by Dale Menchhofer

Overview of the better Ballard option

tl;dr: This post proposes a new option for the Interbay – Ballard segment of the West Seattle – Ballard light rail project that is measurably and significantly better than any of the remaining official options. The major components are (1) an aerial bridge over the BNSF rail yard, (2) an optional station at Fisherman’s Terminal, (3) a shorter tunnel under Salmon Bay, and (4) a station at 20th Ave NW and NW Market St.

This option has the highest possible value—retaining the high quality of a tunnel, but with significantly higher ridership, and at a competitive cost. In fact, it has a lower capital cost per rider than any of the official options. It has opportunities to turn Port of Seattle and BNSF into 3rd party funding sources, instead of potential adversaries. In spite of its superior characteristics, the only hope it has of becoming the preferred alignment is if enough of you support it in ‘scoping’ comments submitted to Sound Transit. Find handy links to do that at the end of the post. 

Intro: why this option is optimal

The best possible ridership puts the station location in the center of the urban village, at 20th Avenue and Market Street. This location is closest to all of the current density, and closest to potential future development.

This option uses the shortest tunnel possible for crossing the ship canal of any practical location. It is about 10-12 % shorter than the 14th or 15th Avenue tunnel options. It is 28% shorter than the “BNSF West/20th Tunnel” option rejected in Level 1 scoping. The shorter the tunnel, the less costly the option. The limiting factors preventing the tunnel from being even shorter are (1) a maximum 5% grade and (2) allowance of 25 feet between the top of the tunnel and the bottom of the ship canal. 

In order to reach the shortest possible tunnel, it is necessary to bridge over the BNSF rail yard. I acknowledge that would generally be unwise, but in a later section, I explain why this route is different; why it is uniquely feasible.

There is no practical route using a high fixed bridge to reach a station on 20th Avenue, because of impacts on the legally protected Ballard Landmark District. A tunnel is the only way to do it that does not sacrifice quality.

This option has two additional advantages. It has a net reduction in properties taken, thereby reducing cost further. By eliminating a curve, the Interbay station can actually be at Dravus Street, a better location.

14th and 15th Avenue options have significant drawbacks

Without this option, the option most likely to be chosen as the preferred alignment is the 14th high-bridge option. The simple reason is that it would be the only option left after discarding the drawbridge option, which the public has loudly denounced, and the tunnel options, which add too little value for the money.

A station on 14th would be disastrous for ridership. It would invite derision by critics as a “line to nowhere.” It would jeopardize the chances for passage of any ST4 proposal.

Avoiding complete disaster for the high-bridge option would require finding some way to get the station located on 15th instead of 14thh. That would likely involve taking a LOT of expensive properties. Adding still more expense, a station at 15th requires 3 pedestrian bridges to function reasonably well. One bridge would have to cross Market east of 15th for the sake of transit connections. To keep the walkshed from being severely stunted, a bridge would be required across 15th, and a third across Market west of 15th. A station on 14th does not need one for transit connections, but does need the latter two, in order for the walkshed to extend anywhere beyond 15th.

Possible paths to selecting this better option as the preferred alignment

  1. Because this 20th Avenue option costs less than the existing tunnel options, and would have substantially more ridership, making a case on the basis of lowest cost per rider might be just enough to win approval.
  2. The second path to success emphasizes avoiding a poorly performing station on 14th. There is a reasonable chance that the added costs necessary to scoot the line over from 14th to a station on 15th, plus the costs of adding pedestrian bridges, might add up to a higher total cost than a better 20th Avenue option. 
  3. If two options are advanced as preferred, as ST staff have indicated is a possibility, then one would be a cheaper option, and the other would be contingent on securing 3rd party funding. In that event, we would want the more expensive option to perform better than what a station at 15th can do. If the only path to this better option depends on 3rd party funding, then this option has a realistic way to get Port of Seattle to become that partner. This route has an optional added station at Fishermen’s Terminal which could supply the incentive and justification they would need. (It would perform reasonably well too, with bus and bicycle connections, and a respectable amount of employment in the vicinity.)

Re-examining the “West of BNSF/20th/Tunnel” option

The only prior option proposing a station on 20th was discarded in Level 1 scoping. The reasons are summarized on page 50 of this document. The principal reason was due to the high cost of a longer tunnel. I have already explained that this new option has the shortest possible tunnel, so that reason does not apply.

ST says that the 20th station would require “construction and displacement within Ballard core.” The map on page 50 shows the station spanning Market Street, which implies an open pit to construct the station, disrupting busy Market Street. In contrast, the option I am presenting puts the station immediately north of Market. Since the tunnel would be bored under Market, this station placement avoids disruption of Market Street. (Access to station entrances on the south side of Market would be mined.) This station placement also brings the platform about 10 feet closer to the surface and slightly improves the walkshed. 

20th is a far quieter street than Market, so a cut-and-cover technique ought to be sufficient, especially since there are standard techniques to keep one side of the street open at all times, and to install a temporary lid as soon as possible. If these techniques are not deemed sufficient, then the station and tail track can be mined. That is more expensive, but if it is the only way to get a better station location, so be it. 

The bubble chart on page 49 identifies two more criteria ranked as “lower Performance.” I believe “Engineering Constraints” expresses concern that the right of way on 20th might be too narrow to allow uninterrupted sidewalk access while excavating the full width of a station. If so, the solution is once again to mine the station, although cheaper conventional techniques could still be used for the narrower tail track. 

“ST Long Range Plan Consistency” apparently means that expanding the line north would require expensive tunneling to get to daylight on 15th. That is so, but at least it has a clear path to do it. In contrast, there is no good way to extend north from an elevated station on 14th. As for extending north from an elevated station on 15th, ST staff has said that there is enough room to squeeze past the new building still under construction, but since the available area is narrower than that for the representative alignment over on Elliott Avenue, call me skeptical. Regarding inability to turn the line toward UW, Ballard-UW is better done as an intersecting line, not as an extension.

20th Avenue is centered on the urban village

Census tract 47 extends from 8th Avenue to 24th Avenue, and from 60th Street to the Ship Canal. In 2018, the area of the tract west of 15th had 2 ½ times more population than east of 15th. And it has been pulling away. In percentage terms, it grew 4 times as much from 2010-2018 (86.6% vs. 21.8%), and 3¾ as much in the prior decade. 

A 5 minute walkshed for 20th captures most of the taller buildings in the area, while 15th reaches a small fraction, and 14th reaches only a handful of buildings. A 10 minute walkshed for 20th gets to all except far-flung buildings at or beyond the corners of the urban village. The 10 minute walkshed for 15th barely gets to 60%. 14th doesn’t even get to 20%. 

Land uses other than housing also favor 20th. The cinema alone generates 300 trips every weekend night. The hospital alone generates about 500 trips daily, for patient visitation and outpatient purposes, that is, not counting employee commuting. Both of these are easily within the walkshed of 20th, but are outside the 5 minute walkshed of 15th. 

Anyone at all familiar with the neighborhood knows that for every single retail store, restaurant, coffee house, bar, nightlife venue, or professional service business in the walkshed of 15th, there are approximately 10 examples of them in the walkshed of 20th. About all that 14th can claim are 3 brewpubs, a set of hair salons, and a thin veneer of low-rise apartments bordering 14th or Market.

Sound Transit found (p. 29) that a station on 17th generally had a couple thousand more daily riders than one on 15th.  Given the demographics and land use patterns I’ve described, this seems like an understatement.  Furthermore, a station on 20th should amplify the trend.

14th would get few riders except those who transfer from a bus. 20th would get all of those, plus perhaps almost as many on foot. In other words, the ridership for a station at 20th may well be close to double that of a station at 14th. 15th would be somewhere in between, but closer to 14th. If we were to rank ridership using the bubble chart method, 14th would deserve an empty circle, 15th a half circle, and 20th a complete, filled-in circle. 

 A huge swath on the south side of the walksheds for both 14th and 15th is consumed by land uses that generate little pedestrian traffic: auto services, contractors with trucks heading to jobsites, and manufacturing. Even after construction impacts are past, a station at 14th or 15th would threaten the long-term viability of those businesses. 

In contrast, a station at 20th would be surrounded by compatible land uses: numerous tall apartments and condos, a denser employment base, retail, hospital, professional services, restaurants, bars, coffee houses, entertainment and nightlife. Once a station is built near those, increased foot traffic will help them thrive.

Even if the boundary of the urban village is extended east, as has been proposed, and even if the current single family dwellings were all replaced by dense redevelopment, these stations would still underperform! A large fraction of the walkshed would still lie outside the upzoned area, and would still have incompatible land uses. Also, a station still close to the edge of the density can never catch up to a station in the center of it. 

