How to build ST3 with provision for future lines. Map by Oran.

Sound Transit 3 is the biggest investment in pedestrian mobility the Pacific Northwest has seen since the coming of the railroads in the 1890s. Like what that generation built, the capital projects we’ve committed to build will be around for decades. We can’t know with certainty what the future holds, but for reasons of both climate and mobility, it seems clear that our city’s future will need to involve more high-quality electric transit. It’s therefore essential that we build the core of ST3 so as to maximize its future utilization and value.

The current ST plan involves constructing a new tunnel from the International District to Uptown, constructing an elevated line onward to Ballard, and connecting the existing Rainier Valley line into this new tunnel. The Rainier Valley line is the only line slated to use the new tunnel (West Seattle Link and East Link will feed the current downtown tunnel), and the Rainier Valley Line’s surface-running section constrains it to a best-case headway of six minutes. The ultimate capacity of a rail tunnel depends on several factors, but a typical modern tunnel should easily be able to accommodate headways of three or four minutes.

If the new ST3 downtown tunnel is built without provision for an additional future line, there’s a real risk it will be permanently underutilized, moving ten trains per hour rather than the twenty or thirty it could — or at least, it would require major, disruptive engineering work to fix. Fortunately, making provision for future lines need not be expensive, as we show in Oran’s illustration above. A “stacked” station design with a pre-made bellmouth, as used by LA Metro at their Wilshire/Vermont station, requires slightly more excavation but allows for a new rail connection at minimal cost and disruption to ongoing service.

More after the jump.

We don’t have to go far to find an ideal candidate for a second north Seattle line. Aurora is the highest ridership corridor in King County Metro’s system, with RapidRide E handily beating Ballard’s RapidRide D, at 17,380 riders per weekday to 14,060. A future Aurora line could terminate in SODO, or it could continue south: perhaps as a line to Renton, or as the long-discussed “Duwamish bypass,” a fully-elevated fast line to SeaTac and Tacoma. Provision on the elevated SODO guideway will be much simpler, requiring only a small concrete stub to allow for a future track connection. LA Metro again provides an example with their junction at Crenshaw.

There are real fiscal pressures on the ST3 alignment, but what we’re proposing here does not require much money. What our proposal does require is consideration from ST’s engineers when the specifics of the South Lake Union and SODO alignments are designed. More generally, what this idea requires from all of us is concern and desire for a future of pedestrian mobility whose specifics are not known, but whose general direction seems certain. If you agree, we’ll be teaming up with other local transit advocates to ensure future extensibility is a squarely on ST’s list of requirements for their next downtown tunnel.

149 Replies to “ST3 Must be Built for the Future”

  1. Agreed 1000%! Another item requiring more consideration from ST’s (and Metro’s and SDOT’s) engineers are bus connections at these stations. So far the transfer experience is a mixed bag, with Tukwila Intl Blvd station ideal but Mt Baker a completely wasted opportunity.

    1. How is the transfer at TIBS ideal? The F Line has to spend a few minutes doing a loop-de-loop through a parking lot, when it could stay on the street. Transferring riders could walk from a street stop to the station just as fast as the bus meanders there. Through riders not transferring to the train have to suffer a several-minute addition to the route path.

      Even buses terminating at TIBS have minutes added to their travel time because they have to meander through that parking lot.

      Those transfering from the train to buses are walled off from the surrounding neighborhood.

      This is an example of how *not* to do bus transfers, how to have zero walkshed for a station, and how to not contribute to nearby commerce or opportunities to build affordable housing.

      The transfer at Mt Baker at least works for southbound riders on route 7. Through riders stay on the street, while those waiting for route 7 walk a few meters from the foot of the station to the stop. Mt Baker TC should never have been built.

      The biggest miss for Mt Baker Station design was not having a center platform, enabling redundancy of escalators, elevators, and stairs.

      For an even better example of how to do transfers at non-at-grade stations, check out Beacon Hill Station. The buses pull through on the street right in front of the station. Pedestrians don’t have to wait for a walk signal. They just enter the crosswalks and the cars stop. That ought to be the model for future stations that aren’t at-grade (which is hopefully all of them). Sure, there is no set-aside parking. But, that is a feature, not a bug.

      1. I agree. The 147th street station, for example, is doing it wrong. The main benefit of that station is that it sits close to a through street (145th) which has population density in both directions (but not nearby). That gives you the opportunity to serve both areas with the same bus, thus connecting them, and building a better transit network. That will still be possible, but a bus will have to spend an extra couple minutes getting over to the train station (and a couple minutes getting back) or they will ask the transferring riders to walk several minutes. Either way it is a very bad design.

      2. I guess “ideal” is multi-faceted and depends on the user we’re talking about. When I said TIBS was ideal, I was thinking from the perspective of a Train -> Bus transfer. But really, there are at least four scenarios:

        1. Train -> Bus
        2. Bus -> Train
        3. Bus (through rider)
        4. Bus (pedestrian access)

        For each scenario different things are important. I think it is possible to optimize all three scenarios, which would result in an “ideal” transfer situation.

        TIBS is decent for scenarios 1 & 2 aside from the meandering off of the main bus route. It is more ideal as a terminal as it penalizes through riders (scenario 3) and pedestrian access (scenario 4). I agree Beacon Hill is ideal for pretty much ideal for all scenarios except it requires some users to cross Beacon Ave. I also agree southbound 7 is good for Mt Baker. But Mt Baker sucks for users who have to board/deboard at the transit center across a mini highway (Rainier).

        There are probably more scenarios that I’m not thinking of (bike access?).

      3. I made a transfer there last weekend. Big drawback: there’s nowhere at the street level that offers real weather protection. The awnings above seats are too high to stop angled rain, and I kept moving around looking for a place out of the freezing cold wind. A couple of guys were standing in the escalator well, I think they had the right idea…

    2. How many people transfer at TIB and to which routes? If you’re coming from Renton, Burien, or Southcenter, you’re better off taking the 101, 150, or 120. Metro;s LRP enshrines a Renton-downtown express long-term, the 150 is to be converted to a Rainier Beach route, and the 120 will be upgraded to RapidRide. Transferring from Link to the A at TIB has been unnecessary since SeaTac opened, and it’s faster to stay on Link unless you’re going to someplace in between (i.e., the car-rental places and hotels between 154th and 176th — one mile). I don’t know about transfers to other routes but they seem unlikely or small in number. For throuugh riders on the F, it would be better to remain in the street, and it’s less than a 30-second walk from the street to the Link entrance. It would make F+Link less competitive, but it’s already uncompetitive. When I have ridden from The Landing several times, I’ve found it best to check OBA whether the 101, 106, or 150 is coming in a few minutes, and only take Link if they aren’t.And I often skip Renton TC and go through to Southcenter when the 150 is coming every 15 minutes because the wait is shorter than for the 101 or 106. They all take about the same travel time between The Landing and downtown, if the transfer wait is 10 minutes or less.

      1. Your take is true for downtown-bound trips. Burien, Southcenter, or Renton trips to/from the Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill make us of the transfer, as do airport-bound trips from those places from the F. As someone who has done the Link+F trip several times, it’s an easy transfer, but I wouldn’t mind walking a little so that through riders aren’t slowed down by the loop-de-loops.

  2. “…it seems clear that our city’s future will need to involve more high-quality electric transit.”

    Our city?

    I think you may want to rephrase that.

      1. Just because Sound Transit is a regional endeavor doesn’t mean that my concerns are regional concerns or that my interest in transit has to include the whole ST region. If our city had its own rapid transit authority, I’d ignore Sound Transit entirely, and I’d focus on getting our city’s needs met through projects built by our city’s transit agency. Since we don’t get to have our own transit agency, we’re stuck trying to get our city’s needs met under the umbrella of ST’s regional endeavor, and that means lobbying ST in whatever way necessary so that their headlong rush from one distant suburb to another ends up generating some good transit service for Seattle as a side-effect while they pass through our city.

      2. He is talking about provisions for branching at Seattle stations, and he’s a Seattle resident. Let him say “our city”.

      3. These same writers have made numerous calls for high-quality transit and station design in the suburbs. This is about the central core where all lines cross and good transfers are essential for the health of the network, and planning ahead for potential future needs is critical.

        Climate refugees have already started cimibg (Katrina), fair-government refugees are coming, and that’s in top of the periodic tech/manufacturing booms and the perennial sea/ski/forest moderate-temperature-low-humidity-few-droughts-no-hurricanes-or-tornadoes-renewable-energy lovers.

      4. The preceding sentences were as follows:
        “Sound Transit 3 is the biggest investment in pedestrian mobility the Pacific Northwest has seen since the coming of the railroads in the 1890s. Like what that generation built, the capital projects we’ve committed to build will be around for decades.”

        That was followed by this one:
        “We can’t know with certainty what the future holds, but for reasons of both climate and mobility, it seems clear that our city’s future will need to involve more high-quality electric transit.”

        Hint: Simply change the word “city’s” to “region’s” and the proper context is consistent with the lead-in statements.

        I’m surprised at seeing such a parochial reply as the one above from Mars Saxman on this particular blog.

