38 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: West Seattle Light Rail”

  1. This is one of the least important arguments, but I wish Kyle had not conceded the aesthetics argument. A tunnel is ugly on the inside. Underground stations are ugly on the inside. Elevated tracks and stations have great views. Those experiencing those views will far outnumber the neighbors complaining about the tracks being ugly. Fine. Paint the tracks rainbow, or whatever color the neighbors want.

    Elevated tracks didn’t ruin Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, and Coquitlam. Indeed, they enhanced them, showing the way to get to the sky train and to get to destinations.

    When I was there in March, I noticed that the Expo line, which is almost entirely elevated outside of the downtown waterfront, has long multi-car trains, and heavy ridership. The Canada Line, which is mostly underground until it crosses over to Richmond, is just one-car consists, as that is all that is needed to handle the ridership. Granted, the Millenium Line, now a stub track from VCC Clark to Coquitlam, is also just one-car consists, but it spends a lot of time in a trench, so the view is a 10-minute ride away for most.

    Anyhoo, preserving views for the few at the expense of a more welcoming, beautiful, and easy-to-find ride for the many doesn’t seem worth millions, much less billions, of dollars.

    1. Keith seemed to give a good balance of the situation. He made a point that I had come to recently, that tunnels aren’t bad and may be ideal, the problem is cost.

      The biggest thing somebody should have pushed back on was the idea that Link is as bad as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. No it isn’t, and it’s ironic to make that argument when there’s something else that’s wider and more like the viaduct right under their nose: the West Seattle Freeway and Fauntleroy Way. But those statements were in a separate video clip so maybe the panel wasn’t aware of them. Still, the host should have made sure that somebody responded to them rather than just leaving them sounding like truth. An elevated track does have negative impacts, as anybody in Tukwila or Bellevue near NE 8th Street can see. The issue is the tradeoffs. If you don’t have elevated then you have something else (or nothing), and that has its own impacts.

      1. I don’t think Keith really believed what he said about tunnels being ideal. Rather, I think he was trying to politely move toward consensus by not making who wins the aesthetics argument the mountain to die on (and so politely also skipped the ugliness of the bridges, freeway arterials, the cement kiln, Harbor Island, etc).

        I got the sense that Willard was making the equity argument on behalf of Delridge, not on behalf of the Junction. The Junction (and the rest of western West Seattle, which has the water taxi funded by taxpayers countywide), used to have extra bus service funded by taxpayers citywide until the monorail tax sunset. The Junction got the C Line a decade before Delridge will get the H Line.

        Under the current financial and political reality, the Junction can have elevated light rail, or keep its unblemished view and have to walk to 35th.

      2. That argument about equity made me choke. West Seattle is not more neglected than the rest of the city, nor is it poorer. Certain parts are lower income (namely Delridge and 35th, never mind that some activists want to drop one of those stations to gain money for a tunnel), but the people arguing that West Seattle isn’t getting its share don’t look like lower-income people who live in those areas. None of them said specifically, “I live near 35th or Delridge or 16th and I need one of those stations for bus feeder access.” They are more likely to use AJ station, or like the person at the end who hopes the train will decrease traffic congestion, want the train so that other people will use it. (To be fair, it depends on what she meant by “traffic”. Usually this means road space for cars. If she meant traffic in a broader sense including a bottleneck of transit riders that can get around more easily without driving, then the statement makes more sense.)

    2. Another irony. People often say Seattle Subway always chooses the most expensive alternative and wants subways to Timbuktu. But here the ‘Sub is going for the low-budget option.

  2. If a station is to be jettisoned, it shouldn’t be the one on Delridge or the one on Avalon/35th. Making bus riders backtrack westward several blocks to go east would be a huge mistake. The C Line will still serve Avalon/35th. Making route 21 back-track to go to 41st or California would also be a serious equity issue, given the relative wealth of C-Line riders compared to 21 riders.

    Indeed, jettisoning the westernmost station would enable faster/cheaper construction southward, and avoid all the negative impacts on the Junction including ugly elevated tracks.

    1. Alaska Junction is the biggest urban village in West Seattle and the traditional center of the district. Skippiung it would be like skipping central Ballard.

      1. Alaska Junction is not at the center. It is at the west end of western West Seattle’s density, kind of like how Beacon Hill Station is south of all the density on Beacon Hill.

