The other rail bridge to Ballard. Credit: Eric Nguyen.

This is the first of three posts in our series about the latest designs for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions. This post covers Ballard and Interbay.

Last Wednesday, September 5th, Sound Transit released its latest concept work on the West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions. We’re examining each segment in-depth, from north to south, station by station.

More detailed information, including Sound Transit’s score of each station site and track segment, can be found here. Sound Transit’s new outreach website has visualizations and other information.

Ballard Station & Ship Canal Crossing

Credit: Sound Transit.

Sound Transit still has a  variety of options for the most crucial segment of the Ballard line: the Market Street station that will serve Ballard’s urban village.

The Ballard station is the best example of the station siting conundrum: should a station be used to serve current density, or be strategically placed to induce more development?

A station sited near 17th Avenue NW would serve Ballard’s commercial strip, and (for now) the highest number of residents. However, that area of the neighborhood is near capacity under current zoning, and the Ballard Avenue landmark district and working waterfront prevent the station’s walkshed from reaching its full development potential.

Also, the station would be far from 15th Avenue NW’s major north-south bus lines. The site would limit bus transfers from farther flung riders.

Plus, construction in downtown Ballard would be difficult and disruptive. An elevated track through the historic neighborhood and working waterfront would have to be built with care. There is also no clear place for bridgeheads; the agency would have to use eminent domain or make a costly land purchase to place an elevated line in both neighborhoods. Tunneling under the ship canal would eliminate those issues, but would be costly.

In short, ST staff did not seem enthusiastic about the downtown Ballard alignments.

14th Avenue NW was also unpopular. Those sites are at the edge of Ballard’s bungalow belt, and also conflict with active industrial land. The bus transfer environment is bad, and the walk to downtown Ballard is well over ten minutes. ST staff were dim on this alignment, and so was Mike Stewart of the Ballard Neighborhood Alliance.

“Though it appears to be only one block away [from Ballard’s core], that’s a significant block,” Stewart said. “It is not an easy walk, necessarily, from that block to get across 15th and to the west. It’s the farthest from the urban village.” Stewart also cited concerns about accessibility for riders with disabilities, and industrial businesses’ concerns about land use changes that would likely accompany a station on 14th.

So, the most likely alignment is on 15th, based on the apparent preferences of ST staff and neighborhood leaders.

ST staff didn’t tip a preference for the mode of ship canal crossing, but did note that a bridge on 15th could disrupt operations at Fishermen’s Terminal, and has similar bridgehead siting concerns to other alignments.


The Interbay station site seems to be nearly settled. ST will likely locate the station near 17th Avenue W and W Dravus Street. Alignments to the east wouldn’t serve the growing neighborhood and would disrupt freight. Alignments to the west, on the far side of the BNSF railyard, would limit walkability and bus integration.

The most important unanswered question for Interbay is the location of the right of way. For a 17th W and Dravus alignment, the line could either run on the ground along the eastern edge of the BNSF yard, or elevated in the median of 15th Ave W. (While 17th/Dravus would run at grade, it would be independent of other car or train traffic.) At-grade would cut costs. but it would also add travel time. The 15th alignment would cost more but run faster. According to ST spokesperson Kimberly Reason, elevated track on 15th would not necessarily change travel times, and ST needs to study the feasibility of connecting a 17th Ave W station to a line running on 15th.

Smith Cove (Expedia and Cruise Terminal)

The Smith Cove site has the widest range of outcomes for any station on this segment. It could be located between the BNSF main line and Elliott Avenue, or it could be farther west, closer to the cruise terminal. Or, the station could be sited to the east of Elliott, beneath Kinnear Park and the Queen Anne Greenbelt.

ST didn’t indicate any particular preference for siting; the location of the station will likely be dictated by the alignment of the Uptown tunnel and the Interbay right of way.

Next, we’ll look at the Uptown and South Lake Union segments.

This post has been corrected to reflect Interbay street names, and the accurate projected travel times in that segment. 

76 Replies to “Link Plans Part 1: Ballard and Interbay”

  1. I’m a big fan of at-grade, grade separated alignments, when possible. They are both cheaper to build and cheaper to maintain. What’s the travel time penalty of the 17th/Dravus alignment vs. 15th for the Interbay station?

    1. Probably about forty to fifty seconds. It’s two blocks twice, but there might also be more elevation change. If there is a high bridge to the north and at-grade running to the south the total grade change would be another twenty-five feet. That would also add several seconds, especially northbound.

    2. Time penalties are exactly the type of thing folks should be considering here. I’ll add another related metric I often think about – start by summing the pain, misery, disruption, etc of building a great tunnel and underground station and compare that to the sum of misery, time penalty, etc endured by the masses for the next 100+ years if we build a crap solution, ala UW Station. Which is greater?

      Cheap to maintain? Dude, come on. Think like a customer here. What will draw the most riders and take the most cars off the streets? What alignments and station locations will enable the most people to live car-free? We’re talking about an urban subway here, not some invented stop because it’s between point A and point B. That’s Interbay. Ballard is the whole point of this alignment.

      1. I was talking about the Interbay section, not Ballard. If elevated has a negligible improvement on customer experience, I’d rather have the at-grade route through interbay.

