re talking about…

      2. I’ve been asking ST since the first U-District Station open house to plan for a good transfer to a cross platform at this station and tell us how the station will accommodate it, because it will become the highest-volume and most visible transfer in north Seattle in the long term. I’ve mentioned this repeatedly in open houses and in my written feedback to ST. They have never released information on any of it. One staff member said, circa 2013 or 14, that ST couldn’t spend money planning for a transfer to a line that wasn’t voter-approved yet and whose alignment wasn’t certain (he pointed to the Northlake Ave-520 alternative as one that wouldn’t use the station). Ayayay! Where do the highest-volume north-south and east-west bus routes cross in north Seattle? U-District Station!!!

    2. These kind of additions are done all over the world all the time. Linking the two lines is really not that expensive (compared to the rest of the project). Unlike a lot of things, Link has already studied it (as Martin mentioned). The options are discussed here, by the way:
      The cheapest option (which would require a transfer to get downtown) would have a facilities only track between the two. I believe Toronto has that, for one of its new lines. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples.

      1. Berlin U-Bshn between the central station and Brandenbeg Gate. I have no idea how they have the maintenance link organized, but otherwise it is an isolated line with a single two car train.

        Chicago has several junctions that are used for occasional short term diversions or maintenance moves.

    3. RD, and Martin, and Ross, looking through these comments by the end of tonight, I think you’ve all got enough technical experience to discuss this understand a problem that could be insurmountable. The ground at the south end of the tunnel is really water with a little dirt in it.

      A map from 1900 clearly shows that Jackson Street was beachfront property for a lagoon.

      We had to “grout”- inject cement- into the ground under Jackson so we could start digging northbound at all. And we also had to closely miss the BN tunnel. Been told trackbed is very short distance above our tubes.

      The staging area on the south end of IDS sits on several dozen sets of three timbers each, I think about a hundred feet long, meeting at the top, with a rectangular concrete pad over every point, pile-driven into the ground.

      So I think all further discussion has to tunnel itself through this ground before we say anything else. This is best example I’ve seen of a route map that has to get promoted from lines and dots to things trains can sink out of sight into without much tremor.

      It’s because I’m so much interested in this approach that I want to be sure it can actually get built. Because to projects like ST-3, time is money with interest.

      Mark Dublin

    4. Further problem is assuming that those north trains will have capacity to absorb riders transferring from a crosstown line. ST is already saying when opened to Lynnwood (and later Everett), Link will be 4-car trains all day every day. By the time they arrive downtown, they will be full (probably overfull) during weekday rush hours. That crosstown line needs to connect up with Ballard Link to serve riders destined to downtown.

  2. Since Forward Thrust, the X shaped network has been envisioned. I can understand the desire to get from UW to Ballard and calling ST’s sticking to this ~60 years old idea maybe outdated, but I also see the advantages and, as a scientist, refuse to believe that every one of of the innumerable studies completed in those 60 years failed in uncovering the supposed superiority of the Ballard – UW line.

    It’ also clear that ST wants to build DT-Ballard first, then turn East and build Ballard – UW (and potentially to Kenmore and Redmond. I also appreciate that Seattle is getting two water crossings out of ST3 rather than just the WS bridge and cramping the capacity on the one tunnel we have. “The North” will head on with a more resilient transit infrastructure.

    Finally, as has been discussed heavily in comments (and on /r/Seattle) ST is begging to plan for running Seattle-only trains on the spine once the busses are out of the tunnel and additional rolling stock arrives (2019 or so)

    Finally finally … Ballard-UW is in this plan. If we find the money (which given the boom, we should), that line is there.

    1. Have we ever gotten any confirmation in writing (the only thing I have seen is an assurance by Seattle Subway from ST) that Ballard to UW would be funded as a provisional?

      For Ballardites who are interested in the short term, if Ballard to UW were built first since it would be quicker to build– and after the efforts (including fighting the NIMBY crowd) for density. (You will hear it on the other blogs, we built all these apartment buildings to have light rail in 17 years?).

      As a Ballardite, I wanted Ballard to UW to be built first in large part because I am still nervous about how tough the ship canal crossing (over or under) will be.

      I will vote for the package, but to me it is “meh” given the cost and timeframes.

      1. Sorry for the unclear second paragraph— I edited the para.without proofing.

        Basically, Ballardites will claim they have done their part to increase density (while it is loved here on this blog, not so much if you ask the locals), and are rewarded with one of the last light rail lines to open (even before W. Seattle). I’m sure there will be some “no” votes because of this. Whereas the Ballard to UW would be quicker to build and open sooner (and we have debated located the OM facilities for the line plenty of times).

      2. For those in Ballard, the best part about Ballard to UW is not that it is cheaper, but that it connects Ballard to more places. A trip from Ballard to downtown via the UW is only a couple minutes slower than going via Interbay. But it connects Ballard to way more places. Not only the places along the way (Fremont, Wallingford and the UW) but also anywhere that Link goes (Northgate, Shoreline, Lynnwood) as well as any place where it makes sense to take North Link (Lake City, Edmonds, Everett). This is because taking Link and “going around” is not worth it. For example, a trip from Northgate to Ballard via Westlake will never make sense (you are better off just using the slow 44).

        This is all very counter-intuitive, because people are used to thinking in terms of driving. You would be nuts to drive to the UW if you wanted to drive from Ballard to downtown. But that exact problem (that driving from Ballard to the UW is very slow) would make the train especially popular. A subway trip would be faster than driving all day long (not just rush hour) which means that transfers (e. g. Greenwood to the UW) are competitive with driving all day long too.

        In short, Ballard to UW is simply a better line (for Ballard if not the entire region) than even the best line that ST3 proposed (Ballard to downtown).

      3. It also connects to Ballard, period. Connecting the Safeway parking lot to downtown is what the current plan accomplishes.

    2. It seems very common for subways to start out as spokes. We see it in Boston, Portland, DC, and other cities. The subway follows the general pattern of a traditional big city commute bringing people from the outer neighborhoods into the job centers. In Seattle the spokes are radiating out to Northgate, SeaTac, Bellevue, West Seattle, etc.

      However, when you look at subways in true metropolises you start to see more of a grid structure. Look at the way subway map for London, New York, Paris, Seoul, etc. and you see many criss crossing subway lines which makes all sorts of travel possible without transferring through the downtown core. Boston has been talking about a circle line for decades which would ring the city and change the spokes into more of a grid.

      We don’t have our spokes yet! Spokes are a reasonable first target for a subway. The Ballard to UW line makes a lot of sense, but it also might make sense to think of it as an ST4 project which will be considered once the spokes into the downtown core are well underway.

      1. But that ignores the geographic realities of Seattle. With an arbitrary city, with density spread out in roughly the same way everywhere, and all the roads being about the same, then building spokes first would make some sense. But that isn’t our city. Not even close.

        West Seattle has a major freeway (which Martin chose to ignore) as well as density and travel patterns that just beg for a bus based solution. While it isn’t so simple with Ballard, the fact is that getting from Ballard to downtown via the UW is only two minutes shorter than getting there via Interbay. So basically, a Ballard to UW line is simply a typical spoke, just a crooked one. Better yet, it is simply a spur. If you look at all of your examples (DC, Boston, Portland) it is pretty typical.

      2. When you talk about spokes there needs to be a hub. The spokes for Seattle are shaped like an X with downtown as the hub where the two strokes intersect. Even if the NW spoke to Ballard is built first, eventually a crosstown line will be needed to relieve congestion from downtown transfers.

      3. Portland?

        MAX green line crosses a bunch of busy bus routes and provides a cross town type of service. It isn’t a direct spoke.

      1. Ross’ map is not from 1985; it’s a view from one of the DeLeuw, Cather and Co. reports done in preparation for the vote(s) and shows the system as it was intended to look when construction was completed in 1985. The one that Chris links to is from the 1970 edition; I believe Ross’ is for the 1968 vote (if I recall correctly from reading the reports in high school 30+ years ago).

