Sound Transit 3, from its inception, has been a compromise between various regional interests. With likely economic trouble and a failed bridge to West Seattle, some people are interested in reopening the bargain.
Some of these people never liked taxes for transit in the first place, and seek a rhetorical opening for a redo. Others sincerely want good transit outcomes, and think that a retry might improve those outcomes. Still others are broadly supportive of Sound Transit but see an opportunity to address other priorities.
There isn’t much to say about people who don’t think transit is important, except that other parties should pay attention to who their friends are. Some people helping to tear down today’s plan won’t be there to build the next one.
People who are unhappy about how ST3 has evolved should ask themselves how those evolutions came about, and if those underlying conditions have changed. Approximately zero of them came about because the plan had too much money, which is the only thing that has changed.
Let’s take a few examples.
In my opinion, skipping First Hill twice in three ballot measures is one of the greater instances of malpractice in the history of Sound Transit. As far as I can tell, it happened because the Sound Transit staff has very little appetite for ideas that add financial and engineering risk, no matter their value to future riders, and there was no coalition of Seattle political leaders that pushed them to do the right thing. I would accept program delay in a heartbeat if we could get First Hill and keep South Lake Union, but that is totally disconnected from the reality of how a reset would go.
To take another, a Ballard/UW line is a perennial favorite among STB commenters. To be clear, I would vote for that line with no reservations. But consider:
- Many influential people believe the UW/Westlake tunnel cannot absorb the additional riders. You don’t have to agree with that analysis to understand that it exists, and from people who generally Know What They Are Talking About.
- Ballard/UW does not contain a tunnel from Westlake to Lower Queen Anne, the single most valuable stretch of rail not currently open or under construction.
- People are comparing their fantasy of a Ballard/UW line to an ST3 Ballard line that is mostly through the sausage machine. As a data point, when ST came up with some planning concepts, Seattle Subway pronounced all but one unacceptable, and added two more underground stations to the good one. And that’s before those concepts suffered a thousand cuts on their way to reality.
The pandemic has changed none of these facts, unless you think commuting is gone forever. I emphatically don’t, but if so, Ballard/UW is just as tenuous as any other transportation investment.
This is all a harmless discussion, because the ST board is not going to do anything but defer projects and value-engineer. It’s the third group — people with other priorities that see a big pile of money — that will actually be the most dangerous in the near future.
To take the most obvious example, Seattle will certainly replace the West Seattle Bridge over the next several years. This requirement is daunting, urgent, and totally unfunded. No doubt, combining the road a rail efforts into a single bridge may create efficiencies in the aggregate. But there’s certainly an opportunity to use transit funds to restore highway capacity. It will be an enormous temptation for community leaders without a strong ideological commitment otherwise.
102 Replies to “Rethinking ST3?”
As much as I would like to see it, I doubt that Sound Transit will replace an ST3 project with UW to Ballard light rail. It is in a different area, and serves a different purpose. The only thing it has in common with “Ballard Link” is that it has the word “Ballard” in it, and would be the best value, if built.
On the other hand, I could see Sound Transit building a transit tunnel as the next project. It would initially be built for buses, but be designed so that trains could be added later. In that respect it would be like the WSTT (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/02/18/westside-seattle-transit-tunnel/) although likely following the current alignment, not that one. Not because the current alignment is better (its not) but because like Ballard Link, it is what people said they would build.
This could be built a lot sooner than other projects, and deliver the key piece (fast, grade separated service from Lower Queen to South Lake Union and downtown) much faster. It would also give West Seattle and Ballard riders faster travel years before any rail would be built (no matter what order things are built).
Building a bus tunnel, then converting it to rail is something we’ve done before, and done well. This approach — with clear parallels to today — was clearly the right one before, and should be the right one now.
It is worth noting that the current plan is to first build a rail line from West Seattle to Stadium. Not downtown, but Stadium. Then, years (and years) later, the line would be extended through downtown to Ballard. The Stadium Station sits here: https://goo.gl/maps/jt3XPF2RzxgtgUA58, in an industrial area. To get to any of the downtown office buildings would require a long, very ugly walk, or a transfer (https://goo.gl/maps/jwiX9fMqYeaJsBv99).
For riders from Delridge, this would mean a three seat ride to get downtown, and a four seat ride to get to Bellevue, First Hill, South Lake Union, Fremont or many other places. What is true of riders on the 120, is true for riders from High Point, Alki, Admiral Junction or pretty much all of West Seattle. Three seat rides will be commonplace in our system. But a system where the *most* common rides involve two transfers isn’t likely to be popular. I doubt that Metro will truncate the buses. They will still run downtown. When they do, those would have only a two seat ride to downtown — riders who can walk to a West Seattle station — may still prefer a one seat ride, especially if the bus is more frequent (which is likely). Other than the occasional baseball or football game, West Seattle Link adds very little when it connects to Stadium. It is an odd, isolated spur. There is little point in building it first.
The West Seattle bus restructure will look very similar to the NE Seattle restructure after U-link opened. West Seattle is similar to NE Seattle in that the majority of transit use comes during commute hours, with the C and 120 carrying the majority of riders off-peak.
The other thing is that West Seattle buses are really slow during peak. I remember riding the 71/72/73 to get downtown when I was a grad student at UW. Riding the C-line is a similar experience. In my experience Avalon to Westlake averages 25 minutes at peak, sometimes longer when full buses bypass my stop. Getting from California to South Lake Union on the C is often 45-60 minutes. Metro has already planned to re-route the C-line to Alki in its long-term plan, which will bring frequent, all-day bus service to more of West Seattle, especially Alki and the Admiral District where it is needed. I feel bad for anyone that depends on the 50 to get anywhere, it has to be one of the slowest, most meandering routes in the system.
As for timing, you certainly make a good argument that West Seattle Link should wait until it can be connected directly to downtown. I can’t argue with that, although if the transfer was quick and easy at the stadium it wouldn’t be that bad. Certainly better than sitting in the 99 N merge for 10 minutes every morning.
West Seattle is similar to NE Seattle in that the majority of transit use comes during commute hours, with the C and 120 carrying the majority of riders off-peak.
Are you sure about that? I haven’t looked at all of the north end buses, but for the ones I have looked at, this hasn’t been the case. If you look at Link data, for example, that isn’t the case. Link peaks during rush hour, but it doesn’t constitute a majority. There are just a lot more hours outside of rush-hour. I would be very surprised if West Seattle ridership was dominated by rush hour use, simply because it would run contrary to similar suburbs. The only areas like that are more distant suburbs — areas that have very low ridership overall.
The West Seattle line has the same flaws as much of ST3. With very few exceptions, it creates trips that are only faster during rush hour. The result is commuter rail, and the very low ridership that goes with it (while paying subway type costs to deliver it).
The other thing is that West Seattle buses are really slow during peak.
All buses are slow during peak. West Seattle is nothing special in that regard. It takes a while to get from the Fauntleroy Ferry to The Junction during rush hour. It is slow from there to downtown. The average speed of the bus, however, is still much faster than, I’m guessing, most of our buses during rush hour. It just seems extremely slow, because you are on the freeway and not making any stops.
It is worth noting that the biggest delays are going to downtown in the morning. Heading back to West Seattle is almost always a smooth ride (unlike much of the city). Likewise, a “reverse commute” (to West Seattle in the morning and back in the evening) is not bad at all (much faster than just about anywhere else in the city). If you work 9-5 at South Seattle Community College and live in the C. D., the slow part is getting from downtown to the Central Area.
Getting through downtown can be very slow. This was especially the case with the viaduct work (which took forever). But the work will definitely be done by the time the bridge is fixed, let alone a new one built. This will greatly improve travel through downtown, along with all the other various fixed that continue to be made.
The merge with SR 99 is not ideal (obviously). But that could be fixed for way less money than it costs to add one station, let alone the rail that goes with them.
The West Seattle bus restructure will look very similar to the NE Seattle restructure after U-link opened.
Yes, that’s what I’m worried about. The big difference in NE Seattle was that the UW is a major destination (top three in the state, by my reckoning). The Junction, for all its charms, is nowhere near that. Some random spot on Delridge close to (or under) the freeway, is even worse. Stations like that are fine if they are part of another line (like 145th) and very good as a terminus (like Lynnwood). But as the main purpose of the line, they are a really bad idea.
The other big difference is that there is at least a station (although there should be two) between the UW and downtown. So lots of riders get to Capitol Hill much faster than they did before.
The West Seattle line doesn’t have that. Avalon is fairly close to The Junction — for a trip like that, frequency is more important than speed, and chances are, the bus(es) will be more frequent.
