Aurora Line conceptual rendering (source: Seattle Subway)

Aurora represents an incredible opportunity for transit expansion.  The four urban villages north of the ship canal carry a massive capacity for recently upzoned density. The huge lots of big box stores that dot the landscape are a prime target for Transit Oriented Development. Grade separated transit will allow the street to feature wider sidewalks and fewer lanes.  The Aurora that can be is a place the Aurora that is wouldn’t even recognize.  

Transit on the Aurora corridor is already a huge success. Aurora carries over 32,500 daily riders in packed buses, including the E line, the busiest bus in the state.  It’s clear that even more people will choose transit when we add the speed, reliability, and comfort of Link to the equation.

As with all high quality transit, expansion on the Aurora line is amplified by its relationship to the network we’re already building.  With connections provided in the currently planned ST3 tunnel for the Ballard line, commuters would be provided flexibility from one single transfer. From the airport to Kirkland to Tacoma, the possibilities of this transit network along a famously choked Seattle arterial are endless.

Map of Seattle Subway's proposed rapid transit lines
The Aurora Line

Right now, most of Aurora doesn’t rate as a place a lot of people want to hang out. The future could be much brighter.  Rather than a stretch dedicated to carbon output, Aurora would feature the city’s best response to combat climate change using proven tools. We already know the model works. Global cities with the best transit don’t force people into cars. We can have safer, healthier communities along with more economic opportunity.

High ridership, planned density, growth and revitalization, these are things light rail promises to bring with good planning. Aurora already has most ingredients in place for success but is missing a plan to elevate transit from high performing to the primary way to get around for most people.  

From where we are now, there are great opportunities on the horizon but success is far from guaranteed.  As part of ST3, Sound Transit is building a brand new rail tunnel in downtown Seattle. Without establishing a plan to build that tunnel for expansion, we could miss a critical opportunity to leverage our investment so that an Aurora line can be built.  

That’s why a 2024 vote is so critical.  Seattle can’t sit back and wait for the region to be ready for more expansion. We have to keep moving forward to take full advantage of our investments.  

Please join us in urging your state representatives to work on funding sources.  With long lead times to build projects and a rapidly worsening climate crisis, the case has never been more clear:  Seattle Must build The Aurora Line.  

This article was written by Seattle Subway with the help of Aurora activist Ryan DiRaimo. We are actively seeking community members to collaborate on this series that will discuss the virtues of each of the potential #ST4Seattle lines.  If you are interested in helping – contact us at contact@seattlesubway.org

171 Replies to “Seattle Subway: Build the Aurora Line”

  1. Yes to all of this.

    This is more critical than ever considering how badly WSDOT messed up the southbound connection to downtown for all those buses.

      1. No toll would be nice but come on, is there really someone going through or past downtown Seattle who would rather drive city streets to avoid a $2.50 or less toll? Certainly not me.

      2. Most drivers are incredibly irrational about the true costs of driving, and the value of their time. That’s why so many people will drive an extra 20 minutes each way to work (160 extra hours of driving each year) to save maybe $50,000 on a home. If you add up all that time and vehicle costs over a 30-year home loan, they are burning hundreds of thousands of dollars. But they do it. And they will spend an extra 20mins in traffic downtown to avoid paying $3 for a toll. It isn’t rational, but it will happen.

  2. If one needs proof of what can happen if grade separated rapid transit is provided and transit oriented development is encouraged through city policy, look no further than the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor of the Washington Metro in Arlington, Virginia. Check out the before photos of a strip of roadways dominated mostly by low density uses, then compare with today. Change didn’t happen overnight, but over the past few decades the corridor has proven to be a big success. I suspect Aurora has similar potential if city officials have the foresight of the Arlington officials to go all in on transit oriented development.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. We must ensure ST builds the SLU station with the Aurora line in mind, as the blog has previously emphasized.

    Does anyone know if ST is taking this seriously? I worry building an expansion friendly SLU station will get lost in the Ballard/West Seattle tunnel mess.

    1. ST’s long-range plan has “Bus Rapid Transit” and “Regional Express Bus” along Aurora. (PDF, page 14.) The only “Potential Light-Rail Extension” not in ST3 is the 45th corridor.

      The long-range plan is not a phased project list but a menu of things ST might possibly want in the future. It’s approved by the board and directs staff not to spend resources planning for things not in the map. It was last updated in 2014 and is generally updated before each ballot round. So something else could get into the LRP before ST4, but it would have only 1-2 years to make its case to get into a project. The presumption for ST4 (or what ST3 funds studies of) is the corridors in the LRP. You can say that ST shouldn’t choose the mode ahead of time, but the mode is a cost ceiling. By saying “BRT on Aurora” ST is saying it needs a lower-budget investment than Link, and the range of alternatives will reflect that.

  4. If Seattle is going to go it alone on funding a light rail line, it needs to be Ballard-UW, not another north/south line parallel and close to the current one.

    East/west transit in this city is painful. A Ballard-UW line alleviates that to some degree.

    In fact, I would put the Aurora line towards the bottom of Seattle priorities based on the Seattle Subway map. Certainly below Ballard-UW, Metro 8, and Ballard-Lake City.

    1. Except now is the time to get ST to commit to building in the portals that would allow an Aurora line to connect to a Ballard line in the future.

      I sense that the real goal is not to build the line next, but to get ST to build in those connections that will make it possible in the future.

      1. Agreed their point seems to be more that stations/track switches be built now in ST3 to accommodate any future ST4 expansions. The lack of this forwarding looking build out means any future expansion will be more expensive, possibly impact existing services during construction, and act as a deterrent to expansions in general.

  5. I really want this to happen and some low income housing too. So see the potential here.

  6. A major challenge here (maybe the biggest challenge) is to determine where and how to put a branch in the second Downtown line. It’s really expensive and disruptive to do it in a subway after it’s operating. Still, the demand on this line appears to need trains every three or four minutes so that a branch is viable.

    One option is to stack the SLU subway north of Denny to the portal near Elliott. Then switches could be added as it is built (construction starting about 2025 and change orders could inset switches before it begins testing in 2033-4). That would fulfill the corridor proposed by Seattle Subway.

    A second option is to turn the Ballard line due east and then have a branch go north up Aurora (the other branch could go UW or Northgate). That would skip the hillside along Queen Anne as well as probably central Fremont. The big advantage of doing this is that it’s cheaper! The segment south of the Ship Canal and the Ship Canal crossing Would make this a very expensive segment and I’m not sure how many more riders it would pick up..

    The point here is that

    1. The point here is that ST should design for expandability! Frankly, if ST had anticipated the need for switches for East Link, Connect 2020 would have not been needed. If Connect 2020 was in a subway tunnel, it would be much more expensive and disruptive.

      1. To be fair to ST, where they thought they may have needed East Link switches over a decade ago may not be the place where they actually needed them today. Designing with expandability in mind can be a good thing, but it can also hamstring you when it comes time to actually build the expansion.

        For a worst case example of this, remember how they had to completely redo the tracks in the DSTT because they were unsuitable for Link.

  7. It doesn’t make sense to build this line unless the Ballard-West Seattle line is extended to include transfers with Aurora + Northgate.

    The real important thing is that if an Aurora bridge replacement is funded, it MUST be built to accomodate this future light rail line.

    As a south Seattleite I have trouble supporting all this investment in north Seattle unless there are proportional investments south of downtown. If built, the Aurora line needs to run all the way to Tukwila or Renton.

    1. I would only support this if the whole are removes zoning restrictions.

      If not, build link where there are offices and dense housing.

  8. Aurora is where North Link should’ve been built in the first place, instead of I-5. Same with Pacific Hwy in the south.

    1. Couldn’t be more spot on. Going along I-5 is really a head scratcher for many reasons, if ST wanted to do it the right way. It’s like in basketball or football, the sidelines acts as another defender. I-5 is that sideline.

  9. I think Seattle Subway ruins its credibility by making North Seattle twice as long north-south and wider east-west than South Seattle in its diagrams. Aurora is only 3/4 of a mile west of Northgate Station, which is almost walkable.

    Noting this close distance, I also expect RapidRide E to start losing riders to Link when Northgate Link opens — and lose more when Lynnwood Link opens. Those that live in between the corridors will gravitate to Link, and others will consider using an east-west bus connection to get to Link.

    1. This is a good point. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of those 32,500 riders and what buses they ride. By the time Ballard Link is extended north to Greenwood and Northgate to Lynnwood segment is operational, how many of these riders would prefer an Aurora line? You got Bitter Lake and Broadview and a few other high hanging pieces of fruit and that’s it. There are definitely more deserving denser neighborhoods that Link should focus on over this line.

    2. The point of having the line go that far north is so that it can go even further north to Shoreline and Edmonds. By anchoring it with stations it encourages ST to just keep extending the line north. Now you could make the argument that it should skip some of those N. Seattle stations an act more as an express train till it gets closer to downtown.

      1. Well if it’s an express train ride you want, well wait a minute, isn’t there one already? Sounder takes only 33 mins to King St. Lynnwood to King St. will take longer so I can’t imagine an Edmonds to Seattle being much faster, and when one considers the billions in additional cost, you have to do a double take on this justification.

      2. The express Link is on I-5. Its travel time from Westlake to Lynnwood and Everett will be in the midrange of ST Express travel time (faster than peak, slower than Sunday morning, same as Sounder to Everett). The north end really has it made.