        And it will have the frequent C Line to get to the nearest station, wherever that station is located, for those who find the few blocks’ walk too long, and in case the neighbors won’t put up with unsightly protected bike lanes to the station, or decide parking (or a chicken lane, if they can’t get parking) is preferable to PBLs.

      2. Skipping Avalon/35th would be like skipping Ballard. Putting the only station west of Delridge on California would be like putting Ballard Station at the Ballard Locks.

      3. It’s the middle of the business district. Residential-only areas get only the residents riding one-way out of the neighborhood in the morning and back in the evening, with the small exception of people visiting people. Having a cluster of businesses brings people from outside the neighborhood for more two-way ridership and total ridership. Off the top of my head, unique or near-unique things in the Junction and Admiral are Easy Street Records, Credo pizza, Bakery Nouveau (more sandwiches and tables than the one on Capitol Hill), and a gentleman’s shop with masculine-targeted wallets, razors, caps, etc.

      4. “precisely the 14th avenue option”

        Just what I meant. 35th serves the West Seattle urban village the same way 14th serves the Ballard urban village. Connecting the village to the regional transit network was the primary purpose and justification of bringing Link to West Seattle.

      5. Off the top of my head, unique or near-unique things in the Junction and Admiral are Easy Street Records, Credo pizza, Bakery Nouveau (more sandwiches and tables than the one on Capitol Hill), and a gentleman’s shop with masculine-targeted wallets, razors, caps, etc.

        How many of those businesses will be demolished for construction of the station box? Or are we going to have to carefully build under them, at significant additional cost, including loss of station entrances?

      6. Nevertheless, West Seattle Junction just isn’t really *that big* in the grand scheme of things. It’s not a huge regional destination. I was actually surprised when I first went there for the farmer’s market. It’s no First Hill or Ballard. And if anything, I get the feeling that long time locals would be in the “no more density” camp. IMHO, being able to expand southwards down Delridge (with El tracks) is a greater regional concern. Let West Seattle come together and build a charming at grade streetcar to connect if they want aesthetics and rail.

  3. If we are to pass a City tax to pay for a tunnel to hide the train under the Junction, about the only way I could be convinced to vote for that tax is to include the money and statutory approval of a gold-plated station access plan … as in a network of protected bike lanes throughout the City providing seemless safe bike routes to each station (not just West Seattle, if you are asking voters citywide), as well as seemless sidewalk paths to the stations, and reconfiguration of lanes and signals to give buses priority access approaching the stations. As part of that gold-plating, the entire walkshed of each station has to be upzoned to at least six stories, and the quarter-mile walkshed has to be upzoned to towers. Finally, every station has to have publicly-accessible restrooms, open during all hours that the train operates.

    Do we have a deal?

  4. Alaska Junction will be a terminal station for decades. Trains will be mostly empty arriving and mostly empty departing, as with all terminal stations. My hunch is that the eventual Red Line (West Seattle-Everett) won’t operate more often than every 8 or 10 minutes, due to weaker demand on each end (West Seattle-Sodo and Everett-Mariner). The Blue Line by contrast will probably become the heavy lifter on the shared corridor, with trains running every 4-6 minutes from Mariner-Redmond.

    So am I the only one who thinks the way out of this mess is an at-grade station on Fauntleroy itself? Between Avalon and Alaska, the street is 7 lanes wide with more setback room on top of that. A very short MLK-style redo could accommodate the terminal station and not impact vehicle or rail reliability at all. Leaving the Junction, the line could immediately elevates through Delridge and Sodo as planned. I feel like we’re overthinking this. A tunnel is overkill with no ridership benefits and huge costs. Elevated sets up years of litigation where grade separation for that half mile or so doesn’t really matter for operational reasons anyway.

    1. Trains will be mostly empty arriving and mostly empty departing, as with all terminal stations.

      Have you ridden Link end-to-end?

      UW Station is the second-highest ridership station, slightly below Westlake. Westlake is still the highest, and was when it was the northern terminal.

      SeaTac Airport Station has been the highest-ridership station by far south of downtown ever since it opened.

      But we digress.

      The service plan, as far as I have seen, is for half the trains from Northgate to head to the eastside and half to West Seattle. East Link and West Seattle Link will each be 10-minute headway most of the day, and 8-minute headway during peak. East Link might terminate at Northgate, while West Seattle Link will go all the way to Everett Station (skipping downtown Everett, such as it is – a business district less skip-able than the Triangle).

