Public comments at the West Seattle open house in February

Ahead of the first neighborhood forums for the West Seattle/Ballard Link project, Sound Transit has published its full summary report of the early scoping project, which we covered last month. Some 2,800 individual comments were made at open houses, the online survey, and other forums, and many of them asked for the same modifications to the project: tunnels to Ballard and West Seattle Junction, better connections at transfer stations, and grade separation in SODO. Using these suggestions, Sound Transit has also produced some Level 1 alternatives for the project, which we’ll be covering in a series of posts this week (so stay tuned).

For the West Seattle segment, public consensus seems to have decided that the elevated alignment would significantly impact the Junction’s “neighborhood character” and thus a tunnel was needed. Some comments went a step further and suggested dropping Avalon Station from the plans to fund the tunnel, while others requested that it be kept for bus connections. Also in contention was whether to pre-plan for a southern extension on California Avenue, Fauntleroy Way, 35th Avenue SW, or Delridge Way.

Public comments for the SODO segment, meanwhile, were less grand and mostly concerned transfers between lines at SODO and Stadium stations, as well as grade separation of the corridor. The Downtown segment’s comments were similarly focused on transfers, as well as the general placement of Midtown Station (a potential First Hill stop) and the Denny/South Lake Union pair.

Overview map of Level 1 alternatives for the Interbay/Ballard segments (Sound Transit)

The Interbay/Ballard segment’s comments echoed the many, many calls for a tunneled crossing of the Ship Canal and a western alignment that avoids 15th Avenue W. Some comments also suggested keeping the movable bridge and incorporating pedestrian and bicycle facilities, or to build a higher, fixed structure. In Ballard proper, several comments asked for the station to be moved further west into Old Ballard or other commercial areas near the intersection of NW Market Street and 20th Avenue W. Curiously absent were calls to pre-plan for an east-west line to the University District, which showed up on the online open house and have been endorsed by a few groups in their own letters to Sound Transit.

The scoping summary report also includes letters from various organizations and coalitions, which may provide an idea of upcoming political battles over the alignment. For example, King County Metro requested further study of the West Seattle and Ship Canal tunnels and continued bus operations on the SODO Busway, which would be displaced entirely by light rail construction under the early plan.

The Port of Seattle stated their concerns with the SODO and Interbay segments, particularly if the Duwamish River crossing is located on the north side of the West Seattle Bridge. The Port endorsed further study of alignments around the Ballmer railyard in Interbay, including the potential use of Smith Cove Station as a Sounder-Link transfer, as well as a fixed Ship Canal bridge that is “at least as high as the Aurora Bridge” (which is 167 feet above the water).

The Seattle Design Commission, responsible for signing off on station designs and artwork, requested further studies of new alignments, particularly a multi-modal Ship Canal crossing and moving Midtown Station to the east side of Interstate 5.

The University of Washington brought up its concerns of vibration and electromagnetic interference from Link construction and operations, which could affect the newer biomedical research building near the proposed 99/Harrison station in South Lake Union.

Further into the report, comments from neighborhood groups and general interest groups like Seattle Subway and the Transit Access Stakeholders (TCC, TRU, Futurewise, Sierra Club, and Cascade Bicycle Club) go into detail about their various wants and needs. A good chunk of the report is used up by the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization, who used a Powerpoint presentation to explain their endorsement of a tunnel alignment that leaves out Avalon Station. The Transit Access Stakeholders in particular asked in their letter for equitable transit-oriented development and other policy decisions that reach well beyond the scope of the West Seattle/Ballard Link project.

Over the next few days, we’ll be dissecting some of the Level 1 alternatives that Sound Transit presented to the Stakeholder Advisory Group as a result of these early scoping comments. A second meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Group this month will decide on recommendations that will be forwarded to the Elected Leadership Group and the Sound Transit Board in May. The equivalent Level 2 decisions will be made in late August and early September, so there won’t be much time to breathe before the next open house and comment period.

44 Replies to “Thousands of Comments on West Seattle and Ballard Link Yield New Alternatives”

  1. It looks like they aren’t even looking at the possibility of a (cheaper-than-bored?)) dredge and drop tunnel to Ballard.