        Don’t discount maintenance costs – over the next 100 years, the total maintenance cost will exceed the original construction cost. Considering the total cost of ownership is important, particularly if you fancy yourself someone that is evaluating over a 100 year time horizon.

  2. Minor correction. All the interbay alignments should have the W directional, not NW. It should be 17th Ave W and W Dravus St, etc.

  3. I’m fine with a 15th Ave station if (and pretty much only if) Sound Transit makes a commitment to pursue a future east-west line with a station in the vicinity of 22nd-24th Ave. If this is to be the only station in Ballard, it needs to be closer to the main commercial core of Ballard. Spend the money to do it right. All the very valid arguments against putting the station on 14th (quite a bit of single-family and industrial zoning in the walkshed) apply almost as well as to 15th.

    1. Once again we are watching ST making decisions without a clear picture of what the the future system could or should be.

      yes to a station farther west in Ballard!, but the way ST thinks I think they will consider 15th to be close enough and not worth spending the millions for another station to the west. Buses running down 24th and taking a left turn on market will also be part of the solution I’m sure.

      I’m afraid that this is it for getting a station in west ballard.

    2. How about putting the station at the car dealership on Leary and Ione?

      It’s a nice underutilized plot of land large enough to hold a station construction site, and would only displace one business.

      Car dealerships don’t really belong in urban centers, anyway.

      1. I don’t hate it. It’s a little closer to things like the library, and a more pleasant walk than anything involving the 15th/Market intersection. I’d prefer something on or north of Market so that it’s not in the heart of the historic district that will never build up, but I understand that finding a better construction site than a car dealership might be a challenge.

      2. Good luck with that. Carter is one of the highest revenue Subaru and VW dealers in our country and they represent by far the largest tax generating business in Ballard.

        If you think the Sand & Gravel and Ballard Oil guys were a pain to deal with during 20+ years of litigation on the Burke Gilman trail, the legal and political influence of Carter would guarantee a multi-decade long and very expense legal battle for ST.

      3. At the end of the day, somebody is going to have to be displaced to make room for a station, or else Ballard will get no station – reading the tea leaves, I’m now thinking the most likely candidate is Wallgreens. ST has been leaning towards 15th anyway, and both parcels on the north side of 15th are new multi-story apartment buildings, so that leaves just Wallgreens and Safeway on the south side. Walgreens is on the side of 15th that’s closer to the core of Ballard, plus the train tracks are going to be west of 15th in Interbay, which means a station east of 15th would require the tracks to cross 15th somewhere, while a station west of 15th wouldn’t. This means that the engineering work should be simpler and cheaper if the station is west of 15th, rather than east of 15th.

        Then, you have to look at what kind of impact the displacement of the affected businesses would have on Ballard resident’s daily life. Wallgreens, people can live without, as most of the stuff sold there can be bought at Safeway or Bartell Drugs across the street. Losing the Safeway would force a large number of nearby residents to travel several blocks further to get to a grocery store – which doesn’t mean much if you’re driving, but means a lot if you’re walking. In theory, ST could take just the parking lot and gas station of the Safeway, leaving the store, itself, intact, but the store would likely fight it, claiming that they would not be profitable without all that parking – even though they have even more parking in a garage underneath the store. Overall, the path of least resistance seems to be the Wallgreens lot.

        If you really wanted to move the station further west, the Carter Subaru lot is really the only property that could fit a station and its construction footprint, without demolishing a large number of other homes and business nearby. But it’s far enough south of Market that it doesn’t really serve the areas north of Market any better than the corner of 15th and Market, itself. And much of the walkshed to the south is just industrial land. And it’s too far from the homes just east of 15th to really serve them at all. Overall, I think the Wallgreens lot does make for a more useful station, in the end. And, if Carter is able to pull strings so that they remain, at the cost of displacing a whole block of shops and restaurants on Ballard Ave., things get worse. Not only does Ballard lose a lot of what makes Ballard worth visiting and living in in the first place, but a large chunk of the station walkshed gets squandered by a car dealer right next door.

        The more I think about this, the more I see the Wallgreens lot as the path of least resistance, with the best cost/benefit ratio.

    3. Well, ST would say the 45th line isn’t voter-approved yet and its alignment hasn’t been studied in detail. Or at least that’s the excuse ST gave for not planning a transfer interface into U-District Station.

      Of course, the reason it isn’t voter-approved yet is that ST didn’t put it into ST3, so it’s kind of circular.

      1. Yes, I know full well that’s the reasoning that would be used. I’m saying that’s not really acceptable. Either this is the only station that will ever be built in Ballard or it isn’t. The right thing to do here depends on whether more stations are coming in the future.

        If we’re going to extend the Ballard line to the north, and add an east-west line, I think a 15th/Market station makes a lot of sense. If this will be the end of the line for the foreseeable future, spend a bit more to move the station toward the actual center of things.

        Before we commit billions of dollars to one location or another, Sound Transit should take a bit of time to come up with a long-range plan for what they want to do in this part of the city in the future. Of course it will all need to be ratified by the voters, but to not even consider the possibility of future expansion when deciding on station placement is insane.