      5. I agree with Tlsgwm. Just say “regional” because the same logic applies.

        I’d hope that the Wilburton diversion to South Kirkland (and beyond!?) will be stacked against the day that Redmond-Isaquah “cross-county” trains are running in 2050. I know it’s too late to change the Main Street diversion because the tunnel determines the station configuration.

    1. An Aurora line should be high priority for:
      Seattle, Shoreline, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Everett and unincorporated Snohomish county near SR 99.

      Its the highest ridership transit corridor, has the highest density of apartments and businesses and the greatest development potential along the north end.

      Its only an artifact of how people think of freeways around here and cheap land that caused us to build along I-5 instead.

      Its not ideal that we didn’t build Aurora/99/Evergreen Way LRT first for the north end, not planning to make room for it in the future would be foolish.

      This ridership isn’t going away just because Link will go in along I-5. Link will swallow up all of the community transit and ST commuter bus traffic, and it will cause new growth along the freeway, but it won’t be able to take transit rodership off of 99 in any meaningful way.

      People will still ride Swift and E Line

      On the south end needs are much less clear, but there Renton, Georgetown, South Park and Burien are all good options in the long term.

      1. My thoughts for the South end:

        – Build an express Link between downtown and the airport via Georgetown/South Park, and have that line be the one that continues South to Tacoma. It could be interlined with the existing airport/all other locations South at Interurban/E Marginal

        – Take the Beacon Hill/MLK alignment, and instead of turning to go over I-5 at MLK/S Ryan, instead run the line all the way down MLK and Sunset Blvd straight into downtown Renton

      2. Sam O

        That is a great idea! Basically the RT 101 path! I used to take that every day, and it was hellish. Issue is that I think the ROW gets very narrow (2 lanes) in some parts, so that may prove to be problematic.

      1. Thanks. Made my point. But I’m thinking that the number of at-grade cross streets, and stations, might make Rainier Valley line a slightly different kind of railway that the other ones. Not just train speed and headway themselves, but certain amount of need for flexibilty a given.

        And therefore designed into the whole length of the line and whatever it’s through-routed to. Though very possible that by the time this project is completed, could be enough undercuts that problem will be gone. For saved operating time the whole length of the line , probably more than worth the expense.

        In a way, though, if we can’t avoid longer head-ways….in the early 1990’s Metro was seriously considering wiring the Route 7 into the DSTT. Ramp from Rainier and Dearborn up to I-90, entering the tunnel same ramp as 550. $12 million too expensive.

        But if second tunnel really is only going to carry one route out of Rainier Valley…better ops and signals…Nothing about whole street scheme and station transfer design that can’t be completely re-done over 25 years. Seen renderings.

        Get off the 7, get on an elevator, wait less time than your elevator ride, and everybody’s problem solved. Good to get in a lot of energy being sure past transfer screw-ups are both avoided and fixed. But don’t count on it not happening.


      2. Mark, if Ballard gets value-engineered down to surface in Ballard, it then becomes the natural partner for an MLK extension into Renton and up on East Hill.

        Yes, I agree that climate change and cultural sorting will easily double Puget Sound’s population by 2050. However they will also be accompanied by massive poverty as “true AI” automation puts most people out of a job. East Hill is not yet so thoroughly developed that there are still significant opportunities for high density there. By that time there will be no denying that the millions left unemployable are NOT morally insufficient as the Conservatives would have us believe, and there will be a tax on robots funding a National Living Wage. But it won’t buy a McMansion. Hence, density within the UGB but where land is still a little cheap.

        The Green Line would become something like your “developer streetcar” of yore.

    2. Well here’s a non-Seattle example: Tacoma Dome station should be designed so that it could be extended either west (Tacoma Mall), north (downtown) or south (Pacific Ave & PLU).

      This principal goes for all the terminal locations (Issaquah, Everett, etc), don’t design a station that forces the train to continue in a certain direction (I’m talking to you, Redmond), since 2040 is a long ways away and we might decide it’s better to go somewhere else.

      1. With the passage of ST3, several new transfer stations are created that are currently just beginning construction: East Main and Wilburton. A separate push to reassess and maybe modify these two stations and their approach tracks should be a high priority for ST this year — but few seem to want to address this or write editorials about this.

      2. 25 years ago was 1993. DSTT had been operating three years, with six more to go ’til LINK. Now? We’re still in Join Use.

        Whose performance indicates that anytime we start coordinating service as designed, we can probably spend ST-3 doing something else ’til we need to change anything there at all.

        No big embarrassments (like, for instance, a TBM having to be extracted because somebody ran it into a pipe). Meaning good chance the State Legislature will find something else to be a pest about.

        Do think, though, that more attention to details of the work ahead will make us better advocates. Not just sarcasm that getting those stations into Seattle CBD will be interesting. Same with lower Queen Anne underground.

        But again, we’ve got 35 years experience, and therefore that much better machinery and also knowledge of conditions, that good working attitude is justified, not arrogance.


    3. Might want to rethink the whole idea that Seattle isn’t already becoming an un-boundared part of a region. Pretty much like Ballard’s old city line really “Just Faded Away”, like the in the Robin and Linda Williams song. Neighborhoods can still have their “character” without a city- or county- line of their own.

      When unsettlement owing to last several years’ economy finally calms down, many people will still have plenty to do in Seattle. Especially those who used to live there. And also, reasons to spend a lot more time in other areas in the Greater Puget Sound region.

      Creating a very large ridership of people eager not only to endure changed life, but also the wider life it provides. For which fast, frequent electric rail will be a natural. And of which, present City of Seattle will become an important and much valued set of stops.


  3. If you are limiting headway is 6 minutes to each line do you need a stacked station or just 4 exits at on end of the station and 2 exits on the other and a little extra space for cross tracks switches.

    1. I think you could move that many trains through a flat junction, but there would still be hit to reliability and ultimate capacity. The cost differential is not that great between no provision for expansion, a compromised provision for expansion with a flat junction, and a stacked station that maximizes the ultimate capacity of the tunnel. May as well do it right.

      1. The hit to capacity on the Aurora line junction comes from having a single platform serving two lines. Waiting for a train at the station platform takes longer than waiting for a train in motion to cross. Adding a bell junction casting to the tunnel makes sense if that is the long range plan, but to me it seems more likely there will be a need for the Aurora line to cross and go into Bell Town since that area won’t be served by any of these lines. That will be more difficult with a stacked station as the obstacle depth is greater.

      2. Glenn, that is a good observation, but a new Belltown north-south line no longer works. ST has studied a Second Avenue alignment and concluded that there are just too many holes down around Yesler, so that would mean a stub-end station perhaps directly adjacent to Pioneer Square Station, but that’s not much of a win for someone who wants to go from Belltown to UW or even the airport.

        The truth is that going downtown is already quick on the RR’s and it’s going to get better with Red Paint. Of course they may not run after ST3, but the trolleys can stop-dieted.

        To get to the airport will require a transfer in any case, but with the move of the airport service to the Green Line tunnel (even if the Bypass is built), the obvious transfer would be to backtrack to Gates Foundation and grab the airport train there. Not too bad. That’s presumably from Second and Battery-ish, right? But what if an every-three-minute automated trolley (think Times Square Shuttle only smaller) was boarding folks at Western and Battery and Fourth and Battery, depositing them at the Amazon Station? Wouldn’t that serve Belltown better than a north-south route, but for MUCH less money? The tunnel already exists, and it’s wide enough for two tracks, platforms, and a pair of bike lanes in the middle.

        The City apparently has awakened to the value of its little tunnel, so it might come to pass.

      3. I suppose you could always appropriate the Battery Street Tunnel and rebuild the viaduct as an elevated.


      4. >> a new Belltown north-south line no longer works.

        Sure it does. If you are going to build something similar to the E, then you definitely want to serve Belltown. You cross under the South Lake Union station, head to Belltown, then curve back to Westlake. If you are going to build a connector for a future line, it should be at Westlake (into the new line).

      5. Ross, you simply CAN NOT build a northbound diversion between the north wall of University Street and the curve into Westlake. First, the separation necessary to divide the new tunnel from the old sufficiently means that the new tunnel would protrude into the non-street portions of the blocks between Union and Pike and Pike and Pine. Remember that the tubes are not directly adjacent in the middle of the street. They’re separated by 15 feet or so, the width of the “passing zone” in the stations.

        The new tube would have to be separated fron the old by at least six to eight feet if only to protect the old northbound tube from damage. Then, you have only a block and a half to drop 35 feet to under run Westlake, whose station box extends almost halfway to Pike. And of course, you can’t bump over an obtuse angle and suddenly pitch downward to reach a downward grade of 6%. There has to be a transition curve which means 6% wouldn’t be reached until halfway to Pike.

        And regardless of d.p.’s beliefs, as Bruce pointed out, modern subways simply aren’t built with flat junctions except for service trackage, so that’s not possible either.

        No merge at Westlake. The geometry simply does not work.

      6. Sorry, Ross, you specified “into the new line”. My apologies. That would work though Westlake’s new platforms would themselves then have to be stacked. But they could both be on the west side of the tubes which would make the connections to the existing platforms easier.

        The lower track would be DEEP though.

