Inside a Seattle Monorail Racing Past KOMO Studios

This is an open thread.

Photo by Joe Kunzler in the STB Flickr pool

32 Replies to “News Roundup: Slow Growth”

  1. Will the monorail carry only 1K fans home from hockey matches because that is its capacity, or because the buses are free and closer for passholders while the monorail still charges separately and is a few blocks away?

    In other words, are the capital improvements a supply-side solution for a demand-side problem?

    I’m just not sold on spending public money on monorail capital improvements until it accepts ORCA. As it is, the City hasn’t even begun the actual process of asking the ORCA pod to let the monorail use ORCA, last I checked.

    1. Really, you want to limited transit growth because of no ORCA on the Monorail? ORCA is not the cure to our transit woes. Expand your thinking to find better solutions.

    2. If you read the article, accepting Orca is precisely what they plan to do in the first phase improvements. They also plan to get rid of the ticket booth and have people buy Monorail tickets the way they do Link tickets.

      This is a no-brainer decision that makes sense. The way it currently works, where only one person every 10 seconds or so can get through the ticket line, that limits capacity to 6 people per minute, no matter how frequently the trains run, or 60 people per train running every 10 minutes, which is quite a bit less than the capacity of the trains, themselves.

      When I first heard about proposed Orca integration, I was afraid that Orca payers would be stuck waiting in the line at the ticketbooth behind change fumblers, just to have their card swiped by a human attendant. I am glad to see that this is not what’s going to be happening.

      1. Thank you asdf2. I do agree that it was time to have a carrot of public investment to get ORCA onto the Seattle Monorail. It is a real deterrent to millenials and xillenials who don’t carry cash to take the Monorail otherwise.

        Seattle City Councilmembers Juraez & Johnson did some good here. Considering how next year in Seattle City Council politics is quite possibly a “change” election; I hope to have some regular STB commentators drop the mask and run in them!

    3. Pretty sure ORCA is part of the solution to increase capacity by making fare payment a lot faster.

  2. Is I-405 BRT anything at all really? Per the details PDF (file:///C:/Users/kvenc/AppData/Local/Packages/Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Downloads/BRT_I-405-1%20(1).pdf), buses are in express toll lanes that are already north of downtown Bellevue (and are expected to be down to south Renton in 2024). Then it actually says things like the following:

    “BRT buses would enter I-405 on the Rainier Avenue general purpose on-ramp and weave over to the inside HOV lanes towards I-5.”

    So our new $800+ million BRT line will have to weave through multiple lanes of general purpose to get to get to the freeway exit for south Renton? And we don’t get any actual dedicated ROW anywhere (except some very limited shoulder running)?

    And no direct access ramps to south Renton or TIBS (I was really hoping for the latter, but the dedicated BRT lanes on S. 154th street say nope!), but there is a $250 million total rebuild of NE 85th street ramps? So they aren’t really improving any access to stations except the downtown Kirkland station which isn’t actually in downtown Kirkland? And the actual I-405 stuff is just stuff that WSDOT is doing anyway?

    So hopefully they’ll keep the 566/567, because if there really is nothing to improve speeds on that part of the route except removing stops and off-board payment, then what’s the point in forcing a transfer to BRT? There’s not even going to be a single line from Burien to Lynnwood (which wouldn’t make sense anyway). It’s going to be two lines that connect in Bellevue, so it’s basically the 560 and 535 with some straighened routing. This is what we get instead of light rail on 405 everyone.

    1. A couple days ago someone (don’t recall who) suggested that a constellation of decisions around the Seattle/Shoreline 145th Street Link station and 522 BRT was really all about getting ST money to “improve” 145th, including many vehicle-capacity increases.

      When I look at designs coming out for 405 BRT that’s what it seems like to me: finding another pot of money to throw at 405’s interchanges and vehicle-capacity bottlenecks. The freeway and its interchanges destroy all hope of the kinds of pedestrian environments that support transit ridership, and the interchange expansions planned in 405 BRT won’t help.

      1. “finding another pot of money to throw at 405’s interchanges and vehicle-capacity bottlenecks”

        It’s piggybacking off a WSDOT 405 master plan. Now does it make more sense? WSDOT is not exactly known for putting transit first, and this plan was designed a decade ago. ST went with it because it’s less expensive than building a new ROW; everybody agreed the Eastside wasn’t ready for that.

