SDOT is planning two more bus lane additions under their “spot improvements” program.

This winter, SDOT plans to add a half block or so of westbound bus lane along N 45th St west of Stone Way. Only the 44 uses that stretch of road, around six buses per hour, just before it slips over to 46th.


But the bigger news comes this fall, when Lenora St. between 4th and 7th avenue gets a Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane to accelerate the C Line, 40, 143, 214, and 554. Lenora is a one-way street that flows towards Elliott Bay. The project will add a new RapidRide stop by the Cinerama and a queue jump at 4th. The C and 40 are major workhorses, and the 554 is a key part of the regional system.

While minor changes like these don’t change the world, they also involve much less process and can quickly accumulate into measurable gains for transit riders. If you have comments or questions about either of these projects, please email

56 Replies to “Two small gifts for bus riders”

  1. A couple steps in the right direction. One place that could really use a bus lane as well is the northbound approach to the Fremont Bridge on Westlake. Traffic gets significantly backed up there, causing major delays for route 40. Since southbound traffic usually splits off to westlake, Dexter, and Nickerson, I would argue that two southbound lanes on Westlake are probably not necessary for the first half mile or so. As far as I can tell, one southbound lane on Westlake could be sacrificed to give us one northbound bus lane, two NB general purpose lanes (one heading to Fremont bridge and one to Nickerson) and one general purpose southbound lane. Interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on that.

    1. That sounds like a great idea. Right now vehicles cross over the bridge and spread out into three lanes ( It seems the assumption is that 2/3 of the drivers are headed to Westlake, which is an outdated idea. Dexter has a lot more businesses than they used to (so does Westlake, but I would guess it is close to 50/50 right now). It would simplify things to have three lanes; right, left, center.

      Except I would go one step further. Very few people turn right there. It only makes sense if you are headed to the Nickerson Street Saloon area. But that building is going away, as explained here: Here is a key tidbit of related information:

      Underground parking for 37 vehicles will be accessed from Florentia Street.

      Thus there is no reason to turn right there. That means that the rightmost lane could become a nice wide bike lane, for those headed up to Dexter. So this would be a nice little win for the biking community as well (and a cause for celebration, as bikes and buses would benefit from the same project).

      All in all, it seems a lot simpler for drivers. If you are headed to Dexter, just get in the right lane; if you are headed to Westlake, use the left lane. The time savings for buses would be quite substantial, especially when the bridge went up a while ago. Instead of buses trapped behind a row of cars, they would get right to the front, and go across as soon at it closes.

      1. Thinking about this some more, the only argument for two lanes headed to Westlake is to provide space before the traffic light (at Nickerson). You don’t want cars backing up onto the bridge.

        But I just don’t see this as an issue anymore. Or rather, the issue isn’t Westlake. I’m sure there was a time when most of the cars were headed to Westlake. The extra space available meant that the bridge operator could put the bridge up at just about any time. Now things have changed. Traffic backs up onto the bridge because of cars turning right (and often waiting for bikes). It backs up for people heading up to Dexter. The two lanes for Westlake don’t matter, because there are simply too many cars backed up when the southbound light at Nickerson is red.

        I think the bridge operator simply times it as best they can, waiting for the southbound light at Nickerson to turn green before dropping the southbound gate (knowing that it will all clear out fairly soon). The two lanes for Westlake don’t matter. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they are now designed that way. The driver presses the button, and then Nickerson favors southbound traffic. Then a little while later, it switches over to east-west traffic, since there is no point in heading towards the bridge. I have noticed the latter, I haven’t noticed the former, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the case.

    2. Denny needs a bus lane from Westlake to Fairview as well, and a queue jump eastbound across Westlake would be nice as well.

      In fact, Denny should really adopt the following configuration
      WB lane
      WB turn lane/EB left turn lane/EB bus lane when bus stop is present
      EB bus lane/bus stop
      EB travel lane

      That way the bus can avoid all the right turning traffic onto Yale.

      1. I think there are a lot of places where buses need queue jumps or their own lanes. The challenge is getting them. People complain about taking parking, but in general that has been the easiest part. The challenge is taking a lane that is used by lots of cars, and not causing a cascading set of congestion that ultimately makes travel worse for everyone (including buses).

        The great thing about Squints’s suggestion is that it costs so little. When you cross the bridge southbound, you have only two lanes. Those headed to Westlake have to share the road with those headed to Florentia and Dexter. Then the road widens, and Westlake drivers get two lanes by themselves. But it really doesn’t matter when that widening occurs. The proposed change simply moves that widening further south. That change isn’t likely to cause any traffic problems.

        I can’t say that about some of the other proposals. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Maybe they will, but the city feels it is worth it. But the point is, the suggestion by Squint is very unusual and very special. It would mean a significant increase in speed for buses and an important safety improvement for bicyclists while not costing drivers anything.

      2. @RossB: I agree that these are hard choices for a (formerly?) car focused DOT. That being said, they didn’t really feel the need to preserve two car lanes WB on Denny at Stewart; I don’t see why they should assume that there’s a lot of right turn traffic at Fairview, either.

  2. Will the Midvale changes remove the recently installed stop sign at Midvale & 45th that slows down the eastbound 44? That stop sign has significantly slowed down the 44 and it looks like that sign could be removed with the new road plan.

