Kaizer Rangwala (Flickr)
Kaizer Rangwala (Flickr)

Wandering around Downtown Tacoma is a strange and almost eerie experience. Stately and graceful buildings adorn an intact, human scaled street grid built to serve the golden age of railways. On the east side of Pacific Avenue, the most beautiful train station in the northwest now lies in sterile use as a courthouse. Downtown is anchored on the south end by a beautifully renovated UW satellite campus, and on the north end by a derelict Italianate old city hall that is finally coming back to life. Large multifamily developments in the Stadium District speak to a more urban past, while tranquil neighborhoods such as Proctor are reminiscent of the nicest residential neighborhoods in Seattle. And its housing is the most affordable in the region.

But walking around, hardly a creature is stirring. Tacoma has roughly 1/3 the population of Seattle (200k vs 650k), but its urban core has only 5% as many jobs (14k vs 275k). Its Tacoma Link streetcar has been losing ridership steadily for a couple years now, despite being free. Pierce Transit’s service area voted against local transit service twice (in February 2011 and November 2012), leading to a contraction of the agency’s boundaries and a bloodbath of cuts that the agency is just beginning to crawl back from (Tacoma itself has repeatedly voted in favor). Its transit riders are the region’s poorest on average, and at 53%, their ORCA use is the lowest. And proving that you don’t need a War on Cars to have traffic woes, its residents suffer daily on I-5 from the Fife Curve to Joint Base Lewis McChord.screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-2-11-25-pmSo Tacoma is a scrawny city, with good bones and a solid core, just desperate to be fed. Unlike many of the more irredeemable intermediate suburbs, Tacoma is an excellent place to direct growth. You can’t really call Tacoma a suburb; it’s more like a shadow city. If it were geographically isolated like Spokane, it would stand on its own as a regional center of employment and commerce, but caught in Seattle’s gravitational pull it continuously loses by comparison. If Seattle is DC, San Francisco, Dallas, Boston, or Chicago, Tacoma is Baltimore, Oakland, Fort Worth, Providence, or Milwaukee.

So when it comes to its transit future, it’s at least understandable that it would look without rather than within.

Like Federal Way, light rail to Tacoma isn’t really about Seattle. Current traffic between Seattle and Tacoma is occasionally terrible, but nothing like the consistent misery of those in Snohomish County. Express bus travel times routinely beat an hour, and during peak hours Sounder makes the trip in a reliable 55 minutes as well. Link to Tacoma would clock in at a reliable 69 minutes from Tacoma to Westlake, slower than buses on all but the worst days, and certainly slower than Sounder. So why is it worth it? Here are 6 reasons.

First, Link to Tacoma isn’t a bet that a high-capacity train to Seattle is needed in 2016. Rather, it’s a bet that an airport connection will be worth $2B (in 2014$) when the line opens in 2031. A majority of SeaTac Airport employees live south of the airport, and are currently only served by a half-hourly express bus that takes 45 minutes. Link would shave 10 minutes off that commute, would come at least twice as often, and would increase capacity by as much as tenfold. For a booming airport that needs its employees not to drive and park, Link expansion offers enormous capacity in a tiny footprint. And for a county whose largest employer depends on soldiers from elsewhere temporarily calling JBLM home, there’s a lot to be said for a reliable train connection for their frequent flights.

Second, if Tacoma’s downtown needs a regular influx of visitors with disposable income, conventions are a reasonable bet, and Tacoma’s leaders see a 35-minute Link ride from the Airport as a means to draw in conventioneers who wouldn’t consider Sound Transit 574 a viable option. For conventions that don’t need Seattle’s 200,000+ sq ft of space, Tacoma’s 120,000 sq ft Convention Center could be attractive and competitively priced.max-vs-link-with-red-and-green-01

Third, frequent, all day, bi-directional service provides more value than alternative investments such as all-day Sounder. Even if the light rail connection is marginally slower, it will serve 24 stations instead of Sounder’s 9, at the cost of 14 minutes of travel time. I personally wouldn’t consider Tacoma a viable option for living if dependent on Sounder and a half-hourly 594, but I would consider it with the reliable all-day service Link would provide.

Fourth, there are a non-trivial amount of large events at the Tacoma Dome annually, including some of the largest concerts in the region. Bi-directional service until late at night will serve those types of functions very well.

Fifth, if central Tacoma hopes to regain some life as an employment center, it needs the parity that bi-directional service provides, rather than Tacoma emptying out every morning with white-collar workers headed north and green-collar soldiers headed south.

Sixth, investments in Link, Sounder, and Pierce Transit aren’t mutually exclusive.  Link would get 40% of Pierce County’s ST3 budget. Sounder would get 20%, with a number of additional trains, 10-car platforms, and an extension to Dupont (a down payment towards eventual Olympia service). Tacoma Community College would get a streetcar extension, and Pierce Transit would get Sound Transit money to turn its flagship Route 1 into Rapid Ride style Bus Rapid Transit. Lastly, Sound Transit cannot fund Pierce Transit’s (excellent) Long Range Plan, but even the most ambitious option is only $900m by 2040, roughly 11% of what ST3 would spend in Pierce County by 2040 (in YOE dollars).

It’s tempting to think that Link’s $2B could have been enough to buy all-day, hourly, bi-directional service on Sounder, and admittedly it’s an idea that should have gotten more attention during the formation of the ST3 package. But Link and Sounder would serve distinct markets that are complementary rather than competitive, and transit advocates would do well to avoid zero sum games that pit them against each other.

160 Replies to “Why ST3 is Worth It, Part 2: Tacoma”

    1. That doesn’t really make any sense. Springfield was too sparse for a monorail, but Tacoma is dense enough for high capacity transit, especially if you increase density more. Link also will connect South King County to Tacoma and vice versa.

      1. Tacoma is deserving of quality urban transit, without a shadow of doubt, but to argue that it requires high-capacity multi-billion dollar rail extensions from Seattle, despite existing services from ST Express buses and Sounder trains on roughly parallel underinvested routes, is fanciful at best.

        For all of its extraordinary potential to become an even finer city, Tacoma can barely support its existing transit corridors. What Tacoma needs is not what ST3 advances, but an affordable transit system that supports its citizens in a meaningful capacity.

        For its intercity needs, Tacoma deserves an enhancement of the great transit that already services it.

      2. ST Express’s utility is limited to trips between the two downtowns. There are plenty of us who live in between, and go places in between, who will benefit immensely from ST3 / Regional Prop 1.

      3. Well, Brent, that is categorically false. Just add more stops, as other ST Express routes already feature. Voila!

        Additionally, if the barometer for “immensely beneficial” transit is that it serves the “in-between” people in some limited way, then any form of enhanced transit would suit that role, not just the billion dollar rail extensions that people around here desperately peddle as a transit panacea.

      4. Sounder doesn’t serve the I-5 corridor, and ST3 is investing a lot into it. ST Express, since it uses buses, is lower capacity then light rail and is subject to freeway traffic. Plus, the light rail has it’s own grade-separated corridor.

      5. Bob, rail activists can boast of a higher capacity than buses only when there are enough people to fill actually them.

        Otherwise, do not get lost in discussions of hypothetical capacity for differing modes of transit. Quality bus infrastructure would be easily capable of providing sufficient levels of service for low-density, auto-oriented, housing and employment sprawling South King County.

        And yes, Sounder does indeed service the I5 corridor between Seattle and Tacoma in the larger statewide scope of the term—the scope that matters. It also serves the corridor between its two largest cities far better than light rail ever could, at modest speeds that already are wildly popular.

        Of course, you would never know that by the lack of enthusiasm for Sounder within Sound Transit and those pushing strongly for this proposition.

      6. I’m categorically sure Troy has never ridden the 574 during rush hour. And yes, he is categorically wrong about “expresses” with lots of stops involving pulling off of the freeways being in any way comparable to light rail. Does Troy even know what “express” means?

      7. Brent,

        I am not really sure why you have such animosity toward me, but sure, I have ridden the 574 plenty of times.

        I may live in Seattle, but my orbit certainly reaches beyond these city limits. It is the key reason why I am so profoundly at odds with ST3, because, as a car-less regional commuter, it does so little to improve my commute to JBLM, or to visit family in Lakewood, friends in Tacoma or Sumner, and anywhere else for that matter that is meaningful to me.

        And for the systems that I do use rather intensively, specifically the ST Express buses and Sounder trains, it does proportionally very little to improve their infrastructure (if not outright cancels bus routes for slower light rail service).

        Why do you feel the need to be so belligerent toward me?

      8. I, too, can name plenty of examples of trips that won’t be improved by ST3, at least in any obvious way, just like I can point out plenty of highways that have done nothing to improve my life, or so I believe. Improving relatively unique trips is not the point of ST3. It really isn’t about your odd commute. But hey, it could be, if Sounder reaches Tillicum and DuPont, and you have a bike or car waiting there or some other plan to get the last mile, or, ST or the base creates a route to pick employees up at the station. It’s not that hard to imagine, and there are certainly precedents with several of the Sounder stations having connecting buses, and plenty of bike parking options. I can say you are categorically wrong about ST3 not improving your specific commute just as much as you can categorically deny my experiences as valid. Your example you’ve been citing for months is really weak, given the minimal creative thinking it takes to solve your last-mile problem.

        Want to keep route 594 in perpetuity? Guess what. ST3 says nothing about getting rid of it. That requires a future decision of the Board. Others here besides you have made a pretty convincing case that Link is no replacement for the 594. They serve different trips and different purposes.

      9. And as Mike points out downthread, the 594 could theoretically be truncated even if Link dead-ends in Federal Way. It’s politically not likely, but the whole RP1 debate has jumped through the Looking Glass more than a few times.

        If the Board made clear that the 594 will live in perpetuity, would that change your position on RP1?

      10. I am under the very strong impression that ST Express buses are interim service providers and are to be canceled once rail extensions are completed. If you would like, I can search for documentation from Sound Transit that shows this as policy. The 594 will be nice to keep, but the deletion of 590 would reduce options to Tacoma to levels that I find unsavory.

        And secondarily, the only thing I denied as categorically false was your assertion that express buses are limited in utility between two downtowns, not some experience you now refer to.

      11. That doesn’t really make any sense. Springfield was too sparse for a monorail, but Tacoma is dense enough for high capacity transit, especially if you increase density more. Link also will connect South King County to Tacoma and vice versa.

        Sorry, but that is ridiculous. Tacoma is not dense enough for billion dollar subway investments — and the train won’t even go through the moderately dense pockets that exist within Tacoma. Just look at the population density map (http://arcg.is/2cV4PuY). Not one station has a census block within waking distance that is over 10,000 people per square mile, let alone 25,000 (or more). The first station that meets that meager threshold is Star Lake, which has less than 12,000 people per square mile and looks like this: https://goo.gl/maps/ijTMvcGt5Vz. See those apartments next to the school, across the street from the future station? That is what constitutes density as far as this line is concerned. You have nothing to the east (cut off by the freeway along with a greenbelt). Not much to the west (one apartment building and another greenbelt) so the only thing resembling density is a set of low slung apartments on the other side of a suburban elementary school. Oh, and this is the most densely populated stop!