The cycle time of traffic lights at the intersection at 15th and Market is inherently lengthy, due to high vehicular volumes and left turn signals for every direction. Consequently, it takes up to 2 ½ minutes to cross in any direction. Crossing in both directions takes up to 3 minutes. The average is a bit less, but I used the maximum in determining the walkshed boundaries, for two reasons. First, people are annoyed by long waits more than they notice shorter waits, and perception matters. Second, in order to arrive on time, any rational traveler has to plan for the longest likely travel time. 

Since 5 minutes is the average time for a ¼ mile walk, these lengthy delays cut the southwest quadrant of the walkshed down to 2 ½ blocks, and the northwest quadrant to a meager 2 blocks. 

Bus-rail integration

The location on 20th works better for buses in ways that are not obvious. We should assume that existing bus routes 17, 18, and D would terminate wherever the station is located, consistent with the Metro Connects 2040 vision

Given that, a station at 14th or 15th wastes bus service hours for routes 17, 18 and 40, but a station at 20th does not. For the RapidRide D, 20th is a better new terminus than 15th for all the same reasons as for light rail. Ballard is a significant destination. It is better to not have the RapidRide D stop ¼ mile short. 

Finally, 20th works as well as 14th for bus-rail transfers without crossing a street, and better than 15th.

Compatibility with BNSF operations

This route is unique, in that it appears to be the only route which can bridge over the BNSF rail yard without interfering with current operations or potential future changes. To explain why, as succinctly as possible, understand that horizontal and vertical access to trains is essential at sidings, not at switches (south end), nor by the yard office (north end). Also, significant restructuring of the track layout in the future is unlikely, because the current layout already maximizes use of the available land. 

Like the existing options using Thorndyke, this route would be on the east side of BNSF to Dravus. But north of Dravus, it would head straight to the conveniently diagonal stretch of Emerson Place. To avoid placement next to sidings (or storage areas), support columns would be just east of the gravel maintenance path clearly visible in satellite images. But then, as it nears the yard office (attached to the old roundhouse), support columns would be on the west side of the path. Adjacent to the yard office, to keep columns out of the way of all traffic, a column could be next to a landscaped island, and others immediately north and south of the small parking lot, in the no parking zones.

The real estate arm of BNSF may have long-range plans to lid over the less used northeast wing of the yard, in order to derive new revenue from what could become several blocks worth of new urban density. If they have any interest in such a scheme, BNSF could become an additional 3rd party funding source. The optional station near Fishermen’s Terminal would be well placed to serve the resulting new neighborhood.

Compatibility with Fishermen’s Terminal

Even though this route is adjacent to Fishermen’s terminal, it avoids any conflict with port operations by skirting clear of the waterfront. Continuing north after bridging over BNSF, the route would cross Emerson Place, to run on the north side of the street. This avoids power lines on the south side. The parking lot for Fishermen’s Terminal provides a buffer area, maintaining sufficient distance from any possible conflict. The route then crosses above 21st Avenue and uses a convenient hill to transition to a tunnel portal in the vicinity of a gravel parking lot just north of a gas station. Running the route under 22nd avoids the waterfront, and happens to add just enough distance for the tunnel to get under the ship canal.

Pile on

If I have succeeded in explaining this option, it should be apparent that it is far better than any other option. In spite of that, it has virtually no chance of becoming reality, unless enough of you submit your comments into the record in support of it. Please do that before the April 2 deadline, either online at or by email to And please also ask your friends, who might not read this blog, to do the same. It is no slam-dunk, but we owe it to future generations to try. It is allowed by the formal process up until the deadline, but not afterwards. This is our last chance.

Dale Menchhofer has been working for 35 years, as an engaged citizen, to improve non-automotive transportation.  He is employed as a data-centric software developer.

102 Replies to “A Better Ballard Option for Link”

    1. The description show the shaft and crossing at depth 145′. The Proposal above would put the bottom of the train tunnel at a depth of 100′ Assuming 50′ of water 25′ of cover and the tunnel bore of 25′. with the 7′ bore the would still have 38′ of space between the two tunnels. sound doable.

      1. Based on the link to the siphon project page, there are actually 3 pipes involved. The new one is the 7′ bore which is at 145′ below the surface on the south end, but only 95′ below the surface on the north end. And then there is the pair of old wood stave pipes that were refurbished when the new bore was added. These older pipes are much shallower (I didn’t see depth numbers, but the diagrams showed them quite close to the surface).

        So if you are talking about crossing the path of the siphon: you either have to go below them both (at least 95′ below the north end) or you have to thread the needle between the old and new pipes, or thread the needle between the old pipes and the surface

      2. There’s a difference between a crossing under the canal of 145′ and a vertical shaft having a depth of 145′. Add in 15′ for the sewage tunnel itself since the top of this would be above the base of shaft. The top of the shaft, located at Dock, is about 15′-20′ above the water surface. Twin-bore, 20′ dia LRT tunnels need 30′ of clear space around for the TBM to safely operate, thus a 70′ dia envelope is required. 145-10-20-70-40 = about 0-5 feet of total play. It’s not impossible, it’s just a potentially expensive challenge with added risk of doing this all underwater.

        In addition, there’ll be the new Ballard CSO tunnel through here as well.

    2. maybe if the tunnel is aiming for SE of Dock street instead of heading straight onto 20th where the regulator station is. Could avoid the main sewer line running under the cut. Then curve back onto 20th farther into Ballard. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      1. Today, I reached out to the project managers of the Ballard Siphon and CSO projects. I am awaiting details. In the meantime, it appears that it will be possible to skirt the siphon and regulator by swinging a bit east of Dock St, as J.S. said.

        The depth of connecting pipes is more critical. There is conflicting information about the depth of pipes under Commodore. Depending on the actual depth, the tunnel could be above or below. The north shore has both sewer and CSO lines. If the only option is to go below them all, it would force the station to be deeper. Whether that is so, and by how much, is yet to be determined.

      2. I received engineering drawings today of the Ballard Siphon project, from King County. The most challenging constraint is the 12 foot diameter sewer under Commodore Way, which is close enough to the surface that it must be tunneled under. It is possible to do that with some slight tweaks. First, the elevated track can be a bit higher than normal, so that tapering to the descending grade can mostly be complete just after crossing above 21st Avenue, while maintaining clearance for semis to pass underneath. Second, the route must gently curve, unlike the depiction in the maps. As previously described, the route must stay east of Dock Street, to avoid the sewer feature called the Ballard Regulator. The result is a gentle reverse S curve. It’s doable.

    3. Mike B, thank you for informing me about this constraint. I had been unaware of it. My first inclination is to bend the route a little east to avoid crossing the siphon. But the light rail tunnel would also have to avoid the sewer lines shown on Commodore Way and Shilshole Avenue. What are the depths and diameters of those, please?

  1. How would a station on 20th support future link extensions to Crown Hill and beyond? Elevated/surface on 20th? I can’t picture what 20th looks like, could it support LR?

    1. First of all, it is highly likely that any Ballard line gets extended. We will be heavily in debt for the ST3 projects (, with an aging, inefficient rail line. It costs a lot of money to maintain a rail system, and ours will be especially big, while not carrying an especially large number of people. Future expansion may never happen (ST3 may be it) but if it does happen, there are other, more pressing needs (such as Ballard to UW or Metro 8).

      All that being said, an elevated line has a better chance of being extended than an underground line. It is relatively cheap to extend an above ground line. But as the author said, that seems like a challenge on 15th, and would be extremely difficult on 14th beyond 65th (and there is no point in just extending to 65th). Yes, you could curve around from 14th to 15th, but that would likely require spending a bunch of money buying up property that will be very expensive in the future.

      But if you want to dream, then it is easy to imagine a subway continuing north and curving ever so slightly to 15th and 65th. From there it would go above ground. 15th north of 65th is actually wider than 15th south of there (which explains why they allow parking). It wouldn’t be simple or easy, but if they really wanted to do it, that is how. Of course as long as we are fantasizing, then we can imagine a world with really cheap tunneling (thank you Sir Elon Musk). In that case you do the same sort of thing, except completely underground.

    2. It would have to remain buried, 20th doesn’t extended all the way north it ends at 65th street (same street Ballard High School is on). So it would have to curve back over to 15th street (and maybe somewhere along there pop out of the ground) to continue northward.

      1. J.S. has the right idea. The next logical station north is at 65th and 15th. I will leave it to STx to figure out where the best tunnel portal would be on 15th. It is a trade-off between minimizing the length of the tunnel vs. avoiding sharp turns. My point is that tunneling to 15th is doable, but extending an aerial alignment north from 14th or 15th have significant challenges.