      2. I agree with Eric on all his points. If we plan on extending rail in Ballard, then 15th makes the most sense. While I think that a lot of expansion is unrealistic (there will never be two lines to the airport, or even service to Lake City) it is quite possible (and I would say probable) that there will be more stops in Ballard. It is kind of crazy that we are only planning one, really. If the line is elevated then extending it to the north is very cheap, even if it doesn’t get you a huge amount. An east-west line (from the UW to Ballard) is already in the pipeline, and of course it would make sense to have a stop at 15th as well as 24th. That makes for exellent stop spacing, as well as good bus integration in the short and long term.

      3. Keep in mind that there’s a 6-story apartment building on the NW corner of Market/15th and something simlar on the NE corner. Which means if you have an elevated line terminating on either side of 15th, you can’t extend it without the expense and impact of demolishing a large building, which, today, is nearly new. And, if more large apartment buildings go up the next few blocks over, by the time ST 4 comes up, the problem gets worse. I guess you could run the extension on the ROW of 15th Ave. itself, but that would cut 15th to a single lane in each direction, which would cause significant delays for D-line people would stuck with during the construction.

        All in all, I think the best potential for extendability is to build the 15th/Market station underground, so that any future extension can continue underground. (This doesn’t mean the entire line needs to be underground – it can resurface a few blocks north of Market, if it extends to the north – there’s just no room to traverse those few blocks at or above grade).

      4. I will point out that a Ballard Station will need tail track at least two blocks long beyond the station platform (see discussion below); that’s what the maps above suggest. To move the platform closer to the Ship Canal would mean a greater elevation change from the platform to the street (the UW Station situation) regardless if it’s a bridge or tunnel (except maybe a moveable bridge).

        Thus, any option is probably going to have tracks go to at least 57th or 58th. That likely pretty much takes any aerial option off the table except 14th because residential buildings would be so close north of Market.

      5. Which means if you have an elevated line terminating on either side of 15th, you can’t extend it without the expense and impact of demolishing a large building, which, today, is nearly new.

        Any reason an elevated line couldn’t run down the middle of 15th? It’s seven lanes wide at the Market Street intersection. No need to demolish any buildings that way.

        Again, this underscores the point about designing for future expansion. If you’re going to have the line continue north from Ballard, you probably don’t want the tracks in a place where you’re going to have to tear down new tall buildings to build the extension. If you’re not, that isn’t a concern.

    4. The strip from 11th to 15th all the way from Leary to 60th clearly would have to be radically up-zoned if a station were placed on 14th NW. But if it were upzoned it would be a third Urban Center in north Seattle, almost equidistant from the U District and Northgate.

      “Old Ballard” could then become the entertainment center for a large new living/working cluster with great transit connections in every direction. Turn the Safeway into one of those urban markets like New Seasons or Whole Foods in downtown Portland with underground parking and a twenty story residential tower above it. Take an elevator to shop for your food.

      If the Green Line gets extended to Lake City — a big “if” unless the leg allows independent sub-area projects which should be very high on the Democrats’ program for the coming legislative session — and Ballard/UW/Childrens is ever built (yes, with an end station at 22nd), 14th and Market would have very quick transit connections to all of Seattle north of the ship canal.

      1. Addendum:

        It is correct that you can’t continue north of 65th on 14th NW, except as a tunnel. However, it is possible to take the north side of 64th for an elevated “wiggle” over to 15th, since 15th itself wiggles at 65th. A station in that block would serve the high school and residences in the area. North of 65th traffic is relatively lighter than the section south of Market so interrupting the two-way left turn lane for supports would be less of an impact than father south and stations along the street would not be so noisy and stinky.

        Yes, taking a block of residences is not generally a good thing.

      2. In the spirit of armchair transit planning, you could also just travel from 14th to 15th through the High school super block, if that was paired with a reconstruction of the high school campus. It could be a win-win if Sound Transit went to the school district and said, “hey, we’ll build you a brand new high school if you let us build a station on the west edge of your property,” particularly if the high school building is in need of a major rehab/rebuild anyways.

      3. The Ballard High School building opened in 1999. It’s not really worn out yet, and shouldn’t be even by the time Ballard Link opens.

  4. “Near” Dravus? Five of the eight alignments show a station location some distance north of Dravus. While realizing that this is still preliminary design, there is assuredly some reason they chose to depict those 5 stations away from Dravus while the other 3 are AT Dravus. As most of the guideways are elevated here, there is no reason to not site the station immediately over Dravus as is depicted in their “representative project.” The non-Dravus station locations serve precisely nothing – no walkshed, no real chance at improved density, and a walk of some distance from any bus service located on Dravus.

    As this will be a transfer point for anyone taking transit from Magnolia, they need to get this right. Based on ST’s station locations to date, I have little faith that they will do so. I hope that Metro gets involved with this, along with the City of Seattle. There is clearly more time to fix this issue, but it should be made clear that placing a station “near” connecting/through bus service as at Mount Baker, NE 145th, Northgate, etc. is not acceptable save it being the only possible place to put a station due to topographical or other unavoidable issues. As there are alignments shown that do place a station at Dravus this would not seem to be the case here.

