Holgate Street Crossing

Sound Transit:

Approved by voters in 2016, the Sound Transit 3 System Plan included a $100 million System Access Fund. This year, the Sound Transit Board wants your input as it considers how to award up to $50 million of the System Access Fund for projects to improve rider connections in each of Sound Transit’s five subareas.

The online open house ends August 23. Be sure to read this piece from Erica on the politics, which includes this money quote:

In other words: Cities that have made an effort to improve safety, access, and housing opportunities around light rail stations in advance should get priority for their projects.

Makes sense! While it’s regrettable that cities have to do a Hunger Games-style competition for projects that provide basic pedestrian and bicycle access to transit stations, the real problem is that these municipalities too often choose to site their train stations in out-of-the-way spots where there are no businesses to “impact” or NIMBYs to complain. The resulting poor pedestrian access is entirely predictable.

45 Replies to “Sound Transit wants feedback on station access funds”

  1. Does a non-trivial portion of this really go to bike/ped improvements, or is the term “station access funds” really just a euphemism for subsidized parking.

    1. This is good. Also, please make substantial bike parking that is 1) covered and 2) usable for long tail or front-bucket (aka family/cargo) bikes. (Also, make it so family bikes can use all ferries again. )

      There is utterly no reason to be tight fisted with bike parking. Bikes fit well into “mixed transit” trips, are a good way to serve people not well served by ride share and existing door to door services. Additionally, actually charging a nominal fee (like $6, not $20, for 12 hours) for at least some car parking will make it available to people who actually need it (families, people with minor mobility problems who don’t want the restrictions of door to door…) instead of having it fill up with single occupant young urban professional commuter cars (who could and should use another option). Or if it still fills up, at least some money comes back to the city.

      Please use individual upside down “u” shapes. While labor on the sine wave style is a lot less, they are painful to lock anything but a very basic bike to, and with bike share, the people locking bikes will be locking more serious bikes. Having a few bike lockers (with a rental fee and a 20 hour time limit) would be nice too, but mainly just covered (maybe monitored?) bike parking for 20 bikes would be a huge boon to Seattle’s active bike community.

  2. Here is an easy one.

    Don’t charge cyclists $50 per year to park while giving drivers free parking! And if you are going to charge cyclists at least guarantee that we will actually have a secured spot, and if not a secured spot how about some basic racks so we don’t have to lock our bikes to posts? I’m guessing metal bike racks are a bit cheaper than parking garages?

    It’s hard to find a transit agency that is more bike unfriendly than ST. Even in Phoenix secure bike parking is free. Hardly a mecca for cycling advocacy.

    1. The charge exists to prevent abuse. If it were free, too many lockers would be tied up permanently for people that use them only occasionally. Worse, people would use them as general storage, unrelated to bicycles.

      Ultimately, I think lockers reserved for one particular person are an inefficient use of resources. All lockers should be converted to on demand. If a guarantee is needed, let people reserve them up to an hour in advance before they leave home. But, they need to be rented out by the day, not by the year.

      1. Fully agreed but a charge doesn’t prevent abuse, rather it deters use and encourages cyclists to bring their bike with them on crowded trains so they can lock it in a secure (and guaranteed) locations.

        A much more effective policy would be to time limit the lockers, as you suggest, which could even be integrated into ORCA card reads. The cost of which would still be substantially lower than what they pay to build and maintain fully subsidized vehicle parking spots.

      2. The intention is that bike lockers at new stations will be rented out by the hour, first-come, first-serve, max time 1-week, rather than reserved for one person indefinitely. Eventually they will circle back and replace the existing lockers with the new style.

        I’ve had a bike locker for years and love it. I agree with your point re cyclists paying for parking but not motorists but even at $50/year it has been a great value. I’ll miss the convenience of leaving my bike in the locker for multiple days when I jet off from Seatac but recognize that I don’t use the locker regularly enough to justify wasting premium adjacent-to-station space that others could also benefit from.

