My purpose here is to put a few ideas in front of Seattleites that I think might be useful in the debate about transit expansion. Obviously I live in Vancouver, but, as folks here have noted, Vancouver does have useful transit lessons to other cities in the region.
1. West Seattle
The current plan is Option 1:
Instead of running parallel to the current Link line, my proposal is for a line that crosses the current line and continues into the central district:
Double dots indicate stations and single dots are just to show the route. The line needs to curve against the harbour headland to stay within shallow water. The stations would probably need to be deep, so it would go under the existing Link line and the existing train line. Because the station under Broadway would be the deepest, there would be a possibility of a level entrance at Boren that would access the platform more or less horizontally with a moving walkway. Expensive, yes, but far cheaper than a whole separate Boren station.
This line is cuts the distance from Alaska Junction to downtown from 9.5km to around 8km, and obviously the distance from North Admiral is shorter still.
Length of current plan:
Length of proposal:
Obviously the actual station locations could be adjusted to meet the connection requirements to the current Link line:
I’m also not sure whether continuing the line down Madison is the right thing to do or rather have it continue due east on Union might make better sense for bus connections.
The stations south of Admiral could be built later, but in any case, a BRT or BRT lite system would have to be implemented on California to get the maximum benefit of such a line.
The line could also be extended further south to serve more areas and improve bus connections. This diagram is penciled out to White Center, but Burien might also be a logical termination point:
The principal improvements over the current proposal are:
- The line serves the central district.
- The line makes for a very fast trip from the north part of West Seattle to downtown and the central district. Quick trips make for good ridership.
- The line requires no interlining, so it could run at full two minute frequency which is beneficial for a bus transfer system. And it also would not burden the existing Link line.
- The line is separate from the rest of the system so it could be automated. The natural location for the operation centre would be under the Hiawatha playing field at the park in North Admiral. Playing fields don’t need deep soil like trees, so they could easily be accommodated over the deck of an underground op centre which also does not need to be that big as there would not be very many trains and they would be short two or three car units.
- The line would eliminate the need for the Madison BRT and finally serve First Hill properly.
- The line need not be heinously expensive. What I have penciled out matches the Canada Line in Vancouver which was $120m CAD per km. Double it for Seattle prices, and that is $180m USD per km or $1.85b from Alaska Junction to Madison and 23rd.
Principal drawbacks are:
- Requires transfer to other parts of Link.
- Possible worse bus transfer from buses on Delridge. Might mean needing to build further south than Alaska Junction even on initial segment.
A possible extension, but very fanciful at this point, would be to extend such a line to Bellevue with a tunnel under Lake Washington or a new floating bridge for trains and bikes:
Built as a buried fully grade-separated metro, such a line would offer very fast service between Bellevue and Seattle downtowns which would be as transformative as the UW Capitol Hill Link extension. And a frequent automatic line would enhance the operation of bus transfers off Bellevue Way and I-405. An absolutely vast improvement over the current East Link plan.
To serve the central district Seattle Subway and commenters on this blog have pushed for a metro 8 subway as in yellow below:
I am skeptical about this line. Such a line would be perfectly useful, but it also would be basically the same distance as my Junction to Madison line and thus the same cost. And while serving SLU is laudable, there is still more employment in the traditional downtown and thus more demand there than to SLU.
There are also other solutions to ease connections to SLU. I think that a bike and moving walkway tunnel from Capitol Hill to SLU might be just the ticket. The tunnel would have a level entrance down the hill and elevator access up the hill:
Other commenters on this blog have pushed for another DSTT to serve a network of West Seattle buses to avoid transfers and to better serve the more diffuse population in West Seattle.
Or, more efficiently, a new DSTT and turn current DSTT into a bus tunnel again:
I am also skeptical about this idea. First, because bus stations need to be so much larger to allow for long platforms and passing, building a bus tunnel is more expensive than building a rail tunnel. If you were to do such a thing, it really would make more sense to build another train tunnel through downtown, move the current link line to the new tunnel and then use the existing DSTT for buses again. Second, by having so many buses continue to go downtown, the bus service within West Seattle is not necessarily optimized, eg the natural bus corridor up and down the entire length of California. And third and most importantly, having bus to rail transfers before heading downtown is so much more operationally efficient than continuing with so many buses heading downtown.
My proposal is not a new idea, but a critique and revision of the current plan based on optimizing the bus connections of a new line. This is the current plan:
This plan has some serious weaknesses:
- Huge cost
- Misses Queen Anne and Belltown
- Only one bus connection point north of the canal.
- Moveable bridge
- Peak headway of 6 minutes
- So-So ridership with 60,000 to 74,000 riders using the system north of Westlake
My proposal is to reconfigure this line as a bus collector with four stops north of the canal such that any sensible person going to Belltown or Downtown would transfer to the rail line. As a bonus, these four stations also have decent walksheds:
Such a line would naturally be fully grade separated and automated with two minute headways.
The connection off Aurora will have to be somewhat trippy with bus stops on the bridge deck and elevator or escalator access down to the Fremont station underground, probably involving rebuilding some of the buildings adjacent to the bridge deck, but such a connection would be a good one.
Some route options like this proposal was investigated by Sound Transit, but those options were not optimized to encourage bus connections. Even with the lack of optimization, the ridership estimates were unreasonably low. This table from the Ballard Options Study of May 2014 have very low ridership estimates for all of the options studied:
The low ridership estimates for Corridor D were ammunition for criticism of this option on the STB, but the low estimates of all the options shows that bus connections were not optimized or even really considered for any of the corridors. The Ballard Line Comparison Chart of December 2015 had greatly increased estimates for all the options that survived the first round:
I could not find a reason why these estimates went up so much, but they do imply that an all tunnelled option a la Corridor D would have the highest ridership of all.