    1. Does the bus (or any vehicle in the right lane) have to stop there? It looks to me like they don’t ( But then again, maybe that picture is out of date. If both lanes have to stop, I’m guessing they did that to make it safer for pedestrians. If that is the case, then I would assume they would keep it. They could keep it only for cars, but that would be weird, and probably cause confusion.

      I think the big thing is that a bus doesn’t get stuck behind cars (that are stopping there). Yes, a bus has to make a quick stop, but that doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. (And that is worse case scenario — they may remove the stop sign). I could also see them put in a beg light (since you have two lanes going the same direction now).

      1. The stop sign was recently installed (Eastbound 46th and 45th)–since the pictures for Google Street View were taken. Westbound there is a sign to stop when pedestrians are present.

      2. Ah, OK, the stop sign is eastbound. Yeah, I think it is unlikely that the stop sign remains. Apparently the stop sign was put in to prevent driving accidents (a westbound car cutting in front of an eastbound car) and not to make it significantly safer for pedestrians. I think it is a given that it will be removed. I still think a lighted crosswalk seems necessary though, since it will essentially be two lanes one direction (and one the other). A regular crosswalk on roads like that is dangerous, and SDOT has been removing them for a while.

    2. My understanding is that, since they are moving the crosswalk to the northwest, buses and cars will no longer need to stop at 45th and Midvale.

      1. OK, yeah, now I follow you. I didn’t see the part about moving the crosswalk.

        Now that I see where the crosswalk will be, I think a beg light is needed more than ever. Otherwise it seems really dangerous. A car is likely to turn the corner and not see a pedestrian at all. The bus stops for the person in the crosswalk, but the driver just assumes there is a bus stop there. The pedestrian is completely hidden from the view of a car as they walk in front of the bus, towards where the car is headed.

        It also means that folks who are simply trying to walk on the north side of 45th have to go out of their way to do so. This is another argument for a signaled crosswalk. People will jaywalk if they have to go out of their way just for a bit of white paint. But a button that will allow them to cross easily is worth the extra walk.

  3. How about a bus-and-right-turn only lane on Fremont Ave. for the one block between Leary and 34th? And, of course, if the right-hand lane of Fremont Ave. is bus-only, then the right-hand lane of Leary for at least a couple blocks back can be bus-only too. In fact, why not go even further and just make the right-hand lane of Leary a bus lane (with right turns allowed), all the way back to Ballard?

    With this change, even when the Fremont bridge is open, the #40 bus would still be able to at least get to the bus stop at Fremont and 34th and opens its doors, so when the bridge lowers again, the bus is all loaded up and ready to go.

    In addition, SDOT needs to seriously start fixing some of the anti-pedestrian intersections in the Fremont area. The pedestrian island halfway across Leary, and the wide turn so drivers can zoom around the corner is unnecessary and dangerous. On the south side of the Fremont bridge, the right-turn pocket from Nickerson to Dexter should just be eliminated and replaced with a rain garden. On 39th St., there is not a single marked crosswalk from Fremont Ave., all the way to Leary, and drivers almost never stopped for an unmarked crosswalk. Linden Ave. and Fremont Way, there’s a fire signal, but SDOT won’t allow pedestrians to use it to cross the street. The light to cross 39th Ave. almost Fremont Ave. takes forever to change and, if you’re on the east side of the street, you have to either jaywalk or wait twice. And, at Leary/Evanston, SDOT decided to put in a crosswalk on only one side of the street. Absent a compelling reason to do otherwise, every traffic light should have a crosswalk on both sides of the street. It is just basic street design. And, there’s probably more I’m not thinking about.

    1. I like that idea. I don’t think it is the easy win that Squints proposed, but I think it would work. The details are controversial. The Move Seattle/RapidRide+ option for that corridor is interesting ( They have peak BAT lanes between 45th and Fremont Place. That brings up a few issues.

      The first is whether this should be peak only. I would be OK with that, if it wasn’t for the bridge opening. I am sympathetic to business owners who feel they need load/unload areas in the middle of the day. But in this case, they can always park on the other side of the street, not to mention that there are plenty of alleys and side streets (it isn’t like Lake City Way, where they just disappear for long distances). I really don’t see that as a major issue. In general I think any loss of parking should be dealt with via a payout, as it was with the construction on 23rd (which likely hurt businesses a lot more than the loss of a few parking spaces).

      The second, and in my opinion, bigger issue, is where to start the thing. As mentioned, SDOT started it at 45th. I suppose that works, even though it is overkill. I will say, though, that if SDOT is OK with having southbound Leary/36th be one lane for that whole stretch when it matters most (during rush hour) I am too. Otherwise, I would start it at 39th. A lot more drivers are headed to 39th these days (to get to Aurora) which means that south of there traffic drops somewhat. Having one lane for 39th, and the other lane for through traffic seems more than adequate. The bus lane would start right there. (Unless, of course, it turns out that traffic routinely backs up past there, in which case, you have to push the BAT lane farther north).

