[UPDATE 9:42am: normal service has been restored at all stations with residual delays.]

Tragedy struck early this morning at Othello Station in the Rainier Valley, as a person was struck and killed by a Link train. At this hour Seattle Police and Seattle Fire Department are working to extricate the person’s body from underneath the train. Photos of the scene are available at the Seattle Times story.

Link trains are not running between Columbia City and Rainier Beach. Trains are running from UW-Columbia City and Rainier Beach-Angle Lake, with the Route 97 Link shuttle to bridge them. Contrary to earlier advice issued by Sound Transit this morning, Route 38 no longer exists in the Rainier Valley and is not an alternative option. Routes 106 and the Route 97 Shuttle are the only options between Columbia City and Rainier Beach.

The circumstances of the collision are not yet clear, but we offer our condolences to the family and friends of the person involved.

This post will be updated as further information is available. 

84 Replies to “Fatality Collision on MLK, Link Service Suspended Between Columbia City and Rainier Beach”

  1. My thoughts this morning are in no small part with the recipient of a train hit and the transit operator. I do think though this tragedy is going to require a serious safety evaluation of how to run transit at-grade.

    1. This is a tragedy. We need to keep our faces out of phones or whatever else distracts us, if we are going to be safe as we navigate the world outside — as well as observe traffic signs. They are there for our safety. My heart goes out to the victim, his family, the driver of the train, his family, and the passengers.

    2. I do think though this tragedy is going to require a serious safety evaluation of how to run transit at-grade.

      STOP. Just stop right now. What you are saying is tantamount to making every Link rider suffer because someone walked in front of a train. Quit it. People fall onto the tracks (and jump) in the New York City Subway. Does that mean there needs to be “a serious safety evaluation blah-blah”? No, it does not!

      People will be killed by Link even after it’s completely elevated.

      1. First five words back at you, Richard. Standard industry practice has always demanded a very serious safety evaluation after every transit related fatality. As do the police. As the law requires. And as Sound Transit’s attorneys find extremely prudent. Because the taxpaying public appreciates being saved the millions of dollars’ damages that failure to investigate will cost them.

        We can check Harborview’s records, but I doubt we’d find any proof that the most serious safety evaluation ever put a transit rider on morphine, or treated for shock. Seeing someone hit, or retrieved from various parts of the undercarriage could be a different story. Same for the crew who has to take the machinery apart to be sure they got all of you before the really hot weather gets here.

        It’s the literal truth that LINK is the first service of its kind in this region for what, seven decades? Meaning we’ll need to be re-learning how to run interurban rail transit at grade, on elevated, and in subways for at least the next thirty years.

        So in the meantime, if you want to give a train operator your opening order, Sound Transit and the whole staff at Harborview would appreciate you yell real loud while standing well clear of the right of way. Both Emergency and the Behavioral wards at Harborview have lines of stretchers down the stairs and around the block.

        And Western State Hospital is not only packed, but also falling apart like in Charles Dickens.

        Mark Dublin Formerly Metro Transit Coach Operator 2495

      2. Mark,

        His words were “how to run transit at-grade”, NOT an investigation of this accident which is of course in order.

        RTFC. It is exactly the languaging that the autoistas will use.

    1. From the photo on the Seattle Times, it looks like a pedestrian who was using the normal pedestrian rail crossing at just the wrong time. It might have been a deaf person, since any responsible operator would be blaring the horn as soon as he saw the guy about to cross.

      Sad day.

  2. Very sad, and made worse because it’s yet another preventable tragedy. For some reason there is political will power to spend untold billions on new light rail alignments, but not to fix the unsafe and unreliable stuff we already have.

    1. The problem is that it’s already there. We already invested billions into the at-grade segments of rail on MLK/SODO. Ripping up all those tracks after just 8 years of service (suspending service on the entire line for several years due to the placement of the maintenance base).

      I honestly don’t see that being a real possibility until at least most of ST3 is built, and probably in conjunction with a Rainier Valley bypass though Boeing Field.

    2. It’s not easy to retrofit an active rail line, especially when we have only two tracks. The difficulties seen in Washington DC, where they’re replacing tracks and dealing with single tracking and closures for weeks on end, would be the same here, bit could affect long term ridership.

      MLK should have been elevated, but activists and budget won out early in the process. Truth be told, it’s pretty safe compared to the number of “regular” traffic fatalities in South Seattle.

      1. If ST tunneled under the existing alignment, there would be minimal service disruption. Once the new tunnel opened, the current rail could be removed and the ROW converted into a linear park/path, and the old street grid could be reconnected.

      2. I think that may be a bit of a misunderstanding from some of the less-familiar readers about what it would take to build a subway under MLK or put in rail under-crossings at major streets along MLK.

        First of all, there are a few feet of solid concrete under the existing rail line, because rail wheels require more support under the tracks than roads require under the surface. The pounds per inch is much greater with steel wheels, and tracks would sink without feet of concrete underneath.