    1. If it were a building it would be called “Transit-Adjacent Development” as compared to “Transit-Oriented Development”. ST, please don’t build any TAD; that’s not what a transit agency should do.

    2. I agree Scott. It is essential that the Dravus stop work well for buses. That is the main customer base. No matter where you put the station, you will have limited walkup riders, as there is too much land taken up by bridges, roads, railways and parks. Just as with 130th and 145th, the key is to make it work for buses. Not only for Magnolia, but for north Queen Anne (SPU, etc.).

      1. Precisely. I think too often the powers that be don’t fully talk with each other about exactly how a rider will transfer from one mode to another and spend more time planning their part of the system in a vacuum. Yet is IS a system, and a system needs to mesh all parts or it really isn’t one. 145th is a disaster in that regard as ST clearly sited the station 1) for about 700 people who will drive and park, and 2) for a terminating bus service from Kenmore/Bothell. Cross-town travelers particularly from the west, who would be served by Metro, got screwed. At NE 130th it is imperative to not make that mistake as two major centers will be served by that station (Lake City and Bitter Lake) and this assuredly will be via a crosstown route between the two. The station needs to be located so that the transfer is direct and easy. The same goes for Dravus, which is why this map concerns me. It just doesn’t seem as if they did anything more than plop down a station in the vicinity and went “There you are.”

      2. “Cross-town travelers particularly from the west, who would be served by Metro, got screwed.”

        Not as much as it appears. The only ones who will be screwed are those who live directly on 145th. But Metro’s LRP has a 65 extension on NE 145th-5th-155th to Shoreline CC. And another Frequent route on Meridian-145th-5th to MT station and Roosevelt station. In the Alternatives Analysis many people said 155th is a stronger transit market than 145th because 155th & Aurora is the center of a shopping district and future urban village. The urban villages on Aurora are at 130th-135th and 155th, not 145th which is on the outer fringe of four neighborhoods (Bitter Lake, 155th, Northgate, and Lake City). So we need to stop thinking we must have an express bus on the 145th highway and think about where most passengers are going, which is to 155th & Aurora, 130th & Aurora, 145th & 35th, and maybe a future village at 145th & 15th.

      3. Mike, although you’re correct as to where the urban villages are – which is why we fought for 130th – the point wasn’t that there will (or won’t) be a bus on NE 145th, the point was that the station is at 147th, not 145th, meaning either a walk to the station or a bus diverted through two traffic signals to directly serve it. It’s even worse than it seems when you look at the preliminary station design and the pathway they’ve created from the station from the eastbound bus stop on 145th, which winds down UNDER the bridge and then back up to the station. Hopefully this will change to a simple street crossing, i.e. wait at the signal, cross, then walk two blocks to the station, but still….

        Riders of the LRP’s 65 are screwed because they will have to make either the walk to the station from NE 145th, assuming Metro does the sensible thing and does not divert the bus from 145th, or – for those continuing to Shoreline CC or 155th or wherever not called the 145th Street station – they will need to sit on the bus for probably 5 extra minutes so that the bus can turn off on 145th, turn again into the station, loop around to pick up/drop off passengers, then back out, turn again, turn once AGAIN onto 145th and resume its route. That’s a time penalty every day for anyone wanting to travel crosstown – hell, it’s a penalty to people transferring to the train compared to what a station actually AT 145th would’ve entailed. ST apparently only looked at the 522 as the only bus they cared about, and as they are terminating it at the station didn’t care where that was.

        The important frequent crosstown bus in that area will be at 130th and that’s why that station needs to be sited correctly for transfers. There is almost no walkshed at either location, so bus transfers are critical. They missed at 145th; hopefully at 130th – and Dravus, which has many of the same issues – they will more closely consider bus/rail transfers.

      4. The bus routes are on 5th between 145th and 155th so they go right in front of the station, like the 10 at Capitol Hill station. It won’t take two minutes to turn right on 145th and go through a low-volume intersection to 147th.

      5. I’ll take your word for it (not having the LRP in front of me), which does make things a bit better – however, again assuming that buses don’t actually go into the station area, except the 522 terminating there, it’s still not “right in front of the station” but rather over a block away. The station is hard against I-5 and is still nearly two blocks west of 5th, and when you throw in the long loop the buses need to take if they do directly serve the station, it’s a good three blocks of actual driving between leaving 5th and re-entering it. Based on the site plan and its meandering paths from 5th to the station, I’m assuming that the intent IS for all buses to detour into the station to eliminate walking and actually be “right in front of the station” (although not like the 10, which goes right past CHS without detours of any kind – that’s an example of a good rail/bus transfer!). That isn’t any better than what we have at TIBS today, and certainly isn’t best practice for routes not terminating there.

        There are actually going to be three signals on 5th – one at 5th/145th, which is a major intersection and will affect buses heading east from the station the most; one at the I-5 NB on ramp, which will certainly be busy during the PM rush and will also tend to delay buses leaving the station southbound; and one at 148th for the station entrance itself. While this signal will be low-volume (unlike the other two) most of the time, in the mornings and evenings on weekdays there will also be traffic from the garage for the buses to deal with. Three signalized intersections in three blocks – one at a major intersection, one at the only NB freeway on-ramp for all of North Seattle between Northgate and 175th, and one serving a 500-car garage, kiss-and-ride, and a not insignificant number of buses.

