47 Replies to “Podcast #55: Not a Wye Junction”

  1. Unlike Bruce I don’t hate the idea of of the Roosevelt station at the freeway, because then it’s arguably in the walkshed of the Greenlake urban village as well as Roosevelt. Ideally, of course, the line would have swerved West just enough to give Greenlake a stop too, but alas.

    1. True, although even the current design is still within a half mile walk of “downtown” green lake.

    2. The issue was that Roosevelt got a tunnel while Rainier Valley didn’t. In one sense that’s because Roosevelt has people who have political clout because the politicians can identify with them. On the other hand it also seems to be the principle that “the first gets the worst”. When the Rainier Valley alignment was designed ST was still thinking it should run surface everywhere it’s possible to (i.e., everywhere that’s flat) to keep capital costs low, and the original intention was to run it surface from Mt Baker to SeaTac. But then Southcenter complained about trains on International Blvd and taking a corner of Southcenter’s land, and then Roosevelt insisted on a tunnel, and one neighborhood after another said they wanted it elevated or underground and they’re willing to pay more for it, ST eventually stopped doing surface anywhere. ST2 was 100% grade separated at one point, athough it pulled back in the Eastside because Bellevue wanted its downtown tunnel so it had to economize in Bel-Red and Redmond. But it was too late for Rainier Valley which was already under construction.

      1. Mike, any chance Roosevelt got a subway because it’s a densely-populated area with pretty much no place to run trains on the surface? While the MLK was flat and wide enough to keep the trains at ground level.

        Thing I’d ask about, though, is why none of the MLK stations were built with the cross-streets undercut. With pedestrian bridges at decent intervals, served by very frequent local buses? All of which can, and should still be done. Might get headway closer to standard through Seattle CBD.


      2. It wasn’t densely populated at the time; it tried to resist any upzones because the character of the neighborhood, and when it did agree to them it negotiated them as short as possible, partly because of neighborhood character and partly to deny the slumlord Sisley a profit. There were single-family houses right next to the station that argued that they shouldn’t be upzoned, or that open-space views from Roosevelt HS were critical. Still, the decision to give Roosevelt its central station may have been related to the larger issue of tunneling all the way to Northgate; I don’t remember which came first or how close together they were.

        MLK could have sunk the tracks in a trench or had underpasses at the major intersections. Pedestrian overpasses would make it harder for pedestrians to circulate and privilege cars over pedestrians.

      3. If I remember right, the original plan was to emerge from the tunnel sooner, next to the freeway, which would mean the 65th street station would have been close to the freeway (and park and ride). That would have saved a couple hundred million or so. But the Roosevelt neighborhood basically begged for the station. I’m still not sure that makes sense, as it simply moves it away from the other side of the freeway (where there is plenty of density and growth). In any event, after they changed their plans, the neighborhood was told that they should add apartments. This upset many of the neighbors, for the reasons Mike mentioned. Richard Conlin (the former city council member) was upset because the city basically didn’t communicate (a common problem around here). Any decision to move should have been with the explicit understanding that a change in zoning was going to come with it.

        As Mike mentioned up above, when they were looking at Rainier Valley, they didn’t have the money for underground. They considered going above ground, but that was less popular than surface running, so they settled on the cheapest option.

      4. It was going to emerge at 63rd if I recall. The tunnel was extended to 95th when ST determined it would be cheaper to continue tunneling rather than go up-and-down around the I-5 pillars and other barriers.

    3. Agreed, would be nice if these lines had more stations to serve more urban villages and destinations. Green Lake is a big miss as is only one station for Capitol Hill. Also wish Downtown-Ballard hit Upper Queen Anne and Fremont instead of industrial auto-centric Interbay where urban construction is difficult to impossible due to ground conditions.

      1. Me too poncho. Choosing interbay routing over Fremont seems foolish. Fremont is one of the geographic funnels for north Seattle with loads of feeder bus routes. Fremont cut is narrow with soils fit for tunneling (as evidenced by the recent sewer siphon). Salmon bay on the other hand is wide, deep and old tide flats.

        And the recent discussion about provisions for future ST4 extensions would be quite different if there was an opportunity for a junction or wye in Fremont or Fre-lard which Ballard-UW and/or Aurora extensions could intersect.

        Interbay/Elliot could be served by Sounder station sidings, or become the tail of a future metro 8 subway.

