63 Replies to “Podcast Listener Mailbag #5”

  1. I would like an in depth answer to why Northgate Link will take another 5 years to complete considering the tunnels are complete. Are there ways this can be expedited? Is it a financing issue? Is it a limited working hours issue? Is this timeline comparable to other Sound Transit projects? Is this timeline comparable to other subways around the world? I work in the construction industry and 5 years seems outrageous for track & system installation and commissioning. Could you interview a representative from Sound Transit? Thanks.

    1. U-link took nearly 5 years to complete after the tunnels were dug. The problem is that until the tunnels are dug, they can’t even begin to build the stations because the pits in the ground that will become the stations is where all the dirt and rock, excavated to make room for the tunnels, gets hauled out.

    2. The tunnels are bored but maybe not fairly described as complete. They are currently digging a series of safety passages between the two tunnels every few hundred feet that involves freezing the surrounding ground before excavating. This is scheduled for up to one year and because it is for safety I don’t think much else will be happening in the tunnels until it at least a minimum area (if not all) is complete.

      As for the rest of the project, I’d love to know more details myself than the few brief sentences the Sound Transit web site describes.

      1. Even after the cross passages are finished there is a whole lot more work to be done in the tunnels. There are a bunch of concrete pours to form the floor of the tunnel, the walkways along the sides between the cross passages, and the structures on which the rails are laid. There needs to be conduit and wiring added for traction power, signalling and life safety functions. There needs to be piping added for fire suppression. Then all the rail must be laid, OCS strung up and signalling installed.

    3. It would make for an interesting podcast if you got the writer (or more than a mouthpiece contact) of the Sound Transit agency progress report to go over it, maybe highlight a project from it, eg Northlink. These reports are put out monthly, and filled with interesting stuff if you know how to read a project timeline. Most current one is September 2016.

  2. In theory, the Center City Connector is funded and will actually be completed someday (and could even begin construction early next year). That’s all well and good but it doesn’t solve the issues plaguing the rest of the line. What can be done to turn around the sad story of streetcars in this town? Are there other places where new tracks (properly separated, of course) could really do some good?

    1. If construction starts and, then, Donald Trump removes the federal funding (because Seattle is a Sanctuary City and votes Democrat), does that mean the city is on the hook, or that construction simply halts? If the city has to suddenly come up with $75 million to replace lost federal funds, what other projects get cut to pay for it?

      1. Based on a Supreme Court ruling, the feds can only withdraw funding on items directly related to the funding purpose. ST would have to convert stations into sanctuaries for that to kick in. More worrisome is the possibility that health and human services get cut and we figured out a way to raid ST3 or that Trump tromps on the constitution.

    2. An idea I’ve been thinking about for a while (page 2 post eventually) is turning the U- shape we will have into an X.

      The observation is that it doesn’t make any sense to go through the bottom part of the U – nobody is going to ride the streetcar from capitol hill to downtown. You may as well split it into two lines.

      Then it is clear that you can extend those lines productively. The downtown line could be extended along Jackson to 23rd, connecting to the 48 and tons of development. The capitol hill line could be extended down Rainier to the Judkins Park station (connecting first hill to the east side) or the Mt. Baker Station. Eventually you could replace the 7. Your direct connection would be to first hill rather than downtown, but with an improved transfer at Mt Baker and a great transfer at Judkins, Link would handle that traffic with greater speed and reliability, anyway.

      The essential thing is that you’ve got to get exclusive ROW – but I think that is much more politically feasible with rail than it is with buses.

      1. I had liked the idea of continuing the southern half of the CCC (trains from First Hill) up north along 1st Ave through Belltown and LQA, but ST3 will make that somewhat redundant.

      2. You mean the northern half? I don’t think ST3 makes it all that redundant – rather, the 1st Avenue proposal makes up for the fact that ST3 has link bypass Belltown in favor of SLU.

        It would also pair well with splitting the lines at Rainier and Jackson; rather than achieving needed downtown frequencies by interlining the capitol hill and SLU lines, which really have nothing to do with eachother, you’d interline the Belltown and SLU lines.

      3. Long run, you could also run down Dexter or Westlake to Fremont. It would be a bit redundant with the E line, but with a more direct connection to SLU and the heart of Fremont, plus value along the way in Westlake, it might be worth it. Fremont is the neighborhood most left out of ST3 goodness.

