Although the overall realignment is punted until July 2021, several projects face decision points this year (image: Sound Transit)

The Sound Transit Board has given up on earlier plans to decide a capital program realignment this year, and will extend the process into the middle of next year. The new “path forward” is a comprehensive realignment plan and schedule for future project delivery by July 2021.

In the meantime, a more limited set of actions will be considered this year on projects that require urgent decisions. Projects already in construction will continue. The Board will continue to schedule design and environmental activities on other projects to maintain shovel-readiness. For baselining and construction decision points, the 2021 plan will proceed on a “placeholder assumption” that all future projects are delayed by about five years. Affected projects may encompass the Eastside BRT projects, some Sounder South improvements, the Link OMF South, Everett Link, and funding agreements for “early win” projects with local partners.

Sound Transit embarked on an effort to “realign” the capital program in April after the COVID pandemic and recession cratered revenue expectations. At the time, CEO Peter Rogoff pushed for prompt Board direction on resetting priorities: “Back in 2010, the board took some 18 months to arrive at what realignment decisions had to be made. We may not have the luxury of being able to wait 18 months to come to finality on these decisions given the sudden cliff that the economy may have jumped off.

At Thursday’s meeting, staff and board members highlighted the continued uncertainty around future revenue forecasts as a rationale for deferring the capital plan realignment. The length of the recession and the impact to long term revenue forecasts is indeed very difficult to forecast. However, the Board has been unable to make much progress since April. Even the choice of criteria for prioritizing projects turned into a difficult discussion. While the Board did adopt a set of eight criteria on Thursday as a “framework for conversation”, they may not offer much guidance. Eight criteria, taken together, can point in any direction one wishes. Every project will score high on some and low on others, and there’s no apparent guidance how they should be weighted.

The revised schedule for decisions runs through next year (image: Sound Transit)

The board also adopted a motion asking staff to explore other funding scenarios. These may include state and federal assistance, other new taxes, or voter approval of additional debt capacity. It’s unlikely any of these will play out in time to positively affect the outlook by mid-2021.

CEO Peter Rogoff pointed out one other advantage of delay. As all transit providers in the region are reducing service, they are increasingly coordinating to avoid leaving customers unserved. Reductions at Metro and other local agencies may end up being tailored to avoid impacts in areas where Sound Transit projects are delayed the most.

What are the consequences of delaying the realignment? Does it matter if the Board doesn’t yet have an affordable 25-year plan? Any plan developed this summer would be subject to change in the future. But a system plan also provides a framework for balanced project-level decisions. For the next year, project decisions will play out without an agreed vision for where the agency is going.

35 Replies to “Sound Transit realignment process will extend another year”

  1. Best to hunker down — no telling how bad things will get! Making decisions could lead to bad results . . ..

  2. The important thing is to have a list of small, specific “shovel ready” projects to take advantage of any federal stimulus money that may be up for offer.

    1. Bernie’s right. The planners should one station at a time plans in case Democrats get both Congress and the Presidency for four years a couple times during the next decade and turn on the spigot.

      They also should develop a plan to finish the Spine with no new downtown tunnel. It could be done with improvements to the air supply and power systems between Westlake and Northgate. Three lines, Everett-SeaTac, Lynnwood-Redmond, and Northgate-Tacoma would all operate within the two hour run limit. Everett-Northgate will not take any longer than Everett-Ballard; though it’s farther in miles, it’s one station shorter which shaves about a minute. Plus the stations are farther apart (of course), so the train spends a greater percentage of its time at speed.

      This obviously messes with South Lake Union, but Seattle can just put some bollards up to keep cars out of the bus lanes and ban turns on Westlake, Third and Denny.

      1. Air flow and power systems are not a limiting factor. The 2nd tunnel is needed to deal with the volume of people moving through downtown, not the number of trains. I don’t have a link, but the myth that ventilation is a limiting factor on train throughput as been debunked.

        Staff did identify the length of the line as a reason to break the spine into two segments; I’m not sure your proposed routing providing sufficient peak capacity between Lynnwood and Northgate. Some of this can be mitigated by converting Link to driver-less (apparently Tacoma to Everett straight through would be longer than most shifts), but does nothing to improve resiliency. Two tunnels ensure that if something happens somewhere in the system, 1) the impact to system frequency should be limited to ~1/3 of the system), and 2) downtown capacity will be protected because ST can shift trains to the unaffected tunnel. Given the size of the full system, there will always be an issue somewhere, whether it’s a mechanical issue, a sick passenger or worker, an accident, etc.

