The original genius (or sin, if you prefer) of the legislation that created Sound Transit was that it yoked together the region’s high capacity transit needs. The suburbs and the cities had to work together to get what they wanted, or no one would get anything, like a municipal prisoner’s dilemma.

The West Seattle – Ballard link extension (“WSBLE” in Sound Transit’s lingo) is pushing that 25-year-old decision to its limits.  Pierce and Snohomish County reps want WSBLE to be fast and cheap, lest it jeopardize the extensions to Tacoma and Everett (to some of them, WSBLE it isn’t part of the “spine,” so the whole thing is a kind of agency scope creep anyway).  Seattle reps, meanwhile, are hearing an earful from their voters and maritime interests about elevated alignments at the termini.  These reps also know that without the votes from Seattle’s west side neighborhoods, there might not have been enough support to get ST3 over the finish line to begin with, and certainly not enough money to support Snohomish’s speculative and expensive detour to Paine Field.

Like I said, yoked.

Further complicating matters, the Board made a decision to try out a new “expedited” process where they do up-front outreach and analysis, to send fewer options into the costly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.  Traditionally, the EIS would include many alternatives, and then there might be a Supplemental EIS afterward because the EIS process revealed some open questions.  (Bellevue, for example, came out of Draft EIS with many, many alternatives) This new process seeks to save time by reducing the number of options up front (Remember when Sound Transit magically shaved three years off the WSBLE timeline just before it went on the ballot?).  The flip side is ambiguity: making decisions with less information. 

And that’s where the wheels meet the steel, as it were.  Last month’s relatively contentious board meeting was the deadline for coming up with the “preferred” option to send to the DEIS from among the final alternatives.  But what to cut when only 3-5% of the design work (give or take) is complete?

The major sticking points are still the same: tunnels under the Duwamish River Alaska Junction and Ship Canal, and an expensive station in Chinatown.  ST staff have been clear that these additions would bust the budget, but the board’s Seattle contingent wants to keep them on the table.  Seattle is “committed” to finding the funding, Mayor Durkan said at the meeting. 

In an effort to move things along, the motion before the board attempted to remind everyone of their promises to play nice (emphasis added):

The System Expansion Implementation Plan (SEIP) includes the objective to “Identify (the) Preferrred Alternative Early” and notes that “staff will ask the Board to identify the preferred alternative at the end of the alternative development process and prior to starting preparation of draft environmental documents, having considered recommendations on this topic from the Leadership and Stakeholder groups. Early identification of the preferred alternative and key project goals will jump-start the public debate about station and alignment decisions, revealing areas of broad agreement as well as areas where project leadership needs to focus problem-solving efforts.” The SEIP further notes that “At the initiation of each major capital project, Sound Transit will propose a Partnering Agreement to be executed with project partners” and that “By providing project milestones and establishing partnering agreements, Sound Transit and its partners will have a common understanding of roles, responsibilities and schedule and budget imperatives to ensure timely delivery of capital projects.” 

Consistent with the SEIP, a partnering agreement specific to this project between Sound Transit and the City of Seattle was finalized and adopted by the Seattle City Council and the Sound Transit Board at the beginning of the project development process in December 2017. Per the agreement, “This project partnering agreement reflects that commitment to a new way of doing business so that together we can deliver the quality transit improvements approved by the voters in ST3 on schedule and within budget”. 

The question on the table at the board meeting was a bit philosophical: what does it mean to be a “preferred” alternative?  Maybe it means it’s what the community wants, regardless of budget.  Or maybe it’s what we can afford.  Or maybe it’s just a word that makes the community feel like they were heard but has no legal standing. 

Pierce and Snohomish officials, who are wary of Seattle’s expensive tunnels delaying their projects, pushed hard to get to say that “preferred” = affordable, which is to say elevated.

“It doesn’t surprise me they want these tunnels. If I lived on those communities I’d want the tunnels as well.  But we have an obligation to look more broadly,” said Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County Executive. 

Seattle’s delegation, meanwhile, was keen to keep more options open as they hunt for additional funds.  “We need to make sure we do it right, not just faster,” said Joe McDermott, who represents West Seattle on the King County Council.

The Eastside contingent, who don’t directly have a dog in the fight, stepped in to act as brokers. Claudia Balducci, along with John Marchione, crafted the compromise language the board ended up approving: there would be a “preferred alternative” and a “preferred alternative with third party funding.”

“It was very important to a lot of people involved in the ELG process that we honor their work,” Balducci said in the meeting.  But if it’s just window dressing, why include it at all?  “Whether it’s labeled preferred or not, we have the basket of alternatives we want to evaluate,” Marchione added. 

It’s worth saying that both sides have legitimate arguments.  Pierce/Snoho officials, along with advocates like Seattle Subway, are pushing for the elevated options because we can afford it and it’s what we voted on. 

On the other hand, West Seattle and Ballard residents aren’t crazy to ask for tunnels. For one, the East-West elevated junction station on the ballot would have spared the residential neighborhood just to the north. The North-South version that came out of the analysis, while it eases southward expansion, would require demolishing several multifamily buildings.   And while it’s true that the language on the ballot said “elevated,” plenty of Seattle pols were asking people to hold their noses and vote for it in the hopes that tunnel funds could be found later (and continue to promise that funds will materialize). 

For example, here’s Seattle CM Bagshaw in 2018 talking about crossing the Ballard ship canal (skip to 49:08)

When we talked about this at the time of the vote, nobody thought about having a movable bridge as being a serious option.  And a fixed bridge, it’s gonna take so much real estate on both [sides of the canal]… I wouldn’t spend any serious time engineering [a bridge.]

Or here’s then-board chair Dow Constantine choosing his words very carefully as he tries to rally support for the ballot measure back in 2016, which explicitly called for an elevated alignment:

“There’s still the environmental study, the consideration of various alternatives, the conversation with the community about the exact way in which the line’s going to be built in Ballard,” said Constantine, who is also King County executive. “In fact, if over time we’re able to reduce the cost of tunneling, that could be an alternative to be considered, along with the elevated line.”

The Boring Company notwithstanding, no magic tunneling technology has appeared in the last three years to make a tunnel competitive with an elevated alignment.  

At the same time, Constantine’s broader point, which is that the board should look holistically at the delta between the two options, remained in the language adopted by the board.  The motion recommends taking both options through the DEIS and look at the true delta in costs at the end.  We’re so early in the process, it argues, why not take both options through study?  It’s still a relatively focused DEIS, and if it turns out that, say, property acquisitions mean the cost of elevated goes up significantly, suddenly a tunnel or two would be less of a stretch. 

On the other hand, the point of having elected officials sit on the ST board is that they are the ones who can best have honest conversations with their constituents regarding a system that maximizes benefits to future generations.  Sound Transit will not be able to begin right-of-way acquisition or other major pre-construction activities until the board makes a final decision. The idea that the West Seattle line will open on time in 2030 is looking more tenuous by the day.

(Incidentally – if West Seattle does slip, it blows a hole in the OMF-South site selection process. But that’s for another blog post.)

Sadly, it’s not clear that the alternatives under consideration are significantly better than the original representative alignment, from a rider perspective.  I’d argue that if Seattle does magically find a billion bucks under the couch cushions, the most rider-friendly addition would be a First Hill station, which would be dramatically transformative not just for Seattle but for the hospital workers commuting in from outlying suburbs. And yet those workers’ suburban representatives showed little interest in that effort at the time.  

Regionalism is hard.  

Expect less drama over the next 18 months as WSBLE enters the DEIS phase through the end of 2020.  More decisions to come in early 2021.  

94 Replies to “West Seattle – Ballard Link staggers towards the EIS”

  1. I agree. If we are going to spend extra money, we should spend it on First Hill, or something else that actually adds ridership, or improves the trip for riders. None of the underground proposals do that.

    1. The Ballard tunnel does at least go somewhere different, but the Market Surface Line concept could go there too.

      1. Good point. I should have said “none of the underground proposals other than a station at 20th Ave. NW add any ridership”. Worth noting is that some of the underground proposals (as well as above ground proposals) lose ridership (e. g. 14th NW). In West Seattle the ridership will all be about the same.

