Westlake Monorail station, 1962

At a press conference his morning, NHL Seattle, Seattle Monorail Services, and several public- and private-sector partners will announce a major package of upgrades to the Seattle monorail, along with a program to provide subsidized public transit access to NHL events. These improvements will dramatically improve the peak capacity of the monorail system, and improve the rider experience at all times. Along with other local media, STB was given a preview of these improvements.

The big ticket item in this package is a major upgrade to the Westlake terminal. Perhaps the best way to introduce this upgrade is to discuss what once was. As pictured above, the original 1962 downtown station was built over public right of way, and included a platform area that amounted to maybe half a city block. This capacious facility, plus the fact that people in 1960 were less capacious than today, allowed the cars to approach their design capacity of 450 persons on each trip, and in turn to carry about 45,000 riders daily during the World’s Fair.

In the 1980s, the Monorail was saved from likely demolition by Councilmember George Benson, who arranged for today’s station to be shoehorned into the side of the redevelopment we now call Westlake Center. This station suffers from a number of compromises: it’s cramped, access is poor, ticketing is slow, only one train can operate from the station at once, and only four of each train’s eight doors can be used for loading. Barely adequate for today’s tourist traffic on a busy summer day, the Westlake terminal was identified by Via in a 2018 study as the primary obstacle to the Monorail once again serving as a true high capacity transit service.

The $5 to $6 million package of improvements at Westlake will address most of these issues, and should unlock the potential of the Monorail. The station footprint will expand further into the mall, with fare gates surrounding the platform area, and full-service ORCA vending machines performing all ticketing work. Dramatically improved wayfinding, to include real-time arrival signs, will direct riders between the Westlake tunnel station, the street, and the Monorail station. A wall will be moved, to make an existing elevator to the ground level available to riders who need or prefer it.

There will not be any new access directly from the platform to the street, because the owners of Westlake Center want riders to circulate through the mall, possibly spending some money on the way. The mall will stay open late for all NHL events, and likely other times, as part of an effort by the owners to diversify their offerings and activate the space in the evenings. The escalators directly feeding the station will both operate down when spectators are discharged from arena events.

The upgraded Westlake terminal will still only support one train. The optimal strategy for throughput is to have trains operate at even headways, with trains leaving opposite terminals at the same time. This mode of operation does not require two trains to be present simultaneously at Westlake.

Not yet known is whether the station will remain outdoors, or whether platform doors can be used to make the station an indoor space, fully integrated into the mall environment but for the fare gates. The indoor option would be a much better rider experience, but there are building code issues associated with large platform doors that must stay open for more than a minute at a time.

A smaller package of improvements will be implemented at the Seattle Center terminal. Access to the ground level will be improved, and made ADA-compliant. Faregates will be installed at the entrance of all three platforms. This will allow the station to operate in the mode used during the World’s Fair, with passengers loading from outside platforms and deboarding in the center. Combined with two-driver operation, this mode should allow trains carrying 325 modern Americans to depart every three to five minutes, for a throughput of about 6,000 passengers per hour. At times of lesser demand, the current mode of boarding from the center will be used, as it provides more operational flexibility.

Another aspect of the system that won’t change is the train cars themselves, which are protected historical landmarks, inside and out.

Who will fill all this new capacity? NHL fans, for a start. The as-yet-unnamed NHL Seattle franchise intends to join the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors in providing a full subsidy for public transit access — Monorail or otherwise — to and from all games. Moreover, NHL Seattle’s organizers hope that riding the Monorail will become part of the communal experience of attending a game; something not just logical, but positive and fun. Each fan’s first NHL Seattle experience will be an opportunity to coach them on transportation options, including this radically improved Monorail experience that will be new to most. If a fan’s first transit experience is a good one, it could well become a habit.

The mechanics of the NHL subsidy remain to be decided. Multiple possibilities exist for fare media. ORCA 2.0, when it arrives, will provide a great deal of flexibility — but it may not arrive in time. A more clunky but dependable option is a pass on the existing Transit Go app. NHL Seattle ticketing will be all-digital, so there won’t be an option to just wave a paper ticket at a bus driver, but NHL Seattle will have its own app, which opens up possibilities for transit ticketing. Similarly, the time window for rides has yet to be chosen, but could well extend some number of hours before the game to give fans more prefunk options, and spread out the incoming crowd.

NHL Seattle will be the flagship partner for the Monorail, but if the rider experience proves to be as good as expected, they may well have company. Other arts organizations could choose to provide monorail tickets for event attendees, perhaps as a benefit for season ticket holders, similar to how the Seattle Opera currently subsidizes parking.