      4. Here’s the question I asked a few people at the ST3 celebration at Fadó on 1st & Columbia: “Would ypu take the CCC from there to Capitol Hill?” Because Fado is right near the middle of the unbuilt segment, so you’d think it’s the place where the CCC would be most useful.

        I’ll just leave it as a question. My answer is I was debating it, ank would probable takje it sometimes but not always. A Seattle Subway person said he wouldn’t, because Pioneer Square Station is just two blocks away and Link is much faster. I should perhaps have specified that I was thinking of a Broadway & Pine destination, not further north.

      5. Yeah, the CCC doesn’t make any sense for downtown to cap hill. It makes tons of sense for downtown to SLU, the ID, or Yesler Terrace.

        That’s why I’d propose splitting it at Rainier and Jackson – it would also make sense to take from 23 and Jackson to the ID, Downtown, etc., but it makes less sense as it wraps back to the north. Similarly, it could make sense to take from Rainier to Yesler Terrace, First Hill, or Pike Pine, if that was a line.

      6. For me, Jackson has always been the low-hanging streetcar fruit. Extend to 23rd, turn north and terminate either in front of Garfield (Alder or Jefferson) or up to Union. There’s also 1st through Belltown, Westlake to Fremont, as well as options for other isolated lines: California; Fremont to UW via 36th, Stone, 45th; Ballard to Northgate via Greenwood.

      7. Extending up first all they way to Denny and then running a couplet up 1st and QA Ave and looping at Mercer/Roy would serve Belltown and Uptown nicely, and it would fill in the gap caused by Link looping through SLU rather than Belltown

        Something like service all the way to Fremont (that’s the 40, not the E) seems better served by existing bus routes, not streetcar.

    1. For starters, I’m not thrilled at the prospect of having to wait for two full light cycles (which could add up to as much as 5 minutes) to cross Ranier, then MLK, in order to reach the station. A lot of that will depend on the signal timing, but, unfortunately, the best timing scheme for vehicle throughput is also the worst timing scheme for pedestrians. Imagine this. You wait first 2 minutes while north/south traffic on Ranier and MLK have a green light. Then, Mt. Baker Blvd. gets a green light for 15 seconds. Traffic engineers think it’s great because 15 seconds is long enough for cars to pass through both intersections in just one cycle. But, for pedestrians, it means that as soon as you cross Ranier, the MLK light turns red, which means you have to then wait another 2 minutes to cross MLK. (Ok, maybe Usain Bolt could get through both lights in one go, but not an ordinary person, not even Bolt with a constant stream of right-turning cars to watch out for).

      Yes, the new trees in the area will nice, but the fact is, people trying to get to the light rail will still need to budget more time to walk across the street than to actually wait for the train. Granted, the lights in the area are pretty awful today, but at least there’s a pedestrian bridge available to bypass them. The “Accessible Mt. Baker” project removes the bridge, forcing everybody trying to cross the street to wait at the lights.

    2. How long will it take the 7, 9, 48 and 106 take to use only one lane on Rainier and will they stack up behind cars and other buses at bus stops? Is the street narrowing an important part of the project? How will buses stop at Mt Baker Station on the right and turn left in mixed flow traffic?

    1. YES!!! The double cab vehicles are beyond stupid when ST will never run single car trains. I can’t imagine that they are less expensive either.

      We need to keep banging the drum for cars with open layouts to accomidate standing loads, bikes, mobility devices, strollers, and luggage space too.

      1. Just being a devil’s advocate for a moment:

        With the ST3 expansion, will operating single car trains be practical for some of the outer reaches of the system during off-peak hours? I’m especially thinking of the Kirkland/Issaquah line, but this also applies for the other suburban. What is the operational lifetime of the original cars? Will they still be operational after 2041 when Issaquah is built out? If so, it may be nice to re-purpose the older (high seating/standing ratio and dual-cab) cars for the suburban runs where off-peak demand is low (i.e. dual-cabs are still useful) and/or riders will be on board for long periods of time (i.e. lots of seating is nice).

      2. I think the useful lifetime of rail cars is generally thought to be 25 years, so for the original set of Central Link cars which entered service in 2009, they would be at the end of their useful life in 2034. Of course, they might be in service for much longer than that.