        Again, my point is that this is poor design for rail to bus transfers and where possible – such as at 130th and Dravus – all possible effort should be made to avoid this sort of thing. ST has not shown much interest in doing so to date.

  5. 14th is not a legitimate station location for the neighborhood or transit riders, and I really think ST is just anchoring so as to make 15th look more reasonable. Their MO here, as it has always been, is to cheap out, take minimal risk, throw some track down, just get it build, when does it get to the suburbs… Everyone needs to be fighting for a tunneled crossing and 17th station location. Future Ballard and your kids and grand kids will thank us.

    1. 14th does have a wide median where a streetcar used to be. That’s probably why it’s in the alternatives.

      1. The parking median on 14th looks like a great opportunity to get cost-effective right of way for the line – hard to pass up when you think about how much money the savings could pump into a better Salmon Bay/Ship Canal crossing. What’s not clear to me is what a 14th Ave alignment would mean for any extension north of 65th. It looks like a portion of 65th would need to be closed so the train could cross over to 15th (or, less ideally, shared with vehicle traffic). I understand the inconvenience of the 15 minute walk to (parts of) downtown Ballard, but riders could still use the station to get there. They use the Columbia City station today despite a 10 minute walk, and the heart of the Rainier Beach neighborhood is about 15 minutes’ walk from the Rainier Beach station. I know people in Ballard won’t like the concession, but they’ll also complain if ST doesn’t appear to be responsibly managing its budget. I think the option should be thoroughly considered, despite the obvious drawbacks.

      1. Only if you think 14th might be upzoned. What makes you think that is acceptable to the powers that be?

      2. 15th/Market seems to me like a better station location than 14th/Market, as long as we haven’t painted ourselves into a corner with new construction. But there’s got to be some way to leverage the fact that there are two big parallel ROWs within a block or less of where a station could be sited, one of which is vastly underutilized.

        If the line goes up 15th, perhaps with a fixed bridge, maybe some traffic, maybe RapidRide during construction, could go on 14th for a stretch?

        Also, somehow hopefully long before 2035 we need to improve that water crossing for bikes. Maybe a bicycle drawbridge could be placed under any future fixed Link bridge so there’s less of a climb and no incremental footprint in Salmon Bay.

        As for the station itself: An elevated station at 15th/Market could pay homage to the Googie Ballard Denny’s that visually anchored that corner for decades. Something inspired by that landmark could make an even better tunnel entrance, though we have yet to sample the muck under Salmon Bay so that idea might be a bit premature…

      3. Mike,

        Somewhere has to be upzoned. This is a natural location; it has relatively good access, is close to an entertainment district, two grocery stores and is, relatively speaking, “run down”.

      4. Something needed to be upzoned in 2006 when rents first started escalating, and HALA even included eliminating single-family zones at one point, but it was withdrawn amidst the mantra of “upzone only existing multifamily areas”.

    2. >> Everyone needs to be fighting for a tunneled crossing and 17th station location. Future Ballard and your kids and grand kids will thank us.

      I disagree. The ideal situation is a station at 15th and a station at 22nd or 24th (as mentioned above). Similarly, an elevated station at 15th and Market as well as a couple cheap stations at 65th and 85th would add a lot of value.

      1. 75th too! It’s a pretty dense neighborhood, and getting denser at least along the 15th Avenue corridor where such things are currently allowed by zoning. A mile between stops is too far. People living a couple blocks off the line shouldn’t have to walk two-thirds of a mile to get on the thing.

      2. I assume you don’t mean for the north-south line to turn west toward the nearby shore barrier, so you’re referring to Eric’s guarantee of both 24th and 15th stations on the 45th line? ST is in no mood to make any commitments about the 45th line, so it’s a counterfactual situation. What would you want in the absence of such a commitment?

        I’m having a hard time feeling strongly about any of the alternatives, because all of them have tradeoffs and none of them would be the end of the world.

      3. @Mike — I mean build the Ballard to UW subway with a stop at 15th and 24th in Ballard. The station at 24th is certainly justified, given the density there (higher than anything in West Seattle, Snohomish County, Pierce County, etc.) and relative cost (cheaper than building West Seattle Link, Everett Link, etc.). I am also suggesting extending the north-south line farther north. The stops north of there aren’t as good, but if the line is elevated, it is fairly cheap to extend it. The logical endpoint is 85th, which would make for a good transit grid. The 45 would connect Greenwood to Link very quickly, while still following the straight shot east-west.

  6. Nothing but downtown Ballard is acceptable. Bus routes can be changed way more easily than rail routes, and here’s the biggie: light rail serves pedestrians, not cars! The Capitol Hill and downtown stations work because they’re in centrally located, pedestrian-heavy, car-light areas. The biggest jump in ridership happened when the Capitol Hill atation opened.

    The Sodo stations are in pedestrian-light, car-heavy areas, and boardings are far, far less. Likewise, the Tukwila station has been open for a very long time, and has induced zero new density, because it’s also in a pedestrian-light, car-heavy area.

