This DSTT escalator broke when misaligned steps crashed into the comb segments (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is preparing a multi-year effort to replace aged escalators in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Poor conditions in the DSTT and escalator reliability problems at UW station have prompted an extensive evaluation of Sound Transit’s planning for vertical conveyances. The latest financial plan adds $555 million to State of Good Repair, anticipating more robust expenditures on maintaining and replacing this equipment through 2041.

We reported last month how Sound Transit would focus on improving the poor state of vertical conveyances in the DSTT as it takes ownership in 2021, somewhat delaying efforts to remediate the UW station escalators which have recently been performing better. The latest budget sets aside $96 million for DSTT capital improvements through 2025, much of that for escalators, but also upgrading lighting, ingress and egress improvements, and general safety and security issues in the tunnel. There is another $45 million for escalator modernization at UW station, and upgrades to emergency egress stairs at UW and Capitol Hill.

A condition assessment of DSTT conveyances in late 2019 detailed problems facing Sound Transit as it took ownership of the tunnel. Elevators were in generally fair condition, but were 32-34 years old creating issues with future serviceability and acquisition of materials. Several elevators were out of service due to vandalism and misuse.

With a single exception, escalators in the tunnel stations are of similar age, and well past their optimal life. Their condition was assessed as poor with a high level of wear, and most require major repairs. The consultants called out that “there is a lack of repairs that is required for the escalators to maintain a level reliability for a transit station with high pedestrian traffic”.

The conditions review recommended a long list of urgent corrective actions for both elevators and escalators, and a nearly full replacement of escalators in the stations. To minimize impact to an individual station, they recommended only one escalator be removed from service at a time, a schedule that could extend through 2027.

October was another bad month for DSTT escalator performance (image: Sound Transit)

The adverse customer experience at UW and the news of higher costs in the DSTT prompted Sound Transit to reassess long term plans for maintaining and replacing vertical conveyances throughout the system. By the time ST3 is fully built out, Sound Transit expects to own 575 elevators and escalators, with costs on the order of $60 million per year.

Sound Transit briefing to Board of higher costs (image: Sound Transit)

To stay ahead of problems throughout the expanded system, the latest financial plan adds $555 million to State of Good Repair estimates through 2041. SOGR expenses are those that keep capital assets in good working order, or replace the capital assets as they wear out.

Sound Transit is appropriately anxious to not repeat the experience of some other transit systems, where deferred maintenance has inconvenienced or endangered riders. Most notably, the conveyances at WMATA in Washington DC were neglected before a 2010 incident where riders were injured by an escalator that accelerated dangerously, and some stations had to be closed for several months for repairs.

The pit under this elevator at Westlake Station was filled with oil and other hazardous materials (image: Sound Transit)

79 Replies to “Elevators & escalators add $500 million to Sound Transit’s 20 year plan”


    There you go, Dan. Have we got our permission to send that pic World-Viral? For railroad-grade “Stairswrecks”, I can’t wait to see how we measure up against, like…….Yerevan?

    But dead-on-To-The-Point, it really is a tired old cliche about whose number we need to dial if we want anything done right. Was it the classic “Pogo” comic strip that said “We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Not only Ours, But US?”

    Good thing we’ve got so many choices to make relief be a local call. And given that our conveyances are so pathetic they personify “Special Needs”, we’re bound to qualify for a “break” on our tuition, much less than $500 million.

    Train ourselves, hire each other, and let my connection between ST 574 and Sea-Tac Link include luggage. Everything we need to get started, we’ve already long since got.

    Rules, laws, policies, and contracts all have this in common: What lawsuits won’t settle, elections will. Whatever we signed for that we shouldn’t have, we can take a leaf from our country’s spectacular Contract-Defaulter-In-Chief. Lifelong and counting, it’s “Worked for Him!”

    Considering recent reaction in these pages to the “Mezz-word”, I know I have to be careful but truth’s truth. Make one long enough to slope, and many times over, it’s at least one escalator less.