      The diagram also brings up the question as to where it should end. They end it at Fremont Place, not at the bridge. Again, I disagree with them, and agree with you. If Leary/36th/Fremont is one lane, there is really no point in expanding to two before the bridge. Fremont Avenue (from north of there) is one lane. It really doesn’t matter where you expand to two lanes — you won’t have better throughput doing that earlier. For that matter, the same is true of folks driving west on 34th. All the streets heading to the bridge would be one lane. There is no reason to expand to two lanes any earlier than necessary. I would expand at the area between 34th and the bridge. When the bridge is down, this still has the same “firehose effect” on traffic (it moves faster as you expand the lanes). When the bridge is up, people can still queue up in all that space. Meanwhile, as you mentioned, the bus can pick up riders and other buses can stack up behind the bus while we wait for the bridge to open.

    2. They are currently putting in a marked crosswalk on 39th and Phinney, construction started last week. I believe they’ll have flashing lights. Much needed improvement, for sure.

  4. “Only the 44 uses that stretch of road, around six buses per hour…”

    One bus every 10 minutes. Seems a very inefficient use of roadway. I wonder what the car / passenger count is during those ten minutes going west on 45th.

    1. So, with a 3 second following distance, a lane of traffic has a theoretical capacity of 20 cars per minute, or 200 cars per 10 minutes. But, the three seconds is between the back of one car and the front of the next, so you also have to account for the time it takes to drive one car length. At 20 mph, this is about half a second for a small car car, larger for a truck or bus. Using 0.75 seconds as the average, we get 600/3.75=160 cars/10 minutes.

      Of course, stoplights reduce the capacity of a roadway dramatically, since nobody can go through when the light is red. Dividing by 2, for back of the envelope purposes, we’re now down to 80 cars per 10 minutes. Assuming an average of 1.25 people per car, that’s 100 people per 10 minutes.

      100 people is more than a crowded metro bus is able to carry, but not that much more. Of course, during off peak hours, the bus carries less, but the number of cars on the road is also less. Bottom line – the bus lane is not a waste.

      And, even when there is no bus, just having the bus lane there means more separation between the sidewalk and cars, which, in and of itself, is a good thing.

    2. To flip that on it’s head, the current roadway configuration isn’t very good for anyone since WB 45th vehicles going onto Midvale interferes with EB 45th vehicles. This also reduces the undefined (read: unused) roadway space and takes better advantage of the overall roadway in the area.

      During the peak periods, it’s eight very packed buses per hour on one of Metro’s top routes and six heavily used buses throughout the day.

  5. If SDOT keeps doing these sorts of improvements for the 44, the “need” for “Ballard-UW” (e.g. the “Metro 44 Subway”) will be exposed for the rail bias fantasy it is.

    Jes’ sayin’.

    1. For the billions they put into a Ballard-UW Link they could put wings on them there buses.

    2. It is about the same distance from the UW to downtown as it is from the UW to Ballard. We spent billions, on a very short subway, and suddenly doubled ridership. This is with only two new stops (no First Hill stop, no U-District stop and only one stop on Capitol Hill/C. D.). If we had a couple more stops there, it would eclipse everything to the south, yet somehow someone would complain because it is too short.

      I think you basically have it backwards. A short line is a lot cheaper to build and maintain than a long line. With that in mind, what new line do you think would be a better value?

    3. It’s easier to get light rail tunnels approved than to get robust transit lanes approved, even though it costs a lot more. You’re argument is with the voters. If the council thought it could approve full BAT lanes on Aurora and 15th Ave W and something robust for 45th and a better situation on 35th Ave NE without getting voted out of office, they would have done so.

    4. The original justification for Ballard-UW light rail rather than Ballard-Downtown light rail. With Ballard-Downtown happening, the Ballard-UW connection value dropped significantly.

      ST3 changed things .

  6. The 5 am 44 bus is scheduled to take 24 minutes to get from UW to Ballard. If dedicated rail can’t beat that, it’s not trying. And we can safely assume the 5 am trip is the fastest we can reasonably expect the bus to go, with only regular riders and minimal street traffic.

    I’m not faulting the bus here. There isn’t a fast surface route across (maybe a faster one, but with stops it’s going to be longer). Most of that area is residential and mixed use so most of the route is on mostly residential or light commercial roads, aka indirect routes with lots of stops, turns, and “maximum speed” of 30 mph (hah, as if a bus ever closes in on that). The bus also has six stops. Rail should only have 3 (each end and Wallingford), and have a straight shot under. 7 minutes might be optimistic, but it should easily take less than 12, which would be half the time of the buses fastest scheduled time.

    Let’s also remember that if the Ballard line connects to the current N-S line anywhere, it means anyone on the N-S line can comfortably transfer off the street, probably underground instead of in the rain, next to cars. That’s a HUGE advantage to families, patients, and people who don’t want a car-splash impervious layer for whatever reason. Even if the transfer and trip somehow took just as much time as the bus, it would be worth it just for that for a wide section of travelers.

    And remember, this would also grant access to northside residents getting to SLU without going into downtown and back out. That train will have no problem finding riders.

    1. Yeah, with all of the improvements that were supposed to happen with the Move Seattle levy, the bus was supposed to be 19% faster. This was with improvements that SDOT acknowledged would be very difficult politically (see corridor 5 here: A bus makes the trip from one side to the other in about a half hour, so the 24 minute estimate sounds about right. As mentioned, a train would do it in about 7 minutes (faster than driving at noon).

      That kind of speed leads to increased ridership, especially in a very urban setting (like that one). You attract riders from a broader area, including those willing to transfer. Most of our current build out (e. g. East Link, Lynnwood Link, West Seattle Link, Ballard Link) have made the same assumption (faster speed will lead to more riders). Otherwise, we would simply make the sort of bus improvements you suggest are adequate.

