22 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Life Underground”

  1. I had my first experience yesterday dealing with the awfulness of Mt. Baker transit center. They managed to find the perfect position so that you can’t approach it from any direction (including transferring from the train) without waiting forever at stoplights.

    Taking a look at the map, I do see an obvious on-street alternative – the loop of 26th Ave. and Forest St., directly north of Mt. Baker Station. The changes would work like this:
    1) Eliminate all car parking on the above two streets
    2) Convert the streets to one-way to allow buses the maximum amount of layover space + maneuvering room (limited car access may be necessary for access to adjacent parking lots).
    3) Add bus stops on Forest St. directly north of the light rail station. Create on-street zones on 26th Ave. for bus layover.
    4) Close 27th Ave. (a tiny dead-end street just west of the station) and make it part of the station’s pedestrian plaza. This is necessary because what is currently the intersection of Forest/27th would be blocked by buses serving the stop in 3).
    5) Repave Forest and 26th Ave. to handle the pounding of buses, and add trolley wire for the #14.

    Has this approach ever been considered? It seems ridiculous to give the street space closest to the station over to car parking while buses have to settle for whatever land parcel nearby Metro was able to purchase.

    While it would cost some amount of money to implement, the revenue from selling off the current transit center could pay for a good chunk of it.

    1. Yeah… it’s truly a transferring pedestrian nightmare. The various solutions over the years always focus on moving traffic at the MLK and Rainier intersection first and never solving a pedestrian issue or a bus transfer issue. In fact, the proposal to remove the sole pedestrian bridge just makes more people have to walk across both busy streets and wait at two lights!

      I like your general concept. The trolley wires would be needed for Route 14. The other big operations question is with turning buses that stay on Rainier with stops today (7/9x/106). However, closing the transit center driveway would provide a bit more room for buses stopping on Northbound Rainier if they stay there.

      Regardless, the first objective should merely be this: making it possible to go from the transit center to the platform without crossing any busy street (both unsafe and frustrating while waiting for a crosswalk light).

      Finally, I have to ask: Did you get to walk down the 50 steps off the platform (lack of a down escalator), or use the occasionally inoperable single elevator (lack of a second elevator)? It’s a textbook example of how going cheap on escalators and elevators combined with a side platform station produces awful results.

      1. The 7/9/106 should absolutely stay on Ranier to avoid delay to thru-riders. Northbound riders on the 7/106 transferring to Link can get off the bus right next to the pedestrian bridge on the south side of the station, and walk across without waiting for a single traffic light.

        The only routes I envision the loop for would be the ones that terminate there (8/48). The 14 is a weird case because it’s already doing a detour to serve the transit center, which would be made worse by relocating the bus loop to the actual station. What few thru-riders the 14 has would do better by simply walking to the bus stop on McClellen/31st and boarding the bus there. I’m personally of the opinion that the tail of the 14 should just go away so that the Link station becomes the terminal. Everyone on the tail (which is *not* very many people to begin with) is within a 3/4 mile walk of Link station, and could probably access Link more quickly by walking it out (using the ped bridge to bypass all the stoplights) than waiting for the shuttle bus.

    2. Aren’t there plans for readjusting the whole intersection of which Mt. Baker Station is a part so most of these problems are fixed?

      Mark Dublin

      1. https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/PlanningProgram/Accessible_MtBaker_Multimodal_Plan_12_05_16.pdf

        Here is the latest version I could find. It makes every Route 7 bus make a quick left and then a quick right turn — right near the station and bus stops. It still makes pedestrians cross Rainier. It eliminates the pedestrian bridge, making all Franklin students and others cross both Rainier and MLK. It still has signals at McClellan, Forest and just south of existing MLK. It does propose a possible bus loop by the station.

        I’m at a loss why this is more “accessible”. It doesn’t seem to improve accessibility much. It mainly just moves traffic around and actually makes some destination less accessible.

        I wish they would spend the money on new stairs and escalators inside the station. A new U-shaped staircase with landings could fit by starting at the platform level across from the elevator, turning at a landing after dropping several stairs, turning at another landing under the boarding platform after dropping several more stairs, and continuing down to the ground level. Then the existing stairs could be converted to a second escalator.

        More money could be spent making 26th/Forest as a transit mall and replacement layover spot with north laundry access from only 26th. Selling the MBTC property would free up cash to buy the businesses between Forest and McClellan so that corner could be redone as a more accessible transit center.

        The only other solution I can think of is to build a grand mezzanine from the station to the high school, combined with putting in a mezzanine in under the Link platforms. Some street grades may have to be lowered enough to provide clearance to make this happen though.

        Correcting bad design is always more difficult and expensive than doing it right at the outset. That’s why I’m so passionate about the ST3 decisions now on the table.

      2. Agreed. The “Accessible Mt. Baker” project in many ways makes the neighborhood less, not more than the status quo. I definitely like the idea of buying out the lot next to the station, which is currently just used as paid parking. I came up with the 26th/Forest transit mall idea as an alternative that avoids depending on one particular property owner’s willingness to sell, who could use his leverage to gouge Metro for an unreasonable price.