With very little in the way of walk-up ridership, the entire line seems designed as a bus intercept. I’m all for bus intercepts — but not when it is the only thing on the billion dollar line. For way less money you can simply improve the bus infrastructure and give way more people a faster ride.
Link has UW and UW Med Center as all-day, evening and weekend destinations. West Seattle would have…..Lincoln Park?
Why do you think a bus tunnel be built faster than a train tunnel? If you need to tunnel the length of downtown and built multiple new underground stations, the time to install and test rail is only marginally longer than the time to install and test a bus tunnel.
There are several good arguments in favor of a 2nd bus tunnel rather than rail, but I don’t think speed of deployment is one of them.
It wouldn’t be faster to build a transit tunnel than a train tunnel. It would probably take about as long — maybe longer. The advantage is that it works well as a standalone project, and could be built before anything else of value. Keep in mind, the main reason it takes so long to build these projects is because of the cost, not the planning or the actual construction. We can’t afford to start work on everything at once, so it is being being built in stages.
The current plan is to build the line in two stages. First they will build a
line from Stadium to West Seattle. This is practically useless, and would carry fewer people than the 21 (to name just one West Seattle bus). The second stage involves building the rest of it (from Ballard to Stadium). This is very expensive, as it involves the tunnel, lots of elevated track, and a bridge (or additional tunnel).
This is all about changing the order of the projects. It is about getting the most value first — just as we did before. Build the tunnel first. This adds value for both Ballard and West Seattle, and most importantly, South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. Those are done first, then you connect the ends, like we did before.
There are alternatives:
1) Build Ballard to Stadium first. This would take much longer than just building the tunnel, because it involves large additional expense (a new ship canal crossing, miles of elevated tracks, etc.). This would still be better than the current proposal, just because you get a lot more riders sooner.
2) Build West Seattle to Smith Cove. This is more expensive than my proposal (because you have to build the West Seattle piece as well) but better than the current plan.
3) Build a train tunnel from Smith Cove to Stadium. This would be about as expensive as a bus tunnel. You may save a little money because you don’t need to worry about the tunnel working for both trains and buses, but you still have to connect up everything and build a new Stadium Station. I think a bus tunnel could open before a train tunnel (less testing). The biggest drawback is that it does nothing for West Seattle or Ballard. West Seattle would likely see it as a slap in the face, even though, from a practical standpoint, it is just as good as the original plan.
It is quite likely there will be a very long gap between the two phases. Not five years (as planned) but ten. Building a transit tunnel first gives us a lot of value a lot sooner.
Imagine if Seattle took the ST3 approach in the past. Rather than build the transit tunnel in 1990, we would have built a train line from SeaTac to Stadium. Some riders would use it to get to a game, one end of Rainier Valley to the other, or to the airport. But with no downtown connections, it would carry about 6,000 riders a day (assuming it had the same ridership pattern as last year). Realistically, it would be lower, because it wouldn’t run as often. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2009 (when Link opened) we wouldn’t have buses in the bus tunnel. Tens of thousands of riders every day would spend a huge amount of time slogging their way from one side of downtown to the other.
Obviously we built things in the right order then. We should build things in the right order now.
Seems like there are two different arguments here.
One, that the Smith Cove to Stadium section is most valuable and should be built first. I agree, though there are other projects that may need to open first, such as OMF South, for operational reasons.
Two, that we should build a bus tunnel instead of a train tunnel. Here you are simply re-hashing your original objections to ST3. I don’t see any new information that would persuade someone to now favor a bus tunnel. The original bus tunnel made good sense because we had neither the funding nor the regional infrastructure to support rail, so you settle for a bus tunnel and convert to rail 2 decades later. Today, we have both funding and a regional network for a 2nd tunnel, so the context from the vote in 1983 doesn’t apply here. So you are left with the argument that a bus tunnel is so clearly better for the region than a rail tunnel that we should make a hard pivot away from what the region agreed to built in 2018.
Or are you arguing that we built a joint bus-rail tunnel, so the RV Link can run in the new tunnel, plus buses from Ballard and WS can use the tunnel. Link extension to Ballard and WS can then wait until later.
Just a thought, how about build the new bridge with enough lanes for transit lanes. Would that provide enough peak period transit that we would not need a light rail? Just a thought
Bus tunnels need extra space to allow passing, and allow for traffic recovery when a bus breaks down in the tunnel. Trains are easier to shunt than buses are
ST will not build a bus tunnel through downtown Seattle.
You fear losing your shiny toy, Martin. If the demand for rail transit evaporates because of long term job losses downtown — which may happen — designing the new West Seattle bridge so that it has bus-only lanes with frequent ST bus service would allow ST and SDOT to jointly fund the thing. That’d bring rapid transit to WS much more quickly.
Except that it wouldn’t be “rapid” and it wouldn’t be “transit” for very long.
Those “bus-only” lanes would become “HOV lanes” because they’ll have a bus every minute or two at the peak and “Wow what a waste!” Then someone will utter the magic words “user fee” and they’ll morph into an “HOT facility” and eventually just folded into general traffic because why not toll the whole bridge to pay for it?
The West Seattle bridge has had bus-only lanes for years, and they never became HOV lanes. The downtown bus tunnel only had buses. The city is full of bus-only lanes that aren’t HOV lanes.
I can’t think of a single instance where what you imagine actually happened. When did we convert a bus-only lane to a carpool, or HOT lane? I’m sure it happened (otherwise you wouldn’t have suggested it) but it is so rare I can’t think of an instance.
The bus lane was conjured up by narrowing the others and taking a good part of the shoulder. Many people blame it at least in part for the bridge failure.
If the City essentially replaces the existing bridge with what is essentially a stronger arch, there will be only three lanes and the “bus lanes” will have a bus every minute or two at the peak of the peak, and much less the rest of the day. There will be a great clamor to get that thirdair of GP lanes back.
“Many people blame it at least in part for the bridge failure.”
Source? (Thanks in advance.)
sna says that the City wants to reuse the arch section piers. He sounds like he works for an engineering company that does business with SDOT, or is a City employee. So I give his posts a second and third look.
Keeping the piers means that the arch section must be essentially the same weight as the current structure, lighter ideally, but certainly not much heavier.
That severely limits the ability to widen the deck. Maybe there can still be seven lanes, but some of the bearing load on the piers is going to be used in extra steel in a replacement deck.
This is why I think that any “bus lanes” won’t last long.
You didn’t answer my question, when did we convert a bus-only lane to a carpool, or HOT lane?
As for “people clammoring for extra lanes”, you are missing the fundamental traffic issue on the West Seattle bridge. It isn’t about West Seattle traffic. It is about traffic elsewhere. Eastbound (in the morning) the bridge is clogged because I-5 is clogged. You could add 20 lanes to the bridge, and it wouldn’t make any difference. The drivers would be closer to I-5, but they still would have to merge, and wait (like they do today). In contrast, if you added 20 lanes to I-5, then West Seattle traffic would run smoothly (assuming we had no additional cars on the freeway).
Likewise, there is a fair amount of traffic on SR 99 headed towards downtown. Again, adding extra lanes on the freeway wouldn’t help. Those on the freeway have to merge in the right lane and then merge again at SR 99. The buses have to do the same thing, and that is the pinch point that Joe mentioned up above.
That is why there isn’t a lot of traffic in the evening, going to West Seattle, even though it essentially ends on city streets. It is why the ramps (headed out) are not metered. Metering the ramps wouldn’t help the flow on the West Seattle freeway (although it would help the flow on I-5, SR 99, and probably help the buses). Likewise, adding lanes wouldn’t help. There will be no big push for extra lanes, because extra lanes won’t do any good.
Ross, what you are advocating is REMOVING a pair of lanes. That. Will. Not. Fly. It just won’t. There is only one eastbound bus lane on the bridge today and it was shoehorned in.
Tlsgwm, read the comment threads on the Crimes. There are PLENTY of yammerers claiming that the “heavy buses” are what has cracked the bridge. I didn’t advocate that position; I don’t know. But there will be plenty of loudmouths who will blame the buses.
It’s what they do.
“REMOVING a pair of lanes from General Purpose traffic. You can argue all day long that “It’s I-5 that’s the problem!” and people may actually agree with you in part. But they’re NOT going to allow you to take a pair of GP lanes out of a replacement bridge. It will have three GP lanes in each direction; if the legacy piers can support a seventh lane AND more reinforcing steel, I’m sure that the City will put the bus lane back.
But that is a big “if”.