    Mark Dublin

  2. escalator broke when misaligned steps crashed into the comb

    What happens to people riding the escalator when this happens? Looks like a liability nightmare; especially if it happens on a down escalator.

    1. This particular break happened while the inspectors were on site and they didn’t mention any injuries in the report, but yeah, it wouldn’t be great if there were people on board.

    2. “Nightmare” depends on the individual dreamer, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t really steal the candy canes out of the stocking for the the rest of their junior legal partners. Boy, talk about The War on Christmas!

      Am I right that Joint Base Lewis-McChord is in ST’s taxing district? Because if it is, using soldiers’ assistance with a certain problem at Dupont for an example, isn’t at least the elevator across SR99 from Sea-Tac Station under the Defense Budget?

      Granted, it’s got to be a War to classify as Hell. But don’t these conveyances at least class as Upper Purgatory?

      Mark Dublin

  3. Wonder if some of that could be backcharged to the prior owners, as they they seem to have deferred the maintenance.

    I also wonder if the better plan for future work is to simply focus on stairs/ramps, and only provide elevators for people with mobility issues.

    1. pn, however much we fake non-membership, we still have a First World transit system. Which by definition is an ongoing mobility problem for everybody on premises and their dog.

      Where by the minute if not the second, to everybody even in sight of the station, somebody’s Time Lost is also somebody’s Money Lost. Especially now that there’s at least a chance that The Americans With Disabilities Act might possibly still be registering a flicker of a pulse.

      Taxes, fees and fares, what Transit takes its passengers’ money to ride, it had better know it obligates itself to render access to its trains safe and sweat-free.

      Because with all the ways my fellow passengers and I support ST, while Angle Lake might one day see me as a detainee, it had best not look at me and see a Charity Case.

      Mark Dublin

    2. “ I also wonder if the better plan for future work is to simply focus on stairs/ramps, and only provide elevators for people with mobility issues.”

      This is a terrible and possibly illegal concept. There is a large number of people who can still ride an escalator that can’t negotiate the long stairs. That includes people with luggage, bags and strollers — as well as people with arthritis (more prevalent in women and seniors) and other minor mobility challenges. Most platforms are 40-50 steps or the equivalent of walking up or down three floors inside a building. Not every Link rider is a fully-mobile male under 60. Just because you don’t need an escalator doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.

      1. Luggage, bags, and strollers aren’t supposed to be on an escalator. They’re part of the problem. Look at the yellow sign on the side of the escalator if you don’t believe me.

      2. I’ve heard the ADA is silent on escalators; what it requires is elevators. Escalators are for the non-disabled masses.

      3. I didn’t say the restriction was ADA based, just that the yellow warning sticker says they are prohibited. I do not know the specific regulation it cites. That said, there are large circular stickers on the mezzanine level of Sea Tacoma station that also say luggage needs to use the elevators.

        Specifying that escalators are only for those not disabled seems extraordinary, to put it mildly. Many disabled individuals use canes. Are they unacceptable to the “non-disabled masses”?

      4. I was referring to Al’s point that eliminating escalators might be illegal. As I understand it it’s legal, you just can’t eliminate elevators.


    Glenn, the station’s got a whole zoo on top of it, doesn’t it? Can I still see the meerkats, who are a South African mongoose, standing on their hind feet, and the whole group of them gracefully swivelling in unison as they watching jets land and take off at the nearby airports?

    And then head straight down their glass-sided sleeping quarters to take a nap? What a work-day. Wouldn’t mind “coming back” as one. Any tricks Tri-Met can teach us, or vice versa? How old is that station? For me, the memory of it is nothing but positive.

    For Tri-Met’s whole example, Seattle owes it thanks.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I don’t understand why manufacturers and contractors can’t be held responsible for this, unless Sound Transit (or Metro) completely neglected to maintain them responsibly. For what it’s worth though, broken escalators are a very common issue on other transit systems. We’re definitely not alone but it’s still frustrating as hell.