        ST’s travel time estimate for the Aurora alternative north of Northgate was 4 minutes slower to Lynnwood. That doesn’t sound like much but it loses a few riders on the margin, and ST said it would lose more riders in Lynnwood than it would gain on Aurora. Of course, that doesn’t include any Aurora upzones because the city hadn’t committed to any then (and still hasn’t).

        The difference between an Aurora line and switching to Aurora from Northgate is stations at 105th, 85th, 46th, 35th, and SLU. So one question is, how many riders would those generate?

        The south end is in a completely different situation. First there’s the Rainier Valley overhead of some 10 minutes. Second, the cities are further away. The longer the distance, the less Link can keep up with express buses and Sounder. If you fold a map at Westlake, Kent is the distance of north Lynnwood, and Federal Way is a bit shorter than Everett.

      3. The point of having the line go that far north is so that it can go even further north to Shoreline and Edmonds.

        Which epitomizes the ignorance of those who advocate for such nonsense. I could write about the subject for several paragraphs, citing example after example, but it comes down to this:

        Density + Proximity = High Ridership.

        If you doubt that obviously oversimplified summation, please tell me which commuter transit systems carry more riders than those in the city. (Hint: there aren’t any). There are other factors of course. Speed savings make a difference. As it turns out, in this case, it would be minor (highways are pretty fast, obviously).

        Putting a subway system out to Shoreline and Edmonds would have none of the features that actually result in cost effective transit.

      4. How many trains a day do you think North Sounder has? And much like I-5 acts as a defender to Link, the Sound is for North Sounder.

    3. As a Shoreline resident who’s on route 346, I try to avoid using the E-line for obvious reasons. So I tend to either drive to Northgate and take bus 41 or hop on the 512 at 145th. I’ll take the E if it’s super late at night or I’m transferring from other buses mid-Aurora.

      When Lynnwood Link arrives, I’ll definitely make every effort to ride it for 100% of my Seattle trips.

      1. There are many STB readers who have never ridden Metro’s E Line. Could you list the obvious reasons you avoid that route?

    4. Oh really? The E line carries 18,000 riders a day and is the state of Washington’s #1 bus for ridership. The 2nd highest? The D line. Carries about 15,000 per day. And is even closer to the E line than the E line is to the link station in Northgate. So the proof here would be that you are mistaken. People will use transit within a short walk. Redundancy or frequency (with multiple lines) proves they can all work as rail and you won’t be losing riders.

      1. This. Aurora really is a separate urban corridor. For just getting to/from downtown, yeah, one could walk or take a local bus to get to Northgate. But for going up and down Aurora, people are not going to take a bus to a train to a bus (or substitute one of both of the busses with a long walk). Does it have to be Link? Maybe it could be a true BRT upgrade instead. Take the center lanes for BRT (shared left turn lanes for cars) until elevated rail could be built. As it is, Route E is *way* too slow to be considered as rapid transit, and even the branding “RapidRide” is misleading, and it’s ridership and crush loading is begging for an upgrade.

      2. People can only go up and down Aurora on Link to the intersections which have stations. Most of the businesses and housing on Aurora is between such stations, so people will have to take the E or a three-seat ride (which they won’t do for such a short distance). Aurora is like Rainier Ave and the E is like the 7. When you ride the E you don’t see crowds getting on/off at the major intersections except 46th; instead you see one or two people getting on/off at every stop.

        What Aurora needs is transit-priority lanes for the E like Shoreline, Snohomish, and South King County already have on their parts of 99. The express service for longer trips to downtown or Belleuve or the airport is a mile east. Link should have been on Aurora in the first place where people could walk from their urban village to the train, but that decision has already been made. The case for a parallel second line on Aurora assumes a larger population or overcrowding on the first line.

        Still, ST should build a Y stub to prepare for such a future. Just like it should have included a transfer stub in U-District Station.

    5. I think Oran made the map that way for design/legibility reasons. It’s a network diagram, not intended to be geographically accurate.

      Regarding the the distance between Aurora and 105th and Northgate Station… I’m sorry, I really have to ask. Have you ever been there?

      1. Westlake-NE 145th is longer N-S than Westlake-Rainier Beach, about 36% longer, which is about the same ratio in the diagram.

        West Seattle could be dragged out a bit further west to visually balance the halves widthwise…

      2. I’ve walked it and I’ve biked it. It is not pleasant, to say the least. And it’s not that close.

      3. Al makes a good point. It isn’t that you would walk between the two lines, it is that you use a bus.

        Consider a trip from Bitter Lake to the UW. Right now, every rider starts that trip with a ride on the E. After riding the E south a few miles, they either take the 45 or the 44 across.

        But in a few years, their whole world changes. They don’t even get on the E. Instead they take a bus over to the NE 130th Street Station, and then take the train south. They would do the same for trips to Northgate or Capitol Hill. This is a connection between one of the biggest stops on the proposed train, and the train is meaningless.

        The same is true for those farther north. Someone trying to get from Shoreline Community College to the UW will start by taking a bus east, towards 145th Station. Someone near the county border will just keep riding Swift, and connect to 185th. These are trips that would not be made faster with a train line on Aurora, yet these are exactly the types of trips that generate high ridership. With our current system, the E is used not only to go downtown, but to get to places like the UW. It isn’t the best way; it isn’t the way you would go if you drove; but it is the only logical way, given our current bus network.

        I don’t fault the map. The problem is that Seattle Subway ignores bus service, and ignores the network. A line down Aurora does practically nothing to improve the network. Trips that were fast are still fast. Trips that were slow are still slow.

    6. We need some East West buses connecting Lake City Way and I-5 to Aurora via 125/130th and 145th. It’s just fine having light rail at 130th and 145th but it needs some East West connections. Could be one square bus line loop that runs West from Lake City Way up 125th/130th to Greenwood, North to 145th and back East again to Lake City Way when it would head South back to it’s beginning.

  10. If we’re going to be eliminating the bus lanes in order to widen the center median, why not just widen it a bit more and build the line at grade south of the bridge? Operability would be about the same given the lack of intersections on that stretch of 99. This might preclude the ‘Dexter’ station, but the space constraints in that area could make an elevated station there unfeasible anyway.

    1. I’m not sure how’d they be able to widen aurora without significant cuts into the surrounding properties/hillsides and/or deleting the sidewalks.

  11. This is a good beginning, but south of about 90th it should deviate to the Greenwood / Phinney / Fremont corridor in subway. The crest of Phinney Ridge is a spectacular place for a high-rise cluster around 65th and again between 45th and 50th. Such a line would serve Lower Fremont much better than the 130 foot high Aurora Bridge.

    Yes, this is obviously more expensive, but it avoids the transit desert of Woodland Park and the construction and view impacts of building alongside Green Lake.

    1. A fast elevator to the train would be a fine option especially if there’s a streetcar to replace route 40. Even today it’s harder to get to Ballard than downtown.

    2. I like this. It avoids needing to cross the bridge which would really complicate this project.
      I could also see it serving Upper Queen Anne with a deep station as opposed to a stop on Aurora south of the bridge. It could then connect with the new tunnel either at the LQA station or the one in SLU.

  12. How much projected revenue will the North King subarea have under the ST3 tax policies? It’s much more than anticipated prior to the 2016 vote (tax revenues for Sound Transit were $110 million over budget last year, and the debt capacity figures haven’t been disclosed yet). The agency should disclose the projected revenue figures so we can see how much the board will have to work with.

      1. You didn’t understand my question, Dan. What is the projected revenues figure for the North King subarea? Also, I didn’t ask about “spare” debt capacity, I asked about the remaining debt capacity for the North King subarea.

      2. Sound Transit will get as close to the debt limit in the 2030s as anybody on the board is comfortable with. All of the forecasted revenues are fully committed to projects in the plan of record.

      3. Dan, all of the subareas have scores of billions of dollars remaining to be allocated. You may not understand how Sound Transit’s budgeting works. I posted a request to you below — if you provide a link to the document you are looking at that you think supports what you are saying I can explain why it doesn’t say what you think it does.

  13. I really think we need to get out of the mode of choosing projects first and analyzing their effectiveness later. We really need a systems accessibility and travel time study (including walk access both in and out of stations) before investing in more projects in the tens of billions of dollars.

    Drawing lines is attractive for SimCity. It’s just not fiscally responsible without defining needs first.

    1. The need is transit-oriented development in existing built area vs. unending suburbs being built in all directions. These endless suburbs that are car-dependent for everything and over an hour away from major employers, downtown and Sea-Tac Airport.

      Redeveloping space with homes, offices, shops, etc. with <30 min travel times from downtown on a walkable scale works.

      The train has to go in first.

    2. The needs are clear: clusters of people live in Aurora, Wallingford, Northgate, and the U-District and they want to go between these places. “Aurora” is several places including 85th, 130th, and 185th. The existing bus ridership gives a floor. Add to that the latent demand if the transit were better; e.g., Aurora to Lake City. The goal should be an optimized transit network that serves the widest cross-section of people and destinations as conveniently as possible and is competitive with driving.

  14. Dan, what document are you looking at to make that kind of wild statement? None of the ST3 megaproject budgets have been set.

    At this point the only projected revenues that have been committed from any of the subareas are for Sound Move and ST2 projects (with small exceptions, such as the ST3 I-405 BRT project). Last month the board approved a design for LINK”s extension to the Tacoma Dome, but that didn’t involve allocating ANY projected revenues to that ST3 project.