    1. Maybe the engineers already know that conditions under the canal won’t permit it. I still keep wishing that at meetings and elsewhere people get to read and listen to the engineering considerations.

      I’m especially interested what’ll be ahead of the boring machines between Ballard and the University District. If there’s nothing in the way, might not be an either-or job with the West Seattle line. But my main point still holds.

      Given the vertical terrain around Seattle, section view of the ground – sideways as if the ground is cut open- could reveal much more than “plan” view, meaning from an airplane. It could save a lot of political argument.

      Mark Dublin

    2. While it may be cheaper to physically construct, our environmental laws work against immersed tube construction due to a general preference to avoid in-water impacts. Since the ship canal is a salmon migration route, this preference is even more pronounced. Boring shifts the impacts to a landward location, which is far easier to permit and is the preferred approach. So, anything you might gain in construction cost savings is eaten up by study and permitting delays and the possibility of not being allowed to build it in the end anyway, as less-impactful alternatives (bored tunnel or a bridge) would exist.

    3. East Magnolia would be a great place for TOD. It doesn’t block anyone else’s view (the hill behind is higher than anything likely to be built), and the slope is pretty moderate but sufficient to make each step up mostly view floors if no higher than six.

  2. The map doesn’t show any tunnel options under the water just fixed bridge and movable bridge

    1. My mistake they don’t show them exiting but the do have tunnel makers and entry points on the south side of the canal

      1. That’s because they wouldn’t surface. They’d operate like HSS does now with an underground station.

  3. We might also want to check files from the last Monorail project. It we’ve got a good set of drawings between Ballard and West Seattle, we could have enough information that we’ll at least get something of value out of that project.

    Mark

  4. FYI – Here is the presentation with the alternatives in more detail: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/SAG-meeting-3Presentation-20180417.pdf

    For Ballard, I’d be comfortable with any of these EXCEPT for either of the 14th options for obvious reasons (terrible station locations!). And they have the 14th/movable bridge option as one of the “alternatives with more potential”, which is concerning.

    Honestly, the West of BNSF / 20th/ 17th/ Fixed Bridge option seems like the best bet to me since it avoids the tunnel costs but is still more reliable than a movable bridge and provides better access to the historic core. Elliott/15th/16th /Fixed Bridge would be my second choice, followed by the ST representative project.

    Also – it is crucial that they plan for a potential future East-West alignment.

    1. It looks like the options that come in to Ballard at 20th or 17th are also pretty accessible from the east part of Magnolia. Does this increase or decrease the potential for future TOD? I believe the Magnolia bike paths go near there. But I don’t have a good sense of whether the Interbay is somewhere for rapid transit to “pass through” or somewhere to serve. At any rate, fixed bridge starting from a higher elevation sounds like a good plan.

      1. A crosstown bus line (Magnolia/Discovery Park to Upper Queen Anne and maybe onto Fremont) feeding this Interbay Station would be good.

      2. East Magnolia would be a great place for TOD. It doesn’t block anyone else’s view (the hill behind is higher than anything likely to be built), and the slope is pretty moderate but sufficient to make each step up mostly view floors if no higher than six.

      3. I live on Magnolia. The bikepath through interbay merges onto surface streets on Magnolia exactly where the generic station marker is on the map. So yes it automatically hooks up with bike path. Also I should point out there is a major road job coming up with the removal of the Magnolia bridge. One of the replacement plans has a non bridge connecting to Magnolia at that same location.

        On a aside the buses suck on Magnolia as they take you one place and one place only, downtown on the exact same streets. So having the station at the base of Magnolia and rerouting the bus to just do a loop of Magnolia so you can transfer on to the train would be a major improvement.

    2. I think the best plan is the current route but with a fixed bridge. I also have no problem with the current route with a movable bridge. Yes, once in a while (but never during rush hour) a train might have to slow down to let a boat go by. It isn’t even clear whether it will be “once in a while” or never. If trains are running every 10 minutes, worse case scenario, you are looking at 5 minute gaps between the trains. Very few boats will ever need to see the bridge go up — most that do can cross in 5 minutes. A movable bridge is fine, but a really high bridge would be even more fun. The views would be spectacular. That seems trivial, but amusing transit (when it doesn’t cost you anything) leads to better fare recovery, which leads to better headways, which means everyone benefits (even the folks that just want to get to their destination).