        The Simpson’s reference was brilliant, and spot on. It would be absurd to propose a light rail line like this if it was billed as something appropriate to the transit needs of Tacoma. But that isn’t the selling point. No, the idea is that people will flock to the Tacoma Dome, because that will enable them to get a 75 minute ride into Seattle. Or, as was the main argument here — building this wonderful train line will finally let Tacoma fulfill the destiny which is it’s motto!

        Sorry, no. Why does anyone think this will perform better than Fremont, in California? That station actually goes to a fairly dense area (over 25,000 ppsm right next to the station). It serves a nearby hospital. It is much faster (50 minutes) to a much bigger employment center (San Fransisco). It has a huge destination on the way (Oakland). It also has that magical connection to the airport that apparently will transform the city. Even with all that, it gets less than 9,000 a day, or fewer than many of our buses. Tacoma would be lucky to get half that.

      12. Plus, the light rail has it’s own grade-separated corridor. that costs a fortune and won’t carry very many people. That’s the problem.

        Sounder doesn’t serve the I-5 corridor

        Since when is serving the I-5 corridor a bonus. It is the opposite. Freeways cut people off, making it difficult to serve the folks that live nearby. In the case of the route proposed, very, very few people live there (look at the census maps referenced in the previous comment). Freeways tend to be very congested, making it difficult for buses to serve. They also provide a very fast alternative, from a driving or bus perspective. Try to get from Tacoma to just about any proposed station in the middle of the day (let alone your final destination — which is likely to be somewhere else) and you will drive. Do you really think this will make a dent in the number of people who drive from say, Fife to Federal Way? Despite “serving” both destinations, folks like that will just take the freeway.

        Sounder doesn’t go by the freeway, which is a bonus. It explains why ridership is much higher for Kent and Auburn than it is for Tacoma. Arrive at the station in Tacoma at 10:30 — right before the train is about to leave — and you are better off just staying on the bus (or getting on it).

      13. I rode the 574 northbound on a Saturday afternoon a couple months ago. Traffic was present but not especially heavy. It took 45 minutes from Tacoma Dome to SeaTac. A lot of it was going off the freeway into transit centers and P&Rs. Light rail just goes at full speed to the station, then leaves at full speed again.

      14. My personal suspicion is that ST express being an “interim” is partially true. I suspect the real truth may lay in shifting operating funds from ST Express to LINK when segments are able to be replaced. This may be done to lessen the overall cost of a project, as you don’t need to fund two separate services, and it may also be done with the hope that the financial situation improves and any “cuts” in service to pay for the newer line will not happen. I suspect this too is the case here. As for individual route planning, the 574 transition in 2030 will be easy. Its the 577/578/590/594 which will have the most difficulty, as they give single seat rides from P&R to downtown with frequent service and most importantly, NO STOPS. Trying to sell someone a ride on LINK vs, the direct nature (even in traffic) of the bus is going to be a tough sell. Not to mention the fact that I’m not sure they will have enough extra capacity anyway, as LINK will attract a ridership base of its own independent of any bus riders who may be forced over. In further thought, the peak 590/592/595 may remain, as again there are already capacity issues on LINK and forcing thousands more onto it probably wont go over well.

      15. “I am under the very strong impression that ST Express buses are interim service providers and are to be canceled once rail extensions are completed.”

        ST has said at various times that ST Express is an interim service until rail is built, and at a board meeting they mentioned possible legal problems with running them in parallel so it may be in ST’s charter from the state. But ST has latitude and presumed expertise to define what the redundancy threshold is. Here’s the article on the 2023 ST Express scenarios. ST has said all along that the 550 would be deleted and the 510/511/512 truncated. because Link’s travel time is the same and the stops are roughly the same. But Redmond-UW remains because Link is apparently not competitive enough there. I think an argument can be made that Link is not competitive in the 594 corridor and therefore some variant of the 594 must remain. I could see the same to a lesser extent for the 554. But there’s no sign ST is interested in making this argument. I think it should clarify if it definitely intends to truncate all the 57x and 59x buses because that’s a material factor in deciding on ST3. I’ve given that feedback to ST several times. But ST seems to like to be vague about ST Express routes until the last minute.

  1. From the pages of Historylink.org on the battle for which city shall become the regions hub.
    “After wining and dining an inspection team of railroad commissioners, Seattle was certain that it would win their nod. Therefore, a large and expectant crowed gathered at Yesler’s Mill on July 14, 1873, to hear Arthur A. Denny (1822-1899), leader of Seattle’s original party of settlers, read the telegram announcing the railroad’s decision. One can only imagine the sound of mass inhalation when Denny recited its terse message: “We have located the terminus on Commencement Bay.”
    …and the battle continues…

    1. The original settlers beat the Dennys and Yeslers by about 15,000 years. But who’s counting?

      Even today, journalists can spout nonsense, without stopping to think. (In this case, the headline writer really blew it, but oh, to get it way wrong in Science Magazine.) That Science Magazine never bothered to correct the headline is a troubling sign of how seriously it takes itself.

      At any rate, commerce has been in Commencement Bay long before the arrival of the railroad and the car roads. Population has boomed. The roads and current railroads are both congested and at their capacity for increasingly large chunks of the day. We could have dedicated bus lanes, I suppose, but there is a limit on how many people want to ride between downtown Tacoma and downtown Seattle. If only there were a plan to connect all the mid-major in-between trips…

      I’m holding out for an armada of canoes between Seattle and Tacoma, and among all major beachfronts in between. Sadly, ST hasn’t taken my alternative plan seriously. They can carry the same number of trips for a fraction of the cost. Okay, the journey might take a little longer. But relax. You’re already in x̌ʷə́lč (Whulge) paradise.

  2. I think riding Link from Tacoma all the way to Seattle will be an excruciating slow experience, compared to Sounder or even a bus on all but the worst days. I do think it’s worth it for the other reasons you mentioned.

    I also think Tacoma is due for a resurgence. I went to school at UWT, I saw how much life it already brings to that part of town and when the campus is fully built out it will have as many students as WWU. Affordability will be key – not only for students but small businesses and startups as well.

    1. You’re right, riding Link from downtown Seattle to downtown Tacoma would be annoying, and the 594 will remain the quickest way to do that even once ST3 is complete.

      However, Link’s many stops in-between the two urban cores will eliminate unnecessary downtown transfers for a lot of people. Even if end-to-end it is slower, it will make trip planning a bit more sane for trips that do not begin and end at the two downtowns.

      1. the 594 will remain the quickest way to do that even once ST3 is complete.

        I’m totally in the tank for ST III but if I were a Tacoma (or Federal Way) commuter to Seattle, I’d want some kind of assurance that the 59X series would not go away when Link is complete before voting yes (unless traffic has degraded such that it’s clearly worse).

      2. When buses get stuck in traffic and the average travel time is increasing and headways of 1/2 hour, how do you figure that the 594 is a better choice? When 1.5 million more people are coming to this region, and we are not going to add new freeway capacity in any meaningful form, how do you figure that freeway express buses will continue to be viable? Congestion on our freeways is not going to significantly lessen, but building ST3 projects greatly increases the capacity to move more people, consistently with less delay.

      3. What the plan is for the 57x and 59x bus service is something that ST has not said what will happen, and I am keeping it on my radar. While it most likely not affect my vote, I will say from the passengers comfort perspective the seats on the MCIs are much nicer than riding on a LINK train from Downtown to Downtown, and still most of the time the 57x and 59x has time advantages over LINK as things stand today. Of course other cities have long runs on similar equipment so it may be the price one has to pay for the more frequent service.

      4. the 57x and 59x are likely to be truncated with or without ST3. ST’s last planning scenarios had three alternatives and all of them terminated at Kent-Des Moines Station. By the ST2 schedule KDM will open in 2023. But the ST3 schedule, it would be delayed a year to open simultaneously with Federal Way in 2024. One assumes the truncation would be moved further south. ST hasn’t yet approved this or any other operating plan, but since it was in all of the scenarios we can assume it has a more than 50% chance of happening.

      5. I’m under the impression that ST Express buses were designed as interim service until they could be replaced by light rail. I seriously doubt ST will continue running the 59x after Link reaches Tacoma, especially if Sounder South gets a significant boost in frequency. That’s a lot of duplicative service.

        I used to take the 594 very frequently but I would always take Sounder if I could. On the relatively rare occasion someone might be going between Seattle/Tacoma off peak, I think Link would be adequate but definitely not ideal. Not enough to justify spending money on buses. This is the major difference between North Link and South Link.

      6. The 59X and the 57X routes will go away. Sound Transit is only constituted to provide express bus service until it has established light rail service in a given corridor.

        Pierce Transit will probably run some sort of peak hour express to Seattle as does Community Transit today.

      7. @Anandaos With what money? Remember, by this point ST 3 has sucked the air out of the room and there will be no option for a tax increase, and even with service being added there are so many more other unmet local needs that express service to Seattle probably wont even be an option. Finally, where is the documentation that says ST Express service goes away when link opens? I keep hearing people talk about it but I don’t know of any official statements or proof thereof.

      8. Mr Z,

        From RCW 81.112.010: “The single agency’s services must be carefully integrated and coordinated with public transportation services currently provided. As the single agency’s services are established, any public transportation services currently provided that are duplicative should be eliminated. . [emphasis added]

      9. Interesting. It seems to be more of a guideline rather than a set rule especially since they use the word “Should” instead of stronger language. Current operational practice shows that this is not a hard and fast rule. For example the 590 and 594 partially duplicate both LINK lines in Downtown Tacoma and Downtown Seattle. The 560 loops through the airport instead of connecting at TIBS, With the opening of Angle Lake, the 574 skips that, and goes for Sea-Tac Airport Station and the Airport drive. If taken even liberally, There’s a LOT of duplication with KCM and CT of ST routes. I think the real issue is what markets do they serve and does forcing a transfer help the riders or hurt your ridership? Of course, I have always wondered if you did force a transfer to LINK, at IDS for buses coming from the south/East I90, and U District for buses coming from the North/SR520 how much service hours would that free up for reinvestment? Could you double your headways, as it takes nearly as long to slog through Downtown Seattle traffic as it does to hit the freeway portion of the route (in good traffic conditions). Those would be worth exploring in my mind, cutting things back to the first available LINK stop and making the trips times that much more longer does not seem to be an overly appealing option to me as a rider of the services. In fact that would probably cause me to drive to Seattle more often than not.