    Have you seen any document showing the projected revenues and debt capacity for the North King subarea, Dan? Obviously some of it has been allocated to Sound Move and ST2 projects, but until we know what remains we won’t know how much the board has left to work with.

  15. There are a lot of downmarket motels, apartments and homes along the Aurora corridor. If Aurora gets gentrified, they will be torn down. Where will those people go?

    1. The city’s been trying to tear down those motels for decades. They even passed legislation on nuisance properties and then selectively enforced it (ignoring downtown businesses with orders of magnitude more daily violations) to shut some of the motels along Aurora down. Seattle’s been itching to gentrify Aurora Avenue North since the 1990s. They want the people living there to leave the city, just like the people living in The Jungle.

    2. There are a lot of development opportunities and no marginalized groups (being poor and white is one’s own fault) so displacement is not an issue here.

      1. And you know the racial makeup of these residents how? What percentage of the users/residents are African American? Is it above or below Seattle’s average?

      2. Um, so you know those folks aren’t LGBT, or disabled? I’m fairly certain both of those groups are still considered marginalized (despite the large number of straight people who claim that homophobia has now been fixed)

        Over half of homeless youth are LGBT, and LGBT adults of all races are disproportionately poor. Folks suffering from mental and physical disabilities also struggle to stay housed–through no fault of their own.

      3. Your demographics page is over 5 years out of date, and all I can find is “non-white” census data, whereas I asked specifically for African American data. Then again, the site really didn’t like being on a mobile browser, so I might have missed it.

      4. You have to launch the map, and then highlight the census tract, which then has the demographic info. Highest % along Aurora was 8% at Bitter Lake. As far as being out of date, yeah, census data is almost 10 years old now. Please feel free to link to more current stats if you have them.

        @Steven
        True, there are poor LGBT and disabled people. How wide is our marginalized group net? I mean, if you only count white cis males who make 100k a year or more as privileged, most of Seattle is marginalized. And LGBT have been gentrified out of our own neighborhood too (Capitol Hill). Personally, I think that tearing down cheapo motels and auto shops and replacing it with affordable housing is the bigger win for all groups.

    3. Pretty easy solution actually. All we have to do is seize the land and put it into the hands of non-profit developers managed democratically by the community.

    4. Those low rent motels actually put the squeeze on people who are already financially hurting. They’ll rent week by week, without background checks on finances, and charge people the equivalent of $2400 a month. So I wouldn’t mind seeing them go. In fact, a lot of affordable housing is going on Aurora which is a good thing to start with, having the foresight that the land will eventually become a commodity. You can’t find land in the entire city right now cheaper than Aurora where you get inject hundreds of new housing units with a single permit. This is exactly the type of place that needs to be considered. Plus, the urban villages within a 5 minute walk of Aurora have all been upzoned and all carry a massive housing growth capacity. There is simply no other place transit should be than Aurora. That’s why the city made it the center part of four major urban villages.

      1. These low rent motels are the only housing many can find. The lowest “affordable housing” benchmark in seattle is 30% of the region’s average mean income. That’s 27,100 dollars per year. Federal disability is at roughly 770 dollars per month, at the most. That’s 9,200 dollars per year. Slightly over 1/3 of the bottom AMI bracket. Section 8 vouchers? There’s a lottery every two years that has over ten times the applicants than SHA has total available units city wide. Then you have to literally wait for someone to die, roughly 15-24 months.

        Replacing these motels with units and developers who play fast and loose with the term affordable housing will not just displace people, it’ll kill them. LGBT people are dying on our streets today. My social group has had to bury two people since Durkan stepped up the homeless sweeps (making the issue even worse). One of them was African American.

        Aurora is the place to upzone only if you want to dramatically increase displacement. You thought the gentrification in Ballard and Columbia Cith was bad? This would be orders of magnitude worse.

        But hey, who cares as long as the land is a cheap commodity to exploit? What’s a few undesirables compared to the almighty dollar?

      2. This is a really good point. We need low cost housing, but these are the payday lenders of housing.

      3. New housing will not be affordable when the prevailing rent is $2000 rather than $1000. But we need new housing because the population is growing and we’ve let the housing supply reach a critical shortage. There are a wide variety of 1950s-70s apartments and motels along Aurora, some that would be called flophouses and others not. We can’t just freeze the current amount of housing to preserve low rents, because those rents won’t remain low in any case.

      4. In other words, we need a large increase of both market-rate and below-market housing. We can’t do with just one of them, and we can’t do with zero. Nor can we add just low-income housing for those making less than $25K, because that leaves a gap of people between $25K-65K that are cost-burdened for housing.

    5. We can’t expect to really address housing with transit alone–build or no build. We should build transit to move people. And build affordable housing for people to live in. Preferably close to the transit because a car is a major burden on families that have trouble affording a place to live.

  16. Can we get a clickable link on the graphic that links to an enlarged version? It’s too small /low res to see the potential connections at this scale.

  17. I agree with several other posters here that the immediate issue isn’t so much building an Aurora line ASAP as designing and building ST3 to accommodate a future Aurora line.

    There’s arguably 2 or more light rail lines/extensions I’d prioritize over an Aurora Line (Metro 44, Metro 8, possibly extend Ballard Link to Crown Hill/Greenwood/Northgate/Lake City, possibly extend West Seattle Link southward), but I do think we’ll want to build an Aurora line sometime this century, so we should do things right now and build ST3 with expansion in mind.

  18. Pick the corridor and then pick the mode. This corridor clearly should be a busway, given it is already grade separated from Mercer to 85th. Converting to center lane and providing some elevated busway over major cross streets starting at 85th will provide 90% of the benefit for a fraction of the costs.

    1. Why would a grade-separated busway be better than a grade-separated Link railway?

      We can build Link at grade as well, with the same detriments to travel time and reliability.

      The offset is reduced opportunity for transit-oriented development

    2. Mercer to 72nd. Winona to 90th is one fuster-cluck after another.

      You simply can’t put an elevated railway through West Green Lake. That would be an urban monstrosity.

      Can the E be made better? Sure, but it will always be at the mercy of the autoistas.

  19. If Seattle is serious about transit, it could start by building elevated infrastructure for a BRT line first (operated by Metro…the E Line on steroids), with the option to transfer the asset to ST for light rail in the future.

    Alternatively, at much lower cost and much faster timeline, it could provide dedicated bus lanes, TSP, and turn restrictions along the entire corridor, possibly in exchange for even greater frequency (assuming Metro could deliver that).

    While I agree that rail on 99 would be great, Seattle Subway fails to see the forest for the trees by pushing solely for rail all over the place.

    1. What? Rapid Ride E is not already BRT? Don’t you know BRT just equals buses in a different paint color and fewer stops? (I know, I know, it’s an old argument at this point.) Maybe one day Seattle will be as progressive as Shoreline with bus lanes.

    2. That’s actually exactly what this proposal is. The tunnel in downtown for ST3 will (hopefully) already be there to connect to. When you build the elevated system pictured, you’re already doing 80% of the work (and probably 80% of the cost). You might as well lay the tracks down and buy the trains so you can fully use it. How is your plan saving anything significant?

      1. Yes, the elevated guideway is a significant portion of the cost, and I didn’t intend to suggest any cost savings from it (aside from the savings in track and overhead wire), but rather time savings. Recall that Metro built the DSTT. My point is that Sound Transit doesn’t have the be the end-all be-all of transit infrastructure in Seattle or King County. If *Seattle* feels it’s worth it *to Seattle*, then Seattle can foot most or all of the cost and get things moving now, since we know that ST is cash-constrained (and legislation-constrained). Additionally, Metro ought to nudge a bit in the direction of building infrastructure, as intra-county transit corridors are worthy of higher levels of infrastructure (like this article is arguing). ST is a regional body with a regional focus, which means they don’t necessarily need to be responsible for building a rail line between, for instance, Ballard and UW (even if you can argue that such a line would have region-wide impacts because…UW).

      2. @seattleyo,
        In the 1980s, the bus tunnel was a project that was at the top of the list using the metrics of the time and our reps/senators pushed its funding through despite Reagan’s proposed cuts.

        You’re correct the Sound Transit / RTA special district isn’t the end-all be-all.

        The end-all be-all are the federal grants.

        Sound Transit, Metro are part of the political dance to get our Federal Congress to open the checkbook. WA DC dictates the rules of the dance.

    3. By the time you build an elevated line, you might as well put tracks and power in. An elevated BRT line is going to cost about 80% of an elevated LRT line, and will always have higher operating costs. If the demand is there to justify fully grade-separated infrastructure, it should be rail.

      1. See comment above re: DSTT. Not all projects need to be ST-led and ST-funded. Coordinate with ST for sure to enable rail to go in at some point in the future, but if we’re sick of waiting b/c ST is cash-strapped, let’s stop bitching and fund the infrastructure ourselves. We *could* start now if we really wanted to.