  3. This seems like a simple choice at this stage of the game.
    A. ST3 passes, and the future of transit has been cast for the next 35 years, then it’s a matter of implementation and hashing out the details.
    B. ST3 fails. Then What?
    ..1 Come back with a shorter, smaller bite at the same apple.
    ..2 Let Seattle get taxing authority to make peanut butter all they want.
    ..3 Regroup and come up with a modified regional vision that voter will support.
    It’s fun to muse about this line or that, but realistically, this is in the hands of the voters now, for better or worse.

    1. I think if ST3 fails the opponents of public transit in the state legislature will be emboldened to pursue a roads-only strategy in the coming years. Far from making concessions to Seattle to allow for new taxing authority the politicians who already oppose any money being spent on HOV lanes, BRT, and the like will lock in spending for the coming decades on new interstate projects.

      ST will likely pursue strategy 1 trying to get some portion of ST3 built, but even if they are successful the areas that get left out of that smaller project are going to wait until later than 2035 to be served.

      If ST3 passes we will be in a great position to compete for any federal money that comes available for shovel ready projects. A strong vote for ST3 is the clearest way to show Olympia that the people want to spend money on public transportation infrastructure over increased spending on roads.

      1. Folks should also consider that “going it alone” in Seattle — while it might mean better projects for City use will almost certainly mean even HIGHER taxes required as well. Remember that the main failure of the Seattle Monorail Project — whether you liked the plan and tech or not — was the financing.

      2. Seattle going it alone also significantly reduces the odds 130th St Station will ever be built, both because of the timing, and because the line belongs to ST, not the City.

      3. >> I think if ST3 fails the opponents of public transit in the state legislature will be emboldened to pursue a roads-only strategy in the coming years.

        That wasn’t the case when the first Sound Transit proposal failed, or when any other transit proposal has failed. If you talk to the opponents of Sound Transit (the folks who have hated them for years) the one thing they will say is “If ST3 fails Sound Transit will just propose something else”. I personally think that is a good thing, but they don’t (they don’t think they are capable of coming up with a plan that provided a cost efficient benefit to transit).

      4. >> Folks should also consider that “going it alone” in Seattle — while it might mean better projects for City use will almost certainly mean even HIGHER taxes required as well.

        Nonsense.. Subarea equity means that Seattle pays for what Seattle builds. If we build cheaper, we spend less money.

        >> Remember that the main failure of the Seattle Monorail Project — whether you liked the plan and tech or not — was the financing.

        Absolutely, but more than anything it was an accounting failure. They basically didn’t figure out how much to tax people in order to get a certain amount of money. They were forced to either shorten the plan, or ask for more money. They shortened it, but by then no one had faith in the organization.

      5. >> Seattle going it alone also significantly reduces the odds 130th St Station will ever be built, both because of the timing, and because the line belongs to ST, not the City.

        The timing right now for the station isn’t great anyway. It would make sense to build the station when you build the track, but the plan is to add it much later. So a Seattle only plan to build the station would probably result in it getting built at the same time, if not sooner (since funding could come online sooner). As far as ST owning the line, that is absolutely correct, but Graham Street Station (a new station) was funded as part of a Seattle only proposition (Move Seattle). So there is precedent for this and I’ve heard that folks in the city government already have a “Plan B” if ST3 fails.

      6. At the STB meetup last December the ST speaker said that Seattle alone would face a higher interest rate on bonds because its tax base is smaller thus the risk to bondholders is higher.

      7. “They basically didn’t figure out how much to tax people in order to get a certain amount of money”

        Initiative 695 yanked the MVET that was the majority of the monorail’s funding.

      8. Not really, the legislature repealed the state level MVET when I-695 was overturned by the state supreme court. The legislature left Sound Transit’s and the monorail’s MVET authority intact.

        The tax authority for the monorail is still there, unused.

    2. We are already moving towards a new approach to transit capital and operations funding. Seattle is funding Metro operations. ST3 is funding projects that KCM and Pierce Transit proposed. Metro restructuring leans on a Sound Transit spine. The lines are blurring more and more.

      I think that it’s only a matter of time before our region takes a serious look at a third-party agency to fund future projects, regardless of whether ST3 passes or fails. It may be the eventual role of Sound Transit, or it may be that counties or groups of cities come up with a system or some other configuration. It may even be that we end up with transit funding districts based on the ST subareas.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if we eventually end up with something like the California model, which has third-party agencies (at the county level — and sometimes responsible for operating some transit with a different legal structure like LAMTA or VTA) pursuing referenda and collecting funds for transit projects but then distributing them to the operators. Most of the public sees public transit as one thing, and not multiple agencies — and cannot distinguish how the funding should be allocated across different operators.

      1. I agree. More than anything, though, I think we need a third-party agency to design and plan these proposals. The planning process is broken. It is really silly, for example, that a Metro 8 subway isn’t even considered because no one proposed it. Sound Transit isn’t doing what any reasonable agency would, and sit down and plan out a region wide system from scratch. They are simply following arbitrary corridors, then largely favoring rail (and in comes cases, not even studying bus improvements) when common sense suggests that it really isn’t a good idea.

        To be clear, I think within the constraints given to them, the folks in charge did a good job. If I had to run a subway from West Seattle to Ballard, this would be it. But planners shouldn’t be that restricted — they shouldn’t be forced to choose the best subway plan for West Seattle, but be allowed to consider a bus plan, or a plan for a different region.

      2. We do have an agency that is set up to do this, PSRC. Unfortunately, there is a consensus that planning is mostly a bottoms-up approach in our region, with each political force pushing for what they want until there is a shopping list with an item for everyone. If you don’t have clout, you get left out (like the CD or First Hill). If you don’t like a project, you take it off the list (like the CKC or Eastside Rail Corridor generally). If you want something bad enough you make it almost impossible to remove (like Paine Field). We then have limited options on technology or alignment in each corridor because we can only decide things if we have to pick from the pre-selected menu.

        System needs are generally ignored and making those who exercise power happy seems to be the institutional planning strategy in our region. That leaves PSRC to be a mere grocery shopping list scribe and not a nutritionist in their long-range plans and programming documents. In other words, PSRC goes along with the food that other agencies bake — which is often cake! No one seems to want to talk about how a diet of mostly cake is really bad for your region because it leaves you fat and lazy while your core hunger remains unfed; for transit that would be expensive corridor projects that don’t get much use.

        In a different universe, the ST3 corridors defined in ST2 would have instead been studied by PSRC and not Sound Transit, and the study would have begun by looking at core hunger issues like travel patterns and overcrowding before getting into the corridor alignment issues.

      3. @Al — Excellent comment. Interestingly enough, I think many of the folks who are organized in opposition to this measure would say exactly the same thing. They are aware of the broken process as well.

        Anyway, the different universe you describe is what I want. I personally don’t think it should be that hard to build it. But it takes more than simply “going along” and accepting the cake. I believe it means defeating ST3,and then turning around and demanding independent studies from scratch (whether they be done by PSRC or someone else). More than anything — more than extra bus service — that is what Maggie Fimia and her cohorts are pushing for. She believes that an independent organization would propose only bus improvements, but would take her chances. This is why I think we have a very good shot at this approach. A failure at the ballot box gives opponents a chance to argue for what they want to see instead. If those opponents get to the root of the problem (the lack of independent study) and not the symptom (silly rail projects) then I think the dynamic in the region can change.

      4. Good God no. Both LA and the Bay Area are even more balkanized on transit than the Puget Sound region.

        Go read some stories about the inter-agency warfare that happens in both regions (especially the Bay Area).

  4. As much as I really want Ballard->UW, I feel it is better to build a line that is still very useful, rather than hold out for the perfect plan and end up with nothing. In the (very) long run, more transit increases demand for transit, and increases the public’s willingness to pay for more transit.

    The “hold out” argument basically assumes we have a fixed pot of money to spend on transit for the next 100 years, so we’d better be extra careful in how we spend it. While the “fixed pot” argument may be true in the short term, I don’t believe it to be true in the long term.

    1. The “fixed pot” isn’t true in the short term. ST will authorized to start collecting more money, or it won’t.

    2. This is very true. I’m voting for ST3 with a lot of good projects in the expectation there will be plenty opportunity for plenty of other good plans even before it is even completed, and ST3 itself will help generate those opportunities.