        Finally, the two stations in SLU are perhaps the most important stations for Seattle in the entire ST3 package. The second tunnel between ID and Westlake is super important for the regional system, but a minimal mobility improvement for Seattle itself. Stations in Ballard, Interbay, and West Seattle are nice, but will have a fraction of the ridership as the stations in SLU and Denny Triangle, let alone LQA. Getting to Ballard is important, but not as important as serving the urban core as it has expanded northward significantly since the 1990s.

      2. Except the Spine (beyond Federal Way and Lynnwood) is a terrible value, that will save very few people a significant amount of time. Why should we build that first, instead of say, Ballard Link, which will carry way more people? Then there are the BRT projects, which are clearly a better value (both in ridership per dollar spent, and time saved per dollar spent). Why should someone in Kenmore have to wait for a relatively cheap project, while someone in Everett gets a marginally faster trip to Seattle (after spending a lot more)?

        The high value projects should go first, and completing the spine is a low value project.

    2. I see the second Downtown tunnel being partly justified for three key reasons:

      1. To address overcrowding in the first one during peak commute times. This one could get revisited if peak demand surges ease because of behavior changes like work-at-home. It’s always seemed a potentially dubious reason as the PM peak Northbound segment from Westlake to Capitol Hill has had more riders forecasted than Than both PM peak northbound segments south of Westlake, and a per train demand appears higher between SODO and Beacon Hill. An honest and well-presented assessment of forecasted overcrowding is needed and this has been true even before COVID.

      2. To connect existing and future tracks. The addition of East Link tracks over the winter was a major ordeal. That operational challenge was mostly due to not having switching tracks through the current tunnel. Had crossing tracks been installed near or inside University Street Station, a single-track operation could have worked. This is potentially a huge problem any time there is a service disruption already, and three lines raises the operational logjam risk exponentially more. On top of that, building branch tracks for SLU in a subway would be difficult. I’ve never seen a rollout of how difficult or operationally problematic switching track or branch track tie-ins would be in the DSTT. There could be different operational designs that could work but we just don’t know. Keep in mind that the ST3 SLU-15th alignment was not part of a study but was drawn up in a private meeting.

      3. To connect SLU-Ballard in a subway. This connection is probably most important because SLU will deserve high-capacity rail service. However, it doesn’t have to be a subway — like the monorail aerial could be replaced with a light rail aerial for example. It could be an automated short line that doesn’t connect to Link. The vertical “choice” of subway and the rail vehicle technology choice were intentional/ fixed and never debated.

      ST has a chance to pause here and do a reality check (both cost and demand) for the next year. The question to me is if the pause will be accompanied by sincere technical work or if it’s going to be a typical backroom pause that ultimately results in incremental phases and project delays (aka later phases as ST4) as opposed to analyzing more cost-effective operational systemic choices.

      1. 1. The most likely spot for crowding will be between Westlake and Capitol Hill in the evening (especially on Friday nights). Think of a train heading north, through downtown. At every stop there are lots of people getting on, and very few people getting off. Lots of people are just going home, but some are headed out, to Capitol Hill and the UW. The first station where there are more people getting off than on is Capitol Hill. The second line will do nothing to relieve the crowding — in fact it might increase it. If you work in Lower Queen Anne or South Lake Union, right now you can take the 8. But if you are within a block or two of a station, you can catch a train southbound, transfer at Westlake, while the 8 is stuck in traffic.

        To be clear, I would not branch at Westlake (and send half the trains to Ballard). Sharing the tunnel with a bus from Ballard would be a bad idea, because it would cut down on the frequency from the UW to downtown (likely the most crowded section). You either build a stub (from Westlake to Ballard), build a bus tunnel, or build the whole thing. A stub would be similar to what San Fransisco is dealing with, for much the same reason (forcing transfers to maintain frequency in the core). In our case, the core is UW to south downtown. (Which is why a branch at the UW would be no big deal).

      2. Oops. Correction, instead of:

        Sharing the tunnel with a bus from Ballard would be a bad idea, because it would cut down on the frequency from the UW to downtown (likely the most crowded section).

        It should read:

        Sharing the tunnel with a train from Ballard would be a bad idea, because it would cut down on the frequency from the UW to downtown (likely the most crowded section).