        Second, transitions would be required to come up and down to a lower alignment anywhere where an underpass is introduced. To use just the current alignment, ST would have to disrupt service for months if not years (either single-track the segment or close the track completely) to tear up the current rail, tear out the concrete underneath, dig the trench and then lay new concrete and connecting rail. Another option would be to put in a third track by removing one-lane at every transition on MLK — either temporarily or permanently. Another option would be a full subway for express trains only (like trains to Tacoma) that would not stop anywhere except maybe Mt. Baker and maybe Rainier Beach or Boeing Access Road; that tunnel would be 3-4 miles long — which would be move expensive than the sometimes-discussed Duwamish Bypass concept option.

        Third, most of the needed overcrossings are at places where there are existing stations. Do we want to put subway stations at these locations? If so (and that is very likely unless we opt for an express train solution), then we would have to design station vaults under the current stations. Ways to do it would be to either bore a tunnel under the traffic lanes of MLK (noting that it would be pretty deep) or build a 20-feet trench in the roadway on each side, then rip up the existing tracks to put in new center-platform subway stations — nothing that each existing station would have to be closed for a few years between the closure of the existing surface station and the new subway station.

        That’s just the construction headache! All of these things would make a grade separation project along MLK very expensive! There is no funding to do it.

        In sum, there are not easy solutions to add in rail grade under-crossings.

      3. It isn’t easy. However, it has been done where necessary.

        Union Pacific main line and highway 99E on the north side of Salem, Oregon?

        Highway 26 / Powell Blvd under the Union Pacific main line at SE 17th Ave in Portland?

        There must be examples of this happening closer to Seattle.

        Eliminating grade crossings in this way is certainly not unheard of in the mainline railroad world.

        A much more important obstacle is what is under the street. Something like a 96 inch high pressure water main will not be touched.

      4. Glenn: there were grade separations added over/under the BNSF in the Kent Valley (except Downtown Kent) for Sounder, but keeping Link rail where it is and moving most/all crossings is an interesting alternative.

      5. When I travel through there it seems like there are a number of former crossings that were undercut. Seems like there are several/a fair number around the Tukwila station.

    3. Things like this throw into question the whole “Surface alignments are less expensive and more fiscally responsible” argument. What needed to happen was to include these factors in the original comparison between a surface, elevated, or underground alignment. It’s not only the human loss of deaths and accidents and the mobility impact of having the line stopped or split, but also the everyday impact of having the trains run at 35 mph and subject to occasional signal problems instead of 55 mph with no obstructions.

      And it may go down to 30 mph if the city applies its new vision zero arterial policy to MLK. It hasn’t done so yet because all the train and car timings and cross-signals are coordinated for 35 mph, and changing that or having trains run at a different speed than cars would throw the timings all out of whack and force trains to wait at lights where it mismatches. But the city is evaluating what it can do.

      At the time ST was afraid a grade-separated solution would strike voters as too expensive and lead to Link’s defeat, because the thinking was that anywhere it’s flat enough to run it on the surface you should. (And the original proposal was at-grade from Mt Baker to SeaTac, and presumably on to Federal Way. I wonder what that travel time would have been.) But as the segments went through design one by one, the public demanded more grade separation and were willing to pay for it. The first was Roosevelt which got a tunnel in its center, while Rainier argued for more separation and failed. But the tide turned and ST2 and ST3 are almost completely grade-separated or have freeway underpasses except a small low-volume section in Bel-Red and Redmond. So luckily we’ve gotten separation for other reasons. But that still leaves the problem along MLK, which looks like it will have to wait until the 2030s when the North King ST3 projects are finished. (Or longer, depending on what happens with federal grants.)

      1. Fatalities occur underground as well. Last year 50 people died in NYC subway accidents.

        As far as the speed benefits from underground go, they are minimal. Even with the large stop spacing of Link (which will shrink considerably with the addition of Graham Street Station) you wouldn’t save much time. The train has to speed up and slow down, meaning that very little time would actually be spent at that top speed. Meanwhile, all the riders who board or disembark in Rainier Valley have to spend extra time going up or down to the station. The time spent is probably way more than the time saved, even if you went the entire length of the valley (and it would be big loss for some that went from Columbia City to downtown). In terms of riders, about the same number would benefit as would be hurt.* In other words, it isn’t clear at all to me that this would save time overall.

        The main benefit is that you could shrink the headways to three minutes. This would be nice if it so happens that the train gets crowded. That seems unlikely (and if it does happen, will likely be the result of much higher ridership in the valley, the very people who would take a time hit). It is also nice from a future flexibility standpoint (you can send more trains to the airport). Of course it is always good to drop the headways. Instead of an average wait of three minutes, you have an average wait of 90 seconds. Saving 90 seconds is nice, and likely a much bigger time savings than the savings due to the increased speed. But there are cheaper ways to improve the headways, such as building underpasses for the intersecting cars (which also has the benefit of improving intersecting bus service).