  20. Aurora has had a negative job growth since the urban villages have been created. It houses little yet is an integral part of four urban villages in North Seattle. Aurora carries a massive capacity to house thousands of people with HALA MHA’s latest upzone. And the corridor is nearly maxed with the transit we currently have. The people between Aurora and I-5, within reasonable walking distance, will use the light rail. But you are kidding yourself if you believe that’s going to do any major cut to the 33,000 daily transit riders on Aurora itself. In addition, the E line, as an example, turns riders away and discourages riders from using transit due to the bus being stuck in traffic or being way over crowded. Even with injected buses, the thing is always full. I sometimes hop on it during the weekend on random times and it’s STILL full. Nobody is walking a mile to catch the light rail when Aurora is right there. And if it’s an 8 minute train ride, that’s where we are going to get our transit into the city. Not by crossing the 1 or 2 bridges on loud I-5 to catch the 1 stop all of North Seattle is supposed to be served by. Just FYI.

    Paris is half the size of Seattle’s land mass and has the exact same “redundant” lines that run in all directions within reasonable distance from one another. It has more annual riders than all US commuter rails combined and is only 45 square miles.

    The end.

    1. What is HALA’s Aurora upzone? I thought there wasn’t much on Aurora.

      Some E riders further north will switch to Link. It’s uncertain how many. Aurora Link will have limited stops like all the other Link lines, so the E will still be needed for in-between stops. Those in-between stops are the same ones where riders are least likely to switch to Central Link.

      Ridership on the E will still be high under any scenario because of the existing residents and businesses and future ones. When Community Transit overlaid Swift Blue on the 101, the 101 went from being the highest-ridership route to the second highest-ridership route after Swift, because adding another level of service makes the overall transit network more useful.

      1. I will promise you that the E line will still be the #1 most ridden bus in the entire state after Link Northgate and Lynwood open. I catch the bus at 95th and there’s usually about half the bus full. By the time we get from 95th to 45th, the bus is completely slammed and usually turns people away at 45th. Nobody in those 50 blocks is walking miles north to catch the Link station in Northgate.

        Anyways, the Aurora rezone for just 84th to 110th is 57 acres that can modestly become 8,000 residential units over night. https://www.theurbanist.org/2018/06/11/rezoned-revitalized-aurora/
        https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/seattles-long-neglected-aurora-avenue-north-is-ripe-for-change/

        If all this “proximity” talk were real, then the D line and E line wouldn’t be #1 & #2 for ridership in the whole metro system. They are closer together than the E line and light rail are and there’s way more stops that parallel…

      2. I’d take that bet. The 174 and the 194 had top ridership spots before Link and stop/line truncation. IIRC the 7 had better ridership too (back when it connected Cap Hill and the UW). The E line should see exactly the same reduction in riders as the South Seattle/King County equivalents saw.

      3. The 194 disappeared when Link opened. The 174 was split into the 124 and what is now the A line at the time as well. The 174 did so well because it ran downtown, so it’s no surprise it lost top spot when Link opened as it no longer went downtown. The stretch of the 7 that parallels Link is no more than a 10 minute walk to the train. The closest the E gets to Northgate/Lynnwood Link is 40 minutes (for Northgate station) and 20 minutes (for 145th/185th). I’m not so sure people will walk 20 minutes.

      4. Are you saying that people from Northgate and Lynnwood currently trek to the E? I’m not following your train of logic here.

        I’ve made the walk from Northgate to Aurora. I didn’t see that many people doing the same.

      5. On Northgate Way there’s also a steep hill. But if you use the future pedestrian bridge and walk west on 103rd it looks like the hill is smaller, and at 100th and 105th it seems to disappear in Google Maps.

      6. That’s not at all what I’m saying. I don’t believe the E will have a large ridership hit when Northgate/Lynnwood Link open. You argued that since the 174, 194, and 7 all had ridership drops when Link opened, the same would happen for the E. My point is that these all had ridership drops since Link served the same corridor as, or outright replaced, these routes, and that the E serves a different corridor than Northgate/Lynnwood Link.

        I would argue the E would remain a busy route, probably still the busiest bus in the state, when Northgate/Lynnwood Link open since it serves a different corridor (the E is not within easy walking distance of Link). You yourself say that you don’t see many people walking between Northgate and Aurora. Yes, Link is a train and trains are the new thing, but do you really think more people will make the trek from Aurora for it?

      7. Thank you for the clarification. I don’t think people will walk from Aurora to Northgate once Link serves it, no. But looking at the UW station and current politics, I think the blight of truncation (which destroys necessary route duplication for when, not if, light rail has an issue) may very well force them to.

      8. The 194 was deleted with Link and has had no counterpart since then. Link is the counterpart. South of the airport, the 574 serves its former stops. The 174 was split with the northern part becoming the 124 and the remainder was later replaced by the A. The 174 was 23 miles long and took 90 minutes from end to end. That’s way too long for a reasonable route, so you can’t really compare it to its successors because they’re like apples and oranges. The 7 may have lost a few riders but if so I expect that to be small and short-lived. A lot of the 7’s riders are going from one part of the valley to another, which Link doesn’t address, and certainly not from MLK which is more like twenty minutes from Rainier at Henderson Street.

      9. The A stops at many more former 194 stops than the 574. The 574 was never really a replacement. I was also comparing them to the E, another long route.

        That said, I do agree your position that ridership numbers devoid of route length are near meaningless.

  21. One more thing to address this Ballard to UW east-west discussion.
    Right now the 45 and 44 run East-West on 45th and 85th major corridors. Their combined ridership is 15,000. The E line does 18,000 by itself on Aurora and the north-south corridor of Aurora does twice as much as those two buses currently. The reality is most of Seattle goes north-south. We can supplement east-west with buses or other rail lines down the pipeline. I’d upgrade those east-west buses to RapidRides and give them bus only lanes. But I still doubt, combined, they’ll out perform the state’s #1 bus for ridership

    1. Their combined ridership [east-west] is 15,000. The E line does 18,000 by itself on Aurora and the north-south corridor of Aurora does twice as much as those two buses currently.

      What is the ridership per kilometer on each corridor? What is the average speed of the buses on those corridors?

      1. If you cared to think through whether this makes sense as a rail corridor when it already works well as a bus corridor, you’d care.

        Aurora is a long corridor (lotsa capital dollars to build rail) with dedicated bus lanes along much of its length (no particular speed advantage for a train).

        Ross is asking the questions Seattle Subway ought to have asked themselves.

      2. More importantly: what are those bus improvements likely to gain?

        The 44 is extremely slow, and dedicated bus lanes just aren’t going to happen in most areas. Hell, businesses in Ballard won’t even let them put in a bike path.

        I really don’t see any way to make significant improvements in the 44 without completely separating most of it from surface streets, and once that happens you might as well make it a rail line.

        The E takes forever because it stops frequently and is really long. This could be solved with better east-west connections once Link opens and some more frequent expresses to the outer ends. It’s not likely to be solved with light rail as each of those stops seem to be equally busy and not particularly ones you would want to cut out once light rail gets added.

      3. The reason ridership is low on the 44 and 45 is because fewer people go east-west in this city. This is evident that Ballard’s D line beats the 44 & 45 combined by itself. “oh it’s longer”. That is irrelevant. The people go north-south. I’m all for east-west and we can definitely get there with bus only lanes for the 44 and 45 (i.e. upgrading those two to RapidRides).

        But studying the “per kilometer” or whatever is pointless here. Aurora is long. But it’s also the central spine of four urban villages that haven’t even tapped in to the housing potential on Aurora. Just one of those urban villages was rezoned for housing and has a modest capacity of 8,000 new units. Potentially 16,000 more people. That’s JUST the 57 acres of the 240 in that urban village (mine, by the way, ALUV). The same things and potential exist for Bitter Lake, Wallingford, and Fremont. You’re looking at the city’s untapped well of opportunity to build dense, walkable housing projects that flip the table on Aurora as a back alley. You will never be able to handle that north-south by kicking people over to northgate link, or doing so via buses like the E (which already ranks #1 in ridership state wide).

      4. You won’t find a bigger opponent of the Ballard-UW light rail plan than me. I’ve also frequently ridden the 44 from UW to Ballard.

        That said there really are no good places for the 44 to get bus only lanes. Once the bus is between I-5 and Ballard, you’re looking at very few lanes, often bumper to bumper, with very tricky interchanges at times.

        The solution to the 44 mess is actually rather simple. The main issue is the 45th-I-5 on and off ramps. One improved intersection can improve traffic from 15th to Ballard.

  22. Perhaps I’m ignorant of the scope, but what about the Aurora bridge? I would assume it wouldn’t support the light rail infrastructure/weight without significant upgrades, if it’s even possible.

    1. You can either build a separate bridge to carry the link or, my preference, you can lower the rail to grade level, remove a general purpose lane each way (which is done in the graphic anyway) and cross the bridge, continuing on at grade before going into the ST3 tunnel in SLU. The weight shouldn’t be an issue at that point. The naysayers to anything on Aurora use the tag line “it’s a freight route”. I imagine a few trains @ grade weigh a lot less than heavy trucks and multiple cars, buses, etc all being on the bridge at once…

  23. I think rather than be in the median, the tracks or bus lanes would possibly be better on one side of Aurora.

    – Stops and stations wouldn’t need a mezzanine.

    – Some surface segments with crossing gates could be installed. That reduces cost.

    – Pedestrians could cross a narrower Aurora and that would reduce crosswalk times.

    Using a median isn’t great if one isn’t there already. Just look at the Federal Way and Lynnwood designs, and how badly the MLK median works for riders going to and from stations.

    1. Oh… and the bus stops that intersect with Aurora could have stops that would be right at the station entrances (no need to cross Aurora at all).