    3. “How would a station on 20th support future link extensions to Crown Hill and beyond?”

      It all depends on whether ST builds a stub beyond the extension, so that a future tunnel could dig south and meet it without disrupting the station itself. ST does not have a good track record with proactive stubs except on the Everett-Tacoma Spine. The same issue comes up for transfers to a Ballard-UW line: U-District Station has no interface design for it that I’m aware of, and we don’t even ask ST about the Ballard station transfer because they’re so uninterested in preparing for it.

      In general terms, as Pedestrian Observations has noted in recent articles about US subway costs and th3e 2nd Avenue line in New York, cut-and-cover is moderately more expensive than elevated, mined is signifcantly more expensive (although mining it longer can be less expensive than surfacing it early in a difficult environment, as in ST’s decision to extend Northgate’s tunnel from 63rd to 93rd), and mined stations are by the most expensive of all by far. So we really want to avoid mined stations where we don’t absolutely need them. UW Station had to be mined because it’s right next to the Ship Canal and the track couldn’t climb so sharply.

      1. UW station was cut & cover. In fact it was right at about the limit for what is practical with cut and cover.

        The only mined station so far in the LINK system is Beacon Hill.

        The new station at Westlake most likely will be mined. At least some stakeholders in the International District want the new IDS station to be mined to reduce surface impacts.

  2. How much ST3 revenue and debt capacity does the North King subarea have? The actual ST3 tax receipts have been far greater than projected at the time ST3 was developed/approved. It makes zero sense for the agency to have already rejected any particular route profiles or station locations for Ballard — the board hasn’t even determined what the N. King’s subarea’s share will be of the projected ST3 tax revenues and proceeds from upcoming debt sales.

    1. Renton Steve,

      Good question. Why dismiss anything before incoming funds are determined.
      Seems to me that Dale, in seeking out the highest ridership possible, has a plan that is excellent and doable.


  3. “It is about 10-12 % shorter than the 14th or 15th Avenue tunnel options. It is 28% shorter than the “BNSF West/20th Tunnel” option rejected in Level 1 scoping.”

    I don’t think the cost of the relatively small tunneling differences are as big of a concern as the cost of the tunnel stations are.

    DT to UW:

    U220 – $309M – UW to Capitol Hill tunnel + UW station box
    U230 – $154M – Capitol Hill to Pine Street tunnel + CH station box
    U240 – $80M – Capitol Hill station fit out
    U250 – $142M – UW station fit out (a massive underground complex!)

      1. Right, the depth matters! Fortunately, the Ballard station can be the shallowest that is practical. A 5% grade would exceed what is necessary. It could theoretically allow just 2 feet between the top of the tunnel and the surface of Market Street. Obviously, it needs to be deeper to be practical. Assuming cut-and-cover construction, the shallowest possible station reduces station cost and construction duration, as well as making a better transit experience. Mining the station would cost a lot more, and only makes sense if it is the only politically possible way to get a better station location. I’m not sure how much depth matters if mining is used.

      2. I used to walk to work on 20th. It is a quieter street, the lowest-volume of any of 15th, 20th, 24th, Market Street, or Leary Way. It’s the closest to an optional extra arterial there is. The objections to cut-and-cover come primarily when it’s the main street and has the core of businesses on it. That was the case with Broadway, and the International District is so dense that even secondary streets like 5th have a lot of traffic and businesses. But 20th doesn’t. So if reasonable heads prevail, that objection won’t be enough to eliminate a cut-and-cover option.

    1. A general estimate would be 10 Million for very 100′ + 100 million for the station. The alignment above is approximately 5000′ of tunnel(to 57th for tail tracks). That would give it a base budget of 600 million and the required FTA 30% contingency would budget this option at 780 million. That Just from the Optional Station at fisherman’s terminal to the the End of the Tail tracks at 57th.

      I dont know how that would compare to the Representative alignment but the tunnel option is expensive not because you tunnel under water but it would require the rest of the alignment to be tunneled. There is no good option to bring it out of the ground. You would end up tunneling all the way to crown hill before it got out of the ground and that could be a detractor for an ST4 package.

    2. I often wonder if the core logic problem in Ballard is that there is only one station north of the Ship Canal. Rather than spend lots more money to still have just one station, wouldn’t it make sense to explore adding a second one? Then, ST could build the ST3 part, and debate on how to extend it and fund that extension can be had. I like a Market Street east—west alignment for this reason with the ST3 station at 15th and Market but curved east-west, and extra funds going for a station (surface median like MLK?) between 22nd and 24th on Market. Another additive option would be a median streetcar with actual exclusive lanes from Ballard to Fremont with eyes toward UW. Even a cable-pulled shallow subway tram from the Ballard core to the station further east could be an additive cheaper project. Or maybe a scenic gondola to the Interbay Station. There are lots of ways to solve the walk distance challenge as an additive project.

      The financial storm clouds are pretty ominous anyway. I’m not sure ST can still even pay for what’s in ST3. Dropping the last station is the easiest way to cut costs anyway. Without an embraced consensus, Ballard may even get no station.

      1. The problem is that they went with the cheap option, but are now pursuing a more expensive option, with no significant benefit for riders. The same is true for West Seattle plans. For a while there, folks just assumed that rail would be too expensive for West Seattle. Tunnels and big bridges are very expensive. But then they came up with a discount plan involving no tunnels at all. Now they are backing off on that.

        The same is true for Ballard. The big savings with a Ballard line involve Elliot/15th. Running on the surface is especially cheap. Unlike MLK, you wouldn’t have to worry about significant cross streets (because significant cross streets already have overpasses). Prices got inflated when they went elevated, but not too much. Now they are considering tunnels, and prices are ballooning. Two stops in Ballard — as justified as they may be — would increase the costs even more. Not only for the extra station, but for the curves. I think it should be studied (because it is quite possible that elevated to 20th via a 14th bridge is actually cheaper) but it wouldn’t be especially cheap (nowhere near as cheap as what folks originally had in mind).

        On a cost per rider, or cost per rider time saved perspective, Ballard to UW performed better, even with just one stop in Ballard. But if you spend a bit more money (for stops at 15th and 20th, or 15th and Leary) then ridership is much higher, and you are still well under the cost of running in Interbay. I understand your frustration, but it is simply another flaw in the planning process, and not the root of it. The ability to add an extra (very high performing) station without a major change in the design is one more advantage to going from Ballard to the UW (and east-west line).

      2. The representative alignment stopped at Market. The formal process does not allow extending the length of the alignment to new destinations.

      3. “The formal process does not allow extending the length of the alignment to new destinations.”

        Correction: ST3 specifies that if projected revenues are 5% greater than originally estiated then extensions are to be considered.

      4. *estimated

        Also, that “5%” rule is 5% more projected revenues than originally estimated IF costs are not greater than originally estimated. So far the cost projections in YOE$ haven’t changed much.

      5. RossB, I looked at options that used a high bridge to get to 20th. If I could have found a good option, I would have proposed it.

        On the east, to avoid huge impacts on Fishermen’s Terminal, you have to cross over 15th (like the 14th high-bridge does), but then in mid-channel, turn to recross 15th. That struck me as a great roller coaster at an amusement park, but not a realistic light rail alignment.

        On the west, you would have to swing out west of 24th, and could not turn east until on Market. It would force the station to be oriented east-west (less desirable) and would have enormous impacts on Market Street.

      6. “I often wonder if the core logic problem in Ballard is that there is only one station north of the Ship Canal”

        That’s an issue with UW Station, and with the former 26/28 being frequent only to 34th & Fremont, where they just barely cross the Ship Canal and most people have to go through a bottleneck to get to them, but that’s not so much the case for Ballard. The concentration of people in northwest Seattle is between 45th (where the D and 40 cross) and 65th, so Market Street is right in the middle, and it’s well away from the Ship Canal, like U-District Station is. If Central Link went only as far as U-District Station, it would still be the best transit thing to ever happen in north Seattle and we could live with it without a lot of hand-wringing. A Market Street station for northwest Seattle would be similar. (Although 14th is so far from the concentration that there are legitimate doubts it really “serves” Ballard.)

        There could be an argument for having stations at both sides of the urban village, say one where the 40 crosses D and another at Market Street. That would better serve the concentration. But once you go north of Market Street you run into a problem of decreasing density. Stations at 65th and 85th would be helpful, but they aren’t crtical priority like the Market Street one, and there could well be opposition to a North King proposal to build expensive Link only to such secondary areas. Of course, that didn’t stop Federal Way and Issaquah, which are probably less populous and dense than north Ballard, but they have the advantage of suburban bias and affecting suburban taxpayers, who see them as the most significant unserved cities in their subarea. The Metro 8 and Ballard-UW suggestions are arguably higher priority, because those would bring people to the largest university in the state, the concentration of hospitals, and the dense Central District.

