The tried-and-true method of taking public comments, as seen at West Seattle

On Tuesday night, Sound Transit put on an open house in West Seattle that was well attended (a little crowded, at that) and seemed to generate good ideas. It had all the standard fare: a looping video of the project alignment; some rollplots with maps that vaguely showed the alignment over some aerial imagery; boards with basic information about the project; a venue with ample parking and a decent bus connection; and an audience of older people who were able to make the 6:00 pm start time by not working downtown. This post isn’t about that meeting, however.

This is the 21st century, and it seems like Sound Transit has finally updated the public comment process to suit it. The online scoping open house (which is open until March 5) features a neat comment system that allows you to place notes over an interactive map of the representative project alignment and vote on the comments of others. The comments can be sorted by the number of “likes”, providing a rough way of gauging the popularity of particular ideas, which makes the lives of us bloggers a bit easier. It seems to be a hit too, with over 600 comments generated in the first week of going online. While some of the comments were off-topic, off-kilter, or repetitive, a lot of the more popular comments offered good ideas, including some that transit advocates overlooked while pushing their own agendas.

In the Ballard area, the most popular comments suggested specific designs for the 15th & Market station; one asked for an underground station with an above-ground plaza, while another suggested that the station be shifted west to serve the historic urban center of the neighborhood and provide an easy transfer to Route 40 on Leary Avenue. Others asked for extensions further into Ballard or Crown Hill, a non-movable crossing of the Ship Canal, or at least a bike and pedestrian connection on the movable bridge. Moving further down the line, another popular comment echoed this blog’s endorsement of a stacked station at Aurora & Republican in South Lake Union. Two popular comments called for the 5th Avenue tunnel to dip under I-5 and serve First Hill, also suggested on the blog.

At the mother-of-all-transfers proposed for International District/Chinatown station, a popular comment asked for good connections between the two tunnels that would not require going above-ground, along with an underground passageway to King Street Station. As it turns out, a grand concourse linking King Street to International District station was proposed back in the 1990s and was determined to be feasible (albeit expensive) by a city study, so it can be done. Further south, the mother-of-all-crossings at Royal Brougham Way (next to today’s Stadium station) received a few queries asking why it should be at-grade crossing rather separated, and why it didn’t include appropriate track crossovers that would allow for alternate service patterns like West Seattle-to-Ballard (the original Green Line) or Eastside-to-Ballard.

Comments for the West Seattle segment were less an organized campaign around a few ideas, but rather a mob of suggestions, none of which has yet risen above the rest. Most comments, both in person and onlin, agreed that an underground station would be needed at Alaska Junction to avoid “an industrial look” or the alleged crime and visual pollution that are caused by elevated tracks. A few people pointed out that the tail tracks on Southwest Alaska Street would point west, complicating future attempts to extend light rail service to the non-Junction areas of West Seattle, a problem to which some suggested building a forced transfer to a north-south California Avenue line from Admiral to Morgan (and beyond).

Beyond the comments, the representative alignment presented by Sound Transit at the open house (and in Sunday’s video) now features elevation information and a more detailed route beyond the chosen corridors. Sound Transit stresses that the following is all a preliminary representation of the alignment and is in no way final; and as seasoned readers have learned, no light rail alignment here is final until the tracks are laid.

Ballard segment of the representative alignment (click for full size) – Credit: Sound Transit

The Ballard segment would begin 50 feet above 15th Avenue Northwest just south of Northwest Market Street, approximately where the Safeway parking lot and gas station sits today. This is the least-developed parcel at this intersection, making it is the only suitable place for this station, unless an Old Ballard alignment subway alignment is ultimately chosen. From there, it stays relatively level and passes 70 feet over the Ship Canal on a movable bridge that would open for boats taller than the sailboats and pleasure craft that interrupt traffic on the 44 foot Ballard Bridge today. The lone Interbay station at West Dravus Street would be 55 feet above street level, on the west side of the compact interchange; the site today has a few nearby apartments that help shield the “industrial” feeling of the area. Just north of the Magnolia Bridge, the tracks would cross over 15th Avenue West and cut across on an embankment just below the Queen Anne Greenbelt, providing a smoother turn before reaching the Smith Cove/Expedia/Cruise Ship Terminal station 50 feet above West Prospect Street.