  24. I still can’t understand how the state could spend so much money on the 99 tunnel and not include transit lanes, or bus stations in the tunnel.

    Connecting the Aurora corridor to the light rail system would be one way of helping fix that mistake.

    1. The replacement tunnel was to save lives from the earthquake danger of the old viaduct without eliminating the grade-separated highway.

      But there will be a new shorter viaduct from Lenora ST to Pine ST and the new surface highway for transit, freight that can’t use the tunnel (chemicals and fuel) and access to downtown.

      Also the 2nd light rail tunnel and the 1st Ave streetcar in exclusive lanes are going to add considerable reliability and improved transit service through downtown as well.

  25. I agree with a few of the comments that the ST3 tunnel should accomodate a future Aurora light rail line. However, I don’t trust Sound Transit to design it. I see this being similar to 1986/7 when King County Metro put tracks in the bus tunnel for future expansion. They (KCM) only did it for public support. The tracks were wrong and not grounded correctly, and they KNEW it. They did not know where they were going to go, so they aimed them at the Express lanes. Up until 7 months ago, you coukd still see those wasted tracks at CPS. They still had to close the tunnel for 2 years to make it light rail compatible.

    If this happens, I want to see a very well developed plan, that even I can understand. It should show how much effort it will take to add a north/ south line later. A video like the 2020 plan or something similar. If not, I do not believe the interchange plans will save that much money or time. I do believe, however that the line is worth it.

    I will say it again, don’t let ST design it. Get an outside source.

    1. The way these projects are designed is through the same process everywhere across America. The agency and local government structure is the political means to the federal funding.

      Those rails were critical for the vision that trains belong in that tunnel. Imagine if we had installed Link in mixed traffic on the surface like down in Portland.

      Part of selling America on building railways again is selling people on the vision, which is somewhat working.

  26. Hah. This is so funny.

    ST3 is gonna be so late and be so over budget that ST won’t get to this until 2050 or later. By that time all of the glaciers in Greenland will have melted, sodo will be under water and we’ll be relocating Seattle to North Bend….

  27. What is the ridership per mile on Aurora? How does that compare with other corridors? Is that within the typical range for moving a corridor from bus to rail? What is the average speed of a bus on Aurora? What is the ridership per stop on the E? How many riders will have to take a bus to a subway stop? How often will the connecting bus run? Will those riders actually save any time, or will they lose time, because they will have to make a transfer? Speaking of which, how often do you think this train will run, and why? How does this compare with similar systems built around the country (or world)?

    I forgot one of the key points: how much will this cost? How does that compare to other proposals you’ve considered (on this corridor or others)? In terms of rider time savings per dollar spent, how does it compare with those other projects?

    1. Good questions and exactly the sorts of things that should be answered in level 1 analysis by professionals.

      Step 1: Get people interested (ST4Seattle is here.)
      Step 2: Get people to tell politicians that they are interested (and a bit here too – we passed 700 letters to pols.)
      Step 3: Get politicians to make level 1 analysis and funding sources happen.
      Step 4: Level 1 Analysis
      Step 5: High level planning and public outreach
      Step 6: Finalize Ballot proposal package and get it on the ballot
      Step 7: Pass Ballot measure
      Step 8: Additional analysis, public outreach, and narrowing detailed alignments
      Step 9: EIS study of multiple potential detailed alignments (ST3 is here.)

      1. No.

        We need a systems analysis of the City first. How long will it take to get to various places? How many trip ends per acre occur all over town? Where are the improvements needed in the existing system, including Link stations and RapidRide lines? Where will buses or trains be too crowded once ST3 is operating? How does Aurora light rail score on performance measures compared to a Whit Center or a CD or First Hill or a Belltown light rail or equivalent?

        Then, what best can get built for certain levels of available funds? What cost savings can be introduced to bring ideal project costs lower?

        Then and only then should we be considering projects.

        Please stop promoting pet corridors before promoting what’s the best value for everyone in the City.

      2. Although I do support the extension on Aurora, I have some concerns. This may be long winded, but hang on.
        When I was a kid, the line was route 6. It had stops every 3 blocks from dowtown to where ever it went. (Never rode it north of 135th. Old rave/party district, you know). But was walking distance from everybody.

        It used to get off at Bridge Way, creep up Stone Way, go around the west side of Greenlake, under the bridge, then to Lynden, and eventually back to Aurora. This was probably back before the 90’s Slow, but picked up everyone. Bypassed the Fremont hoe-tels and Woodland Park but was slower.
        Later they changed to 358 and around that time eliminated the Stone Way bypass. I think. Then came Rapid Ride. Faster up Aurora. Stops 5 blocks apart. Longer walks.

        To the question. If Aurora goes to rail, what happens to the riders who used to ride it? They went from 3 blocks to 5 blocks to maybe a rail, 15 blocks. I know your map says different. But look at the Ballard line. That is what it most likely would be. There would almost need to be a similar bus route to make it worth it for most riders. East west routes, if any, would not be sufficient.

        I support the line but if I lived near 74th and Aurora, would think different. What do you think? Asking from a riders perspective.

        Thank you for your input and future maps.

      3. And you didn’t answer a single question. Here, let me help. Here are some of the most popular corridors in our system served by only one bus:

        E — 12 miles — 18,000 riders — 1,500 riders per mile.
        7– 7.5 miles — 11,000 riders — 1,460 riders per mile.
        44 — 4.5 miles — 9,000 riders — 2,000 per mile.
        70 — 4.5 miles — 8,000 riders — 1,777 per mile.

        That doesn’t even consider shared corridors, or which parts of the corridors have more riders. It is clear that ridership on the E is nothing special, even though the E, clearly, is faster than the other routes.

        Isn’t it possible that you focused on the wrong thing? You saw the numbers for the E, and forgot to consider the denominator. The only reason the E carries so many people is because it is very long (and, well, very fast). Thus converting to a train would be a very bad value. You would be better off running express overlay buses. Well, that, and trying to make the other buses faster, so that they can run more often, and increase ridership.

      4. @Jimmy — Exactly. The assumption is that an Aurora light rail line will carry huge numbers of people, because it is much faster. But how do make it much faster? Reduce the stops, of course.

        But if you reduce the stops, then some people have to walk farther. Others have to take a connecting bus. Now — for a lot of riders — you haven’t made it any better.

        Furthermore, you can reduce the stops by simply adding an additional express bus. Why is there only one bus on Aurora, which makes dozens of stops north of 45th? Why not run a second express, that skips half the stops? Is it because you think we can’t afford to dilute the line? If so, then why on earth would you think that a train would be full of riders?

        Of course a grade separated line would be faster than running on Aurora. But not that much faster. If I just drove in the bus lanes, I could make really good time there. Between Green Lake and downtown, there is not a single stop light! No wonder it is so popular.

        To be clear, there are things that could be improved. The HOV lane connection to downtown is horrible (thanks WSDOT). But a for a tiny fraction of the money for a new train we could build an overpass, then commence adding bus lanes and actually enforcing them. But the only way to make the E significantly faster is if you skip stops. That should be done with a second bus, not a train.

      5. Ross and Al:

        We’ll keep promoting obvious high value transit corridors.

        I’m not sure how you [ah] imagine Aurora N doesn’t meet that criteria or why you imagine a high quality transit along Aurora might be a pet project – but I’ll leave that to ya’ll.

      6. @RossB “Why is there only one bus on Aurora, which makes dozens of stops north of 45th? Why not run a second express, that skips half the stops?”

        Wasn’t that the general idea behind the way the old 359/360 routes were structured, though the latter was a peak-oriented bus?

      7. I’m not sure how you manage to twist yourselves to imagine Aurora N doesn’t meet that criteria or why you imagine a high quality transit along Aurora might be a pet project – but I’ll leave that to ya’ll.

        The facts are very simple:

        Aurora does not have the highest ridership per mile.
        Bus service on Aurora is much faster than similar corridors.

        Why are you pushing for an obviously very expensive, yet inferior corridor? Are you purposely counting on people being ignorant of transit issues, and hoping they will focus on the fact that the E is one very long, very fast bus line with a fair number of riders?

        Here is another way to look at it. Imagine if the 7 and 70 were just one bus line. Call it the 770. This 770 would be about as long as the E. Yet it would suddenly be the most popular bus line in our system. Despite very little in the way of bus lanes, the 770 carries close to 20,000 riders, or 2,000 more than the E. Why should we focus on the E, rather the 770?

        The whole reason that you focus on the E is because it has high ridership. But that is all arbitrary. It is like saying that Kansas should build a subway, since it has about four times the number of people as Seattle. Sorry, but you can’t just look at the total number of people within an area when considering transit. You have to look at the size of the area. Dividing the two gives you a value worth considering: population density. Likewise, focusing on a corridor without considering its length is meaningless.

        Not only did you fail to make a case for the corridor on the abstract level, you ignored the speed of service along it. Buses like the 44 and 8 compete will with Aurora in terms of ridership per mile, even though service along there is ridiculously slow. Don’t you think building something like that is likely to see a bigger increase in ridership than converting the E to rail?

        Then there is the network effect. I realize this gets complicated, but you have to look at the total transit network. This means doing something you probably aren’t fond of: looking at the buses. You have to finally acknowledge that like most cities, the buses will carry the bulk of the riders. You also have to look at the existing subway system, which is remarkably north-south oriented. How would yet another north-south line improve the network, compared to an east-west line?