    2. As SLU continues to develop and lots fill with large buildings, it might make sense to construct a stacked station just because there is not much room to work with. Both Harrison and Republican streets that ST used in its representative alignment are about 20 feet narrower than 3rd Avenue downtown.

      1. Is there a reason why you propose the bell-mouth north of the SLU station rather than the Denny Station. If the transfer happened at Denny there would be less of a bend in the added line and more flexibility for the location of the station you show at Galer. Just wondering of there is data or other info you have that led you to that choice rather than something else.

      2. No particular reason other than I was asked to draw a map with a branch from SLU station (ST’s name for a station that’s more on the edge of SLU).

        There’s no reason it could not branch off at the Denny station and that option came up in internal discussion. Branching at Westlake to serve Belltown as suggested in the comments is an intriguing if not significantly more challenging idea to implement.

        The post itself doesn’t specify a station, just making the key point that provision for future branches must be considered.

      3. Oran, it’s not “significantly more challenging” to diverge between Westlake and University, it’s impossible. Period. The geometries simply are too constrained for northbound trains to diverge right and then plunge deep enough to under run the existing curve entering Westlake.

        Not to mention that it puts the Aurora trains in the wrong tunnel operationally, though certainly convenient for passengers in Shoreline on an east-west feeder route leaving town.

      4. Richard, I (and others here) are talking about diverging at Westlake, not before it. Westlake’s second set of platforms will have to be built under DSTT 1 regardless.

      5. Oran, Ross’s idea to diverge from the new line does work. Is that too what you mean? Or were you thinking of the idea of using the Convention Center station pit to diverge from the existing tunnel? That might geometrically work but would be out-of-direction, especially to snake back to Belltown.

  4. We also need to be building future lines that are capable of running 24/7 service. Chicago and NYC have 24/7 lines and many European cities do as well (e.g. Vienna).

    1. Years ago ST had a list of long-term potential features and one of them was 24-hour service, which it thought might be needed someday. I haven’t been able to find the list recently so I assume it was retired and not replaced. But it shows that a previous board was thinking about this.

      What do the lines need initially that would make a difference in 24-hour service? The only thing I can think of is four tracks, and that’s definitely not happening, not unless you want to chop off one of the lines to pay for it, and that’s not what people voted for.

      In any case, 24-hour service on Friday and Saturday nights would be a good step in that direction, and would still leave five out of seven days for maintenance.

    2. We have 24 hour lines as well… buses. Buses work great after midnight when there is no traffic on the road. Paris does the same thing.

      I’s also kind of a waste to run a huge train that only have a handful of people on it at.

      Also, for perspective there are major cities like Tokyo which have no service of any kind after midnight… so Seattle is doing pretty good.

      1. I’m fine with providing late night service with buses, but they genuinely need to provide the same service. It needs to go to all of the Link stations, in order, without intermediate stops. And it needs to be branded accordingly (as ST Link, not Metro #), and the bus service needs to appear in the published Link schedules.

        Don’t make the people who only want to use the train figure out a completely different bus schedule at night.

      2. The only ST night owl service is the weird schedule of the 574, from 2am to 10pm for airport workers. If you’re going from Seattle to Bellevue or Lynnwood, you’re out of luck.

      3. We absolutely need a late night shadow bus. Have it follow the link routing and come every 20 minutes, and it’ll be just as good. No traffic to boot.

  5. Thank you, Board. Very well said. Combine these enhancements with a stacked common station at SoDo and you have the ability for trains from any of the three north end lines to travel through to any of the south end destinations.

    The Duwamish Bypass would be enthusiastically received by South King County, giving residents the same level of reliability as Snohomans when commuting to Seattle. It would also allow direct UW-Sea-Tac service once again.

    1. Oh, and an Aurora line takes a lot of potential pressure off the unnecessarily limited capacity of the Capitol Hill tunnel.

    2. Another congratulations for showing the Galer Station under Dexter where it can serve development along all three arterials.

    3. >> The Duwamish Bypass would be enthusiastically received by South King County,

      Certainly, but does South King County (and Pierce for that matter) want to pay for it?

      At most you have one new station for Seattle (in Georgetown). Georgetown is charming and all, but very low density, and unlikely to change any time soon. It is industrial, and running by the railroad tracks ensures that half of your “what if we tore down all the old buildings and built residential towers” potential is gone. On the other side of the tracks is the freeway. So that means you have a multi-billion dollar light rail line that will do what for Seattle? Provide one very weak station along with a marginally faster trip to the airport (for those who don’t live in Rainer Valley or Beacon Hill)? I can think of lots of projects that would benefit Seattle residents more than that, which means that South King County would have to foot most of the cost. I just don’t see it.

      1. I’d prefer no station in Georgetown to make it a true express, but that might be a tough sell for Seattle politics.

        I think South King & Pierce will warm up to the bypass once they have actual Link service, and there is a constituency of daily commuters who would very much like to save 40 minutes every day. Right now, that constituency is more concerned about their bus stuck in I5 traffic than an improvement on a hypothetical Link commute.

      2. Not 40 minutes. The Rainier Valley overhead is around 12 minutes. If it were 40 minutes then you’d have the fanciful case of getting from Westlake to SeaTac in 3 minutes, and that would require high-speed rail and bypassing all the other downtown stations.

      3. The Georgetown of 20+ years from now might look very different than the Georgetown of today, and there’s probably less of a NIMBY factor when it comes to redevelopment. Plus the potential for connecting busses from surrounding neighborhoods. Bus from White Center and Delridge might be quicker to get to a Georgetown station than West Seattle? Boeing and a South Seattle College location are also there, which maybe there’s demand, maybe not.

      4. Georgetown is severely limited by a variety of restrictive factors. The biggest one is Boeing Field. It’s so close to the runway that there are severe height restrictions on what can be built there.

        It’s completely implausible — but if Boeing Field itself went away, the implications for redevelopment are much more staggering than merely getting more density in Georgetown.

      5. A bypass of Rainier Valley isn’t going to save all that much time, maybe 5 minutes each way.

      6. >> I’d prefer no station in Georgetown to make it a true express, but that might be a tough sell for Seattle politics.

        Either way what I’m saying is that Seattle doesn’t want to pay for it, and South King County can’t afford it.

        >> The Georgetown of 20+ years from now might look very different than the Georgetown of today,

        You missed a sentence. Even if we decided to ignore history, and destroy some of the few remaining old brick buildings in Seattle (and what makes Georgetown actually interesting) and built bigger apartments instead, you still wouldn’t have a high density neighborhood. That is because you are putting a station next to railroad tracks, which has a freeway on the other side. Here is, more or less, where you put the station ( Except again, it is by the railroad tracks, which means that folks on the street have to walk a couple minutes just from Airport Way to get there. But the big problem is the walk from the other side. The nearest place as the crow flies is about a 20 minute walk ( You can get closer, but even then it is about a ten minute walk ( or That is best case scenario. You could slide the station north (to make crossing a bit easier) but it is still really bad, and you lose people in Georgetown as you get close to the ball field. If you move south, you are next to Boeing field. Oh, speaking of which, can you even build high rise towers there, next to the freeway, but north of Boeing field? I doubt it, as that would mess up the flight path.

        The only chance for an increase in residential density is with the small sliver of existing residential property, and that is actually happening right now ( That increase in density only slightly moves the needle, and many of those places are too far for a reasonable walk to the station. Density in the area is extremely low, and potential density is very low as well. If a station is built, it will be a “might as well” station, and you really can’t expect Seattle to foot the bill for something that adds so little for Seattle residents.

      7. 40 minutes round trip. I was thinking 20 minutes savings, but that’s probably a bit much.

        I’m guessing the bypass would save time by skipping 6 stations, running at max speed (65mph?) and a slightly shorter distance. @65mph, covering the 14 miles between SeaTac and ID would be done in ~15 minutes, which would only be ~15 minutes savings vs. the current 31 minutes. I suppose it would all come down to if the bypass would allow Link to hit high speeds (>70?).

        I was thinking ID to SeaTac was closer to 40 minutes, but that’s Westlake to Seatac.

      8. I agree the bypass would need to be paid for as a South King / Pierce project first, and an airport express only secondarily. Seattle should pay for some of it, but yeah it would need to fit into South King’s future budget.

      9. South King and Pierce have said as loudly as they could that they don’t want it and don’t want to pay for it. End of story. They may change their minds in the 2020s or 2030s, but anybody can change their minds about anything, so everything is up in the air. In the meantime, a stub for a future stacked platform is a prudent thing to do now to prepare for the unknown future.

      10. We can have a quick, cheaper win if we figure out how to make that walk between the SeaTac terminals and the rail station faster. A driverless people-mover system that connects things at SeaTac will shorten that almost 10-minute walk — giving us 1/4 to 1/2 of the time benefit of a much more expensive and complicated Duwamish Bypass. It would be much quicker to implement too. ST should be partnering with the Port about this.

      11. The Port is waiting until it builds a hotel where the walkway is. Then it will think about putting in a moving sidewalk or something.