      Honestly, the West of BNSF / 20th/ 17th/ Fixed Bridge option seems like the best bet to me since it avoids the tunnel costs but is still more reliable than a movable bridge and provides better access to the historic core.

      Yeah, but you destroy part of the historic core to get to it. It isn’t clear how much, and I would want to see the details. But you need room for both the station as well as the pylons, some of which might be on Ballard Avenue. Then there is the issue of extending it. 17th is pretty wide, but not as wide as 15th. It is quite possible this won’t be extended, ever, but the best chance of extending it is if the train is elevated on 15th. Extending it that direction a couple of stops (65th and 85th) makes way more sense than any extension in West Seattle. Assuming there is no extension, then the stop has another disadvantage, which is that it is tougher to get to from the buses. Even though 17th is a better stop than 15th, it isn’t like there are Toronto sized towers there. A huge portion of the riders will ride the bus to the station. Making those riders walk an extra 5 minutes before getting to the escalators would be typical for Sound Transit, but not exactly ideal. I suppose you could have a bus take a right as it gets to Market (and double up on the 44) but that isn’t ideal either.

      1. @Eric – no, you would just need a have a portal somewhere in Frelard, presumably where the line hits Phinney Ridge.

        Or, follow-ish Leary through Fremont. Check out the original alternative analysis for UW-Ballard during ST3 planning.

      2. Yeah, as AJ said, there are all sorts of options. For reasons I won’t detail (because they are very complicated) you gain more from a working connection from the main line to UW-Ballard than you do from a connection from this line to UW-Ballard. Just imagine the whole thing forms a loop and guess whether more people would “pass through” Ballard or the UW. The short answer is “UW” (by a huge margin).

        So if we are concerned about working connections, then the focus should be on the UW. If we are talking about non-working connections, then again it can happen at the UW. It is quite likely that a working spur (on either end) will never happen. That isn’t the end of the world. People make transfers all the time. In the middle of the day (when dwell times are regular) you can time it very well. During rush hour transfer (when the trains run often) wait times are small.

        I would say that the big benefit of an underground station is that transfers there would likely be better. But that assumes that lots of people are making the transfer, and that Sound Transit actually knows how to minimize transfer time. Nothing they have ever done or considered suggests the latter, whereas demand (based on the first paragraph I wrote) dictates the former. I seriously doubt there will be huge number of people trying to get from Wallingford Station to Interbay, nor do I expect it to be easy, even if both stations are underground.

        If you doubt that, look how much focus there is on the transfers at Westlake. For the foreseeable future, this will be the biggest transfer point in our system. Nothing else will come close. Yet look how there is not one word about it in these documents. Even when evaluating plans, they ignore it. Two of the six plans for downtown call for moving the new Westlake Station away from the old one, so they are no longer on top of each other, yet the issue is not called out. Will it take longer to get from Lower Queen Anne to the UW? No one knows. We don’t care.

        Yet they spill plenty of ink worrying about whether the West Seattle line can be extended to Burien.

        The point being, we can’t expect excellence out of this group. We can’t expect them to have a long term vision that involves building things in the proper order, or even putting stations in the right place. What we can do is build things that are affordable now, while making it easy to build affordable things later. That means elevated rail to Ballard, on 15th.

    3. But I don’t have a good sense of whether Interbay is somewhere for rapid transit to “pass through” or somewhere to serve.

      Most of ST3, even in Seattle, consists of places where transit will “pass through”, which is why it was a very poorly designed proposal. Instead of stops every half mile or so (which is pretty much ideal) you have very long stretches without a station, even though the thing is elevated. Several of the stations suffer from poor geography. A steep, inaccessible greenbelt on one side, and water on the other, making it inappropriate for bus or pedestrian travel.