        All of those are important considerations, but you didn’t even get the basics right. You didn’t even do the math. You didn’t list ridership per mile, or average speed of service. My guess is you just took a largely arbitrary number (riders on the E) without even bothering to divide by the length.

      8. [ah]

        Are you just going to ignore the TOD opportunity? How about the impact of improving service to places like Fremont? Any notes on what this corridor might be in 2040?

      9. Ross, you make the same mistake over and over: you assume the future as a somewhat more dense present. Aurora to the north of 90th or so is a fantastic opportunity for a “string of [highrise] pearls”, because “Who [with power] is going to say ‘No!’?”

        You have said that Seattle must increase its average density, and recommend ADU’s to do it. But the truth is that large parts of North Seattle have tiny lots and the Gotbucks clan are buying the cottages and replacing them with houses that fill the available lot. The places north of the ship canal with large lots already have big houses in them

        Only in South and West Seattle are there large numbers of ADU’able lots. For North Seattle to absorb its share of the coming growth, it will have to go up in all the places that don’t block views and have small houses today.

        Aurora has essentially everywhere between 90th and 155th except Evergreen-Washelli available for redevelopment. At least five high rise clusters could go in along it: 87th-93rd, 102nd-109th, 125th-133rd, 142nd-148th and 152nd-158th.

        As I mentioned above, the line should transition to subway just south of a 90th Street station, and curve west to Greenwood. A station at 87th would serve the Urban Village and support higher density west to First or even Third NW. Another between 67th and 65th would support a large high-rise checkerboard along Phinney and Greenwood between 70th and 63rd. The subway would curve under the zoo parking lot to a station between 48th and 46th under Fremont then underrun Aurora to the Woodland Park Avenue ROW then surface south of Bridgeway to a Fremont Station. It would then cross the Ship Canal on a 70 foot high occasionally opening span to the hillside above Westlake where it would re-enter tunnel under Dexter to a station somewhere around Galer and on to a junction just west of Gates Foundation.

        And “Yes” the E would still run.

      10. The city has shown itself unwilling to zone for high-rise development outside of downtown, the U District, and sort of Northgate, and I’m skeptical of the idea that the northern parts of Aurora Ave will turn into Burnaby once they get Link and a rezone. As long as we’re posting purely speculative rezoning plans, the city should just rezone all of north Seattle below 85th (where people actually want to live) for mid-rise development and call it a day.

      11. So let me get this straight Tom. Seattle will build huge sky-rise apartments in an area that has historically been a mix of automobile shops, cheap apartments, drug dealers and hookers. They will do this because rich people otherwise control all of the available land and have no interest in building anything in those other neighborhoods. These towers will be built because no one will mind building there — it is any area no one cares about — or as you put it, “Who [with power] is going to say ‘No!’?”. Basically, these will be low income high rises. What to name them? How about “Cabrini Emerald”? That has a nice ring to it.

        As for those big houses you are complaining about, you are obviously confused. ADU stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit. It basically mean an apartment within a house. Right now, the Seattle law allows one external, and one internal. In the future, it could allow several. That is how, for example, places like Brooklyn and San Fransisco got so densely populated. Row houses played a part, obviously, but so too did the fact that you have lots and lots of people in the same “house”. That nice little walk-up apartment in that cute brownstone — that is simply an ADU in a house. All those places are ADUs. It is like the entire apartment used to be a house! Holy smoke, I wonder what they call that sort of conversion? Could you do it with a bigger house? I wonder.

        Meanwhile, in the future, when somehow these gigantic towers are built over the cemetery (sorry, next to it) the laws haven’t changed at all. We still don’t allow row houses on most of the city. Nor small apartments. Nor the conversion of houses into apartments. The trend that started a few years ago just froze in its tracks. Minneapolis was an outlier — no other city is the least bit interested in relaxing their zoning standards any more than they have already.

        You’ve also once again forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of people who actually live in this city, in real, urban areas. Are they just supposed to chip in for this brand new gigantic rail line, because somehow Aurora urbanization is so much more valuable than urbanization in other parts of town? Oh, and no one will ever want to go to the UW — it will be frozen in time as well, despite real, honest to goodness planning (in contrast to your Nostradamus style predictions). No need to bother with improving the connection between an already extremely fast transit corridor (Aurora) and the most popular transit line we will ever build. That is because the connection between these two will somehow, magically become wonderful.

        Dude, this is all just silly hand waving. The author of this piece did not make a good case for this subway line, and neither have you. His was based on bad math (forgot the divisor, oops) along with ignoring key elements of the existing line (it’s very fast, it has a lot of stops). Your justification is that somehow we will all pile all our growth into one little pile, while ignoring the rest of the city.

      12. Not “one little pile”, the least offensive pile to those who make the decisions in the City. I challenge you to walk across Northwest, North, and Northeast 77th (or 78th or 81st or 69th — a non-arterial that passes north of Green Lake) from 32nd NW to 35th NE and find an area which has lots large enough for a “full size” modern house and and ADU. Those are inevitably going to sprout replacement housing. But most don’t have enough room to add an ADU behind the existing cottage.

        In your journey you will also notice how few parking spaces there are, especially if you take the walk after 6 PM on a Summer evening. Any ADU’s are going to attract more cars to already completely full streets. That’s the flaw in the ADU solution; they don’t have underground garages and few people are willing to go completely carless anywhere that isn’t high density with lots of pedestrian-accessible amenities.

        I lived at 77th and Dayton for two and a half years back in the mid-1970’s without a car, but I and my then wife were bus-aholics so we made it work. Very few other people would make the effort.

        The parking problems are less in South and West Seattle because, again, the lots are somewhat larger, so there are somewhat fewer cars to curb foot. ADU’s can work there.

        Please understand, I am not against them; they allow more people to have the sort of residence that allows residents to see living things up close. But if Seattle is to get to a million and a half residents, it can’t do it without a large number of high-rises. Aurora is a great place to put them because there are higher ridges on both sides of it so no significant views would be blocked, but in fact a large number of new view properties would be created. The crest of Phinney Ridge is also but for a different reason; the existing houses on the sides of the ridge would be “in front” of the high rises, so their views would not be affected.

        There might be some sun issues so there should not be a solid wall of them; that’s why I said “checkerboard”.

        This is the way to grow Seattle without causing a voter backlash.

      13. Also, the U District is already going high-rise, and I expect that it will do so all the way to 8th NE with a strip of mid-rise between there and the freeway. But a lot of the development will be offices, not residences. Some housing will be included, of course.

        But, because North Link has only two stations between HSS and Northgate, and only one north of there and it with only half a developable walkshed, it won’t be a typical “urban” subway to the degree that it might have been with closer station spacing. And Aurora Line — and extension of the Ballard Line north with closer station spacing than currently envisioned — could also help.

      14. Pat, the City “city has shown itself unwilling to zone for high-rise development outside of downtown, the U District, and sort of Northgate” because nowhere else that is “redevelopable” has adequate transit. But an Aurora Line would provide that adequate transit.

      15. “the City “city has shown itself unwilling to zone for high-rise development outside of downtown, the U District, and sort of Northgate” because nowhere else that is “redevelopable” has adequate transit. But an Aurora Line would provide that adequate transit.”

        False, false, false. The city hasn’t zoned for highrises because it just doesn’t want them and it’s afraid of a public revolt. Roosevelt and Northgate have the planned Link you’re talking about, but Roosevelt got only a moderate upzone which was watered down from the original plan, and Northgate got highrise zoning only on the mall lot, which the mall owner won’t use in the renovation. So no Vancouver-like highrise villages anywhere in Seattle. A politician from Maltby (northeast of Woodinville) complained that Seattle’s lack of major housing expansion is causing pressure for sprawl in his area).

        Aurora’s problem is a group of business owners that don’t want to lose street parking. They market their lots to businesses as “Seattle’s last affordable storefront location, with plenty of free parking”. That’s why Aurora doesn’t have full BAT lanes like Shoreline, Snohomish, and South King County have on their parts of 99. I don’t know what they’d say to this Link suggestion but they probably oppose all light rail everywhere.

      16. I’m not against high-rises, but they’re the most expensive to build. 5-over-1 breadboxes are cheap. Duplex/triplex/quads are even cheaper. You can build those anywhere. The cluster of apartment buildings in Roosevelt was built on lots indistinguishable from those of the single-family parts of Ravenna. There’s no issue of “redevelopability.” You can get to 1.5 million just by making it legal to build 5-over-1s and plexes everywhere, instead of sequestering the additional 750K people people on Aurora, where no one wants to live.

      17. Right, you can fit a lot of people in 4-story buildings like Paris and Edinburgh have done for centuries; you just need to minimize the space around them. Seattle should plan for a million people (a 170K increase), with both highrises and lowrises and row houses. We have twice the space as San Franscisco, so why aren’t we planning for twice as many people (which would be 1.8M)? That would blunt the sprawl in the suburbs and would be enough to stop housing costs from rising every year.

      18. Mike, yes, in the best of all possible worlds, Seattle would become like Paris: three or four level “walk-ups” everywhere with cafes and storefronts on every corner. I used to live above what was then the Phinney Street Co-op at 43rd and Phinney (it’s a coffee shop now). It was a classic neighborhood grocery and ought to be replicated all over the place.