    2. I generally agree with your points about ridership and First Hill.

      Consider what forces are at work by not discussing it. By not initially discussing ridership on a station-by-station basis (ST still has not revealed the anticipated rail-rail transfers), ST takes ridership effects out of the decision process. It’s deliberate obfuscation and an appalling omission to public discourse.

    3. You can’t add ridership if light rail does not extend to other neighborhoods. Extend the reach and build to new areas. All this talk about upgrading existing stations and adding infill stations while not building out to new areas is complete nonsense.

  2. Holy Shit, Bagshaw is basically saying that the board was lying to everyone. Let’s put something on the ballot that we have no intention of building. What a great plan.

    What people are ignoring is how West Seattle managed to get under the wire in the first place. From the beginning, it was obvious that Dow Constantine (head of the Sound Transit Board at the time) wanted rail to West Seattle. He is from West Seattle (I guess it is a good thing he isn’t from Duvall, or we would have a line out there). Anyway, this was going to be expensive. It was clear from the very beginning that tunneling through West Seattle was going to bust the budget. It wasn’t until the engineers came up with the idea of an elevated line to West Seattle that Sound Transit had a realistic proposal. The same is true for Ballard. Of course people wanted an underground line through Queen Anne (then Fremont) to the heart of Ballard. Even though this would get a lot more riders, it was just too expensive.

    So they came up with a plan that was cheaper. Now there are public officials saying it was all bullshit? All the while they can’t find any money for a First Hill station or a line from Ballard to the UW?

    1. Bagshaw was lying to everyone maybe; you can’t implicate the whole board. I never heard Bagshaw say this but if I had I would have called it irresponsible governance. Let’s go over it again. The ST3 vote did not lock the alignment choices into place but it did set a budget and defined the tax burden. What’s the point of voting if the budget has no meaning?

  3. Am I the only one who hates maps that aren’t north-up? It takes me longer than I care to admit to reorient my brain around what’s happening in the map.

    1. I can understand why they displayed it that way, but it should at least have a big N–> on it.

    2. I hate them too. The first few times I saw non-north Seattle maps I couldn’t tell it was Seattle. If it showed all the current buildings and streets I might, but some of them were historical maps and photos. I only recognized this one because ST has published other maps with Ballard on the left or right, and I knew the alignment had to go to the nortwest and southwest with the Ship Canal near the northern end.

  4. On the other hand, West Seattle and Ballard residents aren’t crazy to ask for tunnels. For one, the East-West elevated junction station on the ballot would have spared the residential neighborhood just to the north. The North-South version that came out of the analysis, while it eases southward expansion, would require demolishing several multifamily buildings.

    So basically ST has come up with an elevated proposal that is no better for riders, but worse for the community. Did they come up with the proposal to make underground look better? No one knows, but it sure sounds like something a sleazy car salesman would pull.

    “Oh, sorry folks, that car isn’t available. For the same price you can have one without wheels, or you can spend a bit more for the deluxe model over here.”

    1. The politicians steering this process were very quick to embrace a notion the Alaska Junction Station must point south, for the sake of setting up an ST4 extension, but have yet to make a convincing case such an extension is needed or desirable. Facing west or even southwest allows other options that can be cheaper or displace less housing.

    2. We know why the 14th Avenue alignment was chosen: the Port, Fisherman’s Terminal, and landowners on 15th NW objected to the 15th alignment. ST is prioritizing the Port and status-quo landowners over passengers. The fact that 14th makes the tunnel look better is a secondary benefit to them. If the cost of going against the Port and facing lawsuits is really an intrinsic cost of light rail, then a budget for that should have been included in ST3.

      1. 14th was advanced because the agency saw obvious advantages in being one block east of 15th. The 14th corridor is both less constrained and under-utilized, making it more favorable for designing a station area that do multiple things: integrate transit, galvanize desirable surrounding land uses, and position for future extension.

      2. It fails in the #1 job: being a short walk from the urban village center and all the jobs and shopping and apartments there. It’s at the very edge of the village, and all the flexibility on 14th doesn’t make up for that. Half the walkshed is low-density, and even though some people have talked about upzoning it, the city has not said one word about allowing it.

      3. Even if 14th to 8th becomes dense, it probably won’t generate the number of pedestrians as 17th to 24th. They tried that with Roosevelt and it’s still not like University Way. The developers and city have a blind spot for making things really walkable and inviting: they refuse to use the models that worked eighty years ago, and as a result the historical areas always kick the contemporary areas’ butt.

      4. @Mike, no, the #1 job of ST is providing regional transit connections, as Frank points out in the central point of the article. Link is not local transit. It’s regional transit. Folks who are so micro-focused on the walk-shed miss that point all the time, and drive me nuts.

        Look, I am not saying the walk-shed isn’t important; it is. But that issue is over stated IMO for a number of reasons. First, it’s not that far from central Ballard. People who patronize Ballard and live there know this. There are lime bikes and jump bikes and private bikes and ride share cars and wide sidewalks and frequent transit on the N-S and E-W axis. People move freely all over that neighborhood all the time, in great numbers.

        Second, and more importantly, this will be a terminal station for years, until ST4 comes along. As such it’s drawing riders from a very wide area, from the top of Phinney all the way over to Puget Sound, and as far north as Crown Hill/Loyal Heights. What it needs to successfully do that is space for easy bus-rail transfers, safe non-motorized access, lots & lots of secure bike storage, and good drop-off zones. That space exists on 14th in a way it doesn’t on 15th, given the cross-section and current land uses.

        And looking long term, the 14th Ave cross section has the width to accommodate a future tunnel portal to head further north and west.

        I urge you to pull up to a higher elevation and look at what a regional rail terminal should do, rather than looking narrowly at this as a neighborhood station. It’s both, and the regional terminal is the more consequential function. Securing that functionality is a huge win for the region and NW Seattle. It doesn’t require an unfunded tunnel to accomplish, nor a station closer to all the new apartments near Ballard Ave.

      5. The 14th corridor is both less constrained and under-utilized, making it more favorable for designing a station area that do multiple things: integrate transit, galvanize desirable surrounding land uses, and position for future extension.

        Absolute lunacy. Might as well say that up is down. Here, let me break it down:

        1) Integrate transit — 14th is a much worse location for buses, because it means buses are farther away from the urban center in the area (to the west).

        2) galvanize desirable surrounding land uses — I honestly don’t know what means. Sounds likes total BS to me. Right up there with maximizing your synergy.

        3) Future extension — 14th is worse for an extension. 14th ends at 65th, while 15th continues to 85th (the logical extension end point).

        People like just don’t seem to get it. Everything is to the west. The jobs are to the west. The housing is to the west. The cultural activities are to the west. That is where people live, work and play.

        Every block we move away from the west costs riders time, and ultimately costs the system ridership. This isn’t a sewage plant. This is a freakin’ transit stop. It should be put in the middle of the action, not off to the side.

      6. “the #1 job of ST is providing regional transit connections”

        Regional transit in northwest Seattle means having a station in the middle of the largest urban village in northwest Seattle. That’s where the largest number of residents, workers, and visitors are. That’s why U-District Station is one block from 45th & University Way, and Capitol Hill station is on Broadway between John Street and Pine Street. If we put U-District Station at the same relative distance from University Way as 14th Station is from 20th Ave NW, the station would be at 6th Ave NE in the middle of the freeway. (Seven blocks, not five blocks, because the distance between 15th and 14th is three blocks long.)

        The further you put the station from the center of the dense concentration, the less people use it. People make decisions on the margins, and if they’re 50/50 then every additional block makes them less willing to use it, more frustrated that the neighborhood is hard to get to, more likely to drive and insist on keeping the parking minimums and street parking, and more angry that the transit system is so bad and not like Europe or Asia.

        The number of people who would gladly take a bikeshare or scooter to 14th Station is dwarfed by the number of people who would rather have a short walk to everything from Swedish Ballard to the Ballard Avenue bars and clubs and the jobs in the Ballard Building and most of the Ballard apartments.

        “it’s drawing riders from a very wide area, from the top of Phinney all the way over to Puget Sound, and as far north as Crown Hill/Loyal Heights.”

        14th to Greenwood is a single-family area that refuses to upzone. We shouldn’t make station decisions based on areas like that because it’s a small number of people compared to the urban village on the other side, and they’re less willing to take transit on average, and there are no businesses there that would generate two-way ridership.