    2. I thought the point of double car trains was to make all the trains interchangable, with makes maintenance cycles much easier, i.e. cheaper. I don’t think running single car trains matter. You need two cabs because you can’t just “turn around” a train when it’s facing the wrong direction.

  3. I was in the camp that supported ST3 despite hating the suburb-centric routes proposed.
    Even our routes in city were chosen for their ability to compliment the spine, not based upon what will be the most useful to those of us in the city (based on ridership numbers).

    1. ST3 received some of its strongest support from those neighborhoods just north of the canals/Lake Union. Studies also showed a route through those neighborhoods would enjoy the most ridership of any route studied.

    What are some scenarios, however unlikely, in which we could have east-west Northend grade separated transit completed with the same time frame as ST3?

    2. Similarly, do you get a sense from the City of any interest in any “go it alone” grade separated plans either under monorail authority, north end bus tunnel, or political wrangling in Olympia and, if so, what are the lines they are most interested in?

    Thanks.

  4. What is the current status of the up-zones in Seattle, particularly around light rail stations? is the only thing in the pipeline the U District and the 1 story from HALA? it looks like there is a lot of missed potential right now in Capital Hill with most buildings off of Broadway at 3 stories.

    Additionally, is there plans to go higher than 400 feet in most of downtown? Seems like an artificial limit since most new buildings are maxing out height.

    1. Lower Queen Anne is also on the docket, and the HALA rezones have a lot more going on than the typical 1 story. But I agree – I’d love to learn more about upcoming rezones! Especially in light of ST3 (what are we going to get at Graham street, 130th, at W. Seattle and Ballard stops?)

  5. Seattle Subway has brought up various “contingency” lines that could potentially be funded with remaining ST3 funds. However, looking at ST’s map of “future study” lines, some are included, but the proposed extension from the future Ballard Station to Crown Hill (including stations at 65th and 15th and 85th and 15th) shown in the Seattle Subway map is missing. Given the density that’s accumulating along that corridor, it would seem like that extension would be a very good value. In some ways, it’s more “low hanging fruit” compared to the underground Ballard-UW line (although, just to clarify, I strongly support that line as well).

    What’s your take on a Crown Hill extension? Is it feasible that it could end up being built with ST3 funds or is that just wishful thinking by Seattle Subway?

  6. Is there any way to get metro to more assertively encourage people to board at the front and exit at the back? I ride the bus several times a day, both commuter and non-commuter routes, and this seems like low hanging fruit to improve speed and reliability, particularly in the non commuter case. Yes, there’s a small sign on the ceiling of the bus but that does next to nothing for the people that actually need to hear the message.

  7. Would additional bonding capacity actually make it possible to speed up ST3 projects by a decade or so? There seems to be a lot of disagreement about this.

    1. Depending on the project, from start to finish they can take 12-17 years. With planning,community outreach, property acquisition, design review, environmental impacts studies, construction and Testing these projects take time. Being able to bond would allow them to start project sooner instead of waiting to tax revenue to collect. But they would still have to address staffing issues. The biggest benefit would be the reduction in cost. of the 25 year plan the have 5-8% interest, locking in the lower rates at 3-4 percent would just save money in the long run and probably allow for Ballard and west Seattle tunnels. That being said It would the wouldn’t be able to get bonds until the majority of the planning was done and routs had been selected.

  8. 1) There have been recent guest posts by Seattle Subway and Transit Riders Union on STB. What are your reactions and thoughts about the positions and issues in those posts?
    2) Heard anything recent about ORCA on Monorail?
    3) Heard anything recent about an Olive Way freeway station for the 545?

    Thanks!

  9. A first hill station on the second downtown tunnel (in lieu of Madison street station) was suggested on this blog, and while it was not a part of ST3, observers on the blog have pointed out that the ST3 plan leaves out enough details about the second subway that a first hill deviation is doable within the parameters of the voter-approved plan, suggesting that ST took the possibility seriously.

    The question is this: with 5th avenue being the presumptive location of the station, but also ST’s conservative cost estimations already starting to pay dividends, how well does this bode for First Hill station, and what kind of luck would it take to get the station to Boren and Madison without requesting more funding from the voters?

    1. The First Hill deviation is a dumb idea. Why trade a more-or-less straightforward tunnel under 5th Ave. for two undercrossings of I-5 and added running time. It’s not like 5th and Madison is a sleepy part of downtown.

