Northgate Station

It’s been almost a year since our last photographic update of the Northgate Link stations, and a substantial amount of progress has been made. Sound Transit still has its eyes on a September 2021 opening date for the line, but there is plenty of float time to burn while the most challenging construction has wrapped up. A bookie would place good odds on the opening being a few months early to take advantage of the summer break, but it’s still too soon to tell.

The two subterranean stations on the extension have been mostly closed up and are now peering above street level, allowing sidewalk superintendents to rest their necks and enjoy a view of progress that doesn’t require dirty and scratched up windows beyond the noise/dust walls.

The north entrance at U District Station, seen from the Brooklyn cul-de-sac

Both entrances of U District Station have become visible, although the north entrance at Brooklyn and 45th Street is still blocked by a wall. Those with long enough arms may be able to place their cameras in the keyhole in the concrete barrier, as I have done, or instead try one of the chain-link fences.

The framework for the stairs and escalators leading to the “upper landing” protrude out of the ground, with the future entryway only steps beyond the wall.

Looking through the keyhole at the north entrance of U District Station

The south entrance is located around the corner from The Ave and 43rd Street, and its headhouse is already rising well above the wall. Both entrances are at the end of low-traffic cul-de-sacs, so onlookers will have plenty of time to loiter around before boarding the nearby 45 bus to the next stop: Roosevelt Station.

The south entrance at Roosevelt Station

The two entrances at Roosevelt Station are easily visible to the collision-prone drivers passing by on NE 65th Street, thanks to the bright orange boards that are being used to cover exposed elements. A few pieces of the south entrance’s facade have been put in place, including brickwork that will surround the ticket vending machines.

The large red crane that hangs above the station and its adjoining staging area was dismantled last week, so these pictures capture a neighborhood icon in its final days. The crane was previously used to help build Capitol Hill Station, but its next job is currently unknown. Sound Transit even hosted a watch party to explain some of the crane dismantling process to high school students and passersby.

The north entrance at Roosevelt Station

The north entrance at Roosevelt Station is a bit further behind, with its framework left uncovered while work progresses inside the headhouse. There’s more brickwork here, but it’s facing away from the publicly-accessible area along 12th Avenue.

Northgate Station from the transit center sidewalk

At Northgate Station, things have been moving at a very rapid pace, leaving a mostly-complete framework from the mezzanine to the platform. The stairs and escalators at both entrances have been put in place, while work has started on the exterior walls for the mezzanine level.

Zoomed-in look at the stairs and escalators up to the mezzanine

The garage at the north end of the complex has been open for a few months and the covered levels that are currently open seem to be at or near capacity on a regular basis. The garage has one compelling feature for non-drivers: elevators with clearly-labeled floors, complete with an icon just for future Link riders! Hopefully Sound Transit comes around and corrects their mistakes at UW Station and other existing stations as soon as possible.

Northgate Station, from the northeast garage

The view from the shared mall/transit garage is as superb as usual, so long as you overlook the new garage’s yet-to-be-opened top deck blocking views of the north entrance. Facing the station’s platform at roughly eye level, it’s easy to spot the metal frames that will soon hold up maps and other pieces of rider information. Not seen, however, is whether Sound Transit will choose the University Link-style real-time arrivals screens or go with the older DSTT/Central Link-style LED signs.

Looking down the Northgate Link viaduct

Moving on from the station, the nearby Northeast 92nd Street overpass still has the best view of the short elevated approach that leads into the Maple Leaf Portal of the Northgate Link Tunnel. I was lucky enough to catch some of the contractor crews laying down guide rails that will mark out where the actual rails will go in due time.

The east side of the viaduct also has several privacy screens installed to block train riders from looking at the eye-level rooms of the nearby Hampton Inn. One hopes that NIMBYs don’t catch on and demand similar screens for every last inch of future extensions.

The Northgate curve and Northgate Mall

The overpass also has a great view of the doomed Northgate Mall, which will see massive redevelopment to coincide with the opening of Northgate Station. Expect further coverage from the blog on the redevelopment plan, which currently sits on the border between awful and mediocre when compared to the sheer potential offered here.

The next installment of your STB Photo Walkabouts will be an update from the Eastside, which will have to be broken between several parts. It’s a fair bit harder to track on foot and by transit, but well worth the trip if you have a sunny day with nothing better to do.

42 Replies to “Photo Tour: Northgate Link, Two Years Out”

  1. Wouldn’t they be “NIMBR’s” (not in my bed room)? And, yes, the membership will explode when word gets out about the Ballard Station……

    1. I mean, calling attention to it in a public forum is the best way for NIMBY’s to get the attention of a non-issue…

      1. There’s a spot just north of Angle Lake Station where the elevated tracks pass the backside of a hotel, maybe even closer than Northgate.