The improvements to Seattle Center station will come from the Monorail’s capital improvement fund, which is mostly used to pay for major maintenance. Funds in this account come from ticket sales plus some public subsidy, such as FTA formula money. The major improvements to Westlake station will be funded from increased ticket sales.

Construction is expected to start in January of 2021, which would allow for completion in time for the 2021-2022 NHL season. By that time, the Northgate Link extension will open, but the regional high capacity system will otherwise look like it does today. If there is a weakness to the NHL/Monorail plan, it is that for the first two years Link+Monorail will be competitive with driving only on two points of the compass: north to Northgate and perhaps beyond (by customers using the park and ride); and southeast through the Rainier Valley. 2023 seems like it will bring a significant increase in ridership, as the completion of East Link will mean Link+Monorail becomes possible and compelling for Eastside riders, and the completion of Lynnwood Link will incrementally improve options for riders to the north.

When I moved to Seattle in 2010, the Monorail felt to me more like a historical novelty than a serious part of the transit system. It seemed to exist in the strange twilight of Seattle transit, alongside pay-as-you-leave buses, buses that drove in circles, and the Bredas. This package of upgrades represents positive step on that path, and it’s all the more impressive that it will be made without direct cost to Seattle taxpayers.

I’ll close with a sentiment from Tom Albro, the owner of Seattle Monorail Services, with which I totally agree:

“The historic Seattle Monorail is that critical last-mile connection between the new arena to our rapidly expanding transit network. It helps make the entire transportation system work better. As Seattle continues to densify and our region grow, the value of the Monorail grows as well. The Monorail’s high transit value and its iconic importance are the very elements that foster the ongoing stewardship and investment which preserve it. Well that, and also the fact it’s fun to ride!

63 Replies to “Major Monorail upgrades to open alongside new Arena”

  1. A bit of trivia about some of the first riders of the monorail.
    I grew up in the shadow of siblings crowing about how great it was to be some of the first passengers on it and the Space Needle. I still here the echoes of how great it was to ride with the likes of the Smother Brothers and the then governor of California Governor, Edmund Brown, who was a huge advocate for monorails. I guess that’s where Jerry got his thing for rail.

    1. That’s great : ) I rode Link the first day it opened (and had the fortune to ride it during testing) and there crowds were cheering when the train arrived, though it was hours after the very first one. As our system expands, things like this will become less of a unique experience.

      1. I also rode that first day – was 13 1/2 and even as a teen saw how important mass transit would/could be in Seattle.

  2. “passengers loading from outside platforms and deboarding in the center”

    Doesn’t it make more sense to load in the center? That way you don’t need to know which train is coming next.

    1. It would seem best to load off the center. However, it would make it hard when the platform is too full as the people in The front of the line to get on Train B would be at the back of the line for Train B. Even though riders waiting on the outsides may skip a train, at least they wouldn’t be shoving their way across the platform when the next one arrives. I guess that it will ultimately depend on how controlled the waiting environment is. Flexibility by crowd demand may be the design key.

      1. Correction: “However, it would make it hard when the platform is too full as the people in the front of the line to get on Train A would be at the back of the line for Train B.”

      2. I should’ve looked and read more carefully. There will be faregates leading to ALL platforms and passengers can board/deboard from any direction. Obv they’ll need some kind of indicator directing people to the next departing train but it will still make more sense to load in the center.

      3. My guess is that things are really busy, there will be someone there telling riders how to board. Otherwise you would have a very weird system. Imagine the center platform, crowded with people. They all push towards the left. It gets full, and the doors close. A few people squeeze in, but some don’t (i. e. typical crowded subway station the world over). Now they stand there, on a crowded platform, and they have to go the other direction (right). Yuck.

        Instead, crowd control is done with an official, who basically waves a group to one side or the other. They have a good idea of how many can fit on the train, so they let one group at a time line up, outside on the platform. They then tell folks to spread out (on the platform) and use all the doors. The doors open, everyone in that section boards while those onboard leave, and the doors close quickly (no drama as to who gets on or off at that point).

        In the middle of the day, if there is no one doing crowd control, there is simply a sign pointing folks to where they board.

  3. It will be super interesting 15 years from now to see which is more convenient to get to Seattle Center…transferring between Link lines at Westlake or transferring to the monorail. I assume the monorail will be a bit faster (1 mile, 2 minutes nonstop) than Link (1.4 miles, 4? minutes, 2 stops). Link will be a bit closer to the Key, potentially directly adjacent, whereas the monorail will be like a 1,000′ walk. The monorail will run every 3-5 minutes, while Link won’t run more often than every 6 minutes unless there are future turnback trains or we’re able to someday operate more frequently on MLK. Link will have more capacity, some 800+ riders per 4-car train compared to 325 for the 1-car monorail. I think it’ll basically be a draw?