    1. To add to this:

      When an up escalator is broken can we please switch the direction of the down escalator to up instead? At the very least? Walking down a huge flight of stairs is a lot less work than having to walk up.

      1. There is only an up escalator available for each of the DSTT station exits from the platform. This advice only helps where there are both up and down escalators.

      2. Henry, those are between the mezzanine and the street — not between the mezzanine and the platform.

      3. The upper level escalators are for shoppers as much as for transit riders. Those are two-way escalators for the same reason departments stores have two-way escalators: customers expect them and will shop elsewhere if the store is too cheap to have down escalators.

        The ones to the platform are for mere transit riders, a captive audience and one using a public service, so there the lower capital cost weights more. Especially in the 80s when agencies were less confident taxpayers would tolerate more than the minimum. There’s also a belief that “one level up, two levels down” is the minimum threshold for escalators. That was applied to transit platforms but not to department stores or, by extension, the outer Westlake entrances that lead to department stores.

      4. Ok well even if I were a shopper I would still rather walk down/ride up. I don’t know what difference that makes.

      5. The difference is that department stores were originally high end, so they got escalators and elevators first to enhance the luxury experience. Then they spread from there to discount department stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. The higher-end department stores have lost most of their cachet but they still try to, keep up appearances, so they have two-way escalators and keep them running. (I’ve seen a broken escalator in a department store only once.) This extends to the outer entrancces of the tunnel, which if you’re a department store shopper is your first impression of the store. And if you’re coming from the platform, you’re just a transit rider, and there is an up escalator because it’s up, and you may not notice there’s no down escalator until you’re leaving the store.

      6. @Mike: All the connected department stores already have escalators on their property. I doubt anyone is using the Sound Transit-specific mezzanine to street escalators to do their shopping; if they were outside they’d just go into the store from the street, and if they were inside they could also just go into the store from the mezzanine.

        @Al: It’s not clear to me that the statistics for escalator downtime would exclude the ones from mezzanine to street, in which case we should eliminate them; the mezzanine at Westlake is really not that far of a distance from the street, and for people who really need escalators the aforementioned connected department stores also have them, and you’re not going to get stopped for going through the store.

      7. Mike, as Henry said, the stores have their own internal escalators. The station belongs to the rest of us. Also, we’re talking about more than just Westlake here – SeaTac/Airport station does not have a department store attached to it but they still frequently keep only the down escalators running. You’d think after arriving from a flight, presumably with luggage, an up escalator would be more important.

        All I’m saying is, if the up escalator is down flip the direction of the other escalator. It’s pretty logical to me.

      8. The mezanine allows you to cross multiple intersections without stoplights, such as from 6th & Pine to Macy’s. Originally there was also a fourth southeast entrance for Nordstrom,, which was closed when Nordstrom moved across the street into the Frederick & Nelson building. You can still see where the entrance was in the mezzanine. So it was possible to cross all four directions across multiple blocks into four department stores.

      9. How else do you explain the fact that the upper-level escalators are two-way and the platform escalators are one-way. It’s not because the platform stairs are shorter; they’re longer. The upper-level ones are some of the shortest escalators in the world.

        Maybe it’s not becaus of the department stores, but it’s not based on the count of who uses them for what now because that count wasn’t available when the decision was made. At that time there was no mexxanine, no Westlake Park, no Westake Mall, no cobblestones on Pine Street, no Pacific Place or its garage, no streetcar, and no high-end stores and apartments on 1st and 2nd Avenues. Instead there was a decaying downtown. The mezzanine was both for transit and to revitalize the retail core. So the department stores and Downtown Seattle Association and county might have perceived that upper-level two-way escalators would have improved people’s impression of hte whole retail-core shopping experience.

      10. Perhaps in light of the fact that Macy’s is now closed, we should re-evaluate having expensive maintenance concerns to support a failing business model, and convert short, unreliable escalators to stairs.