    2. Bike lockers are garabage and waste of resources. They don’t provide enough capacity, create all sorts of safety/security issues, can’t be scaled appropriately to meet demand, and cost too much per space. Need to invest in secure bicycle cages that serve dozens/hundreds of bikes instead which are accessible via ORCA card. This is such a no brainer and even a large bike cages takes up small footprint when designed correctly. This has existed for over 20 years on some transit systems and ST is still acting like it doesn’t exist.

      1. Is an ORCA card really going to be enough of a deterrent? They’re $5 – it might stop a really lazy thief but not determined ones. And most bike thieves need to be at least somewhat determined to cut through locks.

        I agree secure bike cages would be awesome, but you need to do more than that. For me to park a bike in such a cage, I’d want ST/metro to:
        – know exactly who is entering/exiting the cage. To me, the easiest would be either making people scan their driver license/ID card or pre-registering an ORCA card to their ID card
        – have 24 hour video recording, monitored by people in a central location
        – ability for said agency to lock access (both in and out) if anything suspicious is going on and immediately have police dispatch someone to take a look

        This is not going to stop all thefts, but it will make it sufficiently hard to steal a decently secured bike for most people. At the very least, there would be both an id card record and a video record of who entered/exited and when, so that if a bike did get stolen, the police would be able to track that person down.

      2. Having had two bikes stolen from Kent Station bike lockers and no video monitoring, I agree that there needs to be improvement (and Kent Station is a pretty good example of locating facilities where there are actual people and destinations rather than nowhere).

      3. All of this is wrong.

        “Bike lockers are garabage and waste of resources.”
        No, they are a valuable amenity that help solve the last mile problem and allow more people to access transit resources. Bike theft is a huge problem in Seattle and a real deterrent to bike commuting. Lockers solve this problem.

        “They don’t provide enough capacity”
        They are addressing this issue with the new on-demand, hourly rate lockers that will have greater turnover and capacity.

        “create all sorts of safety/security issues,”
        No, they don’t. A parked car creates more of a safety/security issue if you are trying to create some bomb-scare hypothetical.

        “can’t be scaled appropriately to meet demand, and cost too much per space.”
        This is just absurd. No one except your straw man is suggesting bike lockers will adsorb 100% of the demand nor does the existence of bike lockers eliminate the possibility of overflow space via traditional racks or a cage. Cost per space? Do you know what the figure is for a car parking space? Pennies on the dollar.

      4. I probably should have said smart card instead of ORCA specifically in terms of access to bicycle cages. There are many ways this can be handled and some agencies embed into their smart card, while other have separate access or use third party like bikelink. But yes access is restricted and there is a log of entry/exits.

        I think bike cages are far superior to bike lockers. BART and Tri-Met are great examples. Even better is bike valet.



        ST was looking at the bike cage model in 1998-2000. In fact, Bellevue TC was supposed to be the demonstration prior to light rail. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and ST has very antiquated and inadequate bike parking today compared to other regions.

      5. “they are a valuable amenity that help solve the last mile problem”

        Good point. Subsidizing bike lockers costs less than subsidizing Via or coverage routes. I assume that will remain true even with video monitoring and the ID/ORCA security suggestion.

        “can’t be scaled appropriately to meet demand”

        In China and the Netherlands this might be an issue, but not here. When we have a third of the population bicycling we may need to charge them more for parking and congestion fees, but we’re a long way from that. As long as the majority are causing ten times the enternalities of bicycles it’s not worth begrudging highly-subsidized bicycle cages.

  3. I think it’s an insult to systems that the idea of improving station access is a competition driven by local applications. It also is a fund that isn’t getting spent inside any station; there is no funding program intended on looking at or fixing any problems that will be made more significant by a 300%+ ridership growth in the system so existing stations can be modified to handle much higher demand. These ideas are also initiated by communities in places where stations aren’t open or yet subject to higher demand.

    I’d rather see this program driven by study (good planning). If that won’t happen, it should have been postponed to 2025-6 so that biggest station access problems are clearer.