      10. For example the 590 and 594 partially duplicate both LINK lines in Downtown Tacoma and Downtown Seattle.

        WTF? Link doesn’t go anywhere near Tacoma yet. If you mean the Tacoma Streetcar well yes, the 590 and 594 do go overlap the streetcar between Tacoma Dome Station and downtown Tacoma. But that’s about 1/10 the length of the 574 and 1/15 of the 59X’s.

        At any rate, Sound Transit has made it crystal clear that the 59X routes and the 574 go away when Link opens to Tacoma.

        If there is to be peak hour express service to and from downtown Seattle from Pierce County once Link and more Sounder service reach Tacoma, it will have to be PT which provides it.

        The “should” language is because the legislature doesn’t have direct authority over other agencies which might offer parallel service; it’s simply saying, “We’d prefer you not waste taxpayers’ money on duplicate service.”

        ST interprets it as a mandate for them.

    2. I agree that UWT expansion is an obvious strategic action. It may take a UW mutiny to make it happen though. I’m not convinced that the UW board perspective will ever want a second major campus – even though it’s needed.

      1. It’s a campus master plan. They don’t need to design their campus around ST2.

        Note that the Parking and Transportation study is from 2012 (after ST2 was passed).

      2. It’s horizon year is 2030. It was adopted in 2008. We are already 36% of the way there. Projects would have to begin design in the next few years to open by 2030. It’s outdated.

        It also calls for only either 10k or 12k students. Our state is woefully deficient in the number of engineering graduates. An adequate plan should be for 20k to 30k. It’s like running a two car train when demand could fill five cars; we are structurally leaving students on the platform.

      3. Al they’ve been expanding the campus little by little for years. It’s larger now than it was when I graduated a few years ago. Do you have any clue what you’re talking about?

      4. It’s pretty well published by PSRC expects that the region will have 1.1 million more people by 2040. While I can’t find the data for forecasted university enrollment in the PSRC web data, I can tell that there will be about 13,000 more residents as an average for each age. Assuming that an average someone spends at least 5 years in higher education in their lifetime (noting that some will attend part-time for many more years, some will get graduate degrees and some won’t attend at all), that’s 65,000 MORE resident college students that we need to plan for in our region (and that assumes a continuation of the region having a net import of college graduates from elsewhere so it’s merely keeping up with the shortage). Unfortunately, each university master plan is about expanding their own individual facilities but they don’t seem interested in how to best address this regional eventuality.

        Sure, UWT is growing — but just not fast enough. Assuming that a quarter of the region’s population growth is in Pierce and South King, that’s a need for serving about 19,000 MORE college students by 2040. I realize that I’m not being paid do a complex analysis to quantify the problem, but it just takes some simple math to see it.

      5. Why is it that when “education” is brought up as the savior for Tacoma it’s always UW Tacoma or sometime TCC. Nobody ever mentions the 800# gorilla.. Bates.

      6. The idea of a college or university transforming an old city or town has a lot of merit (much more than the idea of adding light rail, streetcars or a convention center). Salt Lake City has had a huge boost from the University of Utah, BYU and other schools, but Salt Lake City is pretty much the only place around for miles and miles. You could also say the same thing has happened to Boise. Big fish in a small pond get bigger. (The same thing hasn’t happened to Spokane despite having EWU and Gonzaga, but two out of three ain’t bad).

        That just isn’t the dynamic with Tacoma. There is a geographic difference. It isn’t part of the same urban mass like Oakland and Berkeley are to San Fransisco, but it is close enough to be influenced by it. If someone graduates from one of fine schools in Tacoma, they might just decide to move up the road a bit and open up shop up there. If they are looking for great talent right out of school, then I don’t think they will ever match what exists in Seattle.

        Silicon Valley stands as a contrast to this, of course. Stanford is not that much farther to San Fransisco than Tacoma is to Seattle. I see a few differences, though. First, it is Stanford, one of the finest universities in the world (right up there with Cal). Even if the best university in the state (the UW) expands its satellite offerings in Tacoma, it is still a satellite. More importantly, though, is to look at the growth. For the most part, it was suburban in nature. Tech companies, for whatever reason, thought it was a great idea to open up their own campus in the suburbs. They did so, but now seem to have reversed course. I think it is a stretch to think that they will suddenly find it appealing to open up in satellite cities (no matter how charming they are) instead of in the middle of a city that has way more educational offerings, let alone experienced workers. Of course, one of the big reasons companies opened up shop in the suburbs is because the city (San Fransisco/Oakland/Berkeley) wasn’t willing to grow. That is a problem that simply doesn’t exist in Seattle.

        Besides, as mentioned, Tacoma already has a fair number of good schools. In short, I don’t see it. I don’t see Tacoma suddenly transforming into something much bigger and bolder just because it has “great bones”. It has character, and has had character for a very long time. Maybe if we were talking about high speed rail to Tacoma (20 minute ride from downtown Tacoma to downtown Seattle — that’s a game changer) but we aren’t. I think Tacoma will muddle along as it has for a while. It wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes a big retirement destination. Enough of everything you might want — not too far away from urban amenities plus nice old fashioned neighborhoods with gridded streets and sidewalk along with outstanding outdoor activities (Mount Rainier! Puget Sound!). Some of those folks will take Sounder up to Seattle from time to time, and would like a better ride to the airport — but not enough times to justify a subway that doesn’t even go through town.

      7. “Tech companies, for whatever reason, thought it was a great idea to open up their own campus in the suburbs. They did so, but now seem to have reversed course.”

        They built office parks in the middle of nowhere. That’s what they’ve turned away from. But a satellite downtown is another thing, especially when it’s the third largest city in the region, with a lot of history and retained buildings and good downtown bones. It won’t appeal to every company but eventually it will appeal to some companies. Especially as the population increases and the available sites in Seattle and Bellevue dwindle. And there may be a long-time Pierce-Countian who graduates and wants to remain n the south sound. With a million and a half people in Pierce and south King County there’s bound to be a few like that, and it only takes ten people to own ten businesses.

      8. @Brent — Good point. I should have known that (I have relatives who live in Utah). That probably explains (in part) the sprawl that has occurred in the Wasatch Front.

      9. It wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes a big retirement destination.

        Tacoma/Lakewood has been a retirement destination for quite some time for military personnel. Having JBLM and Madigan is why. I believe that next to the military, health care is the largest employer. The dependency on the military is only increasing as the infrastructure grows in response to base closings in other areas of the country. Even as the shooting army is drawn down the number of civil service jobs and contractors is growing.

        Tacoma has been unwilling to accept the types of jobs that would return it to it’s former glory. The proposed methanol plant, the LNG facility, etc. There seems to be a feeling of “entitlement” that the next great tech startup will transform the city. Not going to happen folks. As the tax base dwindles so will the city. Tying up a huge chunk of tax dollars on yet another way to leave the city isn’t going to help. How long until the jingle is “new cars cost less in Lacey”?

    3. Debates over which would be faster (bus or Link) kind of miss the point. From Tacoma, Link will take an extremely long time to get to downtown Seattle. From the station to downtown Seattle it is 75 minutes. Very few people live within walking distance, so for just about anyone that would take such a trip, it is about an hour and half. That is a 3 hour round trip commute. There just aren’t that many people who are willing to do that, even when it is marginally faster than alternatives (which happens rarely).

  3. I’ve ridden the 594 between Seattle and Tacoma a few times. While it moves quite fast between Seattle and Tacoma, the surface sections within downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma are excruciatingly slow. Slow enough that the majority of the time spent traveling from the UW Tacoma campus to 5th/Pine is actually on surface streets within Tacoma and Seattle, not along I-5.

    Furthermore, the Lakewood->Tacoma section of I-5 has awful and unpredictable traffic, and any delays the bus encounters getting from Lakewood to Tacoma (plus delays traveling through downtown Tacoma itself) propagate so that even people just traveling from Tacoma Dome to Seattle often see a half hourly bus showing up minutes late.

    If you look at it this way, the time advantage of the 594 over Link may be more paper than reality, and, once wait times and traffic congestion (on surface streets) is accounted for, it actually may end up to be something of a wash.

    Put differently, let’s suppose the Tacoma Link extension has opened, but the 594 continues to run every 30 minutes. Let’s say you’re at Tacoma Dome, Link is arriving now, and the 594 is 10 minutes away by OneBusAway. What would you do? Hop on Link, you’re in downtown Seattle in 75 minutes, guaranteed. Wait for the 594, you might save 10 minutes, at best, if the bus is on time, but if those 10 minutes drag out to 20 or 30 (remember, OneBusAway only knows where the bus is now, not what traffic the bus will encounter in the future), the time savings by waiting for the bus has evaporated. In practice, I think most people will end up just getting on the train.

    1. The last time I took the 594 from Tacoma to Seattle (sometime in February), the bus arrived at Tacoma Dome station about 20 minutes late. Essentially, this makes the 594 take the same time as Link will.

    2. +1 — The biggest advantage here is confidence in your travel time. The uncertainty of the bus commute is unsettling and a second-best option. Perhaps OBA will enhance its interface and prediction capabilities by folding in traffic-time calculation technology currently used by Google Maps, Inrix, Waze, etc.? Regardless, that would just be a good way to assist passengers in making the right choice. Link will often be the preferred option as traffic issues grow along with the population.

      1. Confidence in travel time is probably the least important factor in transportation out there. Every day thousands and thousands of people take the least reliable form of transportation (driving) because it is usually (but not always) faster than the alternative. Of course it is nice to have, but generally speaking, it isn’t that important. Give me a trip that is usually under 15 minutes (but sometimes takes 30) and I will pick it over the one that is always 25.

      2. With driving, you can change your route to mitigate traffic spots: the unpredictability is the normal time + the worst route available to you. So if something truly terrible happens, then driving doesn’t help. However, many times, there is a better alternate route that you can take if you were driving, whereas if you’re a bus, you can’t deviate (unless you call it in, get approval, etc.).

    3. I’ve ridden the 594 between Seattle and Tacoma a few times. While it moves quite fast between Seattle and Tacoma, the surface sections within downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma are excruciatingly slow. Slow enough that the majority of the time spent traveling from the UW Tacoma campus to 5th/Pine is actually on surface streets within Tacoma and Seattle, not along I-5.

      Yeah, crazy, huh! It is like subway systems make sense in cities not between them. Just to repeat the key part here:

      the surface sections within downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma are excruciatingly slow …

      … and this will do nothing about that. Absolutely nothing. This does not go through Tacoma, it starts at the Tacoma Dome. And as one of the few human beings that has ever walked to the Tacoma Dome from there home (actually my cousin’s home) I can tell that you few people do. So either way, you have to get to the Tacoma Dome. As for Seattle downtown traffic, guess what? We built a tunnel 30 years ago. Get off the bus! Get off the bus at SoDo and you can ride the train. Sorry for the exclamation points, but the whole thing is just absurd. We are supposed to spend billions and billions so that a handful of riders don’t have to bother with a second transfer, even though, most of the day, this trip will be slower. Meanwhile, sensible changes — like adding a HOV ramp from I-5 to the SoDo busway (proposed by WSDOT a while ago) — get dismissed because, well, it isn’t light rail.