      In some cases, we probably could have done just as well with bus tunnels and other busways. But in the case of Ballard to UW, that would be silly, as it is basically a single corridor, and not a spine, like West Seattle ( There are some areas more appropriate for rail (e. g. UBC line in Vancouver) and some more appropriate for bus right of way (e. g. just about anything in Snohomish County).

    2. Of course a surface bus will never be as quick as a subway train. However, there are currently only a maximum of nine buses in one direction at the peak hours on the 44. Unless Wallingford and Upper Fremont become much more dense than currently projected — even more than city-wide ADU’s would allow — there will never be enough east-west traffic across the corridor to justify a subway.

      The recurrent argument that it would provide a bus intercept for downtown-bound riders assumes one of two things would occur: a GREAT transfer to North Link at U-District or bending Ballard-Downtown east at Market Street.

      ST hasn’t even included a demising wall in the U-District Station structure so the “protected transfer” praised above will not happen. At the other end in Ballard, the chief proponent of Ballard-UW here is arguing that an elevated station at 15th and Market — a design which CANNOT be modified in the future to make that turn — is the cat’s pajamas of station designs. So a transfer at that end would require two level changes if Ballard-UW were in subway there, a second level high elevated station looming over Market, or surface operation on Market with the attendant street crossing problems it would entail.

      Essentially “bus intercept” says to a rider on the 5, “Change to this subway five stops before your bus goes express on Aurora then make a second fiddly transfer to another train. Doesn’t that excite you?!?!”

      It might be attractive to a rider on the 62 faced with the slog through Lower Fremont, but so would peak hour expresses using Aurora. They’d be a lot cheaper.

      And at neither end is there a feasible connection to one of the north-south lines for non-revenue runs to the MF. This is a “non-trivial problem”.

      I grant that IF Ballard-Downtown is built with a hook east in a subway station under Market, Ballard-UW becomes feasible and for bus riders not already on Aurora who would have a station on the subway (e.g. those on the current 5 and 62) becomes more attractive as an intercept. The 28 will probably be deviated to Ballard Station anyway and serves a pretty non-dense section of North Seattle so not many additional will be attracted.

      Overall, this is a subway in search of a rider.

      1. P.S. I do think a surface tram through Lower Fremont has possibilities. It would be cheap and give access to a large and growing job center.

      2. The transfer from the Ballard-UW line to the main line is not that important. Very few people are headed to Interbay. It would be useful for those going from Magnolia/west Queen Anne to the UW, but that is about it. Even with a time consuming transfer, a subway would save a considerable amount of time for those riders — it is just that there aren’t that many of those riders.

        Where you do get loads of people is with folks headed to the UW. The E is our most popular bus, yet to get from anywhere on Aurora to the UW requires a slog. The same is true for Phinney Ridge, as well as 24th, 15th, and even 8th. It is very easy to go north-south in this city, it is very hard to go east-west.

        The connection at the UW would be a matter of an existing underground station and a new underground station. It is no different than the transfer at Westlake — if you spend the money, you can make it work. This connection at the UW would enable folks to get to Capitol Hill, or north to Roosevelt, Northgate or suburban locations. Getting to Capitol Hill quickly would likely involve a trunk junction (, while getting to any of the northern locations would be fine with a transfer (and much faster than today).

        Your arguments are full of straw men. No one has talked about getting off a bus headed to downtown and then transferring to a Ballard-UW subway. From a bus intercept standpoint, this is about people headed to the UW (and to a lesser extent Fremont, Wallingford and Ballard). From a rail intercept standpoint it isn’t about a new way to get downtown, but a much faster way to get to Capitol Hill, UW, Roosevelt, Northgate, and places north.

      3. Here is another possible issue: SLU trains appear to be too crowded because the Rainier Valley segment street design won’t allow for less than six minute frequency. That effectively means that there will need to be two lines through the SLU subway segment.

        Where will that branch occur?

        – A branching to have one going to Ballard and a second one following Aurora could go due north or curve east at Fremont towards UW.

        – Two branches further north at Ballard could do one or two of five things: turn southeast to Fremont (and eventually UW), east to Wallingford or UW, northeast to Green Lake/ Roosevelt (and maybe Lake City), north to Crown Hill and further points, or northwest to Golden Gardens (or one line can just stop at Ballard).

        I mention this because there is no possibility of getting a UW-Ballard subway any time soon. However, the design of the SLU subway is upon us — like NOW!

        Not designing for any branching inside a subway will almost doom its possibility. The missing branching at U-District is indicative of that. Branching is difficult but much easier at the surface and even aerial but can still be complex (noting the East Link branching requirements at ID).

        So maybe we should prioritize the need to design for possible branching at one or both locations now, rather than debate an unfounded corridor? It’s a strategic investment — even if the branch serves as nothing more than a possibly-needed siding track for 10-40 years!

      4. @RossB: I will say that while I think that Ballard – UW is a great idea, I don’t know that it should necessarily be paid for with a regional tax (as opposed to somehow using the city monorail authority). If KCM and other agencies do their restructures around Link, people can already do a two-seat ride to UW, just with a bus in their origin suburb. Why even bother taking the crowded E to the Ballard-UW when you could take an east-west bus to a less crowded Link train?