        I also object to charactierizing the BRT projects as being for the purpose of widening 145th or improving intersections for car thoroughput. The reason 522 BRT and 405 BRT exist, and are in ST3 rather than ST4, is that a large number of people were clamoring for better TRANSIT in these corridors. They weren’t talking about car thoroughbput, and the ST board wasn’t either. If you wonder why they’re not higher quality or forcing drivers to make more sacrifices, it’s because of the compromises required to get transit projects through WSDOT and the community. The same thing happened on Eastlake and 23rd and is threatening to happen on 45th: buses don’t exist in a vacuum, there are also car interest, parking interests, and bike interests who are fighting for a share of limited ROW. The way to put transit first is to elect a Paris-like government at the state, city, and county level; then whatever the transit agencies ask for, they’ll get. Again, we’re putting transit on state highways, and the state is not known for making transit like Curitiba.

      2. I think the biggest problem with the BRT projects is that they sure look like terrible values. In that sense, they are like many of ST projects. Of course it is better than nothing, but from a *transit standpoint* it just isn’t a good value. In general I would say that about the entire project. This is in contrast with BRT for 522. Say what you will about that alignment (that it should go through Lake City) but at least they are putting most of their money into fixing what needs the most work (145th).

        When all of the work is done on I-405 BRT, it just doesn’t look that good to me. There is a commitment to service that follows the designated route, complete with off board payment. This means that it will be difficult for ST to change gears, and run overlapping runs instead. You lose one of the big benefits to bus service — that it is flexible. Since many of the key connections (e. g. Lynnwood to Kirkland) involve two different counties, no other agency can pick up the slack. This again makes it different than 522 BRT. There are plenty of Metro buses that can take full advantage of the faster travel on 145th.

        This project seems to be neither here nor there. It isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. If you are going past several stops, it will be slow. If you are trying to get to anywhere bit the endpoints or downtown Bellevue, it will require an extra bus (on either end). This makes it very dependent on other bus service, which means that the midday service gains may very well be wiped out by relatively infrequent service on either end. Half hour service from, say, UW/Bothell to downtown Kirkland is bad, but making that trip with two transfers isn’t better, even if the middle bus runs every ten minutes.

        Meanwhile, even from a pedestrian standpoint, it doesn’t look great. 85th will be a horrible place to cross under the freeway. If that really was the goal, then they should have just added a pedestrian crossing at 90th. There already is a pedestrian crossing at 80th and 100th, so people would have plenty of options more pleasant than the car sewer that is 85th.

    2. Two interchanges are being rebuilt – 85th in Kirkland, and 44th in Renton. Given its costs $250M to rebuild the Kirkland interchange, that might explain why only two interchanges are being rebuilt…

      The project details are pretty clear more stops entail only “minor improvements.” So the rest of the capex is for pretty much just 1,300 new parking spots and 34 new buses.

      Again, the big change between STX and STBRT isn’t exclusive lanes, but the service pattern. STX is generally peak oriented, while BRT is all-day frequency akin to Link.

    3. The promise of BRT access to the South Renton garage and transit center is probably one of the worst elements of the 405 BRT (with the failure to address the glaring turnaround problem of a 405 BRT at Bellevue TC being another one) from an operations viewpoint. The corridor is very constrained and very steep in that area, and the interchanges are close together and have lots of weaving. Of course, rather than promise to do “something” in Renton, ST3 is remarkably specific so that the project could satisfy the moving of the Renton TC as well as solve parking problems in South Renton.

      It’s one of those projects that probably should have been thought through more deliberately — to ensure that fast regional transit connections are built first, then designing the transit center and parking garage around that. Instead, the logic was to define the station and garage, and then expect buses to miraculously access it!

      I’m not opining that South Renton is a bad idea per se; I’m just opining that if any project had to include direct exclusive bus access from 405 HOV/HOT lanes, the alternatives and budgeting could have likely looked very different. But who can be bothered by day-to-day rider realities when there’s a photo op as well as concrete to be poured!

    4. “STX is generally peak oriented, while BRT is all-day frequency akin to Link.”