      Look, there is a train (Sounder). It is so much faster than Link that at rush hour you can just randomly show up, wait ten minutes, and still beat Link. For other times (when traffic is light) you will typically blow the smokes out of Link by taking a bus. Nothing personal, Link — it is just the way subways work. It is why the New York subway doesn’t go out 30 miles on Long Island. Hell, from lower Manhattan, the farthest it goes out is 15 miles!. It doesn’t even go out to Yonkers, even though it is adjacent to Manhattan! Why do you think this is? It is because New Yorkers are short of money? Are you kidding me — they are the richest people on earth. Is it because Yonkers, or Hempstead lack the density or “bones” to support such urban amenities? Again, that is just nuts. Please, for the love of God, read a census map. Those areas are ridiculously densely populated compared to Seattle, let alone Tacoma.

      No, the reason they don’t build subways out that far is because it is stupid. It isn’t a good value. It doesn’t make sense for the area. They have bigger fish to fry. So do we.

      I really feel sorry for Everett and Tacoma if ST3 passes. Seattle will muddle though. We will, eventually, build the transit we need. But Tacoma and Everett are probably screwed for a generation. Those on the margins will have trouble paying their bills, and passing more important transit projects — let alone more important things than transit — just won’t happen.

      1. New York City has seven million people. They can afford to forget that the surrounding counties exist because the vast majority of them live their whole lives in the city and a ton of jobs are there and shopping and world-class entertainment. Seattle can’t be as self-contained as Manhattan or New York City is.

      2. Just because New York City does not have subways out into Long Island or Jersey doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for rapid transit service further out. The NYC/NJ commuter railroads are simply dysfunctional and don’t work together very well, even the ones supposedly under the same MTA umbrella. Much has been written about transforming those commuter railroads into a true regional rapid rail system in the mold of Paris’ RER or German S-bahns. They also have state governments hostile to their transit needs that refuse to adequately fund infrastructure and service improvements.

      3. No one is arguing against better express bus service or commuter rail to Long Island or any other suburb. Everyone wants that. But no one is proposing extending the subway out that far because it is silly. Subways don’t work well for that. The advantages you gain from grade separation are swallowed up by the extra time making stops. Unlike in the urban areas, such stops are not popular. You average speed tends to go up (as stops tend to spread out) but the overall time for each trip keeps increasing. At the same time, density decreases, which means you reach fewer people (or the total time increases even more, as folks have to take a bus to the subway). Inevitably you get to the point where it simply isn’t very popular, and you have trouble justifying the cost. As is the case with Tacoma, there simply aren’t that many people willing to sit for more than an hour on a train, even it happens to be occasionally marginally faster than the alternative.

      4. Mike,

        Your “come back” was really feeble. Ross has the intertubes with this thread. He’s right. The legislature has created an optimization machine. It just doesn’t optimize what they thought it would.

      5. You have a similar counterexample with the Green Line between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the 94 express bus which continues to operate weekdays between the two points. Many people continue to take the 94.

  4. Does passing ST3 make it less likely Pierce Transit could get more funding to improve local bus service? If so, if I were a Tacoma resident I would probably rather spend my tax money on creating bus routes that are usable to get around the county rather than on a light rail project that to some extent duplicates existing service and on a slight improvement to really the only bus route in Pierce County that provides adequate service.

    1. If I were a Pierce County resident, I would have voted Yes on Pierce Transit’s proposal to increase the sales tax by 0.3% back in February of 2013. Unfortunately, the transit riding minority lost that election.

      So, let’s fast forward to what real Pierce County residents think about ST3 in 2016, given that real-life answer to your hypothetical election, sans ST3 taxes.

      I see that the Tacoma City Council has endorsed Regional Prop 1. As have the 25th, 27th, and 28th District Democrats, who probably listened closely to what their transit-riding members have to say.

    2. It depends on voters’ decisions. Most people probably vote based on how necessary they think each service is, not by subtracting from some fixed notion of what the total transit spending should be. Mobility is concrete; it’s moving people. Abstractions such as “total transit spending must not go above $30 billion (no matter how big the service gaps are)” are not applied to highways or other sectors.

    3. I think it makes it impossible. Voters have turned down the proposition twice, and with this in its place and adding another .3 would put us above 10% and I’m not sure how easy of a pill that will be for the PC voter to swallow.

      1. +1, Bob. Suburban PC doesn’t have the political will to do it. Tacoma proper has both political will and population density. Let Tacoma transit be created with boundaries concurrent with the City of Tacoma and abandon PT. Neighboring communities will just need to figure out how to live without transit or how to create their own system since they aren’t supportive of a bond measure.

      2. +1, Engineer. The last Pierce Transit tax measure failed by 704 votes. The city voted for it but the poorly planned county and their anti taxers voted it down. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was Tacoma Transit.

      3. Isn’t calling to abandon Pierce Transit because a tax measure fails sort of like arguing that all public schools in a district should be closed if a school levy fails? (Full disclosure: my family uses Pierce Transit daily and we don’t live in Tacoma.)

      4. Instead of abandoning PT and suffer from uncoordinated planning and duplicated support services, just form a new taxing district for Tacoma and send the money to PT.

    4. “I think it makes it impossible. Voters have turned down the proposition twice,”

      So if they’re already voting against PT expansion, what do we have to worry about? That they’ll fill in the circle even darker black to express their opposition? But these may be some of the same people who vote yes on ST3, like it or not. Because if the PT measured fail but ST1, 2, and 3 pass, then there’s somebody who voted for the ST measures who didn’t vote for the PT measures.

  5. Well written!!!

    Agree, Sounder and Link are not competitive with each other in Tacoma. They are if you look further north and east to south King County and east Pierce County… then it’s a struggle for resources between Auburn & Federal Way, or between Kent & Des Moines, or between Puyallup & Milton. (Probably issues to discuss in your next article.)

    ST3 has a ton to offer Tacoma. Despite some shortcomings that I’ve seen, it is a good package and it has my vote and support.

    Not mentioned: the Tacoma (Ruston Way) waterfront. On a nice day, the trail is packed with walkers and joggers to the point of congestion, and the restaurants will have long waits for a table. Yet, the only way to get there is by car.

    I’d really like to see a PT bond measure with the now-reduced service area (which excludes anti-tax and anti-transit exurbs) and improved economy. I think it would pass and we could get actual local transit service here once again.

    Part of the cause of the reduced ridership on the Tacoma Link was the loss of Russell and also, possibly, the loss of connecting local bus routes with PT’s decline.

  6. “Fourth point: that companies are motivated to cut drivers from their payrolls – This may sting, Mark, but eliminating drivers from the workforce will be good in the long run. It may hurt you and the Uber drivers who make a living by driving, but within 2 decades most human labor will be automated, and the consequence will not be mass poverty from unemployment, but rather greater access to goods and services by all people. Unemployment may cause a huge shift in the nature of our economy, but we will adapt and grow stronger as a society, just as we have from past technological revolutions.”

    Aberdeen. Gray’s Harbor. Hoquiam. Tacoma. Detroit. Well, whoever answered me with yesterday, you’re right about what’s happened to all these places over these last 4 decades. About the length of time since I first saw it. And why. The strange thing is why Downtown Tacoma has remained so prosperous-looking. Cities that died years usually look like anything dead that long.

    I think the reason Tacoma looks so good is that you’re pretty much right about the timing of the recovery. For people who can afford two decades of college, and now make their living in things like investment banking, making, instead of machinery, expensive bets. Whose losses the rest of us repay for them. Only thing worse than calling these “financial instruments” or -products is for ST and Metro to call ORCA cards those things.

    Now, either your timing is wrong about the rest of us, whose possessions and appearance belie the fact that without our debit cards we’d be adding tarp space under bridges to Seattle’s explosive housing market.

    Or you neither know, nor want to, anybody the loss of whose life savings has been Federally repaid to the people who caused the crash of 2008. But not to their victims. Who after 71years of the world’s hardest work are about to be laid off from the day care job they need to survive, because their health won’t take it anymore. Luckily, for a few of us, lot of poisonous things can’t sting through an inheritance, however little deserved.

    But where you’re farthest off base is the idea that this murderously undeserved hardship is about like the weather- meaning nobody can do anything about fact that rural Washington has methamphetamine for a major industry.

    Because the last time this country saw similar, the Federal Government simply made rich people pay their taxes (and be grateful their greed didn’t kill them) and used the money to put people back to work. With the condition of our infrastructure, nobody needs to create either “stimulus” or “make-work jobs.”

    The Second World War didn’t hurt (us)(civilians) either. Though current events show that this country’s present and future wars will produce different results for (the majority of )us. But the worst thing about the present situation is that now that Franklin Roosevelt’s beneficiaries have all died of being old, his party now cares less about the un-colleged than our opponents.

    So whether they know it or not, our opponent’s victory in a few weeks will make a lot of self-described liberal complacency think it’s sat on a scorpion, instead of a helpless old hornet. Though both LINKS will still have ever-higher-income standing loads.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “within 2 decades most human labor will be automated, and the consequence will not be mass poverty from unemployment, but rather greater access to goods and services by all people.”

      It depends on how society responds to the labor changes. With a minimum basic income and affordable housing, then the brave new world will come to pass. With an individualist/Gilded Age mentality, it will be mass poverty and starvation like Ireland in the 1800s.

  7. To build on Zach’s point five, I’ll add two words: Russell Investments. If link was extended to Tacoma I think there’s a non-zero chance RI would still be in Tacoma. No doubt that loss of jobs weighs heavily on Tacoma-area electeds.

    Also, Downtown Tacoma : Pierce :: Paine Field : Snohomish. Speculative bets that represent both counties’ best options for future growth.

    1. “If link was extended to Tacoma I think there’s a non-zero chance RI would still be in Tacoma.”

      Non-zero is a very low bar but even that I must disagree with.

      They had only been in Tacoma for 10-11 years when they announced the decision to move (meaning they had been planning it longer). So, it is not like we are discussing a venerable Tacoma institution. The ostensible reason was better access to the Seattle commercial real estate market and talented labor markets.

      However, I was working next door to them when they first moved up to the old WAMU tower – we’d chat at Starbuck’s etc. They always wanted out of Tacoma. When WAMU collapsed, being the savvy real estate investors they are, they seized the opportunity to get into a class A tower in downtown Seattle for the super cheap. They would have taken that opportunity even if Tacoma were Portland, OR.

      1. Huh? Russell was founded in Tacoma in 1936, and was headquartered in various buildings downtown until it moved to Seattle.