  3. “Does it matter if the Board doesn’t yet have an affordable 25-year plan? ”

    Of course not! If there’s one thing we learned from Sound Move it’s that there are no deadlines by which projects need to be completed, no construction cost budget limits, and no tax imposition limits. The “25-year” figure always was a placeholder, subject to later revisions by the board.

  4. But most important thing of all is that with the online communications available, including everything from YouTube to Seattle Transit Blog, we can all be getting some serious research and planning done toward what WE want to accomplish when at least we get a vaccine.

    Mark Dublin

  5. What Everett link? As far as I know there is no plan for a link destination within Everett city limits. They want our money but never intended to give us the level of service many others have plus we’ve waited so long the improvements on another link will be done by then too.

    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vISDb1jR3e4

      Since Everett is the Snohomish County Seat, it’s as entitled as Seattle to prime service on regional rail.

      From my own travels, I think the trains that’ll serve it might need to look more like these purple streamliners in Southern Sweden. In Swedish, “PO-gatogue” for “Little Boy Train.” For distance between Everett and Olympia via Seattle and Tacoma, its bathrooms might be a very good idea.

      But if you think you’re being cheated out of the transportation you deserve, the keyboard you just wrote your comment with is right there at the ready for the COVID-proof political campaign you’re going to need. You’re already in the driver’s compartment, with your hand on the train’s own “controller.”

      Press that button on the lever known as the “Dead-man Switch” because if you let go the train will automatic stop to grieve for you, and move the handle “Forward.” I promise I won’t tell Jay Inslee ’til it’s too late. Will meet you when you roll in at Lacey.

      Mark Dublin

    2. The following map shows terminus at Everett Station, which is within Everett city limits.

      https://st32.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/News/June_2016/ST3_map_news.png

      It was obtained from the following Sound Transit page:

      http://soundtransit3.org/news/board-unanimously-approves-st3-project-list-with-faster-timelines

      This page is officially no longer updated, and I can’t (easily) link to the official interactive map here:

      https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion

      But if you look carefully at the interactive map, you will see that the Everett city terminus coincides with the Sounder terminus, which is indeed Everett station.

    3. The timeline says planning 2020-2026, design 2026-2030;. Construction can’t start until Lynnwood Link’s bills stop coming in in the mid 2020s and ST pays down enough of its debt to pay Everett’s construction bills. The first part of the EIS will be an Alternatives Analysis, like what we’ve been going through the past year for Ballard and West Seattle. I’m not sure where in “planning” or “design” that occurs, but I’d expect to start hearing about it sometime between 2021 and 2026.

    4. As far as I know there is no plan for a link destination within Everett city limits.

      The plan is to add three stations within Everett. A fourth station would straddle Everett, although that station is provisional. https://st32.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/InteractiveMap/Templates/July1/Summary/ST3_Lynnwood_Everett_LRT_1.PDF

      None of the stations will perform very well. Extending Link that far is a huge mistake. It would be much better for Everett to put their money into decent bus service (something they lack, and will likely lack for a very long time). Unfortunately, the desire for something similar as Seattle (that you’ve expressed so well in your comment) is part of the reason for this ridiculous project. It’s like looking at your rich neighbor, with their tennis court, and demanding the same thing, only to realize that you don’t actually like tennis, but could really use a basketball hoop.

      1. Ross, your representation of Everett residents who would like to have regional rail service as spiteful jealous beggars is so insulting it almost classes as Ad Hominem.

        And most definitely applies directly to me. I did not move to Olympia by choice. Nor have I the slightest intention of having anybody’s private guards, including you, chase me off the property of the regional transit system I put in so much unpaid overtime to set in motion over my years in Ballard.

        My present address has this much in common with the previous three, one in Edmonds and two in Ballard: Since 1980 I have been a civically active, tax-paying resident of the Greater Puget Sound Region of the State of Washington. As have many thousands of my present neighbors who’ve been similarly dispossessed by market forces aimed to hang us from hooks like pig parts and sheep.

        For me, the whole point of my effort is to give me and all my fellow residents
        precisely the ability both to change residential addresses, workplaces, and schools with no prejudice whatsoever to my right to adjust my personal location when and wherever I feel like doing. Your gated community, don’t mistake revulsion for envy. Just mind you don’t tempt me too hard to lock you in.