    1. Lots will likely depend on how much available room is on the vehicles. Link trains will have lots more other riders besides hockey ticket fan holders. I could see an arriving fan using the monorail to avoid rush hour crowding — with the same fan using Link after the game.

    2. I remember seeing a long-range plan for the Monorail showing they’re planning on adding a stop or two along the route to serve Belltown/Denny Triangle instead of just shuttling between two Link stops once the Ballard extension opens. However, they are expecting to be a very well-traveled route to Seattle Center for the 15-year meantime.

    3. Link will be a bit closer to the Key, potentially directly adjacent,

      Good God, I hope not. That would be a terrible location. The stop there should be at Queen Anne and Mercer. It makes way more sense to serve the neighborhood, not the center. While the center has stuff going on, it won’t generate half the ridership of a vibrant city neighborhood. The lowest performing station in our system is the one by the stadiums, even though there are baseball, football and soccer games there. A stop at Queen Anne and Mercer is still fairly close to the center, but the monorail would be closer.

      Besides, it makes sense sense to have the stop farther away for this very reason (to increase coverage). Those who want a stop inside the center will still have that option (using the monorail).

      1. Agreed, but isn’t the ‘preferred alternative’ at 1st/Republican? Maybe I’m misremembering. I agree it should be closer to Queen Anne/Mercer.

      2. Holy cow, you are right. Here are the level two alternatives: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/west-seattle-ballard-link-extension-level-2-alternatives-development-and-screening-part-1-20190215.pdf. The preferred alternative is at 1st and Republican. Not only is Mercer or Roy not the default, but they put those options too far to the east. Every entrance combination suffers from being too close to the Seattle Center. It is as if this is 1965, and the only reason why someone would take a train to that neighborhood is to do something at the Seattle Center.

        It is just bad planning. There are a ton of very large apartments to the north and west. If you put a stop at Mercer and Warren, or 1st and Harrison, you force those folks to walk a lot farther. You might think that someone to the south or east would benefit, but that simply isn’t the case, because the Seattle Center itself is there. No one lives there.

        Oh, and the only alternatives that have a stop further north on Lower Queen Anne also have a stop further north on Aurora, on Roy. That is a terrible idea. Aurora and Roy simply won’t work. First, it is terrible from a walk-up standpoint — it is like a freeway stop. It is hard to get to, and much of the potential walk share is taken up by roads. Second, a southbound bus doesn’t stop there. It can’t stop there. It has to be over into the left lane, to exit (https://goo.gl/maps/vaX6qq2UiT9qHawE8). The whole thing is ridiculous. WSDOT screwed up, and never coordinated with Metro (or the city) when they built the multi-billion dollar SR 99 tunnel. ST seems to be ignoring what they built, while also ignoring what is clearly the best area to put in a lower Queen Anne station.

        Aurora and Republican, or Aurora and Harrison is fine. But then the train should dogleg north, and end on Mercer or Roy, close to Queen Anne Avenue.

      3. The existing D stop is at 1st & Republican; they’re probably basing it on that. There is no preferred alternative yet; that’s for the board to decide later this year, I think around April. So which pages are you looking at? On pages 46-48 (as the PDF counts them) the three alternatives are all between 1st and Queen Anne Ave, with some reaching or straddling the Ave, variously at Harrison, Republican, or Mercer. A Link station is two blocks long so as long as its eastern end is at 1st then it should be close enough to Queen Anne. Hopefully it will have entrances at both ends; that’s something we’ll have to check when they designate the entrances.

      4. The station locations of the alternatives in SLU and LQA has slightly evolved from the Level 2 assessment to the current draft environmental impact statement assessment. Here’s the two options Sound Transit is studying in the DEIS: https://oohwsblink.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/images/DEIS_DowntownNov2019.pdf

        The preferred alternative has the SLU station under 7th Ave/Aurora and Harrison St and the LQA station under Republican St, just to the east of 1st Ave N (about as close to Key Arena as you could possibly get). The other alternative has the SLU station under Mercer St, slightly to the west of Aurora (which would be horrible for bus integration) and the LQA station at Mercer St and 1st Ave N.

      5. Thanks, Jesse, I couldn’t find the latest proposals.

        First of all, the Republican Street station location is poor. It should be farther west. At best — at its widest — the entrances would be on 1st Avenue North and 2nd Avenue North. Chances are, the westernmost entrance will be a bit further east (closer to Warren). But assume the best, and put the Republican station entrances at 1st North and 2nd North. Now look at the five minute walking distance with those two stations. It includes a lot of the Seattle Center. This means that it essentially includes a lot of bare ground (the fountain, the area around the fountain, shrubs, huge walkways and pavilions). While the Seattle Center does have destinations, they don’t have the all day, all year demand that an apartment building does. Furthermore, the distance has little to do with whether someone will drive or walk. If you are going to Memorial Stadium, or McCaw Hall, your decision as to whether you drive or take transit has nothing to do with how close the station is. Thus we gain nothing in terms of ridership by being closer to the Seattle Center.