      STEX is an all-day service. The 512, 522, 530, 535, 545, 550, 554, 574, 577, 578, and 594 are all all-day. The 510, 511, 590, and 592 can be seen as a type of A/B stop pattern, where alternate buses serve half the stops in order to manage the volume, counteract peak congestion, and get people there faster. Otherwise you run the risk of the worst-case Lynnwood Link scenario, where people going to the first stops fill the train and nobody else can get on. Some other peak-only routes are aspirationally all day (meaning they would be if the STEX budget allowed), or don’t have enough midday ridership yet, or have external funding (595), or were part of a multi-agency deal (ST picked up the 596 when PT contracted, to preserve Sounder’s ridership and fare revenue).

      The hallmark of ST Express is it provides 30-60 minute service with no street improvements, off-board payment, or real-time signs. A few corridors have 15-minute daytime service but that’s more of an exceptional situation, it’s not STEX’s baseline. In contrast, ST BRT is being positioned with RapidRide frequency (min. 15 minutes until 10pm every day): it may slip down to 20 or 30 minutes evenings but not to 60. ST has avoided making sweeping commitments about its BRT, but the planning schedules that have been released have 10-15 minute midday and 15-20 evening (possibly 30). It’s a “poor man’s light rail”, like Swift is, for promising high-volume corridors that aren’t ready for a rail investment.

      1. >> It’s a “poor man’s light rail”, like Swift is, for promising high-volume corridors that aren’t ready for a rail investment.

        But there is a big difference between it and Swift. I would be willing to bet that most of the people that ride Swift are only riding Swift. There aren’t a lot of people making two or three seat rides with it. Most of those that are transferring are probably doing so at the tails (especially downtown Everett). That is because Swift manages to cover the areas where people are. Most of the apartments and shops are either right on SR 99, or very close to it. Edmonds Community College, for example, is a very short walk from the bus stop.

        In contrast, there are very few places that are close to I-5. This means that a lot of the potential customers will be looking at three seat rides. In that sense, it isn’t a “poor man’s light rail”, it is a “poor man’s spine”. It will deviate from the freeway to serve the biggest destinations (downtown Bellevue) but not the secondary ones (UW/Bothell). There are a couple advantages to that approach. First, it is fairly cheap. Second, it means it is easy to go between secondary stops. For example, getting from 85th and Canyon Park will be easy.

        The problem is that very few people are trying to get from one freeway station to another (because, again, there is very little that is close to the freeway). So the folks who are headed from, say, Thrasher’s Corner to downtown Kirkland will have a three seat ride and probably won’t be that impressed with the middle trip (even it does involve off board payment). I would guess they won’t even make that trip. Because unlike a three seat ride in the city (e. g. Children’s to Harborview), 99% of the time it will be much faster to drive.

        On a related not, I happened to run across Dan Ryan’s superb proposal for East Side bus improvements again yesterday ( It should be obvious that what he is proposing is a massive project, that would make the NE 85th Street project look like peanuts. But it would likely have provided the kind of time savings that will occur for the Kirkland to Issaquah light rail line, but to a lot more people. That is because it would have had a lot more stops. It could be considered “poor man’s light rail”, but mainly because it wouldn’t have the capacity. From the standpoint of a person trying to get from one place to another on the east side, it is “rich man’s light rail”.

        It also wouldn’t have the limitations of rail. As he points out, it would be “open”. That means that while the key corridor would be congestion free (at great expense in some cases) a bus could start somewhere else and still serve it. Looking at the map (, it is pretty easy to imagine the purple line heading up to Lynnwood, while the blue line heads up to UW/Bothell (or vice versa).

        Meanwhile, other lines interact with the system via Totem Lake. Express buses stop once along the freeway, and keep moving (much as express buses to Lynnwood and Everett stop at Mountlake Terrace). With a solid network already built, it frees up the agencies to get creative. You would certainly have express buses to downtown Bellevue from the north, as well as buses that head off to Redmond (via NE 85th). In both cases, the bus would stop at Totem Lake, which means that people could get from one northeast destination to the other with a single transfer, not two.

        This would also be easily expandable. If there really are lots of people who hate the back and forth to Totem Lake, then add another freeway station to the north. This would make sense as part of the SR 522/I-405 interchange.

        To do all that, though, takes a different mindset.

    5. The most wasteful improvement seems to be NE 44th Street. It has 4 bullet points in the PDF, but is there anything there except single-family neighborhoods? The station exists because 44th was in a previous plan and ST didn’t want to say no to them, so it’s like the First Hill Streetcar or something. It’s really odd that ST kept 44th when it deleted downtown Renton and didn’t put anything at The Landing.