  5. I’m really getting tired of you bus-or-bust martyrs. We do not want dirty, slow, and inefficient Bus Crapid Transit. If you vote no on ST3, you can blame yourselves on screwing us over for the next few decades. For the record, I still support Ballard-Downtown over the redundant Ballard-UW routing. The logic of “Let’s build a multi-billion dollar rail line just because a bus line can’t be upgraded” is EXTREMELY shaky. The money would be better spent on a Ranier Valley bypass or full Eastside rail.

    1. But if “the logic of “let’s build a multi-billion dollar rail line just because a bus line can’t be upgraded” is EXTREMELY shaky,” then why can’t we just upgrade the 15/18/D? It cuts both ways. The real answer is to look at which one’s easier to upgrade, which is Ballard-Downtown.

    2. How is Ballard to UW rail redundant? I honestly don’t follow you. Ballard to UW rail is simply a variation on Ballard to downtown. Either way it means a very fast ride from Ballard to downtown. But instead of serving Interbay and Lower Queen Anne, it serves the entire north end of the city.

  6. OT: I’m sorry, but you gotta stop using that map.

    It incorrectly represents that the NE is getting any light-rail or Rapid Ride service at all. Link goes right up the middle of the isthmus. You keep using this map that falsely represents that it goes instead almost to Lake City.

    The left side has lots of stuff, either there already, or in the works. The right side doesn’t get danky. And won’t for decades, at best. Regardless of whether you think this is okay, you should stop using this deceptive map, as you have already acknowledged it’s inaccuracy.

    I no longer live in Lake City, but still feel for the poor folks there that are constantly getting the shaft. Fudging the lines won’t change that.

    1. The map is correct. The line veers northwest of UW and goes north where I-5 is. Lake City would be halfway between the blue line and the shore.

    2. The spine is right-biased towards Lake City. Sure it doesn’t pass through, but its closer to stations at Northgate and 130th than similar neighborhoods on the westside like Greenwood or Bitter Lake.

      1. You know nothing, John Snow.

        Aurora and 130th to 5th and 130th: 1.1 miles.

        Lake City and 125th to 5th and 130th. 1.4 miles.

        Greenwood is maybe a few steps farther, at 1.5 miles.

        The Westside propagandists have clearly won the skewed-perception victory in a rout. This is known and admitted.

      2. Greenwood (85th and Greenwood) to Roosevelt is 2.4 miles, to Northgate is 2 miles and to the 130th station is 3.5 miles. 1 mile west of the 130th station gets you Aurora and 130th, 1.5 miles to Greenwood and 130th (which is not the neighborhood of Greenwood, that is Bitter Lake). That area, while getting some density, is mostly big box stores and the stations are of little utility to west side residents.

        So just to recap, Lake City is closer to both stations than the first major west side neighborhood of Bitter Lake. The majority of west side population lives south of 85th.

      3. I was referring to Greenwood avenue and 130th, which might be considered the heart of Bitterlake. And it’s not big-box stores. There are a ton of apartment buildings. Tall apartment buildings. It may even be denser than Greenwood proper.

        If you want to compare distances down near 85th, than a more apt comparison to Greenwood would be Wedgwood, which is pretty much the same distance to Roosevelt station, depending on where you spot your center, and nearly as dense as Greenwood as well.

        No, there is no geographic justification for the complete over-focus of transit west of link, with billions pouring in there in the form of trains and a plethora of BRT-like creatures, while those east of link getting less than nothing.

    3. Neighborhoods well east of I-5 got something really cool in March: doubled frequency on routes 65, 75, and 372, and new weekend service on route 372, all with a much faster connection than before to get downtown.

      1. You fail to mention the loss of the 72, 74, 306, 68 and soon, 522. Doubling of frequency is an exaggeration, at least with the 75.

        Does it balance, maybe. From my perspective, it all looks like loss, with a few benes to soften the blow.

      2. Stories of the death of route 74 are greatly exaggerated. Route 67 and 68 were restructured into a much-more-frequent 67. (And Metro does restructures from time to time regardless of light rail.)

        Route 306 was essentially extra trips for route 312/522. More trips on 312/522 will be back as Metro climbs out of its recession hole. In the long run, route 522 will be replaced by BRT along Hwy 522, and the cities along that path can’t wait for it.

      3. “In the long run, we are all dead.” – Keynes.

        I grew weary of transit promises for the NNE, and left. Unfortunately, as one of the last vaguely affordable, dense areas in Seattle, there is a large population of ultra-low-income families who don’t have the flexibility to follow my lead. They suffer without a voice the repeated degradations and misappropriations of transit service and dollars.

    4. As someone who lives close to Lake City, and frequents the area often, I know what you mean about being screwed. But the map is fine. Yes, it should probably straighten up as it goes to the north, but it is a pretty accurate and artistic representation. Like a typical subway map, it isn’t meant to be to scale, but represent routing, and in this case, make a bigger point. My guess is the author put in a curve to represent the western jog to Northgate, and didn’t bother to overlay a straight line from there to the city border. I don’t think it implies that Link serves Lake City. To do that the curve would have to end up being east of 45th, since Lake City is east of 45th (and by the map, it clearly isn’t). Lake City is actually east of the Husky Stadium station (although not by much) and the map doesn’t show that at all. In general, the map isn’t completely accurate (the curve from SoDo to Beacon Hill is much sharper) but it really doesn’t matter.

      1. Ross – just open up google maps. Above Northgate, it’s clear that Link is equidistant, or perhaps a bit closer to all the density on the west side. But because of the perception that link is primarily serving the east side, the west side gets a whole alphabet worth of Rapid-Rides. What is up with that?

      2. Yeah, I know where Link is, but I don’t think the map is unrealistic, or makes it seem any better or worse than it is. The problem has more to do with geographic perception than it does any subtle difference between the map and a more realistic one. There a couple reasons for this:

        1) Since I-5 is east of Aurora, it is seen as east. Run a line next to I-5, and people think you are on the east side of Seattle. But it is pretty close to smack dab in the middle.

        2) North of the ship canal, but up to around 100th or so, the west side has way more people. Laurelhust, Hawthorne Hills and even Wedgewood are very tiny from a population standpoint compared to Phinney Ridge, Fremont or Ballard. But up north, the situation reverses itself. Lake City is way bigger than Broadview. There are plenty of people in Bitter Lake, but it is a tad closer from there to the freeway (Link) than it is from Lake City to Link.

        All of that means that an east-west line (serving the areas west of I-5 and north of the ship canal) does, actually make sense. Similarly, an east-west line connecting Lake City to Bitter Lake makes sense. But the northern line still wouldn’t pick up as many people as the lower east-west line. Fewer people, fewer destinations, fewer connections. But a fast, frequent bus can do the job just fine and the two go together. It might be a three seat ride from Lake City to Ballard (bus/train/train) but it shouldn’t be a slow three seat ride.

        Oh, and a spur line to Lake City sounds great on paper, but quickly runs into some huge logistical problems. You are well above ground at Northgate, and would have to either send it into the ground very quickly (followed by a turn towards Lake City) or start from Roosevelt. Doing that means running a line through miles of near nothingness on the way to Lake City. Neither does anything to connect the north end (it would still take forever to go across town) and neither does anything for upper Greenwood/Bitter Lake, which is almost as populous. Oh, and you have shortened frequency (assuming the lines interlined). In short, it would be very expensive for what it actually delivered. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world (it would still be better than half of what is proposed for ST3) but a line from Bitter Lake to Lake City would be better (although still lower priority than some other things).

      3. “…the west side has way more people. Laurelhust, Hawthorne Hills and even Wedgewood are very tiny from a population standpoint compared to Phinney Ridge, Fremont or Ballard.”

        That’s the perception, but if you go look up the census numbers, it’s really not true.

        Ballard is 44K and the lower NE is 77K, with similar growth rates. The census data the city publishes don’t split things out exactly how we want, but it’s close. If you include the areas labelled “Lake Union”, Wallingford and Fremont, then you get closer to even population. And that’s where the growth is. But those aren’t the areas we are really discussing regarding the screwy, I’d go so far as to say bizarre and unfair, transit dollar emphasis.

        There really isn’t any serious imbalance east vs west in population. Ballard really isn’t dense at all. It’s got townhouses and smaller lots, so it shows up as a bit more dense than the NE, but not much at all.