Tlsgwm, as well as in the Seattle Times, there were a lot of comments on articles in the West Seattle Blog speculating that the heavy Rapid Ride buses might have caused or contributed to the bridge cracking. Others thought it might be trucks carrying construction supplies for the new apartment buildings.
These were speculation only, probably from people who don’t like buses and wish that no new apartments had been built in the last 10 years. Now most of the comments are focusing on wondering why it’ll take so long to fix, and wanting city officials to figure something out other than detouring to the 1st Ave. S. bridge.
@Tom — I’m not removing a lane. The lanes exist right now. You are making bizarre speculations:
1) We have to remove a lane.
2) The HOV lane will be the one to go.
There is no evidence that the first is true — you are the only one that has mentioned it. The second is pure speculation on your part, and despite repeated attempts, you have yet to find one example where the city has ever done that. Not one! You want to find examples of the opposite? Just look around the city. Why I can think of an example, just a stones throw away from that very bridge: https://goo.gl/maps/1ka5XwW7tmKzDYA28.* That is the Spokane Street Bridge. It is the only bridge connecting the north end of West Seattle to the mainland. A month ago, any car could drive on it. Now, only buses and trucks can use it. The city has made it clear — we aren’t going backwards. When push comes to shove, it is general purpose traffic that just has to wait. The same would be true on the bigger bridge.
* Probably not the best turn of phrase right now — hopefully no stones get thrown onto that lower bridge.
Pandemics aren’t Permanent, Frank. Also debatable, isn’t it, which mode is the toy and which the valuable tool? No chance that good passenger rail could provide the very employment that’ll help turn Seattle’s economy around?
Going by 574 that I really do miss right now- 590 and 594 spend too much time stuck at Spokane Street, making Sea-Tac transfer preferable- for the time being won’t hear a word against ST Express. When the All Clear sounds- hope it’s a trumpet or something- would be great to get on the 574 at the new Olympia Transit Center.
Though in order to keep the subsidy coming from the State Legislature, will have to keep the special stop there for airport-bound sponsors that could cost the run three minutes up by the Capitol. ST 574 to Sea-Tac- gives my State Reps and Senators the World!
What are the “pre-virus” and “post-virus” revenues projections for each subarea over the course of the entire ST3 system plan (it ends in the mid-2050’s)?
North King should be fine — the little subareas not so much.
So far the agency only has disclosed how it plans on paying for each subarea’s representative alignments and services through 2041. That’s the tip of the iceberg. LOTS of ST3 money will come available after that . . ..
I -976 should also be factored in. Even if it is struck down, expect a pushback from folks on high car tabs during the recession/depression..
While you may not feel sorry for folks who bought newer expensive cars and trucks, keep in mind a fair number of such folks bought with 7 year (as oppose to 5 year) loans, which enabled them to get more expensive cars and trucks (than what they should have bought) . https://jalopnik.com/the-average-new-car-loan-is-now-over-70-months-because-1842624210
I am put in mind of “purple peanut butter”.
As to the capacity issues (and other issues of Ballard to UW) , I bring back this classic thread (it also appears in the recent podcast in the subset of my podcast question)
The capacity concerns ignore similar systems around the world. Don’t be fooled by the “light rail” term. These four car trains can carry a lot of people.
There are other assumptions that don’t make much sense. One is that a split would overwhelm the system. This implies that a train running every 4 minutes would be stuffed by the time it hits Roosevelt, turning riders back. Otherwise, at worst, riders in the U-District, UW or Capitol Hill would simply wait a couple minutes for the next train.
More than likely, there wouldn’t be a split. This would be even less likely to have crowding. It would be pretty much as planned — trains running every three minutes from Lynnwood. The only worry there is if lots of riders from Ballard suddenly overwhelm the train. Again, this implies that at worst, riders would have to wait two or three minutes for the next train (the one not effected by Ballard riders).
More than anything, it misses the dynamics in the U-District. This is not a suburban split (or hub). This is the U-District, a major destination. Many people on that Lynnwood train will get off, having reached their destination. Furthermore, capacity concerns assume that everyone uses the train as the way to get downtown. This isn’t the case.
If you are in Crown Hill, for example, you could have a three seat ride to downtown, or you could just stay on the 15. My guess is most of those riders just stay on the bus. The same is true for the E. The Ballard to UW train would mostly be used by people heading to the UW, Ballard, Northgate and Capitol Hill. Many of those trips are not rush-hour in nature. This is a good thing. Rush hour trips are a minority of the transit trips in every city. Systems that are focused on rush hour riders tend to perform poorly. The more you improve overall mobility, the more robust your system.
Which isn’t to say that folks wouldn’t be using the Ballard to UW train during rush hour. It is just that if you followed people at 8:00 AM as they disembark in the U-District, you would notice them going in various directions. Some would be heading north, to Northgate. More would be headed south, towards Capitol Hill and downtown. But many more would simply be leaving the station, headed to work somewhere in the area, or transferring to buses serving nearby areas (like Children’s Hospital).
Ross, you are absolutely correct. Which is why Ballard-UW is SUCH a lousy value. It’s the Metro 44 subway, a bus that runs every 12 minutes.
The ONLY possible justification for spending two or three billion digging a subway across your beloved “West Woodland”, Upper Fremont, and Wallingford is that they suddenly are sporting a bunch of 20 story buildings OR all the serving mid-North Seattle are truncated at the Ship Canal with people expected to take the Metro 44 to get downtown.
Heck, even if it were elevated along the Ship Canal in order to serve Fremont it would be questionable. At grade except through Fremont proper might be cheap enough to make it pencil out.
“all the buses serving”….
You really don’t understand transit, do you Tom?
People going every which way is a good thing. It is what big transit systems do. No, you don’t need 20 story buildings; most of Brooklyn and San Fransisco lack 20 story buildings. What you need is good density, as well as a good *network*. Ballard to UW would provide the latter for the former.
It isn’t just about the one seat rides — it is about the two seat rides that would be dramatically faster than current transit options. It is about the total time for the trip, and the alternatives. The UW to Ballard line would complement the other rail line, and other buses (north-south buses are fairly fast and frequent north of the ship canal). For a direct trip, it would provide a dramatic improvement in speed — faster than a cab, even at noon. This, in turn, would make other trips significantly faster, and more attractive.
The 44 may not impress you, but it has one of the highest ridership per mile numbers for our system. It has higher ridership per mile than the beloved E. It is higher than every bus in West Seattle, and higher than all the other buses in Ballard but the D (and even then, just barely). It even manages to carry more riders than the 550, even though the 550 is much longer. It is also extremely slow — much slower than the 550, which obviously cuts into its ridership. We’ve seen that with the 550, which took a nosedive in ridership, as it got slower.
Are you saying, then, that East Link will be a complete failure, getting only 7,000 riders a day, like the 550? Of course not. With the improved speed you will see improved ridership. It isn’t just that East Link will attract riders who walk to each station, but it will attract riders who transfer to the train. Right now those people just avoid the transfer, and drive.
Well the same is true for Ballard to UW. Do you think there are a lot of people taking transit from Phinney Ridge to the UW? Of course not. They drive. The 5 is fast, and frequent, but the 44 is just too damn slow (like the 550). How about Ballard to Northgate, once Northgate Link opens. How many people do you think will take the 44 across and then take the train north? Very few, because the 44 is too damn slow. The drive, or if they don’t have a car, they would probably stick with the 40, and all of its twists and turns. The point is, it isn’t just about being fast, it is about being faster than the alternatives and doing so for *lots* of trips. Ballard to UW would deliver that.
Keep in mind that Sound Transit, an agency that has downplayed urban routes and ignored bus integration, actually had higher ridership per capital dollar spent for the Ballard to UW line than any other rail project. The ridership time saved per dollar spent would have been much higher.
Agencies that have built similar lines have never regretted it. Agencies that have built things like light rail to the Tacoma Dome have.
Jobs density matters more than population density when it comes to transit ridership. Yes, most trips are non-work, but HCT exists first to move people in and out of job centers, not to get people to the Ballard farmers market. There is far greater job density in SLU and the Denny Triangle than there will be in any of the prospective stations on Ballard-UW.
Ballard/UW? Ground permitting, straight bore passing under the North Link tubes in the U-District, with elevators transferring passengers between the two lines.
But main thing, bore continues east fairly deep under Sand Point to Kirkland, and beyond. Not priority, no special rush about it, and much dependent on both positive and negative tunneling possibilities we’re nowhere near aware of yet.
What I’d do first? Signal preempted and lane-reserved streetcar from Ballard to Fremont via Leary Way, and then following the canal north-shore past the parks to UW. Pretty and popular, it’ll just “fit.”