    This is our rail system for the future. It’s the only one we get in our lifetimes, and the lifetimes of many generations beyond us. We’ve been choosing easy over good, and this not only wastes our money, bit squanders opportunity for our children for a century to come. Seattle has a hundred-year history of half-assing things, having them fail because they’re half-assed, then tearing them down. Don’t make this mistake with public transit!

    1. Normally I’d agree but it’s pretty clear Seattle won’t be paying for an underground alignment. An elevated line through DT Ballard would be met with fierce opposition, rightfully so. As long as the 15th Ave station includes entrances on both sides of the street, ideally on all four corners, it would be an easy walk to old Ballard.

      We should be pushing ST as much as possible to NOT cheap out on station access.

    2. It’s rather curious that the Tukwila light rail stop has zero density. Why haven’t developers been knocking themselves out to build apartments/condos as they have with other light rail stops, e.g., Lynnwood. Is is zoning? Social class bias?

      1. There is a development in progress in the northwest corner; the owners of the middle-eastern shops in the strip mall are fretting about being displaced. The reason it has been so long in coming is probably a slow rezoning process at Tukwila City Hall and slow developer interest. The new hotness is in central Seattle and Rainier Valley where developers can charge a premium, and Tukwila and south King County will fill in only when developers think no more developable parcels are left in Seattle but the population is still expanding.

        Also, Tukwila has planned an urban village centered ten blocks north at 144th, so that may be were developers are most focusing in.

        As to the McDonald’s block in the northeast corner, I have no idea what’s happening there.

        The station parking lot is supposedly designed to be convertable to housing at some point in the future, so that’s something.

    3. Same trade-off, same arguments as above. Look, it is nuts to think that Ballard has only one station. But if you go underground, you are pretty much guaranteeing that. No extension north, and the money you spent won’t make it any easier to go east-west (which is really what we should be building first). Yes, it is nuts to think that “Ballard Link” will likely consist of only one stop, not very well located and not connected well at all with the rest of the north end (and much of the region). But that is what we started with, and the least we can do is set us up for the future.

  7. I get concerned when the debate about station locations is only two-dimensional. How will a bridge or tunnel affect station elevation at Dravus or in Ballard? Where will the transferring bus stops be? Will ST commit to pedestrian connections or will DT merely drop in one station entrance and then a platform with no down escalators? Why doesn’t ST just give us an estimate of the number of steps at each station alternative, and a distance for transferring to a major bus stop in hundreds of feet?

    I feel like the platform rectangles on the map are pretty dismissive about explaining the alignments well although I understand the intent is to begin a starting point. The problem comes in with cost estimating, in that ST’s recent track record on cost estimating has been terrible (and part of this is because of a routine low contingency factor placed into the project — lower than the FTA recommendation of 30 percent). Will ST publish the cost estimating sheets?

  8. So if ST is leaning heavily towards 15th, am I correct that this seems to indicate either a fixed bridge or tunnel crossing of the ship canal? I don’t see a moveable bridge / 15th combination.

  9. I think that the statement that there is poor bus/rail integration at 14th and Market is flat out wrong. The large median on 14th would allow for buses to pull right up to an elevated station or a tunnel station with plenty of room for layover which will be difficult on 15th or 17th. People need to stop thinking of buses and rail as separate. In reality, the train won’t go very far into Ballard or West Seattle, so making sure that there is layover and space adjacent to stations is critical. From a station on 14th, Metro could send buses down Market that went up 24th, 20th, 15th, 8th, etc that would also provide very frequent E-W service on Market. Plus you would stimulate development in the Frelard part of Market.

    1. The track record of bus transfer integration by ST inside Seattle is actually pretty terrible. That includes not only Mt Baker and UW, but the generally bad transfer situations along MLK and westbound on John Street. Bellevue TC will still sit across a busy, wide street too.

      I agree that the qualitative assessments presented here seem arbitrary.

      I’m particularly bothered by the lumping together of rail-rail and bus-rail transfers. The rail-rail transfer problems are fixed and entirely in ST’s control, where the bus-rail transfers are more flexible and involve other agencies.

    2. 14th and Market could be a good transfer point to a future “44 Subway”. Problem is obviously that isn’t coming soon and an alignment on 14th serves Downtown Ballard worse than 15th.

    3. Layover? What Layover? A bus on 15th will stop, let people off, and keep going — on 15th. That is what buses do. A bus on 14th spends the last two minutes of its trip turning off of 15th and heading to 14th. This is the city, not Mercer Island.

      14th is just bad. Bad from a walking standpoint — folks from the heart of Ballard will have to cross 15th. Bad from a bus integration standpoint (buses spending their time turning). Bad from a future expansion standpoint (you can’t go elevated on 14th all the way to 85th).

    4. The nearest layover I can think of is at Fred Meyer. (The Fred Meyer to Fred Meyer route to Lake City.)

  10. The only two options that make sense are the tunnel to 17th or Armory/14th. DO NOT RUN on the enormous car sewer named Fifteenth Avenue West/Northwest anywhere south of NW 65th. North of there the street is narrower and there is considerably less traffic, but anywhere south of BHS is a loser.

    What RBC said is absolutely correct. Fourteenth is a jewel of a right of way.