        There really is no reason why the west is getting billions and the east is getting crapped on.

  7. Damn! Since this really is all my fault, now I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life in Seattle paying my debt to transit by seeing this time Metro gets joint operations right. Four years ago, Olympia became Upper Southern Ballard so I already live in the service area.

    Also, since by ground-breaking, traffic speed on I-5 will have made enraged mobs waving those bear-killing green flashlights from online ads and pitchforks from their marijuana farms shove Thurston County into ST, Intercity Transit will have a shot at running DSTT-2. Only drawback being IT drivers’ instinct to stay stopped until passengers like me find a seat.

    If the ground under the Route 44 is as good as between Downtown and UW, Ballard subway could be our easiest dig. Transfer at 45th and University will need some mining and a big elevator bank, but worth it. Overseas transit world has done it before.

    But starting tonight anybody else advocating this posting’s plan needs to do several years of homework on DSTT’s technical history. Starting with massive changes in bus procurement procedures to make sure lost operating time doesn’t cost us more than price of a joint-use tunnel from here to New York City.

    And understand real fast that a facility like this doesn’t work. It has to be operated by an orgnized team of the transit world’s best skilled, trained, and motivated first-line transit personnel. Find about a dozen people twenty years old who just started driving trolleys yesterday and give him them this link:

    Mark Dublin

  8. A big negative of the peanut butter strategy is capacity. Buses simply cannot carry as many people as multi-car trains. There would need to be much longer station platforms to carry the equivalent of a four-car Link train with a platoon of synchronized buses. I don’t have the specific data, bus I think it’s somewhat safe to generalize that one Link car carries the same as two articulated buses — meaning that every platform would need to board eight articulated buses operated as a platoon to get the system anywhere close to Link capacities.

    In years to come, I think we will be increasingly concerned about capacity and speed in our region — and less so about coverage.

    1. The C-, D- and E-Line will come more and more frequently, but will never approach the speed of grade-separated light rail.

      1. Never approach the speed? Or frequency? Or total rider capacity per hour? Going from West Seattle to downtown, I’d rather have an articulated bus in bus lanes every 5 minutes than a Link train every 10 minutes, especially if I’m being forced to transfer onto Link. The current C line speed from Spokane Street to 3rd/Seneca is much, much faster than Link’s speed from that same latitude. And now that C goes all the way to SLU, to replicate that commute via Link I’d have to do bus-Link-bus, with about 10 to 20 minutes of total transfer times.

    2. That is true of heavy rail, but not true of light rail. Our light rail lines are not like those found in New York, Chicago or the Bay Area. In that case, the added capacity of one train is equal to dozens of buses. But that isn’t the case with our system. It basically comes down to headways. A bus has a very small headway (measured in seconds). I don’t know the numbers, but assume each train car carries more than twice as many passengers. So a four car train set is equal to 8 buses. This means that a train traveling every two minutes is equal to a bus traveling every fifteen seconds. Fifteen second headways for a bus is really easy (dwell times are typically around 15 to 20 seconds). In other words, even with room for just one bus at each station (just one) you could probably match the capacity.

      But of course you don’t have that. You build it like you built the other tunnel. You have big stations that can handle the rail, should we even decide to add it. Really not a big deal.

      Personally I think the argument is silly. I doubt this will be crowded. If it is, it is because it provides a much better value than the alternative. This is a good problem to have. Rather than people driving everywhere, they take public transit, and as a result, the system is crowed. Look to our neighbors up north for a great example of that. Would you rather have their problem (they need to add a few more lines) or ours? Before you answer, keep in mind they have three times the transit ridership per capita than us (even without the things they want to add). Will we catch up with ST3? Of course not. Despite being much smaller, their system is just a lot more functional — you can get more places quickly.

      But even if you accept the argument that building a rail line adds value, it is pretty hard to see that it justifies the extra cost. Even if we should, eventually, add rail (as Seattle Subway suggested in their article) since when is that higher priority than Ballard to UW rail, or a Metro 8 subway? Why should we ensure that no one has to stand for their ride, instead of building a system that connects just about everyone in the city?

      1. There is also a sequencing issue with buses. It’s hard to either hold buses to build a platoon with something like six destinations for a platform. Stations would need to have a design to allow for buses to hop past each other and the effective capacity of a bus tunnel like ours is limited by where the loading positions are. You can’t have people running up and down the platform guessing where their bus will stop without creating mass confusion and rider frustration.

        I would add that there is a hybrid option out there — rubber-tired trains on a partially or completely guided facility. They have lower pounds per square inch on each wheel so track costs are usually much lower. It has fewer issues going over bridges and up grades. Their big disadvantage can be the ride quality. I’m not necessarily advocating for it, but I do think that we should be looking at assessing it for implementation when we propose major system expansion or for corridors like 520, 405 and 522 — and maybe in other corridors in the region.

      2. >> Stations would need to have a design to allow for buses to hop past each other and the effective capacity of a bus tunnel like ours is limited by where the loading positions are.

        The old bus tunnel had that. For all its faults, the old “ride free area” worked quite well for that purpose. Not quite BRT (wheelchair ramps were still needed) but still very fast. You don’t need this for the entire tunnel, just at the stations. As it turns out, this really isn’t much more expensive. Once you dig down, it is fairly easy to build out. That is the nature of cut and cover station digging, versus deep bore tunneling. Witness the needlessly large stations that are built (you really don’t need a giant mezzanine, but since it doesn’t cost much more, why not?).

      3. @RossB in what universe do you think 15 second bus frequencies would ever happen, let alone in Seattle?

        I’ve never seen any such thing in operation in any city in Europe or asia I’ve ever been to. Most trains with offboard payment don’t even run at one per minute frequencies.

        Humans don’t move that fast, especially not off of buses. Even one slow bus will cause backups in the whole system and I can guarantee you there will be many slowed buses for folks getting on and off.

        I challenge you to name even one place in the world that has sub minute bus frequencies.

    3. Al S., and RossB, I’ve often made the same point about railcars, which can be coupled, versus buses, which can’t. My usual comeback on argument that busways can permanently substitute for regional rail.

      But pretty much like our present Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, joint operations aren’t going to be permanent. Also, from the schematic, DSTT-2 won’t include a curve, and probably less than five stations.

      Depending on seating configuration, let’s say that a Tunnel bus can carry 100 passengers, seated and standing, and an LRV 150. Though probably more. And that with same platform length as DSTT, platoon of six buses and light rail train of four cars each take up 360 feet stopped.

      For safe following distance, bus platoon will get longer as speed increases. At 60mph, serious territory. At 25 or 30 max for five minutes, less problem. But can’t be “your grandfather’s artic” Like from 1983. Low floor, three doors. Rapid Ride coaches should be in DSTT right now.

      One-click wheelchair lock and release. And team of trained station agents at rush hour. And drivers drilled ’til they can get ride smooth enough that passengers get used to the fact that in every single big city transit system in the world, a rush hour subway run without a standing load gets canceled for lack of ridership.

      But above all, major change of operating rules back to your grandfather’s original plan, whose loss the old guy still curses. A bus platoon is a train, coupled by six drivers’ skill and training. Stop, load, doors close, platoon rolls out- together. Nobody stops more than once per station.

      Anybody running can relax and wait. Between portals, staging supervisors run the system. A glance at a runcard gets a driver transferred to sanitary maintenance. Or riding crush loads for a month.

      KC Metro could start instituting every measure above tomorrow morning. Starting with easiest move and best-tried move in the transit world. At entry portal, every runcard gets stuffed into the slot in the farebox. And every platform is permanently Proof of Payment.

      Do our Rapid Rides have “hush mode”? If so, we might get some ad money from Oscar Meyer for Tunnel exposure. Without a single “Wrap”. Worth a try.

      But short-term stretching toward Forever, based on 26 years experience last Thursday, a whole agency-full of people from two elected bodies to sanitary maintenance will have to start giving one solitary (whatever your Civil War-exponent grandfather would have used impolite company) about whether the Tunnel works or not.

      For some idea of task ahead-starting-tomorrow, start taking polls, or low-stakes bets, on reception above paragraph is likely to get, from drivers’ seats to office chairs. Better predictor than any poll this election (though that’s very low bar).But thanks for this posting, Martin. Since nobody knows how long buses will still be in there, never too soon to start.