        Some have argued that 14th is a better bus transfer point. The evidence is unclear and it’s not necessarily true. But what is true is that most of the bus riders are coming from west of 15th, and a 14th station means their bus has to cross 15th and wait for the light, and they have to get on the bus at all when they could have walked to the station if it were closer.

      7. Look, I am not saying the walk-shed isn’t important; it is. But that issue is over stated IMO for a number of reasons.

        Oh really. Because every book, every article, every blog from every expert I’ve ever read has said that is the most important issue when it comes to transit. But please, Mr. Engineer, tell me more.

        First, it’s not that far from central Ballard. People who patronize Ballard and live there know this. There are lime bikes and jump bikes and private bikes and ride share cars and wide sidewalks and frequent transit on the N-S and E-W axis. People move freely all over that neighborhood all the time, in great numbers.

        Oh, OK, so it really doesn’t matter where the station is, because they will all use pogo sticks to get there. Got it. Again, that flies in the face of every bit of research on the subject, but continue.

        Second, and more importantly, this will be a terminal station for years, until ST4 comes along. As such it’s drawing riders from a very wide area, from the top of Phinney all the way over to Puget Sound, and as far north as Crown Hill/Loyal Heights. What it needs to successfully do that is space for easy bus-rail transfers, safe non-motorized access, lots & lots of secure bike storage, and good drop-off zones. That space exists on 14th in a way it doesn’t on 15th, given the cross-section and current land uses.

        You do realize the station is in the city, right? Just because it is a terminus doesn’t mean it will necessarily draw people to it. For example, if I’m on Phinney Ridge, the station is irrelevant. The 5 is much faster for getting downtown. It is also faster for getting to Queen Anne. No one is going to take two buses to get to this station from Phinney Ridge, nor is Metro going to screw up the network and have a bus make a hairpin turn on Phinney and Market.

        As for Crown Hill, the station at 15th would be closer. A bus that goes from Crown Hill to 15th would also turn on Market, and head towards Ballard (the biggest destination in the area). Thus the station is essentially “on the way” for those coming along 15th. In contrast, a station on 14th would require a button hook back towards Ballard.

        What it needs to successfully do that is space for easy bus-rail transfers, safe non-motorized access, lots & lots of secure bike storage, and good drop-off zones. That space exists on 14th in a way it doesn’t on 15th, given the cross-section and current land uses.

        You really don’t seem to understand transit. Buses don’t need to park next to a station. They just make a stop, and keep going. It’s that simple. Subway stations (i. e. stops) are not like long distant train stations. You don’t arrive with loads of luggage, checking the schedule. You just walk to the stop and catch the train. Or you transfer from a bus. Day or night, that is what you do. There are some people who arrive by bike, but they are greatly outnumbered by those who arrive by foot. Putting a station farther away from the heart of the neighborhood will simply lead to more people giving up, and driving to their destination. We have seen that in other cities, and we have seen that here. There is a reason why Capitol Hill Station is so popular, and Mount Baker station is not. Lots of people walk to Capitol Hill, but very few people live close to MBS. Despite having three very popular buses (the 7, 48 and 8) run close to it, ridership at MBS is extremely low. Maybe if they only had more space for bikes.

      8. The number of staff/patients visitors at Swedish Ballard who can take Link (i.e., are well enough to walk to the station), and the number of people at the bars/clubs on Ballard Ave, is probably equal the the number of residents in the village’s apartments if not higher. That’s hundreds and hundreds of people all going to a few buildings.

        The best 15th station would have entrances on both sides of 15th, or ideally all four corners. Then people coming south from Crown Hill on the D, and people coming on the 40 and 44 from the west would not have to cross 15th and wait for a light to get to Link. And people from the east wouldn’t have to either.

        But a 20th station is even better. It was good ST included it in the study; it’s the best thing ST ever did in Ballard. That station would be enough to make a tunnel pretty compelling.

      9. Sigh. You all sound awfully sure of yourselves. Humor me, and look at the map. 14th is a few hundred linear feet from 15th. It’s an insignificant distance, especially if you are in a bus, on a bike, or in an Uber. If you’re walking from the west, it’s an extra two minutes. If that two minutes saves people the hassle of parking or sitting in traffic, they won’t think twice about it. More importantly, 14th is the midpoint between Aurora and Seaview, and 85th is equidistant. Now draw a line along the water, across 85th, and down Aurora to Fremont, and that’s the catchment area.

        I’m not going to insult you by engaging in ad hominem comments. And I’m not comparing 14th elevated to 20th tunneled. I’m just pointing out that the station would be much easier to design and build on 14th than 15th, and potentially more functional if properly programmed. There is a reasonable case to be made to avoid the disruption that would come with construction in the 15th Ave corridor, and a reasonable case to be made for the benefit of locating it a block over.

        Desirable land use means TOD. Ballard density will eventually spread east of 15th, the market will see to that. A station at 14th will galvanize, or accelerate it. If you doubt it, talk to any realtor who works in the area.

        The 5 may be faster to downtown, but that could be considered a local trip, not a regional one. It’s also a debatable assumption unless the city implements pricing. Link will be the more predictable trip from Phinney to the east side, the airport, Paine Field, etc. People will take one bus line to a rail station, the current system proves it. KCM can and should update the future network to serve the station as they did with U-Link. Regardless of where it ends up.

        14th is a good terminus for future extension. If I was designing it, I’d align it to enter a future tunnel portal somewhere between 57th and 59th.

        Pogo sticks? Whatever. I don’t know where you live and commute, but this is my neighborhood, has been for over 20 years. I use almost every bus route (D, 15, 18, 40, 44) and cycle regularly. The patterns of movement among people and commerce are pretty clear to me.

        If people had said 20 years ago we needed a subway station in SLU, they might have been called crazy because it was all light industrial and few people actually lived there. Now we are planning two subway stations there. The forces that led to density in SLU will eventually work their will in other parts of the city, including Ballard. What you see there today won’t really resemble what will be there in 20, 30, 50 years. The “village” is on a path to becoming a mini-metropolis. If the current land use debate has shown anything, it’s that no code changes are permanent. This council has done things that the councils two and three decades ago couldn’t dream of.

        You suggest I don’t understand transit. On the contrary, I’ve worked on transit for 30 years all over the country. I suspect you don’t fully appreciate how communities adapt to the presence of rail transit, given this city’s reliance on the bus system during your lives here. Rail stations are hubs, especially terminals. They create their own center of gravity in land use and economic activity long after they are completed that no one can really predict. To take such a hard line against a station on 14th just strikes me as a failure imagination.

        I’m glad my comment stimulated debate, even criticism. It’s worth digging deeper on the question, because 14th may end up being the station location if funding does not materialize for a tunnel. If that ends up being the case, then the debate needs to shift to focus on what the station design and station area plan need to address in order to deliver a successful investment.

      10. “14th is the midpoint between Aurora and Seaview”

        It’s not trying to serve the Aurora-Phinney market; it’s for northwest Seattle. Aurora and the top of Phinney Ridge are too far away for this to be their north-south solution; they need their own E and 5, and Aurora should have its own high-capacity transit (BRT/rail something) as I’ve said for years.

        “Ballard density will eventually spread east of 15th, the market will see to that.”

        Only if the zoning allows it! Many of us have been urging for larger urban villages and more “missing middle” housing outside them. HALA will expand the villages a bit but only a bit. The single-family areas are highly resistent to upzoning; we’ve tried again and again in Wallingford, Queen Anne, Mt Baker, West Seattle, northeast Seattle, etc., but we always end up at a stone wall and the city council is not willing to do anything. The original HALA recommendations included allowing row houses and small apartment buildings throughout Seattle like Vancouver has, and that would have raised the density and brought more passengers to Link, and then we’d have to give West Woodland/Phinney Ridge more weight in station siting. But the NIMBYs frightened Mayor Murray and he crossed it out of the proposal. A future council in ten or twenty years may be more amenable, but there’s no guarantee of that. And we can’t go making decisions expecting density that may never happen, not when we have the compelling vital interest of serving an existing dense village that’s prewar-walkable and provenly successful. Every block we move the station east, we lose more riders than we gain, and it makes the village less able to fufill its potential.