    1. Sorry “or movable bridge Armory/14th”. The nice thing about Armory is that the line can cross 15th West and go behind the ramps for the Smith Cove auto bridge. ST shows a portal as Prospect, but I think that you can just run “stair-step along the bottom of the hill behind the businesses. If some of them need to be knocked down and replaced after construction with something less deep from Elliott, well, so be it. The portal could be very close to Mercer Place.

      They probably put it at Prospect because it’s a “park”, but it’s really just a greenbelt. It’s way too steep for people to use for a parkland.

    2. Fourteenth is a jewel of a right of way.

      Yeah, a 14th Ave NW station will go over REAL well:

      Seattle: Hey Ballard, you’re getting a super fast monorail, so we’re going to upzone your neighborhood!

      Ballard: *grumble*


      Seattle: So yeah, turns out the monorail was nothing but a scam, but the song and dance was so convincing! So yeah, good luck with that upzone.

      Ballard: Seriously?

      *years later*

      Seattle: Hey, with this newfangled Sound Transit thing, we could probably get light rail to Ballard!

      Ballard: That’s great!

      Seattle: Exactly! But there’s no guarantee or timing at all on when it would even go up for a vote. In the meantime, have a magic, red painted, super bus! We know. we know, it’ll still get stuck in the same traffic you’ve been dealing with for decades and is worse than the expresses we’re cutting to accommodate it…but look how red it is!

      Ballard: WTF?

      Seattle: Oh yeah and since there’s maybe a possibility that you might get light rail in the next 1,000 years, we’re going to go ahead and increase the upzone, despite your transportation options not getting better, but arguably worse.

      *still more years later*

      Seattle: GREAT news Ballard, the voters approved a light rail line to Ballard!

      Ballard: YAY!

      Seattle: They wanted to build it in 2038, but we waved our arms around A LOT and got them to push it up to 2035, so have no fear, your relief is LESS THAN two decades away!

      Ballard: *dejected* Well, that’s better than nothing?

      Seattle: Oh and by the way, we’re going to put the station on 14th, across a major arterial and a loooong walk from all the upzoning that’s happened in the last 20 years.

      Ballard: *begins secession movement*

      Seattle: Why so glum? Have another upzone!

  11. Why would “at grade” add travel time? Eastbound MAX reaches 49 mph between Beaverton Creek and Millikan Stations because there’s a downgrade that helps the trains accelerate out of Beaverton Creek quickly. They also hit 55, the trains’ maximum speed, between Elmonica and 185th where the stations are farther apart than most on the Westside line. If there are no pedestrians or crossing vehicles, there is no reason that trains cannot be just as fast on the ground as they do on elevated structure.

    1. > If there are no pedestrians or crossing vehicles

      Well, that’s a huge “if”… see how at grade works on MLK for reference.

      1. What pedestrians cross the BNSF rail yards? Well, except for hobos. READ THE ARTICLE and see what “Armory/14th” means.

    2. I think the distance is slightly longer. I’d imagine speed is roughly the same; I don’t think there are any at-grade crossings.

    3. “Why would “at grade” add travel time?”

      There are two different definitions of at-grade. Technically it means on a ground surface, but in the popular mind it’s associated with level crossings which chew up travel time. Because “level crossing” means the same as “grade crossing”, and a line that goes over or under crossings to avoid them is “grade-separated”, so if you call an alignment “at grade” or “surface” it implies level crossings if there’s no qualification against it. So it’s important to be clear about which one you mean. That’s why it’s good that the article says, “(While 17th/Dravus would run at grade, it would be independent of other car or train traffic.)” Similarly, Shoreline and South King County will be at-grade in the I-5 right of way so they’ll share the freeway’s grade separation from cross traffic. In contrast, Bel-Red will have a level crossing but ST assures me it’s a low-traffic minor road. And apparently there will be some at grade or crossings in Redmond but I don’t know the details. At one point ST2 was 100% grade separated, but the cost of the Bellevue tunnel forced ST to economize elsewhere. As far as I know, the early ST3 plans are also 100% grade separated?

  12. There is a huge operational issue that I’ve never seen discussed. It appears that the train loads between SLU and ID will be so heavy that three-minute trains will be required.

    With trains at these frequencies, turning around trains at Ballard will be very difficult without an extra tail track. How does this impact the design? Will ST put a tail track in Interbay (an assumed OMF location) and send only half the trains to Ballard? Should the tail track be designed to make a future north-east split easier? Should this tail track be instead included in the station design — like putting in a stacked station or a station with three boarding zones rather than just two?

    Most importantly, why is the tail track issue not being laid out in each alternative, including its place in cost estimation and right-of-way needs?

    1. Why would the Ballard terminus be any different than Lynnwood, which will have 3-minute headways in 2024? I’d imagine there will be a cross-over immediately south of the station, and trains will simply alternative which side of the station they load/unload at, similar to existing terminus stations, but that’s way to specific of a design question this early in the process.

      I haven’t seen anything to suggest there will be an OMF in Interbay, where did you get that? The interface with an OMF is shown in SoDo.

    2. ST designed an extra tail track north of Northgate. ST did not design an extra tail track for Lynnwood. Even in Lynnwood’s case, the tail tracks extend about 800 feet beyond the end of the station platform. These ST drawings show only about 400 feet of tail track.