      Mark Dublin

  9. Anyone who has raced between UW and CH or Westlake on Link, and still makes an argument for anything less than fully grade separated rail is delusional. I really don’t care how much it costs, because it works so gobsmackingly brilliant that any other option is just a waste of time and money. I ride it everyday, and am still awed by it’s greatness. Sound Transit’s light rail department has seemingly figured it out.

    1. Anyone who thinks that West Seattle is the same as the UW is delusional.

      Sorry, but your argument is ridiculous. Of course a subway is fast. Every subway in the world is fast. But it matters where you put the subway. Why build a subway that serves only a tiny portion of your population? Oh, and believe it or not, buses can be fast, too.

      Just go up the road a bit, to our nearest neighboring big city. Vancouver has managed to build a light rail line that carries way more people and guess what, it doesn’t go to North Vancouver! Here is an area strikingly similar to West Seattle, except with higher density, yet the train doesn’t serve it. They have bigger, more important things to build first. You see, rather than obsess over the speed of their subway system (building hundreds of miles of rail everywhere) they focused on the functionality of the entire mass transit system. The result is that buses work well with the trains. The buses run very quickly and frequently, and trips that involve both a bus and a train are painless. So not only does the train carry way more people than our much bigger line ever do, but overall transit ridership is three times what ours is (per capita). That is what happens when you focus on building fast mass transit (both buses and trains) rather than miles and miles of rail that only a handful will ever use.

      1. Felsen, and Ross B (incidentally, Ross, thanks for your initiative on this discussion), our 26 years’ approach to regional transit shows two things.

        One, transit is only as reliable as the degree to which its right of way is absolute and unbroken.
        But two, for a steep crowded region it’s better transit service, let alone politics, to work stage by stage toward goals, rather than make a whole region-full of service wait ’til we finish the whole system.

        Preferably doing, as we did, the hardest part first, and working in phases from there. Including some real guts in using really problematic experimental vehicles. Because nobody in the world offered us any other kind.

        But proof of success is that for 26 years, thousands of suburban taxpayers have overcome seriously mixed feelings to help pay for a subway through Seattle. And who’ve stayed with an agreement whose trains have yet to cross their city lines.

        LINK service really started. with the first Breda into a Tunnel portal in September a quarter century ago. What you want is right, Felsen. But because of the very conditions that make this place so desirable to live, it’ll take years ’til we’re anywhere near finished.


    2. Since moving to West Seattle, I’ve been awed by the experience of a one-seat bus ride from my essentially suburban neighborhood to downtown that’s faster door to door than driving, due to nearly continuous bus lanes on freeways for most of the mileage. West Seattle is a big, sprawling peninsula; referring to it as a neighborhood is like referring to “Northeast Seattle” as one neighborhood. Only a minuscule fraction of its residents or even of its transit riders live within walking distance of the Alaska Junction.

      Given that Link is projected to be about the same travel time from there to downtown as the C Line is today, funneling all the bus riders from the C, 55, 56, 57, 37, 21, 120, etc. into the junction and making them transfer will cause most people’s commutes to lengthen by 10 or 15 minutes on that end; and if they’re going to Belltown or SLU on the other end, it’ll also be a longer walk or new transfer in downtown.

  10. We should call the St3 lines the 1 percenter lines. By the time they are built, you gonna have to be the millionairs to live close enough, to beefit from them. The people that need them will be living in Idaho and commuting in by then.

    1. First, the millionaires will be living in the single-family neighborhoods, close to the coast, and far from the stations.

      Second, the myth of light rail raising the cost of living is just that. Sure it will, if you waste money owning a car and parking it in a garage. If you don’t own a car (and a larger and larger chunk of the population are moving into that category), then, sure, your rent will keep going up — just as it does anywhere in Seattle far from stations — but cost of living should go down relative to inflation, if you just got rid of a clunker, its insurance, and its maintenance and storage.

      1. James is right.

        Cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in Auburn hovers between $900 and $1,200 per month, depending on whether you are in a rougher or nicer community. Cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in, let’s just say Ballard, for argument sake, ranges from $1,700 to $2,000 per month. The cost difference is around $800 per month, or $9,600 per year. With those cost savings, I can afford to purchase a brand new car every two years. Given that you would recover part of your investment on resale, we can call the four oil changes and cost of gas a wash. Perhaps, you would opt to get a car every three years and get one that’s a couple of years used to cover the cost of car insurance.

        Poor people don’t live in Seattle. Heck, middle income people can’t afford to live there, at least not if they are paying their own bills. College students getting student loans or help from relatives, and people with low-income vouchers are being paid for by somebody else. Those people working a low-wage job, paying their own bills, and doing a quick economic analysis of where to live, considering cost of living only, are better off living out in the suburbs. And the cost differential will only continue to rise. (The value of my home and cost of nearby apartments and rental homes has not risen a whole lot in the last few years – but I can afford it!) So, don’t pretend that the cost of a vehicle, maintenance, and gas is going to outweigh the almost $10k per year that one saves by moving outside of the ridiculously-priced urban core. It doesn’t come anywhere close.

      2. “cost of living should go down relative to inflation”

        That’s the funniest joke I’ve heard in a while!

    2. Actually, we can simply make the areas next to the lines higher density to make them affordable. It’s NIMBYs who are making things unaffordable by not allowing new housing in close in neighborhoods to be built, not light rail

    3. To be fair to James, he didn’t say Link would raise the cost of living. Housing prices are going up like a rocket ship with or without Link. And the 1% live both in shoreline view mansions and in million-dollar downtown view condos. But to say Seattle will be the 1% in 2040 is an exaggeration. It may be the 25%. But Everett and Tacoma will still be more affordable. Their housing prices have been around half of Seattle’s for a long time, and why should that change? Will the 1% make a stampede for them? Why? Won’t the 1% still prefer Seattle and the Eastside like they do now?

    4. I thought he was going for the “only 1% of the trips will ever involve it”, which would be unfair to Link. My guess is it will settle down to about 2 or even 3%.

    5. Link is not just going to serve the 1%ers. Just this weekend we’re celebrating the opening of the Angle Lake station. The stop really has the potential to be a game changer for the people who live near it. I used to commute from near there to UW usually via the 174/194 and 7x buses. It was a long, slow commute. Today, a single seat ride. That would have made a huge difference to me and I’m sure it’s doing so for people who live there now opening up job markets and education opportunities.

      ST3 extends the line even further South through Federal Way allow people from the South Sound to commute to the airport, to Highline College, or all the way up into Seattle and UW. I expect that the area around the stations is going to be transformed into transit villages to some extent, but just South of the airport is hardly going to transform into a 1% enclave.

    6. When first Breda went into service (irrelevant how soon it broke down) only millionaire who’d live in South Lake Union would either be hiding from another even less-scrupulous gangster by posing as a Ford salesman, or just lost a bet with Paul Allen.

      And Kemper Freeman knew light rail would get not ridership because the genetically habitual criminals (everybody knew people from were going to burn and loot Medina, read your Nordic history, Man!) knew not to get caught in Bellevue after sunset.

      In same amount of time forward, history shows it’s possible that the great grand-kids of the Aryan Nations will have done sincere truth-and-reparations like their founders’ heroes’ country, and Idaho will be filled with magnificent hunting lodges with wild-boar bacon for breakfast.

      As if your reparations would buy you an energy bar! Though a now fearless Berlin-influenced art scene will quit being politically correct and admit that Thomas P. Kincaid really is obscene.

      And also Autobahnen, I mean freeways, in addition to the three hundred mile an hour trains that let the millionaires have lunch with their own paint-splattered and granite-dust covered grandkids in that rundown but energetic art community with those cute beat-up orange and purple museum streetcars.

      However, know from experience that we don’t have to break and run in the face of a market the health department would burn down. We probably kept Ballard a free republic for about 30 years longer than if we’d sold the 1968 Pontiac station wagon to a zombie early-adopter instead valiantly keeping property values low by driving it every day.

      But, as always, millionaires (and their horrible startup starting grandchildren the billionaires) didn’t really consolidate their control by raising home-prices. Long before they over-rented us, they already made our homes unlivable by just being there.