        But the City has cordoned off most of itself from such antiquarianism so the only way to accommodate the people who want to live inside the City is to go up and have the retail at the base. “High-rise” doesn’t have to mean twenty floors, though it probably could in the U District and along Aurora. It can mean ten on the ridges because things don’t have to go so high to open new view lines.

        It’s either go up or go out; which is better, really? “Up”, of course.

      19. And “going up” is by far the most efficient layout to serve with fixed-guideway transit.

      20. Kelo said that it’s OK for a city to take properties owned by recalcitrant owners if the redeveloped property will have higher tax value. So, the folks who prefer flophouses and greasy auto shops to Burnaby can be forced to sell. They’ll be well-compensated.

        And Ross, San Francisco got so densely populated by building square miles of two- and three-level flats. For a period of time in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s the Haight and Fillmore had very high density with several people living in a small apartment. But very few of the large houses in San Francisco have been broken up into multi-unit apartment buildings. The lots are too narrow.

        What you describe is indeed what happened in Brooklyn, but the thing is that most of the housing on the small lots north of 45th Street is small houses. Very small houses; they aren’t going to be broken up into apartments. Yes, that could certainly happen in parts of Wallingford, but the people who live in older Wallingford are part of the Gotbucks clan and like all that room. They aren’t going to carve up the Queen Anne’s.

        In fact what is happening all over North Seattle is that the cottages are being replaced by 2500 SF palatial SF homes. I have besties in Maple Leaf a few blocks north of the reservoir. Throughout their neighborhood the cottages are being torn down and Dallas-style palaces are taking their place.

        Now maybe in 2080 those palaces will be broken up into a couple of apartments each, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

        Grant this is one VERY desirable neighborhood, but the same process of replacement is occurring throughout North Seattle. Only on Capitol Hill, the CD and Rainier Valley are some of the old houses being split up, but even there the cottages are largely being replaced by the 2500 footers with one family.

    2. Jimmy James, I think transit advocates will tell you that whole new layer of transit called micro transit, like Via, will be needed to support the Aurora Link line, just like it’s required for Central Link.

      1. Yeah. I think that is what I will hear. But I am not sold on the Via transit mode. I need to look in to it more. Do you think that Via routes are better than old fashion milk runs? Only asking because I have seen you comment on them. Maybe there should be a study.

      2. That’s not true. There are north-south bus lines every half mile north of the ship canal. There are plenty of people to support fixed-route transit, and a grid that makes rational routes possible. There will be no need for “Via North”. The RV has big elevation differences going east-west, so the walkshed from Link stations is smaller than will be true in the north end.

    3. If this were the only north-south light rail line then it would make sense to put it on Aurora north of Northgate. (South of Northgate it would miss the U-District which is unacceptable, and it would also miss Roosevelt which is an urban village unlike 65th & Aurora or 85th & Aurora.) But we have Link on approximately I-5. Then the question becomes, what kind of second north-south corridor do we need?

      There are reasonable arguments both ways on light rail. They depend on your assumptions about future growth, future Aurora density, overcrowding on the first line, and how much benefit a convenient “excessive” line might be. I’ll just say I don’t think Aurora Link is necessary but I won’t fight against it either. The same as I feel about Federal Way and Everett.

      But if we don’t have Link then we need serious transit-lane priority. The E is not “fast”; it takes 45 minutes from Westlake to Aurora Village. You can drive from Westlake to Arlington or Lacey in that time. A reasonable target is 30-35 minutes. That would put a typical trip from 85th to 185th in the 15-20 minute range, which is about right. If the E had full BAT lanes, pruned the 5-block stops, and had signal priority, it could at least approach this. Yes, i start with the travel-time target. The E may be faster than other routes only because Aurora is a highway with a higher speed limit and a large expressway segment. That doesn’t mean it’s currently fast enough, either for people’s trips or to entice the majority of people out of their cars.

      1. I would note that the second north-south corridor has been decided and funded. Unfortunately, it stops at Ballard. The focus should be where to put two branches once trains reach Ballard. It may be east to UW. It may be east to Aurora at Greenlake and then north up Aurora. It may be diagonal to Northgate then reverse back to Aurora. It may be even be a limited-stop streetcar (not the slow one like the FHSC) that runs from a Shoreline to Fremont that intersects somewhere on the extended line.

      2. Al, the line to Ballard was “next in line” mostly because everyone expectedM it to be, and it turned out to be a good choice with the development if SLU and Smith Cove.

        But running north to 85th and ending — that is the the “deferred segment” — is silly. There’s no there there and not enough undeveloped land to create a “there”.

        All along Aurora there is enormous wasted land in the form of parking lots. Sure, keep the big boxes; they generate a lot of sales tax revenue for the City. But put pedestal mid-rises above the parking lots and in a few places (Northgate Way, 92nd, 143rd-145th and 155th, go big — up, up, up. Plenty of people will like the views and the convenience of taking an elevator to their Light Rail stop.

        Kelo allows the City to move out big boxes that don’t want to play and replace them with big boxes that do. Explicitly.

    1. There’s an interurban memorial in a park in North Seattle near the trail somewhere; I don’t remember exactly where.

  28. Fun task of the day. ST’s long-range plan (linked in my comment above) has “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)” and “Regional Express Bus” on Aurora/99 from Seattle to Everett. What might this look like? What would the travel time be? Would it be one line all the way, or is that too long for reliability? This is an ST investment so it’s not the E or Swift. It could replace Swift because it would be similar, or ST could simply contribute to improving Swift. The E does not meet either of these criteria, so ST’s project would be adding something Swift/Stride/522-like in Seattle/Shoreline.

  29. Several years ago I was a planner working for WSDOT. We did a study of Aurora from the Battery Street Tunnel to N. 145th Street. The study was done in partnership with the city. We came up with a number of recommendations/proposals to both increase safety throughout the corridor and improve transit reliability. The “fixes” centered around eliminating street side parking while turning that parking lane into a 24 hour bus lane. Also we wanted to eliminate the center turn lane throughout much of the corridor while adding planter strips and sidewalks. Bottom line: the city did not want to take on the Aurora business community which did not like any of our proposals. Light rail in the corridor would result in so much business displacement as to be a complete non-starter of an idea. And crossing the Ship Canal would be hugely if not prohibitively expensive.

    1. Yes, it’s clearly impossible to build any rail expansion anywhere in Seattle. We should give up now because someone once didn’t want to upset business owners over parking.

      A new bridge over Aurora would be prohibitively expensive, unlike the Ballard and West Seattle bridges being built as part of ST3 or any of the tunnels.

    2. This is a really good point.

      On one hand, there will always be opposition. Especially from Seattle Times Ed Page, GOP-aligned talk radio and our local Koch/petro industry-funded think tank (WA Policy Center). A lot of good-faith business owners and residents as well.

      On the other hand, Link railway will dramatically boost commerce potential of the corridor. Saving lives by removing center turn lanes and helping out transit-dependent people doesn’t have the same ROI. Business leaders can look to the plans for Northgate and the foot traffic around Capitol Hill Station.

  30. I think the Aurora line is a good idea, though there would be many engineering and political challenges.

    My suspicion is that it would need to be a subway for a significant distance to cross the shipping canal.

    Another thought: If we ever build HSR through Seattle, this is also the corridor that it would need to follow since it is straight. I wonder if a cut and cover tunnel could be made down aurora with two decks: one for light rail, and one for HSR.

    In general, I think cut and cover would be better than elevated for this route north of the shipping canal. I would be nervous about a semi clipping one of the support beams on aurora.

    1. Cut-and-cover is for stations and short stretches of railway. That method of construction is mostly obsolete. It often would mean significant disruption to gas, sewer, water, electricity and communications networks.

      Even the Great Northern tunnel under Seattle wasn’t cut and cover.

  31. I wish we spent as much time advocating for better pedestrian and bike access across the Aurora corridor as we do for a subway. How can Seattle consider itself a bike and pedestrian oriented city as long as it is almost impossible for a bike or ped to cross Aurora / 7th Ave North between Denny Way and the Aurora Bridge? Not to mention the freeway-esque part up to Green Lake. Put traffic signals / crosswalks in at Aloha, Thomas, John. How about adding an elevator at the Ray Moore Bridge so the elderly and disabled can cross the street as well?

    1. Seattle is not a bike- or pedestrian-oriented city any more than it’s a transit-oriented city, and I think most politicians and progressives would agree. Seattle was pedestrian- and transit-oriented through the 1930s. But a series of decisions starting in the 1920s made it car-oriented: the 1932 Aurora Bridge had no streetcar tracks, the 1939-41 decommission of the streetcars, the reduction of replacement bus service, and the 1960s freeways. The World’s Fair focused on futuristic transporation and featured a monorail, but the mayor and city council in a video clip at MOAHI said the upcoming I-5 and 520 were the greatest transportation things to ever happen to Seattle. Seattle was overwhelmingly car-oriented from at least the 1950s, and by the mid 60s transit was an afterthought for the poor. At some point the peak expresses to downtown started; maybe with the creation of Metro transit in 1979, or maybe private companies had service earlier. It wasn’t in the Seattle Transit route lists I’ve seen.

      Since the 1980s Seattle and Metro started reversing this with the 1990 downtown tunnel, routes 48 and 8 and 31/32, the 70 trolleybus, and the RapidRide lines, plus Sound Transit’s services. But it’s still not as transit-oriented as Chicago or San Francisco or Vancouver, to say nothing of Europe.