    In a nutshell, this is a Santa Claus list of projects for places that think that they know what they want years before the man arrives, and take time to mail their desire in a letter sent to the North Pole. It’s not good planning.

    1. This IS what planning is all about and this IS the study phase. Developing an idea and finding the funding is necessary to figure out the scope of work, benefits to users, further engineering, then actually build it. Often, communities know their own needs and future goals better than a larger regional agency, hence why ST is asking the community for their list of projects.

      1. This is what BAD planning is all about:

        – Create a tiny fund not based on any needs analysis.
        – Ignore the 200 to 500 feet to/from a platform (highest rider use and greatest benefit to ST).
        – Don’t disclose how many boardings will be at each station.
        – Don’t quantify the walk time savings or accessibility benefit to the project.
        – Don’t assist communities by providing guidance on how to analyze station area circulation.

      2. But Al’s point is this: Station access should be integrated with system design. It shouldn’t be added on at the end, like art. The lack of study and integrated design leads to really bad outcomes. Consider this scenario:

        Sound Transit decides to build the Ballard Station in West Woodland (14th). Then the community (Ballard) is given a little bit of money to figure out how to make it easier to access the station. It turns out that it is a very long, unpleasant walk to the station for the vast majority of riders. So all sorts of ideas are bounced around. Maybe an overpass over 15th, so people don’t have to wait for the light there. Maybe a beautification project for Market. In the end, they put a lot of lipstick on the pig, and for a pig, it looks pretty good. But it is still a pig.

        Far fetched? Hardly. That is pretty much exactly what has happened with the Mount Baker Station. It has been over ten years since it opened, and it is as bad as ever. Buses will be rerouted, streets will be altered, pedestrian overpasses may come and go, but in the end, it will remain in a very poor location.

        This is what happens when you get the scale wrong. It sounds pretty cool to have “light rail from Tacoma to Everett”, but light rail doesn’t serve cities, the way that airports do. It serves neighborhoods, and by that I mean a fairly small area (not “West Seattle” as defined as the entire peninsula). Of course there should be good connections with buses, but again, that shouldn’t be an afterthought (the way it was with Mount Baker). It should be an integrated process. Unfortunately, that is not how we are building our system.

      3. “light rail doesn’t serve cities, the way that airports do. It serves neighborhoods, and by that I mean a fairly small area (not “West Seattle” as defined as the entire peninsula).”

        Light rail can do both. Link’s 55 mph ceiling is not intrinsic to light rail; it’s ST’s design limitations. Link is the biggest showcase of what a long-distance light-rail system can do, but there’s a theoretical higher ceiling beyond that that some city will probably build someday (probably not in the US). The problem isn’t that light rail can’t serve entire medium-sized metros, it’s that hybrid networks are less effective than separate long-distance and inner-city networks. They’re slow in the outer areas and don’t serve all the needed neighborhoods and parts of neighborhoods in the inner areas.

  4. Pretty sad Sound Transit has chosen to pit so many good access and community-strengthening transportation projects against each other over a pot of $83M to outline access policy for the next two decades while we’re spending $210M on parking garages just for Lynnwood Link. That’s $210M for 2,400 total parking spaces on a suburban extension with an estimated 50,000 daily riders. How do the other 45,000 riders get to Link? Biking, walking, and transit! Really shows a disconnect between access priorities for an agency’s focus is to give people mobility choices beyond the car.

    1. Yes I agree. I still can’t believe that ST axed escalators on Lynnwood Link rather than axe a few dozen spaces for parking — and didn’t give the residents or local cities to even discuss the issue.

  5. The single biggest improvement I can think of is extending the elevator shaft and staircase on the west side of the Montlake pedestrian bridge down to the UW station platform. Sadly, UW is unlikely to apply for a grant to do this.

    1. Even, better, perhaps an elevator on the south side of the overpass, so you can keep the existing elevator for street level access. Also, since these elevators are west of the platform, wouldn’t they only be able to extend to the mezzanine level?

    2. Oh why ruin the wonderful maze that is UW Station. Lovely station but ingress and egress is completely unintuitive and ridiculous.