      Any other plan will be clunky. I’ve suggested interlining East Link with Ballard Link, but that is not happening.

      Speaking of the Triangle, that area was built up higher than the Junction, last time I was out there.

    2. I think they’re going to have to have even headways to handle demand for the Northgate to downtown segment. Otherwise, you’d get severe crowding around capital Hill.

    3. The idea of having the station itself at Fauntleroy is interesting. Could make interesting pedestrian connections to the Alaska Junction via a multi story building and a largish station which could integrate into the existing businesses, or create its own (imagine Chatelet/Les Halles in Paris, smaller scale) It likely serve more people density wise. Plus, no elevated at Alaska Junction this no unsightly tracks.

    4. East Link is planned to terminate at Mariner. It may end up being longer or shorter off-peak, but it’s very unlikely it will terminate at Northgate. The first ST2 planning schedule had it terminating at Northgate off-peak, but they long ago decided to extend it to Lynnwood full-time believing the capacity would be needed. There seems to be a similar calculation for Mariner.

      It’s also not useful to say “Trains from Northgate will alternate to West Seattle and the Eastside”. It’s technically true but it implies one line will have two branches, when in fact all Blue Line trains going to Redmond and all Red Line trains going to West Seattle. People have enough trouble remembering which line will do what without adding complications like alternating. It only looks like alternating because you’re looking at only part of the lines south of Northgate.

    5. Integrated multistory building connecting a station to a major street, I wish. That’s what Capitol Hill and Roosevelt should have.

  5. I’d just like to acknowledge the irony that Seattle Subway wants to build elevated instead of a ~subway~

    1. The entire NYCTA is called “The Subway”, but nearly all of the trackage in Queens is elevated, and half in Brooklyn and the Bronx is as well. It is only in Manhattan where “The Subway” is (nearly) always a “subway”.

    2. Seattle Subway has always said it’s a concept of high-capacity transit corridors between urban villages, not strictly underground. Other cities use the term “subway”, “el”, or “trolley” to refer to the historically dominant mode in that city even if the current track doesn’t strictly follow it. The entire NYC subway is called the subway even though it’s elevated in the outer bouroughs, and the entire Chicago el is called the “L” even though the last two lines have long tunnels downtown. (Not counting the elevated Pink line, which was created from a branch of an existing line.)

  6. The more I look at the “constraints” the more I’m convinced that the West Seattle Golf Course should go.

    1. It’s underutilized park land.
    2. Jefferson Park Gold Course is not far away.
    3. The open space near South Seattle College could be used for a relocated course.
    4. The course could be reduced from 18 to 9 holes if not eliminated entirely.
    5. The area could be redesigned and the property sales could fund part of the tunnel.
    6. The Delridge Station could move further south and take fewer homes.
    7. A new urban park in its stead could be a major new neighborhood feature.
    8. The additional land for housing helps with our housing supply crisis.

    It’s not like we are removing a historical monument or a church and it takes a huge amount of atOD-suitable land. I would even think that a ballot measure to relinquish the course would pass — even in West Seattle by itself.

      1. Uhhh… that was me several weeks ago.

        I looked at the college property size, and it would take adding surrounding open space land to make it happen. Still, I think it could be done technically. Politically, it’s another matter.

        The intriguing and wonderful outcomes would be a epically scenic golf course — and a new urban community with an active park, a college and lots of housing. It would even reframe West Seattle — turning Alaska Junction as a quaint, side activity center to a much more impressive hub (like how Bellevue’s historic Main Street has been dwarfed by other Downtown Bellevue redevelopment).

  7. Hope this is not too repetitive: Wherever you put a subway station, every other place is a loser. Elevated stations are a little cheaper, but still you are left with mostly losers. Light rail from West Seattle to down town, (and decent connections to the airport and east side are winners for everyone). Let’s build it faster.

    For the time being that light rail could terminate soon after it gets to West Seattle. Really good bus and van transportation to the terminal will create a lot of winners, especially if those vans and buses are privileged regarding lanes and signaling. When autonomous buses and vans kick in, say 2030 or so they will be FAR cheaper than tunneling or elevated.

    Light rail’s future is express travel.