      7. What Al is talking about is this: Cross at 14th (to please the Port). Then curve west, to run east-west on Market. Add a station at 15th, then continue on Market to 20th or Leary with another station. Or add one station now, and the other one later.

        Doing that would not be easy. For the curve, you might have to take land from the Safeway or land from McDonald’s (obviously McDonald’s would be cheaper). But that is one advantage of 14th — it is very wide, with very little on it, which means that it is easy to take lanes there (just get rid of the median). You might be able to make the turn without taking any lane (just run on the east side of 14th, then curve to the north side of Market.

        Between 14th and 15th on Market, I think you need to take a lane. I would take one of the two left turn lanes (that go west bound on Market to southbound on 15th). That means instead of the street being six lanes wide it is five lanes. The train would run on either side of the street (north or south) but it is easier to run on the north side (fewer intersections from diagonal streets).

        On Market west of 15th you would simply taking parking, except for the stations themselves. This is where it gets even trickier. An elevated station would likely be very close to buildings. I would explore the idea of “kneeling” to the ground, and basically terminating (in one track). Between 20th and Leary there is enough room and no entrances on the north side of the street. Thus you would have a bridge over 20th, followed by two lanes being converted one, while the train slowly heads towards the surface. Neither 20th nor 22nd is a major truck route, which means that either (or both) could be low clearance. The surface section would be closed off, except for the pathway that lets riders enter. Thus you have no interference with cars or jaywalking pedestrians.

        Pulling that off would be tricky, and require more imagination then Sound Transit has every shown. It would require people to accept an elevated line on parts of Market, as well as a surface line at the end. It would mean that this line would not be extended north (without a lot of work) but the stations could be shared with a Ballard to UW line (like so: While I wish this was studied, I don’t feel like fighting for it. Doing so would be very hard (for the reasons mentioned). I believe your approach has a much better chance of succeeding. I will definitely push for your idea (on the webpage you mentioned) and ask some of my friends to do the same.

  4. I can understand the enthusiasm — and the frustration disappointment at there not being this option. There are some harsh realities that must be however recognized to consider this:

    1. What are the soils like crossing here? How deep is the channel here? Crossing here appears to be more difficult and deeper as it’s where the original inlet was — and that inlet flowed into the Sound so it’s pretty deep now that it’s above the lock. Building under water much more complex than digging a hole.

    2. The platform is much closer to the water. It appears to be only about 500 or 600 feet. Unlike the other options, which are well beyond 2000 feet. That means that trains could practically climb only 30 or 40 feet upward. The deep platform means extra time forvriders to go deeper underground. It probably requires elevators or a much longer escalator ride. That takes about 2 3 minutes once in the station; the actual platform walkshed would be much smaller. The station may have to be deeper than UW.

    1. Maybe (to both points) but the same is true for any underground station. The point is if you put an underground station at 15th, it is both deep *and* a long ways from the heart of Ballard. You could alleviate the problem (somewhat) by building long, sloping pedestrian tunnels, but that is expensive. And if you did the same at 20th, you simply reach more people.

      That is really the crux here. An elevated station at 15th is still the cheapest option. If we are going to spend more money going underground, then we should spend it on something that adds significant value. There is only one option that does that: a station at 20th.

      1. The 15th subway station would still have way more distance to get closer to ground level than a station at 20th would by at least 80 to 100 feet. Then the bottom of the Ship Channel is higher at 15th and 14th.

        In sum, the station platform doesn’t have to be as deep if it’s at 14th or 15th because the Ship Canal runs at a diagonal to Market Street’s alignment.

        I do think your comment about ST3 being a bare-bones funding plan is spot on. It isn’t fully understood or accepted by a wide array of neighborhood advocates. ST3 already headed to being underfunded! Just wait until we get into constructability issues/ costs in Downtown Seattle!

        The question could easily shift to build just a bridge or build nothing. Add to that the pressure to spend more in the ID and West Seattle. As we get closer and closer to the check-out line at FTA soon, we will have to remove items from the cart and we are squabbling in the shopping aisle without enough allowed on our 2041-due charge card this year.

      2. “I do think your comment about ST3 being a bare-bones funding plan is spot on. It isn’t fully understood or accepted by a wide array of neighborhood advocates.”

        The reason the Representative Alignment is so minimal is it was already a stretch to include in the ST3 budget. But transit advocates successfully argued that a Ballard streetcar wasn’t enough, and that northwest Seattle was too essential to leave out of the high-capacity transit network. At the same time, West Seattle Link was prioritized higher because of politics, so that’s where North King’s ST3 budget was going. The other subareas also asked for more, so ST increased the total budget, and that gave just enough for the RA.

      3. “The other subareas also asked for more, so ST increased the total budget, and that gave just enough for the RA.”

        That’s true, as far as it goes. Subsequent events changed the financial picture completely. First, the ST3, ST2 and Sound Move taxes all were pushed out 12 years to accommodate the bond market when the Green Bonds were sold. That added tens of billions of dollars of ST3 revenues, and most of that will be allocated to the N. King subarea. Second, the ST3 taxes have been about 10% higher than anticipated the past two years. There is far more revenue available than anticipated when the ST3 RA’s were developed.

    2. The Army Corps of Engineers states that the ship canal has a depth of 30 feet. There is an area south of the dredged channel and west of the proposed alignment which is a little deeper, according to bathymetric maps. I sought to avoid that “pothole’!

      Assume that the soils are terrible, as bad as what was successfully managed south of the UW station. I think that only had about 25 feet of soil above the tunnel. Can someone confirm that?

      With enough clearance, tunneling ought to be able to handle this. FYI, I considered a cut-and-cover method using coffer dams, but did not propose that, because it would have had huge detrimental impacts on marinas.

      As I replied earlier, the station can actually be as shallow as any station can be. There is enough distance for a 5% grade to do it. FYI, one of the West Seattle options has a sustained grade of 5%. East Link descending to ID station is actually 7%.

  5. From a walkshed/urbanist perspective, it is hard to argue with a station at 20th or even 22nd Ave NW. I would argue 22nd is a better/more central location, though real estate and the 5-way intersection may be a challenge there. However I see two single-story bank branches on 56th that could easily make way for station entrances, along with an entrance at Ballard Commons park.

    On the other hand, real estate is probably cheaper at 20th, and there aren’t as many historic/valuable buildings surrounding that intersection. One nice thing about 20th is that it is a fairly wide thoroughfare so there would be room to work. The line, if underground, could cut over to 15th diagonally before possibly going elevated, though the grades may dictate that the NW 65th st station be underground as well. Curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

    1. I would say that 20th and 22nd are both very good. They are both much better than 15th, which is much better than 14th. The difference between 20th and 22nd is relatively minor. I’m not even sure which is better. 22nd works really well for buses (the 40 doesn’t even have to change) but you lose a little because you are closer to the water. It really comes down to which is easier to serve, and I have no idea which is better.

    2. 20th strikes the sweet spot, with nearly equal number of tall buildings east vs. west. There is similarly a nearly equal amount of developable parcels east vs. west.

      I think it is relatively difficult to place bus stops that are actually at 22nd, but doable next to 20th. The 40 has to jog only a little bit to reach 20th and Leary.

      FYI, I timed every traffic light in Ballard. There are 3 intersections with cycle times >= 2 minutes. After 15th & Market, the other two are Leary & 15th, and the 5-way intersection you mention (22nd/Market/Leary). This 5-way intersection reduces the walkshed for 20th a bit, but yet it manages to reach virtually all of Ballard Avenue.

      1. The diagonal nature of the streets of old Ballard are both a blessing and a curse. A stop to the west allows a pedestrian to head southeast very efficiently. This is yet one more reason why 15th is a bad stop. A walk like this involves initially heading west, even though the destination is east ( Fortunately, there are several passageways that avoid having to go around. This is actually not as time consuming as Google makes it: Unlike the previous walk, you can cut through the hospital ( and shave a minute or two off the walk.

        Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of passages to the west. Between Ballard Avenue and Leary you need to go around ( Likewise Leary and Russell ( This means that getting to 20th from that area is just a little bit harder than it should be. That is a minor advantage to 22nd. It has fewer of those indirect walking routes.