    1. I doubt the feds would recall grants they’ve already awarded. But the SE3 grants aren’t awarded yet, and we don’t know if ST would have gotten them even under a different administration or how much. The federal grants programs are completely uncertain at this point. Some congressmen want to shift the money to highways, but the majority of Congress hasn’t spoken yet.

  10. Financing question. After full ST3 buildout and bond payoff (assuming no ST4 for now), what do the taxes look like that will be left in place? ST has many revenue sources, and very little has been said about the future other than “roll back to only cover operating costs.” Which of their multitude of revenue streams would be least regressive to leave in place, and which one would be most politically feasible?

  11. Want are the biggest open items still to be decided for ST3? Basically, what debates can we look forward to as a region

    1. Everything. Each project needs an EIS Alternatives Analysis, with ST’s preferred alignment, a no-build alternative, and one or more alternatives wanted by the stakeholder community. Lynnwood Link studied I-5, Aurora, 15th Ave NE, Lake City Way. and one or two freeway BRT options, and stations at 145th 130th+155th, 120th, and 185th or 175th, . The only constraint is (1) the budget in ST2 and (2) the precedent of the “representative” corridors in the ballot map. If ST deviated from yhe I-5 alignment and 145th station, it would just have to write a statement justifying the change. That’s easy but ST is reluctant to do it unless it thinks it has a strong reason. So the LCW alignment, if it had been chosen, would still have to go up to Lynnwood because the primary promise was to serve the Lynnwood-Seattle transit market.

      The Federal Way EIS is final because it was completed under ST2, so it’ll be much harder to convince ST to change that alignment and stations.

      1. Right – it meant what do Martin/Frank think the are the biggest ones. Yes, all the EISs still need to be done, but I was curious what they thought the biggest decisions points will be over the next 5~10 years.

        Examples: Ballard ship canal tunnel or bridge? Will WS get a tunnel? Where will the Madison tunnel station be located? Where will Issaquah Link interline with East Link? Will Fife get a US 99 alignment? etc.

  12. For the ST3 portion of East Link to Redmond, why does the tail of the downtown Redmond light rail line snake over to Marymoor Park, just to make a U-turn and backtrack to downtown Redmond? Wouldn’t it be quicker to have a straighter route that hit downtown first, then Marymoor, or cut Marymoor altogether, go to downtown, and save over a mile of expensive light rail track?

    1. I think it’s a combination of two things:

      1) The direct route would be too steep, with Overlake at the top of a hill and Redmond down in a valley.
      2) The chosen route follows right-of-way that is more easily available to put rail on (I think freeway ROW, followed by an abandoned rail line into downtown Redmond). The direct route would have required either more intrusive property acquisition/demolition or an underground subway.

    2. The existing ROW is key – serving SE Redmond Station first allows for the route to leverage the 520 ROW and then the old rail ROW of the Redmond Central Connector. So no, a straight shot would be much more expensive even if it is less track length.

      As for deleting SE Redmond, that would be a political non-starter because that’s were the big parking garage is (Redmond’s downtown stations is an “urban” station, i.e. no parking). SE Redmond has a bit of a walkshed – there’s a significant amount of light industry / distribution centers between Redmond Wy & Union Hill Rd, plus a number of MF apartments. It will also be the transfer point for Metro/ST buses coming from Samammish.

    3. Yup, all of these. Steep grade on the direct route, existing ROW, plus a better location for connecting buses from the exurbs.

      The other factor is that Redmond intends to develop that area much more intensely. It’s not much to look at now, but when core Downtown is completely developed in the not too distant future, Downtown will expand in the direction of the new station.

  13. Haven’t seen this posted yet: what’s the status of the RapidRide+ program, specifically in the Madison and Roosevelt/Eastlake corridors?

    Center islands? Double doors? BAT lanes? How much has the Seattle process made RapidRide+ essentially the same as RapidRide?

  14. Given that Sound Transit cannot hold a Seattle-only ballot measure to fund Seattle-only projects, could the city of Seattle decide to independently run a proposition to fund Ballard-UW and Metro 8, and either contract Sound Transit to build the projects or (if that is not legal) offer the funding to Sound Transit under a condition (presumably non-legally-binding) that the funds be earmarked for Ballard-UW and Metro 8?