Bingo, Mark. You’d need to tunnel through “downtown Fremont”, but there is enough room west of about Greenwood to squeeze at least one track between Leary and the BGT.
Surface transit (whether bus or train) will never be really fast along that corridor. There are too many traffic lights, and the streets are narrow. Signal priority can only do so much; it isn’t like MLK or Elliot, where the crossing streets are minor.
Of course I would try. I would take as many miles of lanes as possible (way more than they are talking about now) but in some sections, you just can’t (https://goo.gl/maps/KqTXoSmMNxPBGWYP9). The point being, you need the tunnel to generate the ridership, which in turn would justify rail.
That misses lower Fremont as well. On the other hand, if you put a station close to the troll, you could both serve the transfer to the E, along with lower Fremont. The station itself would be below ground, but not extremely deep. You would have an entrance going up to the troll, as well as across to Fremont. You would have to add a bus stop on Aurora, but that wouldn’t be too hard. From there, it would be a fairly short walk to make the transfer (https://goo.gl/maps/HJKxJDDLUbTszgEp7). The Fremont entrance would be roughly here: https://goo.gl/maps/VNQ7LFDL29aLHHJF8. That is close to ideal (within a block or two) in that you would be about a five minute walk to most of the apartments, offices, restaurants and bars in the area.
It means a different mindset, which is why it is likely it will never happen. Sound Transit will go down as one of the least efficient agencies in the country, when all is said and done. In terms of ridership per dollar spent, or time saved per dollar spent, it will be terrible.
The problem is that they’ve focused on quantity, rather than quality. They have also been penny wise, and pound foolish. They have cut corners, rendering some stops impractical. As Martin pointed out, they’ve skipped obviously very strong downtown stations (like First Hill) to save a few bucks. Yet there will be miles and miles of rail into the suburbs, running alongside the freeway. This seems like a good way to save money, but ultimately it still costs a bundle and you end up with a system that doesn’t carry that many riders, and saves them very little time. The fact that they are even considering a very expensive tunnel to 14th, and have ruled out a tunnel to the heart of Ballard shows how mismanaged they are.
Oh and that doesn’t even count maintenance as operations. Extremely long systems require lots of transit, and lots of maintenance as well as drivers, fare collection and security.
What I’m suggesting is the opposite. Yes, this would be the most expensive line per mile. But it would also be one of the most productive. The stations would be spaced well (24th, 15th, 8th, Fremont, Wallingford) and each one would get a lot of riders (although 8th would need TOD, and thus likely lag the others). Even if you put the station in upper Fremont, it would still have plenty of riders.
Ultimately, if you did it right and had good stations, it would be an extremely good value. That’s because it wouldn’t require miles and miles of track, and even the tunnel wouldn’t be that long. Every station would be decent, and there would be enough of them (five, not counting the UW) to provide plenty of ridership. It would feed into a major destination (the UW) and greatly improve transit mobility for the entire north end of Seattle.
First things first. As someone who lived in Wallingford for over a decade and did the Metro 44 slog more times than I care to remember, I wholeheartedly support a Ballard to UW “rib” line. It makes sense from a network perspective and 20-story towers across Fremont and Wallingford are not needed to get it to pencil out. ST’s own corridor studies illustrate this.
In regard to a station located in “Upper Fremont”, I’ve wondered if some sort of people mover, say like a funicular, would be sufficient and/or appropriate to connect the business and retail center down the hill. Any thoughts?
Back in 2016, one thing I thought might be good to do in case ST3 failed was to have an ST3 redo, with the Ballard line being replaced by a Ballard-UW line, and West Seattle replaced by BRT.
No tunnel would be necessary because the Blue line (I think that’s Line 2?) would go up to UW, then turn left and head to Ballard. West Seattle wouldn’t be a light rail line, so the existing tunnel could handle all two lines. The most valuable segment of ST3 (downtown to SLU) wouldn’t make the cut in this scenario, so that’s a downside. But if we wanted to do that instead, we could extend the DSTT to Ballard and skip the second tunnel. We could route the Bellevue line to Ballard (assuming West Seattle is BRT), and avoid the tunneling parallel to the DSTT.
People are saying that there is no way a West Seattle BRT line would get its own dedicated lane across the WSB. I don’t quite think that’s right. There is already some red paint on the bridge, and though it’s not a very good bus lane, I think with inherited ST3 light rail money and the understanding of compromise, a full-time, full-span pair of dedicated transit lanes are realistic here if we go the BRT route. One thing I like about BRT vs light rail is that you can’t build a single light rail line to serve all of West Seattle well. People will have to take a bus for a mile or so, then switch to light rail. If we have BRT, then there can be multiple branches within West Seattle (each with 15 minute frequency even), and they would overlap frequency on the WSB. I think this is what Forward Thrust actually had. You also wouldn’t need to have people complaining about paying for a tunnel or not getting a tunnel.
Yes, absolutely. I agree with most of your points. The interesting thing about West Seattle BRT is that much of the work has been done (or at least, was done, until the bridge started falling down). I wrote an essay about how much work would be needed for West Seattle to create an ideal system: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/08/03/build-real-brt-for-west-seattle/. As it turns out, very little, assuming you connected to the SoDo busway. You would need to add a ramp that bypasses the cloverleaf (https://s3.amazonaws.com/stb-wp//srv/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/14212356/WestSeattleNew.png) and a ramp that connects the West Seattle busway to the freeway. That is in the 100 to 200 million range, not billions.
The tunnel would be expensive. But the WSTT (http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com//srv/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/WSTT-Initial-Service-Pattern.jpg) would add more value downtown than the planned Ballard Link. Aurora riders would be much better off — they would get downtown much faster, and be able to transfer to Bellevue much faster. You have better stop spacing with the stations. It would be better for Lower Queen Anne, downtown and West Seattle.
It might not be as good for Ballard (especially if you walked to the station). But it would still be a considerable improvement and occur much sooner. It wouldn’t take much to make it better. You would add an Interbay stop underneath Dravus (https://goo.gl/maps/m6fmprsiDtCQSLE87). You could widen the northbound approach to the bridge, so that the merge point for the buses is not here (https://goo.gl/maps/HC3bgqbwgpoHCQFG8), but right at the edge of the bridge. That allow buses to get right to the front when the bridge opens. The biggest delay is not caused by the wait for the bridge to open and close, but for the traffic to die down. You could do the same sort of thing on the other side. This would be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as building a new (very high) bridge (although obviously, it wouldn’t be as good). The new ramps would also improve bike mobility over the bridge — a significant issue (https://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2017/05/08/despite-more-than-a-decade-of-bicycle-activism-ballard-bridge-remains-a-danger/).
The point is, with very little work (other than the tunnel) someone in West Seattle could get all the way to Lower Queen Anne without any congestion or any stops (other than at the stations). Someone in Ballard would have still have to deal with the Ballard Bridge, but the delays could be mitigated. There are only a handful of traffic lights between a tunnel and Ballard, and most are usually green (and could be improved with signal priority). Most riders in West Seattle would clearly be better off, and it is quite likely most in Ballard would as well. They might have a delay with the bridge or a traffic light, but by avoiding the transfer, they would get to their destination faster.
This wouldn’t be cheap — a transit tunnel is expensive — but it would be a lot cheaper than what they are hoping to build, and key elements of it (including the tunnel) could be built a lot sooner.
By the way, I agree with your analysis, Ross, I am simply certain that ST is not going to “see the light” and build a bus tunnel. The City or County could do it strictly for use by Metro buses, but ST won’t do it. Their mandate is to build rail transit between the major Puget Sound activity centers. They are statutorily allowed to provide bus service in a corridor which does not [yet] support rail or to which they simply haven’t yet gotten in their construction staging.
But they are also statutorily mandated to truncate bus service at a convenient point to a parallel train. So, no bus tunnel.
“statutorily mandated to truncate bus service at a convenient point to a parallel train. ” – I don’t believe that is true, though it is the likely outcome for most STX service. We may see some STX routes in parallel to Link, particularly along the the 520 corridor, and it’s plausible to have STX along 405 overlapping Stride.
But they are also statutorily mandated to truncate bus service at a convenient point to a parallel train.
I don’t think that is the case with Sound Transit, not that it matters. Sound Transit doesn’t run buses on those routes, Metro does. This is certainly not the case with Metro, and it has caused some tension between the two agencies. Sound Transit just assumed that Metro would truncate the 7 at the station. But they didn’t, and ridership for the train was much smaller than expected. This, in turn, has lead Sound Transit to completely ignore bus feeders at 130th, for example.