        “The forces that led to density in SLU will eventually work their will in other parts of the city, including Ballard.”

        SLU was a decaying warehouse district for fifty years. The neighborhood was slashed by I-5 and the Aurora Expressway and Mercer Street and Broad Street. the city should have rezoned it in the 1950s or 60s or 70s or 80s but it kept putting it off. Then Paul Allen came up with his Commons idea and his biotech hub idea but they both failed. Finally in the mid 2000s we got the long-overdue upzone and the highrises accelerated. (Actually, it’s just as well they didn’t do it in the 50s because it would have been all two-story buildings and unwalkable open space.)

        West Woodland/Phinney is a single-family area, and that means it has individual homeowners who show up in city council hearings and say “Save our neighborhood” and vote for anti-change councilmembers. So it’s a completely different situation.

        I would like to make a large urban village from 24th NW to University Village and the Ship Canal to 65th or wherever into a large urban village like Chicago’s north side, which is mostly 3-10 story buildings with a few scattered single-family houses, and walkable businesses throughout. That’s what a region of 4+ million and growing should have, is compact development like that. But the city council and voters are nowhere near ready to consider that vision yet.

        If the powers that be were more willing to neighborhoods like Vancouver’s skytrain villages and Metrotown and the West End, and Kitsilano, then we could have made Central Link and Ballard Link a lot better and put more stations in other places and had more clout to move it away from the freeway, but the city and region were not ready for that either.

        “Now draw a line along the water, across 85th, and down Aurora to Fremont, and that’s the catchment area. ”

        That seems to be a suburban perspective, where people will drive or bus further to a station, and don’t have as much expectation that the station should be a 5-10 minute walk from neighborhood centers. Or it’s for a district with much higher population like I illustrated above. In South King County the 150 and 101 run because Link is too far away to adequately serve their area. Aurora is in a similar position to 15th NW. You can say, “But the distances are much different!” Yes, but people’s expectations are different too. People live in Ballard and Phinney because they want a city neighborhood where they can take a train to a station and walk to the largest cluster of businesses and apartments, and Ballard is far enough from Phinney that it’s “not their neighborhood” and a station at even 14th is “not close enough”. We need to site stations where the largest number of users and widest variety of trips are in their walk circle. 14th is further from 15th than a regular block. If people have to walk 10-15 boring minutes from Ballard Ave to Link, or take a feeder bus or bike to the station, they’ll say the station doesn’t server Ballard very well, and it’s not what we voted for and not what we spent years advocating feverishly for.

      11. 14th is a few hundred linear feet from 15th. It’s an insignificant distance, especially if you are in a bus, on a bike, or in an Uber.

        It’s even less of a distance from Link to the Mt Baker Transit Center, but making the connection is an obstacle to an awful lot of people.

        Very few people walk from 22nd along Dravis to get to the D line on 15th. There’s far fewer intersections there than on Market, but it’s enough of an obstacle course few attempt it.

        It would be different if it didn’t involve trying to cross busy streets, but it really increases the time required.

      12. Here’s an illustration. Consider two points equidistant from 14th: Ballard Ave (22nd) and 2nd Ave NW. The Phinney person lives in an outskirts and travels through the outskirts to the edge of Ballard village. The other nearest villages are Fremont and Greenwood. He thinks, “It’s too far to walk to Ballard and it’s just houses in between, and there are closer buses I can take south to SLU on the same line. If I bike, what difference does one extra block make?” The other person just left the Ballard Farmers’ Market. He spends most of his time in villages and is used to more things being within a 5-10 minute walk. He thinks, “It’s ridiculous to ride a bike from the middle of Ballard just to the edge. I’ll walk, but it is rather long, and crossing six lanes of 15th and a long walk to 14th makes it worse.”

      13. “I’m glad my comment stimulated debate, even criticism. It’s worth digging deeper on the question,”

        I appreciate your contribution. We all learn from exploring ideas from a variety of different viewpoints.

        “because 14th may end up being the station location if funding does not materialize for a tunnel.”

        If 14th is selected, we’ll have to make it the best 14th it can be. This gets into my notion of ideals vs pragmatics. Ideally, many of us believe 20th station is best, 15th is mediocre, and 14th is worst. We’ll still believe that even if 14th gets built, and long afterward, and we’ll have negative opinions of ST/council/community for allowing it to happen. But pragmatically, we can’t change past decisions, we can only change what hasn’t been decided yet or signed yet, and the most relevant one is always the next decision. So right now I’m pushing to deselect 14th. If 14th is selected, I’ll push for a good design, meaning the shortest walking distances and best bus transfers. If it’s built, I’ll push for making the most of the fixed physical infrastructure, whatever that means.

      14. Good exchange. This is an age-old dilemma in transit: do you build it to serve density, or to promote future density? I’d like to think this line can be planned to do both, but it’s not always easy, obviously. I’ll tap a sports cliché to bottom line my point about 14th: in soccer you pass the ball not to the other player, but to where the other player going to be. Likewise as a player you don’t stop and wait for the ball, you run to where the ball is going to be.

        It so it would be with 14th. I agree mayors and councils are scared of making hard decisions; that’s why change is almost always incremental. But if you look at the amount of change occurring in the city since Norm Rice created the urban village concept until now with HALA, it’s significant. That will be the case for councils 20-30 years from now as well.

      15. “This is an age-old dilemma in transit: do you build it to serve density, or to promote future density?”

        ST has always chased future density. We had to push hard to get it moved from the I-5 express lanes to Broadway and University Way. The 15th W/NW alignment was originally chosen because it’s a 6-lane expressway and all those redevelopable lots. RapidRide D and the proposed monorail where also on 15th for the same reason. The problem with this is that Old Ballard is proven and reliable: a lot of pedestrians are there and will ride a train and are eager to pay taxes for it, and they will always go to Old Ballard because it’s so pedestrian-friendly and human-friendly.

        Developers will just not build neighborhoods like that now. They’ve failed on Roosevelt Way in the U-District. They failed in SLU, and in downtown Bellevue, and on MLK, and everywhere else they’ve tried. The only times they’ve succeeded is when they’ve restored a prewar building like the Pike Motorworks, the Pine/Melrose building, etc. They just won’t get away from oversized spaces, plain geometric shapes, no moldings, lack of detail, wide and short instead of tall and narrow, and wide shallow storefronts instead of narrow deep storefront. So 15th will be like that, and pedestrians won’t want to go to it as much, and won’t want to linger there, and will be less Link ridership.

  5. These reps also know that without the votes from Seattle’s west side neighborhoods, there might not have been enough support to get ST3 over the finish line to begin with, and certainly not enough money to support Snohomish’s speculative and expensive detour to Paine Field.

    Right, but the same is true for Seattle’s east side, south side, and north side. Basically Seattle voted overwhelmingly for ST3. Like most tax measures, it was based on population density, not parochial interests. Fremont, for example, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the vote, despite getting very little out of it.

    To put it another way, if they proposed the same plan right now — even after all the discussions about tunneling — it would still pass by a big margin. Some in West Seattle might have second thoughts, but they represent a small portion of the electorate. Voters in Ballard would prefer a station closer to Old Ballard, but they were willing to live with 15th before, and would vote for it again. It is silly to think that they would reject it in preference to underground to 15th, or worse yet, a station at 14th.

    Meanwhile, if the underground plans were to be proposed as is, I’m sure there are lots of people who would question the wisdom of spending so much money on so little. For that much money, you could probably run a line from Lower Queen Anne to West Seattle (elevated at the end) and an underground line from Ballard to UW. That would likely receive more support, since it improve the transit system a lot more.

    The point being that it is a very big stretch to say that Seattle would have voted against this proposal if only they knew that they were going to get exactly what was on the ballot. On the other hand, it is possible that Seattle would have rejected this plan if it was what people are considering now.

    1. You’re right that population density was the big predictor of support. I was trying to make a simpler point, perhaps inartfully, which is just that the fate of Everett depended on big goodies in Seattle.

      1. You missed subarea equity and previous promises.

        Now I do have ongoing concerns about Paine Field transit, especially if by 2035 we find a new large commercial terminal on the west side of the field due to state legislature requests for a bigger 2nd airport. It would,be nice if the light rail went by there and the Boeing factory via a spur. TransLink SkyTrain does spurs, they work.