      12. Ross, the ridership now reflects the facts on the ground now. In 30 years Central Puget Sound will certainly have doubled its population, if only from global warming refugees. Seattle is just about to rise up with pitchforks and torches — read The Crimes comment section — about too much traffic and what not. The City may make a million by 2050, but that isn’t proportionally even carrying it’s part of the load. The developed areas on the Eastside and in Shoreline will fight tooth and nail to keep their “old Northwest” leafy embiance. S nohomish County has room, but there is lots of the demand for hidden houses up there too, at least west of I-5.

        So where ya gonna put the other million or so? South King County, that’s where. And while they may not commute to downtown Seattle in the same proportions as do Snohomans, there will be plenty to fill 10-15 trains per hour going somewhere in North King County. So for the relatively trivial cost of five miles of elevated structure (some of which can be five foot posts with a track on top because there are no cross-roads) ST can permanently eliminate the south end express bus fleet. Since such a line would use the Green Line tunnel, there could be 20 per hour if necessary.

        So far as MLK, I’ll paraphrase that famous staffer in Dick Cheney’s office: Wimps want to go to the Airport. Real Men want to go to Renton.” See my other post for details.

      13. Link on 99 can’t serve south-central and southeast King County alone; the area is wide, it’s to much of a detour to go west, and Link is not fast enough. So we’ll still need Sounder or a more-frequent Sounder or Kent Valley Link, and something in the Renton-Kent corridor too. South King County is also populous: it may not look like it but its population is higher than Seattle (800K something). In Seattle we’re looking at two or three lines depending on how you count the segments, so south King County will need something similar. And especially if its population increases dramatically. Although there’s a question whether that will happen, because other areas have been growing while South King has not, and the reason seems to be that it’s further from high-paying jobs and it has a parochial no-growth-or-transit-taxes attitude (its public tends to even if its city officials don’t).

    4. If we do build the Duwamish Bypass it would make sense to connect the south line to it, and reconnect Rainier Valley to Renton. At first glance that might require a bus from Rainier Beach to the airport to compensate, but people in Rainier Beach going to the airport could take Link the other way to SODO, and it would only be 15-minute overhead, and it would still be shorter than many people’s trip to the airport.

      1. Hard to imagine that happening. A split, sure. But suddenly cut off Rainier Valley from the airport (or places south)? That would be crazy. Right now there are people who work at the airport, or travel a lot, who are thinking about buying a townhouse close to Rainier Beach (like these Now you are going to tell them that their express ride to SeaTac is going away because we built a different, billion dollar express train to SeaTac? Good luck with that.

        Sound Transit doesn’t publish the trip to trip numbers (even though it shouldn’t be hard to release them). So we have no idea how many people travel from say, Columbia City to the airport. But we do know that roughly 20% of the riders from the Rainier Beach station head south every day, not north. That is significant, and might actually grow, as one of the big selling points of buying (or renting) in the area is the quick access to SeaTac. Take that away, and you will have a lot of angry people on your hands.

      2. I suppose you could shift the primary route to RV to Renton, and then use the existing Link line to run a rail shuttle between SeaTac and RB. Feels awkward, but would be much better than a bus shuttle.

        All depends on South King’s priorities. A Rainer Beach – Renton line serves downtown Renton well, but doesn’t do anything for Southcenter

      3. No split. 10 minutes minimum on every line until 10pm. I want to have a good metro network, not one that’s degraded to 15, 20, 30 minutes.That’s what I find substandard about MAX, BART, VTA, and the other ones that do that. Whereas in London, New York, Moscow, Toronto, Vancouver, etc, there is always a train in 10 minutes or less, and often in 5 minutes or less, except when you get to night owl, and then maybe you’ll wait 20 minutes. Frequent service makes more trips feasable and convenient and makes more people the most to use transit and downsize their number of cars.

    5. South King along Link might want the bypass. I’d think better Sounder service (more reliable, better frequency, all day service, everyday of the week) would be the ticket for most of South King and all of Pierce counties. I’d certainly rather see money spent making those improvements first, before a duwamish bypass.

  6. Our city definitely needs the new ST3 line to be built to accommodate an additional line, and a line up Aurora is the leading candidate for a variety of reasons. This really needs to be done.

    The danger is that with the cuts the R’s are forcing on ST there will be an incentive for ST to cheap out and cut expandability. This should be all costs.

  7. The location of the Ballard station is another place where planning for the future matters. In order for the line to be extendable without streets and buildings in the way, the Ballard station needs to be either elevated or underground.

    If I were looking to design the Ballard station on the cheap, without regards to future extensions, I would have the train cross the ship canal on an elevated bridge just west of 15th, then have the guideway stay flat while the land rises up, until the line hits the surface just north of Leary, with a station on the Wallgreens property, just south of market.

    Such a design avoids the construction of overhead platforms (at least for the station), but it now means that any future extension of the line would immediately run into Market Street, with no room to go over or under it, without completely rebuilding the station. Furthermore, the other side of Market Street is blocked by large buildings, which would be too disruptive to demolish. So, any Crown Hill extension would force the train to take a sharp right-turn on Market St., and left turn on 15th, passing through the very busy 15th/Market intersection, at-grade, just to get to a point where there’s enough room to build a ramp to an elevated track.

    Or, they could intentionally build the Ballard station either above ground or underground, allowing future extensions to go over or under the busy intersection, without trains needing to climb an 80-degree slope.

    But, the latter would cost more money. And, so far, Sound Transit has refused to design anything with the slightest consideration that any extension, not already voter-approved, might ever happen. Penny-wise, pound foolish.

    1. Planning for the extension to 65th street is in the ST3 budget, so I think they’d at least have that strongly considered. The big question is whether it will be built as a junction, or simply as an extension. To build the Ballard station as a junction would require either ST or SDOT to warm up to the idea of a Ballard-UW line.

    2. Indeed. We’re not even talking about Ballard-> UW, or Ballard->Crown Hill/Northgate right now, and the decisions we’re about to make might just screw us in the future.

  8. I agree SLU is a great spot for a future junction, and I think the same argument could be made at Ballard. If the budget allows, I’d love to see junctions put in at both locations, leaving options open for new lines at just one or both.

    I also agree the Dwamish bypass is the logical pair to got with a new line north of Seattle, to match headways.

    However, another option is to simply move the West Seattle line from the 3rd Ave (old) tunnel over to the 5th Ave (new) tunnel. This would allow for two things. 1) doubles the headway in the new tunnel, to match headways for this theoretical new line in north seattle, and 2) double the headway on East Link, as East Link would absorb 100% of the trains coming from Northgate.

    I’m bullish on East Link needing the same peak headways as Lynnwood Link in 20 years, so I would love for the SoDo station to be built with that flexibility in mind.

    1. I was going to add that there will already be two lines in the current Downtown tunnel and one in the future tunnel. Also, with only one line in the new tunnel, all trains must either turn around or use MLK, which can’t really handle more trains without a major grade separation project of some kind. Thus, a fourth line through Downtown Seattle should be designed as splitting from the current Rainier Valley Link line and not the West Seattle line.

  9. I love your headline and agree with the basic idea completely. It makes sense to think about the future.

    But both of your lines don’t make sense. An express train line to the airport would be one of the least effective transit lines in our system. The stops along the way are horrible, as the train would travel along largely low density, industrial land. Give ST some credit. They didn’t add any stops between the south end of Rainier Valley and Tukwila — because there is nothing there. This would be a similar line, but worse. It costs a lot of money to build a train line. It costs a lot of money to run the trains. In both cases, you want lots of riders per mile. If you have very few stops, you won’t get them.

    It would be faster of course, but would simply eat into the ridership of the main line. Ridership at the SeaTac station has probably peaked — it went down after the line was extended. It still isn’t a huge amount of people (less than 6,000). People downtown would switch, leaving only the riders from Rainier Valley to the airport. That numbers in the few hundreds. Running empty trains for miles and miles every six minutes gets very expensive. What is the plan then? Do you build a turn-back station at Rainier Beach? Do you stop running the train every six minutes, and cut into service for Rainier Valley? Or do you just suck it up, and run one of the most expensive, yet unproductive subway lines in the country?

    Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense. Neither does the split at South Lake Union. First of all, the main reason the E is so popular is because it is fast, frequent, has good stop spacing, and is very long. Not only would a train be very expensive to build, but it would be very expensive to provide all that. You wouldn’t be able to leverage the Aurora Bridge, which means you would again be spending billions for long stretches with no ridership. To match the current functionality, you would need to build lots of stations (something ST is loathe to do). It costs more money to run a train than it does a bus, which means ST could easily just run the train less often. All to give folks a relatively marginal improvement in travel time.

    But more to the point, why on earth would you spend billions for yet another ship canal crossing (along with another tunnel on the side of Queen Anne) but once again skip Belltown? It would make way more sense to simply cross at the South Lake Union station, then merge again at Westlake. Belltown has the highest population density of any area in the state. The only reason it isn’t higher is because of those large office towers. Yet it still doesn’t have a subway station. Have a crossing line, then you connect Belltown with both Westlake and South Lake Union (along with places north and south). If you are going to build a stacked station, do it at the new Westlake Station.