  6. I’m really surprised at how much escalators cost. I didn’t think they’d be more than $1 million each including installation, but from the cost listed for UW’s escalators, it looks more like $10 million. Wow.

    1. Escalators (like every other part of our transit system) cost much more to build in the US than in other countries. The usual excuses given (unions, old infrastructure, etc.) are not relevant, as places that should have comparable costs (e.g. Germany, South Korea or Sweden) are able to build these things much more cheaply. It’s an area of active research to figure out exactly why.

      1. It IS “unions”, or more properly, the union/contractor/consultant triumvirate which fleeces the taxpayers with gleeful abandon. Yes, I know this sounds like right wing radio talk, but in this case it is, unfortunately, largely true.

        “Solidarity” is a forgotten concept in unions which whose membership is primarily male.

      2. Right, because unions are weaker in Germany, South Korea and Sweden. Oh wait, it is the opposite. Try again.

      3. Not ALL unions, Ross. Unions filled with truck-nuts pickup driving, gun-rack toting, Trumpist, mafioso-organized construction union.

      4. Not ALL unions, Ross. Unions filled with truck-nuts pickup driving, gun-rack toting, Trumpist, mafioso-organized construction workers.

      5. Not ALL unions, Ross. Unions filled with truck-nuts pickup-driving, gun-rack toting, Trumpist, mafioso-organized construction workers.

      6. And if you don’t agree, come up some other explanation that doesn’t include unions, contractors, or consultants.

      7. “Unions filled with truck-nuts pickup driving, gun-rack toting, Trumpist, mafioso-organized construction union.”

        Are there such unions? That mindset is strongest in the south, among people who are anti-union. While there’s a lite version of that in the northwest (as my Boeing friend keeps telling me about), unions have held on due to tradition and Washington not being a right-to-work state, and other union members who see the value in unions. The ones my friend tells me about want to get rid of the union so they don’t have to pay union dues (which are as bad as taxes). He tells them the union is why they’re making more than minimum wage, but they’re not interested in that, they assume their living wages would continue even without unions.

      8. Mike, I am honestly not anti-union for all the reasons you say. But the construction unions demand feather-bedding levels of employment on public projects, and they’re not all flaggers. It of course happens on road projects too. It’s not just transit, but read the NY Times articles about the Second Avenue Subway. Knowledgeable people say there are three times the number of people working on it as are necessary. And it’s not getting built three times faster than schedule……

      9. In addition to unions, contractors, and consultants, there are all sorts of politicians and activists who are ready and eager to extract the surplus value from any infrastructure project. Requirements around the color of skin and gender of contractors would probably fall into that category and might drive up cost of ancillary components like vertical conveyance.

        “Even more recent attempts to create equity have failed. Slowing down the state and empowering community is always bad for equity, because the community is where inegalitarian traditions live. Black leaders now can derail transit plans just as white leaders can; non-leaders have no voice in neighborhood politics, and it’s those non-leaders who work outside the neighborhood who rely on public transit.

        Surplus extraction remains the domain of people with political and cultural cachet. One can fight redevelopment in San Francisco on behalf of a mural to Cesar Chavez …”

      10. It IS “unions”…”

        And if you don’t agree, come up some other explanation that doesn’t include unions, contractors, or consultants.

        You got a logic issue there. I never said it was none of the three, only that unions aren’t the problem. The problem is privatization:

        To quote the article:

        The available data strongly suggests that union power has no effect on construction costs, positive or negative.

      11. In addition to unions, contractors, and consultants, there are all sorts of politicians and activists who are ready and eager to extract the surplus value from any infrastructure project

        I certainly don’t disagree, AJ, except that the politicians, who are a pretty small subset of society, would not be able to get their own slice of the pie were it not that so many other knives are in it. That’s humanity, sadly.

        And, of course, here in America we have a population which is descended from the self-selected malcontents, “go-getters”, religious hysterics and assorted other extremists who said “eff you” to wherever they came from. I include Native Americans in that group too, and they walked here! African-Americans were largely dragged here in chains involuntarily, and it shows in their stronger community ties.