        The entrance at Republican and 2nd also overlaps the walkshed from the monorail by quite a bit, thus reducing its value.

        Neither entrance includes the highest density area (according to the last census), which is located northeast of Third and Mercer. As shown on this map (https://arcg.is/jeb8n) there are 47,000 people per square mile on that section, making it one of the highest density areas in the state. Yet it is a seven minute walk (https://goo.gl/maps/ahp5NUJeupDJume99) to Third and Mercer (the closest part of that area). Most of the people in those apartments are simply too far away from the station. Again, this is if we are optimistic — an entrance further east (in the middle of the block) would be worse.

        The station at Queen Anne and Mercer is adequate. If anything, we should be considering moving it a block or so west, with entrances and 1st Avenue West, and 1st Avenue North. That is where the people are.

        But for all the flaws of a station at Republican, it is not the worst station on that map. A station at 6th and Mercer would be a disaster. It would essentially be a freeway stop, but with the cost of a tunnel station. There are very few places within a five minute walk, because much of the area is taken up by pavement. You have the 7 lanes of Aurora, the 7 lanes of Mercer, the wide pedestrian pathway of Mercer, and the 3 lanes of 6th Avenue (serving as the entrance and exit to the highway). You also have the obviously very inefficient, suburban style Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation office park (https://goo.gl/maps/qCyCg9G71AhzDSn18). In short this is a hostile pedestrian area with a lot of dirt and concrete.

        But wait, there’s more. The whole point of the station on Aurora is to connect to buses on Aurora. As I mentioned up above, the first potential southbound bus stop in South Lake Union is at Harrison. This is a five minute walk to the station entrance for a train (https://goo.gl/maps/Ax3wwTX8zshs6L3f8). Very few would bother with that transfer. If you are headed downtown, you will just stay on the bus. If you are headed south (or east) then you might as well wait and transfer a few minutes later (at Westlake or University Station). If you are headed to Lower Queen Anne, then you are probably better off taking a future bus that runs along Harrison, and connects you to several stops at Lower Queen Anne (not just the one). If you are headed towards Ballard, you probably took a different bus from the very beginning (or transferred to the 44 a while ago). So basically it is riders headed to Magnolia, or Expedia. That means that very few riders would transfer, and even for those riders, it is an awkward trip (backtracking, and likely involving a couple long walks and a three seat ride).

        Overall, it would be a complete mess. Ridership would struggle to match that of Mount Baker Station (one of our worst stations) while the cost will be much, much higher. If you just randomly threw a dart at the area it is likely you would come up with a better station.

        The pairing is terrible. Link should serve Aurora and Harrison as well as Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer.

      6. How can I support getting you all (especially Mike Orr and RossB) on the transit board? I mean, I drove bus for two years in PDX and learned a lot (and thought a lot) but you guys *get it* in a way that is sometimes even startling to me.

        And, no offense to the Transit Board that has a hard job and sometimes choices limited by things that aren’t immediately obvious (it’s easy to say a stop should be at a location and then realize that, no, geology makes that a bad idea, or maybe getting Gates on board is more important than we think, or…) but just from the fare system I can tell that there is room for improvement, and then when I read an analysis like this, I just want you all to be writing the plan, not just reporting on it.

      7. It’s the people vs the large institutions. And it’s not so much the institutions demanding an entrance right at their gate (however much of that there is) but the assumption that this is the most effective location for transit. I think that’s because the institution’s crowd is easy to see while the neighborhood crowd is diffuse and looks smaller than it is.

        However, we must remember that high-capacity transit has multiple goals. Year-round ridership is one, and moving large crowds is another. High-capacity transit is the only technology that can move large crowds efficiently, and there are a couple dozen large-crowd events per year. At Seattle Center: ballgames, Bumbershoot, Folklife, the Bite, concerts, demonstrations. At Westlake: parades and demonstrations. In SODO: ballgames. At Husky Stadium: ballgames, commencement, homecoming. At shopping malls and the airport: shopping, passengers, and workers. It’s a values judgment how to weigh these demands vs general ridership. But they should get some amount of priority. So there are legitimate tradeoffs between the alternatives above.

        The Gates Foundation will dissolve within 25 years after both Bill and Melinda die. What will happen to the building then? Will a similar-sized organization step up to reuse it? Will it have to be demolished to yield more urban-friendly and sustainable buildings? Why didn’t Bill think of that when he designed the building? Or will it stagnate with underutilization for decades?