    Meanwhile, what about the Metro 8 subway? Are we once again going to ignore the largest block of significant population density in the state? Are we going to ignore arguably the most difficult high demand trip in the area? What if I want to get from Republican and Fairview to Republican and 15th East. That is almost precisely one mile as the crow flies. But it is a very time consuming, pain in the butt trip by transit (or any other means) You are dependent on the slow 8, and the new subway (when built) doesn’t change things, even though there is a station at “South Lake Union”, and my trip starts there. This is two very urban places, a mile apart, with very slow transit travel times, but there is still no plan to fix it. How would a Metro 8 subway connect into the line we are in the process of building? I honestly don’t know, but presuming to know the layout now (and building for it) would be extremely presumptuous, just as these proposals are.

    By all means, we should plan for the future. We should start working on a Metro 8 proposal, since that is what should be built after we build this and the Ballard to UW subway. But until we know what a Metro 8 line — or an Aurora line, or whether a a Duwamish Bypass makes sense (it doesn’t) it would be silly to spend extra money building for it.

    The only thing we know we want to build is the Ballard to UW subway. ST has actually done some of the planning on that! We know it would cross the new Ballard line. That is what we should plan for. Not a merge (that would be unnecessary) but a crossing line. That should be a major focus of Sound Transit for ST3, not trying to accommodate stacked platforms that may never be used.

    1. “An express train line to the airport would be one of the least effective transit lines in our system. The stops along the way are horrible, as the train would travel along largely low density, industrial land.”

      It’s not for the airport, it’s for Federal Way and Tacoma, which are looking at over an hour’s travel time in ST3.

      “It would be faster of course, but would simply eat into the ridership of the main line.”

      Not if you reroute the Rainier Valley segment to Renton. Then the lines would serve different transit markets and ridership would be the sum of both. Also, Rainier Valley and Renton are now culturally and economically similar, with a lot of family ties and people going back to their old neighborhoods to shop, so it would have decent ridership.

      The main argument against the Duwamish Bypass is that it would mainly benefit South King and Pierce, and it was such a low priority for them in ST3 that it was deleted from the long-range plan without a peep of objection from them. Georgetown on its own at its current size is not enough reason for a Link line.

      1. Routing RV to Renton is interesting, but I think it’s more important to keep the RV connected to SeaTac, which is a major jobs center.

        I think Renton can be best connected to the Link system via a Burien-Renton line, which would have a crossing station with the spine, likely at TIBS.

      2. That would be fine for Renton to the airport but it would be poor for Renton to downtown because of backtracking. Although one alternative would connect it to the West Seattle line, and if that is grade-seperated it could have a reasonable travel time (i.e., not much worse than the 101) in spite of the detour.

      3. The lines would have to meet at Boeing Access so that it’s easy to transfer from one to the other, though there would need to be a turnaround for the RV-Renton line.

      4. The Boeing Access Road station would require some changes. Perhaps the easiest solution would be to by some property and move the station a few blocks to have the platforms run mostly north-south along E Marginal Way. Otherwise, ST would have to create some big looping switchbacks to get both lines to stop at this station, allowing for transfers.

      5. BAR might be a possibility but I’d want a more thorough study before recommending a transfer there. Are you envisioning a 101-like route from BAR to Renton? Neither Burien-Renton Link nor the F can go to BAR; it’s too far out of the way.

      6. I’m not fully up on demand patterns but here are some options:

        – build the Burien to west of TIBS segment of rail; tie a Burien-Renton line to use Central Link tracks between west of TIBS and just east of I-5 at BAR; build a segment of rail from a new split just east of I-5 to run down a widened MLK and Sunset Blvd into Renton. When the Duwamish Bypass finally opens, use a Burien extension from TIBS and make that the RV line.

        – Use a Tacoma Link (streetcar) vehicle type to run a reverse “C” line alignment from BAR to Renton to Tukwila Sounder to Southcenter area to Link at TIBS; build a separate Burien connection as a driverless two-stop, high frequency vehicle. It could be electric or cable-pulled.

        I just throw those out as visions. They certainly would need to be studied.

        Regardless, the transit rider data are pretty clear when adding up all the riders on routes between Renton and Seattle: that’s the primary market more than SeaTac or Burien is or likely will be.

    2. For the Dwamish bypass, I think it’s better to think of it first as an express train for South King & Pierce to get into Seattle. The express to the airport is the “reverse commute” and is secondary – it’s a nice perk, but not at all justification for the line.

      The Dwamish bypass wouldn’t truncate anywhere in King County – it would merge with the existing Link line at/around SeaTac and go all the way to the Tacoma dome. The line that would truncate would be the Rainier Valley, perhaps running all the way to Tacoma during peak but otherwise truncating at SeaTac during off-peak.

      So the idea is if I’m at Federal Way, during peak I have two options towards Seattle, express or via RV. Off peak, I only have the express trains, so if I want to get to the RV I’ll do a same direction transfer at SeaTac (or TIBS or whatever).

      For the Aurora spur, don’t think of it as a replacement for the E-line. Instead, it’s designed to serve the area around Aurora (“greater Fremont”?) that is currently poorly served by the E-line. I think the vast majority of E-line riders coming from the north would not transfer. Once there is a station in Fremont, I would propose the 5 to truncate north of the ship canal, not the E.

      And finally, “We know it would cross the new Ballard line. ” – I don’t think that’s a given. Mostly because there is zero chance of the U District station being a junction, I think it makes the most sense to make the Ballard station a junction, not a crossing line.

      1. >> For the Dwamish bypass, I think it’s better to think of it first as an express train for South King & Pierce to get into Seattle.

        Fair enough. The problem is that is still extremely expensive for what, a ten minute time savings? Sorry, but that is crazy. No one does that. As I said above, I don’t see why Seattle would pay for it. You have the handful of reverse commuters, and maybe, at best, one of the least productive stops in our system (Georgetown). To be clear, I like Georgetown — it is very charming place — but very few people live or work there, because it is industrial, and surrounded by railroad tracks, freeways and an airfield. Oh, and it isn’t great as a bus intercept, either.

        So if Seattle doesn’t pay for it, do you really think folks south of SeaTac will? Most of the day it would still be faster to take a bus from the suburbs into downtown Seattle. That is because if this does stop at Georgetown, it means you stop three times in Seattle before you are really downtown. Maybe we should build another bypass.

        Look, what you are talking about is a commuter line from the south sound. Guess what? We have that. Ridership is what you would expect from a commuter line. Like every other commuter line in the country, ridership is much higher in the core than for the commuter line. But it is still respectable, averaging over 1,000 for each station north of Tacoma. But none of the stations have over 2,000 riders, simply because it is commuter rail. People don’t take spontaneous trips from Auburn to Seattle, and very few people use transit to get from Kent to Puyallup.

        If a place like Auburn has only 1400 riders a day, with a line that is more of an express to Seattle than this would be (since there would be fewer stops) how many people do you think want to pay extra for a faster ride on Link? Are we supposed to spend billions for a system that only a handful will use?

      2. For the Aurora spur, don’t think of it as a replacement for the E-line. Instead, it’s designed to serve the area around Aurora (“greater Fremont”?) that is currently poorly served by the E-line. I think the vast majority of E-line riders coming from the north would not transfer. Once there is a station in Fremont, I would propose the 5 to truncate north of the ship canal, not the E.

        Oh, OK, so we should spend even more billions to again cross the ship canal underwater, so that folks in “greater Fremont” don’t have to ride a local bus, or take the Ballard to UW subway and make a transfer (to another train). Sorry, but that is just pie in the sky, we can build hundreds of miles of rail everywhere thinking. ST looked at that as a way to get to Ballard and found it wanting, and that was when he had nothing in the area. To put it another way, if you think ST can’t afford to build a junction to connect the Ballard to UW line, what makes you think they want to spend that kind of money building something that the 5 and E do fairly well right now?

        Oh, and speaking of which, there is little to be gained by sending a train west from the U-District, then south towards Interbay. The reasons are complicated, but the system is not symmetrical. The stops closest to Ballard are very weak, while the stops closest to the UW are very strong. In other words, more people will want to head east, then south, to quickly get to Capitol Hill, then the other way around.

        Meanwhile, a junction in Ballard has all sorts of drawbacks. First, the line heading north-south will likely be elevated, while the line headed east-west will be on the surface. Second, it makes more sense to simply cross, and keep going to 24th. 24th and Market is a very densely populated area, and it has grown considerably over the years. The 40 is also a popular bus route, and will likely have to cut back and forth (to Market and 15th) once Ballard Link is built. A station at 24th would allow that bus to go on the faster and more effective route it is on now.

        We can argue possible future expansion, but I think none of this is obvious. That is my point. I can imagine all sorts of different routes, and so can you. But it is crazy to just assume that we will build lines through Georgetown, or a line to South Lake Union that avoids Belltown without any study to actually back it up.