  6. There already is a Lake Forest Park Town Center to Burke Gilman trail connector. It’s called Ballinger Way NE. There’s also a sidewalk connecting the two, and several crosswalks with a signals. And the BG is literally just across the street from Town Center.

    1. True. Living in Lake Forest Park, I was disappointed to see ST rate that application as “not recommended”. The crossing environment along 522 currently sucks greatly for pedestrians, but I can’t really blame ST for not wanting to fund the project.

      There are crosswalks across 522, but they are pedestrian unfriendly. The post with the crosswalk button is literally in the middle of the Burke GIlman trail, so pedestrians risk getting hit by a cyclist just to push the crosswalk button. If you don’t push the button in time, the walk signal doesn’t turn on. But none of that is really on ST to fix.

      Near where the ST parking garage will be, the crosswalk just kind of dumps pedestrians into the city hall parking lot. Doesn’t really seem like it’s on ST to fix the walkways of what is essentially a shopping mall and civic plaza.

      And the kicker is that proposed redevelopment of the town center to support 522 BRT is being fought tooth and nail by NIMBYs. So there’s a lack of people the project would help. In fact, ST itself stopped serving the bus stop this project would serve.

      Disappointing but understandable.

  7. It seems light rail should have been brought to the people-population areas – rather than expect housing to he built around it later. If they only expect or depend on riders nearby to make the program work then they obviously didn’t even consider current commuters when they planned it. Our tax dollars at work as usual.

    1. There are few “people-population” areas outside Seattle itself. Downtown Bellevue for sure, Overlake, Lynnwood, Renton (kind of), Kent (small) and Sea-Tac across from the airport. All of those places except downtown Renton will either have Link or Sounder when ST3 is completed.

      But none of those places except Downtown Bellevue has the trip density to support all-day light rail, so ST MUST depend on the municipalities to upzone the areas around the stations or Link will be a huge bust outside peak hours.

      There’s also downtown Tacoma potentially, but ST is foolishly forcing a last-mile transfer from Link to the Tacoma Streetcar to access it.

      1. It’s not really foolish when you consider the vast majority of riders will not be heading to downtown Tacoma and a continuation into downtown would make the streetcar redundant while costing millions of dollars the Pierce subarea doesn’t want to pay for.

        I used to ride Tacoma link every day and it’s nothing more than a free parking shuttle to the dome lot. Expanding the line to hilltop and 6th Ave would be a much better use of funds than extending central link into downtown.

      2. Shameful to say Renton will be the only one. It has more population than some of the other cities you mentioned. Not only that, but a hot estate market and fastest-growing population.

        Sound Transit will most likely include Renton in ST4 though.

      3. @Tom — You write about cities, but Jo was talking about neighborhoods. Saying light rail serves a city is like saying it serves a state, or a country — the scale is wrong. There are lots of high density neighborhoods that won’t get light rail, while new lines will be built in low density areas.

      4. ST should at least consider extending North Sounder to DT Renton – the tracks exist from the mainline to the old Renton station at 4th and Burnett, they are grade separated that far (except the quiet crossing at Monster Road), and there appears to be space for a layover track west of Burnett where a station would go.

        This might actually give North Sounder a bit more reason for existing – I’d rather also add peak-direction travel for Renton’s sake, but this might at least get the foot in the door for Sounder service to Renton.

        (It would make more sense to serve Renton as far as the Landing/Boeing, but there are a ton of at-grade street crossings between Burnett and there, and the train would actually have to run down the middle of Houser.)

    2. You need both. The existing population centers need high-capacity transit — that’s a no-brainer — but you also need some areas for expansion. The original streetcars were built in open land to entice residential development and it happened. MAX went to farmland in Gresham and Beaverton and they grew to provide a transit-accessible residence option to tens of thousands of people. ST’s problem is it focuses too much on future developments that are further out than Portland and not enough on the existing pedestrian centers that need robust transit and will fill the trains from day one. But that doesn’t invalidate the general need for expansion areas. If you don’t have the “T” for “TOD”, you’ll get transit-inaccessible sprawl with so much parking you can’t walk to the bus or a store, like in north Bothell and on Kent-Kangley Road, where even if you retrofit frequent transit it still won’t be very easy to get around so people will drive.