The current plan skips Belltown in favour of SLU, and it is possible that such a route might have higher ridership, but I haven’t chosen this because it isn’t obvious to me that, fully built out, SLU will have higher employment+residential+commercial density than Belltown. Additionally, SLU does have a streetcar connection to Westlake that can be improved.
The principal improvements over the current proposal are:
- Line and stations location is optimized to serve connecting bus passengers on all of the north south avenues west of Green Lake. The current plan does nothing for people in Fremont, Greenwood, Phinney Ridge or the Aurora corridor. And a bus optimized metro system will also mutually reinforce the bus service justifying increased frequency and full BRT on Aurora and BRT lite on some of 24th, 15th, 8th and/or Greenwood.
- In addition to being an effective bus collector system, the line has useful urban stations that allow it to act like a traditional metro. The current proposal just does not have as many of these. Clubbers in Belltown, cyclists to Fremont and the Burke-Gilman, walkers to Woodland Park and weekend brunchers to Old Ballard all get something useful.
- The line serves Queen Anne which really ought to have quick service considering its central location.
- Avoids any moveable bridges and has much better frequency. With trains every two minutes, the system could be split and extended up one of the north south avenues at some point while still maintaining four minute service in each branch.
- Likely far better ridership.
Principal drawbacks are:
- Skips Interbay and SLU. I’ve explained Belltown over SLU, and for similar reasons Queen Anne and Freemont are more suitable destinations than Interbay.
On this blog there is big support for a Ballard to UW connection over Ballard to Downtown connection as shown here in comparison with my proposal:
I would not support a UW connection before a downtown connection. First, there is more demand to downtown from both Ballard and Fremont than to UW so it makes sense to serve that demand directly:
Second, if the UW line is interlined with Northgate, the frequency suffers which harms the desirability of bus transfers to the UW line, but if the UW line is not interlined with Northgate, it adds a transfer which also harms the desirability of bus transfers to the UW line. In short, such a line would not be an optimized bus transfer system.
One thing that I have left out is the second downtown tunnel and connection to the maintenance area. Ideally when the DSTT was converted to rail, the possibility of fast interlining ought to have been built in, but it wasn’t, and such ST is committed to a second parallel downtown transit tunnel. If combined with my West Seattle proposal, stations at Westlake, 5th and Madison and Yesler would make sense. Through SODO to the maintenance centre, whether that was located at the current facility, the line would have to be elevated.
One fanciful thought experiment, as if blog-posted transit fantasies were not fanciful enough, would be to use this line as the Rainier Valley bypass line and extend this to link to Link at Seatac at full two minute frequency:
Since there does not seem to be any streetrunning planned for Link from Angle Lake to Tacoma, this could use the automated, short train, high frequency model that is better for transfers.
The Rainier Valley link could then be redirected toward Renton at which is an odd lacuna in ST1 to 3.
I welcome your suggestions.
March 29, 2017
34 Replies to “Notes from a Vancouverite”
Your Ballard option has some good things but it makes the same mistake that ST did: there is no demand for an HCT station serving the top of Queen Anne Hill. The neighborhood goes all pitchfork and bonfires at the merest hint of a building more than four stories high in their midst. And you want to build the deepest subway station in North America to serve a bunch of Victorian SFH? Not a good use of money.
No, run it up the east side of the hill on the way to Fremont with a station under Dexter at the midpoint. Now that would be a good station.
The tunnel under the Port idea simply will not fly. It is way too risky.
Also, those two stations in Upper Fremont are painfully close together. And you’ve got tunnels a few hundred yards from each other for a mile. No; if you do this run diagonal a little bit northeast out of Fremont and then fishhook into the Upper Fremont Station and share track down to Ballard!
Money does not grow on trees.
And I do have to note that your tunnel with a mined station under Sea-Tac would be enormously expensive although it would surely be an improvement over the current station.
The two stations in upper Fremont are meant to be an either or comparison. Either the direct Ballard Downtown route or the Ballard UW route. Not both.
Your idea — if a bus tunnel is to be retained — of making the new tunnel trains and reverting the old one to buses is an interesting one. But I think the PSRC numbers say that downtown needs two rail tunnels by 2035, and growth is greatly outpacing the assumptions on which they were based.
So two rail tunnels it needs to be.
But it is something to consider for future expansion post-ST3. For example, a new rail-only tunnel could be built – so 3rd tunnel in total – to handle the trains currently using the DSTT, and the DSTT converted back to handle buses. There would be no buses coming from I90 or I5, so the use-case needs to be buses coming from SoDo or Aurora/Westlake Ave/Eastlake that would make good use of the tunnel.
Metro seems to think that the number of buses using the 3rd ave transit corridor will be low enough that the surface running on 3rd will be more than sufficient, so I’d imagine the Metro planners would dismiss this out of hand.
The only reasonable use-case I can consider is if Metro wanted to upgrade the E-line to a gold-plated BRT and wanted to use the tunnel to get the E-line (and the route 40 RR+) off of surface streets downtown But if demand is so strong along the Aurora corridor to demand that sort of billion-dollar project, the region should probably just build rail along Aurora.
I don’t think that it was my idea that a new bus tunnel should mean building a new rail tunnel and using the current DSTT as a bus tunnel again. I took it as the idea of the source I was quoting there. I meant to keep sources in file names, but I think that got muddled.