Downtown segment of the representative alignment (click for full size) – Credit: Sound Transit

The Downtown tunnel would begin at a portal near 4th Avenue West and Republican Street, just above Elliott Avenue West. Republican would have two stations approximately 90 feet below street level: at Queen Anne Avenue North near KeyArena, and the all-important Aurora Avenue stop next to the SR 99 Tunnel’s north portal. Here, riders from Aurora Avenue buses like the E Line could be funneled onto Link; additional entrances at the Gates Foundation campus to the west and at Mercer Street to the north could also create an ad-hoc pedestrian underpass. The next station, at Westlake Avenue between Denny Way and John Street, would be a bit shallower at 70 feet and be roughly equidistant to Amazon’s old and new campuses. The tunnel would transition onto 6th Avenue and cross 30 feet under the current Westlake station (itself 60 feet under street level). The proposed Midtown station at 5th Avenue and Madison Street would be among the deepest in the system, at 110 feet barely deeper than University of Washington station and almost twice as deep as the bus tunnel’s stations. At International District/Chinatown station, the new tunnel’s platforms would only be 45 feet below street level, slightly lower than the bus tunnel station.

SODO segment of the representative alignment (click for full size) – Credit: Sound Transit

The SODO segment of the “Red Line” (Everett to West Seattle) would replace the current busway, running west of the current tracks (which would carry the “Green Line” from Ballard to Tacoma). Stadium station would be moved entirely, serving only as a surface station for the Red Line, while the downtown tunnel continues past Royal Brougham Way. The existing SODO station would be retained for Green Line riders, while a parallel elevated station would be built for the Red Line, forcing West Seattle-to-MLK/Airport riders to climb 30 feet above street level. While the Green Line continues into Beacon Hill and through the Rainier Valley, the Red Line would head down the busway corridor, with a spur track leading to the current operations & maintenance facility towards West Seattle. From 2030 to 2035, trains from West Seattle would be forced to terminate at SODO, turning West Seattle-to-Eastside commutes into a three-train affair and potentially disconnecting West Seattle from the rest of the regional transit system; one solution would be to siphon off some trips bound for the Rainier Valley and only run SODO turnback trains every other trip.

West Seattle segment of the representative alignment (click for full size) – Credit: Sound Transit

The West Seattle segment begins with a long non-stop segment over the Duwamish River, rising 140 feet (roughly the same height as the West Seattle Bridge). Trains would make their away around Pigeon Point and stop at Delridge Way Southwest and Southwest Andover Street, about 50 feet above street level and with a great view of the last steel mill in Seattle, which supplies many downtown projects. From there, trains would cut across part of the West Seattle Golf Course on a high viaduct, topping out at 160 feet above golf tees and caddy bags, and stop near Southwest Avalon Way and 35th Avenue Southwest. The tracks would move into the median of Fauntleroy Way and run up to Alaska Junction — or rather, 41st Avenue Southwest just downhill of the actual junction. The line’s tail tracks, however, will run all the way to California Avenue, which could leave parked light rail trains perched above the junction like a giant billboard.

The representative alignment is a rough draft that will be pushed and pulled by various special interest groups over the coming year. The current schedule has two more open houses and a few neighborhood forums, along with regular meetings for the stakeholder group and group of elected officials, before a preferred alignment is chosen in April 2019, after the latter two groups give their recommendations. Buckle yourselves in — or grab onto hanging strap — because it is going to be a long and hard-fought fight to see which of the above ideas make it into the final alignment. Choose your hill to die on — or build a station on — and pester anyone with a connection to the advisory groups or anyone with a name tag at the open houses.