    2. When I was riding the Vancouver SkyTrain Expo line, I flashed past a medical building where someone was getting an examination. Wait, did I just see what I thought I saw? And you thought the nude beach was unusual.

  2. Can somebody remind me what the operating frequency will be for each of the segments in 2023, which ST2 is fully built-out (but before any ST3 extensions open)?

    My assumption was that the all-day network would have a train from Bellevue every 10 minutes, plus a train from SeaTac every 10 minutes, combining for a train every 5 minutes from the International District to Lynnwood. Is this still happening?

    1. I would think so, with peak frequency of 6 minutes/3 minutes. That would be the same as today for the south end section. Both the East Side and South parts of Link allow no more than six minute headways, and aren’t likely to have the all day demand as the core (between the UW and downtown). So 6/3 during peak and 10/5 off peak sounds about right.

    2. Last I heard, 2021 frequency will stay the same, 10 off-peak and 6 peak, albeit with all 4-car trains. In 2023 the blue and red lines will interline from Chinatown to Northgate, with some sort of combined but not yet announced frequency. The most commonly speculated is both lines running 10 minutes off peak and 8 minutes peak, for 4 or 5 minute combined service. Note that this would actually be a service cut for Rainier Valley/Tukwila/SeaTac after enjoying two years of 6 minute peak with 4-car trains. A full 10 off-peak, 6 peak would be awesome with 3 minute combined, but that might overserve the blue line?

      1. From what I recall, the ST2 full buildout calls for 10 minute peak and 8 minute off-peak on both lines with all 4-car trains, and the number of light rail cars ordered reflect that. They could decide to keep 6-minute headways, but they would likely need to run some 3-car trains, or they could do all 4-car trains every 8 minutes.

      2. Yeah I could see even 10/6 headways with 4-car red line trains and 3-car blue line trains. That’s an elegant way out of the problem of cutting RV service in 2023.

    3. The Lynnwood FFGA states 8 minutes each (4 combined ) and 10 minutes each (5 combined) so I think that’s pretty much what’s promised.

      You raise a good question about actual schedules though. As we get closer to opening day, the practical realities of scheduling, driver work rules and train switches have to be considered.

      Then there is the issue of timing of each extension’s openings. We will have Northgate, East Link, Redmond extension, Lynnwood and Federal Way opening on different days within six years. Each opening will require changes to schedules.

      The 3/6 minute peak is promised in ST3 but I don’t think that ST3 details a start year for that.

      1. That’s a PEAK 8 minutes each (4 combined ) and an OFF-PEAK 10 minutes each (5 combined).

    4. “Can somebody remind me what the operating frequency will be for each of the segments in 2023, which ST2 is fully built-out (but before any ST3 extensions open)?”

      I think you meant to say 2024. Currently Lynnwood Link is not expected to open until then, and I could easily see its opening sliding until 2025 based on the latest quarterly Link update.

  3. Good pics and post. Question. Does anyone have an estimated walk time from about the middle of the Northgate TC bus bays to the Link Platform? From the looks of things, I’m guessing 5 to 7 minutes.

    1. Sam, when the Link Station is complete it will include a new Transit Center at its base, and the existing Northgate TC will be demolished. So the walk time should be as quick as getting off the bus and getting up to the platform. Not sure if that helps with your questions.

    2. ST details that it will be possible to walk from the bus bays to the platform without crossing any street using the southern entrance/exit. I’m not sure where the final detailed plans are on the ST web site, like the placement of escalators, elevators and stairs; everything there now appears to be several years old. Assuming that you can walk up/down stairs, it would appear to only take a minute or two. There is a mezzanine that will take riders above the street to get to a spot between the tracks where riders can go up to the center platform. That mezzanine will also cross over to the Northgate pedestrian bridge across I-5.

      Your comment does wave a flag that station layouts proabably should be more clearly explained on the revamped ST web site.

      1. My bad. I don’t really keep-up with the Northgate area. Upon further digging, I now see the underneath bus transit center. And it looks like apartments will go in where the current transit center is?

  4. Has anyone come up with a good explanation as to why the Northgate Link subway stations need so much superstructure? If you look at any other city, or even Capitol Hill, their subway stations are either a hole in the ground with stairs/escalators leading into it and a standalone elevator nearby (NYC, Chicago), or a small enclosure containing stairs/escalators/elevators, like Hollywood/Vine on the LA Metro Red Line or Kendall/MIT on the MBTA Red Line.

    I regularly wait for the bus across from the Roosevelt construction site and it just seems like it’s about 5 times larger than it needs to be.

    1. My guess is current ADA, ventilation, or emergency evac codes are more rigorous than on older systems? We also seem to insist on mezzanines around here so that all entrances lead to all platforms.