    1. Either one. That’s how Seattle accelerated the Ballard-downtown study, bny paying ST to do it sooner, The other subareas said, “We want to acceler\ate our studies too”, and that paved the way for the ST3 vote in 2016 rather than next decade or so. The 45th line is already in ST’s long-term plan; it just needs funding. A Metro 8 line is not in ST’s LRP, and ST has never said whether it likes the idea or would be willing to build it in ST4 or if somebody else pays. The 20-14 LRP update for ST3 had a candidate project from West Seattle to Jackson Street, 23rd, and Dennt Way to Uptown. The board was bewildered about whether anyone would ride it, and the public didn’t speak up for it until the last week when ST was already deleting it from the plan.

      1. The 20-14 LRP update for ST3 had a candidate project from West Seattle to Jackson Street, 23rd, and Dennt Way to Uptown. The board was bewildered about whether anyone would ride it, and the public didn’t speak up for it until the last week when ST was already deleting it from the plan.

        So, I gotta ask: how the heck does anybody find out what these plans actually are? Because I lived in the CD for the entire time the LRP was supposedly being updated and not once did I or any of the neighbors I asked on Nextdoor and in other social settings know that a “Metro 8 Subway” was even being hinted at. Even today, I can’t find where that was listed as a candidate project outside of a single Sound Transit survey where it was listed as “corridor 26” or somesuch (and I both said “yes this would be awesome” on the survey and wrote at least two e-mails to the Sound Transit board about it).

        I’m not saying that Sound Transit didn’t do enough outreach; I’m asking what I missed because I’d have loved to badger people who live along 23rd and get them to go out and support such a corridor. I’ve heard more about a Metro 8 after it’s dead and buried than I ever heard during its allegedly-short lifespan.

      2. It’s a case of hiding in plain sight so only one or two people realized its potential. The corridor description was as a tail of a West Seattle line, so most people focused on that, thinking most riders wouldn’t want to make a deep U-shaped loop when they really wanted to go north tp downtown. The assumption was that the CD was too close to downtown to get its own service. so people weren’t thinking in those terms. Somebody asked ST where this corridor came from, and the spokesman said one person had suggested it at an open house. I never said anything about it I heard. The ST board discussed it briefly at a workshop I attended but they didn’t understand what the purpose of the corridor was or why it would be important. One of the boardmembers introduced an amendment of corridors to delete and it was on that list. While that list was in boardmembers’ hands for a final vote, the STB commentariat began waking up to the potential of the CD service it contained. That may be when the term “Metro 8 line” was coined. A small movement to promote it formed, and that was the point that somebody on 23rd might have heard of it. But it was only a few days to the ST board vote, so there wasn’t enough time to effectively get the board’s attention about this movement; one or two emails might have gotten in before the vote. Then the vote happened and the corridor was deleted.

      3. So then, I have to wonder, if the board was directly elected, maybe they would have asked input from the voters on the project for real, rather than killing it due to the lack of merits from their perspective.

  15. Why do the Link trains shake so badly between Rainier Beach and TIBS? I know it’s not the trains as they don’t shake between UW and Capitol Hill at similar speeds, is it bad track? Poor Maintenance? Is this what we have to look forward to?

  16. Martin & Frank: How do you feel about the majority deplorable comments toward low income people on your guest piece about improving low income bus fares last week?

  17. Can you talk about the S. Kirkland to Issaquah alignment. There appears to be station lake mount near the freeway entrance that doesn’t have high density housing, parking lots, stores, or any infrastructural at all. It seem like a weird place to put a station. Also the plan for Issauqah station has it 5 blocks away form the existing park and ride next to the QFC. I know these plans were preliminary but its like they are not even trying. The Station for Factoria is on the wrong side of the freeway are they planing on buying a bunch of empty lots, building a station and filling in around it?

  18. If the American Dream with its detached single-family residences, wide lawns, and multiple cars is no longer possible in a growing Seattle, what would an updated “Seattle Dream” or “Urbanist’s Dream” look like?

    1. If the American Dream is cleaning up after everyone else’s dog crap left in your front yard and then being chained to a lawnmower, Americans need to dream bigger.

  19. With the new Democracy Vouchers program starting next month, will STB be offering very early endorsements or coverage to help direct some of this public campaign financing to transit-friendly candidates?

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