        And ridicule? Since it’s History-long and world-wide predictor of endless value and monumental success, hearty thanks for the send-off.

        https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/horatios-drive/

        When Horatio Nelson Jackson declared he could drive coast to coast, table full of rich San Franciscans had a good laugh at a clown and a sucker as he laid down his money. Everybody knew cars were only for cities.

        Only car part that didn’t have to be replaced via railroad was the chain drive not yet supplanted by a differential. If fell off in his garage in Connecticut. But he got there early.

        Mark Dublin

      2. It’s not to be “similar to Seattle” in the abstract. it’s to have a dedicated right of way that’s immune to traffic jams and reliable, and because transit agencies are more likely to guarantee the off-peak frequency of trains than buses. And so they can have a one-seat ride once they park their car at the P&R. But the primary issue is traffic, because if you commute five days a week you get caught in a fraffic jam at least once a week, and some of them last 90 minutes.

      3. @Mike — That is another way of saying “we have the same problems as Seattle, so we need the same solutions”. No, no you don’t. Everett has traffic issues. So does Spokane, and dozens of other cities across the country. None of them decided that building a subway line is the only way to solve the problem, because they all know it is a ridiculously expensive way to solve *just one* of the mobility problems they have. Do you honestly think that Everett’s biggest public transportation problem is traffic? Seriously?

        Look at the density maps and look at the bus maps. Very few areas have anything resembling decent bus service — the type of service we take for granted in Seattle. Fifteen minute frequency is the new standard in Seattle, and many neighborhoods — average neighborhoods — have service in the ten minute range. The vast majority of people who live in Everett don’t have anything close to that. A handful of people — a small minority of Everett’s residents — live close to a corridor with frequent service. Everyone else is happy to have a bus that runs every half hour.

        Furthermore, this won’t do a damn thing to address the biggest traffic issues. The worst traffic is on Everett suburbs like Marysville and Lake Stevens — areas that have no HOV lanes. Getting to Everett from the south is easy. Thus this only addresses one corridor, and only one direction — by no means the worst. If you are in downtown Everett, then this *may* save time over taking the bus to Lynnwood, but there are never “90 minute traffic jams” from Everett to Lynnwood. Most of the time, a rider from central Everett would be better off catching a bus that just keeps going to Lynnwood (like the 201/202). The number of people who will actually save time with Everett Link is very small and the time savings will be very small.

        Nor will this result in a huge cascade of bus changes that save the agency money. Again, this isn’t like Metro. When Metro gets to Northgate, the savings from not sending buses over the ship canal bridge will be huge (many of those savings have already been realized). The result will be a much better network. By no means is this the cheapest way to achieve such a network, but one of the big secondary benefits. But that won’t happen in Everett. At most the agencies will cancel a handful of express buses from Everett to Lynnwood, forcing riders to get off their bus much sooner than they want, and forcing many to deal with a longer trip to Lynnwood (or Seattle).

        This is a plan that would not exist if Seattle didn’t build a subway. If Seattle, for example, had doubled down on bus tunnels, then there would be no Everett light rail. Similar cities (like Yakima and Bellingham) don’t have light rail. Cities bigger than Everett — like Spokane — don’t have light rail. Even Fresno — a city over half a million people — doesn’t have light rail. It would be laughable for Everett to build light rail if not for Seattle building it.

        The only reason that Everett has light rail is because Seattle has it, and this is a case of misguided mimicking. Everett is too far away to be considered a suburb and too small to generate enough demand within the city itself. It is the wrong tool for the job. The right tool has wheels that go round and round, all through the town. The only way that Everett will have a decent transit system is if they have enough buses; Everett Link is a largely meaningless (although expensive) sideshow.

      4. “there are never “90 minute traffic jams” from Everett to Lynnwood”

        I meant 90 minutes from Everett to downtown.

      5. Yeah, I know, but that is my point. The worst traffic jams will be eliminated with ST2. For riders from Everett, ST3 adds very little, and often will be slower.

      6. “The only reason that Everett has [Ed: will have] light rail is because Seattle has it, and this is a case of misguided mimicking.”

        I think it goes beyond that; the spine legacy is the main obstacle to a wholesale shift in thinking about the actual appropriateness of light rail at the two tail ends of the spine corridor.

        To paraphrase Julius Caesar, alea iacta est. And quite some time ago*. I have a hard time imagining this particular agency, given its history since its roots were established in the early 90s, changing course and putting a reexamination of the central concept back on the table.