      1. It was, I think, in the I-405 master plan. The NE 44th station was not in the March 2016 ST3 draft plan, and was inserted before the ST3 plan was finalized because Renton complained they were under-served by the draft plan.

        Incidentally, the NE 44th St station is $170 million. Not as expensive as Kirkland’s NE 85th, but perhaps even more questionable. There isn’t even a local bus to that overpass today, and just a low frequency bus in the Metro LRP for 2025. But there is a 200-car parking lot.

    6. I’m not sure if I fully understand what I-405 BRT:will look like ten years from now. Based on the diagram and comments on this post ( it looks more promising than I assumed. This would enable an I-405 HOV freeway stop at the interchange with SR 522. It would make sense to have this stop replace the one at 195th. There would also be direct access from SR 522 (Canyon Park) to the HOV lanes. That would mean that the bus would only have to exit the freeway at two stops (Canyon Park and Brickyard) and only Brickyard would involve getting out of the HOV lanes. That would make a huge difference in terms of speed.

      Without that kind of work, buses will spend a lot of time getting on an off the freeway, especially during rush hour. That will really hurt ridership. Brickyard will be a pain to serve, even if all the other stops are easy.

      The only other problem I see with the project is that it doesn’t directly serve many locations, especially UW/Bothell. Right now riders headed to UW/Bothell from Lynnwood or Bellevue have a fairly straight shot. UW/Bothell is the second most popular stop for the 535, in large part because there are plenty of riders headed both directions.

      One way to minimize the pain of the stops is to create a series of different, overlapping buses. It is hard to find the ideal set of routes, but something like this could work:

      1) Lynnwood to Bellevue, with stops at Totem Lake and NE 85th. It would make sense to serve somewhere in Lynnwood (e. g. Edmonds CC and 196th) before getting to Lynnwood. Better yet, serve Ash Way first, then Lynnwood, then Bellevue. That is counter intuitive (since the bus goes back and forth on I-5) but it means that the bus is almost entirely in the HOV lanes. The only time it would in the regular lanes is when the bus connects from I-5 to I-405. At peak direction (Lynnwood to Bellevue in the morning, reverse in the evening) I-5 traffic that direction is not a huge problem. Basically the bus is going against the flow when it leaves Lynnwood. It also means that the Everett to Bellevue bus (the 532) could skip Ash Way. That would greatly speed up that bus, while not hurting Ash Way riders that much. Right now it takes a very long time to serve Ash Way, because a bus has to use regular lanes in both directions.

      2) UW Bothell to Kirkland, via the 85th exit, with a stop at Totem Lake. This bus would provide much faster service between UW Bothell and downtown Kirkland (a one seat ride instead of three) while providing for good connections to Bellevue and Lynnwood. The latter would only be possible if they do add a freeway station at the 522/405 interchange.

      3) Canyon Park to Bellevue, with all the stops that the BRT bus makes (between it and downtown Bellevue). For someone at Canyon Park headed south, it looks the same. Like the Lynnwood express, you could start somewhere else and pick up riders along the way.

      This would replace the BRT line during rush hour, just as the 510 and 511 replace the 512 in peak direction. In this case, the only people who would come out behind are those going from Canyon Park to Lynnwood. Community Transit already serves this connection (albeit slowly). Right now the 535 serves only 35 riders a day, and this with stops at Alderwood Mall (something the BRT line won’t provide).

      Meanwhile, everyone else comes out ahead. From UW/Bothell, it is still a two seat ride to Lynnwood or Bellevue, but that two seat ride is faster (it has fewer stops along the way). Riders from there also have a much faster ride to downtown Kirkland. Folks in Lynnwood and Canyon Park would also good ride into downtown Kirkland. Instead of transferring at 85th, they transfer at Totem Lake. Folks going from Lynnwood and Canyon Park into Bellevue (likely the biggest set of riders) would have a much faster ride.

      What is interesting about this idea is that it doesn’t require a freeway stop at 85th, but it would need HOV ramps (to enable faster service from the exit to downtown Kirkland).

      1. I should have made it clear that I’ve only looked at the section of this project between Lynnwood and Bellevue, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the southern end had similar issues.