    2. Bankers make deals. Their business partners and the rest of the financial industry are concentrated in central cities: downtown Seattle, downtown San Francisco, downtown Manhattan. The head of Russell said before the move that he was spending three days a week in Seattle for business meetings and it was a bit of a burden, so it would just be easier to move the company to Seattle. That doesn’t apply to companies in other industries. Link for instance might make Tacoma seem more viable to tech companies and workers. A lot of them live in Seattle because it’s urban and they commute to the Eastside.If Tacoma had Link they might be more willing to both live and work in Tacoma because it wouldn’t feel so cut off from the rest of the metropolitan area, a hole you can’t climb out of. That in turn would catalyze more of the “cool place” things they care about. And a broad range of other companies might be interested, especially as the available places for corporate headquarters in SLU and Bellevue get used up.

      1. But link to Tacoma especially, because it terminates at Tacoma Dome, isn’t time superior to the status quo of Sounder and ST express. Unlike Everett, Tacoma does not get substantially enhanced access to Seattle/Bellevue from ST3.

      2. “But link to Tacoma especially, because it terminates at Tacoma Dome, isn’t time superior to the status quo of Sounder and ST express.”

        Why did they build Link Tacoma incompatible with Link? Seems so short sighted. A downtown Tacoma stop on the regional Link is a glaring weakness in the Link system.

      3. Tacoma Link is not part of the regional system, it’s for Tacoma, and it will eventually go where Central Link will never go. The platforms aren’t large enough for 4-car trains, and it will run on streets to small for 4-car trains. Also, it was part of ST1 in 1996, when Pierce didn’t know when or if Central Link would ever get to it.

      4. The $500 million being spent on Tacoma Link makes little to no sense though. You could have a dedicated busway from TCC along S 19th, through the Hilltop to Downtown Tacoma to Spanaway. Mind you not grade separated and most of it would likely be signal prioritized but it would likely be able to carry more than Tacoma Link and get people to TCC sooner versus later.

        Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few frequent transit routes in Pierce County that would connect to Link, South HIll to Puyallup Sounder, Spanaway to Downtown Tacoma, TCC to Lakewood and downtown Tacoma?

    3. The Russel move was 100% about getting a steal on the WaMu tower. But State Farm moved into the old Tacoma space so the net loser was Dupont.

  8. Going to be a godsend for people stuck on the 574. Today, if I want to go to Tacoma, I first hop a half-hourly 560 to the airport, and then transfer to a half-hourly 574 which shuns the I-5 HOV lane and crawls along in the congested right lane for most of the trip, exiting and remerging at nearly every ramp.

  9. Being from Tacoma, I want to support this measure, but these arguments seem weak to me. Any way you want to frame it, it simply is too slow. One thing that would really help is if there was discussion about adding express Link service- bypassing the Rainier Valley.

    Another thing that would be great to see is another Tacoma station other than Tacoma Dome. I know they will be studying an extension to Tacoma Mall and that would help IMMENSELY in terms of connecting people with downtown as well as our local service to LINK.

    I will vote for ST3 based on what it is doing for Seattle, but I feel the plans for LINK to Tacoma are a bit of an afterthought.

    1. I think in order to see any of those things that you mentioned above, ST3 has to pass. I wish it were faster, but the access to intermediate stations – especially the airport – and all-day reliability to downtown Seattle points other than King Street Station is major.

    2. There are good arguments against the extension of course, and these could be dusted off and rethought in the event of an ST3 loss. But this is a package deal that we have decided is worthy of support, and this series is intended to make the positive case while being transparent about exactly what is being proposed.

    3. Being from Tacoma, I want to support this measure, but these arguments seem weak to me.

      Exactly! Take the concerts and sporting events rational. The T Dome is relatively easy/cheap to drive to. The one thing that rings true is “walking around, hardly a creature is stirring.” That tells you that there isn’t a need for high capacity mass transit.. think about it.

  10. I’m wondering where that 14k employment number comes from. This PSRC report completed in 2010 at the height of the recession put employment in the Downtown Tacoma Regional Growth Center (RGC) at 31,500 with 13,000 residents http://www.psrc.org/assets/293/rgc-profile-Tacoma-Downtown.pdf. That would be after Russel Investments left and before State Farm ramped up operation in Russel’s old building. 31,500 is the second largest number for a RGC outside of Seattle city limits, Bellevue’s 38,900.

  11. The Tacoma extension of Link has a cost-effective element that Everett does not have: It’s direct routing!

      1. MLK Seattle, not MLK Tacoma. MLK Seattle is where the 12-minute overhead in Tacoma-Seattle trips is. MLK Tacoma is where the Tacoma hospitals are, and will have a Tacoma Link extension in ST2, and a 19th Street (western) extension in ST3.

      2. I was under the impression that MrZ was talking about the routing of the Tacoma Link extensions, as people have complained about the seemingly long diversion before.

  12. I hope that UW gets serious about turning the site into a major campus. With the Link extension, it’s more tempting to create the major state university that the South Sound deserves (especially since Evergreen State is also kept small).

  13. I like this project – but I have serious doubts about demand needing a 6-minute operation.during peak periods. I expect that the green line operational scenario will turn back the overlay peak service somewhere in South King – if for no other reason than to assure that peak hour SeaTac riders can get on a Seattle-bound train.

    1. A Million plus people coming. Tacoma is a giant fount of affordable housing and ripe for massive development. In the timeframe of these projects, there will be plenty of demand for this system.

  14. As a Providence native, I agree with Zach’s assessment here. (Or rather, reading between the lines, with what I think he meant to say: If Seattle is Boston, then Tacoma is currently Providence *25 years ago*, and with more frequent reliable transit to Seattle could be what Providence is *today*).

    Nowhere around here reminds me of home more than Tacoma does. The Providence of my youth was pretty depressing, but had amazing bones. Now it’s much more vibrant, economically and culturally. Some of its good bones are different than Tacoma’s — an Ivy-league research university, arguably the most prestigious art school in the country, and seat of state government, in comparison to Northwest natural splendor — but others are similar, especially in terms of great adaptable industrial architecture, and proximity to a thriving, dense, and progressively more unaffordable major city. Providence’s turnaround has many elements to it, but the extension of Boston’s commuter rail there, with roughly hourly service 19 hours and day, 7 days a week, was a big part of it.

    Of course, that leads back to the whole debate of why not build/expand heavy rail to the suburbs and secondary urban centers rather than light rail, a conversation had a thousand times on here already. I don’t mean to repeat that. My point only is that as someone from one of the cities that Zach compared Tacoma to, and which has seen the turnaround he imagines for Tacoma, I agree with his assessment wholeheartedly.

    1. I love Providence and feel the same way about Seattle : Boston :: Tacoma : Providence. The one difference is that if an earthquake / volcanic eruption comes, it will doom Tacoma but not Seattle to the same extent, whereas I don’t believe there is a similar differential for the northeast.

      But yeah, you can even trade Narragansett Light for Rainier!

  15. One question I have never seen answered is where is LINK going to end in Tacoma. Will it end at Tacoma Dome station or will it go on downtown or terminate somewhere else?

    1. In ST3 it ends at Tacoma Dome. The Pierce delegates pushed for it to continue southwest to Tacoma Mall, and wanted that defined as the official end of the Spine. In the end ST did not commit to either the extension or the promise of extending it later, but it left the possibility open for it. It’s surprising that Link doesn’t turn north to downtown Tacoma, but there’s two reasons for that. One is downtown Tacoma’s odd geographic position out of the way. The other is that Tacoma Link serves downtown Tacoma from Tacoma Dome, and its long-term plan is a four- or five-line network across much of Tacoma.

    2. My understanding is the Tacoma Dome since the LR in Tacoma isn’t compatible with the LR used everywhere else that ST has built out. I could be wrong on some details but the general point is that the two can’t be linked together (pun intended).

      1. I seem to recall long ago that it was said that with some minor work (platform extensions, substation change mostly) you could convert the existing Tacoma LINK line to support the larger Central LINK cars. I think that idea has been abandoned however.

  16. Rather, it’s a bet that an airport connection will be worth $2B (in 2014$) when the line opens in 2031.

    I’ll take that bet. Really, I have a hard time thinking of any city the size and density of Tacoma that has built a 2 billion dollar line to the airport. Most have other, more important things to spend their money on. Hell, even some really big cities with really good subway lines don’t cover every airport (e. g. New York and DC).

    A majority of SeaTac Airport employees live south of the airport, and are currently only served by a half-hourly express bus that takes 45 minutes. Link would shave 10 minutes off that commute, would come at least twice as often, and would increase capacity by as much as tenfold.

    Wait, what? A majority of SeaTac Airport employees live in Tacoma? Is that really what you are saying, or are you simply confusing South King County with Tacoma. There is a reason the bus doesn’t run that often — not that many people ride it. You could bump up frequency to every five minutes (more frequent than Link) and still not get that many riders. Nor will you get that many riders by sending it down an arbitrary direction towards Tacoma. There are no “string of pearls” here that this line will fail to serve (like every other similar system) — it will fail because it doesn’t even have that. The most densely populated census block between SeaTac and Portland is in Kent, and this manages to miss it (http://arcg.is/2dfUtBl). Which is not to say that Tacoma doesn’t have something similar, but of course, Link manages to miss that, too. It serves the Tacoma Dome, an area with few houses, let alone apartments nearby. So residents from what would be considered the more urban parts of Tacoma will now have the opportunity to take a bus to the train, then sit while it makes stop after stop. For just about every flight, a direct bus would be faster, not to mention what is more likely — driving to a different park and ride.

    Second, if Tacoma’s downtown needs a regular influx of visitors with disposable income, conventions are a reasonable bet, and Tacoma’s leaders see a 35-minute Link ride from the Airport as a means to draw in conventioneers who wouldn’t consider Sound Transit 574 a viable option.

    Wow, isn’t that great. You managed to mix in the two greatest wastes of civic dollars in the same article (not counting jails and prisons, of course). Build a big convention center, then a shiny rail line and suddenly business booms. Sorry, no. Spend more money on education, health and human services, running more buses or hell, even lowering the tax rates for small businesses and you would come out way ahead.

    Third, frequent, all day, bi-directional service provides more value than alternative investments such as all-day Sounder. Even if the light rail connection is marginally slower, it will serve 24 stations instead of Sounder’s 9, at the cost of 14 minutes of travel time. I personally wouldn’t consider Tacoma a viable option for living if dependent on Sounder and a half-hourly 594, but I would consider it with the reliable all-day service Link would provide.

    Rarely is the 594/590 running every half hour. It runs about every six minutes during rush hour (same as the headway limit of Link). Of course, trains like this in similar parts of the country run every half hour for the same reason this one will — it isn’t cost effective to run it more often. Running a train is very expensive, and only makes sense if you can pick up a good portion of customers. If you can’t pick up more customers than a bus (which would get there faster) then it is extremely unlikely that we will be able to afford to send empty train that far south very often.