        Is it worth hundreds of millions to save 90 seconds? I don’t think so. There are plenty of buses that could improve their headways (e. g. Swift) and it would result in a much bigger savings. That is why I find the argument that we should spend this kind of money so that the trains can run marginally faster to be misguided. Going from 12 minutes to 6 minutes is significant. It means you can ignore the schedule, and on average means saving 3 minutes, which is way more than the time savings of building a Rainier Valley tunnel. It is also a lot, lot cheaper. Plus everyone wins. If we do anything, we should build underpasses, and chances are that really isn’t a high priority.

        * Ridership data is there (as of last year), but it is complicated. There are about 6,000 people who ride in the three surface stops, and about 7,500 that get off in Tukwila and SeaTac. But 1,500 of those are people from the surface stops (where it would probably be a wash) and 500 are going from Tukwila to SeaTac (where Rainier Valley is irrelevant). That is why I say that the numbers are very close which means that I doubt you would even come out ahead.

      2. RE: Ross – I think the headway might be the one thing that would tip the scale, given the current ST3 system plan –> a RV headway limit is also a limit on Ballard to downtown headway. There are a half dozen ways to fix that (flip the West Seattle spur, build that Dwamish ‘bypass’), of which rebuilding RV might be a compelling option. But that’s a 2040-ish project at the earliest.

      3. >> There are a half dozen ways to fix that (flip the West Seattle spur, build that Dwamish ‘bypass’), of which rebuilding RV might be a compelling option. But that’s a 2040-ish project at the earliest.

        Yes, and before we do that we need to build the Ballard to UW and Metro 8 subway and sink several hundred million into about a dozen or so BRT projects. Every one of those projects would be would be more cost effective than another tunnel

      4. >>There are a half dozen ways to fix that (flip the West Seattle spur, build that Dwamish ‘bypass’), of which rebuilding RV might be a compelling option.

        Even simpler: Just turn back every second train (or so) at Stadium.

        Though, grade-separating Rainier Valley would have the other advantage that it’d let us send a line down to Renton…

    4. My prediction is that trains will indeed be eventually slowed in the short-term. Add to that the effects of adding the Graham Station, reducing the effective speeds even more. I however agree that a better longer-term solution is needed.

      We could speculate how to design a long-term solution. The problem is this: there is no funding or commitment to even study what solutions should be explored. We don’t know and no official has the will to force ST find out.

      Posters have speculated the Duwamish Bypass, tunneling under NLK, a second line as subway under Rainier, street overpasses, and all sorts of other ideas.

      We need to encourage ST to develop and develop costs for different solutions. Who among our electeds will be the catalyst for that?

      1. How about if we leave out the Graham Street Station? Also curious about how many of the nearby merchants want the station, and if any of them don’t. Would probably be cheaper to run buses at five minute headways all day.

        Mark

      2. I seriously doubt any of those things would be cost effective, though. Just to go through the different issues:

        1) Safety – It is pretty hard to argue that this is anywhere near the top in terms of safety issues. You probably have more injuries and deaths due to traffic accidents and crime in the city than you do train accidents. I’m sure there will be a review, and they may do some things, but I think if you asked folks in the area whether they would like more cops on the streets or build a tunnel, they would choose the former overwhelmingly.

        2) Time savings — The time savings due to the speed improvements are minimal, and will decrease further when Graham Street Station is added. The trains spend very little time at top speed through there (unlike south of there). As I said up above, putting the stations underground or high in the air might easily mean that we lose time, not save it. Folks getting form the airport to downtown save a few seconds, but folks in Rainier Valley lose more than that just getting to the platform.

        3) Increased headways — This would be nice, but at what cost? The cheapest way to do this is probably having underpasses. This would be nice, as it would have the added benefit of allowing traffic — including buses — to flow more freely. If we do anything, this seems like the thing to do. With increased headways everyone wins. You save a substantial amount of time (more than you would by the increased speed) while adding operational flexibility. You also handle big loads better, although I think that will rarely be a problem.

        I would have to see the cost, but it is hard to see how much of this is really justified. A second line to the south would be really hard to justify (given much bigger needs around town) and digging a tunnel would not only be disruptive, but as mentioned, not necessarily a net time saver. Elevated will never happen, as it would basically say to the folks in Rainier Valley that they should spend more time getting to the station and deal with the increased noise so that a relatively small number of suburban or airport riders can cruise overhead. In short, I don’t see any of that happening. At some point we might want to add underpasses, but my guess is that the money would be better spent making improvements to bus service in different areas.

        What if, for example, we could shave five minutes off of the top ten buses in our system, and double the frequency. Those buses carry way more people than would benefit from any improvement to this part of the line (or would benefit from a bypass), which suggests that we probably shouldn’t worry about this.

      3. The residents have wanted Graham Station since it was deferred. There has been no opposition to it. A station means more business for the merchants. Not even South King or Pierce raised objections, even though it will add a half minute to the travel time. The only reason it’s not there now and won’t be until the mid stages of ST3 is lack of money.

      4. Leaving out the Graham station doesn’t improve safety. If anything, having a Graham station will create slower trains and possibly improve pedestrian safety, especially between Graham and Othello — because trains won’t have much distance to both speed up and slow down.