And you don’t really know how deep Lake Washington is, do you? Hint: it’s more than 200 feet deep in the middle between Bellevue and Madison Park, and there are forty to fifty feet of silt at the bottom. The silt is far too squishy to build any kind of tunnel in, so you’re down to a track level of -300 feet with some reasonable over-burden.
Is there a TBM in the world that could withstand that pressure?
No. Just No!
Actually I do know how deep Lake Washington it. I did look into it before posting and worked out the grades required. Even at 300 feet below lake level, this would be well off the technological max. The current deepest undersea tunnel is 287 metres below sea level, that is pushing 1000 feet. Geology could still give this a thumbs down for other reasons, but not simply because it was too deep. I also suggest another floating bridge as an alternative if a tunnel were found to be too difficult. A floating bridge would require purchasing a bunch of lakefront at either end to placate the miffed homeowners, but those homes could then be redeveloped and probably flipped for a profit.
The tunnel between Hokkaido and Honshu is deep within the rock, but it has kilometers and kilometers to make the descent to get there. As I understand it, the actual tunnel is about as much on land as under the strait. I don’t believe it was dug with a TBM. While it might be practical to descend to those depths on the Seattle side — no stations east of 23rd for sure — Bellevue’s CBD is much closer to the water. The stations there would necessarily be very deep. That’s not a good design for a CBD station.
The Channel Tunnel was similarly not dug with a TBM. It wanders up and down to stay in the “white cliffs” chalk deposit which is apparently so consistent that it’s essentially waterproof.
The current deepest road tunnel that I was referring to is the Eiksund tunnel which I think was cut by drill and blast. But for a deep-bored tunnel in wet, variegated ground, there is the Eurasia Tunnel under Istanbul (this isn’t the Marmaray) which gets down to 100m deep under the Marmara.
The Channel Tunnel was bored with TBM’s, but yes they stayed within the Chalk Marl for its water resistance.
From the downtown Bellevue station at Bellevue Way and 8th it is nearly 3km to the edge of Lake Washington and a further 1km to where it gets proper deep at 65m. The elevation at this station is around 60m less station depth of 20m for 40m elevation. A total decline of 140m, if 100m under the lake were needed, in 4000m gives a relatively civilized 3.5% grade.
From a possible station at Union and 23rd, which I think would be the last station in any case, it is about 2000m to the deep point which is quite close to the shore on the Seattle side. That station is at around 100m, so 200m decline in 2000m is obviously twice the maximum subway grade of around 5%. It would make sense to have the line S-curve north a bit to avoid the deepest section of the lake. So around 2.4km to the area of the lake that is 65m deep which with 20m of overburden means a tunnel depth of 85m. At 5% this takes us to 35m above lake level at the station which implies that the station would have to be 65m below the grade of 100m. This is a darn deep station, but not unprecedented. There are surely dozens of subway stations around the world at that depth.
A couple of good notes for out-of-towners:
1) there is nothing on Harbor Island – it’s a freight terminal. No need for a rail station.
2) Upper Queen Anne is a very small but lovely neighborhood. It’s is not an important station in any rail network
3) Fremont, OTOH, is a significant destination, and will be served by a RR+ corridor. However, to suggest that serving Fremont is more important than serving SLU is farce. That’s like moving U Link extension to serve Wallingford over U-District. Ballard-Fremont is an important transit corridor, but it should be adequately served by a high frequency bus route that, hopefully, can run on mostly dedicated lanes through Fre-lard.
As for your suggestions:
Interlining West Seattle with the rest of the system is a benefit, not a bug. If it’s not interlined, you have to build an entirely separate Ops & Maintenance base. Additionally, ST wants to interline to avoid having a single line that goes from Everett to Tacoma with no opportunity for drivers to take a break – it’s simply too long of a trip.
You have some smart comments on bus tunnels – good point about a rail-only tunnel being cheaper to build, and observing the benefits of bus truncation outside of downtown. Converting the existing tunnel back to a bus tunnel in the future is an interesting idea, though the north portal will have to be rebuilt as the road access points will all disappear with the convention center station, in additional to building a new rail-only tunnel for the red & blue lines.
And the “Rainier Valley bypass line” proposal is a good start but I think you need to pay closer attention to topography (and you need a station in South Park). Also I’d argue Boeing Field is a more important destination than Highline – all those stations along SR509 are in Single Family zones.
OK, I’m not thrilled with this proposal, but to be fair to the author:
He isn’t really trading SLU for Queen Anne (or Fremont). He is trading SLU for Belltown. That seems like a fair trade in my book. He is basically trading Interbay for Upper Queen Anne and Fremont, which seems like a great trade, except I doubt it is worth the extra cost.
The advantage of an upper Fremont station is that you could, in theory, truncate buses there. So both the E and the 5 end there, and folks ride the train into downtown. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer nearly as many advantages as truncating buses at the UW. Fremont (upper or lower) just isn’t the destination that the UW is (as you mentioned). Not even close. Plus there is very little to be gained from a speed perspective. The E is already on Aurora, poised to continue on the expressway right towards downtown when you force it off that road, and all of its passengers to disembark. In contrast, by truncating the 71/72/73 buses somewhere close to the UW, they avoid the slog over to the freeway altogether. It might be a tough trade-off now, but when the train gets to 45th, it will be a welcome one.
So while the author’s argument is to optimize bus transfers, it only does a bit better in that regard than the current proposal. Unfortunately, that is simply a big weakness with the “Ballard to downtown via Queen Anne” route, regardless of which part of Queen Anne it covers (east, west or center).