      Having said that, Dravus is not as bad as most of the corridor. It makes sense as a place to serve crossing Magnolia buses. As Richard said, you can’t head up the hill to Queen Anne (the logical choice) but at least you can hug the shore and pick up SPU on the way to Fremont. It is pretty good as far as crossing bus service goes, and suffers most from the lack of overall density and destinations in Magnolia.

      From a walking standpoint, most of the density in Magnolia is on the eastern side. There is also some density on the west side of Queen Anne (although not as much as on any other side of Queen Anne, or on top). So in general, it isn’t that bad. It could get better, as Richard said. Right now, Interbay itself is seeing plenty of new apartment buildings. The problem is, again, geography. The railroad tracks hurt the potential for walk-up riders. Not only is it a wide set of tracks, but it widens on each end, starting at Dravus. There is a lot of railroad land within a five minute walk (and much more within ten minutes), which is not good. The closer you are to the tracks, the worse it gets, which is why being on 20th is bad. That would mean that the number of “highly likely riders” — those who live on either side of the Link station — would be cut in half. Making matters even worse is the park, which means the other side isn’t much better. As bad as 20th is, it is even worse with some of the other proposals, like a stop on Thorndyke. Again, this is right by the railroad tracks. But there also isn’t a crossing there. So while you at least move away from the park, you move well away from anyone trying to get there from Magnolia. It is even worse for connecting transit, as you are another two or three blocks from either 15th or Dravus, forcing riders to spend a bunch of time walking between the bus and train, or the bus has to do an out and back from Dravus (shades of 145th 147th).

      I think the best option for Dravus is the first one (on 15th). The park eats up some ridership, but not horribly so. Riders can still walk from Magnolia (and many do today, from the D, as they have since they rode the 15). You have some apartments on the west side of the hill, and the potential for more on that side than the other. Meanwhile, you have Interbay, and the effect of the giant nothingness that are the railroad tracks are minimized.

  5. I thought the idea of going on 15th (north of the Ballard bridge) elevated was there wasn’t much in terms of property/eminent domain fights. Doesn’t going elevated on 17th/20th takes you into more residential areas, and more chances of hassle/lawsuits?.

    1. Certainly. The good thing about 14th is that it has that wide median up to 60th, providing a place for the station and tail tracks at-grade. And, nothing is stopping Seattle from upzoning the square half-mile from 15th and 60th to 10th and Shilshole for big residential buildings.

      There’s some value in keeping the station away from “Old Ballard”. People can walk from 14th to 17th for a bar visit. They can clear their heads on the trip back. Jes’ sayin’

      1. OK, there’s no 10th, so 11th, and it’s not a square but a north-south rectangle. Whatevs.

      2. What? No — just no. There are so many things wrong with 14th. To begin with, it is well away from the population center. Yes, it could be rezoned, but much of it is zoned industrial. Even if the various industries were “upzoned”, they aren’t going to move. You also have a park that isn’t going anywhere. Then you have the fact that it would be one block farther than connecting bus service. Yes, it is only one block, but how many times must we be cut (a minute hear, a minute there) before it really hurts. Holy cow, look at how many comments there are on escalators and you can see that people have figured out that “little things” (like the time actually spent getting from one place to another) matters a lot, not just whether the trip looks good on paper. Oh, and as far as getting to old Ballard — of the apartments that are nearby — it is yet another cut. Keep in mind that the streets there run at a Northwest-Southeast angle, making a station at, say, 20th a reasonable choice, but 14th a poor one. Look at how long it takes to get from this apartment to a station at 14th (https://goo.gl/maps/ifripJkJefy). That is because you start out by heading northwest, even though your destination is to the east. Adding more distance (and a crossing) really doesn’t help matters, and would make many of those people want to keep the 17 and 18.

        Finally, while the street is wide, it ends. It would be cheap to extend light rail to 65th, and then what? You run into Ballard High School. That means you have to make a turn, buying up lots of expensive property before you can add the really good station at 85th. All that money you saved by running above ground (to add your two cheap but good stations) is blown trying to make that corner.

        No, the only advantage to using 14th is that it is cheaper, and only in the short run.