        There are only a handful of obvious things in our system. Unfortunately, Sound Transit pretty much blew them off. A station at NE 130th makes sense. A spur junction in the U-District would be a good idea. Fortunately, the former was realized before it was too late, and will be part of Lynnwood Link (unless they find another silly reason to delay it). We will simply have to spend extra for the latter

      3. Aurora Link would be like the other Link lines with 1-2 mile station spacing. It can’t replace the E; it would be like Swift on rail or Link between TIB and Angle Lake. It would be a faster alternative for those who live near a station or are willing to transfer from the E to it, or transfer from a crosstown route like the 44, 45, 40, or future 75. If it turns and meets Central Link anywhere between 185th and Everett, it would relieve overcrowding on Central Link if that contingency arises. But it wouldn’t serve the full range of Aurora trips, somebody going from some random apartment to Fred Meyer for instance. And we have no idea how it may or may not serve Fremont because nobody has made alignment suggestions that specific yet.

      4. The Ballard-UW junction isn’t a cost problem. It won’t happen b/c 100% of the capacity on the UW-Downtown tunnel is used by trains coming from Northgate; there isn’t capacity for another line. ST is assuming Lynnwood to Seattle will need 3-minute headway, and that makes a spur at UW a non-starter. Ballard-Downtown, however, does have capacity, so it could make sense as the junction for a Ballard-UW line.

        The Dwamish bypass isn’t just about time savings. It’s about adding capacity and headway, particularly in the context of the RV capped at 6 minute headways. Would it make more sense to simply rebuild the RV section so it can handle 3 minute headways? Perhaps. Either way, it’s being built in the context of trains coming from Pierce/South King being full of commuters by the time they reach SeaTac. If you think that, in 50 years, South King still won’t have that level of ridership, then sure the bypass won’t be needed.

      5. The Dwamish bypass isn’t just about time savings. It’s about adding capacity and headway, particularly in the context of the RV capped at 6 minute headways.

        In that case, wouldn’t it be cheaper to just add a tail track somewhere in SODO?

      6. >Either way, it’s being built in the context of trains coming from Pierce/South King being full of commuters by the time they reach SeaTac.

        Why not just increase frequency/capacity on Sounder, then?

      7. Because Sounder costs a lot of money for time slots, and half-hourly trains would require new passenger-priority tracks or shoving freight off the line, and BNSF won’t do the latter as long as it owns the tracks. Did I mention the idea of the state buying the tracks and shoving freight to the UP tracks? But ST doesn’t have that kind of money to do it on its own.

      8. The issue with Link is it takes an hour to get between Airport / downtown.

        Tukwila/Seattle on Sounder is 15 minutes, but you then spend the 45 minutes saved getting across to the airport via bus, and who wants to do that with luggage even if the train and bus timetables were aligned?

        Between Tukwila and Seattle there are several sets of tracks, I wonder that the possibility would be of converting one set to allow Link to run on it and having it join the existing Link line where it overpasses the freight railway to create an airport / downtown Link “express”?

        As for Sounder Southline, its pretty evident south Puget Sound likes and needs more of this service. What would dramatically enhance it are more connector buses, especially at Pierce county stops, and get off this silly idea of more park & rides located at or near the train stations. Sounder is great up-to the point of completing the last few miles of your trip.

        I think the reality is, BNSF need to be moved over to the UP line at what ever cost because the economic benefit of having high refequenncy high speed rail between Seattle, Tacoma, eventually DuPont or even Olympia and the stops in-between will far out weight the initial cost.

      9. @Weasel, where in the world are you getting that it takes an hour from downtown to the airport? It takes 40 minutes, at most.

      10. “But none of the stations have over 2,000 riders, simply because it is commuter rail. People don’t take spontaneous trips from Auburn to Seattle,”

        That’s all because of the frequency. If it ran every 30 minutes or even every 10 minutes like some commuter rails do, it would have more riders and people would make more spontaneous trips that are currently prohibitive. The S6 from Cologne to Duesseldorf and Essen, which ran at 30 minutes when I was there, is now apparently at 20 minutes, 24 hours a day.

      11. “But none of the stations have over 2,000 riders, simply because it is commuter rail. People don’t take spontaneous trips from Auburn to Seattle,”

        That’s all because of the frequency. If it ran every 30 minutes or even every 10 minutes like some commuter rails do, it would have more riders and people would make more spontaneous trips that are currently prohibitive.

        No Mike, that’s not why. The 590 and 594 run about 80 times a day. It runs from 4 AM to 10:30 at night. Most of the day, frequency is excellent, with gaps of around 15 minutes or less. It runs as an express, which means that it is usually faster than the train and often faster than driving. When Link gets to Tacoma, these buses will often be faster than taking Link, with or without a bypass.

        Yet less than 2,000 people a day ride from Tacoma. It is just the way it works. Very few people take spontaneous trips from the suburbs (or a distant city) into the big city, even when transit runs frequently. It is just that way all over the world.

        Sure, if Seattle was much bigger, and Tacoma was much bigger, you would have higher ridership. But you would then have much, much higher ridership on the subway. We might even have capacity problems. We might have even built heavy rail, instead of light rail, years and years ago.

        But we didn’t, because we aren’t that big. Which is why the trains aren’t full, even though we aren’t running four car sets yet, and have already completed the urban core. Of course ridership will go up when it extends outward, but it won’t go up that much as a result. We’ve already seen that with Angle Lake. Ridership actually went down in SeaTac, despite the fact that it is the biggest destination between downtown and Tacoma. Whatever increase in ridership that came from UW, Capitol Hill and Angle Lake ridership to SeaTac was more than offset by people who simply switched to a closer station. The result is that the overall ridership is nowhere near capacity, and will never be anywhere near capacity on the southern part of the line.

        What is true of the south end is true of the north. You just aren’t going to have capacity problems between the UW and Lynnwood. Even if you did, there is a simple solution. During rush hour (when the north end train is running often) the Ballard train stops in the U-District. During the middle of the day (when the trains are running less often) it keeps going.

        It seems like folks are ignoring scale. It reminds me of the old Sesame Street segment: Paris, London, New York City, Seattle. One of these things is not like the other …

        Seattle is not a very big city. Almost of all the pockets of population density are found within the city itself. Yet the city itself is still nothing like European cities, big cities, or even midsize Northeast cities. With ST3, what we are building is tremendously out of scale from a cost perspective, yet frustratingly enough, not what anyone would consider comprehensive. When ST3 is done, we will have more miles of track (116) than all but a handful of cities. We will eclipse Dallas, for the longest light rail system. When compared to heavy rail systems, we won’t come close to New York, but will pass Chicago, and be up there with the Bay Area and DC, areas that have way more people. If we built projects like an Aurora subway, or a Duwamish bypass, we would pass those cities, and be second in the country in terms of miles or rail. That is crazy for a city this big.

        And that is assuming that we didn’t build anything else first. It is just absurd. But it isn’t just the mileage, it is the cost. Most of the cities who built very large light rail systems did so relatively cheaply. We didn’t. We built a very expensive, very large system, that will be expensive to maintain (since it is so large). It is crazy to think that we will find at some point that it makes sense to replace perfectly good, already operating parts of our transit system (like the E or Link) with enormously more expensive projects that will only improve things marginally.

    3. I agree with lots of your points Ross.

      As much as I think it’s important to design for the future, I think that it requires some basic data and some basic reflection about what we’re doing. This jumps ahead several steps without the major decision points and without adequate systems data analysis. This editorial is almost as irresponsible as drawing lines on a map and declaring here lines, stations and parking garages (listed as arbitrary sizes) should go. In particular, I’m bothered by the seemingly dismissive attitude about overcrowding in general and more specifically between Capital Hill and Westlake, the woefully inadequate problem with too few escalators at many stations, the Metro 8 or related CD connection, or preparing for a Ballard Link line split.

      I am also appalled about the basic misunderstanding that there is a cost difference between a stacked track. A stacked or offset track to allow for “Y” is indeed a much lower magnitude of cost, as the tunnel boring machines just have to be vertically offset. However, when this disrupts a station, that is a considerable additional investment in vertical systems and footprint (two platforms rather than one, escalators, elevators, stairs). The most obvious benefit to having a stacked station is seemingly to have three or floor places where a train can board riders so some of the transfers can be level (no stairs or escalators or elevators required); that is not proposed in this editorial (and one should be advocated at SODO).

      In the SLU case, there is a horrible switchback in the diagram. Offsetting the tracks between Denny and SLU (to allow for a future split) would result in a much easier design because no station stacking or switchback would be required. If the switchback remained, offsetting the tracks three blocks further west would eliminate the need for the stacked station at SLU. Even easier for north Aurora could be to have the Ballard Line branch into two lines — one to UW and one that would serve North Seattle — perhaps partly on Aurora. The effort to get that last two miles from Green Lake to SLU is really expensive and complex regardless of how the connections are built at SLU.

      It’s admirable to think about 2050. I however remained worried about a much sooner 2025 or 2035 when we will have tens of thousands of riders today transferring between lines — a total significantly more than the Aurora corridor ridership — forced onto inadequate station circulation. The editorial board needs to focus on the looming system problems that need to be studied in the next year; station layout tweaks can be studied later in the process..

      1. ST is not bound to do what STB says. It should ask its engineers to consider the issue, and it should give a public response, and come up with a better idea if it can. The biggest irk is when ST won’t even acknowledge an issue and considers it not worthy of a reply (as in the Metro 8 line suggestions, and the U-District transfer situation).