Anyway, I too think it is unlikely they build a transit tunnel first. Chances are, they simply let everything slip, and truncate. I just think the best hope, at this point, would be that when faced with that, they would see that a bus tunnel — designed to be eventually used as a train tunnel — would be a much better value in the short run. This would certainly be the case if it turns out that the alternative is waiting an extra ten years before we get anything of substantial value or we can’t build what we planned on building (both of which seems likely).
That’s the thing. If you are in Ballard, and you are now told that, like Federal Way, they simply can’t build the line across the ship canal, you will be pissed. Sound Transit really can’t offer you much at that point. They aren’t going to be running express buses to downtown — Metro already does that. The rail tunnel (years in the future, mind you) offers little. Yes, it would be nice if your bus got to downtown a little bit faster (by skipping Lower Queen Anne), but that is a minor improvement and that exists during rush hour anyway. More often than not, it would take longer to get to Lower Queen Anne (because of the transfer). You can get to the other two stops quicker, but even then, the time savings over taking the 8 is minor and in many cases, you might just stay on the bus, and walk (since the best “South Lake Union” stop is likely to be fairly close to where the D runs).
It just adds very little for Ballard riders, and yet it may be all that they can build. At that point, folks from Ballard might suggest we build the tunnel first, and use it for buses until we have enough money to run the trains from Ballard to it. Oh, and build that first (before the line from West Seattle to Stadium) which in turn would be of greater benefit to everyone, including those in West Seattle.
Everyone seems concerned about how this affects Seattle. That’s exactly why I voted against it. I think they added Snohomish county to increase the tax base with little intent to provide service to any but the southern part. In Everett we still have 20 years to get whatever was promised, but we’ve been paying taxes since the beginning. Meanwhile new ideas are being added and put ahead of us in timing. We’re told there are cost overruns. I predict by the time we are considered they’ll want to increase our taxes locally because the cost has increased do much, and Seattle won’t be asked to help with that.
It’s really difficult to paint all of Seattle with the same brush. Much of the city, the most populous part of the three county ST district, isn’t served by rail. We even had to go alone on a bussing plan to meet demand in the city. I get that it’s a long time to wait tho, because these projects just take a long time, but Seattle has shouldered its fair share of dollars and disappointment to get a transit system that meets the needs of its residents. We still aren’t there yet.
Why would Seattle be asked to help pay for ST3 projects in Snohomish County? You aren’t paying for Seattle projects?
Actually, they are.
It was Snohomish and Pierce that pushed the state legislature to include them, because they needed Seattle’s large “yes” margin to get rail passed in their counties. The suburbs are the majority of the population, the majority of ST board members, and the majority of legislators (plus the rest of the state which sides with them), so what they say goes. The original impetus for Sound Transit was to connect Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Redmond — the largest cities in the three counties. So that’s what Link tries to do. The problem isn’t the vision, it’s using light rail to do it.
I agree. Sound Transit really should be a much smaller agency, with intercity buses between various cities and suburbs. The county should have built the rail line(s), with only minor extensions into the other counties (if at all). The state should have ponied up for freeway improvements (it is what they’ve done well in the past). The result would be a much better transit system overall.
Everett Link will cost a bundle, have very few riders, and provide a very slow trip to Seattle. Same with the line to the Tacoma Dome. It is really a shame that someone got the idea that light rail was the right tool to connect these distant cities, given the geography.
Everett already has service provided by Sound Transit. The HOV direct ramps to I-5 and the Sound Transit Express bus service are funded through Sound Transit.
Additionally, the train to Lynnwood is back under construction this week.
The reason that Everett is in the Sound Transit area is because the region was defined over decades and decades of negotiations to define where we could allow more construction and where the suburbs should not grow as much.
Basically people don’t want a bunch of freeways and to grow Puget Sound cities the way Los Angeles did.
Does that make sense?
They’re building a line from Everett to Tacoma come hell or high water. The only reason it makes sense for them to built to Ballard and West Seattle is to break up that line into two segments. A Ballard/UW line doesn’t accomplish that goal so ST will not do it, even if it makes sense for the city.
Well, if I-976 is upheld, then the trains will need to float. /s
If the 2nd tunnel isn’t built, then all subareas will have savings (because the 2nd tunnel is coming out of all the subareas wallet).
“They’re building a line from Everett to Tacoma come hell or high water.”
I agree. The bed was made a long time ago and I just don’t see a political shift with a different mindset that’s willing to remake it actually happening.
If the West Seattle bridge has to be replaced there is already talk of incorporating light rail into the new bridge
Tlsgwm, barman, and Ross, I’m afraid this could be a matter of both personal history and DNA, with Chicago going dominant over Denver. To me, bigger region means more freedom, with wider choice of everything from residence to education to employment to dining out and coffee.
A home in either Ballard or Olympia, maybe move by the decade except never again at Evicto-Point. Tutoring job that took me from Lake Washington Tech to Highline College to Kirkland in one ST-Express related day…one of best work-periods of my life. Agency-or Government- Gone Bad? Don’t shrink it, fix it!
Almost worse than Supreme Court’s “Absentees Aren’t Americans” this morning? Some institute’s complaint next minute that our students are doing so baaad at Government and Public Administration. LIKE IT’S THEIR FAULT? Start teaching them in Kindergarten, dammit! Hope they all take their seats in the State Legislature and graduate the same day. At 16.
Yeah, for treason Benedict Arnold had nothing on our Interstate Highway System’s diversion from the defense of our continent to the destruction of our cities. But while I wish Dave Ross was still on the air doing the traffic a lot more, I’m not going to accept that those thousands of people going twenty in their cars every single work day should not be hitting 70 on rail. Just please don’t let China get the contract to convert it!
And let’s take a break from the rest of the media and lose this open-mouthed, wide-eyed (“moon-calf” really says it!) dread about what’s Inevitably going to happen when Demand collapses…pick it up, hire it, put a shovel or a CNC mouse in its hand and build ourselves some trains, buses, bike-paths and, where former kids demand, streetcars with it.
Josh, there are two threads from the past four days on that topic.
Ballard and West Seattle exist because North King had to have something too. The tax rate is the same across all subareas because it’s a single tax district, so setting the project size to reach Everett and Tacoma implies a large budget for North King, and it must be spent on something. Ballard-downtown and WS-downtown is what the politicians and the largest public feedback wanted. The idea of splitting the spine came in the middle of the process when ST declared it didn’t want runs longer than two hours. Without Ballard and WS, there would have been some kind of turnbacks near downtown.
Of course, Tacoma could go north to U-District and west to Ballard. Everett could go to SODO. There, I solved your long-trip problems with a Ballard-UW service as a bonus.
“Ballard-downtown and WS-downtown is what the politicians and the largest public feedback wanted”
People seem to forget this ST poll where Ballard to UW finished second behind the only one WS light rail option (and ST had a few Ballard to downtown options to take away votes from Ballard to UW).
To me, I don’t find either Tacoma Dome nor Everett Cascade/Sounder stations to have strongly compelling station areas with adjacent density. The rail transfers are nice — but is it enough to justify several extra miles of expensive light rail? This is a frustration I have with the “spine” argument — that we seem more obsessed about reaching cities rather than actual places.
They can run Everett to SoDo, Tacoma to Northgate and Redmond to Lynnwood. It’s doable with a single tunnel, but they have to buy some used ventilators from Andrew Cuomo for the Capitol Hill tunnel section.
There are many structural problems with ST3 that were always problematic. The slap of the virus period has simply made them quickly apparent. Even without the virus and 976, they were going to arise at some point.
The problem boils down to bad budgeting. It was a shopping list of items based on buying what certain leaders and voters wanted but not what is most nutritious (value-added) and not put in a recommended contingency of 30 percent to pay for all the things on the list. Everyone ordered candy without really knowing the price. Voters love candy!
I’ll be curious how our leaders will handle the ensuing financial crisis that has been created in year 4 of this 25- year program. Being judicious is much harder than giving away candy.
I think STB can begin to help by advocating for these things:
– Deferring big investments not already underway for at least a year
– Identifying good performance metrics to look at (once post-virus demand is better understood a year from now — or maybe two — and that should significantly affect ridership projections)
– Identifying alternatives to project descriptions that were too restrictive in the rush to build the ST3 ballot
– Larger contingencies when rebudgeting ambitious projects
The project specifics and merits can be carefully debated later. For now, we have a life-changing infliction on transit to worry about. Transit will survive but the body has been ravaged and will not fully recover for many years. We don’t yet know what permanent damage has been done.
+10 Well said Al S. I couldnt agree more.