        So maybe I’m too harsh to single out unions, when everyone is grabbing, but they have truly made an [un]holy pact with the consultants and contractors to fleece the taxpayers for every cent they can get. “Solidarity”???? Fugeddabout it!

        The politicians — even the ones who are upstanding and truly offended by corruption — don’t stand a chance.

      12. Ross, so your article basically says “consultants and contractors” are at fault, but not “unions”. And implicitly, “cost-plus” agreements.

        I guess the guy hasn’t heard of New York City. And I will grant that Seattle’s unions are nowhere near as powerful as New York’s. For one thing, our Democrats aren’t machine politicians, so the unions aren’t as welcome at the table. But they are all kissy-face with the contractors and insist on working through them. If the City did its own engineering and general contracting, how many of the existing workers would work for it?

      13. I have yet to work on a single transit related project that was more expensive due to labor.

        I have had to work on MANY that were blown completely out of their budget due to consultants and private contractors each working as hard as they could to make things as expensive as possible.

        One of many, many examples:

        We were asked to provide an enclosure with contactors in it for the roof of a certain piece of electric transit equipment. However, because of the way these things are arranged, we were not allowed to actually ask questions of the transit agency involved. We had to do everything through consultants and contractors, at least some of whom had never worked on any sort of transit equipment before.

        “Look, we can do this for about $5,000 if we are allowed to use an off the shelf enclosure from Hoffman (they make a bunch of the traffic light relay box enclosures, etc) and contactors and fuses and fuse holders commonly available here in the USA. If we do what you are asking for, it is going to cost us about $40,000 because you are asking for a completely custom, one of a kind sheet metal enclosure with REALLY THICK WALLS that are quite unnecessary. Furthermore, the custom sheet metal is going to mean that the metal work isn’t going to seal to the outside weather quite as well as a mass produced enclosure because custom hand made work just can’t be made to seal as well as a product that is stamped out in a predictable form at several thousand at a time. You are asking for Shaultbau traction contactors which are not easy to get here [this was about 12 years ago] and expensive, but ABB traction contactors have established supply chain throughout North America. You want the lid seal to be proven waterproof submersible to 2 meters, but then you’ve got two huge holes in the bottom of the box so that if this thing does get submerged the water will immediately come rushing in like Noah’s flood.”

        The consultant had no interest at all in going to the transit agency to see what their engineering staff actually wanted. Nope. Had to be the $40,000 option with parts that are (or at least were) difficult and expensive to obtain in North America in a one of a kind custom sheet metal box that will cost several thousand dollars to replicate if it gets dented by something and needs to be replaced.

        This for just one small example component, and multiply it several thousand times over for a $2 billion project.

        One item that labor probably is behind that does make life difficult or expensive is the “flagged vessel” requirements. If you are working on a Federal Transit Administration funded project and you have to buy components from overseas, then you are required to seek out an American flagged vessel to transport the goods here, or an American flagged aircraft. The stuff all goes by parcel freight company, and other than the US Navy and domestic-only barge companies nobody has American flagged vessels doing international trade. How in hell are we supposed to be able to control what flag is on the vessel / aircraft that brings it here? If it’s a stocked item how are we supposed to document who brought it here as it’s been sitting on our shelf for several months? So far we have been able to bypass that clause by documenting that there is no practical way of documenting this, but it would be great if there were some amendment to it that dropped the required valuation to $5,000 or something so we didn’t have to deal with it at all, especially considering we’re talking about relatively small parts. It’s not like we are importing entire light rail car bodies or something.

  7. This is not a surprise. The DSTT is 30 years old. If anything, ST was negligent not to roll this into the ST3 package.

    Sadly, it doesn’t seem to add any new escalators or elevators. Because the platform is only served by up escalators, elevator use is higher because many people that could use a down escalator must call the elevator instead.