  3. 1) STB management, thanks for using my photo. Much appreciate the vote of confidence.

    2) hey I’m starting to take a long look at San Francisco. You Seattle guys ever think of just creating a San Fran-style MUNI and break away from regional-focused Sound Transit on the basis you guys in Seattle want local control and once ST3 is built out, don’t see a reasonable pathway for a ST4. Just a thought…

    3) I have to say I am real concerned about “parking spaces for 1,100 cars” according to KIRO from this Paine Field terminal. Oh I hope that’s a typo and more like 110 cars or something more reasonable. Because is it going to be more “free” parking on spare & rare industrial land provided by the same people – Paine Field management – who get all aggressive about granting that same space to museums & transit agencies? I hope not. We know damn good and well “free” parking is a THREAT to transit use.

    Over to you guys….

    1. MUNI is a century old (it’s called the “San Francisco Municipal RAILWAY” from the streetcar-only days). So it’s more akin to Seattle Transit if it hadn’t merged with Metro. Part of the difference is that San Francisco city and county are the same, and while the city probably just kept annexing until it subsumed the county after MUNI was established, the fact remains that San Francisco County never had suburbs 10-25 miles away from downtown: those were all in different counties so not MUNI’s problem and not any SF County rural transit district’s problem.

      The main prediction for after ST3 is that it will be harder to keep the subareas together. Right now they’re unified because Seattle wants many lines, Everett and Tacoma want their extensions, East King wants its second big thing (actually three things), and South King wants its Federal Way extension and more Sounder (although most of South King voted no because they think they’re too poor to pay the taxes). So they were able to compromise on a common tax rate (which is a legal requirement for the ST tax district). But in ST4 the suburban subareas may have a smaller appetite while Seattle still wants more grade-separated lines. If they can’t come to a compromise it may require restructuring or splitting the ST tax district, or for Seattle to raise non-ST money for its projects. Using the monorail authority, or an SDOT something, are possibilities if the legislature allows them. It won’t now, but who knows whether it might change its mind in the 2020s or 2030s when many things are different, including the faces in the legislature.

      1. San Francisco became a consolidated city-county in 1856 when the state split off the southern part to form San Mateo County. Similarly, Kitsap County was formed out of King County in 1857. In both Seattle and SF cases, transit in the city was municipally owned and operated while private companies served areas outside the city up through the 60s and 70s before being bought out by public agencies.

    2. San Francisco is a merged city and county. As a county, they have certain powers under California law — like getting access to sales tax revenue to fund transit operations. There are several county systems in California — like LA, San Diego’s, San Jose, Orange, San Mateo. We kind of have that structure as King County Metro.

    3. I believe the best local comp to MUNI is Everett Transit, which is run by the city of Everett and whose legacy traces back to old streetcar lines. So Snohomish already models what joe is suggesting, where the city of Everett runs transit within the municipality and the county (via CT) handles transit in the rest of the county.

      In theory, King or Pierce could have the same operating model. For Seattle, I think it would make sense to split KCM in two, but dividing up the assets (particularly the bus bases) might be messy.

      One big problem Muni has is all of their infrastructure is within city limits, which makes expanding, or simply rebuilding, bus bases incredibly expensive. A Seattle-only transit agency would be basically limited to the existing footprint in SoDO, whereas KCM can buy cheaper industrial land in South King to expand bus infrastructure. OTOH, I think CT’s bus bases are both within Everett (in/around Paine Field), so I guess that’s no necessarily a problem.

      1. But Joe is talking about Seattle separating itself from Sound Transit, not Metro. That would be like San Francisco leaving the BART district, which means they lose representation on the BART board. Seattle isn’t a county and cannot unilaterally leave ST anyway under current law.

  4. I think you are right, Al S. 405 BRT really has an endgame of getting transit money to pay for highway improvements.

      1. Actually, it was me who originally said that about 145th and the 522 BRT project. I don’t know enough about the 405 issues to assess the situation Al Diamond mentions.

        I do wonder why ST never studied using the I-405 corridor for a DMU line where the ERC tracks would be a problem — and this motive may be part of the answer!

      2. It’s not that simple. Sound Transit is paying for significant pedestrian improvements to the 85th St/I-405 interchange. Cars already had the clover leaf before, and, except for carpools, it’s not clear whether they’re better off with the change than without it.

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