      3. The laundry is going away so there may be new opportunities for the space. UW wants to outsource laundry to save money. The workers protested on Red Square to keep their union salaries but that probably won’t succeed. (Some of the workers are unskilled and in their 50 S, so they basically have no other chance to get a living-wage job.)

      4. I still don’t think it’s necessary to wait (possibly indefinitely) for the laundry to go away to use their space. The street space for a Mt. Baker transit mall already exists, and if a few trucks need to drive on the street to access the driveway, it really isn’t a big deal. It’s a minor street, so there is never going to be enough non-bus traffic on it for congestion to pose a problem for transit operations.

        The problem is SDOT’s *choice* to prioritize parking for a couple dozen cars over the bus->train transfer experience, forcing Metro to buy whatever parcel nearby happened to be for sale at the right time, rider experience be damned. If the *street* can be made for buses than when the laundry facility actually goes away, it can be replaced with housing – something that we all is in short supply – especially near transit stations.

      5. >> The problem is SDOT’s *choice* to prioritize parking for a couple dozen cars over the bus->train transfer experience,

        No, the problem is that Link put the station is a very stupid place, making transfers difficult no matter what Metro or SDOT decides to do. They could mitigate the problem, but there is no simple solution.

        I like your idea, but it only works out great for the 14, which is really small potatoes in the area. The 8 has a lot more riders, and there is only so much you can do. If I understand your plan correctly, an 8 would head south on MLK, then take a right on McClellan, then left on 26th (where they would have to add a new traffic light) then curve around and park on Forest. That doesn’t look good at all to me. The transfer is flawed right now, but at least buses don’t spend a bunch of time looping around to park. The 8 just takes a quick right and it’s there. If I’m a rider, i would rather have the bus park sooner and cross the street myself.

        The station placement also ties the hands of Metro. There is no reason why Metro couldn’t just extend the 8, down Rainier. That would mean doubling up a bus route, but why not? That is ideal from a transfer standpoint (7 to 8) as the transfer would occur at the exact same stop. A bus wouldn’t have to go very far, then find a place to park. So now you are only worried about the 14, and your plan is great, and doesn’t require a separate transit center (just a spot to park a 14). But Metro can’t do that. If they did, the transfer from the 8 to Link would be terrible — much worse than the current bad transfer. .

        No, the problem is that the station should be where the transit center is. Anyone with a map can see that. Not only would that make bus to rail integration much better (trivial, really) it would connect much better to the neighborhood. The bus to train aspect of the Mount Baker Station is only half the problem. Placing it next to a greenbelt, separated by two busy streets from everyone is the bigger mistake.

      6. Wouldn’t the train have to make a sharp turn to get to the transit center and then down MLK? It looks like the station location is all about the easy turn.

      7. For the purpose of my idea, I took the location of the Link station as fixed, since the cost of moving it would be prohibitive. Even so, I agree with Mike that the current station location is better engineering-wise, both in terms of a gentler curve and in minimizing the number of properties that would need to be taken to build it.

        Anyway, whether a bus loop is west or east of Ranier, only needs to make a difference for routes that end there. If Metro were to decide, for whatever reason, to extend the 8 down Ranier, than it would not make sense to have it serve any bus loop – just send it straight down Ranier and have it stop where the #7 stops. The whole point of having a bus loop is to provide a place to layover the bus and turn it around in preparation for going back the other way.

        “If I understand your plan correctly, an 8 would head south on MLK, then take a right on McClellan, then left on 26th (where they would have to add a new traffic light) then curve around and park on Forest.”

        Yes, that is the way I envision it. Yes, it adds one more light for the bus. But, it’s a light that anybody crossing the street to transfer to the train would need to wait for, anyway. But, at least the bus crossing the street (enjoying the privileges of being a motor vehicle) isn’t going to get bit by those those awful beg buttons that skip your turn and make you wait an additional several minutes because you’re one second late in reaching over to push the button. And those headed anywhere east of Ranier wouldn’t even need to wait for it. The bus can just let them off at an on-street stop at the corner of MLK and McClellen (create one if it doesn’t already exist).

        The 48, on the other hand clearly wins with the 26/Forest St. routing. The current scheme has the bus make a left turn, plus an extra stoplight to deviate away from the Link station. With the change, only people headed east of Ranier need to wait for the light to cross Ranier. Depending on one’s ultimate destination, the ped bridge south of the station might be a superior option to waiting at any of the lights.

  2. Seeing as how I had a car-pedestrian collision on March 2, I’ve come to see (as I’m relegated to a walker and/or crutches) just how bad things are for pedestrians. Many sidewalks are terribly torn up as to be almost non-useable. Also, many intersections still do not have ramps (curb cuts) so that someone with a walker/crutches cannot easily use these intersections without difficulty.

    1. That stinks. The few times I’ve been on crutches, transit was a challenge. I can’t imagine trying to do it using a walker.