As for a bus tunnel being significantly more expensive than a train tunnel, I doubt it. The tunnel itself is exactly the same, it is only the stations themselves that would be more expensive. And that is only if you add passing lanes. And if you do, you’ve added something of great value (the ability for express service, or simply faster service in general). But really, if you look at something like this it is hard to imagine that the station cost would be significantly higher if the platform level was only a few feet wider.
In contrast, the savings from a bus line from Ballard to West Seattle are enormous. Even with the additional tunnel and connection to SR 99 (a huge benefit) it would be much cheaper, because you could leverage the existing freeway in West Seattle. You don’t need to build a brand new, very expensive bridge (and possibly a tunnel) that is constrained by the grade limitations of rail. You simply add a few ramps to the existing Spokane Street Viaduct (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/08/03/build-real-brt-for-west-seattle/ and be done with it).
From a cost perspective, that really is the big benefit. It really isn’t “big new busway” versus “big new railway”. It is big new railway versus a small new busway along with lots and lots of existing busway. It is about leveraging what we have, as opposed to starting from scratch.
I’m glad you found your way here Mr B because I have often found that we are simpatico on transit issues. I started to create a omnibus reply to all your comments, but that became too involved, so I will proceed piecemeal.
As to Ballard and Fremont bus truncations, I would anticipate that many buses would truncate at those locations, or turn east to UW to add to the east west transit infrastructure. Very much central to my concept is to boost bus connections to boost bus ridership to boost fare revenue to boosto bus service that further boosts bus and train ridership. A virtuous circle.
The E would connect to rail at the lower Fremont stop. I sketched it out in my post, but I mean a fully integrated connection between bus and rail. Both north and southbound buses would stop at deck level, the buses would not leave Aurora. From both sides of the deck there would be one escalator or elevator to the below grade mezzanine level, and then one escalator or elevator to the platform level. This would involve demolishing and rebuilding the buildings on either side of the bridge at this location, but such a location would make good office space and could be usefully redeveloped in conjunction with the station. The E would continue into downtown as a local bus or it could continue to SLU as a rapid ride.
You write “So while the author’s argument is to optimize bus transfers, it only does a bit better in that regard than the current proposal” but that just ain’t the case. Eg resident of Phinney Ridge. YVR Plan: bus south to subway stop, very frequent train downtown. ST3 Plan: bus south and then west to light rail stop, then so-so frequency train subject to bridge openings downtown. UW Route Plan: bus south to subway stop, they maybe three minute frequency train if lucky to UW, then change trains to three minute frequency train downtown, being two transfers. If UW route were interlined at great expense, then number of transfers falls to one but frequency falls to a so-so six minutes including on the Northgate arm of the line. I’m not actually sure that this Phinney Ridge resident would bother with the ST3 route or the UW route. Current bus route for that resident might be better. And if those residents don’t bother, then ridership on lines is low, no pressure to increase frequency on feeder buses and no virtuous cycle.
Yvr – I think you are right about Phinney Ridge – even with an excellent Link network, it’s probably still faster for anyone along the route 5 and E-line corridors south of, say, 80th to simply stay on the bus to avoid the transfer penalty, especially SDOT improves transit prioirty along both Aurora and Westlake Aves.
I simply don’t think Fremont is a compelling truncation point for any of the major lines, but I don’t think anyone has proposed that. I suppose you could turn Fremont into a giant transit up and truncate everything – 40, 5, 62, E – around a light rail station to avoid buses running downtown, but I think the high volume of buses running down Aurora, Dexter, and Westlake serve an important role is serving some of the densest communities in Queen Anne/Uptown/SLU/Denny Triangle.
This suggestion, I think, is comparable to aggressive truncation of buses at SoDo. This has been floated as a part of the One Center City mitigation plan, but it hasn’t been well received because people (riders and Metro) object to truncating buses that close to downtown. I think Fremont is “too close” and too contiguous to downtown to truncate buses, whereas I think West Seattle is separated enough from downtown that it makes sense to replace bus service with Link.
An future Link extension from Ballard to Northgate may be more compelling with major bus transfers at 105th, because there is more of a time savings switching to Link that much farther north. But in that case, the 5 and the E still run all the way to downtown, with Link functioning as an “express” for downtown trips, alleviating peak capacity issues on both these routes.
This analysis extends to looking at a Ballard-UW line: the real benefit is for trips East-West, but those simply aren’t the volume of north-south trips. So the question is, should be built a rail tunnel between Ballard and UW specifically for those trips (and people transferring from other bus routes trying to get to Ballard or UW), or are we better off simply fixing route 44 for a fraction of the cost?
So as I think through this comment, maybe it comes down too where are good places to truncate bus lines and replace them with Link? That might be where our disagreement is?
Several posters have commented on how small Queen Anne is, but from my read of density maps, it isn’t nothing. I can’t post an image in a comment, and I can’t seem to edit the main post, so I might make a second page 2 post with the map that I am thinking of.
As to your comment on interlining, interlining is always a double edged sword. Add connections and lose frequency. With a high frequency system, this could be a good trade, but Link really isn’t that high frequency so interlining starts to hurt. And drivers can be changed out mid-trip and quickly without much fuss. It happens all the time on bus routes. Not that I think the whole Everett to Tacoma route is really a good idea. Even with all the arguments pointing out that it isn’t about end to end travel or even end to middle, it is about Tacoma Seatac etc, the metrics of this line are not good.