        Value of routing under queen Anne is debatable. It would be a station in the middle of a relatively flat walkable urban village without any major arterials, but the neighborhood would fight tooth and nail against height limit and density increases.

      2. Well, you could say that Interbay has no charming old low buildings or single-family houses so in twenty years it will be denser than Fremont. That was the same expectation on 15th, thta there’s nothing there now but it’s poised for development, and now some of the development has finally occurred.

        “Fremont will get a station on the Greenwood/Aurora line”

        The Greenwood/Aurora line is not in ST’s long-range plan. The closest is “Regional Express bus service” and “Bus rapid transit” in the E+Swift corridor. If you want light rail there you’d first have to convince ST to add it to the LRP in its next update, presumably before ST4. Then you could probably only get planning in ST4 and construction in ST5. And by that time we’ll all be dead or there will be no ST4 or ST5 because Everett and Tacoma are finished and the regional unity breaks down.

        In any case, all the projects that were approved for planning in ST3 will have first priority in ST4, which means Ballard-UW-Kirkland(-Redmond?), WS-Burien, Burien-Renton, South Kirkand-Kirkland-Bothell, and I don’t remember what else, maybe Northgate-Bothell-Kirkland (although that would be an alternative for Kirkland, not a second Seattle-Kirkland line). Not Aurora, not Metro 8, not Georgetown, not Seattle-Renton.

      3. Oh I forgot, Everett and Tacoma aren’t finished. Everett wants Link to terminate at Everett CC, and Tacoma wants it to terminae at Tacoma Mall. So your Seattle plans may depend on that. You may get one of them, and that would be Ballard-UW.

      4. I have heard the ground conditions are terrible in Interbay, that Whole Foods shopping center is built on very expensive deep piles with low soil bearing capacity ruling out bigger more urban buildings.

        I am fine with Upper Queen Anne without an upzone, there is enough there. Mainly its just ‘a nice to have’ and is on the way (much like Mercer Island) that there is more there than Interbay. I just think rapid transit needs to link as many established urban villages and commercial centers as possible.

      5. A Queen Anne tunnel was A much more expensive option, and as you said it’s not very dense and refuses to upzone. In an ideal world I would do it, butNorth King is packed full in a limited ST3 budget, and I’m a little worried about cost overruns in West Seattle. If the politicians hadn’t insisted on West Seattle Link then we’d have more leeway for a QA-Fremont alignment.

      6. “Interbay has no charming old low buildings or single-family houses so in twenty years it will be denser than Fremont. That was the same expectation on 15th, that there’s nothing there now but it’s poised for development, and now some of the development has finally occurred.

        There are lots of good reason Interbay hasn’t developed residential density and they aren’t likely to be changed on a large scale by adding light rail stations:

        -Significant grade changes to adjacent neighborhoods
        -Bisected by a major arterial
        -Adjacent to a critical freight rail yard – noisy idling and switching 24/7
        -Soils at low elevation – subject to sea level rise impacts
        -Port and Federal parcels – not subject to real estate market pressure
        -Golf course/park land – 1:1 replacement required for any impacts
        -Fisherman’s terminal – required to remain maritime oriented.

        The Interbay alignment has two thing going for it. Cheap. And Expedia.

      7. Dravus itself is not horrible, but it isn’t ideal either. You have the potential for growth, but you also have railroad tracks that eat up a lot of it. Assuming a station at Dravus and 15th, a five minute walk barely gets you across the bridge. Even a ten minute walk is very limited, as the tracks curve around (https://goo.gl/maps/yPAhaJXmvMH2). You also have the park nearby, which likely won’t be converted to housing. Yet this is probably the best place for a stop, with all of its flaws. You at least should have decent connecting bus service for Magnolia, albeit with congestion.

        The problem really isn’t Dravus, it is what lies between it and the Seattle Center. There is only one stop between those stops, a distance of over 2 miles. That is terrible stop spacing in the middle of the city. That one stop is also not good. It lies sandwiched between a greenbelt on one side, and the waterfront on the other.

        There are other flaws, or course. It travels along a corridor that is fairly fast right now. Despite the lack of stops, the savings for taking transit will be non-existent much of the day (unlike, say, UW to Capitol Hill, where a car would have a tough time beating the train). A bigger problem is the lack of good bus connectivity. There aren’t any crossing buses because much of the way, crossing buses are impossible. About the only place you can have them is in Magnolia, which is fairly low density overall. The Queen Anne/South Lake Union stops are fine from that perspective and good overall. But they are also bunched together, which means overlapping coverage areas.