        But at that point you are getting into pretty small differences. I still contend that the difference between those two are very small, and would require extensive analysis to differentiate. It could also change (new passageways could be developed, new building built) making the initial advantage of one become outdated before the station is built. What is clear is that either one would be significantly better than 15th, which is significantly better than 14th.

        It is worth noting that 20th is closer to 15th, which is really why 20th is the better choice. Even if 22nd is just a hair better (and I’m not claiming it is) then 20th is better for those who built or bought based on the assumption that the station was going in on 15th. Moving it away from 15th to create a much better station is one thing; moving it even farther way without any clear benefit is another.

  6. I love how tunnels in Ballard get support here but tunnels in West Seattle are seen as frivolous cost eaters. West Seattle has the same developable land as Ballard.

    1. West Seattle has the same developable land as Ballard.

      But way less willpower to properly develop it, versus Central Ballard where development and densification has been underway for more than a decade.

      The West Seattle tunnel is more expensive, almost double the Ballard tunnel cost. Ballard today has the ridership to justify a tunnel and that will only increase in the future. West Seattle has not proven that it’s willing to upzone to justify a tunnel.

      1. Indeed. Ballard should get points for having much more density at present than West Seattle. Who knows…maybe in 25 years when this thing opens, development will have really picked up in West Seattle and the station areas will have equivalent density to Ballard. I don’t really expect this to happen, but anything’s possible.

      2. plus the tunnel for Ballard is primarily for the crossing of the cut not to just to bury the train so people don’t have to look at it or sell their homes. Their really isn’t any complaint about an elevated tracking running up 15th because it’s overwhelmingly commercial properties with some apartments along the way. Very little owner occupied properties, especially stand alone houses.

      3. There is no urban village in West Seattle as large as Ballard-Fremont, which is the third largest after greater downtown and the U-District.

      4. That is antiquated thinking. There are countless dense proposals on the table or under construction that have not been successfully appealed. Ballard and West Seattle have the same base, the code.

      5. @RapidRider, @Mike, etc. — You guys are just making (an unintentional) straw man. Density of Ballard versus West Seattle has nothing to do with it. It is irrelevant. The reason folks don’t support an underground line to West Seattle is because an underground line to West Seattle would not have better *stations*. This proposal has a better station. The fact that it is underground is not because underground is fundamentally better, but simply because it is the only direct way to get to that station.

    2. The distance from Ballard Ave and Market to the proposed 14th and Market Station is almost the distance from Alaska and California to the proposed Avalon Station. West Seattle still is working at an advantage.

    3. This is a proposal to move the station to a superior location. It isn’t about the tunneling. An elevated line to 20th would have the same amount of support, simply because 20th is much better than 15th, which is much better than 14th.

      In contrast, an underground station to West Seattle won’t be any better than an elevated line. The location will be similar, if not identical.

      1. It is the thought of researching options to make a cheaper option. There is a ton of WS support for eliminated one station and running track through the golf course then cut and cover along Alaska to the Junction. No one looks at those costs.

      2. You are missing the point. What is proposed here is *better* than the original proposal. As he said, it will *increase* ridership. That is because 20th is a much better station than 15th.

        In West Seattle you can’t do that, because the original stations are about as good as you can get. Building a tunnel won’t make it better (and what you are proposing will make it worse).

        Do you still not understand the difference?

      3. Furthermore, West Seattle has room above its wide streets for an elevated structure. If those streets existed in Ballard an elevated line would work. Unfortunately the only streets that are wide enough for that in Ballard are in the wrong locations.

        There might be locations where such a thing could be built but there’s nothing like the branches of the West Seattle Freeway in Ballard.

        Also, unlike West Seattle, the Port is objecting to a bunch of different options and seems to want to force the issue of building a tunnel. If a tunnel winds up being forced by the Port, then the route might as well be in a better location if a tunnel allows this.

        If the Port were trying to force West Seattle to have a tunnel and a worse station location, then it would be a different matter.

    4. The point is not to get a tunnel. The point is to get the best transit value for the capital expenditure. In Ballard, there is no practical way to get to the best location without a tunnel.

      At the risk of going off topic, I have a much shorter tunnel alignment in West Seattle I discussed with an engineer at the West Seattle scoping meeting. I will be submitting that to Sound Transit in my other comments about other parts of this line. My point here is that getting the best value for Ballard does not preclude getting the best value for West Seattle.

    5. Hi Mark,

      This is a guest post. We’d be more than happy to publish a guest post advocating for a West Seattle tunnel.

  7. On the surface, this routing seems to check most of the boxes: excellent station location, no drawbridge, keeps the port happy, (possibly) more cost efficient considering ridership/location.

    The one glaring question mark is the future extension north. It’s clear that a 65th station is too close to consider, so logically, the next station will be 15th/85th, which gives plenty of space and depth to tunnel, albeit expensively, towards that.

    Could this routing conceivably daylight by 85th? If not, it may make more sense to stay underground and daylight when Holman dives down towards QFC.

    We should assume that existing bus routes 17, 18, and D would terminate wherever the station is located, consistent with the Metro Connects 2040 vision.

    My first reaction was scratching my head at why they would terminate the D there instead of the future LQA station. Looked at the 2040 vision lines and it appears the D gets cut in half, with the north half winding to Lake City via Northgate and the south half going from Fisherman’s Terminal to Madison Park via SLU.

    1. The one glaring question mark is the future extension north.

      It is unlikely that any line will be extended north (as I wrote above).

      But more importantly, any underground line has the same issues. An underground line at 14th or 15th would be just as expensive to extend as an underground line at 20th. (No one is going to go cut and cover to a deep bored line).

      So yes, an above ground line would be cheaper to extend. But if we are going to consider an underground line, then it should be at 20th.

      That really is the crux of the argument, here. We should carry forward two options, a cheap one, and a more expensive one. The cheap one should be an elevated line at 15th, while the more expensive one should be this proposal.

      1. Well, a tunnel to a 15th Station could theoretically daylight as soon as feasible, considering depth of tunnel, 15th Ave grades and maximum rail grades.

        A tunnel to 20th would theoretically not be able to daylight until it has tunneled back to 15th at a significant depth to avoid existing buildings and then chase 15th’s grade.

      2. You still have to find room to get above the ground, which takes a fair amount of space. It isn’t like an elevated line, which (when it is above ground) takes very little surface space (because they flair outward and upward, like so: The pylons take about one lane in that picture. But getting above ground is harder — it takes two train widths, or more:

        I don’t see that happening anywhere south of 65th. At 65th, there is a wide area where the two streets come together ( North of there it continues to be wide, with parking on both sides. South of there (between 65th and Market) it is narrow, with no parking. In other words, north of 65th you are talking about taking some parking. South of 65th you are talking about converting a five lane road (two lanes each direction) into a two lane road. Sorry, it just isn’t going to happen.

    2. RapidRider, I think you are saying that 65th is too close for a next station, on a policy basis, not an engineering basis. You’ve just given me another advantage for 20th. From a station at 15th, 65th is only 1/2 a mile away, but from 20th, it is 3/4 mile.

      In addition to the high school and pool, 15th & 65th has some 4+ story buildings on the northeast corner of the urban village. They are generally close to 65th.

      As for RapidRide D, my understanding is that Metro is more inclined to terminate the route in Ballard. As I said, I assume that the D will terminate there. If Metro were to terminate the line at a light rail station closer to downtown, so be it. In any case, there will need to be some sort of local service from Ballard to at least Belltown.

      1. Yes, if you extend this line to the north, then the stations are better arranged. Market is essentially 55th. I would still have a station at 65th and 15th (even if we put the other station at Market and 15th) but you incur some overlap. Moving the station to the west reduces the overlap.

        I want to spin off a thread about the bus service, but I’ll do that later.

      2. Outside of downtown, how many Link station spacings come close to 1/2 or 3/4 mile spacing? Rainier Beach to Othello is a mile; if Graham Station gets built, Graham to Othello will be about 0.6 miles. Those are much cheaper at grade stations, whereas a 65th station would be above ground or buried, at a likely cost of hundreds of millions. Not to mention, an inevitable 80/85th station is less than a mile from 65th.

        Would we really want to spend that much for a 65th station rather than having people take a 2 minute D line ride to Market or 80/85th? And I say that as someone who would be closer to a 65th station than a Market station.

        Of course, by the time ST4 is being built in the 2040s, there may be plenty of density around 65th to justify the station.

  8. I have a few quibbles, but that is normal for an essay that goes into this much detail. I will address some of those later, but they don’t alter your argument. I agree with all of your main points, and believe this is the way to go. We should carry two proposals going forward:

    1) The representative plan. This is what people voted for (which should mean something). It is the cheapest option. It is clearly better than 14th. This is the most likely option to be extended (although I still think that is unlikely). Elevated trips are more enjoyable, which can lead to increased ridership (folks could ride just for fun). I think the distance from the platform to the street is better than underground (but I could be wrong).