    1. Link has wider station spacing than other American or European light rails; it’s more like the Russian metros or BART. So it’s intrinsically a limited-stop service or a corridor express like Swift, the former 7X, or the 512. That makes it better for some trips but worse for others. It means you have to take buses to the in-between stops, but it also means you can get from downtown to Lynnwood, the airport, and Bellevue in 20-40 minutes, and similarly to Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, Northgate, and Rainier Valley. But a limited-stop express needs to be distinguished from a point-to-point express like the 577 or 510 that have long nonstop segments and are faster between them. Most people equate the word “Express” with point-to-point routes based on the historic norm of peak downtown expresses, so saying Link is an “Express” can give a misleading picture. It’s a mid-level service, which I call limited-stop or corridor express.

      1. When you consider that Link, elevated or below ground, is not subject to car traffic unlike buses, traveling on it feels like an express, even if it’s a misleading picture.

  8. This debate is really not about tunnel vs elevated. It is really about should Seattle tax itself twice for fancier LRT scope, or not? Because there is no money in the plan for a tunnel, outside the downtown subway. Good for Seattle Subway in pointing out the fiscal realities here.

    If Seattle isn’t willing to tax itself twice for the same project, then the question that really needs to be posed by the on-Seattle ST board members is, LRT to West Seattle, or not?

    1. Not all West Seattlites are tunnel or bust, in spite of the nattering of some Alaska Junction NIMBYS and placating politicos. Sound Transit needs to level with the residents who want a tunnel that the fiscal and political realities may, in all likelihood, not allow for the extra funds for a tunnel, so they need to deal with the reality of elevated link and embrace the positive long term outcomes of elevated link in moving the critical mass of people into downtown and other parts of the Seattle area for work and pleasure as well as the massive numbers of Seattle area residents that will be able to commute into West Seattle to patronize businesses and festivals, numbers that would otherwise not bother to make the trip without link.

  9. This might well have been covered in an earlier post, but I am pleasantly surprised to see that the “emergency” stairs are open for business at UW/Husky stadium. Rather than slog it out on a crowded escalator I have the stairs to myself (all seven landings up to the mezzanine level), and I can get an aerobic workout at the same time. It wasn’t too long ago that there was a universal outcry the time the escalators went out and the only way up was a long wait for an elevator. ST listening to the traveling public?

    As to a tunnel to Ballard, I continue to make my views known at ST community fora and online, but I’m almost to the point at which I don’t care any more. I am considerably older than most/all of you and I would probably have seen light rail to my neighborhood of Ballard, a years-long dream of mine. But I won’t now as in the end a bridge, with a sweeping view over the Ship Canal and Fishermen’s Terminal as a fitting welcome to Ballard, appears to be unacceptable to most. Enjoy your dark tunnel (end sarcasm).

    1. ST finally announced it has major renovation plans at UW Station ($). The emergency stairs were recently converted to regular stairs (meaning the alarm was shut off and the doors opened) at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station. I think all the emergency stairs were converted, but the ones I’ve definitely seen are the north mezzanine door at UW and the platform-level doors at Capitol Hill. Next ST plans to convert the platform-level down escalators at UW to stairs, and to replace all the UW escalators with heavy-duty transit-grade ones by 2022. The defective escalators are expensive to maintain and repeatedly fix (to say nothing of the lost station capacity when they’re down), so replacing them will cost just twice as much as that.

      1. “convert the platform-level down escalators at UW to stairs”

        Is this really necessary? As pointed out in previous posts, some people do have issues walking down stairs, so replacing down escalators feels like a step backwards, and a total unnecessary one, given that the newly-opened emergency stairs now provide redundancy against broken-down escalators.

      2. I have the same reservations about it. Not having down escalators seems like substandard cutting corners. You never see only stairs in department stores or the Westlake Mezzanine because people would take their money elsewhere. But there’s only one transit network so it’s a captive audience. Still, it gives the impression that Seattle doesn’t take transit seriously.

      3. The removal of down escalators is shameful and unneeded. It’s what happens when people who aren’t daily riders or aren’t afflicted with arthritis women or seniors make decisions. At the very least, removing an escalator should come with adding another elevator.

        The only saving grace is that UW station use will fall — probably by half — after 2021.

  10. Ballard wasn’t Ballard 10 years ago either. In 2009 Ballard Ave had Hattie’s hat, the people’s pub, and the tractor was a new venue no one new about yet, with not much else. Most of the big apartment buildings you see now on Leary and Market weren’t there either. The junction has blown up in a similar way and that is likely to continue. Build for the future not the now.

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