I like your candy/nutrition analogy. I’ve been in the habit when discussing ST3 of referring to it as a child’s Xmas wish list, one in which the kid wakes up on Xmas morning and finds Santa has brought him everything he wanted. Unfortunately Santa only budgeted for getting 2/3 of the items on that list. But I think I like your candy analogy better; I might appropriate that in future conversations. (I’ll give you full credit of course.)
The contingency funds in the ST3 plan are much larger than ST2 and Sound Move.
These projects are the products of decades of negotiations like you correctly identify.
The projects are also within the framework of what’s allowed and what will be funded with matching grants from Washington DC.
The last recession, the 2008 Financial Crisis led to stimulus grants becoming available for the extension to Angle Lake and the funding for the 1st Ave Center City Connector Streetcar.
I think at some point Sound Transit will have to reassess the Sound Transit projects. There is buyer’s remorse in West Seattle and Ballard (from various factions) and most likely there will be financial issues. The financial issues would cause delays or significant changes, both of which would be very unpopular. At that point (if not sooner) I hope they will rethink some of the projects.
In some areas, the cutbacks are obvious, and reasonable. Everett Link could simply end at Ash Way — a good terminus. The south end line would end at South Federal Way, avoiding the very weak Fife station, and the weak Tacoma Dome station. Park and Ride lots could be cut back. Redmond Link would be completed, along with the various bus projects, but Issaquah to South Kirkland would not, or it would be delayed further. All of that sounds reasonable.
It gets trickier in Seattle. As mentioned the other day, it is quite possible that you could save a fair amount of money by running on the surface to West Seattle (using the pathway of the freeway, assuming the new bridge isn’t too steep). That is fine for The Junction, a little worse for Avalon, and clearly worse for Delridge. Given that “West Seattle Link” would not connect to downtown, it would be a while before anyone (even those in West Seattle) get anything out of ST3 (other than a couple infill stations). If they run short, and can’t build a bridge to Ballard, then folks in Ballard come out with practically nothing. They would have a slightly faster trip to downtown (on the bus) along with a two seat ride to Lower Queen Anne and a couple marginal “South Lake Union” stops.
At that point a transit tunnel will sound awfully good.
It might not come to that. There could be a “Green New Deal” with the new administration and it is likely that anyone with any sense would be calling for massive capital spending (although that wouldn’t stop some Republicans from suddenly being concerned about deficits at precisely the wrong time). It is also possible that the issues in West Seattle and Ballard can be finessed, and that rail will get built, even it if takes forever and even if it is obviously flawed. Time will tell, I guess.
You raise an important point, Ross: The 2020 election. With Federal funding critical to building out ST3, what happens in November will likely make a huge difference in our bi-polar national political environment.
Discussions about ST3 are good, but they are going to be somewhat academic until we see what happens in the next year, including the election results.
One other brewing factor is state elections and reapportionment. Our state growth in the last decade has been highly urban — so after 2021 reapportionment, the state will have more urban representation.
“Everett Link could simply end at Ash Way — a good terminus.”
I agree with that point, though I don’t think my SnoCo representatives will see it that way. I’ll also note here that Ash Way was the original northern terminus in the first version of ST2, the transit portion of the failed Roads and Transit ballot measure from 2007. I’ve always viewed the stripping out of the two northern stations from that 2007 proposal with the reformulated ST2 (ST2.1 if you will) was very shortsighted.
“(although that wouldn’t stop some Republicans from suddenly being concerned about deficits at precisely the wrong time)”
Not some. Probably most. It will be 2009 and ARRA all over again. Suddenly the Cons will have amnesia and forget all about the $3T+ in deficit spending from 2020.
I have no problem with the current deficit spending. I’m not saying they are spending it correctly, but now is the time to run deficits.
Three years ago — when the economy was as strong as it has ever been was a terrible time to increase the deficits. The only fundamental weakness in the economy at that point was income stratification, a problem made worse by the enormous tax cuts. It was absolutely nonsensical — voodoo economics all over again. We should have cut the deficit and addressed inequality (as well as global warming and other long term issues). That would have sent a message to the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low, which in turn would keep the economy moving forward (until the virus hit).
Appropriate, maybe, to start my morning being told on good authority, well, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, that according to our Founding Fathers, my every vote’s even being counted is a permanent matter of ever fewer and richer voters’ convenience.
Helpful because now that I’ve really got something worth getting long-term off-the-wall enraged about, I can stretch out and relax about the buses and trains I CAN do something about in the time I’ve got left alive.
It’s really starting to get to me how at a time when nobody including the Governor, who’s got to fear for his own life now, can predict to an hour, let alone a month, the very existence a single ride downtown on transit (IT, ST, Pierce or KCM), these pages contain nothing but sorrow-laden fury about the ordained impossibility of our doing anything but screw up.
Which for our system has in fact never been a flaw, but an intensely thought-out decision. The re-appearance of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel I really think is something of mine makes Judge Roberts bearable this morning.
Quibble maybe, but the grades and curves built into that 1.3 miles would’ve been a lot simpler and cheaper had they not been specifically designed to carry light rail of the caliber of our Kinki-Sharyo and Siemens cars as their final intent.
To be operated first with buses, and then joint-operations, and then trains only. Regarding which, I’m especially looking forward to some badly-needed discussion describing what happened when about two weeks into operations in September 1990, the system decided that a fortune in signalling equipment was money enough wasted, so operator training was forever off the books. None of which, that I can find, mandate that we’re not allowed to get that part right next time.
Also determined we’ll never again take as a given that we’re forced to settle for vehicles contractually non-responsive from roof-markers to tires. Fact that same provider also “nailed” Oslo and Gothenburg proves that “Low Bid” shares serious DNA with “CO-VID!”
Not ADA-contestable vision obstacle, though definitely age-related: colored lines and dots leave a subway plan incomprehensible. Section drawings! I want to see the ages-overdue Ballard-West-Seattle transit line go through rocks, dirt, and mud. Though seldom as possible surprise flowing water, like at Century Square those years ago. Section. Drawings. Please?
Not looking for flaws to be shined on or concealed. But as a matter of the morale so critical in every disaster, like the one we’re certainly facing this morning, works best to concentrate on what we can do right now with the conditions and resources we’ve got. And work from there.
Let’s not be overly pessimistic here. ST3 is overwhelmingly popular in Seattle–and that includes West Seattle. People are desperate for more transit options and when people start returning to work the problems plaguing Seattle’s transportation network will still be there.
I think it was fine to be overly ambitious in ST3. If the I-976 vote was an ST3 referendum, then voters showed that they still wanted ST3. While delays and rolling back ambitions give some fuel to the anti-transit folks, the reality is that between COVID and 976 the average voter is not going to be swayed by those complaints, similar to how the isolated complaints about ST1 delays tend to go in one ear and out the other. And lets be clear–since voters want ST3 it mean that any major changes should be completely off the table.
Everyone is going to have their own opinion about how to restructure ST3, similar to how we all have our own opinions about which alternative(s) we like. I know Seattle Subway will hate this, but as I have mentioned, grade separation in West Seattle is too costly, both financially and politically. So I will continue for at-grade along Fauntleroy which is a far better solution than a costly tunnel which is clearly where things were likely headed prior to recent events. The 2nd downtown tunnel can not be compromised though–that is essential to the future of transit in Seattle more than anything else in ST3.
“I will continue for at-grade along Fauntleroy”
That would be a return to Link’s roots, because ST originally envisioned a lot more surface track as previous American light rails had been.
The West Seattle Light rail devil is in the details. I’m sure you could get 20 people from West Seattle together and each one would have a different recommendation. The differences are also stark in cost as much as 50 or 100 percent!
One of the few general areas of emerging consensus is probably that a 2030 opening is not particularly advantageous if riders have to have transfer at SODO (on top of the transfer somewhere in West Seattle). It’s like putting out ice cream before the apple pie is done. I think many would appreciate taking extra time is to rethink how to build a consensus with an eye to having a final alignment in 2024/5 rather than 2021.
Personally, I could support a Fauntleroy-Oregon “mostly surface” alternative (Oregon Street between Fauntleroy and 42nd or California redesigned as a partial transit mall). I don’t get why advocates are so willing to wipe out hundreds of Youngstown homes but not consider wiping out many fewer homes or businesses by moving the alignment just a little bit northward and eliminating all sorts of costly details.
It also kind of amuses me when I read comments that a more southern alignment (Genesee) is somehow much better for TOD and transferring. Large portions of Delridge and Avalon Station walksheds are taken up by a public golf course and are proposed to be quite an elevation change from the street!