  6. Asking for a friend….

    What if West Seattle created a LID for themselves to bear the cost difference between what was proposed in ST3 and the additional changes they are requesting? It’s no secret that the tunnel in the Junction will cost a significant amount of money, beyond what was proposed by the RTA vote. But honestly, there’s little that leads me to believe that the taxpayers in places like Graham, Puyallup or Mukilteo should pay for the additional costs. Property taxes west of Harbor Island and north of White Center go up $50 per year, and they get a gleaming new tunnel.

    Same goes for Ballard with the tunnel or fixed link.

    Am I on the wrong track?

    1. Reaching the elevations required for a 167′ clearance fixed bridge would create an enormous structure impacting views as far northeast as 65th and Phinney. And the stations at Interbay and Ballard would have to be pretty high themselves. It would be terrifying for cyclists and too subject to winds; there’s no reason to put a bike lane on it if so built.

      Jason, do you believe that the Port of Seattle is forbidden from ever dredging in Salmon Bay? If not, then a dredge and drop tunnel would be no different. Given the geometry to the north (i.e. the land slopes up, not drastically, but noticeably), a shallower rather than a deeper tunnel is far preferable. A D’n’D tunnel could accommodate bicycles and perhaps even a single lane for peak-direction buses, whereas a bored one cannot.

      My prediction is that a mid-level bridge will be chosen, foreclosing future expansion to the north or east.

    2. Asking, it’s certainly legal, but the City might discourage it as taking too much of the legislatively limited taxing potential of West Seattle properties.

    3. Asking, “Taxpayers in places like Graham, Puyallup or Mukilteo” will not pay for the additional cost of tunneling in West Seattle. The North Sub-Area would pay for it or, possibly West Seattle could do a Local Improvement District as you suggest.

      I doubt that it would pass, though. Not enough people in West Seattle use transit to attract a majority vote.

      It might pass in Ballard, but not for the high bridge. Nobody in Ballard wants a high bridge; they pretty unanimously want a tunnel.

      1. >> Nobody in Ballard wants a high bridge; they pretty unanimously want a tunnel.

        What? Since when? The main opposition to the high bridge came from people in Magnolia and Queen Anne, because they didn’t want to look at a big bridge (just like the people in San Fransisco hated the Golden Gate Bridge before it was built). People in Ballard don’t care. Why would they? What views are it going to effect? It’s the people on the edge of Magnolia, looking at Phinney Ridge, and more so the folks on the corner of Queen Anne, looking at the Olympic (through the cut) that care about a high bridge. Even from Phinney Ridge (e. g. Fremont Peak Park) the bridge doesn’t matter. It would not be above the Magnolia hills, and not effect the views of the mountains are to north. It would simply be a bridge above the existing bridge.

  7. The ST presentation states a multimodal bridge is not within the scope of ST3. Rail only.

    Really?

    1. Seattle has seen Move Seattle, which was supposed to fund mostly bike, pedestrian and transit improvements, shift quickly to not much more than large auto capacity improvements. ST is right to keep SDOT’s fingers out of its pocket.

    2. Depending on a multimodal bridge for which Seattle hasn’t even started outlining the design or financing risks the entire extension being delayed or deferred if that piece doesn’t come into place in time. It’s probably something that shoould have been negotiated before the ST3 ballot measure was written, with Seattle clarifying its commitment so that ST would know the limit of its cost,.

    3. I think it is crazy to see what ST considers “within the scope of ST3”. People argued for a bus tunnel. They argued for Ballard to UW rail. They argued for tunnels through Queen Anne, and tunnels to West Seattle. They initially wanted to go with surface rail on 15th. None of that is what they proposed. It was very clear what they passed. Elevated rail to Ballard and West Seattle.

      Now, suddenly, many of those items are back on the table, and considered “in scope”, while others are not. A station on First Hill? Outside of scope. A tunnel to West Seattle? In scope. Getting rid of stations or moving them significantly is in scope. Just look at the “Pigeon Ridge” proposal (the first alternative) for West Seattle. No station at Delridge, the Avalon Station moved to Yancy (so it can be nestled in, right next to the steel mill, the park and the freeway) and the “junction” station moved to Fauntleroy. That’s all in scope, but a station on the other side of the freeway on Madison is “not consistent with ST3 plan”.