      5. RossB says:

        I seriously doubt any of those things would be cost effective, though.

        An awful lot of people have been killed on MAX tracks over the years on places where it is supposed to be inaccessible. So, one problem is that you can spend a pile of money grade separating the line from everything else, and people will still find some incredible ways to get onto the tracks anyway. Complete separation doesn’t necessarily bring the fatality level to 0.

      6. There’s a difference between:
        1) Going into an “Authorized Personnel Only” area.
        2) Falling from a platform to the track.
        vs
        (3) Walking or driving across a public intersection.
        (4) A car straying from its lane onto the track.

        The latter two are what grade separation would help with, and they’re by far the most common problems. People have no business climbing up to an elevated track, going through the maintenance-base property to get to the drivers’ platform in SODO, or walking between stations in a tunnel unless they’re evacuating in an emergency. Falling from a platform or being pushed can happen at any kind of station, and has a separate solution (platform doors, which can slow down boarding). But people do normally walk and drive across intersections, and it’s easy to accidentally or intentionally be there at the wrong time. Likewise, it’s easy for a car to stray outside its lane if the driver is drunk or distracted or another car bumps it (e.g., gang assassination). So let’s remove the most common and preventable problems from the equation by grade separation. Acknowledged that it may not be practical to retrofit MLK for a long time, but it should be part of the planning and alignment selection process for any future extension or line.

      7. >> So let’s remove the most common and preventable problems from the equation by grade separation.

        Again, that is just silly, for the reasons I mentioned. It would be a classic overreaction. Which of the following (just off the top of my head) would save the most lives:

        1) Free day care for kids under five.
        2) Free after school day care for those over five.
        3) More community center programs (for young and old).
        4) An expansion of food stamp programs to make sure every person in the city is well fed.
        5) Community health programs.
        6) More cops on the street.
        7) Massive investment in bus service.
        8) Massive investment in bike paths and street safety improvements.
        9) Retrofitting MLK light rail to be grade separated.

        It isn’t even close. Item number 9 is the least important (by far). Again, ask the folks in that very neighborhood how they want to spend a billion dollars, and you will get items 1-8. Even in podunk Seattle way more people die from crime than die from train accidents. Way more people die from being hit by cars than by being hit by a train. Way more people than that die from poor health. Items number one through 8 address that, whereas item number 9 only deals with one, very sad, but still minor problem.

        It reminds me of mountain lions. Those wild cats kill several people, which is a tragedy. But the lack of them actually kill more. That sounds crazy, but without enough mountain lions, deer multiply like crazy. With lots of extra deer, more of them run into the highway, and that means more people die. This is a terrible, tragedy, and my heart goes out to the family. But spending a huge amount of money on preventing this type of accident is really a bad idea. For the same amount of money you would save more lives (while also improving them) by doing any one of those other things.

  3. These pedestrian crossings already have gates. These need to be auto-locking gates (that can be opened from the inside, should someone be stuck inside with a train coming), like cars have rail guards that come down.

    Otherwise, people with sensory disabilities (deafness in particular, but especially both blindness and deafness) basically risk their lives every time they do a legal track crossing on at-grade stations.

    This upgrade will probably cost $200,000,000 in Sound Transit dollars, but it should be done anyhow.

    1. It could have gates and lights and bells like SODO but the neighborhood would complain about that. That’s why they aren’t there now.

    2. Since all these crossings were built since modern ADA provisions have been law, the crossings are almost certainly in compliance with mandated provisions for the deaf and blind.

      While there are actually no gates (except a few random spots in SODO), the pedestrain crossings on MLK all have flashing warning signs as well as audio warnings when trains are crossing.

      Maybe gates would help, but by my observation, there are a lot of people that simply choose to ignore signals and other cautions and would likely choose to walk around the gates as well.

    3. Did you mean to write, “These crossings should already have gates”? I’m pretty sure they don’t today.

      Of course, any gate that you have to physically pull open has the advantage that it forces you to slow down and (probably) look around a bit, and the disadvantage that opening the gates will be difficult enough to meaningfully limit some people’s mobility. I wouldn’t want gates that you have to pull open in areas with lots of pedestrian activity. Holgate has pull-open gates, and, well… sometimes people don’t understand how to use them (for posterity, since Street View images change sometimes… at time of posting, this link shows a man pulling a wheeled suitcase around the fence on the south side of Holgate, rather than through the gate). All that caution signage and prominent fencing makes the preferred, safest route look more foreboding than the obviously unsafe route around the fence! Or maybe the guy understands the crossing but just doesn’t want to deal with wrestling a spring-loaded door open while carrying luggage — and he appears to be pretty able-bodied! Able-bodied enough to try to drag his suitcase over some curbs, at least!

      These sorts of gates aren’t used at Royal Brougham (Stadium Station) or Lander (SODO Station). Maybe there should be swing-arms (as there are for cars at both locations)?

      1. (I stumbled across suitcase-guy with no prior knowledge — I was using Street View to check which of the SODO track crossings used pull-open gates, and it just happened to give me a perfect demonstration of how bad that design is. Swing-arms might be a good idea — maybe with lights and bells whose intensity and volume varies according to ambient levels of light and noise.)