  11. All this talk of “geographic scope,” yet the entire discussion entails Seattle.

    Sound Transit taxing/service area: 1,080 square miles; 2.8 million people (source: Sound Transit website).
    Seattle: 142 square miles (13 percent of ST service area); 684,000 people (24 percent of ST service area) (source: Wikipedia)

    I won’t argue that the areas within Seattle under discussion in this article aren’t in dire need of better transit service, nor that providing this service won’t help our region as a whole, but I think that you are in error when you call this discussion of exclusively one small piece of the puzzle “geographic scope” and “geographic breadth.” A lot of us living within the ST service boundaries gain to benefit almost nothing by all of these projects in Seattle.

    1. >> A lot of us living within the ST service boundaries gain to benefit almost nothing by all of these projects in Seattle.

      Right, which is one of the fundamental problems with ST3. It is also a big difference between it and the so called peanut butter plan. UW to Ballard light rail would fundamentally change travel to or from the northwest section of Seattle (essentially everything west of I-5 and north of the ship canal). The difference is striking. Compare a trip from Everett to Ballard, for example. With ST3, you first take a bus to Everett, then get off the bus at 45th, then take a bus to Ballard. It is quite likely you get nothing out of the deal. You are better off taking a bus from your Everett neighborhood to Lynnwood (fewer stops along the way).

      Now compare that to this plan. Instead of taking that slow bus from Ballard (the slowest part of your trip) you transfer to a train. With or without Everett rail, you commute is much faster. What is true of Everett is true of the entire north end, as well as north end of the East Side. A trip from Kirkland to Ballard, for example, is much faster. Of course it isn’t just Ballard, but areas like Fremont, Wallingford, as well as locations that involve a transfer (e. g. Phinney Ridge). Many of these places are increasingly popular for employment, following a pattern that is not local, but national (from suburban office parks back to urban ones, then to neighborhoods like Brooklyn). So not only do you have the large medical facilities in Ballard, you also have new office buildings there, In Fremont, and in Wallingford.

      The advantages of this plan over ST3 aren’t as great for those from the south, but they are at worst the same. If you want to get form Kent to Belltown it is better, but if you want to get from Kent to the Denny Triangle, it is worse.

      In short, the alternative serves both the region and the city better than the ST3 plan.

      1. Ross, your entire response was Seattle centric. Ballard is part of Seattle. You are missing the entire point.

        So, let’s say I want to get from Lea Hill to Old Town. Or from Northeast Tacoma to South Hill. Or from Fife Heights to Hilltop. Or from Kent East Hill to South Federal Way. Many of the residents of the ST taxing district don’t travel to any part of Seattle on a routine basis. My family commutes to jobs in Tacoma, as do many of our neighbors. By having a discussion exclusively about destinations within the Seattle city limits, you are categorically excluding a very large proportion of the people who will be voting on and paying for this project. I don’t argue that it isn’t necessary; it is. But, it is not geographically broad. On the contrary, it is quite narrow.

  12. This seems like a case where activists are reluctant to criticize an activist plan.

    The “peanut butter” idea has nothing going for it. Ballard to UW is NOT more important than any line that goes through downtown.

    If you want a line that goes to fremont, run it from downtown up 99. There’s way more ridership on the E than the 44.

    1. The peanut butter plan has two massive things going for it:

      1. It provides Seattle with its first cross-town, grade-separated route on a line that is almost permanently congested.

      2. It doesn’t waste billions of dollars building a train across the Duwamish to serve sprawl.

    2. >> There’s way more ridership on the E than the 44.

      Because it is slow! It is extremely slow (much slower than the E).

      We already have a north end station (at Husky Stadium). There is your express train to downtown. How many people bother to ride the 44 all the way from Ballard to Link? No one, because it is slow.

      But Ballard to UW to downtown is only two minutes slower ( It works for both. Ballard to UW is your train line to downtown.

      It also works for the entire north end. How many people, do you think ride the bus from, say, Greenwood south, then take the 44 to the UW. Hardly anyone, right? The 5 is fast, but the 44 is very slow, and not that frequent. If you are close to 85th, you are better off taking the 45 (at least it is a one shot deal). But chances are, you just drive (or ask someone else to). Ballard to UW changes all that. Even at noon (without any traffic) taking public transit is competitive with driving. It is obviously much faster during rush hour. This is because east-west travel is very slow in this town, while north-south travel (outside of downtown) is fast.

      >> If you want a line that goes to Fremont, run it from downtown up 99.

      Right, which is what this plan is about. The WSTT makes the E much, much faster. It makes every West Seattle bus much faster. It makes every Ballard bus (even buses that go to West Ballard) much faster. ST3 simply takes one pair of buses, and replaces them with a train. Except that it doesn’t even do that — it takes that pair and runs only a subset of it.

      1. I just don’t find those arguments to be persuasive. By now it’s a moot point since this plan has never been even considered by sound transit as far as I know.

        Probably there will be a ballard to UW line someday, but it’s clear that ST and others have prioritized a lot of other lines in front of that one.

        On the bright side, the 44 is scheduled to be upgraded to rapid ride at some point.

      2. It is not a moot point as far as ST3 is concerned. The lack of consideration and study of what works for every other region in North America is the problem. Their priorities are out of whack. They ignore basic population density, as well as bus integration and then get supper giddy and surprised when the one section that everyone told them would be successful carries more than a handful of riders.

        Vote down ST3 and ask for an independent study of transit infrastructure improvements for the city. Ten to one it doesn’t include a light rail line to West Seattle (for the reasons jt said above —

      3. Good luck getting a single transit lane for the 44 between 15th NE and 3rd NW.

        The 44 after the BRT is watered down will still be just as snot slow as it is today.

  13. It was meant as a slight joke or jab at Ballard anyway. I was born and raised in North Seattle. I am completely aware of what is actually going on. There was no offence taken by Brent’s comment. This is an open thread and differing opinions make a healthy conversation. However, saying that, I still worry. I have witnessed people leaving the city because of cost. If you are single, a small condo is great. I have no problem with that. Give up the car. Not a problem. But if you are a family that is hard to do. Look on Zillow right now and you will not see more than 5 or six condos with 2 -3 bedrooms that are affordable for a median income family. Where do the other 6000 families go? They can give up their car but it will not be enough. Rail is not to blame. It just seems funny that to some it is the answer to everything. The reason that Metro and Sound Transit do not always coordinate is because they are probably competing for the same Federal funds on the same routes. Example. 1 Proposed monorail route from WS to Ballard. Defunct. 2. Rapid Ride lines. Basically 2 lines from WS to Ballard. And now finally 3 . Proposed subway/ elevated towhere? Correct. WS to Ballard. Hmmm. The ridership does support it But if you take Sound Transit and let them run the whole deal, you may found counties not happy. That happened in 1992-94 to Metro. They were their own system as well. At first. Now they are county run. History may be repeating itself. Oh well rant done. Going offline for a while.

  14. OK, if you take a whole bunch of objectively non-obligatory infrastructure that wasn’t part of the proposal, and charge it to the proposal, the proposal magically seems much more expensive! Shocking!

    Where to begin. Well, where these discussions often start and where half of my family lives: in West Seattle

    1) You don’t need to build a new West Seattle bridge. You are the first one I know who has proposed something that silly. Why build a new bridge, when there already is an existing one? It actually has bus lanes much of the way. Simply adding meters to the on-ramp will probably solve the problem, but hey, how about we go all the way. Build a new extension to the Spokane Street Viaduct (next to the work WSDOT is doing for the tunnel) and you have full grade separation from West Seattle to Interbay.* Estimated cost, $250 million (or more than what WSDOT is spending for a similar project). But I’ll be generous, and double that. Well, what do you know, just one little, obvious fix and now the peanut butter plan is cheaper than ST3!

    2) But I’m not done yet. You really don’t need a new Ballard Bridge. A simple queue jump and you get most of the benefit at very little cost. Now you are way under budget. This means you actually add back some things, like surface improvements for both Ballard and West Seattle. Or, I don’t know, maybe some surface improvements for other parts of town (like Lake City).