    Oh, and believe it or not, huge numbers of people in Tacoma consider it a viable place to live because they spend almost all of their time in Tacoma. You spend half the article explaining that Tacoma isn’t a suburb, then you assign a exurban commute pattern to all of its residents. Oh, and where exactly, would you live in Tacoma, now that Link is built? Right by the station? Good luck with that. Maybe a couple miles away, where the only bit of density exists in Tacoma. Fair enough — I could live there. Except there is no way I would keep my job in Seattle. A fifteen minute bus ride, followed by an hour and fifteen minute train ride, followed by another bus? No way? There are only a handful of people in this world that will put up with a commute that takes (at a minimum, if you time that first bus ride just right and manage to land a job in downtown Seattle) three hours a day! Three hours a day spent commuting? That’s nuts.

    Fourth, there are a non-trivial amount of large events at the Tacoma Dome annually, including some of the largest concerts in the region. Bi-directional service until late at night will serve those types of functions very well.

    Right — I can’t wait until Link makes it out to the Gorge. Look, the Stadium Station is the second worst performing station in our system, despite having similar events, along with major league football, baseball and soccer serving the area. Once in a while events to a smaller stadium aren’t enough to justify a huge expenditure in light rail. Just run the commuter rail and buses. The first is faster before the event, and the latter faster after.

    Fifth, if central Tacoma hopes to regain some life as an employment center, it needs the parity that bi-directional service provides, rather than Tacoma emptying out every morning with white-collar workers headed north and green-collar soldiers headed south.

    Yeah, sure, but why then, are you building this line? Look again at that census map — the number of people that live along that corridor is ridiculously low. There is nothing special that direction (or any direction, really). You are much better off subsidizing bi-directional bus service to all those areas (and then some). Hell, even running a line through Tacoma proper would get you more riders.

    The only reason that light rail is proposed from Tacoma north is because Seattle is there. Take away the biggest city in Washington, and it would be absurd. The not so special suburbs and the airport aren’t nearly enough of a draw for a city that size to invest that kind of money. But Seattle and Tacoma are simply too far away from each other for a light rail line to work effectively. While it looks great on paper, commutes that take an hour and a half just don’t appeal to people (either direction). Without those riders, the main justification evaporates, and you are left with a really inappropriate investment.

    1. “even some really big cities with really good subway lines don’t cover every airport (e. g. New York and DC).”

      That’s a flaw in those cities, not an ideal to be emulated. The DC Metro is now heading toward Dulles. Duesseldorf airport is at the end of an S-Bahn line, London Gatwick is on the regional and national rail network, people take the El to O’Hare and BART to SF, etc.

      I’m upgrading my computer now so I’ll have to address the rest later.

      1. Mr. Orr, railway transit lines to airports the world over famously underperform ridership expectations and are often deemed as secondary in importance by people who plan and study them; however, the monied elite just adore such connections.

        If Tacoma Link extension is not abot Seattle, then it certainly is not deserving of a railroad out to Sea-Tac. It is inconceivable that modestly sized Tacoma would ever justify an airport connection of its own, and for people to suggest this extension is necessary for that reason should not be at the levers of transit planning power.

        Separately, I also want to make one point in this post: RossB, the Seattle region needs more advocates like you. Your transit planning criticism is timely, articulate and, at least to this reader, so marvelously scathing that I wish this reputable blog posted more critiques from you, and not merely the writings of organizations who declare that grade-separated metro lines to Kirkland are how we should advance the cause of regional mobility.

        We need skeptical people for quality transit, and you are one of the few who have that rare niche role in this discussion. You cut through both political verbosity and planning grandiosity, and when political and financial capital is at stake, that matters.

        Similarly, I can write many of the same things for Anandakos, another pro-transit skeptic, even when I am bitter that he does not endorse my rail improvement plans (even if that specific criticism was related to my more visionary extension to Olympia). That lack of an endorsement matters to me so greatly, though, only because I value opinions like his and yours so much on transportation related issues.

        So, keep posting, keep criticizing!

      2. If you present your plan on its own merits, Troy, rather than as a reason to vote No on Prop 1, people might start thinking you actually believe in your own plan. We have enough fake transit supporters that it is hard to believe the one or two real pro-transit critics of ST3 just because they say they are pro-transit. An alternative plan with at least some institutional support, not just something in your head, is a minimum threshold for your plan to even enter a serious conversation about whether it is a reason to vote no. Nor have you met the threshold of demonstrating that ST3 passing would somehow hurt your one-man plan.

      3. Brent,

        Take a look on page 2 and https://transportationmatters.wordpress.com/

        So an alternative was proposed one year ago and then of course all I get is the “why wasn’t this put forward?” There are actually a few of us who prefer something else and there are many out there who would prefer something incremental.

        It doesn’t help much in terms of JBLM where you couldn’t even divert 10-15% of trips via Sounder. Tillicum doesn’t have connecting transit from Sounder into JBLM so what would make people suddenly ditch their cars to have a car to train to bus ride when you could give a one-seat ride like in Kitsap County with the worker driver buses?

        South Hill gets nothing out of this either. Pierce Transit likely would have to utilize more of the sales tax authority to make any significant capital improvements to plug into ST 2’s systems.

        I’ve looked at the merits and it simply does not compute out. You are expecting high ridership on a line that will mostly have park and rides in-between end points and going along a freeway alignment killing a huge chunk of potential TOD.

        The fact is agencies like BART have ran unchecked for awhile advocating more suburban extensions that become a financial burden without fulfilling other obligations like in San Jose. Measure A was passed in 2000 and that has been used on nothing but BART to San Jose. Third rail metro and LRT were never meant to go out this far in terms from end to end. With two bus routes currently getting 1400 per day just in between Federal Way and Tacoma locally I am not sure how suddenly you can get 27,000 unless everyone who takes 574, 594, 590 and 586 transfers to Link and then double it. You would have to have some significant TOD let alone connecting frequent transit in order to get those numbers.

      4. Brent, the South Sounder enhancement project has been proposed for over a year and has been cited by many commentators on this blog since. To suggest it is a reaction to ST3, which it well predates, is totally inaccurate. Furthermore, how often do you read or hear of anti-transit ideologues proposing multi-billion dollar passenger rail improvement schemes? I wish you would judge the plan on its impressive merits as opposed to just slinging mud. And just because I may be anti-ST3 does not render me your planning enemy, or against density or transit in general. I do not like *this plan*. In some key areas it goes too far, while in others not far enough.

        Lastly, numerous individuals of all backgrounds, from engineering, business, politics, operations and planning, have contributed to the rail plan since I first started requesting public insight on how to improve it back in 2015. It is hardly my own now, but the region’s at large. You can even review many of those conversations on this blog. How is that for transparency?

        Sadly, the Sounder project effectively dies with ST3, and perhaps as does Sounder in general. Turf wars amongst parallel, largely duplicative modes are a real possibility: Tacoma to Seattle does not require that much passenger rail redunancy; ST3 exhausts limited financial capital, and; certainly there will not be any civic/political desire for massive rail improvement projects for Sounder once rails already stretch from Tacoma to Seattle.

        This is not a reactionary proposal, but a progressive one. It is the logical option in far more significant and transformational ways than Tacoma Link, and it is now endangered.

      5. “railway transit lines to airports the world over famously underperform ridership expectations and are often deemed as secondary in importance by people who plan and study them; however, the monied elite just adore such connections.”

        The purpose of high-capacity transit is to transport the largest number of pedestrians where they’re going. Transit is not like a taxi that can stop at every house; it had to stop where the largest concentrations of pedestrians are so it can get the most bang for the buck. The largest concentrations of pedestrians are downtowns, colleges, airports, stadiums, malls, and multimodal transportation stations, so those should be top-priority for rail to serve. It’s not like SeaTac is way off in an isolated spur like North Bend where the track is only serving it.

      6. Mike,

        Yet the top ridership right now still is UW and Capitol Hill SeaTac is down low and it will be interesting to see how much ridership shifts when Angle Lake opens up given RR A line transfers might wait until Angle Lake while some will use the garage to park near the airport.

        The Federal Way extension goes along I-5 which is certainly not a concentration of pedestrians until you get to Federal Way where you might see some TOD but again that potential opportunity got squandered. Tacoma Dome is hardly downtown. You still have to walk at least half a mile to get to UW Tacoma or transfer to the streetcar.

        This has been the main justification for the extension to Tacoma to serve SeaTac without much data to really back it up based on existing transit ridership. I would like to see an origin destination study from tacoma to where people go and see where people are going given 25-30% leave for King County each day.

      7. Troy, your analysis of ST3’s impact on a fast train to Olympia is 180 degrees from reality. ST3 gets Sounder to DuPont. That gets reaching Olympia much closer to reality.

        Voting against ST3 pushes back the timeframe for reaching Olympia and risks the possibility that there will be no Sounder extension in ST2.5, if indeed there is a ST 2.5.

        I want Sounder to reach Olympia very badly. Sooner, not later. The bandwagon has been rolling long before you ran out in front of it and tried to slow it down.

        I also want to be able to catch that train without having to backtrack 20 minutes to downtown Seattle. That’s where Link comes in.

      8. BTW, the argument over extending Link to Federal Way is a decided issue, passed in ST2.

        Gentlemen, that debate is finished.

        The ST3 vote decides whether it is worth it to extend Link from Federal Way to Tacoma. I happen to find value, for my own needs, in not having to jump off Link in Federal Way and then catch a bus that will crawl in traffic.

      9. Brent, thanks for the review, truly. The extension to Olympia is not really the focus, though, but more of a visionary extension beyond the initial heavy rail spine. It is an examination of what can be accomplished once the South Sounder project is realized, and it further identifies ways in which high speed trains can potentially be incorporated into the region. It is most certainly not a project worthy of funding now, nor am I proposing it as such.

        The plan to be considered right now is the one in the scope of these discussions, that is between Seattle and Tacoma. That is executable, especially in the stages I recently detailed.

        Lastly, the debate is not finished, even for Federal Way. November is still a bit away.

      10. Brent,

        That is where we need to get a station at Madison Street in the heart of downtown. That would make Sounder very competitive and would likely have shorter travel times than Link by about 30 minutes plus. Lakewood would come within the one hour window to Seattle. More usage would happen on Sounder from the shorter travel times but also with frequency increases.

        ST 3 puts the price of Sounder improvements at $1 billion which I am not sure what that would buy for all the station modifications. No parking expansion is mentioned but the question is how many prime time slots can be acquired from a growing BNSF let alone the third track on the BNSF? At some point with that volume and given driver stupidity, grade separation is going to become needed in that corridor.

        Hence the idea of the Puget Sound version of Alameda. Build some UP grade separations and double to triple track and exchange for the BNSF. Most of the corridor has links to spur lines from both tracks except a few areas. Freight separation would likely boost capacity and the bigger picture is high speed rail to Portland with beneficial higher speed all day rail trains you find in the rest of the world.