      8. Charles B: thanks. I don’t have the personality or energy to be an official or run for office. I don’t even have the energy to write articles any more (all that research, fact-checking, wording).

        My perspective comes from growing up suburban hell and reading 1900-1950s books about people who could walk to the library and town center and parks, had small gridded blocks, and ubiquidous transit. In junior high (1980) I started taking Metro to school and Seattle and saw that a different way of living was still possible. In high school I lived in downtown Bellevue and experienced partial urbanism, and when I turned 18 I moved to Seattle and never looked back. I took a driving class but decided I really didn’t want to drive, so I get around primarily by transit. After college I had opportunities to go to Europe, the east coast, Chicago, Vancouver, and Toronto and see what real transit and walkability was like on the ground. STB started in 2008 showed me there were more than a couple other people who care about the same thing.

        As for our long-term strategy, we somehow need to convince the board that pedestrian-centered planning leads to the most effective network. The German and Vancouver models seem to be the best: have a transit authority with a mandate to design the most effective pedestrian-centered network, and sufficient funding and authorization to get it done. The US is coming out of a car-dependent, tower-in-the-park, bblablabla mindset, and it’s very hard to convince them of anything different. Even when they get urban villages and transit commuting, they still think in terms of park-n-rides and large institutions. I don’t know how to get from here. A Passengers’ Advisory Group seems like the best short-term goal.

        FWIW, Christopher Leinberger in “The Option of Urbanism” says that while it appears in 1950/60s TV shows that most people lived in postwar suburban, what they really lived in was 1920s streetcar suburbs, compact towns, and northeastern cities. The suburban ideal was only their aspiration, and it took decades to build out. It was only in the 1980s — my generation — that the majority grew up in suburbs.

        The 90s was when urban villages started appearing in Seattle and the burbs, and highrises in downtown Bellevue. I didn’t realize in the 80s that Bellevue’s downtown expansion was already in planning.

      9. Here’s the ugly truth: ST and the public have been more obsessed about the Ship Canal crossing, the ID construction impacts and West Seattle interests to care about how many of the highly-used stations in SLU and LQA will be positioned. No matter what, this station will get more riders than Avalon or Interbay will get — yet no one seemed to care.

      10. Charles B: Many major transit agencies rely much more on rider advisory groups. The problem isn’t who sits on the Boards, but what review system/ structure is in place.

        ST in particular structures and controls the discourse to focus on “stakeholders” rather than “riders” — so a commercial property owner who will never use a Link station gets way more consideration than a daily fare-paying rider will. ST also skips having a multi-agency technical review panel and just goes straight to the Board.

        Again, this isn’t the situation elsewhere. The Board could direct staff this week to implement a more rider-focused and a more technically-informed review structure rather than have a few specialized panels who are rarely used and seem to exist in name only.

      11. ST has a technical review panel. I don’t know who’s on it, but it’s technicals, and some may be from other agencies.

      12. I don’t see any technical review panel. I only see an expert review panel with outsiders, and that appeared to last meet in 2016 before the ST3 vote.

      13. That’s it. In the 2015 board meetings it was described as a outside experts reviewing the technical quality of the projects. I thought it was ongoing throughout the projects but maybe it wasn’t.

  4. I can’t help but feel like the approach here is doing the bare minimum to make the monorail more useful. There remains an open question to me on what to do with the system for its long-term or sustainable use — like vehicle replacement strategies and tying it better into Link.

    1. Oh, for sue! The approach is NHL/Seattle Center focused rather than transit integration. They’re not gonna spend the money if they don’t benefit from it. Nonetheless, I’m glad the improvements are being invested in. If it can’t be torn down (I really wish it were), then might as well make it more useful.

    2. I think the goal would be to keep the monorail useful for another decade until Link gets to LQA. Once the Seattle Center is directly served by Link, then the monorail can be retired or re-purposed. But for the next decade, it’s super valuable given the location of the arena and our current Link system.

      I’m not sure how you’d tie it better to Link without major capital dollars, and that doesn’t strike me as particularly useful improvement.

      1. If the Link Station was at Queen Avenue and Mercer (where I think it should be) than it would be 630 meters from the monorail station. That is larger than the average spacing for the Paris Metro. If there was a good connection to the Westlake Station, then riders heading to the Seattle Center would likely use the monorail, especially if they were headed towards the east or south end. Likewise, for businesses just south of the Center, it would be a reasonable option, as it would be fast and frequent, even if it did involve some walking (e. g. https://goo.gl/maps/HZLw8vC4eEKUGWUe8). If you were on the train (coming from the south) then you would certainly just stay on Link, and walk to the Arena (as well as some of the other places in the center). But if you are transferring anyway (which is the case for the vast majority of riders) then transferring to the monorail would save riders a few minutes.