    1. It was in the ST3 package, but at a lower amount. The surprise was the magnitude of the SOGR needs of the tunnel

      1. “The surprise was the magnitude of the SOGR needs of the tunnel”

        It’s called due diligence and in this case ST has failed at its execution spectacularly.

      2. So prior to the public vote, ST should have gone to KCM, a fellow public agency and said, “hey, can you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a detailed study of an asset that we are assuming you are already competently maintaining, and will at worst require less than one percent out the levy’s budget, so that we aren’t surprised when we repeat the exact same analysis a few years later?” I mean, I don’t understand why all of ST’s projects aren’t already at 60% design so we aren’t shocked when certain projects come over budget. For a hundred billion dollar budget, these half billion surprises can be truly catastrophic and must be perfectly anticipated.

        Snark over. The budget increase came as a result of ST doing it’s due diligence on the tunnel prior to taking ownership. This is the equivalent doing a home inspection after you have a handshake agreement on the price and discovering mold in the basement, except here the house is owned by your grandma and she’s giving you the house for free. It’s rather unfortunate grandma couldn’t keep the basement dry, but it’s still a nice house. You’ll complain to your buddies about how the house fell apart the last few years when you were living in it with grandma and she didn’t seem to care about keeping the house tidy because she was moving out, but at the end of the day she’s your grandma and you are glad you will own the house soon.

        And in grandma’s defense, she’s on a tight [sales tax] budget and had other houses to keep up.

      3. AJ, ST2 was approved 12 years ago and ST3 four years ago. ST assumed in ST2 that they would take over the tunnel. So yes, ST should have known to look at this before ST3 was voted. In case you have forgotten, ST commissioned several studies costing several millions of dollars each prior to ST3 in 2013-2016 that should have looked at this

      4. RossB – no, my understanding is KCM has been running the tunnel and has had sole responsibility for operations and maintenance under very recently. One of the initial reasons all Link operations are KCM employees was to facilitate joint operations in the DSTT. Remember, ST pays KCM to run Link; ST designs & builds Link but doesn’t operate it directly.

  8. While it’s good to get the equipment replaced, ST should have also revisited the design of every DSTT station and possibly expanded the number of elevators, escalators and stairs to fit a post ST2 or ST3 typical day.

    Anytime a smart owner invests in expensive mechanical equipment that is expected to function for 30 years, they will always assess if it can handle future demand rather than existing demand. The DSTT was not designed to carry the forecasted ST3 system ridership, especially at transfer stations. To not add new sets of down escalators — particularly at ID and Westlake to facilitate high transfer volumes — seems stupidly negligent.

    1. Where would the new escalators goes?

      It seems to me there’s a big difference between replacing equipment and redesigning an entire system. It probably makes sense to wait until WSBLE is closer to final design and we know how the transfers will actually flow before making physical changes to the DSTT.

      1. I think it would be easy to build new switchback stairs off of the ID Station platform and convert the existing stairs to escalators. The platforms seem extra-wide and much of the southbound platform is just fenced off (no retaining wall).

        Westlake is more difficult, but even there the 5th Ave stairwells from both platforms could possibly be reconfigured to have two escalators as well as stairs. Westlake Park is next to the northbound platform so punching a new entry from/to the street appears possible without any private property acquisition.

        I would agree that the WSBLE should be the point where station layouts are best revisited. Of course, even the latest station diagrams presented by ST and discussed on the STB a few days ago were missing any presentation of the new subway station connections. We should already be getting a better idea of subway station layouts before the WSBLE rolled out the aerial station diagrams — but ST chose not to do this. It should have been discussed well before the EIS was initiated a year ago. Rather than say that it’s ok to defer the station expansion detail for two to four more years, we should be shaming ST for not already rolling detailed concepts out by now as part of the WSBLE work.

      2. Curiously, the ST station access maps at Westlake and the ID show new “stars” where they propose new subway station entrances. It’s not clear what these entrances will have but it does look like there will be new station entrances at those stations.