      5. @Al: If the issue is the Rainier Valley in the south, wouldn’t the second branch be required… in the south? The original Link spine will not branch in the north despite being split into East Link and (current? Federal Way?) Link. There’s no law or anything requiring that lines have an equal number of branches on both ends.

        Even if you were to branch in the north, the possibility is not foreclosed on (unlike U District, there is no plan for anything north of Ballard) so you can build the provision in whenever we build that. Riders and TBMs won’t really care if you divert slightly out of the way to NW 57th or 58th, because light rail trains can make the additional dozens of feet in seconds, TBMs don’t have to follow the street grid, and none of those buildings are tall enough for non-grid tunneling to impact their foundations.

        As far as *where* a southern branch should go, my preferred choice would be up Madison, to give First Hill an actual stop in the “regional” system.

      6. “there are currently only a maximum of nine buses in one direction at the peak hours on the 44… there will never be enough east-west traffic across the corridor to justify a subway.”

        The current frequency is based on Metro’s budget limitations, not on a natural ceiling. The 49 is 12 minutes daytime because Metro can’t afford 10 minutes, the 8 is 20 minutes evenings because Metro can’t afford 15 minutes, and the 11 and 12 are 30 minutes evenings because Metro can’t afford 15 minutes.

        “ST hasn’t even included a demising wall in the U-District Station structure”

        That was one of ST’s worst short-term decisions, to not prebuild for a potential transfer at the highest-ridership point in north Seattle.”

        “the chief proponent of Ballard-UW here is arguing that an elevated station at 15th and Market — a design which CANNOT be modified in the future to make that turn — is the cat’s pajamas of station designs.”

        It’s the best of the alternatives ST has given us, although the study of an underground 20th station has a small chance of eclipsing it.

      7. @Henry: The environmental clearance for the SLU light rail tunnel has been directed by ST. While switches and sidings can be added later, we are running out of time. The design must be substantially completed in the next four or five years because subway construction takes 9 or 10 years. To get ST to consider a switch or siding for a branch or a turn-back is not a mere suggestion that they will adopt; it needs at least a year or two of study and political pressure to happen.

        Surely a south branch will also probably be needed. We’ve seen ST data that suggests than the most crowded Link on a per train basis is forecasted between SODO and Beacon Hill. However, Link in SODO is at-grade or elevated there so it’s an easier future project. The challenge I mention here is more about branching inside a subway than branching in general. If it isn’t discussed now, it won’t happen.

      8. @Al: A branch north of Ballard isn’t foreclosed upon because “north of Ballard” isn’t in the scope of anything being considered right now.

        I actually don’t like the idea of the SLU tunnel branching at 99 because it’s too difficult. 99 is probably going to end up somewhere in the vicinity of Harrison, where station construction is already going to be difficult because you’ll have to contend with the new 99 tunnel ramps, Mercer St, tightly packed construction, etc. Your other options for going past Queen Anne on the east are not great. And even if you built a turnout there, where the hell would it go on 99 itself? It’s not exactly full of space, and light rail on the Aurora bridge is not going to happen.

        The most likely constructable route for 99 is probably going north on Ballard, jogging east on your road of choice (65th? 80th? 85th? Holman and 105th?) and continuing there.

      9. I see now that your southern branch would hopefully go up Madison. That would then mean that switches and a siding for it would need to be determine now — just like a northern branch I mentioned.

        A branch to First Hill there would make that First Hill station extremely deep. The branching would also be deep underneath Seattle’s tallest buildings.

        My variation on that concept would be to do it just south of ID. If full switching is design with East Link, those trains could turn east, and branch from East Link under the 12th Ave bridge (where the tracks are at a hillside surface and north of I-90. From there, a subway portal can be introduced near the Goodwill store, and subway stations could be added at Jefferson/ 12th, 23rd/ Cherry 23rd/ Madison than end just east of CapitolHill station attached at the mezzanine.

        However, First Hill can be much easier and cheaper to serve with simple inclines to downtown — either aerial or subway.

      10. I would agree that a branch in a subway could be added beyond an end-of-line Ballard station. I just mention Aurora because Seattle Subway proposed it.

        There could be merit to have a branch just south of Ballard but it wouldn’t seem to have much utility. I note that ST has not identified any alternatives pointing east at Ballard and Market St is already 55th so it would have to loop south to get to Wallingford and UW. It’s not much of a travel time issue in a subway.

        Rather than quibble about concepts, I would much rather force the issue that ST needs a thorough analysis and public vetting of overcrowding issues forecasted by Link. ST3 got adopted 3 years ago and we’ve spending tens of millions of dollars on designing a system without a public discussion of train or station overcrowding. ST3 creates a system of 500K daily riders, exceeding BART and approaching DC’s Metro. Keep in mind that overcrowding is already starting to be reported today.

      11. @Al: Was overcrowding ignored? Overcrowding analysis is what got us DSTT 2 and splitting/recombining the spine and Ballard-West Seattle. (IIRC before that plan, Ballard West Seattle would’ve had one underutilized tunnel and the existing tunnel would be bursting with regional traffic.) IIRC overcrowding is also what caused the Ballard-UW line to be rejected as an alternative, because they determined that they needed all hands on deck for Lynwood Link.