      2. I live two blocks from a signaled pedestrian crossing at MLK and Genesee. I can assure you that the bells are plenty loud. They easily audible from porch, and faintly audible from inside the house with the windows closed.

        I agree that the gates around SODO station are not good and their benefit is questionable.

        i could see motorized crossing arms being used over the pedestrian crossings, like they use at the drawbridges. I suppose that could stop the occasional accidental crossing against the light, but I don’t think there is a solution that will prevent willful violations of the signals. It will also have no affect on illegal crossings where there is no signal. And as it has been pointed out above, people can be killed at stations as well so I guess I’m not sure whether the investment in funds and maintenance cost would really yield much in the way of results. It seems more likely lack of regular maintenance and mechanical failures are more likely to result in annoyance.

      3. Does MLK have bells? I guess I didn’t notice them because the bells and flashing double arrow and moving train all happen simultaneously time and become one gestalt experience. So the only thing MLK is missing compared to SODO is gate-bars and flashing red lights?

        The gates in SODO are only partly effective, but that’s the same as level crossings everywhere such as the BNSF mainline in Kent.

      4. I think the trains have bells, but the stations don’t.

        Is there actually a problem with people crossing the tracks in the wrong places? I’ve never heard of a collision occurring that way.

        Of course it’s the case that swing-arms don’t prevent every improper crossing, but there are a couple advantages to the gates over existing pedestrian signaling:

        1. It actually takes some effort to get around them
        2. They’re always in the line-of-sight
        3. They convey extra gravity
        4. They only go down when there’s actually a train coming. If you’re an able-bodied person that walks at a pretty average pace, you arrive at an intersection with a pedestrian signal, and that signal is in the pedestrian “caution” phase there’s a very good chance it’s no less safe to cross than in the “walk” phase (it may be less polite if you subscribe to the notion that these phases are useful to clear crosswalks for turning cars; I don’t subscribe to this notion because SDOT doesn’t actually set signal timings based on this). Even when the signal is in the “don’t walk” phase there’s still a decent chance it’s no less safe to cross than in the “walk” phase, particularly at intersections with “beg buttons”, where a pedestrian arriving at the wrong time doesn’t get a “walk” phase. And then when you have a “walk” signal you still have to walk with your head on a swivel to avoid getting taken out by cars making right turns or trying (and failing) to beat a light. Walking near cars conditions people to distrust pedestrian signals. Swing-arms, less so.

      5. Al Dimond and Mike. The crossings do have bells, at stations and anywhere a street or crosswalk intersects the tracks. The trains also have bells and horns.

        The timing of the bells and lighted warnings at crossings appear to be linked to the timing of the signal as well as the presence of a train. So there are times when the bell sounds well in advance of the train approaching, while at other times they are closer together.

    4. Alex, I’d like to see your numbers. Mike, I seem to remember two sets of opposition from residents. One, that the whole line be subway. The other that it not be elevated. ST calculated that the density and ridership would never justify a tunnel that long.

      Also want stats on how many people die in collisions with elevated pillars nationwide.

      I’d personally investigate favor every major intersection, closing every minor one, and fencing the whole surface length of the line, with occasional pedestrian bridges reached with ramps, pretty much like the one at MLK and Rainier.

      Since trackway is paved grooved rail its whole length, we could possibly run the line with buses, maybe trolleybuses, powering around obstacles on battery. Five years? And yes, Glenn, biggest pumps we can find.

      Could also be worth it to re-install the 194 to the Airport. Tempted to say keep joint-use for that route, and also 550 ’til work’s complete on I-90 as well. Would be worth it to make up for the lazy waste of the signal system these last thirty years. But couldn’t fight fully reserved lane on Second, Third, or Fourth.

      Mark

      1. Train stations should bring the neighborhood together, not cut it in half.

        There really aren’t many minor intersections across the light-rail line for cars, and just a few for pedestrians, probably as few as we could really get away with. We know what happens when you give people only elevated crossings of a major surface road, or signals spaced too widely: people cross elsewhere, and tragic collisions occur (*). And they occur at high speeds, because the resulting road design, lanes stretching on to the horizon unbroken with any intersection or marked crossing, encourages speeding. A city can close crossings and post speed-limit signs, but if it doesn’t account for human behavior it will just make things worse.

        (*) I can think of an example in suburban Atlanta where there was a bus stop across from an apartment building with no crosswalk for over a quarter-mile in either direction, and a mother trying to cross there with her child was hit by a speeding driver, then charged with homicide for the death of her own child; a second, just recently, in Portland, where a kid tried to cross a surface highway to get to school, nearly in the shadow of a pedestrian bridge over it, and was hit; and when I lived just off Aurora near Aloha, where the road is divided by Jersey barriers, I saw a guy walk his bike across right there, lifting his bike over the barrier, out the window of my building during rush-hour — fortunately traffic stopped and let him across.