    2) Underground station at 20th. Much better than 15th from a pedestrian standpoint (and 15th is much better than 14th). A bit better than 15th from a bus perspective (which again, is much better than 14th). As the author mentioned, the increased ridership could easily mean that this is the best proposal from a ridership versus cost perspective. Likewise, it is better from a ridership time versus cost perspective.

    So basically you have the best elevated option as well as the best underground option. To put it another way, you have the best cheap option, and the best expensive option. This is what we should be considering (instead of options that are both worse *and* more expensive).

  9. There is a train frequency issue hanging out there. The loads through Downtown May exceed what six-minute trains can handle (the logical minimum constrained by MLK surface operations).

    To that end, a long and a short (just to SODO) Green Line operation may end up needed.

    In other words, a “fork” could be possible north of the Ship Canal.

    Subways are almost impossible to “fork” unless it’s planned at the outset.

    Where and how could this line have a fork?

    1. There should be bellmouths/stub tunnels/recovery pits where the line turns West coming out of downtown to allow a line to Fremont/Aurora.

  10. Why not just dig a shallow, single tube, two-station underground line (like a horizontal elevator) that has one end at a 15th Station subway station mezzanine and the other at 22nd and Market? It would be lots cheaper! Since riders are still going to have to use long escalators or elevators to get to go between the surface at 20th and Marrket and the deep platform anyway, it would seem to take the same amount of Link access time once at the station entrance.

    1. I repeat: 20th and Market can be VERY shallow. As shallow as the International District station.

      1. It doesn’t appear to me to be mathematically possible to be “very” shallow — because it’s only about 1000 feet from the edge of navigable water. 20th and Market appears to be 60 feet above sea level, so that the light rail subway roof would appear to need to be 45-50 feet above sea level to be shallow. At a seven percent grade (keep in mind that rail lines have to have vertical tapers before stations and stations have to be mostly level for ADA), that would pretty much put the roof right just below sea level right at water’s edge (say -20 feet) — but it would seem to need to be at least 30 or more feet deeper for the roof to be underneath the ship canal. I just don’t mathematically see how any station at 20th and Market can be very shallow.

      2. It is about 1,600 feet (not 1,000) from Shilshole Avenue to Market along 20th. If it goes by the Marina and curves a bit (which I think it needs to) then the distance from the waterfront to the station is a bit over 2,000 feet. Keep in mind this is just to Market. As the diagram shows, the platform will lie just north of Market (with an entrance to the north, not south). If I understand you right, then the train needs to gain 100 feet of altitude (from 50 feet under sea level, to 50 feet above) in 2,000 feet of distance. That is a 5% grade (if my math is correct).

      3. Stations don’t have to be “mostly flat” to meet ADA. A number of MAX stations are built on an incline as they would be physically impossible otherwise. I think the Park Avenue & Highway 99E station is something like 2.5%, but with the ramp to a bus stop at one end and crossing to a parking garage at the other end all on a hillside, it was the best option other than a hell of a lot of expensive grading and building the line so it couldn’t extend further south.

  11. Has this idea been shared with the working group/concerned stakeholders from ST? I can’t imagine a “write-in campaign” will win the day (even with the extended time to comment). As mentioned in one of the earlier comments, it appears that the 20th st. station has been foreclosed because of the sewer.

    1. It’s likely to late even if everyone wrote in suggesting this idea. There were suggestions earlier for a 22-17th street stations but they all either involved either very long tunnels or totally impractical bridges that directly impacted the historical district. So they were all dropped due to those obvious issues. At this point its clear that ST is hell bent on putting the station on 14th to save money.

      The sewer issue with this proposals probably isn’t a deal stopper, really just move the line a bit to the east to avoid the main sewer line and it becomes much simpler. If forced to thread the needle it’s still doable given enough space, see recent London underground expansion they threaded a new tunnel with just a few feet or less of space between active existing tunnels.

      That all said this does appear to be a superior idea.

    2. I regret that I was unable to participate in the earlier rounds of scoping, due to personal reasons. What I am seeking to do would have been FAR easier earlier in the game. Point well understood.

      As for sharing with stakeholders, yesterday I did a follow-up contact with the stakeholder I consider to be the most key. I contacted two more today. There are 3-4 more I plan to reach very soon.

      I believe the sewer issue is surmountable. I am attaching updates on that close to where it was raised.

      In order to create the biggest groundswell possible, I will be putting a flyer on every bulletin board I can find in Ballard by noon tomorrow.

  12. I feel like these suggestions to move further into “downtown” Ballard overlook the large amount of people who live east of 15th in Ballard and would like to have convenient access to light rail.

    1. Way more people live west of 15th than east of 15th. In the future, this will still be the case. The author spent several paragraphs explaining this, as it is a key element of his argument. Did you overlook that part of the essay?

      1. It’s not how many live there today. It’s how many will be living there after 2035. If you look backwards 16 years (2003), the Ballard area would hardly have a building over 4-5 floors.

        I’d suggest looking at a 10-minute walkshed rather than a 5-minute one. That would be about a half-mile accounting for crosswalk waits. That’s rather typical for rail stations. It’s bus stops that usually look at quarter-mile.

      2. @Al — What part of “In the future, this will still be the case.” did you not understand? For that matter, what part of the author’s extensive analysis about future density in the area do you contest? Here are some snippets:

        In 2018, the area of the tract west of 15th had 2 ½ times more population than east of 15th. And it has been pulling away. In percentage terms, it grew 4 times as much from 2010-2018 (86.6% vs. 21.8%), and 3¾ as much in the prior decade.

        Why do think this will suddenly reverse itself, with the area east of 15th jumping into the lead?

        A huge swath on the south side of the walksheds for both 14th and 15th is consumed by land uses that generate little pedestrian traffic: auto services, contractors with trucks heading to jobsites, and manufacturing. Even after construction impacts are past, a station at 14th or 15th would threaten the long-term viability of those businesses.

        So what exactly are you saying about this, Al? That we close all those businesses, ignore the already densely populated area to the west, and build new density to the east? Keep in mind, many of those areas are zoned industrial. Are you saying that we should change the zoning, push out the few remaining industrial jobs in the city, and try and build something kinda sorta like what exists a half mile to the west?

        Meanwhile, the areas surrounding the industrial land are becoming more dense. Just not to the same level. It has undergone rapid change, but instead of building high density buildings (6 or 7 story apartments) it has built so called “missing middle” buildings (essentially townhouses). So now you are suggesting that we will tear down brand new, high quality town houses, and replace them with apartments? Seriously?

        Really, Al, I like your comments. I really do. I also appreciate contrarian thinking — that is always nice. But do you really think that the area to the east will ever be as densely populated as the area to the west, and if so, do you think that comes close to resembling good public policy?

      3. I’m just pointing out that what happens in 2035 is not today. It’s not meant to be specific to your west-east of 15th assessment.

        I do have a big problem with ST’s general approach that puts a little rectangular box where the platform will be and call it a “station”. At the very least, they should be putting little arrows in circles as the author has done here (Kudos to the graphics)! Every station ST shows should be showing possible station entrances from now on. Only by doing that, can we consider if things list 15th Ave W is a big enough obstacle to count the number of things on each side of the street!

        Plus, I really want to see more excitement about denser development around the stations in Seattle. The predominant attitude among many West Seattle, ID and Ballard advocates is not how we can make rail investment more useful to a growing city, but instead what we deserve to get from ST. Light rail is a catalyst in the real estate marketplace and not a mere public service for existing residents.

        If interests along Ballard Ave or north of NW 57th Street were willing to support 10-story buildings, I’d be much more supportive. Currently, the density stops just a block north of Market Street — much like it stops just west of California Avenue in West Seattle. Industrial and commercial property is much easier to redevelop as TOD; just look at Downtown Bellevue and the Spring District.

      4. The other issue is the bus connections. Going west you have the 40, 44 and future D all converging in downtown Ballard near the station. This provides a halfway decent way to get to the station from east of 15th from a number of locations.

        The reverse does not hold true if the station is east of 15th. You wind up with the 44 being the only decent connection, unless you reroute the 40 (which means serving less area) and divert the D (which means making it slower than if it made a single turn).

      5. Currently, the density stops just a block north of Market Street

        What??? Dude, have you even been there? Come on man. It is a real city there. Like a real city, density comes in various flavors. It isn’t all big building built in the last twenty years. It is tiny buildings, big buildings, old buildings, new buildings. Think Brooklyn, San Fransisco, or Paris, instead of, I don’t know, suburban Virginia. It is lots and lots of people, all together, in buildings of various sizes and ages. I don’t how many times we need to go over this, but height does not equal density (and there is plenty of height north of Market anyway).