        A lot but there you go.

      2. Inartfully indeed. Lol. Thanks for the clarification. I was going to post a comment asking for such a clarification for exactly that quoted statement, which I found to be two divergent thoughts sort of smashed together. Then came your response to RossB’s comment above and now I think I know what you were trying to say. I don’t know if I agree with the larger point you were making but at least now I have a better understanding of it. Thanks for clearing that up.

      3. the fate of Everett depended on big goodies in Seattle.

        Except my point is that it didn’t. Seattle would have voted for anything. It really is hard to come up with a plan that is a worse value than West Seattle rail. So much money, and so few riders.

        Put it another way. We both know there were dozens of ideas bounced around for Seattle and ST3. These included things like a bus tunnel, rail from Ballard to the UW, rail to Delridge instead of the Junction, rail to Ballard on the east side of Queen Anne instead of the west (or better yet, the middle). Many suggested that a second tunnel through downtown include First Hill (so that it could be like every other downtown subway line). Many talked about a Metro 8 subway. That is a lot of ideas, and a lot of combinations. But I think that no matter what Seattle came up with, people would support it. That’s my point.

        Folks from Everett (or wherever) needn’t worry about Seattle being upset if they don’t get everything we want. We are happy with anything! Build us a station in the worst corner of the UW possible. Wonderful! Skip First Hill (twice). No Problem! Build us a Ballard Station on 15th, instead of in the heart of Ballard. Great! Better yet, move it farther east, to 14th, and bury it, so that riders have a less enjoyable ride. Wonderful! We will vote for all of it.

        Sorry for the cynicism, but in general, that seems to be the attitude around here. In any event, it is not in the least bit relevant. What is being discussed is not building something that will be better for transit riders in Seattle, but building something that will be *worse*. That is the part of this that is ridiculous, and both opponents and proponents keep misleading the public when they state otherwise. With the exception of a station at 20th, every alternative to the cheap plan is worse for riders. Not only more expensive, but simply worse.

    2. No, Seattlites would have voted for it with tunnels. They would have compared it to Paris and London and New York which all have tunnels and said, “This is the best way; we should build it right if we’re going to build it.” The whining about the cost came from the anti-tax crusaders in the exurbs who don’t have any real concept of $25 billion vs $50 billion; it’s just an abstraction to them, and train taxes are bad. The legislature capped the tax rate so the only issue is how long the taxes will last. It’s not like having money in savings and deciding whether to spend $100 or $200 and taking that loss to your savings. It’s a question of whether you’ll pay this tax for 15 years or 25 years or 30 years. By that time you’ll be another stage of life and be in an unknown economic status, and even if the tax period was short you might be still paying the same amount in a replacement tax for something else.

      1. “The whining about the cost came from the anti-tax crusaders in the exurbs who don’t have any real concept of $25 billion vs $50 billion; ”

        Oh yes. All of us professional, educated folks out here in exurbia can’t understand such “complicated” financial matters.

        Total nonsense.

      2. Tisgwm, did you vote against ST3? I assumed you voted for it. Did you seriously consider voting against it because of the tax level? When I said “the whining is coming from”, I was talking about the core of the anti-ST3 activists who were the most influential on their neighbors and subareas, not about every last person who voted against or had misgivings about the tax rate. A lot of people make decisions at the margins, for reasons other than the most-common assumptions or because of something in their personal background.

      3. I think you misunderstood what I wrote Mike. I have no doubt that Seattle would have voted for anything. My point is, if we started with the budget that is currently being discussed (lots of extra money for tunneling) it is quite possible that people would have said, essentially “Hey, wait a second, we could build a lot more things for that money, if we just go with the elevated plan”. The only reason that a First Hill Station or the Ballard to UW subway wasn’t included was because it was too expensive. We had “barely enough” for West Seattle to Ballard. Now, it turns out, we somehow have a lot more money (or at least think we do).

    3. @RossB So are you suggesting that there might have been somewhat of a bait-and-switch strategy with the ST3 plan all along within the ST board and/or ST itself?

      1. Sure looks like it to me (based on the comments by council member Bagshaw). Maybe she is speaking for herself, or maybe this was the plan all along (by several people). I knew that lots of folks in West Seattle would be upset when they realized that the thing was going to be elevated, but I didn’t think they would hatch a plan to bury it. Maybe that was the idea all along.

  6. The reaction of the elected officials to requests for a tunnel sure were different when Rainier Valley wanted them. White privilege is still a thing, obviously.

    1. Rainier Valley was the first so it got the worst. Remember, there was greater reluctance to even build light rail then, and a lot of skepticism about the benefits. Some people had experienced light rail in other cities but couldn’t imagine the same benefits here, while others had never ridden city rail because it had disappeared in the parents’ or grandparents’ time. There were serious arguments that buses on the existing roads were enough. and we weren’t one of those mega-cities that might need rail.

      ST’s original vision then was a lot more surface track: from Mt Baker all the way to SeaTac, and presumably from there to Federal Way and Tacoma. That’s how previous American light rails were made (Portland, San Jose, San Diego), and that was key to keep the capital costs down to $20 million/mile. ST didn’t think the public would support anything more expensive. But as the segments went one by one through design, there were persistent demands for grade separation and a willingness to pay for it. The Rainier Valley community was split: some wanted a tunnel for speed and low impacts, and some wanted surface to put the stations closer. ST said it must be surface because Rainier Valley doesn’t have the hills or waterways that would justify grade separation. Tukwila went through design after that, and Tukwila objected to its surface alignment because it had just beautified 99 and it didn’t want Link taking a corner of Southcenter’s property. ST defered to Tukwila because it’s a city whereas Rainier Valley is just a neighborhood without an autonomous government (which would make it a “stakeholder” in the light rail process). The fact that Rainier Valley was majority minority and lower-income were also factors, but not the only factors. If Rainier Valley had been built in ST2 or ST3 we’d see more willingness for grade separation, and we’d probably be debating a Rainier Valley tunnel now rather than a West Seattle tunnel.

  7. “The major sticking points are still the same: tunnels under the Duwamish River and Ship Canal, and an expensive station in Chinatown.”

    There are no tunnels under the Duwamish River being considered.

      1. It wasn’t clear to some people (like me) that 14th was preferred until a couple weeks after the board meeting because it wasn’t announced on STB. I don’t know when the podcast was recorded or whether it was clear to the podcasters.

      2. It concerns me as well, but at least the other alternatives are still being considered. The original proposal (movable bridge to 15th) as well as a tunnel to 20th are still possible. What isn’t clear to me is whether it really matters whether they initially prefer one option or another. Can’t they change their mind (after the study)? For example, if 14th shows lower ridership (and it should, unless they cook the numbers) that should carry some weight, I assume.

      3. “Preferred alternative” is an EIS concept. It’s the zero point in the EIS that all other alternatives are relative to. It doesn’t mean ST has to build only it. ST can mix and match from any alternatives that are disclosed in the EIS or in supplemental EISes.

  8. The great irony of the abbreviated process was to get lines built quicker. However, tunneling adds four or five years to a project. The deep station and Fourth Avenue ID options add several years as well. The taking of hundreds of homes near Delridge will result in time-consuming lawsuits and acquisitions. The very complicated Downtown segment has not been discussed much at all, and I expect many difficult issue to emerge there, easily delaying the project more. Finding more money will also take years.

    Sure, the cost issue is significant — but so is the timeline issue. To me, the process just followed for the West Seattle Ballard decisions is deeply flawed because the intent was to shorten the analysis to get to the opening date sooner — which isn’t going to happen. By restricting input to a few meetings and not presenting rational analyses, the process became less rational and more political — and losers have lots more legal ammunition when there is not the technical justification for doing things. Future riders barely understand the choices, and ST seems only concerned about other stakeholders and elected officials over riders.

    Will someone admit that the limited alternatives process was a useless, bad idea that won’t get Link built faster in the long run? I feel duped about this schedule impact argument — and I think it rushes things to be a worse transit system once it opens.