      ST’s problem comes down to the fact that Link’s mandate is to serve regional growth centers, and King County defines those as areas with a minimum zoned job capacity. Kirkland and Issaquah have dutifully zoned those to keep density away from their downtowns. Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Fife have zoned some that they say will have tons of highrise mixed-use development someday; we’ll see. Seattle has three such centers: downtown, the U-District, and Northgate. Ballard-Fremont and Lake City would seem like an obvious fourth and fifth, but they don’t qualify because they have a more even mix of jobs and housing so they don’t make the job numbers. Imagine that! A balance of jobs and housing so people can both live and work in the same neighborhood is wrong! No, no, no! I leared that living in the dorms at the U and in the northern U-District after that. Many people who live there rarely leave the U-District, maybe once or twice a month. Or they leave only for work but do everything else there. That’s the kind of urban village we should be creating, and Ballard and Lake City are more prepared for that than Totem Lake or Issaquah. You’ll still need trains because a lot of people will still commute from elsewhere or to elsewhere, but the goal should be to get as many people living and working in the same neighborhood as possible. And King County’s criteria don’t reflect that, so Link is being distorted significantly, and transit is hindered from reaching its potential.

      1. To put it another way, the primary issue is not whether outer cities should have 55 mph transit every ten minutes — of course they should. The issue is should these cities exist in the first place, and should they be so automobile-scaled that you can’t walk to anything? The answer to both of those is no, the neighborhoods should have been closer in and more walkable. But King/Pierce/Snohomish Counties have made the decision and it’s yes we will channel growth to Everett and Tacoma and Federal Way and Totem Lake. Given that, there are hundreds of thousands of people in those areas that need a robust non-car way to get around. Otherwise they’ll end up driving and teaching their kids that driving is the only way (or at least the only way for Americans). That’s what we did the past sevnty years and it’s why we’re in such a car-dependent hole now. The answer isn’t to go deeper into the hole, it’s to get transit to those hundreds of thousands of people pronto so they can start to become less car-dependent.

      2. And the larger picture. The “freedom to drive” campaign is tied to the same political coalition as the push to cut taxes for the rich, deny the poor basic support, preserve white hegemony, restrict women, and suppress voting rights for areas outsid their coalition. So if you allow car-only areas with inadequate bus service to multiply, you end up causing these others to multiply too.

  8. Every station should have:

    * Sidewalks (100% of streets within 1/4 mile, majority of streets within 1/2 mile, all arterials within a mile)
    * Simple pull-outs for car sharing/kiss-and-ride drop-offs with enough space for likely demand
    * Separated bike lanes on streets adjacent to the station, in both N/S and E/W axes
    * Secure bike storage
    * A right-sized amount of pay parking, giving a discount to riders and charging market rates or higher for non-riding vehicles (“right-size” in city contexts is often zero spaces)
    * Quick transfers between transit modes (which shouldn’t have to be called out, but is often sorely lacking)

    If the budget doesn’t cover all of this (and all of these items are expensive), increase the budget.

  9. Issue for me is since I live in Tacoma I take the light rail at Angle Lake. Have you ever tried to find parking during the week? Impossible! From my understanding it’s people who work at Seatac that park there because they have to pay to park at their work. I would hope something could be done about. What’s the use of light rail when you can’t park there to ride it. An option is to park across the street for $20! It’s not quite fair! My other issue I have is I would really like to use the Sounder since it is in Tacoma but it’s only running during the week. Since we have to wait until 2030 to get light rail couldn’t there be some other schedules added other than just commuting during the week? I think the more options the better.

    1. Wouldn’t it be much faster to take the 594 from Tacoma instead of driving to Angle Lake and taking link? During the week I imagine Sounder would be your best option. There’s no way they can build enough parking at Angle Lake to accommodate ridership all the way to Tacoma.