      2. >> when I lived just off Aurora near Aloha, where the road is divided by Jersey barriers, I saw a guy walk his bike across right there, lifting his bike over the barrier,

        When I lived somewhere around 42nd and Aurora, we would go to the store on the other side of the highway and buy beer. Rather than go around, we would dash across, stopping right at the jersey barriers, where we would step over. We would then sometimes have to wait, while traffic on the other side cleared out. No one actually stopped for us, but it was a very stupid thing to do. Of course I was a lot younger then.

      3. What I remember is support for a subway and concern that elevated would impact views. Others have said there was opposition to a subway because the platforms would be further from the street, but I have a hard time believing that. If that’s so, that’s a naive view like “The First Hill Streetcar will bring lots of benefits.” That’s why I didn’t detail the neighborhood views because the were contradictions between factions. Originally I acknowledged the contradictory viewpoints in the valley but I edited it out make the message shorter.

      4. I use link nearly everyday at Columbia City. An elevated station would not affect my views, but it would be a bit oppressive from the street. The convenience of the at-grade station is unbeatable. The amount of time it takes to get to the platforms at UW and Capitol Hill are significant in comparison.

        I’d be interested in data on the number of times Link service is interrupted in the tunnels due to mechanical problems compared with accidents in the Valley. I’d be willing to bet the is ratio 50/50 at worst.

  4. Lord, leaving out the word “undercut”, most important part of the comment! Do they still have mitten-clips” And can they be implanted in somebody’s head?

    Mark

  5. Condolences to the family.

    I wonder what the rate of accidents are in other countries with similar setups. I’ve lived in some of those places with far greater networks and and never heard of such accidents.

    1. Have noted before my own observation that after several generations of urban surface rail, the sheer vibrations of an approaching railcar, let alone its bell, will cause pedestrians just to step aside or change their walking pace to avoid the train, without even looking up.

      Doubt much research has been done, or whether its expense might be better spent on workable safety measures over the time people need to acclimatize. My guess is that third or fourth generation will grow up with necessary reflexes.

      Unless a cheapout is given a sequel depends on how an undercut is designed. No reason the whole intersection can’t be a sidewalk-to sidewalk-to sidewalk-to sidewalk plaza large enough to connect the neighborhood better than it is now,

      Trackside barrier needn’t be a cyclone fence. Rockeries will work too. Also, julienne barberry bushes with very long thorns discourage a lot of unwise crossing. I think they’re traffic-hardy too. Replacing the concrete holding the grooved rail with fairly sharp cobblestones, like in Portland, might also make separation more emphatic.

      Really too bad that if the concrete is going to stay ugly, it can’t run buses just by the fact it’s pavement. Would’ve been worth a lot if Metro had put the Route 7 in the DSTT coming to surface at Dearborn, as was considered. Busway could’ve divided with a line our Rainier and another on MLK.

      Would be good for ST library to keep a scrap-book of plans and renderings of things that weren’t chosen, in case future ST-‘s have situations where these ideas will work as transitional measures.

      Mark

  6. One easy solution: MLK tracks are rather porous visually in all places but actual stations. At the very least, a tasteful fence would help, either in the middle or on one side of the tracks. Not only does a fence discourage midblock crossings, but the visual image is powerful enough to remind the population that crossing should be done with care.

    Brookline, MA has lived with median operations for over a century. Fortunately for them, they have enough room for landscaping and small berms. More importantly, they also have a fairly ingrained culture to not get in front of trains. ST should be working to instill a better culture about safety when making track crossings.

    1. I will say in boston/Brookline it helps that the tracks in the middle of the streets have ballast and not pavement. Although I am always surprised I don’t here about more accidents in Boston.

      1. ST also seems to put plain concrete down, maybe with some color. That’s probably the worst thing that they could do, as it doesn’t look good and it’s very easy to cross.

        There are some good treatments around the country in other places, beyond fencing. Some at-grade rail medians in San Francisco have large, rough stones around the tracks that take the walking/balance skills of a mountain hiker to cross, so that discourages crossing at places other than crosswalks. Downtown Houston even has a narrow moat to keep people from running across the pedestrian mall with rail in the middle!

        Personally, I like the idea that you can plant grass next to or even in the middle of rail tracks. That is a maintenance headache but it definitely makes a street feel more humane.

      2. There is a type of sedum that looks a lot like grass but never needs watering or mowing and is a bright green that adds a lot of color to the street.

        It’s interesting though how we are talking about decreasing track noise but also adding bells and other noise makers.

      3. I appreciate the real grass on light rail lines. Surprised this isn’t the norm in Environmentally-Friendly Seattle. Nothing worse than concrete and its runoff.

  7. Why aren’t we talking about underpasses for cars at the 3-4 main arterial crossings? Alaska, Graham and Othello. Someday Orcas and Cloverdale. If those intersections were always reliable you could eliminate all the minor car crossings. If we can do it in SoDo, why not SE Seattle?

    1. highway under-crossings are easier than rail under-crossings.