    1. The accelerated process was meant to shrink the 15-year average timeline of Link phases and to avoid the Bellevue delay. It turns out an accelerated approach doesn’t solve all the problems and may create new ones. I’m not convinced it’s 100% bad and should never be done again. We’ve learned it’s no panacea that eliminates the possibility of the Bellevue trap. But even if the planning hadn’t been compressed and we were at this point in the early 2020s, I’m not sure the result would have been any different, even with more technical information. So we may have ended up with the same number of studies and EIS duration but a longer wait from 2016.

      “Future riders barely understand the choices, and ST seems only concerned about other stakeholders and elected officials over riders.”

      That has been clear for decades. ST listens to “stakeholders”, and stakeholders are governments and large employers, and groups like STB and Seattle Subway and the Transit Riders’ Union are bundled up into one stakeholder so we’re a small minority.

      1. From a legal defensibility standpoint, an abbreviated EIS process more likely exposes the agency to lawsuits. Many transit tunneling projects for new lines have faced EIS-related litigation delays. There is certainty no consensus and there are stakeholders with deep pockets and strong emotions on either side here. The true EIS process not only makes more sense but it’s more legally defensible. All it takes is proving omission of facts in the abbreviated process to bring the project to a stop.

        Mike, you may be right about forcing issues earlier and that helps schedules. Still, I think the biggest risks to schedule are costs and litigation — and these both appear to be looking as eventual schedule problems here.

  9. It’s completely logical to study elevated and tunneled alternatives in the EIS. ST officials will tell you that the cost estimates for the tunnels are educated guesses at best and there is clearly political momentum for tunnels that isn’t going away. As ST has been saying all along, the lines will be built and they will be elevated unless third party funding is secured. Influential people want tunnels and the politicians have to at least try to get them…but nobody has been asked to write a check yet. We’ll see what tunnel support looks like when the city starts drawing up LIDs.

    Nobody in West Seattle wants to see an elevated line extended south of the Junction into single family neighborhoods, so the transit advocate idea to “expand the line south instead of building a tunnel” is a literal dead end. The organizations advocating for this have no understanding of West Seattle. Support for a line-split at Delridge would be much higher.

    1. Yes, we should study tunnels so we know their real cost/benefit compared to the default, and we shouldn’t foreclose the possibility prematurely. If funders step up in 2022, it would be foolish to say, “Sorry, we decided against tunnels in 2019 because we assumed funding wouldn’t be available.” So ST’s official track is reasonable, to have a basic fallback but allow enhancements if third-party funding comes. The argument isn’t so much about this strategy as about the issues around it, and in particular the delay and uncertainty it adds. And ST’s decision to put the 14th Station alternative first even though it’s worse than the representative alignment. The delay is real: ST was counting on an expedited process and good behavior by the city and community to accelerate an already-long timeline. But the insistence on the tunnels and deep Intl Dist stations, and the fact that this controversy is happening now rather than in 2015 and 2016 when ST3 was being drawn up, makes delays likely, so instead of waiting 11 years for West Seattle and 17 years for Ballard we might be waiting several years longer.

      1. Yeah nobody advocating for these changes seems to care about the potential for schedule delays. But nothing is delayed yet. If ST is strict about third-party funding deadlines then it’s possible that elevated could go through on the expedited schedule.

        Perhaps proposing elevated rail through established neighborhoods was simply a bad idea from day 1.

      2. There are two time periods: planning and construction. Planning has historically taken five years, elevated/surface construction 3-5 years, and underground construction ten years. ST hoped to shave 1-3 years off the planning by pleading for everyone to agree on one or two alternatives and for cities to expedite the zoning/permitting as Redmond did. (McGinn/Murray said they’d do this so I assume it’s done.) Now that we have two preferred alternatives, it will add a year or so for studies. And if Durkan got her wish of finding new alternatives for Intl Dist, that will add some time too. And if there are demands for more alternatives and refinements as the EIS goes through its stages, that would add time too and make us more like Bellevue. Then there’s the revenue issue: the tax money for construction is not here now; it will only be accumulated in the 2020s and 2030s.

        Third-party funding could be sought for construction or planning. The assumption so far has been construction, and that it must be ready by some time in the 2020s, so that gives a few years to line it up. When the EIS is final and ST selects a project for construction, then the money would have to be ready. If we want to get third-party funding for planning, then we’d need to get it much sooner because planning is happening now.

  10. Well happy to hear the drama go down a few octaves. Because TransLink sure has ZERO problems with elevated rail. Be nice if folks just got over it and speed over tunnelling was the priority.

    Also uh um who wants to explain to Rainier Valley there is,no plan to improve their light rail situation? Not me!!!

  11. I’m frustrated that Durkan and others are making these huge promises, but haven’t done any work to find the money to fund them.

    Realistically, if they city wants to pay for it, they will need a levy and probably a LID as well. The levy for these tunnels will be about the same size as the move Seattle levy… but instead of being spread across huge number of projects, it’s just two tunnels. Presumably, we will still need another transportation levy on top of that to replace Move Seattle.

    If they want to stall for time, I wish they’d use it wisely and come up with a realistic plan to pay for this. Instead, I feel like Durkan is painting herself into a corner.

    1. Durkan seems to be doing this for several issues. She has simply avoided making decisions. She has done very little to deal with the homeless situation. It took her forever to get a transportation chief. She originally rejected Best for police chief, then after an appointed board picked someone else, she went with Best. The streetcar is in limbo, as are most of the RapidRide+ projects and just about all bike lanes. It isn’t that she has made a lot of bad decisions, it is that she hasn’t decided. The one exception was at 35th, and that is a fiasco — somehow she managed to make the street worse for bikes, more dangerous for cars, *and* eliminate parking, which was the source of the kerfuffle in the first place.

      My guess is that she has eyes on another job. On paper, she would be well qualified to be governor, for example. She probably figures that if she runs out the clock, she has a good chance of getting that job. Just delay everything until 2020 and she will be fine. Since this won’t be decided until well after that, it suits her fine.

      1. That’s a possible explanation. I think mayor of a major city is more than a stepping stone for most people though.

        I think another explanation is just that being mayor is a hard job, and Durkan hasn’t held elected office before. She does a lot of things that seem responsible on paper, like taking a lot of time to study every issue, and engaging lots of stakeholders. In practice, getting mired in Seattle Process carries its own risks.

      2. Jenny Durkan isn’t most people. Her dad tried to become governor, and lost. Maybe she has had eyes on the job for a while.

        Anyway, I think you have to look at her background. She had little to do with the city until she ran. She was never on the city council nor was she the city attorney.

        But you are right. Maybe it is that she really doesn’t know what she is doing. Given her background, this makes sense. We have had a string now of elected mayors that have served only one term, and none of them were on the city council or had much to do with the city before becoming mayor. Too many people skip ahead in the process, and the result is poor management (likely caused by ignorance). In contrast, Rice served on the council before running for mayor, and did a very good job (in my opinion).

  12. I remember reading recently that after ST3 is built, Sound Transit might have to focus on operations and debt repayments, to the extent that a large scale “ST4” rail expansion might not be possible? And as far as smaller scale light rail expansions, I doubt extending in to single family homes south of the Junction is on many people’s list. And if the idea really is we’re going to tunnel all the way from the Junction to Burien–seriously???

    Perhaps we shouldn’t fuss so much about having the Alaska Junction station face south. I say keep it elevated over Fauntleroy, which was the original plan and does what we want ridership wise. You could even make the last few blocks be at grade to make the station easier to access and avoid having the elevated structure there. You could say there was a compromise and dozens of homes and buildings were “saved” (never mind that they are only “destroyed” if you deviate from the original plan….). If ST4 is realistically going to be smaller scale rail improvements (perhaps with more BRT especially if 405 Stride and Madison BRT prove popular), south of the Junction is probably not a top priority. Not even sure it is a top priority if we’re talking large scale expansions in ST4.

    1. I’m not convinced that we can afford ST3 as put on the ballot. ST set the contingencies low.

      I actually think we will see what happened with South and East King — where end stations were eventually deemed unaffordable and postponed..

      In this situation, I would not be surprised that forces combine to end the lines at Delridge and Smith Cove, and leave the end of-line decisions to a future funding sources and later opening dates.