Joe, “at grade along Fauntleroy” means rebuilding the entire freeway! You are not going to get two lanes out of the middle without widening it and then of course everyone will want it repaved with that new “eternal” concrete.
So the truth is that you lose the opportunity for a Youngstown station and end up with a kind of cruddy one at 35th and Fauntleroy in the middle of a semi-freeway.
It’s way too Denver.
Not to mention that the section between West Marginal and Avalon would have to be widened as well. Is there room next to Nucor?
Although the circumstances are unfortunate, I’ve always felt that stopping and taking a pause once ST2 opens would be valuable. There is value living with a system on a daily basis for awhile to understand the nuances of running a good light rail system. We forget that ST3 was developed even before U-Link was opened! ST3 was developed without knowledge of the escalator/elevator debacles for example.
While we can move ahead with planning to have “shovel ready” next generation of projects, focusing on getting ST2 up and operating should be where the focus needs to be. Then, both leaders and the public will understand light rail’s good and bad points. We will be able to better answer these basic public hopes/fears:
– How should stations be laid out and how crowded will platforms be? Where should buses transfer and people-get dropped off and picked up, and better pedestrian and bicycle systems be provided?
– How crowded will ST2 trains be and how often should they run?
– Does light rail have to be in a subway to avoid feared noise and visual impacts?
– When station spacing gets to 2-3 miles, is light rail too slow?
– What regional destinations are we ignoring (like First Hill)?
I can’t say what the 2026 version of our regional light rail system will need, but I can imagine that the leaders and electorate will be more attuned to what it should be by then.
ST 1 and 2 were straightforward: we need it urgently, and it just needs to get finished. ST3 is more difficult and ambiguous, both in its current form, in how would we ideally change it, and in what kinds of changes could get sufficient support to pass the ST Board, politicians, and voters. I’m afraid that if there were a vote again it might be no. Many people are upset about their car tabs, the coronavirus is a big budget hole and it’s unclear how travel patters might change long-term, and the beneficiaries of Ballard and West Seattle are having mixed feelings. All these chip away at its former support, and they add up. I honestly don’t understand how Paine Field, Issaquah, and Tacoma Dome can poll so high, and I wonder if it’s an illusion made by the politicians to look like they have more support than they have. It would require investigative reporting in those subareas to ascertain their true public support; maybe Sam can investigate it.
The problem with pushing for a modification is we may end up with only the bad parts, or something worse than the status quo Is that worth trying to sensibly trim it or modify it? It may get scaled down or significatly deferred inevitably with the budget shortfalls and rising costs.
Al S raises a good point about letting people digest ST2 after it opens and seeing what actual trip patterns and needs emerge. It’s hard to reconcile that with the other timeline pressures: ST3 is already approved, it’s too late for a 2025 or 2026 ST3, the lead time for a ballot measure is 2-3 years, and people might say ST2 is enough after it opens and then there would be no more.
ST 1 and 2 were straightforward: we need it urgently, and it just needs to get finished.
Yes, that’s really the big issue. Most of what was in ST2 (what we are building now) is pretty straightforward, and what most transit consulting agencies, if given a clean slate, would have built (more or less).
But there is no way they would build what is going into ST3. There is no way that the next project for Seattle would be a light rail line to West Seattle. It isn’t clear if West Seattle light rail — given its fundamental challenges — should ever be built. Yet is by no means the worst project in the proposal. You also have Issaquah to South Kirkland, or the extensions to Everett and the Tacoma Dome.
The problem is, it gets tricky after the first part. You need leadership and you need expertise. You need an agency willing to hire people to recommend things, and then you need leaders willing to explain why that is the best value.
We don’t have that, so we proposed a monstrous project, with very little benefit. Even if we build everything in ST3, it will be very difficult to get around the city using transit. Oh, you can take a 90 minute journey from Fife park and ride to an Ash Way park and ride, but you can’t get from Fremont to Capitol Hill, Greenwood to the UW, the Central Area to Belltown or even South Lake Union to First Hill any quicker than you can now. Yet these are the types of trips that are extremely slow, and make up the bulk of transit in this, or any other city.
From a planning standpoint, things stopped being obvious, and once they did, we failed.
I suppose we should have a plan(s) ready anyway though, because if we don’t, somebody else might. Somebody might propose what Martin outlined: canceling some ST3 projects and putting the same amount of money into highway projects through WSDOT or other builders (e.g., SDOT). If they start campaigning for approval of this, we’d need a counter-plan to offer the public an alternative to it.
Of course, the people pushing for highways are some of the same people who are pushing for lower car tabs, so that may neutralize its effect.
“ In my opinion, skipping First Hill twice in three ballot measures is one of the greater instances of malpractice in the history of Sound Transit.“
Thanks for saying this! I might push back a bit since FHSC was in ST2. It wasn’t that First Hill was skipped; it was that the wrong solution was implemented. It’s a case study of a misunderstanding by those unfamiliar with the specifics of good rail planning.
I am inspired by the forthright addressing of the hospital-on-a-hill access undertaken by TriMet. We should be doing the same problem statement, analysis and alternatives development for Harborview now — even if we don’t get the second Downtown tunnel.
Sound transit should abandon ST3 and return fees and taxes to the state, businesses, and residents. We should proceed with what is under construction, but cease all future extensions until 2060.
So no Everett or Tacoma either? Or do you just want the folks in Seattle to pay for your transit in the ‘burbs?
Congestion pricing, here we come!
Concept that can really be of some help here right now: What does “Light Rail” mean?
My own working definition? “Light”‘s neither a matter of passenger load nor car weight. It’s about the necessary minimum degree of right-of-way reservation.
MAX through Downtown Portland, where in some cases it winds, counts as lightly-reserved. Though a few blocks away, the car’s on a stretch could theoretically handle 70.
Keystone of light rail like ours is that you keep the “light” part in your back pocket ’til you really need it, including temporarily.
“Streetcar” suggests possible running in mixed traffic, including automobiles, bicycles, and hikers. Bellevue to Totem Lake via South Kirkland Park and Ride incline and upper Downtown Kirkland?
Up to the Kirkland voter who’s now yelling at the South Lake Union car she’s watching go by on a trip Downtown, precisely because she can’t talk yet.
What we ought to be rethinking is whether we should have 4 lanes for cars on the new bridge. It should be 0. It should be transit and freight only.
You are living in a fantasy world if you think the new bridge will have no car lanes as that will not happen. For suggesting that the West Seattle community will rise up and make their feelings strongly known on that idea and that is a big fat no.
My thoughts on how ST3 could be re-thought in the context of a financial contraction:
North King: Could be a blessing in disguise. A delay of the WS spur would be good, to open closer to the 2nd tunnel. A need to truncate “Ballard Link” at LQA could allow for a rethink in how to get to Ballard, either by allowing for a junction to serve Aurora alongside Ballard/15th Ave, or a Wye in Ballard to facilite a future Ballard-UW. The 2nd tunnel between ID and SLU will not be impacted, though may be slightly delayed, as it is a regional asset and the core of ST3.
East King: No change. There is plenty of money in East King, and any changes to Kirkland-Issaquah is more likely to be due to changes in growth patterns or new technology, not financial constraints. Stride projects are already underway and will not be impacted.
Snohomish – No change to alignment, as the Snohomish seems to have real consensus around the Paine alignment as an economic development tool. Problems as Boeing will increase the perceived need for Link, not decrease. However, the project will likely be broken into multiple phases and delired over a longer timeframe. The way ST’s levies are structured, the taxes keep getting collected until the projects are delivered, so I don’t see Everett settling until Link makes it, after paying into ST for decades.
Pierce: Here is where there could be buyer’s remorse, but hard to see where to trim. If Link doesn’t make it to Tacoma, you need all that East Pierce money for Sounder capacity expansion, particularly as the ST2 garages certainly be built. Stopping Link before the county border is interesting from a subarea perspective, as it allows Pierce to wash its hands of all future Link O&M and SOGR spending, and therefore potentially paying a lower tax rate than the rest of the region. However, I don’t see the city of Tacoma settling for Link to be so close but not there. And if Tacoma is itching to pay for Link expansion, and Sumner & Puyallup need to pay for full Sounder trains, Pierce seems to be on the hook. I suppose Piece could try to settle for lower taxes or a small district, and Tacoma plugs the shortfall to get Link to Tacoma Dome by killing the streetcar Phase III extension.
But whatever happens, cancel the Tacoma Streetcar extension.
South King – not impacted? Federal Way Link will happen, and Sounder will need to happen as I illustrated above. Stride is already underway. Link south of Federal Way is more dependent on what Pierce does.