        Well, at least the trains will run on the surface, which saves a lot of money. Except they won’t, they will be elevated. That is still cheaper than tunneling, if it wasn’t for the fact that they will need to build a new bridge. Oddly enough, the Ballard to UW line was actually cheaper, despite none of these flaws. Stop spacing is close to ideal (not too close, not too far), there is crossing bus routes at every stop, none of the stops are hemmed in by greenbelts or Puget Sound, and of course it is faster to take a subway than drive any time of day.

        It is not a horrible route, it just isn’t what we should have built next. If we insisted on building nothing but train tunnels, then a Metro 8 subway along with a Ballard to UW subway would have made more sense now. Eventually you could extend the Metro 8 subway out to Ballard (as a way of providing slightly faster service from Ballard to downtown, and also reducing pressure on the main line) but that would be one of those “nice to have” projects, not an essential.

      8. “It travels along a corridor that is fairly fast right now. Despite the lack of stops, the savings for taking transit will be non-existent much of the day”

        The D gets bogged down in rush hour, at least southbound in the afternoon. Rush-hour capacity is essential, and is partly the reason we’re building rapid transit.

  2. The Philadelphia Broad Street Subway is full of unused provisions for unbuilt spurs. Better to design and build and not use than never plan for the future. Why there isnt more rapid transit actually built in Philly is a whole other conversation.

  3. I’m glad about the point that local political opinions are based on non-transit factors.

    While not bad, it should also be noted that local agencies systemically contrinute to the problem. The refusal to roll out multiple alternatives plagues the local mindset (as the LAX peoplemover study did with 17 alternatives). The refusal to also roll out basic background data like existing station trip pairs, crowding forecasts, anticipated station numbers and things like that only makes the situation less focused on rider ease and operations productivity.

    Seattle has tens of thousands of reasonable, educated, insightful people who have spent periods of time using rail systems across the world like Bruce. Agencies should rethink the process to glean inspiration and develop alternatives with as many of these people and not focus so much energy at trying to satisfy the non-transit stakeholders and car-focused board members –as well as not roll their eyes at the principled gadflies who dare to show up in public meetings.

    1. I agree. I think the problem is that transit design is not obvious. When the former head of Metro imagines thousands of self driving vans operating over the entire region but can’t imagine anyone making a transfer, you can’t expect the average politician to understand the benefits of a transit grid.

      That is why third party agencies should be consulted, and they should provide various options. They should sit down with Metro (and the other bus agencies) to figure out how the bus system would compliment the rail improvements. Then they should list the benefits of each proposal, and how much time (overall) it would save for riders. Not just ridership (which is a good first step) but time saved.

      I think if we did that, we would have a very different system. It probably wouldn’t go out as far, it probably would serve the most densely populated areas (Belltown and the C. D.), provide greater connectivity (Ballard to UW) as well as a much faster trip time compared to driving (Ballard to UW and Metro 8). There would be strong endpoints (which could, ultimately be extended) but the core would be stronger.

      The reason we have the mess we have is because of the process, which worked out OK for a while — except for the obvious stations they missed (like SR 520 and First Hill) or the poor station design (UW, Mount Baker) — but falls apart as things become less obvious. By that I mean that it is obvious that you want to serve the UW and Bellevue, and extending farther to Northgate is fairl obvious as well. But choosing between Ballard to UW or an Interbay line to Ballard is not obvious, and neither are the benefits of a Metro 8 subway. Nor is it obvious that it is a really poor return on investment to build rail the West Seattle Freeway subway, or the Everett subway or the Tacoma Dome subway. Since it isn’t obvious, it explains why we have such a mess, and despite the tremendous sums for a city this size, means there is still at least one line that needs to be built after ST3 before we have a half way decent transit system.

      Like most mistakes, it is due to the process. Of course a better leader could have figured all of this out, and come up with a better plan, but we shouldn’t be dependent upon that. When you go in the hospital, it isn’t the brilliance of the doctors and nurses that allow you to recover, but the process.