        It’s worth noting that there will be substantial capacity improvements even with ST2 and 3. We’re going to four cars every four minutes and doubling the amount of light rail tunnel. Signalling exists elsewhere in the world to get down to 2 minutes, 90 seconds, and if marketing is to be believed even 75s. You don’t *necessarily* need a second branch, you could build a turnback facility and call it a day.

        ST knows that there will be overcrowding, but realistically speaking ST3 was also not a sure bet and extended the financial burden of ST into the 2040s. It’s unrealistic to build a “perfect” system in one shot.

        The more realistic solution is probably to seriously explore creating an inner-city streetcar/light-rail system to complement Link; Seattle’s Muni complementing its BART. You might even be able to solve the problem by building an alternate grade-separated Link and handing the existing Rainier Valley segment to the streetcar.

      12. It should also be noted that if there are capacity issues in the south, we should really look at upgrading Sounder South into a frequent regional line that provides actual express benefits over Link.

      13. Henry: I’m curious. Have you ever lived commuting on a crowded light rail or heavy rail system? Have you ever lived through the operational challenge of turning around trains within three minutes, while providing for driver breaks or accounting for inevitable train bunching (one wheelchair or bicycle can delay a train 30 seconds and standing-room trains always take more time at stations)? Have you ever been stuck on a train taken out of service, or on the next train after that happens?

        ST is the agency that bought UW Station substandard escalators. ST is the agency that waited until 2016 to put prominent signs above platforms indicating the train destination. ST is the agency that doesn’t tell you the length of trains and only this past month put next arrival times on electronic signs (9 years late).

        Many of senior ST staff have never managed an overcrowded rail system. Some have daily ridden overcrowded rail systems but not many.

        I’ve lived daily riding overcrowded rail systems — for years. I’ve lived with inane turn backs — for years.

        I’m very dubious that ST is on top of future overcrowding issues.

      14. I don’t know that [a Ballard to UW subway] should necessarily be paid for with a regional tax (as opposed to somehow using the city monorail authority).

        Agreed. With subarea equity, it is kind of a moot point (Seattle will pay for Seattle projects). But I don’t think we should be tied to a regional proposal, mainly because other areas will pursue more low-value rail projects (like Issaquah to Kirkland).

        Why even bother taking the crowded E to the Ballard-UW when you could take an east-west bus to a less crowded Link train?

        Because there won’t be that many east-west buses. Realistically, I think we can expect:

        185th — This will also include the area north of there (thanks to Swift).
        155th — Probably fairly frequent.
        145th — A possibility, although Metro doesn’t have it in their long range plans.
        130th — Probably fairly frequent.
        105th — Probably fairly frequent.
        85th — Probably very frequent.
        45th — Probably very frequent.

        That’s it. That means that for the E you have 180th, 175th, 170th, 165th, 160th, 155th, 150th, 125th, 115th, 100th, 95th, 90th, 80th, 75th and 65th. That is fifteen stops between 185th and 45th. In all those cases you are talking about a two seat ride anyway so taking a very frequent bus (likely the most frequent bus) followed by a train makes a lot of sense. Even if you are on Aurora at any of the places that has crossing buses (e. g. 155th) you probably just take the first available bus (which more often than not will be the E). Oh, and I forgot the two stops on the east side of Queen Anne: Lynn and Galer. You could take the bus all the way downtown, but it makes sense to take it north (towards your destination) and then take the train east (especially since there are no traffic lights along there). That is at least 17 stops on the E (out of the 27 north of downtown) where it makes a lot more sense to take the E, and then transfer to the east-west subway.

        That is just one bus (the E). For the 5, the situation is similar. Yes, there are crossing bus routes. But if you are in between those crossing bus routes (e. g. Phinney Ridge) then taking a bus south, then east makes the most sense. The same is true for every north-south corridor west of there (32nd, 24th, 15th, 8th) as well as greater Wallingford/Fremont. Again, some areas might have a better option, but if a subway connection (with good frequency and great speed) is available, it will be the best choice for a lot of riders.

        By the way, these are all people headed to the UW. I haven’t even gotten into the regional perspective. The UW is more than just a destination, it is also a major transit hub (top three I would say). For example, there are enough people and jobs in Kirkland that some have called for a multi-billion dollar chunnel, or new bridge (next to SR 520). Both are ridiculous (in my opinion), as Kirkland is too spread out to warrant that sort of gigantic investment. But Kirkland does have jobs, and does have people. Ballard also has jobs and people. But the only reasonable way to connect the two is via the UW. Someone in Ballard (or Fremont, Phinney Ridge or Wallingford) is going to go through the UW on their way to Kirkland , even when ST3 is all built out. Going via downtown is simply too distant, and thus too time consuming. A fast east-west subway shaves a huge amount of time out of their trip. Then you have places like U-Village and Children’s — places too small for a subway station, but big enough to warrant frequent bus service. It all adds up, just like every similar subway line every built.

        Which gets me to my final point. Where, on earth, has something similar failed? I’m just curious. I can point to line after line that is similar to Everett Link, Tacoma Dome Link, or Issaquah Link and see how they failed, miserably, to attract enough riders to be a good value. But something like Ballard to UW — a line in the heart of the city with dramatic improvements in speed as well as a large catchment area — always manages to get plenty of riders. Is it the best possible value? Who knows. Can we afford it? Probably not (chances are, we are done). But to dismiss the line because it doesn’t go downtown, or because it is “too short” is dismissing everything we’ve learned over the years in building subways.