      2. It looks like the stacked platforms at the future South Lake Union station could fit nicely with a Metro 8 line. The Metro 8 route could run from South Lake Union (although the line would not start there) to Capitol Hill, to 23rd and Union and then turn south along 23rd.

        Does that make sense with this proposal?

      3. @Matt — Right, but what would make more sense is to simply cross at the SLU station, add a much needed stop in Belltown, like so: The map is fairly crude, but the orange stops would be new, and the blue ones are existing or planned ones). The new subway line could interline with the Ballard Line, or simply end at Westlake.

        My guess is neither the Aurora Line or the Metro 8 will ever be built, but if either are, adding a stop at Belltown would be essential, and would mean crossing at the South Lake Union Station, not mixing there.

    4. I completely agree that a Metro 8 will have a higher impact than a 99-Duwamish line. Would the Battery Street Tunnel be worth holding open for a Metro 8 terminus in Belltown, or is that alignment too far north?

      1. I’m not sure if it makes sense to have a terminus in Belltown. I think sending that train looping around to Westlake would be better. It would require a half circle, which is less than ideal, but Vancouver has one of those (also downtown). Even if the train just ended at Westlake (instead of kept going through downtown) it would be decent, although I think if would be better if it merged with the line to Ballard (assuming there is capacity there) and just let the Aurora corridor be served with buses (along with the Ballard to UW subway). I should draw up a sketch of what I’m thinking about, but I’m headed out now.

  10. Serving Westlake at Dexter and Galer seems like it’s unnecessary if you have one or even two forks in Ballard and/or Fremont instead. We will need Crosstown, Northgate via Crown Hill, and Aurora expansions eventually.

    1. In my view, ideally, we’d have a few crosstown routes, though each of them would require an ungodly amount of money.

      Ballard->UW would be the first, running ideally on the alignment of Ballard->Lower Fremont (Northwestern region)->Upper Fremont/Aurora->Wallingford->Udistrict->UVillage->Childrens, with provisions for further extension

      RT 8 replacement would be second up.

      Third, would be your alignment via Northgate

  11. The split should happen at the new Westlake Station so we can finally serve Belltown, which is the densest residential neighborhood in the entire state…

    And we should consider one at Denny to accommodate the Metro 8 Subway.

  12. Indeed we should build for the future. The future has a habit of coming. We should have built UW station and Mount Baker station for better rail-bus transfers to begin with, rather than having to come back a few years later (as we must now) and tear things up again to solve that problem. Those were mistakes, but at least they can be mitigated at the surface. Mistakes in the alignment of a tunnel or the placement of a light rail station are the hardest to correct.

    Thankfully, ST3 planning has been accelerated. Still, we might get stuck with a dysfunctional station location if an otherwise-preferred location ends up as part of a new mid-rise / high-rise development project before decisions can be made, because nobody is going to pay to tear down a new 40 story building to build a new subway station. I look at the big open lot at Westlake/Denny, and the rapidly developing 15th / Market Street area in Ballard (RIP Denny’s and the Sunset Bowl) and think, where are we going to build a station around here if this ends up being the preferred location, and these lots go? Does anyone think they won’t be developed if left in private ownership in this market? (They’ll be so convenient to the station!) Why hasn’t ST already purchased them as an insurance policy, at the very least for a staging area? It would undoubtedly be an excellent investment even if it isn’t needed when Ballard Link construction ramps up. Is there really a regulatory reason ST is prevented from purchasing properties or options thereon at this phase?

    A station built at Westlake/Denny in the early 2030’s could support a high-rise above. That’s may be the highest and best use for that location. I don’t know where else that station can go unless it moves to another zone. We can’t take Denny Park, and we can’t close Denny Way or Westlake. Everything else is getting built on.

    BTW, the post mentions minimum 6 minute headways in the Rainier Valley. This sounds familiar, but what’s the real constraint there? Is it vehicular or pedestrian levels of service on the cross streets on MLK, or something else?

    1. They will have to be built under the street where they should be located so that pedestrians can access the station from either side of the street to the underground mezzanine. I am no fan of UW, Capitol Hill, UDistrict and Roosevelt stations being built under a block requiring pedestrians to cross the streets to one corner of a major intersection.

      Ideally Capitol Hill station would have been under Broadway stretching from north of John/Olive to south of Denny. You could then access the station from all four corners of John & Broadway. Imagine if UW was under Montlake Blvd so you could just exit from underground to board surface buses above the station. Now you have to go up to the ped bridge, cross over Montlake and then go down to the street.

      1. UW Station can be fixed. It’s certainly not ideal, but we can tunnel under the street to connect it with the vista and with UWMC.

        The only issue I think Capitol Hill Station has is that its elevators are too low capacity. It can hardly handle the current load, never mind the inevitable double crush load 4-car trains that will eventually be coming, and if it can’t clear the platform before the next train, there’ll be a problem.

      2. UW station elevators are also exceptionally slow. Compare the 20 seconds it takes for the MAX Washington Park Station elevators to climb nearly 300 feet.

    2. The intersection light cycles for traffic crossing the line become untenable at anything less than 6 minute headways. The next headway milestone (as the DSTT is going to have) is 3 minutes, and according to SDOT that’s not long enough for the amount of cross traffic those intersections get.

    3. I think the city needs to pick a couple preferred locations for transit (not just now, but for transit in perpetuity, including lines not yet even proposed or studied) and put a moratorium on construction on those sites. We can’t let them be improved only to tear them down. Let’s extend this to schools and other critical infra as well. The city needs to pare out certain spots where development is strictly prohibited for future infrastructure expansion.

  13. That “Midtown” station needs to be in First Hill. There’s no excuse to build a station 2-3 blocks away from University St. while one of the 2-3 densest neighborhoods (and one of the only neighborhoods currently zoned for residential high-rises in the state) is so short on transit.

    1. The best solution I’ve seen is to keep the station at 5th and use a funicular to get from the station mezzanine to Madison and Boren. This way ST only needs to tunnel through I-5 once with a small bore rather than twice with larger bores, and it’ll take just as long to surface on First Hill with the funicular as it would with an elevator directly below. The funicular can also be completed at a later date if there’s a timeline or logistical crunch.

      1. I agree Preston. Those wanting to move the Midtown Station onto First Hill are not thinking about the realities of the time and effort it takes to get between the platform and the street. A funicular would merely be conceptually replacing a vertical elevator with a “diagonal elevator” for a much lower cost.

        I’ll add that I think an aerial funicular between Harborview and Pioneer Square Station would also be awesome. Why we leave such a major community attraction as Harborview off the regional rail system is shameful to me. Why should we invest in this Galer station and neglect Harborview?

      2. If people are already surfacing from Pioneer Square, I’m not sure a funicular makes sense when we could send trolleybuses up Yesler and into Harborview. The appeal of the funicular for 5th is that it tackles the depth and location problems of the station in one swoop.

    2. This or give the streetcar dedicated lanes and full signal priority. It can be done by sacrificing some car storage and making the narrow 2-lane sections local driveway access only for cars.

    3. As much as First Hill deserves better transit – deserved it in ST1 – the density, existing and zoned, is way, way higher downtown, by the library, than is up the hill. I think the numbers, when run, will inevitably lead us towards 5th for this “Midtown” station. About 15 years before that opens, Madison RapidRide will roll out. It’ll have dedicated lanes to First Hill and stations at street level that won’t take time to get in and out of. It should do a lot for access to First Hill.

      1. If you’ve ever had the pleasure riding Route 12 in Downtown Seattle as a standing passenger and holding a cane, a stroller or a suitcase — wondering if you or your things are going to careening down the aisle, you might feel otherwise. It’s scary and difficult! Nothing about Madison BRT solves this basic problem.

      2. The 12 and 2 take thirty minutes to get from 3rd to 23rd in the evening rush due to excess turns and no priority. RapidRide G will have various levels of priority including dedicated transit lanes in the middle section. SDOT’s estimate is 10 minute travel time from 3rd to 23rd, which means 5 minutes from 3rd to Broadway. It’s reasonable that with the transit lanes and fewer turns it will achieve at least close to this. And that will dramatically improve the connection between First Hill and all the downtown Link lines and buses.

      3. First Hill may not deserve a station in ST3, but of all the ST3 stations, I’d argue Midtown is the one most deserving of a branchable design, such that there can eventually be a branch (or just the entire line) serving First Hill, CD and eventually reaching Mt. Baker. Given it’s employment density, it’s really absurd to exclude it from a hypothetical ST4 in addition to ST3

      4. 5th and Madison is a fine stop. Jonathan is right, it is way better than anywhere on First Hill. The problem is that is very close to the two existing stops. Adding it adds very little value. So much so that I don’t imagine that many people will transfer. By putting a station a ways away, you get a trip worth transferring for. Yes, you can also make that transfer via the bus, but presumably a same direction transfer via train is faster. The bulk of the riders heading downtown will be coming from the northeast (on the existing line). Without the new station, a trip to First Hill would consist of a couple of transfers (train to train to bus) or a transfer that includes walking a couple blocks. Even with a fast, frequent bus, (and the G will be fast and frequent) the savings for someone who transfers will be significant.