        We certainly don’t need to destroy the character of Ballard Avenue, and build a handful of ten story buildings to have density. Doing so would only move the meter slightly, anyway. Seriously man — I get really tired of explaining this shit over and over again. Honestly. Go ahead, do it yourself for once. Pull out the density maps, and pull out the Google Maps and compare them. Go ahead. You will find, again and again, that there are places in America that have plenty of density, without having big buildings. Likewise you will find plenty of places with really big buildings that lack density.

        I’m just pointing out that what happens in 2035 is not today.

        Yes, and I’m telling you for the third time that in 2035, regardless of where they put the station, there will be more population density to the west of 15th than the east. This would be consistent with past density, current density, current growth, current zoning and current land values. You haven’t provided the tiniest amount of evidence or reasoning to support your argument, other than to say “it might happen”. Sure, it might. Staten Island may become more densely populated than Manhattan, too. But do you really think that will happen?

      6. RossB, I appreciate your articulation of my reasoning, in regards to both the grade/station depth question, and future density. As long as a month or so ago, in a reply to a comment I made on an open thread, you displayed a grasp of the wisdom of putting a station in the middle of density. However, for my sake, please endeavor to keep the tone a bit less accusatory, and a touch more civil. In my experience, tactfulness wins support quicker and more effectively. Thank you for championing the idea!

        To others: There is as much land ripe for redevelopment within the urban village boundary west of 24th as there is east of 15th. There is also plenty to the north. A 10 minute walkshed from 20th gets to ALL of it, including what is east 15th. The 10 minute walksheds from 15th or 14th do not. Even future density will favor 20th.

    2. FWIW, Swedish Hospital is west of 15th. Nothing like a bunch of folks having to walk further to seek medical care

  13. How likely is it that BNSF will be cooperative to run an aerial alignment across the eastern edge of their property? I still remember the hardball they played with granting lease rights for Sounder North’s limited number of runs (which ultimately cost ST way more than they had budgeted).

    1. So let the Port and BNSF fight it out. No one has said that this is the cheapest option. It isn’t. The cheapest option is an elevated line to 15th, with a bridge that (rarely) opens. But if we are going to spend money avoiding upsetting the Port, then it makes sense to build something that actually adds value. This is the only suggestion that actually improves upon the original proposal, which is why those two plans should be carried forward, and nothing more.

      1. Respectfully, I would consider that reply not particularly germane to my inquiry. I was asking about the inclination of BNSF to agree to go along with an aerial easement in gross that Sound Transit would need to pursue in order to build the line with the alignment being proposed here by the OP. Based on the transit agency’s past experience in working with BNSF on the Sounder North track rights, things could get very litigious very quickly when the agency makes its intentions known. Unless the OP has Warren Buffett on speed dial, I don’t think any of us know how exactly BNSF intends to use that portion of the “Vermont-shaped” parcel at the far north end of their Balmer railyard that this alignment would need to cross. All snark aside, I don’t think this issue should be downplayed in the least. ST getting an agreement in place with BNSF in regard to the aerial easement ($$$) involved here would be critical to advancing the project.

        For those who might like to get into the weeds on the subject of aerial and subteranean easements, I thought about passing on a reference to a short paper I remember coming across a few years back.* Here are a couple of excerpts from said paper written by a few associates at Graham & Dunn PC (now Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP) who has represented Sound Transit in condemnation actions:

        “For example, the aerial guideway easement used by Sound Transit for its light rail project prohibits the
        landowner from building permanent structures beneath the guideway. Such restrictions account for much of the “damage” to the burdened property, and present a unique set of
        challenges for the parties attempting to value this damage for purposes of ascertaining just compensation.”

        “Finally, it’s worth noting that the construction and operation of an elevated light rail guideway on a given property will often require the acquisition of three distinct property interests: a fee take for the location of support columns, a temporary construction easement for the construction of the guideway structure, and an aerial guideway easement for the maintenance and operation of the light rail. As suggested by their name, temporary construction easements are limited in duration, based on an estimate of the time required to build the guideway structure. In some ways, a temporary
        construction easement is akin to a lease of the property, and these easements do not typically give rise to the same valuation problems observed in connection with the acquisition of aerial guideway and underground tunnel easements.”

        “Of course, the most challenging part of the before and after valuation method is the valuation of the burdened property in the “after” condition. In assessing the value of
        the property in the after condition, an appraiser considers all aspects of compensable damages and offsetting special benefits, in addition to the value of the part taken. There
        are two basic elements involved in the valuation of the property in the “after” condition. First, the value of the easement itself must be assessed. That is, the value of the landowner’s loss of utility and rights in the space encompassed by the easement area.
        Next, the damage to the remainder, if any, must be determined. The value of the remainder after the taking is an estimate of its market value, taking into account the effects that the easement will have. The extent of the damage to the remainder (also
        known as incidental or severance damages) depends on a variety of factors, including the uses to which the property may be put in the before and after condition, and various
        nuisance-like effects resulting from the condemnor’s use of the easement. Because they depend on a variety of factors, and because comparable market sales and data are not
        always available, damage to the remainder accounts for much of the difficulty and ambiguity in valuing permanent easements. Indeed, if there is a dispute among the
        parties as to just compensation, this is often where it will lie.”

        *”OVER AND UNDER:
        A Practical Guide to the Condemnation of Aerial Guideway Easements and Tunnel Easements”, 2005 (?)

      2. Again, no has said this is the cheapest option. It sounds like BNSF could throw lawyers at the problem, and force Sound Transit to pay more than fair value for the property (or the rights to go above the property). Well welcome to the party, BNSF. Sound Transit has been shaken down numerous time. Home owners and small time apartment owners settled for a lot more than what their property was worth. Even the podunk city of Mercer Island shook them down! But at the end of the day, BNSF is just another private owner, and ultimately they will settle, just like other private owners will settle. These sorts of things can drag through the courts for a long time, but in this case, they don’t plan on actually breaking ground for a long time. That shifts the balance of power towards Sound Transit. ST can offer BNSF what they consider to be fair value, and if BNSF doesn’t like it, go to court. The case could go on for years without effecting this project, while each side plays chicken. Eventually, of course, it behooves both of them to settle, and settle they will.

        But that is a worse case scenario. I can easily say many of the other plans being much worse. If Sound Transit wants to build a new bridge to the east (over 14th) suddenly a lot of home owners are getting kicked out of their houses and condos. Now they sue, to protect their homes. They address the press with their case, and it sounds really good to me. “This is not what people voted for! The plan was to run the train along 15th.” Oh, and Sound Transit is doing this and it won’t even make transit better. In fact, those same homeowners are being joined by *transit advocates* who point out that the proposal is *worse* for riders. There may not be a strong legal case for the home owners, but that is a public relations disaster for Sound Transit, which is headed up by … wait for it … public officials. Now everyone who sits on the board is flooded with emails and calls, asking them to “do the right thing”. Uff Da!

        Remember, that is for a plan that costs *more* than the representative project. I’m sure the station at 20th plan costs a lot more. But even the representative project is not without issues (obviously). The point is, this proposal adds tremendous value, unlike other underground options. Even if it costs a little bit more (to please BNSF) it would be worth it compared an underground station at 14th or 15th. If this and the representative project get carried forward, you have both the Port as well as BNSF asking for extra compensation for each plan. At the end of the day, ST can talk to each and figure out the best option. If BNSF asks too much, then they fight it out with the Port (and vice versa).

      3. I don’t see BNSF being openly hostile to a line above this area. It’s really in the wrong spot for an intermodal terminal or some other thing requiring high clearances.

        Sounder North was a much different thing. It uses BNSF crews and consumes space on their mainline. This does none of that.

        The passenger hostile UP didn’t put major obstacles in the way of MAX orange line, and that was built on fill over their yard rather than elevated pilings.

    2. I provided a brief explanation why it would not interfere with yard operations. Secondly, the opportunity to make money on a deal is a powerful motivator to a corporation. I am working that angle.

      Frankly, I am a bit surprised that no commenter has enthused about the potential for what would essentially be a new neighborhood. In addition to what BNSF could do, I can easily see the Port of Seattle grabbing an opportunity to turn parking lots next to Fishermen’s Terminal into mid-rise buildings.