      1. Considering the substantial drop in estimated riders north of Shoreline and the cost of elevated structure, the thing to do would be a partially single track line north of Lynwood. TriMet was able to do pretty well with a single track line to Gresham, and they had a 7 minute headway on that during peak period. Ultimately bridge lifts and wheelchair boarding pushed them to double track it, but neither of those are an issue on Link.

        Building the second track to Everett later might cut ~ $2 billion or so from the cost of getting to Everett. Then, once the federal operating grants start, they might have a bit more to play with to finish the second track.

      2. If West Seattle Link is truncated at Delridge, ST may be cutting it a little too conservatively. If it does away with the 35th and Avalon station and all the bus commuters coming up north on 35th from a multitude of neighborhoods, it may end up being a bigger revenue loser than if it were to end at 35th and Avalon.

        And the Alaska Junction NIMBY’s protect their “Mayberry” from a scary unsightly elevated structure.

      3. @Glenn

        The cost saved by single tracking north of Lynnwood would be small as a % of total project cost compared to an at grade alignment like Gresham. All the structures would have to be sized and laid out for a future second track. Then building that second track under revenue operations would be quite a bit more restricted and costly.

      4. “Considering the substantial drop in estimated riders north of Shoreline”

        When was this? I hadn’t heard the ridership projections had changed.

      5. A Delridge-SODO stub could be useful if it was designed with level cross-platforms in one direction. It would feel like a sideways elevator in that case.

        Then again, this is ST we are talking about – the agency that won’t take deep underground tunnels (platforms reachable with only elevators) off the table at the station with probably the highest number of future rail-rail transfers (from 3 future light rail lines, 2 commuter rail lines and 2 future streetcar lines). I would not be surprised if ST forces every transferring rider to take at least one set of stairs just to save a few million — making the stub essentially useless.

      6. And leaving out a station such as 130th and building it later wouldn’t be disruptive?

        You already need the crossovers between lines, so you wouldn’t have to cut out any track segments. Procedures for laying track next to an active line are pretty common.

        The total percent may not be much, but when considering the sheer number of miles from Everett to Paine Field it’s more than eliminating 130th or cheating out on other stations. It’s probably about 10 or so miles of track laying, signal installation and electrification hardware that could be delayed.

        As for where this reduced capacity need comes from, I’m basing this off of the Could Link to Mariner Open Early? article. The third image doesn’t make it clear where a good place to start a frequency reduction would be, but it does show that even as late as 2040, the estimate is for a significant drop in capacity as the line gets further north.

      7. OK, I thought you meant the estimate was revised. The loads north of Shoreline and north of Lynnwood were always going to be lower than loads south of 185th, both because there are fewer people per square mile the further north you go and the less likely they are to take Link, and because riders from Everett to Seattle and Shoreline to Seattle have to share the same train south of 185th.

        ST believes it needs two lines’ worth of trains north to Lynnwood and north to 128th. At 3-minute headways that’s 20 trains per hour northbound and 20 southbound. Can a single track fit that? Will trains have to wait for other trains going the opposite direction?

      8. This has always amused me (in a sad way) ever since the days of d.p. posting here. Three-minute headways? To Lynnwood? Please find me a similar station in this country that is 1) as far as Lynnwood from the CBD; 2) has the same or similar population density; and 3) is served by trains on three minute headways. You’ll be lucky to find any with 10 minute service.

        In a normal system Lynnwood or Federal Way would be on commuter rail lines (RER, Metro North, S-Bahn, Sounder) and everything between the airport and 130th would be on actual urban rail with commensurate service. ST tries to be all things to all people and ends up being neither. Unfortunately we can’t afford to fix things by separating the systems and allowing the suburban lines to bypass most of the urban stops whilst operating on much lower headways; all we can do is provide service commensurate with actual demand. That is not three-minute service to Lynnwood and likely never will be in my lifetime.

      9. Scott, that’s a curious question about where there is a similar distance and similar density. The closest I could find was Shady Grove Metro Station near DC. It’s at 4 minutes but with larger trains.

        A point that never seems to make it beyond the STB is how packed trains could become, making boarding in North Seattle difficult to impossible. (The same situation may happen in the Rainier Valley because the median surface segment limits train frequencies).

        It shows the incredible naïveté of ST management and stakeholders to treat rider capacity issues as important — both on trains and on the vertical conveyances at stations.

        I have yet to see any comprehensive capacity analysis since before ST3 got adopted. It’s now been 2.5 years since the adoption. We end up discussing productivity and peak overcrowding without background data other than the vague annual ridership flow maps. Even the big rider experience discussion last week at the ST Operations and Rider Experience Committee has no mesures of overcrowding proposed!

      10. “A point that never seems to make it beyond the STB is how packed trains could become, making boarding in North Seattle difficult to impossible.”

        I first heard it from an ST staff at one of the early Lynnwood Link open houses. He said there was concern among some staff that Link might get overcrowded in north Seattle within the planning window (2023-2040 ridership). This must have been what motivated ST to extend East Link trains to Lynnwood all day rather than peak-only as it had previously planned. And now ST is planning to extend the second line to 128th, presumably for the same reason. Some have said there won’t be enough ridership in Snohomish County. I’m not concerned about that because if so, ST can shorten the second line to Lynnwood or Northgate. But overcrowding is a concern, because I don’t want to see people in north Seattle waiting train after train for a space to get on.

        3-minute service sounds like an awful lot, but there are currently hundreds of express buses coming from Snohomish County, and part of the train capacity is needed for Shoreline and North Seattle and Capitol Hill passengers, and ridership will only go up when the extension opens. (Right now there’s no reasonable transit alternative between Snohomish County and much of North Seattle because it takes over an hour each way on local buses and there’s no express-bus alternative, but with Link that will change.) So I’m hopeful the 3-minute peak, 5-minute off-peak service will be enough, but I’m a bit concerned. The 3-car, 6-10 minute trains are already almost full in Rainier Valley and on some game days.

      11. So it may be that there was concern about overcrowding in 2017 but now those staff are gone and the current staff aren’t paying attention to it. I don’t know if that’s likely but it’s possible.

        I’m torn about how much ST3 might affect crowding. On the one hand there will be all those people riding Link from Everett, Marysville, and Mt Vernon. On the other hand, they’ll probably already be talking a feeder to Lynnwood Station in ST2.

        The south end seems more problematic. The existing trains are already almost full in Rainier Valley, and the MLK segment limits frequency to the current 6 minutes. So if it can only go from 3-car trains to 4-car trains but not increase frequency, how on earth is it going to fit KDM and Kent transferees, Federal Way, and Tacoma? There are express buses leaving Tacoma Dome every five minutes at peak, which presumably exist because Sounder doesn’t have that much capacity (it must reserve half the space for Auburn and Kent passengers).

    2. There’s a year’s window now to lobby ST to revert to the east-west AJ station. The EIS process will be like the past year’s alternatives analysis only much more in depth. Lynnwood station had three alternatives on different sides of the P&R when it got to 30% and 60% design. The alternatives analysis only made major decisions; e.g., to tunnel or not to tunnel, which neighborhoods should have stations. ST won’t want to revisit those. But the exact station location within a block or two is a small detail that ST would be more flexible about. Look at how much Shoreline North changed late in the EIS. I’m not necessary endorsing an east-west station; I’m just outlining how you could pursue it.

      ST1 and 2 were ten-year programs. That’s what ST and the state estimated was the maximum the public was willing to commit taxes and projects. ST3 was originally the same size but there was overwhelming public input to increase it to 25 years to fit in Everett, Tacoma, Ballard, and West Seattle. ST4 doesn’t have to be any particular size but these are the precedents. I think most people would say ST3 was a one-time thing and ST4 should be smaller. Any ST4 vote would be in the late 2020s or 30s at the earliest. A new generation of electeds and voters will be active then, and may have different ideas.

      We’ve really drawn up the bonds, like a gambler who keeps putting his winnings into something bigger. ST3 depends on the ST1 and 2 tax streams after their bonds are paid down. ST4 will have to wait until all three streams are paid down, or raise taxes exponentially higher if they don’t want to wait for that. It’s hard to see the public or state approving that, especially with concerns about how disappointing Ballard and West Seattle and Issaquah-Kirkland are turning out.