        Everett Herald piece from 2015:
        https://www.heraldnet.com/news/everett-officials-want-sound-transit-to-make-good-on-light-rail-promise/

        *Motion No. 1, Dec 1994 (direct link to pdf file):

        https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.soundtransit.org/st_sharepoint/download/sites/PRDA/FinalRecords/1994/Motion%2520M1994-1.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiciq7Do6rqAhXEHzQIHT7NC9gQFjAAegQIARAC&usg=AOvVaw2RqGBwQeJGC93i2P0pQRek

        *Minutes from Dec 1994 board meeting’s discussion of Motion No. 1:

        https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.soundtransit.org/st_sharepoint/download/sites/PRDA/FinalRecords/941202min.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiY7dT8qarqAhWNJTQIHQfEBbgQFjAAegQIBBAC&usg=AOvVaw3rjByxdJr992CAnyt9Byic

      7. I’m surprised that they wanted to go to Everett before Bellevue/Redmond. But Microsoft was small then and there wasn’t a large reverse commute on top of the traditional commute. They probably assumed they weren’t ready to commit to crossing the lake yet, so it had to be either north or south, and north won out because it’s mostly denser along the way (at least south of Ash Way P&R).

    5. What? There will be three stops in Everett when the northernmost extension of the Spine is complete and one directly adjacent at Mariner Park and Ride. The stops within Everett will be SW Everett Industrial Center, SR526/Evergreen and Everett Station. So far as “waiting”, what point would there be to building the part in Everett, even as far as Mariner, before it can be connected to the line farther south? Hardly anyone takes the bus to downtown Everett as it is now. Maybe there will be a decent activity node around Everett Station once Link reaches there, and it wouldn’t be very expensive to extend it on west a half mile to another station within the current urban core.

      1. Sorry. I started this reply and then went on a walk to the store. I didn’t refresh the page because I didn’t want to lose it. However, it was certainly overkill. Several other people already told you this. Apologies for rubbing it in.

  6. “A south Thurston County location is one of many being considered for a second, Sea-Tac-size airport.

    The state Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission gathered in April and took a straw poll of its members.

    Among the 25 members of the commission, 14 showed support for developing existing airports further to accommodate short-term needs while also building a large, new airport as the preferred strategy for addressing the long-term need for increased aviation capacity.”

    As of right this minute it’s already in our paper “The Olympian.” So If a new “ST 574 South Special” can be laid out to stop only at the State Capitol and the Tacoma Dome on its way to Link at Sea-Tac, we might have a few years more to add the purple trains. Capitol stop definitely merits Special Needs funding for Essential legislators.

    And since for the foreseeable future all political control is in COVIDIAN hands…..WHAT’S ANYBODY GOING TO DO TO STOP US? Just sayin’.

    Mark Dublin

  7. The Executive Committee deadlocked over this issue a week and a half ago, and now the full board is punting too. But the decisions won’t be any easier next year. The source of it is diminishing common benefits post ST2, the structure of the board representing geographical areas, and the failure of ST throughout its history to articulate a regional vision independent of of what the parochial interest wanted. Some agencies start by looking at what’s most needed and will be most well-used and build that (synthesis), but ST is more like aggregation: taking what each stakeholder wants and sticking them together, like taking leftovers out of a refrigerator and mixing them together to make a casserole, or random pieces of fabric and making a quilt.

    ST did get the broad strokes right: circulation between Lynnwood, Redmond, downtown, UW, and mid South King County — that area benefits everyone including the periphery outside them. But that was mostly accomplished in ST2, and after that the common benefits diminish. People from outside Snohomish County go to Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Mountlake Terrace more often than they go to Everett. A of of people from outside the Eastside go to Bellevue and Redmond, but few people go to Issaquah unless they live there. Some have argued that suburbanites should care about Ballard and West Seattle because they go there more than the reverse, but many suburbanites either don’t go there or don’t realize how much they do. I’ve often emphasized that South Snohomish County has a close relationship with North Seattle, but they’re coming from the north. They would probably go to U-District Station and take something west to Ballard rather than going downtown and backtracking on Ballard Link.

    So the benefits are centrifugal (outward) rather than centripetal (inward), individual rather than shared or common. Everett, Lynnwood, and Seattle residents all benefit from downtown-Lynnwood Link and its intermediate stations. But the Lynnwood-Everett segment benefits mainly those who live in Everett or north Lynnwood. This sets the stage for the impasse ST is experiencing.