44 Replies to “West Seattle and Ballard Link’s Draft Alignment and Many Comments”

  1. I didnt catch the removal of stadium station and there only being a single stadium station for one line only. Thats a problem. Granted its rarely used outside game times, but thats how many get to the games and if the line runs right there it needs to stop.

    1. Agreed, I don’t recall hearing about Stadium closing before. Attending games is one of the things that non-regular users can imagine themselves doing with light rail. While removing the stop may have negligible impact on actual ridership, it could significantly impact perception of a much larger slice of voters.

      1. It has been in the documents since last year. Those who read the PDF noticed it immediately. It has to do with the transition to the new tunnel. If the in-direction transfers at SoDo were shared platform, it wouldn’t matter.

  2. Stadium Station is what I use as a piece of my transit bridge to/from Amtrak Cascades & Sounder and King County Metro Route 124 which takes me to the Museum of Flight. Be a bummer if it was dramatically changed.

      1. 5 minute walk that ends at a homeless shelter. Not to speak ill of the homeless, but… I get a bad vibe from that stop every time I use it. I would rather – considering the clientele of the bus riders trying to get to/from the Museum of Flight – the stop was much closer to the rail station.

  3. I remain skeptical of an open house process when initial alternatives are due to be released in 6-7 weeks. A sincere analysis of the comments should inform the alternatives development process — and this inane schedule only makes sense if ST is going to ignorr the comments.

    1. I think there has been and continues to be, a lot of discussion outside of the open houses. I would be very surprised if the initial alternatives hadn’t already taken into account discussions on this blog, at the urbanist, with seattle subway, etc.

      Because there is so much discussion out there it’s as if the open houses are meant more to inform the public about what ST is thinking, than for the public to inform ST.

    2. There will be discussion after the initial alternative proposals, and that may affect the second alternative proposals. This open house was a preliminary step, to discuss which topics the community wants ST to address, or in formal terms, the “scoping” of the EIS (i.e., what range of issues it should cover).

  4. Would love to know how ST plans to not piss too many homeowners/renters off when they decide to build the tracks directly over/through two square blocks of housing in the Delridge/Genesee area. The Delridge neighborhood always seems to get the short end of the stick.

    1. If elevated, we need to organize around a westward turn at Andover heading just south of Nucor until Avalon to avoid that turn onto Genesee. Or alternatively, turn west from Delridge after Youngstown and run through the golf course (or under, if you’re bent on tunneling). JuNo is becoming the loud voice in West Seattle and their concerns do not include what happens on the Delridge side of the hill. That neighborhood is decently dense low-rise, and growing quickly. It would be foolish to have to buy out those properties, tear up brand new rowhouses and townhomes, and further restrict livable space in the area.

      1. Through the golf course is an uphill fight, but the sport of golf has been dying for awhile now so it would be worth it.

        cut through the golf course, turn the bigger part of the course that’s left into a course with something less than 18 holes, and have Seattle sell the smaller part of what’s left to developers to finance the tunnel they want.

      2. jas, you are correct. Sumner closed its public golf course a few years ago because of poor sales/attendance. In my industry, 10 to 15 years ago, there were tons of golf outings for marketing and executives. Now, I think my peers attend one or two per year, and they just hand things out because they don’t know how to golf. Yep, a dying sport, indeed.

      3. The golf course is losing the city money, so something must be done. jas has the right idea. Let’s work out some kind of compromise solution that helps pay for a tunnel and builds housing but retains park land (or a 9-hole golf course and driving range if nothing else). I would hope gears are already turning at the city to evaluate this as an option.

        See this blog post from about a week ago regarding the course:

      4. Mixed feelings about the golf course. I don’t care about golf myself, but I also don’t like the idea of golf only being accessible to people who are members of country clubs. (I say this because I’ve heard people say similar things about Interbay, Jefferson Park, and Jackson Park golf courses as well). Also, this is parkland. My first reaction is to say if the course goes, then preserve the open space. I don’t want to set a precedent of selling off parkland to private owners. What about public housing? I’d be more comfortable with that.