      Also, the subareas’ interests will diverge further when ST3 is finished (or rather in 2036 when the last projects start construction.) The suburbs really believe that the #1 mandate was Everett-Tacoma-Redmond. With that done they’ll be much less eager for large projects. They have some lingering requests — Tacoma Mall, Everett Community College — but those are small. Then it will be on to second-tier projects: WS-Burien-Redmond, Kirkland something, Orting something, etc. The tax rate must be identical in all subareas unless they’re split into separate tax districts. So we may end up with North King making a large request and the other subareas making small requests. Splitting the tax district might require splitting the board or having only subarea members vote on subarea projects, and Pierce and South King would lose any possibility of their voters approving anything.

      A fair number of knowledgeable transit fans suspect there won’t ever be an ST4, or it will be just small touch-ups. When ST expanded ST3 by a third, it put in everything that was expected to be in ST4 or ST3.5, and the milestones of Everett Station and Tacoma Dome.

      But still, it will be another generation making the decisions.

      1. “ST1 and 2 were ten-year programs.”

        Small correction. Sound Move was a ten-year plan (that ultimately became a joke). ST2 is a 15-year plan that has now been stretched out due to multiple delays and cost issues.

      2. Yes, I meant that ST1 had de facto dragged on to about fifteen years. When the board discussed ST3’s size it used ST1’s de facto size as a reference point. When I haven’t thought about it for a while I forget the details until something reminds me.

    3. WS-Burien was an early request by South King but it always prioritized it behind Federal Way, Sounder, and BAR Station. North King has never had much interest in the project because it has so many higher priorities. The AJ-Burien-Renton study in 2014 showed high costs and a high cost-per-rider. (It also showed a surprisingly good 40-minute travel time from Renton to downtown, which is comparable to the 101.) Since the study came out I’ve heard crickets about the project, so South King may have lost enthusiasm. It may regain enthusiasm as ST4 approaches, but whether it will think it’s worth the cost I have no idea.

    4. I agree with all of your points, B. Furthermore, extending the line south would not only be politically unpopular with the neighbors, but it hardly ranks as the next priority for the region.

  13. Getting light rail to Ballard and to West Seattle should be the priority. Preferably faster than current planning. Frequent and fast bus transportation to those terminals might be considerably faster and cheaper. Buses would and could provide connections from most of the two areas, versus winners and losers for the few stations we could afford for light rail.

    1. Robin. If you look back on this blog You’ll find that during the ST 3 scoping, there were a high % of blog commenters in favor of a new bus tunnel and branching brt routes to N.W. and N.E. Seattle instead of a single light rail route with few stations. But these decisions were made early on before much of the public was aware of the process and timeline and with limited engineer details. The fact that mode, routes, and station locations are determined and baked into the bond measure without a comprehensive and public system planning process is a recurring complaint of many involved.

    2. ST3 includes improvements to RapidRide C and D as an “early deliverable” in the early 2020s.

      “there were a high % of blog commenters in favor of a new bus tunnel”

      A high % of blog comments, not commentators. Most of it was one person arguing repeatedly. A few others agreed we should advocate for a bus tunnel and against light rail. Others (like me) thought the bus tunnel was a good idea if the powers that be were willing but we weren’t going to push for it.

      The idea was approximately, a Y-shaped bus tunnel like the DSTT with two northern exits: one toward Ballard and one toward Aurora. This could serve the C, D, E, and other routes like the 120 and 5. It could be rail-compatible for shared use, although the goal was to serve Seattle neighborhoods well and not have them hindered by Tacoma trains.

    3. The bus tunnel idea was part of a larger vision:

      1. A Y-shaped bus tunnel with multi-branch BRT replacing the C, D, E, 21, 40, and 120, and sharing lanes with the 5, 26, 28, and 62., and possibly other routes. This would eliminate the biggest time-sink on those routes.

      2. Don’t extend Link past Lynnwood and Kent-Des Moines (the ST2 termini).

      3. Replace the 512 and 574 tails with BRT. Replace the other ST/CT express routes with frequent express feeders to all parts of those counties.

      4. Add the Ballard-UW Link line in a tunnel. (It was studied and was a candidate project for ST3.) A secondary idea was to divert half the Lynnwood trains to Ballard.

      5. Add a “Metro 8” Link line in a tunnel, serving the Central District, First Hill or Capitol Hill, SLU, and Uptown.

      Other secondary ideas that have been discussed are diverting half the Lynnwood trains to Ballard (via the 45th line), and extending the Metro 8 line south to Renton (joining the Rainier Valley track and then diverging at Rainier Beach).

    4. Here is a write-up from this blog: https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/02/18/westside-seattle-transit-tunnel/. As you can see, Seattle Subway supported it (and yes, Mike, lots of people on this blog supported it). The Seattle Times had an article about it as well, but I can’t find it.

      Like other sensible proposals (e. g. BRT on CKC) it failed because Sound Transit prefers rail. It never even studied a bus tunnel, preferring instead to call buses stuck in traffic “BRT” and then stating that ridership would suffer because of the slow travel times. There never was a full study of a new bus tunnel like the one suggested, but by golly, we are going to make sure the trains in West Seattle face south, just so that can eventually be extended to Burien (and beyond!).

      1. For those that have been promoting using scooters for last Mike travel between Ballard and a 14th the Ave station…where would you ride it? You can either wait in line with the cars to cross 15th – and get honked at when you can’t accelerate fast enough when the light turns green – or, you can ride a sidewalk crowded with pedestrians at pedestrian speed. There are no bike lanes on Market St., and never will be, since there is simply not room for them.

        Meanwhile, Lime has been quietly raising their prices to the point where their services are no longer economically viable for everyday commuting – only for special, oddball trips, as an alternative to Uber pool that is more resilient to traffic (but isn’t any cheaper). There’s a fundamental problem to the business model in that keeping the vehicles charged and in locations of high demand requires paying a lot of people to drive around a lot in their cars, moving equipment around. If the juicers are to be paid similar to Uber drivers, then a Lime scooter ride can’t be that much cheaper than a ride in an Uber car.

      2. “Seattle Subway supported it (and yes, Mike, lots of people on this blog supported it).”

        There’s a difference between saying it’s a good idea and opposing light rail because of it. I supported this idea too and thought it might be the best one, but neither I nor Seattle Subway crusaded against light rail and said it was bad; only you and a couple others did. Maybe that’s not what the emojist meant but that’s how I interpreted it.

      3. I never opposed light rail because of the WSTT. Only the folks from Smarter Transit took that position (which was essentially that we should only build bus infrastructure). That is as bad a position as the opposite, which is that we should only build rail infrastructure. You will find very few people advocating that position on this blog.

        What you will find is people with the same position as you. The WSTT was the best value for West Seattle and the best way to improve the Aurora and 15th/Elliot/Lower Queen Anne/Belltown corridor. But it wasn’t the only option, and it certainly wasn’t the only proposal I would have supported. Building Ballard to UW rail would have been a much better value, as would a Metro 8 subway. That combination (just to cite an example) would have made me a lot more excited about the Seattle projects. There are plenty of places in Seattle where the geography makes sense for rail. It is just that they won’t be part of ST3.

      4. You’ve been saying ever since that we shouldn’t be building West Seattle Link because the BRT suggestion would have been more effective. That’s what I meant. I also thought the BRT suggestion was better for West Seattle, but I’m not going to oppose a light rail line if the powers that be are willing to build it. Even if the extension is less cost-effective per passenger and has more West Seattle transfers, once you get to the train you can go to north Seattle or Bellevue or Lynnwood seamlessly more conveniently than transferring to buses, and that’s a precious advantage most American cities don’t have. So even inefficient train lines are better than not having them. While you constantly say, “We should cancel West Seattle Link for BRT” and “We should replace Ballard-downtown Link with Ballard-UW Link and Metro 8 Link” and “We should replace 405 Stride with BRISK”, even though the hard-to-reach regional consensus was for the other things. I’ve seen what happens when we don’t build something, like Forward Thrust or voted-down or canceled lines in other cities, and I’m not willing to take that risk. A mediocre rail line is better than none at all, at least for the ones that have been proposed in this region. (This doesn’t apply to streetcars. Sharing congested lanes with cars is just pointless. We’re competing with cars so we need to provide a better experience, not one that’s just as bad.)

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