It’s nothing; take the word of one who’s lived there. And it’s especially “nothing” when it requires a 300′ deep station to serve it.
I think relative to the other nearby census areas in North Seattle, it is indeed dense, insofar as the Single Family lots are very small & closer together & the neighborhood is very family oriented, so that pencils out to solid people density. But it’s still very family oriented, and it simply won’t have the walkable, TOD density of the urban hub villages.
Maybe think of it this way – the additional development capacity of upper QA is very, very low. Therefore, it is better suited to be served with bus service, not a subway.
Thank you for paying attention to my post. However, I don’t think you can ever use the excuse “I buy it for the articles”. Someone just looked at the pictures.
There is no station on Harbor Island. That would be nuts. As I mentioned, stations are denoted by double dots; single dots just mark line segments that show where the line actually goes. My quick and dirty drawing tool, the measurement function on google maps, puts station looking dots at every inflection point, hence the double dot hack.
Ah, that makes much more sense. But having read the article I either missed that or forgot about it by the time I got to the end of the post – I’d recommend using a different drawing tool!
Ross, and nobody is going to agree to “skip stops” in downtown Seattle. There are no “local” stations.
I would not support a UW connection before a downtown connection. First, there is more demand to downtown from both Ballard and Fremont than to UW so it makes sense to serve that demand directly
A Ballard to UW line would serve Ballard to downtown trips about as well as the currently proposed line. There would be a two minute penalty for a through rider (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/08/14/fast-train-to-ballard/). The trip could be direct, or could involve a simple, timed transfer (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/03/23/ballard-uw-downtown-link/). In short, one of the great benefits of the Ballad to UW line is that it serves both Ballard to downtown trips and Ballard to UW trips. The current proposal does not.
There is a drawback, of course, for people in Interbay and Lower Queen Anne. But with the addition of the WSTT, they would have service to downtown that is just as fast, and more frequent than what is proposed.
Even then, there would be one group of riders that would be better off with the current proposal, and those are folks going from Queen Anne to Ballard. Tough Luck. That is a relatively small number of people and a much smaller time difference compared to the much larger number of people who would benefit from the WSTT and Ballard to UW rail. There are trade-offs with every proposal, but the combination of WSTT and Ballard to UW rail would be much better overall (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/08/28/seattle-projects-for-st3/).
I am also skeptical about the [idea of the WSTT]. First, because bus stations need to be so much larger to allow for long platforms and passing, building a bus tunnel is more expensive than building a rail tunnel.
First of all, the stations don’t need to be longer. Headways are actually shorter, and thus in theory bus lanes could be smaller (but making them as big as four car trains is fine). Second, if you added passing lanes, then that means you have added something of great value — something that trains lack. You have the possibility of running express buses that can skip some of the stops. For example, you could run special buses from the stadium to the north end along with the usual routes after a game.
In any event, the only place you would need to have extra space for passing (if you wanted it) would be at the stations themselves. These stations are huge by their very nature (because you are digging down to a deep bore tunnel). It really isn’t that expensive to add the extras space since even the new stations (that only serve trains) are gigantic. Compared to the extra cost associated with rail to West Seattle, the extra cost of the stations is minimal.
Second, by having so many buses continue to go downtown, the bus service within West Seattle is not necessarily optimized, eg the natural bus corridor up and down the entire length of California. And third and most importantly, having bus to rail transfers before heading downtown is so much more operationally efficient than continuing with so many buses heading downtown.
Right, which explains why all the buses turn around at SoDo, and folks ride the train from there. Except they don’t. Despite being “operationally efficient”, the buses don’t do that. Very few do that. Buses from Tacoma, Burien, West Seattle all slog through downtown, because forcing people to transfer when they are only a few minutes from their destination is a real pain. It costs people a lot of time. Transferring at West Seattle will likely be worse, because ridership from West Seattle is relatively low. By forcing people to transfer “upstream” (in a tiny tributary, if you will) it means that riders for much of the day will be forced to wait a long time for the train. You just can’t justify running trains every couple of minutes from relatively low density, low destination areas like West Seattle (it is not the UW).
Meanwhile, California is not really special as far as being a “natural bus corridor”. No place in West Seattle is. There are several corridors, each of which is roughly the same in terms of destinations and density. 35th, Delridge, Alki all have as much density as California (if not more) (https://arcg.is/1jPPbK). There are no major employers on the peninsular, and the few more popular destinations are spread out — The Junction, Alki and South Seattle (Community) College are on completely different corridors. The West Seattle area is a textbook example of where a bus tunnel and BRT system makes more sense than a rail line. It has a classic trunk and branch demand pattern, enormous existing bus infrastructure (i. e. a freeway) and very challenging terrain which will make investments in rail a lot more expensive.
The situation is very similar to Brisbane, and the advantages (especially those mentioned in the “Update:” section of this article http://humantransit.org/2009/11/brisbane-bus-rapid-transit-soars.html) exist in both cases.
“There is a drawback, of course, for people in Interbay and Lower Queen Anne.” – what about SLU and Denny Triangle? You know, the other half of downtown that’s under construction? The new downtown tunnel is more about serving those two stations than serving Queen Anne. You can debate if Interbay/Uptown is a better alignment than a Westlake/Fremont alignment, but you can’t dismiss Ballard-Downtown without even considering the two new stations serving SLU and Denny Triangle.
And to rehash arguments repeated here many times, simply dumping all the traffic from Ballard-UW onto the existing LInk tunnel between UW and downtown simply will not work from a capacity standpoint. ST says they need the 2nd tunnel to boost capacity … building UW-Ballard before the 2nd tunnel will make congestion on the overall system much worse, not better.