        At the same time, a lot of people will have to transfer onto the other line. Depending on how easy it is to make that transfer, you might actually lose time overall (since the heart of downtown is more popular), especially if they pair the SeaTac line with Ballard (instead of U-Link).

        Plus there is the cost. It might be a good idea to build the station at First Hill, but not if it costs a fortune. This is one of the trade-offs that isn’t obvious, in my opinion. It is worth looking into, but if money is tight (and it likely will be) then I wouldn’t blame ST for just playing it safe, and building the station at 5th.

  14. 1) After what’s happened with Vancouver, BC’s 2009 Canada Line as documented back in 2014 and again in October 2017, I 100% endorse this. We need the ability to expand the stations and capacity of our awesome light rail system in any ST4 our kids may want to draft, get voter approval and actually build. Because we all want our kids to… Think Transit First, right?

    2) One of the reasons why I want monuments made to the heroes of ST3 is to help inspire those who will build out that ST4. Details for a future open thread…

    1. 1) Huh? In what way does this “expand the stations and capacity of our light rail system”? If anything, it shrinks it. If you have a merge at South Lake Union, it means that the Ballard Line gets half of its planned headway, very close to downtown. That means the bulk of the riders (basically Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, and everything in between) get trains running half as often. If there is a capacity problem, that makes things worse. If you built another line, you would want it to cross this one, not merge with it.

      If you read through the suggestions for “fixing” the Canada Line, you can see that the split is one of the issues. Each branch runs less often, and so it gets crowded (even though there is less overall demand there). Making matters worse, they made cheap decisions in a number of ways, and now wish they wouldn’t. But that is because they have a line that carries 130,000 people, yet only has two cars, running every three minutes. They single tracked certain sections, figuring that was good enough. We will have four car trains running at every station, whether it needs it or not. Everything will be double tracked, with three minute headways throughout.

      Besides, if you look at the list of suggested fixes, most agencies wish they had those problems. A lot of these fixes are pretty cheap (like side seating cars). A lot of the suggestions are major improvements (like a second line, or express buses). I don’t think you can draw many conclusions from Vancouver, other than branches should be considered carefully — and this proposal suggests otherwise.

      1. I don’t disagree with the premise though. BART is a 10 car train and still gets filled. Building a line without ever having the possibility of extending platforms feels short sighted to me. Like yes there are better things to do in the interim, but we shouldn’t shut the door by building stations like Capitol Hill with curves on either end 100-200 ft of straightaway on each end!

  15. Not like it matters or should. But how much time does everybody expect this work to take? I’m serious that if we’re on the future’s side, it’ll return our allegiance. We got DSTT-1 through a very small space with a lot of utilities in two years- with technology of 1983.

    Also, with all the anger and argument channeled to station design and route speed- all the signs are positive. Lot of religious sites between Yalta and Istanbul.


    1. There doing the Alternatives Analysis now. This will be just one of many things that ST might pre-study as part of the AA or make it a “requirement if it’s feasible within the budget”. It shouldn’t take long to survey existing implementations and get a ballpark of the costs and risks, which is what an Alternatives Analysis is.

  16. I really like the forward thinking of this post and I agree that this should be done, but I’m a little hesitant to believe the cost would be minimal. It would certainly be minimal when compared to building another station later but the cost will be a factor when you look at the construction budget for the station that likely wasn’t factored into the early budgets.

    I want to premise this that I do not work on project of this scale so I have only a shred of perspective, but as an Architect I see greater costs associated for the deeper a project goes due to excavating and relocating the soil and the structural shoring requirements. As a hole gets deeper, more significant structural and shoring systems are required.

    Again I am a fan, but a little hesitant to believe the cost assumption.

    1. We need ST to study it and give us a cost estimate and worthwhileness opinion. Certainly ST should not just blindly accept amateurs’ estimates. But it should address serious issues like preparing for the future and future capacity needs, and the central importance of good train-to-train transfers for the network to be the most effective. This to us appears to be one of those important issues, and ST should at least say yes or no about it.

  17. 90 comments in 9 hours. This article took off more than i expected, and more than the last few Ballard/West Seattle articles this month did initially. Stacked station stubs seems to have unexpectedly struck a chord.

    1. Ballard-WS wasn’t really conductive for everyone to break out two of their favorite STB topics – Metro 8 and the Dwamish Bypass.

  18. Be sure you plan for: Metro 8, Metro 8, Metro 8, Metro 8.

    The E line has the real possibility of being the region’s best BRT if we are willing to invest more in the bus lanes. Same with I-5 heading south out of Seattle. But Seattle’s densest inner-ring neighborhoods already have congested streets and few options for decent BRT (see the middling Madison “BRT” for example).

    1. Which Metro 8 alternative do you mean? Now that West Seattle is going to Everett 128th, it can’t hook around the to CD like one of Seattle Subway’s proposals. So what would it serve, where would it terminate on each end, and how would it interact with ST3’s plans (especially transferring around Denny & Dexter it would go there). Also, would it address Belltown?

      1. RossB’s preferred alignment would go Capitol Hill –> East SLU –> Belltown –> Westlake in a hook, then go into the 5th Ave tunnel and end at SODO or something like that. That seems workable to me.

        As for the CD, I’ve always thought it should run along 23rd with stations at Union, Garfield, Jackson/Yesler, Judkins, and Mount Baker. A lot of other peoples’ mockups exclude Union though in favor of either Madison or Seattle U.

    2. Basically there are two major visions for Metro 8. One would go straight east around Denny Way or just south of it, crossing Broadway around Denny to Pine thus near Capitol Hill Station, and continuing east to 23rd and then turning south to Garfield HS, or a further extension to Mt Baker or Renton. The other would go southeast, crossing Broadway further south to serve First Hill on its way to Swedish Cherry Hill or Garfield HS, but not serving the north Broadway shopping district or Capitol Hill station as directly. It depends on whether you think the significant Denny Way transit market or the underserved First Hill is more critical.

    3. @Central Districite

      I don’t think Madison BRT will be middling. Far from it. But your overall point is a good one. There are corridors (and Madison is actually one of them) where BRT can do a very good job. But there are others where it will forever be limited. Put it this way, even if money was no object, and you replaced the Madison BRT with a light rail line, it isn’t clear at all whether it would be better. Between the very deep tunnel, the limited stop spacing, and relatively minor improvement in speed, it might end up being a draw. At best you’ve spent billions for a relatively minor improvement.

      That isn’t the case with a Ballard to UW line. There are improvements that can be made, but you can’t have the center running, congestion free travel that Madison BRT will likely have. The same is true with the Metro 8. Much of 23rd is improved as much as it will ever be improved. It is one lane, each direction, with no parking or lane to set aside for transit, either direction. Yet 23rd isn’t even the worst problem. You have weird twists and turns that require a bus to go through several lights, followed by the mother of all traffic jams — Denny. If you wanted to spend the money (and likely a fair amount) you might be able to widen the bridge over I-5 at Denny, but you still have problems on either end. It is a mess, and there is only so much you can do on the surface.

      Which means digging. But digging is more or less charged by the mile. In general, laying light rail is charged by the mile. Even the relatively cheap by the mile Lynnwood Link, which consists mostly of elevated track next to the freeway is expensive, because it so long. Which means you want to find lines that are very short, but very popular. That is the best value for the money. Metro 8 is one of the few lines in Seattle that actually accomplish that goal. If we built Ballard to UW along with Metro 8, we could pretty much call it a day as far as rail projects go in this town, knowing full well that we overbuilt for a city this size (holy smoke — 116 miles of rail after ST3).

      As far as routes for the Metro 8 goes, unfortunately we are stuck with what ST3 envisioned. That means some of the more intuitive network layouts are simply off the table. For example, it would probably make more sense to send the Ballard line to Ballard via Belltown, and the Metro 8 line to Queen Anne, like so: That would be cheaper to build, be faster for folks headed to Queen Anne or Ballard, have better stop spacing, etc. The only drawback is that if you are at either South Lake Union stop, you would need to transfer at Capitol Hill station to get downtown. But since that part of the line will be extremely frequent, day and night (even if it gets truncated at times) that really isn’t much of a burden.

      Alas, that will never be. So, instead, we might have something like this: (pardon the sloppiness — I just threw this together). This isn’t quite as elegant, obviously. The Cascade neighborhood (with its RapidRide to Eastlake and parts of the U-District under-served by Link) lie either a long walk from the other stations, or require a station somewhat bunched up to the others. That is why I put the station in its own layer (labeled “Optional Station”). It also has a very weird curve, which means more drilling. But there are some advantages. Every train goes downtown. So if you are on Cherry, headed towards the north end of downtown (Pike/Pine or anyplace north) you have a one seat ride there, which is fairly fast.

      There are options for how you cut the curve from 23rd to Capitol Hill Station. If you go back to that first map, I drew three options, on three layers. It is easiest to understand if you deselect one layer, then pick another one. For example, you can deselect “Garfield High School Option” and select “First Hill Option” for a route that gets you closer to Seattle U. Anyway, those are my thought on the idea.

  19. I would have suggested adding the Spanish solution to the stacked stations, but then the engineering department would have cut the number of vertical conveyances for each platform in half.

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