        If any golf course has to go, I’d like to see Interbay go first, since it wasn’t originally a park like the others, and is built on fill.

      5. Based on the map, that is the plan. Look west of the Avalon stop (which is, of course, on Avalon). That stop is just north of West Seattle Stadium, and the stop is above Avalon — due east-west. Now follow the line towards downtown. It doesn’t curve like the street curves. The line goes due east until 26th, where it then begins a curve towards Delridge. That is the golf course. So the golf course might be a bit smaller (or simply have a train running through it — similar to a water hazard). So for much of the line, it would be either above the golf course, or above the skate-park.

        There are some areas of concern, though. On the west end the train has to clear the apartments. I would imagine they know that already, and have a plan. Second, there is the curve, from 26th over to Delridge. There are a row of houses on 26th. Either they buy them, or buy air rights, and put the train over them. The map also shows the train going over a bunch of houses in that corner of 26th and Delridge. An alternative would be to use more of the golf course and the park, so that the turn is complete by the time the train gets to Delridge and Genesee (basically something like this: I have no idea if that is possible or makes sense, but it would involve very little in the way of taking property.

        All of this assumes that the train can run over each of the streets without taking any houses. Streets like Delridge and Avalon are wide, but I don’t know if they are that wide.

      6. Step 1 allows the jurisdiction owning the park to determine whether the park is significant. Since Seattle owns the park, and Seattle considers transit mobility a high priority for the good of the city and its citizens, and since it knew about the park encroachment when it made alignment recommendations to ST and endorsed ST3, it seems that should not be a roadblock, unless one hand of the city doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.

      7. Oh, I agree there’ll be some justified encroachment along Genesee. And the city certainly has a lot of input. I was responding to the “cut it to 9 holes” type suggestions. I think that would result in a lawsuit if the city proposed something like that.

      8. Is elevated light rail over the golf course really going to impact people’s ability to play golf? Can’t the posts just be treated as part of the game, just like any other obstacle (e.g. trees)?

      9. @asdf2 — Exactly. I don’t think it would be the end of the world. I’m sure some golfers wouldn’t like it, but they could still golf.

      10. They would probably have a little netting. Besides, the train will be 160 feet above the golf course, on the far end. That is hard to do even if you tried, and a ball hit like that would sail over Genesee and through the neighborhood.

      11. To address things. No you couldn’t have an elevated track running over the golf course. Unless it’s crazy high you’re going to be hitting it all the time with balls.

        If you’re going to wipe out one of the public courses in Seattle, West Seattle should be the LAST one that you do. It was designed by a fairly famous golf architect (H. Chandler Egan) and not many of his courses remain and are open to the public.

        I’m not sure golf is really dying. Golf had an unsustainable growth period during the Tiger Woods era, and is simply dropping back to what it was previous to him. The main reason the courses aren’t making money is that no one shops in the pro shops anymore. Most municipal courses usually would break even on people playing and make up for it buy people buying balls/clubs/clothes/etc in the shop. Almost no one does that anymore. People are either buying online or buying from specialty shops that have $100’s of thousands of dollars of equipment to custom fit you. All four of the Seattle muni courses are generally full. It’s not like people aren’t playing on them. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to get a tee time if you took away one of them. The courses would probably do better if they raised the fees. Most people would be fine paying more.

  5. Gotta love those 1/4 mile and half mile circles. Magical walk sheds with minimal relation to actual walkability. We make those real walksheds and I’ll bet routing through Fremont performs better.

    1. The area where this is most evident is the stop on Prospect. The diagram includes apartments on the west end of Queen Anne. But it is a very long walk to the station ( That stop has a very small walkshed because of the park, the railroad tracks and the water. Interbay isn’t much better — there is also a park and railroad tracks.