        Putting the stations relatively far apart while also serving the cultural and population center of the area would be the sensible thing, following best practices the world over. Somehow I doubt Sound Transit will do that, once again making a large investment in transit redundant.

      2. The monorail could be retired but I haven’t heard any discussion either way about that. It would still be a tourist attraction, and people come based on the totality of attractions. Deleting the monorail wouldn’t kill it but it would be a negative factor.

        The monorail would also provide additional capacity for large crowds. We should probably wait to decide until after Link opens when we can see how well it handles the demand spikes. It’s also fallback capacity whenever there’s a Link outage. And MoPop would argue against shutting it down because that would leave a vacant hole in its building. That was an argument they made with the Monorail 2 routing, that one or the other should keep going through the hole. Although I don’t see why could’t permanently install one of the cars in the hole as a memorial.

      3. Yeah seems like it should be easy to fill that hole with art, monorail themed or otherwise.

        My preferred re-use of the monorail is to do something like the High Line, where it is still a public amenity and a tourist attraction, but not a critical piece of transit infrastructure.

        By 2040, the monorail is effectively an operating museum piece, which is nifty but unwise to depend on for actual transit. It’s possible the monorail could still be useful post-ST3, particularly if a 3rd stop was added in the middle. But I think it will simply be so old at that point it will need to be retired, b/c I think historical protection will make it prohibitive to upgrade. The train can be patched together, but not sure when the concrete columns will reach their end of life?

      4. My preferred re-use of the monorail is to do something like the High Line …

        Or Sound Transit could put the Lower Queen Anne station at a better location, where it would pick up more riders, which just so happens to be relatively far away from the monorail. That would enable the city to keep an important part of our transit network, while actually providing something of additional value. You know, kind of like what every city in the world does when they build a new subway line.

  5. I’m waiting for some marketing guru to propose renaming the monorail using some hockey term.

    Ride the Puck! Lol

  6. Besides Link connectivity, there other rider markets to serve with the Monorail: Access to empty office building parking lots Downtown. Access to hotels and restaurants and bars Downtown. Access to Metro and ST buses.

    As for waiting for East Link in 2023 in order to go to four or three minute maximum wait times, there may be a need to add additional service to Northgate before 2023 anyway to handle commute demand no matter what. It’s a matter of vehicle storage and layovers as well vehicle availability from the East OMF. I’m expecting overcrowding to Northgate to be a big topic within weeks of the 2021 opening and related bus route truncations.

  7. If I lived in Seattle it would be completely unacceptable to me to spend $5 million on station improvements and still have the awful bridge plate thing required to get to the trains on the far track. It’s a pretty poor solution that is open to causing the whole thing to shut down if even one of the plates gets stuck.

  8. I find it odd that they are doing all this work, and not addressing “the gauntlet”. As explained in this article (https://crosscut.com/2017/05/dont-rail-on-the-monorail-it-might-be-our-future) that is a significant issue:

    The pinch point hurts turnaround time. If the Westlake station platform was redone and the gauntlet removed you could maybe double the Monorail’s capacity from 6,000 to 10,000 or 12,000 per hour, according to the Monorail’s director of marketing Megan Ching.

    Maybe they feel like the pinch point is no big deal. The idea being that it is pretty much the same if they are running opposite each other. If the monorail ran from one end of downtown to the other, I could see that. But in this case, I think there will be lots of people going one direction before the game, and lots going the other direction after. I don’t think they will board and alight at the same rate. Furthermore, if one train is delayed (boarding or alighting) then the other train is as well. I think it makes sense to fix the gauntlet at the same time this work is done.

    1. I think given the long dwell times needed for handle full crowds, they can run 2 car headways without fixing the pinch. The theoretical max would be full loads both ways, which likely never happens. The pinch only becomes an issue if there is a delay at Westlake, and expanding that platform presumably requires much more capital dollars. This seems like lots of bang for moderate bucks.

      1. My point is that the delay at Westlake is inevitable. Delays in general are inevitable. If you have ever taken a ride in the New York subway, you know that dwell times are consistent. Sometimes the train is ready to go, but someone is trying to squeeze on. Thus it gets delayed a few seconds.

        My point is that if the trains have to be paired (one going north while the other goes south) then both trains get delayed. You’ve approximately doubled the total amount of delay time. A rider waiting for the north train has to wait an extra 15 seconds for the train to arrive because the south train was delayed 15 seconds, and you need the two in sync. Overall, that lowers total throughput. Maybe that doesn’t matter, but for such a short, fast run, it seems like it would.

