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.
Ballard Station & Ship Canal Crossing
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.