        The bias we have for Link is because it comes frequently and it always has the same travel time. The issue becomes ROW which seems to be the main justification but the travel times are what people like me are flagging as a non-starter. Many continue to mention the SeaTac-Tacoma market but I have yet to see origin destination studies from the Pierce County region let alone the City of Tacoma or Puyallup to where commuters truly go to.

        Even with ST 3, it does not solve current issues such as feeders into Sounder that are needed more than ever given the parking crunches you see. Driverless cars may help with some of that issue but it is only a piece of the puzzle in the last mile issue. However with the costs associated I see more benefits to many transportation links versus two markets and one that primarily is impacted by peak hour.

      11. Dan and Troy,

        Your plan is not bad, at face value.

        What is bad is your insistence on turning down the opportunity to fund Sounder improvements to the tune of $1 billion. You’re letting your version of what you think is perfect be the enemy of what is good for the rest of us. Accept that you aren’t the only stakeholders involved in transit, and that you’ll make more allies for your plan by working with, not against, the rest of the transit activist community.

      12. Until November 8, I will be participating in a democratic process that should continue to value a dissenting perspective. We can discuss innumerable public works projects that, in the retrospective, should have been subjected to far more skepticism and criticism. I am against boondoggles and megaprojects of little value, which was I find most of ST3 to be.

        However, should it pass, I will jump right aboard the light rail train bandwagon, even if most new extensions are inferior in quality to some glaring alternatives.

      13. “Yet the top ridership right now still is UW and Capitol Hill SeaTac is down low”

        Of course it’s lower than UW but it’s still a respectable amount of ridership, and its benefit to visitors and Seattle’s reputation are worth more than one person each. Every train has at least handful of passengers in the daytime. North Link is not built out yet so it’s a hassle to take a bus from north Seattle several miles and transfer to Link (especially if the bus is crowded), and that’s too much for average people. But when Link goes to Northgate, Lynnwood, and the Eastside, ridership to the airport will increase. As people gradually raise the threshhold that they’re willing to drive, which I believe they will do over the several decades, that will increase SeaTac ridership too.

      14. “even some really big cities with really good subway lines don’t cover every airport (e. g. New York and DC).”

        That’s a flaw in those cities, not an ideal to be emulated.

        It isn’t a flaw, it is because they have more important thing to build! Holy cow, do you really think New York should abandon the extremely expensive second avenue subway and say “Hey, everyone, we forgot to sent a train to the airport!”. Of course not.

        But that wasn’t even my point. Has New York suffered because they lack such an essential part of a transportation system? Of course not. Oh, i wonder how New York businessmen and women will manage, what what with visitors having to take a cab or bus from the airport. If only New York had a line to the airport, then it would have a decent economy — maybe even become the financial capitol of the world — instead of being the backwater that it is.

      15. Except NYC does have trains to two of its three major airports, Newark and JFK. Just not a direct train but lots of people use it. We lucked out because Sea-Tac happened to be on the way.

        At Newark you take the airport shuttle monorail to the Amtrak/commuter rail station with service into Penn Station. At JFK, you take the AirTrain to either two subway stations or the LIRR commuter rail station that will take you into the city.

        There long have been proposals to either extend the subway to La Guardia but it hasn’t happened for NIMBY reasons; they had the funding.

      16. Mr. Serad, thank you for your kind words. To be clear, I have no problem with your advocacy for increased heavy-rail capacity between Seattle and Tacoma or for eventually extending Sounder to Olympia. In fact I like them a lot; just not yet to Oly. Design the station at DuPont so that it can serve “through” trains as well as turnbacks? Absolutely.

        But let’s find out if Olympia and Thurston County are really ready to make the investment worthwhile. If they can’t fill a bunch of buses, the probably can’t fill any trains, either. I personally would support some combination of Thurston, Sound Transit and WSDOT figuring out how to add plausible and safe shoulder running between the east end of the Nisqually River bridge and the off ramp for City Center Boulevard. That’s only about three miles and so could be done for maybe $30-40 million dollars. And if and when Sounder is extended to Lacey or Olympia, the lane could be opened to HOV or made a GP Lane.

      17. Dan Hodun,

        You really can’t have a station in the BNSF tunnel. I’ve ridden freights through lengthy tunnels, and I’ll guarantee you that people will NOT stand on a platform in a tunnel which has recently been passed by a working freight train. The soot, heat and smell are overwhelming.

    2. You make a lot of good points. But… the combination of a commuter line from in-between suburbs to both Seattle and Tacoma (with connection to Bellevue & Redmond), and a node at the airport, make it a good route for people to get to work in both directions. The connection to Tacoma Link will make it just as seamless as the commute that the record number of Sounder Riders on the south line take to get to downtown Seattle. Part of the routing makes a bet that the poorly developed 99/I-5 corridor with it’s massive parking lots, low density apartments, and single family rambler neighborhoods will redevelop and infill, just as we are making a bet that downtown Tacoma will experience a renaissance. Maybe the most dense census tract will be somewhere along SR 99 in 20 years instead of in Kent. And, no, nobody is saying that most Seatac airport workers live in Tacoma. They live south of Seatac (Federal Way, Des Moines, Kent, Auburn, Tacoma, Fife, Milton, Sumner, Puyallup, Pacific, Algona, etc.). Airport workers can’t afford to live in Seattle, making the existing Link alignment quite useless to the average airport worker. It needs to run south. Feeder buses need to get neighborhoods connected to the new Link alignment.

      1. Engineer,

        That bet you describe might have been a very good one, but the Good Burgers [sic] who run Federal Way, Des Moines and Sea-Tac have axed the possibility by insisting on the I-5 routing. There are two and only two places on South Link as planned which might grow into a TOD cluster greater than Martha Lake: West Kent and Central Federal Way. The station at 200th cannot support tall development because it’s too close to the end of the East Runway.

        Had the SR99 alignment been chosen and stations at around 220th and 288th been included, there would have been five “pearls” on the South Link “string”, instead of just two. Yes, that would have meant that the horde of conventioneers on Link would have had a three minute longer ride from Sea-Tac to Tacoma Dome Station, but it would have meant that several thousand more people would have had walk-up access to Link either from their homes or workplaces.

      2. Anandakos, I actually agree with your points, for the most part. I’ll add that there is lots of room for growth at 272nd: so, it’s three, not two (Kent-Des Moines, 272nd, 320th). New housing will need to get built somewhere in our region. Why not at 272nd? It is surrounded by urban/suburban uses on all sides, yet it sits unoccupied. The owner(s) of the large wooded parcel is probably holding out for the light rail station to get built so he can build big and tall on it. You don’t get a blank slate for development like that often.

        The shortcomings don’t diminish my support for ST3. South King & Pierce have been paying for ST for years with nothing to show besides buses and Seattle-centric commuter rail. It is time that we get our part of the region connected. I wish that the proposal were better, but I’ll take it. Gosh, just imagine if the 1968-1970 Forward Thrust had passed, even if it had many imperfections, what this region would look like today… I don’t want people looking back in disgust 45 years from now. Let’s get this thing built!

      3. Is there any hope for 272nd Station? From the map it looks like a just long enough walk from 99 to be annoying. The A can’t stop at the station without detouring which we don’t want. I don’t see how another bus route could go between them on its way to somewhere else, although I hope I’m wrong. Is there any hope for higher-density housing on 272nd? Or is it so close to 320th that we should just forget about it and concentrate on 320th?

        TOD along 99 has not been completely lost, but it’s limited to 200th, 240th, and 320th. The missed opportunities are at 216th and 272nd at least. And 320th depends on a well-designed station area that keeps the P&R out of the pedestrian path to the mall and presumed city center, and puts something useful like TOD in between.

  17. I’ve been in Tacoma since 2007 and it keeps getting nicer. It isn’t downtown Seattle and never will be but it isn’t as plastic as Bellevue. I think a lot of posters get confused about this transit project. Traveling is about getting from Point A to Point B but Point B doesn’t always have to be downtown Seattle. Point B can be anywhere that this transit serves. A person could go from Redmond to the Tacoma Dome for a concert and not worry about traffic or parking. A longshoreman could go from their house in Lynnwood to the Port of Tacoma for a shift at the Southern Port (I have a friend who does this frequently).

    This project is about shrinking the Sound. It is called Sound Transit, not Seattle Transit. It is a regional agency for regional transit. I might not take the train to Everett from Tacoma but i might visit friends in Ballard on one seat and a person from Everett might go to Seatac for a flight.

    For the Huskies opening game against Rutgers, my wife and I took Link from Tukwila to the new UW station. It was so nice to be able to get of the train, go up the escalators (that people around here do not know how to use properly) and be at the Stadium’s main gate. It was even nicer to be able to get on Link after the game and take it to Capital Hill for lunch. I know this isn’t a commuters story but it was a story about how I used it and why I am voting Yes in a couple weeks.

  18. I’ve always thought a good solution for the MLK “problem” would be to grade separate Link along MLK, either above or below ground and convert the existing Link tracks to a streetcar line. This would:

    a) Speed up Link service by eliminating grade crossings
    b) Let you eliminate one or two Link stations while maintaining the existing stations as streetcar stations thus speeding up Link service
    c) Allow you to add several streetcar stations thus increasing walkshed along MLK with easy transfer to Link at multiple locations
    d) Bring Link a LOT closer to total grade separation

    It does, unfortunately, create a transfer penalty for some riders depending on the locations of the Link/streetcar transfer stations but overall I think it would be a definite plus for the system as a whole.

    Will it ever happen? Very doubtful, but a person can dream…

    1. It’s too bad that there isn’t a strategic study to assess the MLK issue. The alternative may be to create an express subway single or double track to bypass some stops (like a track that lets trains skip Othello, Graham and Columbia City at a higher speed), to build a surface bypass (like the often discussed Duwamish bypass or perhaps a median 518/509 bypass that ties into the West Seattle branch if ST3 passes), or reconfiguring MLK to eliminate major street crossings by elevating segments of the roadway (like what was done for Park Avenue in NYC a century ago but perhaps only in segments), or something else. Without a study, I think it’s reasonable to say that we just don’t know what’s most cost-effective and productive.

      Frankly, ST needs to study this before creating a final design for the Graham and BAR stations, because the station design could reserve land and space that could allow for this eventual project to happen way into the future.

    2. The beneficieries of this would be Pierce and South King. Neither of them asked for this or considered it a priority worth discussing while ST3 was being assembled between 2014 to 2016. Tacoma would presumably have the most reason to want it, but even when the 70 minute travel time became clear they still didn’t prioritize a bypass. This gets into Zach’s thesis, that the extension is more about connecting Tacoma to the airport and south King County and making Tacoma an attractive jobs center than about connecting it to Seattle and Everett. That’s a side benefit.