    1. Yep, it ran recently; I don’t remember the day. The article is overoptimistic: we’re not going to catch up to Vancouver unless laws and policies radically change, but it’s right that we’re gradually moving toward Vancouver. It calls Skytrakn “light rail” and implies it’s pretty close to Link. That may be true from a very high-level view. it may mention that it’s driverless and thus ultra-frequent; I don’t remember. But the proponents of light rail in Surrey and Broadway would be surprised to hear that Skytrain is it.

      1. Compared to Seattle, just about every city in the modern world is wide, flat, and with a generous inheritance of legacy rail right of way. On its way into Vancouver, train is flanked, with plenty of room, by a line of Sky-Train pillars.

        But more telling to me was thirty years ago riding a trolleybus toward Commercial Street, the espresso capital of the Northern Hemisphere. Driver apologized to me because in half an hour, our Route 4 would go from seven to ten-minute headway.

        Don’t remember any bus-only lanes. So I guess the lesson is: Especially for a rich industrial country, there’s always a Way or two lying around somewhere, usually buried under something.
        Unfortunately, everybody named Will is buried underneath them.


  3. Projects like these are exactly the kind of work that very large numbers of people could be trained both to create and build. Know the reasons we haven’t been doing this for the last forty years. Nobody private can make a profit on the program.

    And hardly anybody connected with government, from top down and bottom up starting with voting taxpayers, thinks it’s worth the trouble to do. Same as when both Franklin Roosevelt started the Civilian Concentration Corps. But much easier for us.

    Comparison with rocket science not quite right. BART cars’ main problem is finding enough PCC elevated rail-car science to replace everything that can’t handle the heat, dirt, shock and rough handling that planetary surface travel requires. But come to think of it- haven’t we lost a couple of shuttles over non-digital things wouldn’t have even dented a PCC car?

    Why hasn’t the Democratic Party even touched these things for forty years? Did Nikkita Oliver mention one or two of them this last election? Or STB without drawing an [OT]?


  4. And Oran, thanks for the lead article. It’ll probably be awhile before we can claim that our transit system unites all the people of our service area. But first modern New York subway opened in 1904. And right now, many passengers are asking “Since when did ‘united’ mean “Compressed into the middle of a motionless standing load?”

    Also, “underbelly” has some unflattering connotations for any anatomical part of anything. Every creature possessing one needs it worse than a bicep. But city or dog in a fight it wishes it hadn’t picked, bad place to get bayoneted or bitten. Or both.

    But video misleading on one major point. For loads that light, every city mentioned would cancel the train for lack of ridership. So you need at least one example of a thousand people meditating on exactly the same sentiment:

    “Agreed, a transit system is an important part of our city’s underbelly. So shouldn’t it’s management contain at least a healthy and functioning set of intestines?”


  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expo_Line_(TransLink)


    Interesting shared history between our Monorail. Both originated with a giant trade fair. Skytrain began as a Canadian technology advertisement for Expo, in 1986.

    However, my own most telling memory of the real difference between our two countries came from a talk at Expo with a salesman, beside a new Prevost highway coach. Since the firm is from Quebec, it was a point of pride with him that only printed information available was in French.

    In 1995, Quebec almost seceded and broke up Canada. Only thing that saved the country was that just about every Quebecois immigrant from the world’s wide variety of French-speaking countries in places like Africa preferred to live in Canada.

    My own call for the USA is that our own country- ten times the population of Canada- will finally be permanently united by the legitimate votes of immigrants with exactly same outlook on the United States as the French-speaking Africans had on Canada: “Our Oath of Allegiance doesn’t say Washington State. Or Texas.”

    Reason our country is still here, which for Europe is questionable, is our own Founding sentiment: No matter how good the streetcar systems, with similar population stats to ours, a continent of technically advanced separate countries of five or ten million people each, hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell.

    Giving us no excuse whatever for condition of all our public works, prominently including public transit. Would be a lot better if the country that invented the PCC streetcar could go back to exporting updated models of those to the Third World. And leave the armed drones for Amazon’s own warehouse security.

    PCC Sarajevo Artic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/27772803448/in/dateposted-public/

    PCC Mexico City: https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/40749745825/in/dateposted-public/

    PCC Gothenburg https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/40749747135/in/dateposted-public/

    PCC Cairo https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/41601683942/in/dateposted-public/

    Mark Dublin

  6. To change a country, change its trains ($). A parallel look at rail and political reforms in France, the UK, and the US, with brief mention of Russia, Italy (Mussolini), and China. His thesis is that political change and national rail-network change often happen together. The author, Tom Zoellner, “is the author of “Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World — from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief,” among other books.” (No comment on the books; I’ve never seen them.)

  7. A question for you, Oran, unrelated to this post:

    Given your time in Bangkok I’m hoping you understand the BTS funding mechanism better than I do. My understanding is that the BTS is privately built and operated on a concession that runs for something like 30-50 years. This suggests to me that the construction and operation (although most of it operates at a profit) were 100% funded by private companies, and that at the end of the 30-50 years the system passes to the government free of charge. I suspect the government provided the right of way free of charge (but that should cost the government next to nothing since it runs mostly over public streets), and that they probably provided low-cost loans…but other than that they didn’t shoulder any of the actual construction or equipment costs.

    Is that correct?

    Thanks in advance.

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