      Its bike improvements started early with the Burke-Gilman Trail, which was a national model, but it stagnated for a long time after that. Only after Amstertam transformed into a bike-oriented city and New York and Portland started building many protected bike routes did Seattle start building a few, but they’re still minimal and aren’t enough for a complete commute even between the densest urban villages.

      Sidewalk-building had a wave in the 1950s, in time for south Seattle but too early for north Seattle which ended at 65th. The post-streetcar north-end neighborhoods were deliberately built without sidewalks, at first because they were rural and later to preserve a pseudo-rural feel. Cities were not “in” then; that’s why Shoreline was never annexed. So 65th to 145th was annexed with many non-sidewalk streets, and there’s disagreement about whether the city promised them sidewalks in the annexation.

      Traffic lights and crossings prioritize cars, as would be expected with the above mindset.

      Politicians and progressives generally say Seattle’s ped/bike/transit infrastructure is mediocre, better than the US average but a long way’s from a ped/bike/transit-oriented city. I haven’t heard a politician say it is that. Although relative comparisons can lead to some weird results. Inslee is praised nationally for being one of the top three governors in climate preparation, but as we know the state pays not one dime for local transit or regional transit, severely caps the tax mechanisms available for transit, and has invested only moderately in Amtrak Cascades. (In particular, it could buy the BNSF track so we could have hourly Cascades and 15-minute Sounder, and shift freight to the UP track, and it could increase Cascades’ speed to 110 mph as its own long-rage plan aspires to, but there’s still no sign of them.) And rural inter-county transit is practically hopeless, with a few lines in eastern Washington but peak-only service between Everett and Mt Vernon, variable service south of Lakewood, and the only bright spots Island Transit and the Port Angeles-Bainbridge route. Still, it’s better than the US average, for whatever that’s worth.

      I also don’t think Seattle became a “world-class city” until the late 2000s even though the boosters say it happened in the 1990s, and by some definitions it still isn’t. (You don’t see tycoons buying trophy properties here like they do in Vancouver, New York, London, and San Francisco.)

      1. “…but as we know the state pays not one dime for local transit or regional transit…”

        No, we don’t know that because it’s just not true. While many would consider the amounts the state has paid (and is planning to pay) for various transit/public transportation projects around the state to be woefully inadequate given the need, one simply cannot make the assertion you’ve stated above. Additionally, one cannot simply ignore the value of the use of WSDOT’s ROW for transit projects, such as with ST’s Lynnwood Link light rail extension.

        https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/transit/grants/home

      2. “The trophy properties are in Medina. Bill Gates certainly seems to qualify as a tycoon.”

        I meant foreign tycoons who buy a house/apartment and leave it empty or use it once a year. Bill Gates lives in his house, and is a second-generation local or longer.

      3. I meant to mention the grants but didn’t quite get them into the wording. The grants are small and mostly to rural transit. For instance, the 268 weekend extension to Maple Valley was funded by a grant for a time. I haven’t heard of any such grants for urban areas. In any case, grants are not regular funding that’s predictable long-term; you have to keep applying for them, and the service goes on and off depending on whether you get the grant that time. Grants are a reasonable way to pay for one-time capital expenses but not continuous operations. When I said the state spends not one dime on transit, that’s what I meant. Other states fund regular costs at least partially; Metro has to make do with a limited boom-and-bust sales tax, and if an agency wants to expand service beyond that or launch a new service it has to go begging to the legislature for permission to increase the tax for each specific service, and a lot of the time they get denied. The state won’t put anything into Sound Transit; it just gives us periodic permission to tax ourselves, subject to its limits, and requiring a vote that highway projects don’t require, and often the state bundles the ST authority with a set of highway projects so they both pass the legislature or neither do.

      4. @MikeOrr Lol. That’s a long way to come from “…but as we know the state pays not one dime for local transit or regional transit…”.

        FYI…..

        Seattle and King County got a nice chunk of the $111M pie that was baked into the 2015 Connecting Washington – Multimodal program:

        “$111 million for transit-related project grants, which provide funding for improving public transportation within and between rural communities, constructing park and ride lots and transit facilities, and purchasing new buses.”

        https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/funding/connecting-washington-multimodal

        Here’s the detail on the 21 projects awarded funding from this component :

        LEAP Transportation Document 2015 NL-3 (as developed June 28, 2015)
        Transit Projects

        Project Title – Agency – Award

        TIER 1:

        Additional Buses – Yakima Transit – $2,000,000

        Bike Share Expansion – Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah – King County Metro – $5,500,000

        North Broadway Bus Stop Safety Improvements – Everett Transit – $3,000,000

        Orcas Village Park and Ride – San Juan County – $760,000

        RapidRide Expansion, Burien-Delridge – King County Metro – $8,000,000

        Route 40 Northgate to Downtown – King County Metro – $3,000,000

        Route 43 and Route 44 – Ballard to University District -King County Metro – $3,000,000

        Spokane Central City Line -Spokane Transit – $15,000,000

        System Enhancements, Expansion and Safety Improvements – Skagit Transit – $831,000

        Tri-County Connector – Island Transit – $2,300,000

        Trolley Expansion and Electrification, Madison Route -City of Seattle – $8,000,000

        TIER 2:

        67th to Fremont Transit Corridor – King County Metro – $3,000,000

        East Bremerton Transfer Center – Kitsap Transit – $3,000,000

        MLK Way/Rainier Avenue S I/C Improvements – City of Seattle – $900,000

        Northgate Transit Center Pedestrian Bridge – City of Seattle – $10,000,000

        Park and Ride Development – Mason Transit – $9,335,000

        Route 48 North-University Link Station to Loyal Heights – King County Metro – $3,000,000

        Silverdale Transfer Center – Kitsap Transit – $2,300,000

        SR 7 Express Service Tacoma to Parkland/Spanaway – Pierce Transit – $15,000,000

        SWIFT II Bus Rapid Transit – Community Transit, Everett Transit – $10,000,000

        Vancouver Mall Transit Center Relocation and Upgrade –
        C-TRAN – $3,200,000

      5. 5.5 million for bikeshare expansion? Is WSDoT subsidizing the very programs we desperately need to shut down?

  32. I hope people will keep safety in mind as projects like these are developed. I may have missed it but I don’t think I saw any mention of that. Walking on Aurora Avenue as a female is extremely uncomfortable and I don’t do it alone anymore.

    1. Safety is a massive concern. Which is why removing the bus lanes and upgrading to elevated light rail saves sidewalk width for pedestrian safety. In addition, it creates a narrower road to cross. What this all leads to is a possibility of, for example, bike lanes to be applied to that wide sidewalk width. This allows SPD bike patrol a chance to stay on the beat for safety. And, with more enticed development to utilize the new Aurora layout, and new Aurora zoning, construction will bring retail storefronts, commercial spaces, and residential developments that deter crime with eyes on the street.

  33. I would rather see a referendum that I would call Connections 2024 for Seattle. Rather than add Link line that will take decades to evolve, I think the best investment is to augment the rail transit that we already will have. Components would include:

    1. More elevators and escalators for Link stations. That includes Mt Baker and ID.

    2. Underground tunnels or overpasses to get across busy streets in key locations. Walkways to Pike Place Market, UW Hospital and City Hall from existing stations would be useful, and I’m sure that there are others that could serve existing or future stations. Even Mt Baker access (escalators, elevators, stairs) could be changed to create/add a lower level walkway that could run under Rainier Avenue to the Transit Center (a new station entrance there).

    3. Automated systems to provide connections to dense areas that have been missed. First Hill, North Capitol Hill, Belltown, Queen Anne Hill, University Village, Northwest Hospital, Phinney Ridge/Zoo and Alki come to mind. Maybe it’s a single track shuttle underground or aerial. Maybe it’s a funicular. Maybe 15 or 20 areas can be studied and funding given to build the most productive ones.

    Although these kinds of projects appear expensive (say $1B cumulatively), they would provide a broader benefit to every area of the city and would still be way cheaper than a line like this that would appear to cost $5B to $15B.

    1. I’m prerty sure UWMC already has an underground tunnel under NE Pacific St. It hasn’t changed any pedestrian patterns though. It’s faster to walk above ground and wait for the light to change at an intersection.

      1. UW would not allow the shell of the garage to be punctured for the west end of a mezzanine-level tunnel across Montlake. Had it done so, there could have been an all-weather, traffic free path from the MC to HSS.

        We agitated for it, but to no avail.

      2. The tunnel is only useful for crossing 15th or going into the underground parking garage. The eastern entrance is next to the UWMC entrance so you have to backtrack from the sidewalk to get to it. There used to be an entrance further west at the bottom of Rainier Vista (an ugly concrete ramp down from Stevens Way) but it was removed during the U-Link renovation. The university refused to allow the tunnel to be extended to the station saying it would increase security costs because it would bring a lot of non-UW people into the tunnel. So it shortened the tunnel instead.

  34. We need some East West buses connecting Lake City Way and I-5 to Aurora via 125/130th and 145th. It’s just fine having light rail at 130th and 145th but it needs some East West connections. Could be one square bus line loop that runs West from Lake City Way up 125th/130th to Greenwood, North to 145th and back East again to Lake City Way when it would head South back to it’s beginning.

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