      1. It’s got to have an elevated walkway/elevator up to Olympic. The extra walkshed + easy route 1 transfers make it worth the cost.

      2. @Ron – good point. Not sure if that slope would be tricky to build on, but if that’s where the station ends up, a direct access from the station to Olympic would be a great way to expand the walkshed.

    2. They are real walk circles that show the real 1/4 mile mark. That allows people to see what’s in the station area and how close the station is from anywhere they may care about. That doesn’t mean it’s a good walk area, but it shows it equally to both proponents and detractors. And West Seattle Link isn’t just about having the biggest walkshed. It’s also about serving a quarter of the city that’s far from any ST2 Link station, and the fact that steep hills make motorized transportation more significant, especially going east-west where each north-south neighborhood is rather isolated. And also because the politicians elevated its priority above what it would otherwise be.

      1. >> They are real walk circles that show the real 1/4 mile mark.

        No, Mike, they aren’t. They are “as the crow flies” maps, but people aren’t crows. That is the point ???? is making. In my example, it takes over a mile of walking to get to the station, despite the fact that it is clearly within the quarter mile mark. In fact those people are better off walking to the other station.

        Quarter mile walk maps would look different even on the ones that don’t have big obstacles, because you have to navigate streets to actually get there. You can’t just walk diagonally as the circle implies (unless there actually is a diagonal street). Making maps like that takes more time than simply drawing the circles, but it isn’t exactly rocket science.

  6. Overall it looks pretty much like expected. Based on the maps, I have more questions than suggestions.

    West Seattle — Since the trains spend a lot of time running above the streets, how will that effect the streets themselves? For example, the Delridge stop will be north of Andover — will there be enough room for bus lanes when this is built?

    How easy will it be to get from one Westlake Station to the other? (It may be too early to answer this). Since this will be the most common transfer, this is very important.

    The Denny stop is very close to the stop before and after. Did you consider shifting it east, to Fairview and Denny, to have less overlap?

    The South Lake Union stop seems designed to intercept the E. How exactly is that supposed to work, once the SR 99 tunnel is finished? I’m not sure how buses are supposed to use the streets (either direction) or where the bus stops are supposed to be.

    On a similar note, Harrison is supposed to eventually be a bus corridor (probably with its own bus lane). Why isn’t the South Lake Union stop on Harrison?

    It seems like the Seattle Center stop should be on Mercer, not Republican. Right now the walkshed includes a park (The Seattle Center) — moving it north a block would include more apartments.

    How much of any of the station choices are based on cost? For example, if you did move the Denny station a couple blocks east, would it cost a lot more?

    1. I’m guessing they chose Republican over Harrison and Mercer for a couple of reasons. First, the Aurora tunnel is deeper at Harrison than at Republican, and they don’t want to go even deeper than they already are. And they probably want to minimize disruptions on Mercer while construction is ongoing.

      For the South Lake Union station, maybe they can have an entrance at Harrison and 6th Ave N with a walkway down to the station. In fact, I expect one there, because there isn’t much right now at the part of 6th Ave N where the station platform would be. There’s just the ramps to route 99 and the back entrance to the Gates Foundation.

    2. “It seems like the Seattle Center stop should be on Mercer, not Republican. Right now the walkshed includes a park (The Seattle Center) — moving it north a block would include more apartments.”

      I disagree – there is a lot more density south of Mercer. Look at the zoning maps, not the census data – the midrise zoning basically ends at Roy, with density rapidly falling off as you move up the hill. On the other hand, the triangle of Mercer, 1st, and Elliott will be solid block of 6~8 story VMU, as parking lots and lowrise blocks are rapidly being redeveloped.

      Once the next census accounts for all the new 6~8 story buildings that have been built recently or are currently under construction, I think we’ll see the census maps will show there are more people & jobs south of Mercer than north.