      15. @Al: Given that I moved here from New York, yes.

        In practice, with a level platform wheelchairs and bikes are fine (people with those won’t try to squeeze on if it’s pretty clear they won’t fit, and rolling on takes the same amount of time – this isn’t a bus where the driver has to wait till everything is secured.) If turnaround times are too short for drivers to walk the train or to take breaks, the solution is that when the train pulls into a terminal, the crew that drove it steps off and another crew enters the opposite end of the train, so that everyone is ready to go.

        A two-minute turnaround is perfectly doable and the sky doesn’t fall down in all these places that operate railways. Quite frankly, if the incompetents over at the MTA can manage this, Sound Transit should have no problem. (And they have worse issues with escalators and elevators over there; at least there are some stations in this system where they’re working most of the time.)

      16. @RossB: The E and Link are not comparable products. Today, the E takes 30 minutes from Aurora TC to 46th St. Link will take 20 minutes from Lynnwood to UW, a longer distance. And this is in current traffic conditions; even with BAT lanes traffic on 99 is probably going to get substantially worse over the next few decades.

        In a world where we have Link down 99, Ballard-UW makes more sense, but we’re not quite there yet.

      17. Ross, all of you, DP, and the fellow who wrote articles six or so years ago have waxed eloquent about how much time would be saved by transferring to a Ballard-UW subway then Link to get downtown.

        Grant, that was usually couched in terms of a line split just north of U-District with through service on U-Link. That has been consistently shot down by ST. They’re rightly worried that bus intercept north of U-District will fill the trains.

        Sure, having a subway with a station under Aurora/Fremont would be quicker than the 44. But not a hell of a lot quicker when you add the three levels (or more) transfer. It takes the 44 a long time to get from Leary and Market; Aurora is roughly halfway there in distance, though certainly not in time. So don’t compare the mooted seven minutes versus if you’re justifying ridership based on Aurora and Phinney transfers.

        In all honesty, how many people who live along the E or 5 who want to go to UW DON’T already ride the bus? There aren’t a lot of new office buildings going up in the U-District; most of the development is residential. The residents won’t be transferring from the 5.

        If you want better intercept to the U-District, spend $60 or $100 M for an elevated busway over 45th from 4th NE to 15th and fly quickly over the slow part of the route. That’s a lot less than a subway.

        Henry is right; bus service everywhere north of Nortgate Way should be re-oriented to be Link feeder except for peak expresses.

        So far as the U-District transfer, ST has shown no interest in an underground connection anywhere other than Westlake. Expect to go up three levels to the street from North Link then down four to a Ballard-UW Line.

      18. Ross, DP’s connection is, bluntly put, impossible. UW will not allow boring the necessary additional tunnels and the radii that DP illustrates are too tight.

        Also, ST will not condone breaking into the existing tunnels. Had bellmouths been provided, it might have been possible, but they weren’t.

      19. Ross, all of you, DP, and the fellow who wrote articles six or so years ago have waxed eloquent about how much time would be saved by transferring to a Ballard-UW subway then Link to get downtown.

        Bullshit. You are conflating two different things. We said that UW-Ballard would allow lots of people to walk to a station, then get to downtown quickly. This is still true, but Ballard to downtown (via Interbay) reduced the number. We also said that lots of people would transfer from a bus to the Ballard-UW subway. We still say that. That is because it is still true (for the reasons mentioned up above). The UW is still a major destination (and growing) and the other destinations (Ballard, Northgate, etc.) are substantial. Here, just look at what I wrote over five years ago (

        But it isn’t all about downtown, of course. Everyone knows that if you are trying to go downtown, the buses are great. If you want to go just about anywhere else, they can be slow and unreliable…

        Does that sound like someone who is suggesting that riders get off the E at 45th and take the train due east, even though the bus is headed right towards downtown on an expressway? Of course not.

        You are just making a stupid straw man argument, while ignoring the fact that hundreds of thousands of trips within the city *don’t* involve downtown, and that a Ballard to UW subway would greatly improve a lot of them, without costing a fortune.

      20. @RossB: The E and Link are not comparable products. Today, the E takes 30 minutes from Aurora TC to 46th St. Link will take 20 minutes from Lynnwood to UW, a longer distance. And this is in current traffic conditions; even with BAT lanes traffic on 99 is probably going to get substantially worse over the next few decades.

        The main reason the E takes a long time is because it has so many stops (23 versus 7 in your example). I’ve yet to here how an Aurora subway is supposed to be much faster, yet cover all the stops. If it doesn’t cover all the stops, than a lot of riders will spend the extra time saved on the trip simply getting to the station.

        The obvious answer to improving the E is to add an express overlay, at rush hour. That would improve the speed for those a long ways away (e. g. Aurora Village) while still keeping the existing service (and do so without spending billions).

        From what I’ve heard, the signal priority situation could be improved as well. That wouldn’t cost that much (although I don’t know how much the city can do without screwing up other traffic).

      21. If you want better intercept to the U-District, spend $60 or $100 M for an elevated busway over 45th from 4th NE to 15th and fly quickly over the slow part of the route. That’s a lot less than a subway.