      1. Agreed.

        “I think if we did that, we would have a very different system. It probably wouldn’t go out as far, it probably would serve the most densely populated areas (Belltown and the C. D.), provide greater connectivity (Ballard to UW) as well as a much faster trip time compared to driving (Ballard to UW and Metro 8). There would be strong endpoints (which could, ultimately be extended) but the core would be stronger.”

        This is the legacy of the critical error made by ST to build the initial segment from the end of the bus tunnel to the airport.

      2. The initial segment was going to be airport to UW as you said yourself. The northern part was deferred because of the risk of the Ship Canal alignment. It was harder to get support for Link before the initial segment opened and could prove its benefit to skeptics. And people had already voted for airport to UW, not Ballard to UW.

    2. This explains why Metro was so boneheaded in the 80s and 90s. Yes, it won an award for being the biggest or best bus-only network in the country, but that definition excluded cities with subways that had ten times better mobility. And Seattle’s service then was like Kent’s is now. It was full of long milk runs like Seattle to Federal Way, all the parallel half-hourly routes that starved resources for frequency, and many areas with only peak service to downtown and nothing else.

      1. Transplanted to Seattle in the late 80’s and relying solely on transit and the occasional taxi or airport shuttle to get around, I remember those days well. And I lived fairly close to dt then (the CD for five years and then Wallingford for another ten) and remember those frustratingly long waits during off-peak times.

      2. I grew up in east Bellevue and my parents always drove, but in junior high I started taking an hourly bus across town to junior high and high school, and the same bus continued to downtown Seattle. In 9th grade I visited a friend who had moved to the top of Queen Anne and was amazed at the silent trolleybuses running every 20-30 minutes. In high school I lived in three apartments along Bellevue Way and thus had half-hourly buses and a walkable urban village, so that was better. Everybody said the public wouldn’t support more transit because most people drive. It was only in my second year of college that I started traveling to other cities and saw what better transit could be like, and what it’s like to be in a city where the majority don’t have cars.

  4. If we are going to talk about building for expansion, we need to get ST to also tell their architects to add room for additional escalators, elevators and stairs in plans. Once a station is built, these things are very hard to add. I’d love to see every new station to intentionally reserve at least two spaces for additional escalators even if they aren’t installed during the opening year.

  5. The reason states use Amtrak is that railroads can only charge Amtrak the incremental cost of hosting its trains, whereas any other operator the railroads can charge through the nose.

    1. Hmm, how do track charges for Amtrak compare to charges for, say, Sounder? Or Metra in Chicago?

    2. A lot less than Soudner I’m sure. Metra is a consortium of the railroads themselves acting under a common brand and ticketing system, so they give themselves permission to run Metra trains.

    3. Also, the railroads must give Amtrak priority within its time window. I didn’t include that in my original comment because I don’t know how that works with new lines, whether Amtrak can just declare it wants to run a new line or how much it has to negotiate with the railroads’ permission. The Coast Starlight and Empire Builder are continuations of pre-Amtrak service, while Cascades started later and may have started twice, or at least Seattle-Vancouver started twice because there was a time in the middle with no trains.

  6. Bruce’s musings on an aurora line routing were interesting. His assumed tunnel portal would be fitting, as it is a relic of the the Seattle-Everett interurban alignment.

    The discussions around lidding I-5, reusing the battery tunnel, and the rehash of the Vancouver sky train cut and cover have me wondering if cutting and burying the through lanes of 99 next to a future light rail line between woodland park and 85th might someday be a possibility.

    Granted it would be a giant project in the distant future but fun to consider nonetheless.

    It would bury the eye/ear sore along the NW edge of green lake, create a pedestrian friendly station area and eliminate much of the 85th and 80th congestion crossing 99.

    Anyone else remember the old pedestrian underpass near chubby and tubby?

      1. Yeah, I remember the underpass and the $5 trees. My kids called them Charlie Brown trees (which was fine by me).

    1. No, it isn’t. The Seattle-Everett Interurban used the Phinney/Greenwood Line tracks to 85th, turned right on 85th to Evanston, which was then a country lane. It followed it north to about 103rd where it moved into what was then private ROW between Evanston and Fremont, diagonaling across Fremont at 108th into a little diagonal driveway that leads to the ROW along the Cemetery.

      If that little patch of land at 65th has any relationship to former streetcar trackage, it’s the one-way Green Lake Loop.