    The dilemma is this: boardmembers and stakeholders are competing with each other for diminishing resources. If one of their projects gets deprioritized, they don’t see much benefit to them in the remaining ST3 projects, so they fight to keep their project’s priority. Everettites will benefit from taking a frequent feeder to Lynnwood and transferring to Link, but that will be accomplished in ST2. They don’t get a comparable benefit from Tacoma, Issaquah, Ballard, or Graham Station, and maybe they’d say they get no benefit from them. So north Snohomish digs in on Everett, the eastern Eastside digs in on Issaquah, Rainier Valley digs in on Graham, etc. Nobody wants to let their project to be the sacifice; nobody wants to go first. They’re also afraid that if they lose their position, they won’t be able to get it back if things get better. This seems to be what happened in the Executive Committee meeting and now the board meeting. And these factors won’t be any easier next year.

    How necessary is it to define an austerity plan now? That depends a lot on what kind of plan it is. A single definite plan may be superceded by future events, and each boardmember would be hounded if they make a sacrifice that turns out to be unnecessary or puts their area at a disadvantage in future negotiations. (“You said it wasn’t that urgent or you could go without it for longer. It’s too late to change your mind.”) But a flexible plan that reprioritizes projects and gives thresholds for deferring/undeferring each one, that could be very useful over the next twenty years. It would set some automatic thresholds, and when they’re reached they would just happen, rather than causing another board crisis just like this one with everybody arguing to prioritize their projects over others.

    1. YES! This is it, exactly. Well written, Mike.

      This is also a good explanation for why ST3 was so weak overall. It is a regional package, with emphasis on the far flung parts of the region, yet it does so little for them. It is the exact opposite of what you would expect out of a transit expansion — diminishing returns. As you’ve pointed out, this is in great contrast with ST2.

      With ST3, the improvement is minimal. For example, I have a friend who lives in Issaquah, up in the Highlands. This is by no means an obscure place (it is where a good portion of the city lives). Bus service there isn’t that bad, except I can’t stay late, and even in the evening I would struggle with infrequent (half hour) service.

      With ST2, my world changes. The shuttle from the Issaquah Highlands to Mercer Island will likely run a lot more often, and much later. It wouldn’t surprise me if they just run that same bus every time a train runs (and timed to it). It is still a three-seat ride (bus, train, bus) but I spend a lot more time on the train, with a minimal amount of waiting.

      I don’t really get anything out of ST3. I can ride into central Bellevue (East Main), transfer to a train, then ride that train to downtown Issaquah. Then I take a different shuttle bus up to the highlands. So that means a four seat ride that is significantly longer. The main line (Northgate to East Link) will likely be fairly frequent, even into the evening (10-12 minutes is my guess). The other train may be less frequent (every 20 minutes) and unlike the shuttle buses, aren’t likely to be timed to the train. Thus I would be looking at another ten minutes or so of waiting or riding. No thanks.

      The same is true for getting to Everett and Tacoma. When Link gets to Federal Way and Lynnwood, this dramatically improves service to the places of the city people are likely to go (while ST3 adds very little). Kirkland, meanwhile, will be completely dependent on Metro for trips to Seattle (or Redmond), before and after ST3.

      This is actually a good way to measure the value of various projects: do they benefit people outside of those areas. I figure there are two ways of considering that: First, is it a significant destination. Second, is it substantially easier to get to. Graham Street fails the first test, but passes the second (for just about everyone). In my opinion, downtown Issaquah fails the second (for anyone coming from Seattle) even if it passes the first. South Kirkland fails both.

      That shouldn’t be the only consideration. Cost has to factor into it. In my opinion, even when you consider those characteristics, the best value projects are the smallest ones, and maybe Ballard Link. Getting to Bothell or Kenmore — from any direction — will be substantially easier if both BRT projects are built. Renton is more of a mixed bag, but the 405-BRT line makes it easier to access from anywhere on the East Side, all the way up to Lynnwood and down to the South Sound. Park and Ride lots are on the other extreme — they clearly benefit no one outside the area.

      West Seattle is similar to Issaquah — a minor destination with no significant improvement until you actually build the tunnel, which won’t happen until all of Ballard Link is built. Almost all of the riders will be better off taking a bus until then.