    2. Why are people going downtown more deserving of parking at Angle Lake than people going to the airport? If anything, people going downtown have other P&R’s with bus service to choose from that people going to the airport don’t have. There are also a lot of airport jobs that require coming and going at odd hours, and need a service that is running at 5 AM or 11 PM.

      In any case, something is being done about it, and that “something” is extending the Link line to Tacoma, adding more parking at each of the stations along the way. Angle Lake was never intended to be the permanent terminus of the line.

      As to Sounder, it all comes down to money. Compared to buses, Sounder trains are much more expensive to operate – the equipment is more expensive, they burn more diesel fuel, and they require a multi-person crew. On top of that, Sound Transit doesn’t even own the tracks; instead, it has to negotiate an agreement with BNSF, where Sound Transit pays them $X/year in exchange for the right to run Y trains/day/year.

      It is the negotations with BNSF that’s the real deal-breaker. BNSF has been very good thus far at extracting huge sums of money from Sound Transit for a very tiny number of runs. They can do it because, since they own the tracks, Sound Transit has zero negotiating leverage. The choices are to either pay BNSF whatever they ask or give up on Sounder and just run buses.

      A big reason why the light rail is able to run much more frequently than Sounder is because ST owns the tracks, so it can run as many trains it likes, without needing to pay anyone for permission.

  10. Maybe some money could go to building the Northgate/I-5 pedestrian bridge using the original wider bridge design. I think parts of it were covered also.

    I don’t live in this area, but would love to see a solution to the Mt. Baker Light Rail Station. That station screams for better access.

  11. If they’d stop dropping 6 figures per space for free car parking would be a better start.

  12. I don’t know what to say in this survey. All walk/bus/bike access to stations would be worthwhile. This was clear in the Northgate station design, where 3/4 of the neighborhoods using the P&R said they’d rather have better walk/bus/bike access instead. I don’t know what to suggest for specific stations. And I feel like asking for something like better transfers at Mt Baker Station would go nowhere. So what are the top three things to ask for?

    1. My top three would be Downtown:

      1. An underground mezzanine connection between Westlake Station and Pike Place market.
      2. More escalators and elevators and stairs between the platforms and mezzanines at all of the Downtown stations. (ID-C is the easiest to improve simply by building new switchback stairs and converting the existing north stairs to another up escalator — helping East Link/ Airport transferring after 2023).
      3. A new Pioneer Square Station entrance at 4th and Cherry (City Hall/ Columbia Tower) with connecting tunnel/ elevator well or escalators to the mezzanine.

      Of course any of these is way more expensive than this fund could afford — but the fund could augment a larger funding strategy for these projects.

      1. @Al S: Thanks for sharing your top 3.
        Everyone else: I agree this survey is problematic.
        BUT: I’m going to share everything I selected as “VERY IMPORTANT.” Anyone else want to share what they chose?

        1. Everett Station Nonmotorized Access Improvements
        2. Canyon Park Nonmotorized Access Improvements
        Both because we need to improve walkability for transit hubs.

        North King:
        1. Shoreline 148th Street Nonmotorized Bridge
        2. Town Center to Burke-Gilman Trail Connector – park connectors rock!
        3. Secure Bike Parking Expansion & Related Improvements – VERY IMPORTANT in all areas.

        East King:
        1. I-405 & NE 85th Street — NE Quadrant Pedestrian/Bicycle Connection . Can we try to make this monstrosity a little more walkable / bikeable?
        2. Juanita Drive NE Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Improvements
        3. Eastgate Nonmotorized Access to Transit Improvements

        1. Nonmotorized Connections and Wayfinding at Tukwila International Boulevard Station
        2. Tukwila Station Nonmotorized Connectivity and Safety
        3. Fed Way – 21st Avenue S at S 320th Street Signalization and Pedestrian Improvements

        1. Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension Streetscape Access Improvements Phase I
        2. Sumner Station Safe Sidewalk/Bike Enhancements
        3. 112th Street Pedestrian Improvements

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