      Also, there is little value to tunneling under Woodland Park except that it’s higher than to the north. There swill never be high rises along West Green Lake. Seattle would break out the pitchforks and torches. The crest of Phinney Ridge is a better place for them, since they won’t block others’ views if they don’t form a solid wall. Have the upper Fremont Station at 46th and Fremont with an entrance east of Aurora. A station at 65th and Phinney could support much more density than one along noisy Aurora with half its walkshed freewayed and laked.

      It’s a good question whether an 85 th Station should be at Greenwood which has great bones, or Aurora which has more to tear down. Ditto 110th and 125th. Aurora can be elevated (cheap) but Greenwood has 15 blocks of moderate density between 110th and 125th. Aurora has the Cemetery. North of 125th Aurora is obviously better.

      1. Green lake 1-way loop! That’s why the old 99 underpass is only wide enough for single track.


        And the cut-and-cover idea is for 65th to 85th. No need through Woodland Park.

      2. My mentioning Woodland Park was in response to Bruce’s original idea for bored to 65th, surface and elevated from there on north. Sorry I wasn’t clearer. I still think that Greenwood is better anywhere south of 80th.

    2. I listened to the podcast this morning while running around Green Lake. Right when Bruce mentioned Bongos, I turned my head slightly to the left and look – there’s Bongos! Perfect timing!

  7. Bruce, you seem like quite a “train nerd” yourself. Or would that be “trainspotters”? Over here we call ourselves “foamers”.

    1. I appreciate train nerdery, but honestly I’m mostly interested in how the transport system works, and how it can be made to work better, rather than the trains themselves.

      1. That’s true for me as well. My father worked in sales (“freight soliciting”) for the Wabash taken over by Norfolk & Western, and finally merged into Norfolk Southern.

        I have boxes of “Trains Magazine” when it did seven page spreads on operations and improvements. I also worked four years for “the enemy” (Con-Way Trucking) as a programmer and, much earlier, for Metro answering telephone questions, before that was automated.

        We were one of few groups paid to tell others Where To Go and Where To Get Off!

        So transportation has been a life-long interest.

  8. I disagree with Bruce’s comparison of the Puget Sound with TfL. Indeed, we are doing regional land use planning and tailoring our rapid transit to match it. The PSRC is designating various growth zones and Link is quite explicitly trying to serve many of them.

    Now, these tend to be brownfield sites rather than existing pockets of modest density, because it is easy to find opponents to further upzoning places like Fremont. Roosevelt is a bit of a special case. It’s getting Link because it lies directly between the UDistrict and Northgate. The “victory” there was moving the station a bit off the freeway, at some expense, a victory utterly squandered by then forcing the development over to the freeway they’d just chased the train off of.

    1. Those growth zones are based on two things: every city wanting retail sales-tax revenue, and quarantining development in decaying commercial/industrial zones in order to avoid displacing single-family homeowners. That gets into the racism-based “local control” of another article that explains why the US is different from other industrialized countries. A holistic approach would start with, where is the most efficient place to put s million more people so that their urban areas are reasonably close together so they can be connected by transit most effe ticket. That would presumably lead to a million-person Seattle, a second Seattle in Bellevue-Redmond, and something less in Lynnwood and South King. (Pierce is so far it really should develop independently as it did before 1990.) Instead we have scattered growth zones in Issaquah, Totem Lake, and Federal Way. Why? Because Issaquah doesn’t want to be left behind in prosperity, and Federal Way thinks it’s entitled because it’s on I-5 halfway between Seattle and Tacoma.

      London, Canada, Germany, and Australia take a more holistic approach to cities and land use. One thing Ausralia does is give cities authority over their metropolitan area, and Toronto a decade ago merged with three suburbs to form a consolidated city. And a Seattle used to annex edge towns until that went out of fashion in the 1950s.

  9. Bruce mentioned something in the podcast I’d heard about vaguely before – that Metro is running low on base space for its buses. I’d be interested in learning more about this. How much capacity does Metro have now to expand its fleet before it’s truly full? I assume its long-range plans involve some fleet expansion (or maybe it’s all reclaiming hours by not running downtown anymore/avoiding traffic?) – how is it planning to accommodate this?

    Would love to know more. Thanks!

    1. Are there any expansions in the pipeline for 2018 or 2019?

      And what’s the status of One Center City? When will the bus reorgs or street improvement begin, and when will we get a definitive decision on what they’ll be?

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