      1. I’m interested in the potential. I’ve just seen so many hopes for dense neighborhoods fail that I’m reluctant to depend on third parties to do something they aren’t already doing. It’s the same reason I’m skeptical of significant growth east of 15th. We’ve just seen a HALA plan where all single-family areas not adjacent to urban villages were deleted from it, and then the council amendments whittled it down ever further. Would the same thing happen with any of the suggestions?

      2. Thanks for the reply to my earlier comment. Do you happen to have any thoughts as to what the use of the east side of the BNSF property will cost Sound Transit (fee take for the guideway supports, temporary construction easement, permanant aerial easement as well as severance damages)?

      3. With the Interbay station south of Dravus, the optional rail yards station appears to be less than a half-mile away and easily walkable . The current ST options show the station closer at Dravus or north of that street. The site may even be on a slope as trains would be close to the tunnel.

        There isn’t appear to be a compelling reason to drop an infill station there unless a really huge attraction is added like a 40-story office tower or an intensely developed shopping district.

        I even think the infill station south of the Ship Canal could be a detractor from the overall Ballard idea presented here. The idea presented here is not going to be more persuasive with this station option.

        It does raise a systems problem with ST3 lines generally. ST3 funds 3 infill stations — but the new lines only suggest only 2 optional stations — Lakemont/I90 and near Paine Field. There are none suggested on this project. Should ST ensure infill stations on the corridor, can be addded, like near the Whole Foods at 15th or First Avenue S and Spokane?

      4. I know that the port has be mussing about someway to inject new life into the Fisherman’s terminal location. The primary motivator being that the fishing industry is shrinking at best, out right dying at worst. So the port’s hand is going to be forced eventually. You should reference (if you haven’t been already) the Hudson Yard project in NYC a similar rail yard cap and build project.

        Frankly if the port had been doing its job properly it would have tied a major redevelopment of the whole Interbay area together with the placement of ST3.

    3. BNSF was OK with multiple aerial lines over their yard property in Denver (just north of Denver Union Station). They’ll be OK with an aerial line over their property as long as it’s designed carefully.

      1. Oh, and for reference, the very same BNSF made astronomical price requests for actually running passenger trains *on* their tracks in the vicinity of Denver.

        They prefer over. A lot.

  14. OK, now about the buses. As I wrote up above, this in no way detracts from your argument. What you said here is spot on:

    The location on 20th works better for buses in ways that are not obvious.

    But other things (such as a truncated 40) just don’t make sense, and are not consistent with the long range Metro plan. To be clear, Metro has always said that their plan is merely a set of ideas, as opposed to a proposal. But you implied that the 40 was disappearing, while you can see it clearly on the long range plan ( as RapidRide bus 1993.

    But just to back up here: There are several key corridors in Ballard, that provide both coverage as well as connections: 24th, 15th, Leary and Market. Right now the D covers 15th, the 44 covers Market, and the 40 covers both Leary and 24th. Market would be unchanged. Here is how I see the other corridors:

    15th — Once Link gets to Ballard, there is no reason for a bus to run south of Market. Coverage on 15th between Market and the bridge is achieved by the Leary bus, while Link itself runs towards downtown. If a bus does cross the ship canal, it will either be an express or a low frequency coverage bus that would pass by either station (e. g. Sunset Hill to West Magnolia). If the station is at 15th and Market, there remains the question as to what to do with the frequent bus running on 15th. One option is to essentially end there (which is basically what the long range plan does). But that is less than ideal, for the same reason that a station at 15th and Market is bad for pedestrians: There is nothing there. All of the activity, all of the people, all of the jobs are to the west. It would make sense, therefore, for a bus to turn and head west on Market, and end in the heart of Ballard. Thus a station at 15th and Market, or a station at 20th and Market would likely have exactly the same routing for a bus on 15th. This is not at all intuitive, but from a network standpoint, it makes the most sense. After all, do we really want to tell folks that they still need to take three buses or walk fifteen minutes just to get from Greenwood to Ballard?

    24th and Leary — Here is where things get a bit complicated, and the two station locations result in divergent bus paths. As mentioned above, a station at 20th requires only a minor change to the way the 40 currently runs. The coverage loss is really tiny (in part because of the street layout) and the loss in speed is minor as well. You still have the essential connection between Fremont and Ballard, as well as the coverage on the southern part of Ballard. Nothing much has changed, except that riders on the 40 have the option to transfer to a fast train headed downtown.

    In contrast, a station at 15th and Market presents a real problem. For the record, Metro’s long range plan basically ignores it. This means that riders on 24th (which has plenty of people) would walk about ten minutes just to get to the train station after riding the bus. I really don’t see this happening. I think Metro would bend the 40 to serve the station, just as it would bend the 40 to serve a station on 20th.

    Except that this causes a different problem. A bus that runs on 24th and then heads east on Market to 15th creates a big hole. Basically the southwest corner of Old Ballard is a lot farther away from any bus service, let alone bus service that connects to a Link train. Generally speaking, this is not a very high population density area. It is zoned industrial, just as the areas to the east of 15th are zoned industrial. It would be silly to place a train station there. But at the same time, there are some new offices popping up, so it makes sense to cover with good bus service (as has been the case for many, many years).

    But perhaps the biggest problem is the big delay this would cause. Leary is relatively fast, and could get faster, as the 40 is converted to a RapidRide+ route. As explained in this article (, the 40 (Corridor 6) would have new BAT lanes along Leary. In contrast, a bus that runs along Market has two choices. One would be to turn on 14th and get back on Leary there. But that creates an even bigger service hole (i. e. it would take even longer for someone to walk to a bus that would get them to Fremont or Westlake). My guess is a bus would turn on 15th, exit at Leary, and go that way. This would work better in terms of coverage (almost, but not quite filling in the service hole) but result in a much slower bus. Southbound would be OK, but northbound it would mean a bus would have to force its way over almost immediately to get into the left lane. There would be no hope of bus lanes along here — or whatever bus lanes do exist become meaningless because the bus needs to change lanes. (There are bus lanes there right now, but they are in the right lane — In short, this would be significantly slower, and result in worse coverage.

    Again, this isn’t intuitive. The key to any restructure is the D. If we accept that the D no longer crosses the bridge, then it makes sense for it to head to the biggest employment/population/cultural center in the region, which is to the west, along Market. If we accept that the D goes to heart of Ballard, then the best thing for the bus network would be to put the station where buses can run the fastest and provide the most coverage, which is near Leary and Market. Anything else (e. g. a station at 15th and Market) would be a degradation in service.

    1. I of course agree that bus routing is important no matter where the station goes.

      I don’t visit Ballard often, but I do see riders waiting for RapidRide at Leary and 15th headed north — like shoppers from Trader Joe’s or maybe even Fred Meyer. I also see riders on 15th south of the bridge headed north, presumably from the west edge of Queen Anne.

      It’s just an observation to not be completely dismissive about RapidRide D. It may still be well used for trips that begin and end north of Dravus — even when Link opens.

    2. I did not mean to imply that route 40 would terminate in Ballard. The reason why bus service hours would be wasted for route 40 are completely different than for routes 17 and 18. For 40, except for a tiny jog, the route on Leary is one side of a triangle, whereas running up 14th to turn onto Market is two sides of a triangle. I’ve timed it (by car). Sometimes the timing of lights on Market make them a wash, but more often 14th/Market takes longer than Leary. Giving Leary a BRT treatment, especially at the long light at 15th and Leary, would make it consistently faster.

      As for the D, I no longer remember my source that led me to believe Metro intends to terminate the D at the Ballard light rail station. They would certainly have motive, since the D can get quite delayed between Dravus and Market. In any case, I was merely attempting to address what I believe to be the most likely scenario.

      There were a few points that ended up on the editing floor, for sake of brevity:
      – As RossB has pointed out, running the 40 up 14th creates a network coverage gap on Leary.
      – If the D is truncated, some new local route would have to provide some (less frequent) replacement service.
      – The D could still continue on from 20th, by turning south on 20th, and southeast on Leary. It could get to Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer, and possibly points east. I didn’t feel it was compelling enough to include, but if there really are enough transit trips originating there and heading north, and not served by 40, it could be done.

    1. I NEEDED Mike B’s helpful tip about the siphon the most, but hearing that people have submitted a comment to ST is the most encouraging. Thank you!

  15. You need to update your map with the newly enacted HALA rezoning in the areas around the proposed 14th station. There is now a larger urban village footprint in that area and many more properties zoned NC and LR that will be ripe for development near the new station. The density of Ballard is shifting eastward.

  16. I feel this route would be a great alternative based on its access and proximity to high density areas as well as. available long term parking.
    As a business owner in the Fishermen’s Terminal i see addition long term business benifits for many neighboring businesses.


    Joe Arya

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