Lowering Pierce’s rate would require splitting the tax district. ST is all one tax district so it must charge a uniform rate. Splitting it into subarea districts might require splitting Sound Transit, splitting the board, or allowing only subarea boardmembers to vote on subarea tax issues.
For sure, would require a new vote. Just trying to follow Martin’s lead and anticipate the possible political outcomes.
I am disappointed, but not surprised, that this thread quickly devolved into the projection and wishcasting the post argued against.
Once again: your performance metrics are not the same as most voters or political leaders.
Yeah, skimming through the comments, a lot of it seems a rehash of discussions that people were also having 5, 10, or 15 years ago. As someone with a wonkish disposition, these discussions have been fun and educational and I think if many STB contributors and commenters were made a Transit Tsar with absolute power over transit taxing, spending, and project design in Seattle and the surrounding area, we’d likely end up with a better system that we’re getting in ST3.
Granting this, I think it would be worthwhile for folks to take a step back and dwell on why we ended up with ST3 as it is, despite all the wonky online debates. I’d love to think that if STB commenters just elaborated or clarified the arguments they’ve been making all these years, politicians, planners, and voters will see the light and clamor for Ballard-UW, WSTT, First Hill/etc, but it seems something more than more wonky analysis is needed if we want better transit projects.
Martin, can we look at the whole state of mind you’re complaining about as another symptom of the COVID-crisis? Whatever we evolved from- I used to own a monkey who would start crying and eating his tail when faced with this level of impenetrable uncertainty. Left alone- the animal can die of it.
Major caution is that when a certain level of misery is reached, these creatures, who aren’t very big, will singly or in a group let out a screech and attack the whole world in a blizzard of teeth and claws. The Vervets. Sweet, loving, adorable pets. And the one type of monkey that the world association that protects monkeys pleads with everybody to shoot.
Suggestion. Keep delivering the facts. And most especially- bus tunnel experience a good example- turn the discussion to practical, as opposed to theoretical, things we can do on the soon side. In every sense of the term, neither our voters nor our political figures are going anywhere. If we can actually help them GET anywhere- you get my drift.
We promised my five year old sister, for whom her experience with the monkey became her first step in becoming a world expert on elephant habitat. Anybody who asks you if you still want to buy the monkey you promised your kid so she’d come to Africa with you…
What do you think we should do then? Support ST3 wholeheartedly?
Doing this, Mike: Whole-heartedly, as I try to handle everything to do with my lifetime profession, whether they hire me or not, I’ll give the officials in charge of ST-3 the best advice, experience, and information my years have left with me.
Taking special care to be sure they know when I think they’re complete 360 degrees bat-shit wrong. My ongoing address to the matter of making a bad card-tap into a theft charge, perfect example. Ask poor Peter Rogoff. Certain rental tenant of mine, address 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, known for the habit of demanding…”But have I got your LOYALTY?”
That’s why I voted for Hilary Clinton. ST-3, take notice. Probably best summary, Lincoln’s friend Union General Carl Schurz. His flag salute. “OUR country! When right to be kept right, when wrong to be SET right!” Close enough? And by the way, Martin: Thanks just for being here.
Support it or don’t support it, but don’t oppose it because you think a reset will see everyone come around to your point of view.
That’s nothing short of an oversimplification of the situation at hand. It ignores those voters, supporters as well as opponents, who find themselves having “buyer’s remorse” today, or hereafter for that matter. (Yes, an opponent can have buyer’s remorse for not voting for a certain measure or candidate.) A program reset calls for each voter to do a new assessment of his/her own support or opposition based on what that program reset entails. I think it’s fair to do exactly what you seem to have some sort of loathing for, i.e., an advocate now opposing the ST3 plan as adopted and who now sees a program reset as an opportunity to fix the plan’s failings.
As a sincere point, the headline didn’t help.
To pile on with another hot take: “Let’s build the spine as a commuter rail line instead. If we can tie it in with YVR-PDX high speed rail, it might be cheaper.”
(I know it won’t happen, but I want to live in Alon Levy’s World of Takt https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/01/26/empire-state-high-and-low-speed-rail/)
Martin, as you know, the final SDOT ST3 proposal never went through any community feedback (unlike the various ST proposals of Ballard to downtown; or even Ballard to UW), just the Kubly idea, which if money is no object and it could be built faster than 2035 would be ok. Now we are facing a very deep recession and a possible I 976 decision looming, where the final stop of ST3 could open much later.
Do you stay the course?
Martin: nice First Hill comment.
The ST board, by two-thirds votes, did reset both Sound Move and ST2 due to fiscal and political constraints. ST2 was reset in fall 2010; two bus projects were deferred: a Renton ramp and Bothell parking. due to fiscal constraints, Lynnwood Link has been delayed. Several projects were changed in Sound Move: Link stations at NE 45th Street, First Hill, and South Graham Street were deleted or delayed; a two-way busway was not implemented on I-90; a center access ramp was not implemented at NE 85th Street on I-405; north Sounder was not two-way. the most critical choice was implementing Link south-first rather than north-first; that had huge implications for transit capacity and ridership. Sound Move was to have Link at NE 45th Street in about 10 years or 2006; instead, it will be reached in 2021, or 25 years. Link will be great.
But to Martin’s point, no projects have been adjusted or added. The Board has only deferred or defeated voter approved projects.
Transit ridership will be down for years. We need to really a certain what future ridership will be like before we can even conceive of an ST3. For all of 2020 and possibly all of 2021, Transit will be limiting the number of people in vehicles. For instance, Metro limits it to 18 passengers in a 60 foot bus. This will continue for more than a year. People are going to in turn avoid transit. Who wants to be passed by a bus that is partially full, to have to wait for one or two more. Metro will continue to cut service as funding declines. Right now Seattle is facing a 300 million budget shortfall, that will only get worse with time. We are looking at some difficult times between now and 2023, that will mean a smaller less frequent transit agency, with people switching over to cars, telecommuting, and flexible work schedules. We must adapt to the new future.
William, we’re, what, two months into the health crisis? How do you know we won’t be back up and running in six?
The state is going to lose of a lot of sales tax revenue. There will be cuts.
Where will those cars go, genius. I guess you’re thinking that the current emptiness on the streets will persist after the lockdown is ended? Get real; there is simply not enough room for you and all your wealthy friends to drive their twenty foot SUV around Seattle.
Deal with it.
Is it that hard to grasp that we are in fact in the midst of a still-unfolding natural disaster that mercifully is not an earthquake? Incidentally, Martin, you’re right about First Hill.
Tunnel option presented a few years back can connect a major hospital district to the whole rest of the region. Definitely be a major assist to whatever employment this area will need, both in transit and medicine.
Pearl Harbor got hit three years before I was born. But have never heard or read that Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech was greeted with wails of rage over future falling tax revenues and dried-up jobs.
We’ve been attacked and we’re under fire. Our enemy’s troops are savage bristly little popsicles. Where’s it written that War Bonds can’t also be used for transit?
Big flaw in the UW/Ballard line analysis: Not everybody is going from Ballard to downtown. Many are “just” going to the UW, whether they be students and/or staff. The 43/44 line has been packed for at least 40 years, most of those years long before Link from UW to downtown Seattle was opened. Still others from Ballard are commuting further north, such as to Boeing/Everett, which they can transfer to an ST #513 when Northgate Link opens. Still others are commuting from points north to Ballard. Put simply: a downtown Seattle commuter is not the only commuter nor the only type of rider who uses – or will use – Link.
The other area of re-thinking is in the Everett line. Sticking to the original I-5 alignment, which would require a re-vote, would save $1 billion and 5 years of construction time or, perhaps under today’s fiscal restraints, being on time. ST would look good from a PR standpoint if they were to put up such a proposition over Snohomish County Executive’s short-sighted, iron-fisted insistence of the needless dogleg to Boeing where he got all other Snohomish County politicians to fall in line for. Okay, that’s a very long shot of changing, but something that shouldn’t be is to split the opening of the line to Everett into two parts, the first between Lynnwood and Mariner (128th) that is about the same length as the extension to Northgate, the same number of new stations – 3, and involves no tunneling. The benefits of opening this segment earlier include connections to/from the Swift BRT bus line, which savvy Boeing employees can transfer to/from going north and residents along routes that go to Mariner can transfer to/from, and it pushes the armada of buses that would otherwise all converging on Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace to redirect some of that load to Ash Way and Mariner. At Ash Way, completing the long-overdue north direct access ramps that probably have their design gathering dust somewhere in an Indiana Jones-type warehouse somewhere would greatly help this idea.
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