    Now, as was discussed before, the lack of the new bridge for West Seattle is fine (just as fast without it). But that isn’t likely to be the case with Ballard. Folks in Ballard headed south take a hit. Bus as mentioned before, in a more detailed analysis**, the hit is minor. Those headed to downtown will, at worse, have to spend an extra two minutes on the train. The only people who are substantially worse off are the handful who would have walked to the one station in Ballard and gotten off in Interbay or Lower Queen Anne. Without a new, very expensive bridge, they are better off with the ST3 train. But the number of people who take that trip, and incur a minor delay because they don’t get a new bridge is tiny compared to the number of people who come out way ahead with the set of plans described in that post. It’s not even close.

    The plan described are simply better and cheaper. Of course if you load it up with unnecessary, largely redundant features you will exceed the budget, but one of the big benefits of the plan is that it leverages what exists already (lots and lots of roads).

    * My proposal for improvements to West Seattle bus service are covered here: You can ignore the title, and much of the introduction. Focusing on what is BRT or not really misses the point. Making improvements that would enable a bus to travel just as fast as a train when it leaves West Seattle is not that expensive. The bulk of that article covers that, and estimates the cost at only a few hundred grand. I’m not the only one to come up with a proposed solution; Troy did as well ( In short, making improvements to an existing freeway (which again, has plenty of bus lanes already) is much cheaper than building a brand new bridge for a train to West Seattle.

    ** The proposal that preceded (and was the impetus for) the better written, but less detailed plan that Frank wrote (the so called peanut butter plan) is found here: You will see that I don’t propose a new Ballard bridge. If you want to skip ahead to see who comes out ahead and who comes out behind, then I suggest skipping to the “Comparison” section. The short summary is very few come out behind with this plan (I already mentioned them) but the number of riders who come out ahead is too large for even this detailed, verbose description.

    1. I didn’t even bother to count the Ballard Bridge in the peanut butter plan.

      I’m just going off the numbers in Frank’s post, which you had a lot to do with and no one seemed to have a problem with at the time. Now that it turns out West Seattle Link is cheaper than we originally thought, and the downtown tunnel that everybody wants is more expensive, you’re splitting hairs. In any case, I had nothing to do with that number.

      But very well. Under very charitable assumptions, there’s at most $500m available to improve service to West Seattle if you build Ballard/UW and the WSTT unless you skimp on those projects. If the closest thing we have to a “Peanut Butter” reference plan is now $500m for West Seattle instead of $1.9 Billion, you’re making my BRT Creep point for me.

      1. Wait, what? It isn’t splitting hairs to say that ST3 projects are more expensive than what I proposed. It is your entire thesis!

        So now you are willing to roll it all back, and just call it BRT creep, because it would result in a huge savings, even though it provides more functionality? Come on Martin, you and I both know that spending money does not always equal getting better value.

        Just play it out. You are on the 120. It gets on the freeway without interruption, via a metered ramp. Then it travels in its own lane through a bus only tunnel. It either comes out on Aurora or Elliot (in both cases in its own lane). Now consider the alternative, or better yet, assume we built both.

        You are on the 120, and get off the bus and transfer to the train. You never come close to catching up to the bus. Oh, and the bus goes to more places. That is just West Seattle. Those traveling our most popular bus (on Aurora) get a huge upgrade.

        Honestly, your obsession with all things rail and all things 100% grade separated is ridiculous. You are like a guy who buys one $2,000 bike for his three kids. They have to take turns, and you can’t take it on dirt (It is a road bike, after all) but man, is it nice. Way better than buying a bunch of cheaper bikes. Doesn’t it make sense to buy everyone a more affordable bike, and then when the kids get older (and one of them is really into biking) you shell out for a more expensive ride?

        Holy cow, the enormous cost for what you consider an upgrade (and I don’t) can hardly be justified given the needs of the region (which are not limited to transit). Go ahead, build the WSTT so that it can be converted to rail (we’ve done it once before and it worked out fine). But even if you think running trains is better, it is pretty hard to justify building that improvement before we build things that will obviously save more time for more trips (like Ballard to UW rail or a Metro 8 subway).

      2. Forgive me for thinking you’re being slippery here. The latest peanut butter estimates that you and Frank came up with said that it would be $1.9 billion. Now you say, never mind, $500m is fine. What changed? Is stuff just way cheaper than you thought, or are you changing scope?

        As for you rehashing the bus vs. rail argument, I’ve already linked to that argument. But my focus is not “rail” but “100% traffic separation”, which you find less valuable.

      3. What are you talking about? Read the original post ( Here, I’ll quote it for you:

        By my estimation, after you paid for the WSTT (also a part of any light rail proposal), you would have to spend another $250 to $500 million (and I think that is being conservative) to have buses run essentially unimpeded from West Seattle to downtown (and to Queen Anne).

        That was written in August 2015, well before Frank wrote his post. You wrote a followup post the next day, which you referenced here ( Nowhere in the comments to my piece, or in your piece do you question my cost estimates (probably because it is pretty damn conservative). Or maybe because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that adding ramp meters in West Seattle, along with one ramp and a very small addition to the Spokane Street Viaduct is a hell of lot cheaper than building a brand new light rail bridge from SoDo to West Seattle.

        Writing that piece about West Seattle was the basis for everything that followed. Months later, I wrote this: In there I state very clearly that these plans would be cheaper:

        The obvious alternative to these sets of a projects is a subway line from Ballard to West Seattle. The combination of projects I propose are much cheaper.

        Again, you never questioned that claim in the comments. You never questioned that claim when Frank wrote about a similar plan, that differed from mine in that it clearly suggested a brand new Ballard bridge. You are right, I never questioned Frank’s numbers, because it was irrelevant. I don’t even remember the subject being brought up. No one was disputing the cost estimated. If they had, I would have pointed out what I pointed out here, which is that you don’t need a new West Seattle bridge.

        So, just to review:

        1) I wrote a post in August of 2015 for a West Seattle BRT plan, with estimates of around 500 million dollars (high end).
        2) You write an entire post as a rebuttal, and not once do you mention costs.
        3) Months later, I write a Page 2 post that clearly states that my plan (WSTT, West Seattle BRT, Ballard to UW subway) would be cheaper than Ballard to West Seattle Light rail.
        4) You don’t refute that statement..
        5) Frank publishes his post, and it clearly states that the proposal would be cheaper (or roughly the same cost) as Ballard to West Seattle rail.
        6) You never dispute that fact.
        7) Ten Months later, as the election heats up and some are getting wind of the idea that maybe what has been proposed is not such a great value, you publish a piece that comes up with brand new numbers for my proposal (or Frank’s proposal) and starts assigning pieces to it that no one feels are necessary.
        8) I write a sensible rebuttal and then you have the audacity to call me slippery?

      4. >> But my focus is not “rail” but “100% traffic separation”, which you find less valuable.

        Then you must support my plan! Just to be clear, my plan would have 100% grade separation, from West Seattle to the Ballard Bridge. If you go with Frank’s estimate (100 million) for the brand new Ballard Bridge, you get 100% grade separation the entire distance as what has been proposed for ST3. Oh, wait, I forgot that tiny little piece in West Seattle … hmmm and something else … oh yeah, my plan has an entire new subway from Ballard to the UW! Never mind functionality (which apparently is lower priority) — just in terms of what you feel is most important, my plan has way more of it. It is better by your very measure. Because, you see, the West Seattle bridge already has bus lanes. These aren’t HOV lanes, either, but full, 100% bus lanes. Again, from the second a bus enters the ramp, it runs unimpeded until it gets to the Ballard bridge (or beyond if you can build a bridge as cheaply as Frank thinks).

        Maybe it bothers you that seconds before the bus actually gets on the bridge, it encounters traffic. What an absurd notion. You are basically saying it is better if what we build is 100% separated from traffic, even if it goes a shorter distance. That would be like getting upset because the buses in the old bus tunnel actually left the tunnel. In what world is it better for riders coming from everywhere else in West Seattle to transfer, instead of just staying on the bus, and running on the 100% traffic separated line?

  15. I am unsure as to why this post sandbags West Seattle BRT costs considering its largely existing infrastructure, while low-balling the totally non-engineered light rail costs to the same area.