      How can you be so sure that Lynnwood won’t be a problem? Drivers need breaks. Drivers have to turn off a train, unlock and lock the cab door, get out of car 1, walk to the far end of car 4 (remember there are no open gangways) at a spot where you can’t get out of a train can easily, unlock and kick the cab door, turn on the train and synch with the control system. With no driver break, it is still going to take time to reverse a train and I’m highly doubting that ignoring a break is going to be acceptable as a matter of driver scheduling rules.

      1. I’ll add that the FTA documents show Lynnwood Link to be operated with four-minute trains and not three-minute trains.

  13. IMO the 17th tunnel is the way to go, but if money can’t be found I’m somewhat convinced by Richard’s argument that 14th wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    Too, I think if a station were to be built at 15th then ST will consider that close enough for the rest of Ballard; while a station at 14th might help make the case for another station on a Ballard to UW line at 22nd-24th – seeing as it is just that much farther away.

    Someone else mentioned the possibility of frequent buses running along market and then up the streets going north. The fact is that no matter where the station is there are going to be many buses bringing people there from all over NW Seattle, so it really should be something that is studied closely. Does Metro get a seat at the table when ST is considering all of this stuff, or do they think that Metro will figure it out after it’s built?

  14. Is it definite we won’t put an underground station under the little park at Market and Leary? If the ground will take it…what’s start date?- we might have machinery that could bore it deep enough to be reached by sloping concourses opening at, say, 17th, also 22nd.


    1. It’s in none of the current alternatives. The alternatives will probably be subtracted from, not added to, going forward. But they are just high-level proposals so another alternative could be added. But each additional alternative drives up the cost and delay, so we should think carefully before recommending one.

  15. While it’s heartening to hear that they aren’t pushing the 15th and Dravus station for Interbay. The 17th station isn’t that hot either, though definitely better than the 15th. I know the reason they are pushing it is because the 17th station allows for all 3 types of crossings.

    While my preferred station on 20th is limited to tunnel or fixed bridge. And really just the tunnel as the fixed bridge from 20th simply requires the acquisition of way to much occupied land on both sides of the crossings.

    The problem with 17th is how the buses will integrate with it. On 20th it’s simple to create a figure 8 bus route on Magnolia that will dump people down at the station for travel off Magnolia (replace 24/33 route). On 17th though it gets a little funky as any bus will have to turn onto Dravus and then onto 17, and then the reverse to get back to Magnolia.

    There will be little walk over from Magnolia to 17th street. The Dravus street bridge is not built for pedestrians at all. It is barely wide enough for a single person to walk down. So while it may be physically closer than 15th street is, it still has barriers for use in that regard.

    I guess my main point is this is the only major mass transit station Magnolia will ever get. So building the one that has maximum use for Magnolia is preferable. Otherwise Magnolians will just continue to do what they are doing now and that is driving on and off the hill for things as simple as just going to Ballard.

  16. “However, that area of the neighborhood is near capacity under current zoning, and the Ballard Avenue landmark district and working waterfront prevent the station’s walkshed from reaching its full development potential.”

    If ever a line is built to the east, it will service the walkshed centered around 8th/6th Ave. Until then, a station on 17th is no further from the not-even-zoned-for-TOD 8th Ave (3100 feet) as to the zoned-and-still-building-dense blocks on 24th. Moving the station to 15th pushes the distance to 3800′ from the west, which will never see an additional train stop, and shortens it to 2400 to the east, which very likely will get one. The idea that the station needs to be further east to stimulate TOD is rubbish, when the city as it exists now has built TOD denser and farther from an inferior transit line than future east growth would.

    “Also, the station would be far from 15th Avenue NW’s major north-south bus lines. The site would limit bus transfers from farther flung riders.”

    This value of this argument only exists until a single station north of Ballard is constructed, at which point it ceases to matter. Until then, passengers need only stay on the bus a single stop extra, to Dravus, to make their transfer. Or they walk 700 feet / 2 blocks. A permanent station shouldn’t be sited for a minor, temporary benefit.

    15th/Market has terrible value for walkshed and bus intercept as soon as the line is extended one stop east and north. When that happens, you want the Ballard stop to be as far west as feasible within Ballard.

    I’d like to see a bridge over 20th from Fishermen’s Terminal to 20th in Ballard. There’s already a “notch” in the Poly Clinic to allow an easy right turn on to Market. Have one line continue on Market eastward, while the main line makes the left turn up 15th for future stops at 70th, 85th,

    1. Examples of walksheds. Using MapZen to generate 10 minute walksheds. Note that in the worst case scenario with the next stops at 8th and 65th, more than half of the Ballard 10-minute walkshed is within the walkshed of the other stations. In the middle case, with a station at 17th, the entirety of the low-density area east of 14th that’s being used as “future TOD” justification to move the line eastward is still overlapped by both stations!

      Worst case: stops at 15th/Market, 8th/Market, 15th/65th.
      Middle case: stops at 15th/Market, 6th/Market, 15th/70th.
      Best case: stops at 20th/Market, 6th/Market, 15th/70th.

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