      In flushing out your concept, a big problem is that these locations have a high number of turning vehicles. The existing intersections would have to remain (noting that the new under-crossings would then need transitions to mix traffic with the current cross streets), or MLK lanes would also have to be lowered (or new ramps from MLK to the under-crossing street would be needed) to create an intersection so that turns could be made.

    2. How do you do auto underpasses and at the same time allow cars to turn left onto and off of MLK?

      Right turns? Sure, just have a lane on each side that stays at street level to the MLK roadway. But under-passing the traffic does nothing to help the pedestrians wanting to access the station and it speeds up the cars!

      If there are to be underpasses, they’ll have to be for the trains, and that will complicate the stations a lot.

      1. It speeds up the cars on the cross street. The street parallel to Link would become just another T intersection on each side, so just like a dozen or so other intersections already there.

        You’d wind up with a pair of traffic lights on each side of ML King on the lower level for left and right turns.

        Bad news is that you have then created a mini-freeway interchange.
        Good news is that pedestrians are now able to cross the cross street on a sidewalk above the cross street.

    1. Glenn, I’d like to see a lot more grass strips between tracks. They definitely help create an atmosphere where people enjoy riding trains. Plants also create oxygen, don’t they? And wouldn’t be surprised if they muffle noise as well.

      Was going to say this is one thing streetcars can do but buses can’t. Except I think the busway in Eugene does.

      And Llloyd, a maintenance- attended, healthcare-nobody-deprived, and therefore litigation-only-where-unavoidable society would be a good compromise, wouldn’t it?

      Mark

      1. Parts of the busway in Eugene do it that way. Sadly, in the summer months, it sort of turns into a transit brownway rather than a transit greenway. The street view shows the “tracks” on highway 99.

  8. I live 1 block from MLK near Othello. From a resident and a pedestrian/cyclist perspective, a big part of the problem is that MLk is scale and speed.

    MLK is WIDE! 2 car lanes, plus a turn lane, plus the Link tracks. Cars become race cars – 50mph plus is frequent. Buses and trucks block sightlines, cars accelerate through yellow lights and turn illegal U-Turns, punk kids drag race.

    And unlike most of Aurora, MLK has bustling neighborhoods right up against the street. Big apt complexes and little restaurants tons of foot traffic,. So many people just feet from the street-shaped racetrack.

    All that makes crossing MLK intimidating to cross. Pedestrian crossings infrastructure is actually pretty good. But when you’re crossing MLK, you’re definitely in hostile territory.

    It goes without saying, there are Zero Bike lanes anywhere on MLK or crossing MLK. The street could have fit a lane, but the way it’s laid out now, it’ll only ever be a tarmac for our 4- (and 18-) wheeled friends.

    So, maybe somebody can figure out a way to make the light rail safer for peds, I’m all for that. But slowing down the cars would do more good.

    1. It feels like it’ll be hard to ever fix MLK for pedestrians and bikes when the road-diet on Rainier Ave (which I fully support and want extended down to Othello and Rainier Beach) helps move these cars from Rainier to MLK, which really is designed to handle more and heavier traffic.

      It’s a hard spot to be in, to try to please train riders, pedestrians, bicyclists, and car drivers.

    2. I have debated this problem for awhile:

      The most dangerous things about getting to Columbia City and Othello stations are that the “entrances” to the station platforms are in the middle of crosswalks at big intersections. The problem with this is that pedestrians and vehicles are not only in potential conflict with each other, but there are turning movements going on at all these intersections. One of the big reasons that pedestrians get hit at crosswalk is because turning vehicles don’t see them until it’s too late; vehicles just going straight through usually see pedestrians well before they get close to them. By having the configurations that we do, we put Link riders in most dangerous place to cross the street and there is no other way to get to and away from platforms! Add to that, there is a long pedestrian crossing time at each ones, and pedestrians get impatient waiting for that to kick in, given all the other pedestrian movements and rail vehicle priority.

      A Solution:

      An easy solution would be to create station entrances at mid-block, with a pedestrian signal that only has to be long enough for getting across only two lanes. Rather than cross at a busy intersection pedestrians only have to cross two lanes of traffic coming in only one direction, and vehicles would not be inconvenienced for a few seconds when the pedestrians have the crossing capabilities.

      Ideally, the street on the sides of any platform could be elevated enough to even allow for an 8-foot walkway under the traffic lanes to connect the platform with the main sidewalk. It’s a different level of a design challenge at each location, but the outcome would be an even safer outcome for Link riders.

      The final obstacle would be on how to create an Orca reader and TVM zone between the actual platform and the street. It might require adjusting the street and platform both to get enough room to allow for a transition walkway or ramp to happen.

      Regardless, I think it’s probably a $10m fix rather than a $1B fix and it could go a long way.

      1. That is a good idea, but I’m not sure if it is worth it. Looking at the pedestrian accident stats (http://old.seattletimes.com/flatpages/local/pedestrianandbicyclecollisionsinseattle.html) show that MLK is bad, but not horrible. Rainier Avenue has more accidents.