      I’m not saying one plan makes more sense than the other, I’m just saying that obviously politics are involved. Folks in charge are basically OK with studying major deviations from what voters actually passed, while considering minor changes to be “not consistent”. Adding a much needed bike passageway to the Ballard proposal is a reasonable thing to study, and denying that because it is “not in scope” is pure BS.

  8. After all of the comments proposing easy north-north and south-south transfer access at SODO Station, ST has not even included a replacement aerial station to allow for this. ST has only one variation at a Rainier Valley Line SODO Station, which is to put both stations at-grade. The proposed Lander overpass for this option won’t allow for Rainier Valley and a west Seattle tracks to cross.

    Why do we even bother with public involvement? ST won’t study a very reasonable option for the initial alternatives. Shame on ST!

    1. Al, Sadly, I’m pretty convinced that nobody on the Sound Transit staff reads our ravings on STB. You never see a word of reply when someone raises a valid question.

      1. They do read it. Dow Constantine said he reads it almost every day, and frequently sends articles to his staff saying, “Let’s do this./Can we do this?” Other staff and boardmembers read it. That doesn’t mean they see every comment but they know generally what we’re saying. The reason ST rarely comments directly is probably the same reason Metro or Seattle comment directly: it can complicate policymaking, there are ethical and conflict-of-interest issues involved, and the opposition forces can say the agency is too cozy with certain interest groups. There have been people from STB and Seattle Subway who have taken jobs in the agencies or governments, and when they do they also become almost silent. So the most you see is, very occasionally, a boardmember/councilmember or public-relations person making a factual correction. Other than that, the best way to get input from the agencies seems to be to interview them. There have been some interviews, and I hope it increases over time.

  9. Does anyone else see the omission of rider transfer difficulty as a criteria as a problem? While there is a broad integration goal, there is no criteria designed to measure rider convenience. We are looking at freight impacts but not impacts to rider movements? Are moving packages and containers now important than moving people inside a station?

    1. agreed. I don’t understand it. I’d have thought that we would have seen something on a Sodo revision by now.

      Could they introduce changes later?

      And what of the idea in the urbanist to put the second tunnel under 4th, or in Union Station? If it’s not too late to explore that option that could change things even more.

    2. >> Does anyone else see the omission of rider transfer difficulty as a criteria as a problem?

      I see it, big time. As I said up above in a comment, there seems to be no concern for it. The biggest example of this is at Westlake, which is likely to be the biggest transfer point in the system, by far. You have the north end, the UW and Capitol Hill on one side, and South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne on the other. Lots of people go back and forth all day long.

      Yet even with the obvious importance of that transfer, there is nothing about it. If you look at the downtown alternatives, they have two different locations for Westlake. One where the stations are stacked, the other adjacent (obviously the tracks themselves have to be at different levels). But it isn’t clear to me which one is better from a transit perspective. I would assume stacked, but not necessarily (depth may be more important). The point is, there is nothing about this in the literature. This will make a huge difference to a huge number of riders — likely more than will ride entire lines (like Issaquah and West Seattle).

      That is just the train to train transfer. It isn’t much better as far as bus to train transfers. The documents even have it as a consideration, but have inexplicable numbers for it. Consider West Seattle, the area most dependent on bus to rail transfers when this is done. One of the options is “Yancy Street”. The option would not have a stop on Delridge, but instead on Yancy and Avalon. That is obviously worse for buses, yet the box for “Bus/Rail Integration” is the same as the initial proposal. It doesn’t make sense, and suggests that Sound Transit and Metro just aren’t cooperating when it comes to the design of this system.

  10. I like the approach from west of BNSF headed to a tunnel station at 20th.

    If a tunnel won’t work then my 2nd choice would be the high bridge from west of BNSF ending at a station at 17th.

    I also read, and like, that they are considering making the smith cove station a joint Sounder/Link station.

    I would like to see some information from ST on how to integrate the Ballard station with an east-west line, but maybe that can’t be done until they determine where the station is going to be.

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