  7. With respect to the Ballard station, if it’s in the Safeway parking lot, how does the train cross 15th, since it’s going to be west of 15th in Interbay? Also, one way or another, we need a bridge, tunnel, or something to get people from Ballard to the station without having to wait for that obnoxious light that takes forever to change. Finally, the station needs to be designed so that the line can be reasonably extended in the future, without bulldozing 10-storey buildings.

    1. The representative alignment has the line elevated, so it would simply cross over 15th.

      The design includes a 1/4 mile of tail tracks extending northward along 15th Ave, which would presumably be the start of an extension up 15th towards a station around 65th, as per the ST3 plan. Right now (still early in the process), the design doesn’t incorporate an extension west or east.

  8. From 2030 to 2035, trains from West Seattle would be forced to terminate at SODO, turning West Seattle-to-Eastside commutes into a three-train affair and potentially disconnecting West Seattle from the rest of the regional transit system; one solution would be to siphon off some trips bound for the Rainier Valley and only run SODO turnback trains every other trip.

    Don’t forget the East Side. Basically, the limiting factor is the existing downtown tunnel. You can only run trains every three minutes. To the north every train goes to the UW (and places north). To the south there are three choices — East Side, South End, West Seattle. If you alternate between the three, you could run them all every 9 minutes.

    During rush hour, I’m not sure that is good for anyone. That is a step backwards for both the East Side and South End. Even for West Seattle it isn’t great, even if it does mean one less transfer. Frequency matters a lot when you are making a bus to train transfer (since the bus can run a little fast or slow) and since most of the riders will be making a bus to train transfer, even a switch from 6 to 9 minutes is annoying.

    My guess is they may do something like this outside of rush hour (when service would typically go down to 9 or 10 minutes anyway, as it does now). That would mean West Seattle riders would have a direct connection to downtown and the UW after rush hour, but not during. That would be a bit weird, but better than making people transfer all day long.

    Of course Metro could always just run the buses all the way to downtown. That would likely be the fastest way to downtown most of the time, but especially outside of rush hour. The worst situation would be if they truncate all the buses all day long, and ST ends the West Seattle line at SoDo. That would mean someone riding a bus like the 120, would have a much longer trip to downtown.

    1. A stacked, center cross-platform design at SODO with one level (two tracks) for northbound trains and one for southbound trains is a great solution for this triple transfer issue. It would make it more like 2.5 transfers.

      One hard part would be how to reverse West Seattle trains. It may require that one direction (say riders from West Seattle would have to go down the escalator to continue heading north). Maybe the tail track design could allow arriving West Seattle trains to switch platforms before leaving again.

      I am still wondering if a Tacoma-Lynnwood train operator will accept the 101-minute trip one way. Renegotiate work rules? Change drivers on every train at SeaTac or SODO Station? Run Tacoma trains only to Northgate, and run Lynnwood trains only to Kent or Federal Way?

  9. I am curious about the noise impacts of elevated routes in West Seattle and Ballard. The visual impacts and supposed crime encouragement (what??) are obviously just bogus but if the trains really are loud for people down below, that could be a real downside of going elevated. This seems to be the main complaint of the resident who produced some images of how the elevated tracks would look going through there. My impression from catching trains at Sodo is that they just sound like a rumble, a bit louder than a dump truck or bus.

    I think the big upside to elevated is that riders will be treated to some amazing views on the West Seattle route– even better than anyone currently gets regularly from the West Seattle Bridge. If the visual aesthetic interests of people looking up at the tracks matter, surely the sightseeing interests of riders count as well. And these neighbors are getting the

    As someone living west of the junction I’m bummed to see the station is at 41st, so actually 5 minutes further walking than I’d assumed, but I suppose there must be good reasons for that. Though that also makes it weirdly close to the Avalon stop.

  10. Delete the South Lake Union Station on the Ballard line and pay for the Salmon Bay tunnel. It’s too close to Denny and LQA stations and exists to serve the Gates Foundation. If they feel their employees can’t make the effort to get to the other two stations, maybe their boss can chip in to make it happen?

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