This week Sound Transit is kicking off ST3 planning for the Ballard and West Seattle Link extensions with community meetings in West Seattle, Ballard, and Downtown Seattle. The basic alignments have been chosen, but there are still a lot of big decisions to be made before Sound Transit selects the preferred alignment for each segment.
The difference between a good system and a great system is all about making the right choices at this phase. Here is what Seattle Subway is focused on:
When building out a multi-billion dollar system, the worst thing we can do is make planning decisions that damage people’s trust in the system. A great system gets you from point A to point B in about the same amount of time, every time. It gives the system a huge advantage over unreliable and frustrating traffic.
Two features in the draft plan jump out as a cause for concern:
- The Ballard Drawbridge
As we noted in an earlier post, a drawbridge that can hold up trains or get stuck is a feature we shouldn’t be considering for our massive investment. A high static bridge or a tunnel are both better options. A high bridge would be amazing to ride and would not increase costs of the project. A tunnel would have fewer construction impacts and would facilitate a slightly better station location, but would cost $600M more.
- Royal Brougham Grade Crossing
The draft plan adds an additional at-grade crossing at Royal Brougham near Stadium Station. The combined frequency of current and future 4-car trains will create a dangerous situation where cars will be more likely to “risk it” to get through the intersection. Crashes will potentially shut down the entire system for hours at a time. Either Royal Brougham needs to be vacated for auto traffic or Link needs to be elevated at that point. This needs to be decided in advance.
ST3 is a fantastic expansion of our regional system, but will not be the end of rail expansion in Seattle. As the Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board wrote last week, ST3 must be built for the future. Light rail lines must be designed so that future expansion can happen without high cost re-work or disruptions in service.
There are four areas where Sound Transit needs to explicitly future-proof the system:
- South Lake Union
Either the South Lake Union or Denny Triangle Station must be designed with future expansion to the east (Metro 8 line) and North (Aurora Line) in mind
Ballard Station must be built with expansion to both the north (Crown Hill/Greenwood/Lake City) and east (Ballard/UW) in mind.
- West Seattle
The West Seattle Line must be built with future expansion to the South (White Center/Burien) in mind.
The new Sodo station must be build with future expansion to the south (Georgetown, South Park Sea-Tac, Renton) in mind.
A system is only as good as people’s ability to get to it. Therefore station location and design needs to consider bus integration. Mt. Baker and Husky Stadium stations show us what happens when too many compromises are made on rider experience. Pedestrian access and bike storage facilities are non-negotiable features, to to be designed at every station with safety and security in mind.
Areas we’re focusing on for bus transfers:
- West Seattle
Every West Seattle station will act as a bus transfer station and needs to be designed for direct (no street crossings) bus-to-rail transfers. The integration of each station into the bus network means the difference between a transit upgrade and a revolutionary change in transit service and accessibility for the peninsula.
- South Lake Union
The station in SLU at Harrison presents a potentially incredible bus intercept for Aurora buses like the E line and the 5. Riders who use those buses daily know that the most painful part of the commute is often just getting out of downtown. Rail-to-bus transfers there could add resiliency against mega-traffic days and increase reliability for riders
Ballard station will be a critical bus intercept as well. The extent to which routes like the D line and 40 will be re-configured after ST3 is implemented is still unclear, but it’s obvious that there will be a huge demand for transfers at this station due to the speed and reliability offered by the new line. The station must be designed for easy transfers.
We’ll be following the planning process closely and we’ll be back when there are opportunities to influence the decisions that can help make the system exceptional. In the end, it’s your system: it should be designed to be awesome for you.
Seattle Subway is organizing a community of grassroots transit supporters to channel public enthusiasm for fast, reliable high capacity transit into actionable goals. We champion a vision of a connected city and region to accelerate our region’s transit investments. You can find a list of board members here.