      1. Yeah, ventilation is the only thing I can think of that might be different, since it’s a fairly deep station.

        Mezzanines and all that shouldn’t matter, since they’re underground.

    2. Honestly, most of the people involved with ST station design appear to not have much experience learned from designing high-volume subway stations elsewhere. In Seattle, it seems to be more about how much of an aura of local prestige someone has than any relevant experience.

      Perhaps with so many projects underway, more experienced design staff will have more impact in good subway design.

    3. Can you really tell what it is going to look like already? I assume that once they are all done, they will have a small entrance or two, but the land above where they are digging will have a building on top of it. Speaking of which, has that been decided, or is it a matter of selling the land after it is all done?

      But in general, we overbuild our stations in the United States, which is one of the many reasons why our expenses tend to be higher than most countries. The Pedestrian Observations blog has a lot of information about it, but specifically check out item number 2 here: Americans just love their mezzanines, even when the don’t serve a purpose. Interestingly enough, Sound Transit took the cheap route towards building the underground stations, in building them cut and cover (like Europeans, instead of Americans).

      Anyway, I think the blog is very informative. I especially like the myth busting he does with regards to costs. For example, European cities routinely add elevators; they just cost less to build them there.

      1. Wow! What a detailed but depressing linked opinion, RossB!

        I’m particularly impressed how the author bluntly points out so much specificity. I’m sure there is another side to each criticism — but it’s still refreshing to read more than an agency’s typical rah-rah except little unexpected problem press releases and summary presentations for impatient boards.

        The Seattle mezzanine conundrum: Why are they so big and wide, but not longer so that people are instead forced to cross adjacent surface streets at signals?

      2. Al S., re: mezzanines:

        Not saying it’s the right approach (it’s not), but I can offer a few guesses.

        It’s probably got to do attempting to cut costs by not occupying multiple disconnected parcels for construction at once, or wanting to avoid the street closures and disruption associated with digging a cut-and-cover passageway under an arterial street. I didn’t live here when Capitol Hill station was built. Does anyone know how long Broadway was closed for while they dug that passage?

      3. The Roosevelt Station entrances span the whole length of 12th from 65th to 66th and from 66th to 67th. Nothing will be built above the station. During design they said that strengthening the structure to support building atop it would cost too much given the limit zoning height (they’d only get a couple floors or so). There’s so much superstructure because it’s ventilating the whole tunnel from U District to Northgate iirc.
        Renderings at the end of this PDF.

        U District Station will have a building above it.

      4. I vaguely remember most of the Broadway underpass was built by closing half of the street at a time, except for some strategic closures that lasted a few days or weeks. Of course, the FHSC tracks were also getting laid about the same time, so I don’t remember how that phasing went and how it dovetailed with the pedestrian tunnel on Broadway.

      5. Thanks for the link to Roosevelt renderings!

        Does this mean that ST will again build down escalators to the mezzanine, but not all the way down to the platform? Does anyone else have an issue with this approach to down escalators?

        Someone with some mobility problems or luggage or a stroller has a choice to use escalators or elevators. They see a down escalator and take it — only to get down one level to find that they have to call the elevator anyway!

      6. Thanks David. Well I guess that answers that question. It does indeed take up most of the block and it does so because it needs to ventilate (and it isn’t cost effective to build over it). The mezzanine is still silly though.

      7. Wasteful zoning strikes again! I like it when station entrances are unobtrusive doorways as part of a larger building, like Westlake Station, or Vancouver’s Granville Station, or London’s Leicester Square.

    4. I’ve often wondered the same thing–why the huge aboveground stations when all the rail infrastructure is underground? It looks like the Roosevelt station, for instance, has a lot of pointless glass-walled space aboveground, and now you’re telling me there is also a pointless mezzanine belowground. Sometimes it seems like ST simply wants to tax and spend as much as possible. It makes me wish they would get a bloody nose in Olympia with one of those car tab bills. It should be noted that ST saved half a billion dollars while making the 185th St station better, ie more compact.

      It’s not like they don’t know how to do it right. The downtown transit tunnel has totally unobtrusive entrances every station. The underground stations are huge, true, but somehow they solved the “ventilation” problem without building huge structures on the surface.

      1. “I’ve often wondered the same thing–why the huge aboveground stations when all the rail infrastructure is underground?”

        Ditto for me, as I’ve had the same thoughts as expressed by @Pat and @Chris Burke. I just don’t get the need for such large footprints for station boxes for these underground rail lines. As a former NYer who grew up using mass transit in the city and having familiarity with rail lines there, as well as Boston, Chicago, etc., I just don’t understand why ST insists on designing stations this way. FWIW, I think the CHS was also an “overbuild” and it seems to be the model for the way ST likes to do things.