        Do you really think that is the only slow part? Holy cow, man, have you ever driven on I-5 and taken the 45th exit towards Ballard? Let me save you some time — do what the locals do: take 50th. It is much faster. The 44 is slow through Wallingford. It is slow approaching Ballard. It is slow all over the place (including this little spot which is the focus of this post). That is the point. It is too slow to attract riders, despite the good frequency. Many ride bikes. A lot just walk. Seriously — I’ve heard more than one person talk about getting off the bus and just walking (I’ve done it, too). But most drive if they are in a hurry at all (and they avoid 45th).

        The same is true of the 8, and the same is true for anything we plan on building. The 550 has 10,000 riders a day. The speed improvement will be less than what a Ballard to UW line would entail. So, using your logic, that is the high end of what we can expect out of the new train line. But if East Link only attracts 10,000 a day, it would be a complete failure. I think it is safe to say it will attract a lot more, just because of the significant speed improvements. The same is true of a Ballard to UW line.

      22. That route has been a slow spot since I was a kid. Mid 80’s. We took the 43 (now the 44), to the AVE. The slow spots were 24th to 15th and the the underpass under Aurora to I-5 (Wallingford). East of I-5 used to be quick. After that it slowed down on the 23-24Ave hill to the CD. Never took it to Downtown. We had the 15, 17, and 18 to get us there. A subway under all this would be ok, but I don’t see it ever happening in my life.

      23. So, “signal priority” is good enough for the heaviest ridership bus line in the county, but we need a two billion subway for a five buses per hour (seven in the peaks) line?

        Makes perfect sense.

      24. And “Yes, I do think that’s the slow part of the route” THAT MATTERS. It matters simply because it’s by far the most heavily used portion and most affected by traffic from other places.

        And THAT matters because bus priority projects west of 5th NE might actually divert drivers from 45th Street, but grade level improvements east of there will not to any appreciable degree. Most of the traffic east of the freeway comes from the freeway or is headed to it.

        You still haven’t addressed how you propose to attach a Ballard-UW subway to the regional system AND have it go west to NW 24th, which you consistently advocate. ST will NEVER break into the tubes under UW, even if the U let them, and it won’t unless coerced by the legislature. If an elevated station is chosen for Ballard, there can’t be a connection there either unless some sort of non-revenue track is connected a few blocks south of Market and dives into a tunnel.

        IF ST goes for a tunneled Ship Canal crossing AND plans for the connection, Ballard-UW becomes feasible, but not with the west end station. The proposal for a 20th Avenue crossing might get a station that far west of course, but it would be the only Ballard station.

        Unless of course “West Woodland” gets the major up-zone you say can never happen.

      25. Henry, a branch around the Gates Foundation station is easy IF ST stacks that station and the tunnels to the north and south.

        While there are certainly disadvantages to stacked stations — mainly that one access per round trip involves a one level deeper access — in the crowded environs of Aurora it might actually HELP with station siting by making the footprint 1/3 narrower.

        Whether an “Aurora Line” goes north into Shoreline or turns northeast to Lake City Way, if the “region” actually reaches 5.8 million people by 2050 there will need to be a line parallel to Lynnwood Link on one side or the other of I-5.

        Folks here seem to think that Ballard-Downtown should turn east to become Ballard-UW, ruling it out for a Lake City or Shoreline line. If ST agrees and builds a properly configured and aligned underground station in Ballard to accommodate extension to UW, some sort of subway serving Lower Fremont and Greenwood roughly in the Aurora corridor at least as far north as Northgate Way seems that it would become necessary in a couple of decades. Perhaps it could serve both, going elevated north of Northgate Way along Aurora or Midvale and continuing in subway over to Lake City Way under Northgate Station.

        Given the smaller station footprint, it makes sense to stack Gates now and include bellmouths for a future branch. Though it took 70 years for the Second Avenue Subway to use the several bellmouths and tunnel sections provided for it back in the 30’s it IS beginning to use them now, and they’ll save billions.

        The world is burning up, and people will be running panicked to the Northwest where there will at least be water and cooler temperatures, This is a long game we should be playing.

    3. The underlying issue is that there has been no rail systems analysis to examine a variety of issues since before ST2. Even ST3 was based on political decisions about a map, partly based on individual pre-defined ST2 corridors designated for study. As a result, First Hill and Belltown and 167-405S were ignored. Potential overcrowding at UW/Capitol Hill or Beacon Hill/ Rainier Valley were ignored. Last-mile surface exclusive-lanes trams were ignored. DMU/EMU and cable-technologies like inclines and gondolas were ignored. Correcting or expanding existing station circulation was unstudied. Only one system was recommended.

      Until a quantitative analysis of overcrowding, travel times (accessibility) and station access needs is initiated, we are all going to be coffee-cup holding individuals discussing a series of less effective decisions made with our tax dollars without data. We all make great points — but without the several million dollars that ST is spending an studying demand issues but not showing the results to the public, we are going to feel a sense of dread and disappointment about our expanding light rail system.

      1. Yep, that is the problem with out entire system. They simply haven’t studied things. Then, when they do study things and don’t like the answer (like when BRT on the CKC or a Ballard to UW subway turned out to be the most cost effective option) they abandon it, and go forward with projects that have never been adequately studied.

    4. This is why I have started to free myself from mass transit in this region. It takes less than 27 minutes to go from 15th and Market to Husky Stadium by bike. Our busses are so awful pedal power is better.

Comments are closed.