      1. Tacoma feels like it’s trying to be become a bit like San Jose. In that while it’s part of the larger Seattle reigon and wants to be connected as such, it wants to be it’s own economic center in it’s own right. Tacoma has been slowly but surely trying to change it’s image as Seattle’s red haired stepchild. As I think ST3 might help give Tacoma a good boost to the city of Tacoma if it does it’s job as well in laying some of it’s own groundwork to make it more desirable. Because to make an area more people want to live, it’s not only on the transit agency to connect them to the larger reigon, but also good urban planning from the city itself.

      2. I agree with you, Mike. I doesn’t appear important with local political officials.

        I don’t see the interest for express trains or faster trains to grow until there is an operational issue — like overcrowding or frustration with having too many airport riders with luggage on the segment between Seattle and SeaTac or an uptick in train collisions on MLK or a desire to have the trains be driverless or a desire to build a second branch line to Renton that uses MLK.

        Still, it’s useful to study the problem — even at a high level — rather than merrily spend billions to expand our system piece by piece and not think about the long-term.

      3. Here is how to think of the ST3 buildout – it’s not one system, it’s four. There’s the Seattle system, the Bellevue system, the Everett system, and the Tacoma system. They all serve their own important communities and largely few ride the entire distance between these centers (except Bellevue/Seattle). But, of course, these corridors just happen to overlap, so you might as well build one big long line.

  19. The Link extension will serve SeaTac, Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way, Fife, and Tacoma with combined populations of over 400,000 people (Seattle has just over 600,000). It will serve several schools including Highline College. It will provide alternative transportation to SeaTac Airport and all the hotels and minor convention facilities surrounding it. It will serve the Federal Way shopping centers. It will provide connections to Sounder and Amtrak. And it will offer up prime locations for development around each of the stations. The streetcar in Tacoma will serve the hospitals, Tacoma College, and UW Tacoma.

    I know this is a Seattle blog, but we do need to realize that the regional transit system serves a lot of people who don’t actually go into Seattle all that often.

    1. Yeah, i think while it’s good to look at what it does to the bigger picture of the reigon as a whole, we do need to look at what it does at a more city or county level. And at those levels, it does a lot of good things. It connects Federal Way, Fife, and Tacoma, and serves as a third option to commuters besides I-5 and old 99. As both get heavily clogged up during rush hour. There’s also the fact that it brings a sense of frequency, reliability, and permanence that ST Express buses don’t have. It would also make Freighouse Square a major transit hub in the South Sound as the Amtrak is moving it’s station from it’s current location in Tacoma to Freighouse Square alongside Sounder and there’s access to Greyhound, Tacoma Link, and Tacoma Dome Station within walking distance of eachother.

    2. So, Link serves Washington State, does that mean it serves 7 million people?

      Sorry, but proximity matters. Density matters. Just because you put a station in your city, or quadrant, or your 50 square mile self defined neighborhood doesn’t mean that it does a bit of good from a transit perspective. Very few people live anywhere close to the stations. Transferring to the train as a means to speed up their transit trip doesn’t make much sense either. “Let’s take a bus to the Fife station, then a train to Federal Way, then another bus” is a phrase that will usually be followed by “Just kidding, let’s drive”. Even in cities less suburban and more densely populated as this, it fails, and fail miserably.

  20. Can a city ignore its local transit component while endorsing its role in the regional plan?
    Pierce Transit currently collects 6/10 cent from sales tax, plus whatever fares and grants bring in.
    Ridership in the local bus system has seen a 25% drop over the last 5 years to average only 26,000 riders per day on all fixed routes combined.
    Compare that to current ST taxes of 9/10 sales, 3/10 MVET. In effect about 2/3 of Pierce County taxes earmarked for transit go towards the regional component and not for local basic service.
    Now, add another 5/10th sales, 8/10th MVET and a new property tax of 25 cents/1,000 valuation, for more regional connections in ST3.
    I’m not from Pierce County, but would have to think hard about increasing priorities for providing public transportation to regional destinations before fixing what is an anemic local system.
    A vote for ST3 will put all taxes in Pierce for transit at 2 cents for Sales Tax, quadruple MVET, and introduce a new property tax – all the while the local system is in decline.
    If there was ever a cart before the horse situation, this is it.

    1. If Tacoma forms a taxing district to send taxes to ST, a Prop 1-like measure would easily pass. We can have both ST3 and more local service.

    2. It’s just a fact that a lot of people are more willing to ride and pay more for regional transit than local transit. And Pierce Transit’s situation is not because of Sound Transit. It has its own different tax structure courtesy of the state, and the state also is more interested in regional transit than local transit. Voting down ST3 won’t help Pierce County’s local transit one bit. The solution is to support them both. If we look at cities with comprehensive transit, they have more than ST and PT combined do.

      1. There’s more at play here. Even a negative vote of ST3 within Pierce Co can be overridden by a positive vote in King Co. That fact has not gone unnoticed by local politicians and business interests. Those same political leaders know that getting a positive vote for local transit is a much tougher sell.
        I suspect they are going for the win of low hanging fruit, and are quite willing to take credit for bringing the rail bacon home on this one.
        Will mobility within Tacoma get better? Somewhat on an extended streetcar system that is also losing ridership, but that’s a paultry win at the expense of ST sucking all the air out of the room once again.
        This also insures a transit tax weary electorate will not be in the mood to increase local spending on a failed transit system, falling further behind each year.
        So the question asked of readers today as the whether it’s worth it should be no, at the local level and yes if you are a regional rider.

      2. There is the matter that the Sound Transit service area in Pierce County is larger than the Pierce Transit service area.

        Sumner’s hope for local service lies in passing ST3. Mayor Enslow has endorsed ST3.

      3. I like Mayor Enslow and personally know him to be a very kind man. However, the Sumner leadership’s endorsement of ST3 is not necessarily the ringing endorsement you present it as being.

        Sumner’s grand hope is that nothing much changes at all.

      4. I didn’t say anything about “the Sumner leadership’s endorsement of ST3”. I don’t think you speak for Sumner, and you certainly don’t speak for me, as much as you try to.

      5. Yet it was Mr. Enslow who at the last minute, pulled sumner out of the Pierce Transit PTBA with his single vote after telling everyone Sumner was going to stay in.

  21. Troy, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get a Reply slot in edgewise. But I think you’re sensing more personal ill-will here than anybody intends. The spirit of the Comment section here is an intense discussion among people with strong interests and beliefs about transit.

    It’s common among professionals in any skilled trade, that differing outlooks and personal experiences, breed some forceful emphasis of their own points, and criticism of others’. You’ll encounter much worse in conversations between engineers on the same project. Sometimes, like on the English Channel Tunnel, yelling at each other in two different languages at the same time.

    Designers, of machinery, especially streetcars and buses,are notoriously intolerant of pressure for compromise. Because the more separate decisions involved, the weaker the result.

    You could also look at these exchanges as “sparring” between friendly boxers. Goal is the improvement of both fighters’ skills. The less force in the punch, the less the recipient and their reflexes learn from it. And the more they practice, the less either partner gets hurt.

    I live near Downtown Olympia, but often go to Seattle twice a week. Right now, service out of Olympia has a lot of holes. So standard trip: drive to Tacoma Dome, where I have three choices northbound. Present I-5 traffic conditions keep me off the 590’s. Too many ST bulletins on Sounder freight delays. But demands of air travel make fully-reserved rail from Tacoma mandatory.

    But finally, a lot of frustration and unease here in “Comments” is because nobody can really predict outcome or timing of Transit Yet to Come. Five years ago, tri-county I-5 was usable. Five years more of the current home price explosion could blow enough passengers all the way to Olympia to bring Thurston County begging for Sound Transit membership.

    So for the sake of your contributions to all our chief preoccupation, concentrate less on being attacked, and more on getting even by setting wrong arguments straight. Any chance you can do a Brooklyn accent? Because this passive-aggressive region needs for “stupid” to have a double “o” in place of a “u”.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Haha!

      All excellent bits of advice, Mark. Thank you, you are terrific. I love reading your pieces here.

      I know we are all trying to advocate for what we believe is in the best interest of this region. This is home, our home.

      And between Lakewood and Seattle, especially, rests the places in which my world unfolds. So, I care very much about how we develop it.

  22. “Express bus travel times routinely beat an hour, and during peak hours Sounder makes the trip in a reliable 55 minutes as well. Link to Tacoma would clock in at a reliable 69 minutes from Tacoma to Westlake, slower than buses on all but the worst days, and certainly slower than Sounder.”

    I don’t believe this is true. My coworker used to commute from Tacoma to Seattle, but over time the traffic got worse. Express buses are definitely not faster than an hour reliably. He said they could take up to 2 hours.

    Even if they are occasionally faster, commuters have to assume the worst and take the earlier bus. Depending on your job, if it’s early you could just end up sitting around waiting for your shop to open.

    As for the sounder, because of the low frequency if you want to take that you need to show up early. I think the sounder website recommends you show up a half our early. Link travel times beat that, simply because you can show up whenever.

    I think this really undersells link for commuters. 70 minutes is not unreasonable for many people if it is reliable.

  23. I have family members in Southern California who were commuting 2 hours EACH WAY. That’s four hours of sitting in traffic, each work day.

    A guaranteed 70-minute one-way trip, where they could read or even get something done on their laptop without worrying about driving, would have been a dream for them.

  24. Just to work on those analogies a bit: Tacoma is comparable to Oakland in being San Francisco’s “second city” (though really San Francisco and San Jose are rough equals these days). Like Tacoma, Oakland was the working class city, where the heavy industrial and intercity railroads were. The Southern Pacific Railroad mainline ends in Oakland, but its headquarters have always been in San Francisco.

    But that’s where the analogy stops. Oakland is of course right across the Bay from San Francisco, less than a 15 minute BART ride downtown to downtown. Depending on what you count, Downtown Oakland has 3-4 times the job base of Tacoma (although companies continue to want Downtown San Francisco prestige). Oakland has roughly twice the population of Tacoma in a land area that’s only slightly larger, so Oakland’s average density is about twice that of Tacoma. Much of the city has population densities over 10,000 per square mile, inner East Oakland is over 20,000 per square mile. About 1/2 of Oakland’s housing is single family, 1/2 multi-family much of in small buildings–they’re not the “missing middle” there. It’s a struggle in Oakland to keep the city leaders focused on transit within the city, rather than to San Francisco or the airport.

    Just as a city, one might compare Tacoma to Santa Rosa which has 175,000 people in 40 square miles. There’s a small downtown, badly damaged by an earthquake in 1969 (and heavily burdened with charmless 1970’s buildings). A commuter rail line is opening up, which will (not initially) connect to the ferry to San Francisco. The big difference is that Santa Rosa is almost twice as far out–55 miles from San Francisco.

    Hopefully Tacoma transit will improve.

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