        What bugs me the most about this approach is the abuse of eminent domain whereby excessive space for construction staging results in private parcels being condemned, and then ultimately listed as surplus property after construction and sold to another private party. Frankly, I get the impression that ST just likes to have a lot of open space to work with on their projects. I may be mistaken on this but I seem to recall that the Roosevelt Station property acquisitions ultimately resulted in 50% of the total ending up as surplus property. (I’ll try to back that up with a source or two later once I have the time to dig up the info.)

      2. Mezzanines are pretty common in other systems in this country. When I visited Boston I found that some of their older side-platform stations don’t have them, and you have to go to one entrance for an inbound train and another for an outbound train. I thought that was really unusual. But the mezz at Roosevelt isn’t even going to be useful.

        FWIW, Tlsgwm, I think deeper stations have greater ventilation requirements than the shallower cut-and-cover stations in most of the NYC subway, which can just use sidewalk grates. If you streetview some of the newer stations on the Second Avenue Subway, some of which are deeper than the Northgate Link tunnel, for example 72 St, they come with large “ancillary buildings” for ventilation and other machinery separate from the entrances. There’s a multi-story ancillary/ventilation building at the NW corner of 72nd St/2nd Av. It looks like ST just decided to integrate all that into the station entrances here.

      3. Ha! That building in NYC is interesting looking, to say the least. But its footprint is still way smaller than Roosevelt Station’s. How did they account for ventilation in Seattle’s downtown transit tunnel?

      4. The DSTT is a shallow cut-and-cover tunnel, so its ventilation needs aren’t as great. I haven’t been paying enough attention to know if it has sidewalk grates or consolidated ventilation equipment somewhere.

      5. Oh, I guess part of it is also bored.

        Point stands, though, it’s not as deep as the U-Link/NG-Link tunnels.

      6. Those half block long slippery metal grates in the middle of 3rd ave in front of Beneroya Hall are vents, aren’t they? They are just not stacks.

  5. Looking at these pictures still does not help me understand why the opening date is more than two years away.

    1. Systems testing is listed as taking about 20-21 months. That means that once a project appears complete, there is still a long wait period.

      Systems testing has resulted in delays for many recent rail projects including ones for BART to San Jose and DC Metro to Dulles. Of course, Seattle’s FHSC also was delayed after the project appeared finished. There are many types of systems that much be acceptably operating — and if just one fails, it can easily delay the opening date.

    2. Thing left to do.
      Finish construction.
      Then string the poles and wire there will be a lot of voltage testing to make sure that the system is isolated.
      Then they will need to run trains full loaded with weight up and down the track to check the system a bunch of times to verify speeds and stopping distances for the new trains sets.
      There is also 165 day of float left in the Schedule so if all goes well that could lead to an early opening. There is also a matter of getting all the new cars here and assembled. The track could be ready to go and not have enough train set to keep the frequency they promised.

  6. Following up on my own comment above….

    The following excerpt is from ST Board Resolution 2017-09:

    “The proposed Roosevelt TOD properties were obtained for Northgate Link Extension light rail
    construction in 2007 and 2008. Federal funds were used in purchasing all of the properties, with a federal interest of 86.5 percent. All buildings on the parcels were demolished or relocated from the site in order to construct the Roosevelt Link Station and to provide space for construction staging. Fifteen parcels were purchased in the immediate station area, consisting of approximately 107,442
    square feet of land.

    “Upon completion of construction and associated construction staging, three sites consisting of seven properties will no longer have a foreseeable transit use and will be excess property. Those three sites consist of the Central Site (portion of NL705) of approximately 53,000 SF, the North Site (all of NL851 and NL853) of approximately 6,120 SF, and the South Site (all of NL687 and NL699 and portions of NL689 and NL701). The Central Site is anticipated to be excess in the first quarter 2020 and the North and South sites excess in the fourth quarter of 2021.”

    Although it’s left out of the narrative above for some strange reason, the South Site parcels add another 3,500 sq ft of surplus property, for a total of about 62,600 sq ft of surplus out of the 107,400 sq ft acquired. (There’s a map of the parcels involved attached to the resolution that is quite helpful.) 23%2C 2017&facet_1807%5Bend_date%5D=Mar 23%2C 2017

    1. I’m not sure what happened to the link there, but if you go to the ST Board documents page and do a search on resolutions from March 2017, you’ll come across the one I’ve referenced above.

  7. With such a rise in drop-off and pick-up activity (even coordinated programs with Uber/Lyft), how will this new turn-around traffic affect these stations? Will any of this cut through on neighborhood local streets? It’s not enough to merely have a three-minute loading zone.

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