      2. They don’t need to be perfectly in sync, because I think they can pass each other on most of the alignment, just not all of it. I’d imagine they would start out at even frequencies and then by the end of a major event there would be some ‘bunching’ due to delays randomly impacting one car more than the other, but a 15 second delay for 1 car shouldn’t slow the other car, it just means the frequency would become 2 minutes 45 seconds rather than 3 minutes. But these delays should net out, where both train have shorter dwell times at the “outbound’ station and longer dwell times at the ‘inbound’ station. I think that alleviates most of your concern?

        If there is a 5 minute delay, then the train would need to wait for the other to clear the Westlake station, which is definitely a single point of failure. But normal delays for boarding shouldn’t be an issue, as one train can be in motion while the other is wrapping up its stop. I believe this is different than, say, the Oakland Airport Connector, which shares a common cable and does need to be in sync?

      3. They don’t need to be perfectly in sync, but they might as well be. Too much out of sync and they have to wait anyway. You also run the risk of them running into each other (which has happened before). Maybe they have improved the collision avoidance system. I just find it odd that a couple years ago an expert mentioned that eliminating what is essentially a single track section was key to improving capacity, yet know there is no mention of it (and capacity numbers are much lower).

    2. Unfortunately, I believe the changes were to satisfy a patnership between the City of Seattle and the NHL. If the goal was meant to improvve transit, many other improvements could and should have been made.

      It is unfortunate that Nordstrom’s did not take this opportunity to to put money into the southern end and expand the station accross 5th. They are trying to reinvent themselves as a 21st century brick and mortar store. Having more tourists funnel through their store after taking the Monorail maybe could help. Who knows. Westlake is trying to take this approach.

      Either way the “gauntlet” problem, created in the 80’s would not have been fixed by NHL opening day. Seattle projects just never go that fast.

  9. There will not be any new access directly from the platform to the street, because the owners of Westlake Center want riders to circulate through the mall, possibly spending some money on the way.

    Why are we allowing the profit seeking motivations of a mall owner dictate how to best build out our City’s public transportation system?

    The mall owners already get an abundance of forced potential customers for free. Seattle should absolutely build a direct ground entrance (elevator+stairs) to the monorail station specifically so that monorail riders DON’T have to waste their time winding through a mall.

    1. I can’t consider this thing true public transit until it had direct access to a public right of way. So the monorail is just closed when the mall is closed?

      1. I’m not sure, but there is elevator access from the street and Westlake Station to the Monorail at present. I believe that may change after these renovations.

      2. The monorail is closed at night. The article says the mall would remain open when the monorail is open late. Pacific Place is open until midnight because of the movie theater even though the other shops are closed, so Westlake Mall could do likewise. The mall has had an identitiy crisis and underutilization for a decade, so this could be a focus for a new vision of it.

  10. I wonder if there will ever be another attempt at expanding the monorail. Seattle has the taxing authority still if I’m not mistaken. Maybe make a monorail 8 or a Ballard to sandpoint line. Is there a good reason not to do that (seems everyone here supports link for those lines), or just a lingering distrust left over from the Seattle Monorail Project debacle?

    1. The region is committed to light rail, so expanding the existing Link network is pretty much always more useful than expanding the monorail, because of network effects and economies of scale. Also, the monorail is super old so expansion is effectively building a new system – a high frequency urban mode would be nice, but would be better to move forward with a new technology, rather than graft on to 1960s technology, even if the new mode is functionally very similar to the monorail.

    2. https://ggwash.org/view/67201/why-cities-rarely-build-monorails-explained

      Solson, excellent discussion here. Short answer: every tool to its best use. Reason Seattle’s last monorail effort didn’t succeed?

      Proponents decreed from the beginning that the system absolutely had to be not only monorail, but the kind that straddled a very thick and heavy concrete beam.

      And run only on rubber tires. Pretty much exactly the Seattle Center Monorail and nothing else. And the longer the project went on, the less flexible the supporters got.

      To the point where ideology over-rode the book-keeping, Every public meeting featured a frantic alteration of financial plans.

      Surprising, and not in a good way, how many engineers stuck with the project and for how long. Short answer, a lot of money was there, and none were volunteers.

      For me, the death of the project happened at its first meeting when the governing board, by acclaim and without a talent-search, hired a promoter who’d never superintended any such project in his life.

      I’d also say, though, that a lot of the blame went to the establishment light-rail proponents who made no bones about their sentiment that the west side of Seattle, meaning Ballard, Downtown, and West Seattle might get rail when the sun blew out.


      Lots online, but think this pretty well sets forth the discussion.

      Mark Dublin

    3. No. Monorail 2 was a new technology, not an extension of the Alweg monorail. In the early 2000s light rail and monorail were in competition, with the monorial network designed around Link’s initial segment (45th-SeaTac then). Monorail advocates said it’s guaranteed grade-separated (while Link was a lot more surface in the early proposals), and always-elevated meant a great view. When the monorail project died, everybody put their hats into light rail.