      Ballard Link has South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne and Ballard. These are by far the biggest regional destinations in ST3. As mentioned, getting to Ballard from the north isn’t any better, and if they put the station at 14th, not much better for anyone. South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne are the two biggest additions, and the benefit is pretty much region wide. But the monorail serves the Seattle Center, even if it involves an awkward transfer. South Lake Union isn’t that far from Westlake, or Capitol Hill, especially once buses cross Aurora between Denny and Mercer. For the distances involved, a little paint and the difference between a train and a bus is minimal.

      To be clear, it would still be a benefit to have that line. I stick with what I wrote earlier — the best approach is to prioritize building the BRT projects, along with the infill stations and a downtown bus tunnel. Eventually you can complete the spine, replace the downtown bus tunnel with Ballard and West Seattle Link and build all the park and ride lots you want.

      Selling this idea, however, remains extremely difficult. Riders from outside Seattle really would benefit from a bus tunnel, but not that much (because of the monorail and the relative short distance to South Lake Union). Very few outside the region are trying to get to Graham Street, or Boeing Access Road. No in Seattle trying to get to Renton would take the BRT.

      Still, these are by far the best values, and the ones that are the cheapest. These are the ones that should be build first, while other projects are delayed.

      1. ” It is the exact opposite of what you would expect out of a transit expansion — diminishing returns. ” What? Point me to a city where they waited to build the highest value projects last? ST2 will certainly be more impactful than ST3, that’s why those projects made the cut in ST2.

        ST2 does do a great job connecting Snohomish, Pierce, and East King to Seattle. Therefore, ST3 focuses more on improving mobility & economic development within each subareas. Since you don’t think anywhere outside of Seattle deserves major transit investment, you won’t view any of their projects as good projects.

      2. OK, I can think of several – the new downtown tunnels in LA and Dallas. But those are projects that should have been done first, were done cheaply, and now the region is coming back and doing it better. Choosing to build a bus tunnel so we can come back and convert it rail later would make the same mistake (though not as bad as surface running rail).

    2. I think you’re right about ST3 in that the destinations are not particularly regional in nature. Ironically, the major regional destinations like Harborview and Downtown Tacoma (and maybe Downtown Everett) are almost served — but the stations are sited just shy of serving them via an easy walk.

      I do think that some ST3 projects could still be viable if modified by single-tracking and self-propelled battery trains. However, that requires rethinking station layouts.

      I’d also make a case for expanding Stride. The service could replace some Link projects, especially if next-generation guided buses that feel like trains are introduced.

      Finally, the system still is not operations-proofed. It’s as if everything is planned to look great on opening day — but the inevitable service disruptions and potential for overcrowded trains that Seattle residents can’t even squeeze onto or inadequate escalator, stair and elevator capacities are very real threats for our future daily transit lives.

      1. So ST3 is filled with low value projects, but also we need to worry that it will be so popular the trains will be too crowded?

      2. Yes, because ST did several things to limit capacity and is underestimating the ridership potential in the inner city. Even ST staff have been concerned about Northgate to downtown reaching capacity by 2040, although there’s been no consensus on it.

        The trains have useless interior cabs and closed gangways — this reduces capacity by some 12 people per end compared to Portland, or around 20% total. ST said the ability to switch cars in and out for maintenance is more worthwhile to them than additional capacity no interior cabs would allow. 2×2 seating reduces capacity compared to sidewall seating. DSTT1 is limited to 3-minute headways because ST chose not to do capital improvements that would bring it down to 1.5 minutes. MLK is limited to 6-minute headways to avoid blocking the level crossings excessively and impacting the capacity-signal timings. Lowering it into a trench or building it underground or overhead from the beginning would have eliminated that. It would also allow trains to run at 55 mph instead of 35 mph, improving travel time and making South Link more competitive with express buses. And it would eliminate the collisions and loss of life when people and cars stray onto the tracks and interrupt service for an hour or more. Inner-city urban villages generate more people willing to use transit most of their trips than urban villages in outer areas, and upzones beyond the estimates can increase it even more. Some people believe ST is underestimating the ridership potential in the U-District, Northgate, and 130th Station.

  8. Mike, at this date and time of writing, nobody’s got a clue who’s going to have what, and live where for how long, anyplace between Cascade/Sierra/Andes Ridgeline to Pacific Beach, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

    My own change of location, whatever hardship it’s imposed, it’s never been lonesome, and company’s increasing exponentially by the day. Just a hunch, but think History’s verdict is that the larger, more flexibly, and cooperatively you plan, the bigger your chances of success.

    Mark Dublin

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