>> what about SLU and Denny Triangle?
Sorry, I didn’t mention that in the comment, but I of course mentioned that in the original post I made (and referenced). With the current plan you have a station at Denny and a station by Aurora. With the WSTT you have a station in Belltown and a station at Aurora. So basically the trade-off is Belltown versus Denny, which looks like a wash to me. Both are about the same distance from Westlake station and have the same office and residential density. If anything, the WSTT station combination is a bit better, now that Bertha is done. With the WSTT, you have two stations fairly far apart, meaning their walk share doesn’t overlap much. If you do that with the Ballard line, you have pushed the Aurora station up to Mercer (as depicted in this map. That is fine until you consider crossing bus service, to serve other areas of South Lake Union (e. g. with a new Metro 8). Such bus service will likely run on a street in between Mercer and Denny (Harrison or Thomas) which would put it very close to the stop on Denny. In other words, if you optimize the stop for bus service, you end up putting it very close to the other “South Lake Union” stop, thus making the Denny stop (very close to both it and Westlake) far less valuable than a Belltown stop.
As for capacity concerns, as mentioned, many, many times, they are overblown. I suppose you have a point — if you build a system that is flawed, then it won’t be crowded. But you seem to ignore the fact that the WSTT would also be “a 2nd tunnel”. Either way, though, the best way to actually deal with capacity problems on the core line is to actually improve headways, which really shouldn’t be that hard (“it would likely require additional investment in Traction Power Substations” according to this article — https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/03/21/capacity-limitations-of-link/).
Oh, and doesn’t the new light rail line also “increase congestion on the overall system”. Keep in mind where the big bottleneck will occur — between the UW and downtown. Imagine this, it is 5:30, on a Friday night. A northbound train has already picked up passengers from Bellevue and all of its downtown Seattle stations. Some have gotten off, but more have gotten on, heading home after a hard day at work. There are also people headed to Capitol Hill for the evening, and is it turns out, several events at the UW (a concert an Meany Theater as well as a basketball game). By the time the train leaves University Station, it is packed. Now you have to squeeze in more people at Westlake.
Doesn’t this new line hurt, rather than help? Sure, some people get off the train and transfer to the other train to get to Ballard or South Lake Union, but that was going to happen anyway. They are simply transferring to a train, not a bus. But now what you have are the folks that work at South Lake Union simply “going around”. They could take the new Roosevelt BRT, but heck, since they are very close to the stop (and have to go in the tunnel eventually anyway) they might as well ride a stop or two south, then back north. After all, it is the fastest way.
The big bottleneck section is not within downtown. The big bottleneck section is between downtown and the UW. Of course there are huge numbers of riders taking this within downtown, but those riders have surface alternatives (that are likely to be much faster in the future). The riders who have few alternatives — who will certainly endure a crowded train — are those traveling to places north, like Capitol Hill, the UW, Roosevelt, Northgate, Lake City and even Lynnwood. If we really were concerned about capacity, we would build a second line from downtown to the UW, but that just isn’t going to happen.
Yes, if you built the WSTT AND a Ballard-UW rail line, you still serve the northern half of downtown and should have plenty of capacity. But unfortunately that’s not an idea that has gotten any traction outside of this comment thread.
As to congestion, you’re correct the pinchpoint is Westlake to UW, but the more relevant example is coming from the other direction – what do you do at 8am when a train arrives in the U District already full with everyone from Snohomish, 522 BRT, and the northern quarter of Seattle? Is there still room for people coming from Ballard wanting to go downtown? If they are going to take Roosevelt BRT after taking the train from Ballard, then they might as well have just taken the D-line. Or am I misreading your example?
Will you please stop litigating the “Ballard-UW is just as fast” argument? We’ve all read it thirty seven times by now.
It doesn’t serve SLU and Uptown! where the City has decides to put lots of density. We can get grade-separated transit to the south edge of the huge cluster of housing in northwest Belltown by using the Battery Street tunnel.
Instead Ballard-UW serves a bunch of yuppies living in large SFH along 45th Street (at two points) and the Guild 45th. [ed. note: which seats two busloads of viewers] I know the neighborhood having lived at 43rd and Bagley for four years. Nobody is going to tear down the big houses to build apartment buildings along 45th. Maybe at the foot of the hill along the waterfront, but not near 45th.
To paraphrase your obsession about West Seattle “buses are good enough”.
Oh, I forgot. It would supposedly serve as a “bus intercept” forcing two transfers for a bunch of lines whose peak hour expresses most of the time speed up and down Aurora almost as quickly as Link trundles through its tunnel.
1. Ballard UW
I would agree that a Ballard to UW line works as well as ST3 proposal for many downtown trips with the addition of UW connectivity, but it would not serve the downtown market as well as my proposal would. A key factor here is frequency and connections. Ballard UW involves two transfers for a bunch of folks and less frequent rail service.
2. WSTT Economies
A metro tunnel is a bit smaller than a bus or LRT tunnel because there is no need for space for the overhead wires, but that saving is small. The real savings is in the stations. Bus stations need to allow passing to be of any use at all. Certainly they allow for the use of express services to some extent, but only to some extent because those buses do need to slow down quite a lot going through the station area. They can’t just blast through. But in this case, the bus stations required for the WSTT would be the major destinations stations where all buses and trains would stop, so there is no advantage to be gained my express service.