        More importantly, there isn’t much of a correspondence with the stations, which is is odd considering the number of people who cross at those intersections. Othello has had a fair number of pedestrian accidents, but so does Renton Avenue, Graham and Oregon. Basically, the entire street is dangerous, just like a lot of Seattle streets. Most of the pedestrian accidents occur within the heart of the city (especially downtown) probably because that is where you have so many people out walking. But if you adjust a bit for population, I would guess the two most dangerous streets in the city are 35th SW and 5th NE.

      2. Frankly, turning traffic is a problem at any intersection, but I think people are safer when there are more people, because it becomes more obvious to drivers that they need to slow down and pay attention. Also, I’m not sure how you would eliminate a pedestrian crossing at cross streets such as Alaska, Othello, and Graham. Those would be busy pedestrian intersection even if the train didn’t exist.

        I think the only way to have a mid-station crossing would be if you grade separated the crossing. As a for instance, if you are on the West Side of MLK and want to take a Northbound train, how do you get to the North bound Platform? You would need a mid-station crossing over the tracks, which would eliminate a portion of the platform for ADA ramps that would allow people to get down to track level to cross, or you would need full grade separation like a tunnel or bridge. I guess you could come up with a sort of automated drawbridge that retracts when trains are present, but that would have to never break down. Unfortunately tunnels and bridges become very expensive due to the need for elevators at each end. At stations like columbia city, and othello you would need 4 elevators! If you have no mid-station crossing over the tracks then people have to cross at the intersection you just closed the crosswalk for pedestrians out of safety concerns.

      3. When I had a bike before Link, I always used MLK because it was flat and wide and had less traffic than Rainier. If it’s no longer suitable as a bike route, then what can we do to make Rainier Valley bike friendly? MLK and Rainier are the only flat streets that go through without ending in a half mile or encountering a barrier or hill. So do we put bike lanes on Rainier? But isn’t Rainier too high-volume and congested with cars for that? Or should we do something else? Or leave the valley as unsolveabe and use Beacon Avenue and Seward Park Avenue as best you can and come around sideways?

      4. Michael, I would agree with your points.

        There could be an optional train track crossing at both the front and back of the existing platform. ST is putting a crossing like this at Judkins Park already. If every train stops at the platform, there really isn’t significant danger in putting a crossing like this. Add to that the aspect that there would be no traffic delay to get from one side of the street to the platform on the other side.

        Sure it would be slightly more circuitous than crossing MLK, but the MLK cross-street crossing would still be needed and would be an option.

    3. Slowing down the cars would definitely do more good. But if the cars are slowed the trains will have to be slowed too, in order for the signal timing to work for both modes. Not an easy problem to solve.

  9. Sorry it took so long to get back to you, Richard, but had to do some research. And the news isn’t good. The Autoistas were Argentina’s most feared death squad under the Galtieri dictatorship. Their specialty was suicide left turns under streetcars, getting tangled in the undercarriage and blowing up.

    However, their ordinary members were terrified of their elite Rhayader Town Football Club. It’s a little known fact that Argentina has a longstanding Welsh Community, who’ve never fully adjusted to the transfer from coal mining to sheep.

    So, singing melodious Welsh choral songs in Spanish, they took they got their revenge by distracting transit police by running across the tracks in their jerseys and kicking a soccer ball filled with nails and nitroglycerin through transit windshields.

    When Margaret Thatcher won the Falklands War, everybody in the world who could get away from her escaped to Seattle. But now that light rail drivers are finally being intensively trained in surface rail operations….Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Every Gringo trapped for ten hours between IDS and UW will remember History’s most deadly foot-in-the-door information request.

    RCWR (You Can’t Win, Richard!)

    MD

    1. I had a friend from Argentina in college. He said Argentina didn’t really want the Falklands, it was just a diversionary tactic to draw attention from the dictatorship.

  10. I have no information about the circumstances of this sad tragedy, but I do see too many people on the street with earbuds firmly in place and staring into their “handheld device” as they move down the sidewalk. It’s time for everyone to smarten up and start paying attention to their surroundings.

    1. SDOT was warned in August 2009 that the signal timing was poor and encouraged “jaywalking”. They have not fixed it.

  11. Piece of information from Cleveland, Glenn. Worst traction problem was because someone planed broad-leaf trees along the tracks. Especially in the fall, when leaves fell onto the tracks, they dissolve into an excellent organic lubricant.

    No doubt our new Cabinet is dancing around on top of their desks at the news that their favorite industry, even more than Mrs. McMahon’s husband’s athletic organization,one more coal-burning-car competitor’s right of way will soon match the color scheme of Planet Earth.

    Our only recourse: Play “Marrakesh Express” on the sound system of every train. Also: Ladies and Gentlemen, our National Anthem.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0vWtr8amVI

    And the historic pics of the North Africa Campaign will be retouched (Breitbart is REALLY good at this!) to show General Erwin Rommel with a badger on his head, to correct the mistaken “Fox” reference. Tough luck, Kellyanne. Our people are getting torn to shreds getting the cheese away from your station’s new animal.

    Mark

Comments are closed.