      The monorail tax authority still exists, it can raise around $1 billion, and it must be used for fixed-guideway transit that’s “not light rail”. Link’s Ballard-Westlake alignment is just over a billion if I recall, the Ballard-UW concept was just under a billion. A Metro 8 line would be around that, and probably over because it’s in central Seattle, and its transfer station or branch from the other lines would doubtless be expensive. Which of those or other projects do you want? And if you do choose 45th or Metro 8, how would you convince the rest of Seattle to pay for it? You can say all you want that it benefits them, but they don’t believe it unless there’s a station in their neighborhood, and they’d want the benefits spread across the city.

    4. Monorails are uncommon because each vendor’s technology is incompatible with the others so you’re stuck with vendor lock-in and no guarantee other cities will adopt it. Light rail technology is off-the-shelf and compatible with a century’s worth of railcars, tracks, and vendors, or at least a large subset of them. Monorails are like the incompatible microcomputers of the 1970s or Apple phones now. Light rails are like IBM PC descendants (everything that’s not Macintosh) and Android phones.

  11. The best way to subsidize rides for games and events, and to avoid the ticket counter or orca card machine bottleneck, is to simply make it be free fare for two hours before, during, and two hours after the events. Sure some people not going to the event will take advantage of this, but if anything this is a *good* thing as far as the mall foot traffic and potential business is concerned.

    Side note: I have no issues with having to go through a mall to get to the station. Just make them keep the restrooms open late after events!

    1. The team owner could simply buy the capacity in bulk. Even if non-attendees ride free if there’s no ticket-checking, the majority of riders at that time will be attendees. Others will avoid that time period if they can, or take a bus around it, to avoid the lines and crushloads.

  12. Recalling the streetscape and atmosphere created by Monorail’s original presence over Pine Street, I wish today’s planners could figure out a way to extend the platform across Pine Street like it used to be.

    Favorite memory: The Monorail Espresso got its name from its first location: beside a pillar on the south side of Pine Street. Coffee-stop went like this:

    Southbound, with the coach going about half a mile an hour, I’d reach down my money and place my order with the barista through the driver’s window. Next southbound trip, my coffee would be held up for me to grab as I rolled by.

    Then and now, I’ve always considered the Monorail above all to be an extremely successful horizontal elevator ride between first, Downtown Seattle, and later, Westlake Station, and Seattle Center.
    Which would some day include another stadium.

    Important complement to Link, but never competition.

    Mark Dublin

  13. Does anyone have the personal phone numbers of the people who decided not to have direct access elevators between the station and street level (or between the two stations, if that also does not exist)? They may be unaware of the damage this does to the transit network, and need to be informed of it, repeatedly, until they get the point.

  14. I read this post with excitement but also with a great amount of concern.

    The excitement is to see that finally the sad and under-designed Westlake Monorail station may be upgraded with plans for handling more capacity.

    The great concern I have is that without a center platform and two outer platforms, the upgrading would not be enough, with not enough capacity and with less than adequate pedestrian circulation. This compromised system could lead to serious problems down the line.

    What should be done:

    The Westlake Station should be re-built out over Fifth Ave. with a center platform and two outer platforms. Access to the three platforms could be from a pedestrian concourse at the southern end of the Westlake Monorail Station connecting the three platforms. This pedestrian concourse could also lead the rest of the way across Fifth Ave. and into the Nordstrom store. This improved pedestrian access would be of benefit to travelers and shoppers alike and be of benefit to the Nordstrom Flagship store as well. There should be easy to follow and direct connections to the ST Link Line’s Westlake Underground Station.

    The Seattle Center Station with very minor changes could be returned to the 1962 configuration with center and outer platforms.

    Both stations should be configured for loading on the center platform with exiting on the outer platforms. That way if one train is delayed for whatever reason, the other train would be coming along shortly with no need for riders to scramble to load on the other platform. With a two-station system such as the Seattle Center Monorail this is possible.

    With center and outer platforms, there would be no danger of two trains bound for the narrow-gapped Westlake Station at the same time and no possibility of mechanical breakdowns with loading ramps.

    The Seattle Center Monorail connects two major activity centers, the Westlake Center and the Seattle Center and does it well. The Seattle Center Monorail remains a vital link in our regions overall public transport system.

    Let’s do the right thing with full center loading and outer exiting platforms.

    Does anyone know if a Public Hearing is planned?


  15. I wrote a letter to the city council when they were building the Kingdome suggesting they extend the monorail down 5th Ave to the new stadium so that fans attending games could lessen congestion by taking advantage of all the parking at Seattle Center and Downtown.

    …seems a little naive now.

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