I would like to belabour this argument about stations because it is important. Stations are a big part of the cost of subways, and bigger stations are an even bigger cost. So there is a real economy is designing a frequent system with three-car trains every two minutes versus a system with six-car trains every four minutes. The station really needs to be only have the size with about half the peak passenger load at any one time. Vancouver’s last line was built with very small stations for about 120m CAD per km or about 90m USD per km. Sound Transit’s capital cost for link for ST1 and 2 (this is from the 2014 financial plan that does not include any ST3 or finance or admin cost) is 13.6b. At 90m per km, that is 250km. This is Tacoma to Everett, West Seattle to Ballard and downtown Seattle to Redmond. Such a system would have very small stations and folks would be rightly moaning about how cramped the trains were, but at least you would have it.
3. Bus Efficiencies
In the cost benefit analyses of rail projects, a creditable chunk is about savings from bus service replacement. Rail aggregates passengers, so there are real savings to be had by keeping buses in West Seattle. You point our that they already have the option of transferring now, but that rail service is not nearly as good as the service that I am proposing. What I am proposing is much more frequent and much closer to the bus service area. Those bus riders would demand to be able to transfer because it would be so much more convenient. An automatic system doesn’t have large marginal costs for extra frequency so such a system would stay at two minute frequency all day long. An energy cost savings would be to decouple the train at the last station during low use times so only one car was used every two minutes. And I would not discount the benefits of speed and frequency in inducing ridership. From my plan it would be four stations and around 10 minutes from Junction to downtown, no matter the traffic no matter the weather. I suspect that folks would use that. Now I take your point that West Seattle is not going to generate great transit numbers, but if we take it as a given that rail is going to West Seattle, and I think that we can take that as a given, it make sense to make it as good as possible.
My proposal is not a new idea, but a critique and revision of the current plan based on optimizing the bus connections of a new line
OK, now we are getting somewhere. I think everyone on the blog would have preferred the Corridor D, or better yet, your variation on the Corridor D versus what we are building. But cost is an issue. Once we committed to (very expensive) light rail to West Seattle, then we only have so much money to spend. Your proposal — as great as it would be — would cost an enormous amount of money, as it would involve tunneling underneath Queen Anne, underneath the ship canal, and underneath much of Fremont and Ballard. My guess is your proposal is *more* expensive than mine (WSTT + Ballard to UW rail). Yet it delivers less, because it doesn’t connect to the second biggest destination in the state (the UW), nor does it add a station in South Lake Union.
The result is that while bus service is better, it isn’t what anyone would consider optimal. If you are on the E (headed downtown) the only reason you would get off the bus and take the train is if you want to go to Queen Anne or Ballard. With the Ballard to UW subway, you would see a lot more people get off the bus, headed to the UW or Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, a trip from Ballard to the UW or the north end (Roosevelt Northgate, Lake City, Lynnwood, etc.) is not much better. You are talking train, bus, train (and then probably bus again) which is not exactly ideal. Realistically, you keep the old 44, and folks simply use it to get to the UW from Ballard, Fremont or Wallingford (as they do now). This makes it dramatically different than a Ballard subway which would have no redundancies (the 44 would be gone) and actually enhance the grid, as opposed to overlaying part of it. It becomes somewhat like Vancouver, in that you have a “missing link”, except no plans to fix it (unlike Vancouver — http://www.translink.ca/en/Plans-and-Projects/Rapid-Transit-Projects/Broadway-SkyTrain-Extension.aspx). You could run a spur, of course (from upper Fremont to the UW) but that makes this even more expensive, and the main beneficiaries are the handful of people who live on top of Queen Anne Hill who like to ride long elevators. It just doesn’t strike me as a very cost effective system.
To be clear, it is still better than what we are building (but it also a lot more expensive). In general, I’m afraid this really isn’t very similar at all to what Vancouver has built, other than copying its worse (albeit temporary) mistake. Unlike Vancouver, I don’t really see a grid here, with the trains enhancing good, regular, relatively fast bus service. Seattle has some unusual challenges (it is much tougher to make a grid) but we still have some parts of town (e. g. greater Ballard) where a model like that can easily be followed. In general the thing to keep in mind is that buses tend to run quickly north-south, and slowly east-west (although everything grinds to a halt close to downtown). Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that is the case in Vancouver. In other words, the crossing bus routes that so elegantly and efficiently connect to the trains in Vancouver travel on less congested roads. In contrast, traveling three miles south from Ballard is very fast (via 15th and Elliot) but traveling three miles east (to the UW) is very, very slow.
I do think you have the right idea — focusing on improving bus service is the right approach. While your proposal does that, I don’t think it does it as well as building the Ballard to UW subway and the WSTT.
Of course all of this is an interesting and largely worthless mental exercise. What’s done is done. I can campaign for Al Gore in Florida and I’m sure a lot of people would agree that he is much better than Bush, but that doesn’t mean that he will ever be President.
On this you’re right; it makes more sense to have BRT. But. You have to build that bridge whether you run trains or buses on it. The people of West Seattle will never be satisfied with buses on the existing roadway. Otherwise you’re going to have half of West Seattle in a pitchfork and torches parade heading for downtown.
The cost of a tunnel does not get much more expensive the deeper you go unless you go really deep at high pressure, but that is not what we are talking about here. Is not Queen Anne around the same height as Capitol Hill? Certainly the station would be deeper that the Capital Hill station, but my station would be much smaller. North from the Capitol Hill station as the hill gets higher and Link gets lower, I suspect that the overburden is about the same as what I am proposing. And there was no special difficulty in that tunneling.