    $1.5 billion for Link to Alaska Junction from the International District? That is a wildly ambitious estimate, and that is the truth of it even before West Seattle begins to complain about the forthcoming aerial viaducts.

    1. low-balling?

      I’m taking the high end of ST’s cost estimates for that project. I can use ST’s systematic cost-estimating methods or your faith that it must be more.

      And if ST is systematically low-balling projects, that means that Ballard/UW and the downtown tunnel are more expensive, too.

      1. Yes, low-balling!

        Even Sound Transit low-balls the expense of the line, which is, naturally, in their self interest. Sound Transit has not even decided on an alignment, let alone done any sort of engineering. Why are those absurd official figures gospel? How many painfully incorrect pre-design “official” figures have you encountered with similar megaprojects? If people here are paying attention, it should be *many*. It is why it is such a racket to vote on these projects before even knowing their true cost.

        Considering the extraordinary physical challenges the rail line will encounter to Alaskan Junction, even before residents begin to demand tunneling into Avalon, there is no way these 4.7 miles of track will be built at a cost of $319 million per mile, which is just modestly more than projected East Link expenses.

        No, try nearly double that.

      2. Troy, if you’re going to dismiss systematic estimates that disagree with your instincts, and then replace them with numbers you made up, we have no basis for rational discussion. So we’ll have to agree to disagree. Enjoy your bus in traffic in 2035.

      3. Mr. Duke, what I am suggesting is that there is nothing systematic about estimating costs for a rail line that has nothing definitively aligned nor engineered. Pray tell how one provides accurate cost estimations for such a ghost proposal?

        You make it seem like my position is outrageous, that cost estimates rise following voter approval of massive infrastructure projects. Guess what, it is certainly not.

        And much like our region’s infrastructure projects have risen in cost the more refined their engineering became, particularly after voter endorsement, so too will the line to West Seattle. No, especially the line to West Seattle.

        Goodness, even Northgate Link is projected to cost far more than the estimated $1.4 billion maximum from 2007.

        I will pass on the bus traffic, thank you very much.

      4. One of the stories of this process has been how conservative ST has been about estimating its capacity to do things. As for Northgate Link, are you breaking a news story that ST2 is overrunning, or are you merely observing that the Year of Expenditure dollars exceed the cost of a study stated in 2007 dollars (i.e. inflation exists)?

        But let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that megaprojects almost always overrun.

        How are we supposed to examine tradeoffs of projects? Because if the West Seattle estimates are garbage, so is everything else: Ballard/UW, the Downtown Tunnel, West Seattle BRT, everything; not just the projects you don’t like! So there is no point in any package building exercise, and we can just prattle on freely about whatever neighborhoods we happen to think deserve rail, with no common reference points or actual data needed.

        ST applied a standard methodology, whatever its flaws, that at least provide a common basis for discussion. And they’re facing a generation of bad press if they screw it up. Forgive me if I prefer that to your wild hand-waving.

      5. Mr. Duke, I do not believe anything is necessarily breaking here. All I am writing is that the 2008 project brief for Northgate Link, provided to the voters to make an informed decision, much like the brief you used to create this post, was listed with a maximum cost of roughly $1.4 billion (2007 dollars).

        Not four years later, an established budget and construction timeline pegged that cost at just over $2.1 billion (presumably based on YOE projections). It has since used nearly 100% of that more comprehensive budget, a budget already based of the highest estimates, including contingency and reserve.

        If you wish to ascribe that rise in expense solely to YOE estimates and inflation, fine, but it goes to show the speculative nature of these initial expense estimates for even underway projects.

        With regard to analyzing projects, I would hope we would analyze these infrastructure schemes with a more rigorous technical analysis. However, that would preclude political alignments like the one to West Seattle.

        Lastly, I am less a critic of STs methodologies, indeed however flawed, than I am of this post’s cost-benefit analyses. When you write a post specifically related to cost, the importance of specifics and the realities of individual projects become more acute, and I do not believe the difficulties of the West Seattle line were well represented.

        But enough about that.

    2. ST is highballing. It got into trouble in 2000 when its estimates were too optimistic and it didn’t consider the physical challenges of crossing the Ship Canal or a station in First Hill. Its reputation and future projects depend on not making that mistake again, so estimates since 2006 have been conservative.

      1. For all the complicated individual projects ST has completed for its light rail program, none will equal in engineering punch to these 4.7 miles.

        Currently, albeit vaguely, ST has the line heading south from Chinatown and/or SODO, depending on who you ask, and also on the immediate south side of the West Seattle Bridge (WSB). Consider the obstacles:

        1. Relocation of heavy industrial, commercial and residential utilities over 4.7 miles;

        2. Relocation, elimination, or vaulting over of the SODO BRT line and active rail line north of Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge approaches;

        3. Difficult, sharply west turn immediately south of the WSB approach. Presumably this would be grade-level, which raises tough questions regarding point 2. Requires the condemnation of multiple industrial properties, and, if on a viaduct, requires a vaulting over the WSB approaches. Major impacts on Spokane Street all the way through to the harbor;

        4.Either grade-level or vaulted, overcome numerous difficult barriers on Spokane Street, including active rail lines and busy cross-streets;

        5. Near the WSB approach interchange with SR99, navigate active rail lines, cross streets, freeways and support piers, all the while climbing toward the Link West Seattle Bridge. If placed on a viaduct, the viaduct would have to be very tall to clear the freeways;

        6. Link West Seattle Bridge, crossing the east channel first, and then the west channel of the Duwamish at the required 150 feet above mean water level at the center of the waterway. Cross busy commercial thoroughfares, congested waterways, and active railway lines. Very limited space. Relocations of streets and parking likely required, and certainly property would have to be acquired. Altogether, this is a multiple thousand foot structure for the rails squeezed into a very confined space;

        7. Ease down the tall approach, vaulting over busy streets and active rail lines, and head directly into or around Pigeon Point. This is the first encounter with a neighborhood, and presumably ST wishes to roughly follow the WSB approaches and circumvent Pigeon Point to the north. This will require cuts, fills, tree removal and hillside monitoring. Will a tunnel be demanded here?;

        8. Around Pigeon Point, vault over or adjacent to Delridge toward the station, likely requiring the condemnation of some residential property (especially to the north);

        9. Elevated Delridge Station and facilities. Significant impacts to Delridge;

        10. Begin or continue vertical climb toward Alaska Junction on aerial viaducts, swerving around homes near Genessee and Delridge. Significant impacts to Genessee Street. Continue to climb to Avalon;

        11. Head near and cross Avalon, encountering substantial residential density in apartment blocks, all fronted by single family homes or a golf course. Should a tunnel begin somewhere around here, or continue climbing toward Alaska Way on Genessee and Fauntleroy on aerial viaducts?

        12. Elevated Avalon Station and facilities. Significant impacts to Fauntleroy Way. Continue climb toward Alaska Way. Otherwise, a tunnel and underground station before continuing subterranean climb.

        13. Passing substantial residential and commercial urban properties on aerial viaducts, climbing toward Alaska Junction Station. A moderately sharp turn west onto Alaska St, significantly impacting intersections and the street.

        14. Elevated Alaska Junction Station and facilities. Otherwise, a tunnel and underground station underneath Alaska Street. Both options require consideration for a southern turn toward White Center.

        So, yes, this is a monumentally complicated project.

        In fact, current estimates for a replacement to Ballard Bridge, that little structure to the north, range between $300 to $400 million dollars alone, and it has nothing on its bigger, bolder West Seattle cousin with outrageously tough approaches. Such price ranges alone eat up roughly 1/4 of the projected *maximum* cost estimates put forth by Sound Transit for the West Seattle line, and that value is for a bridge at least 1500 feet shorter and over 100 feet lower than the one needed to carry rails over the Duwamish.

        Add engineering and design improvements, track and signals, community complaints and lawsuits, at least 14 years for any reasonably completion timeframe, and we have a recipe for exceeding that paltry $1.5 billion figure.

        Talk to me in 2035 if you think Sound Transit is high-balling here.

  16. Mike Orr: the EMT and SMP monorail measures were AFTER I-695, 1999. Then State Senator Murray, D-43, helped them get legislative authority for the MVET. The 2000 legislature and Governor Locke enacted the $30 tabs after I-695 was ruled unconstitutional.

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