As to the grid, my initial transit plans were for a line that hit Belltown, Queen Anne, Lower Fremont, Upper Fremont and then carried on north on Greenwood. The emphasis would be on strong east west buses that linked to the two vertical spines. However, in looking at the bus network and especially the frequent network, that looked like trying to torque the bus network into a place it didn’t want to go. Most of the strong bus routes were north south, thus the change to the western sweep that aimed to cross that network perpendicularly. It is not as geometrically neat, but I think it would get far more riders.
One option to assimilate both concepts would be to include an east west line in my plan that would interline with the Ballard line from Old Ballard to 46th and Phinney where it would continue to UW. Interlining would halve the frequency of the Ballard line on the west wing however, and that would mean something like 90 second headways to keep the half frequency still frequent. Such short headways would require keeping an eye on station spacing over the line as uneven station spacing can mean slower train speeds. As I write this I remember that another option was to continue the link of Greenwood with a separate Ballard UW line built later. Actually I think such a system makes sense in the long term, but it wouldn’t be as satisfying in the short. The advantage of a Greenwood alignment is that is can then shunt over to Aurora. Now this makes it silly close to Link, but also justifiable on the grounds that there is so much development potential along Aurora.
As to your specific question about Vancouver bus routes that intersect skytrain being on faster roads, that is true quite often, but by happenstance I think. In Burnaby some of the north south bus routes do admirably through the morning peak and day but are eventually defeated in the afternoon peak which is shaped more like a broad-based mountain.
“There are several corridors, each of which is roughly the same in terms of destinations and density. 35th, Delridge, Alki all have as much density as California (if not more)”
I see that as a reason to support ST3 light rail & bus transfers in West Seattle … once the line is open, Metro can run three frequent lines north-south, with Link handling east-west and traffic onward to downtown Seattle and beyond. The new RR line can simply stay on California north of the Junction to run all the way through Admiral & then turn towards Alki, and something similar with route 21. Add in a “loop” route that serves Alki & Harbor Ave, and it seems to me that builds a better grid that running a bunch of buses into downtown. Currently all that service frequency coming from south of the Junction turns & heads downtown, a task better handled by a single Link line. In the future, those routes will shift to provide much improved frequency in Admiral & Alki.
Take a look at Metro’s long range plan for West Seattle – the only routes that cross the bridge are the Delridge RR – to serve SoDo, not downtown – and the Express “C” line that will use the 99 tunnel to serve SLU.
(The fact that south of the Junction there are 3 robust bus corridors but no obvious primary corridor will make it hard to justify running WS rail southward post-ST3, but that’s a separate discussion)
(Ah, meant as a direct response to Ross)
Yeah sure, but again, that is a classic trunk and branch system, not a real corridor. There is a huge difference. The stops along the way with West Seattle rail simply aren’t very popular. You are completely dependent on shuttle bus service to an area that also isn’t very popular. It is one thing to send all the north end buses to the UW (instead of downtown) but it is another to send them all to the nearest freeway on-ramp, so that folks can disembark and wait for a train. Again, if you wanted to do that, then you would truncate half the south end buses at SoDo. To quote Jarrett Walker (from the Brisbane BRT article I referenced):
For that reason, the demand pattern spreads out as you go out from the city, and the route network spreads out to follow it. So the high frequency through this inner busway segment is made of routes that branch out to serve several different corridors further out, without requiring a connection.
That fits West Seattle to a T. Everything that will be added follows that pattern. In contrast, there is very little in ST2 that is like that. Northgate itself has plenty of walk up riders. Roosevelt has plenty of walk up riders. The UW of course has a ton of walk up riders. There will be feeder bus service that complements it, but the feeder bus service already follows a more natural crossing pattern. New stations (like NE 130th) will enable a much better grid for the entire region. East-West service is greatly enhanced, but with West Seattle (given the geography) you really don’t have that. The buses are simply truncated, which is great from a financial standpoint, but not at all good from a service standpoint. It is simply worse for riders. It is like Mercer Island and South Bellevue without the downtown Bellevue station. It is just the wrong tool for the job.
That’s a great counter-example … let’s say ST builds East Link to South Bellevue P&R and suddenly runs out of money. That’s still a huge improvement for East King and cross-Lake travel! Metro can aggressively truncate lines at those two stations and invest those services hours elsewhere to feed those two new nodes. As an Issaquah commuter, I’m looking forward to a reliable 2-seat rider, rather than a 1-seat ride that gets bogged down in Seattle.
I agree that the Delridge & perhaps the Avalon station have limited walksheds (MI is a good comp). But I think it will work because the station alignment fits into a natural bus network, which will make up for a decent but not great walkshed. In other words, I see Delridge-35th-California as much a natural grid as 135th-Northgate-145th-185th.
Re-reading the Walker piece (it had been awhile), I think Walker’s comments are spot on & still support WS rail because the 3 bus routes (C, 21, 120) do share a common “trunk” along WS Bridge and the 99 viaduct, and this is the segment the rail replaces. This line stops when there ceases to be a common trunk. The trunk is a more reliable, faster, and higher capacity line that will have 6-minute headways.
And those three lines aren’t “shuttle buses” – those are each solid lines in their own rights that should easily merit strong, all day frequency.
Also, I’d add that the major West Seattle lines will not be truncated. Metro is proposed to have them all intersect with the Link stations but continue onward to serve additional neighborhoods. Therefore, travel within West Seattle will improve, in addition to the more reliable connect to the rest of the region via Link.
That’s in contrast to bus serve to stations like MI, South Bellevue, and much of Lynwood Link, where major bus service will be truncated at the stations.
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