    2. It’s easy to say, “add more escalators”, but the platforms are so narrow in the DSTT that there is not room for three “conveyances” at each end, including the stairs as one “conveyance” of course. If they’d add center platforms everywhere now that the buses are gone, they could replace the stairs on the outside platforms with down escalators and have stairs only to and from the center platforms. The outer platforms would have up and down escalators and elevators while the center platforms would have stairs only plus the mandatory elevator.

      Having two stairs and one elevator per station would reduce the cost of the center platforms.

  9. I’m not that optimistic that the new ones will be robust. The Mt Baker station is a lot newer (11 yo?) and frequently the escalator and/or elevator are broken. Sometime both making it totally in accessible

  10. With the high costs of vertical conveyance, perhaps we should take advantage of our light rail technology and build more stations at-grade. ST did well to simplify some of the Lynnwood Link station designs to minimize the VC investment needed. We should aim to do the same and run Link at grade at the end of lines in Tacoma and West Seattle. (I don’t think Ballard at be at grade because of the elevation of the high bridge, but it can be at-grade when extended further north).

    I’ll point again to one of my favorite posts on transit:

    1. “ST did well to simplify some of the Lynnwood Link station designs to minimize the VC investment needed.”

      Yeah, maybe ST is finally starting to learn a few things. With that said, the changes incurred with the Lynnwood Link station designs only came about through the “value engineering” exercise the agency went through following that >$500 million budget-busting revelation.

    2. Ballard could be at-grade for much of the way. The original Corridor C did exactly that, and then went to a 70 foot movable bridge on 15th (the same bridge people approved with the ST3 vote).

      Given everything that has happened, it looks better than ever. Personally, I think Bruce Nourish had the right idea: Run surface most of the way but with some cut and cover. I would also be OK if it had a small tunnel through Lower Queen Anne (Belltown/Uptown/Ballard, not South Lake Union/Uptown Ballard). That would probably be a lot cheaper and serve the various neighborhoods better (the Ballard project is really struggling to serve South Lake Union).

      Elevated through Elliot/15th is just a poor value.

      Anyway, it would also make sense to have the Junction Station in West Seattle be on the surface. I don’t know if the Avalon station could be (and I know the Delridge one couldn’t). You would probably still want Avalon to be elevated so that you can get over Fauntleroy and then hug the northwest side of the street, curving around to Alaska. The train would end just short of 42nd (which is less than ideal) but any closer and it blocks 42nd (an arterial). Of course if the city was fine with closing the street, it could get closer.

      Folks are quick to point out the weakness of surface stations, but they ignore the advantages. It isn’t just cost. It is speed. For example, imagine if you use the Rainier Beach Station to get downtown. You lose a little bit of time because the train doesn’t go at 55 MPH, but you gain a lot of time because you walk a shorter distance to the station. Columbia City clearly comes out ahead for those trips.

      Which is why it is ideal if that last station (or stations) is on the surface. There are no through-riders, and everyone benefits.

      The only drawback with the surface stations in our system is that they limit headways. I don’t see that as issue for either line.

      1. Yeah the key is minimal travel beyond the surface running segment, which is why these terminal segments are the best value. Walker writes about this and Alon Levy covered it recently in a good piece on tram-trains.

        Rainier valley surface running is great for Rainier valley but a bummer for south King … but south King’s project came afterwards, and at that point it’s better to plug into an existing at-grade alignment and build an entirely new alignment, i.e. the Dwamish bypass that may make sense in the distant future but likely not for another generation.

        I’m really baffled there isn’t surface running through Interbay, even if it’s just for a short bit. I have enough faith in the process to expect that to emerge as a cost-reduction lever.

        For West Seattle, I think surface running is going to be tricky because Fauntleroy is busy enough that it needs to be grade separated, and then the train is likely going to make a turn. I actually don’t mind a short tunnel if it gets the station is the best spot, similar to how a ship canal tunnel unlocks the 20th Ave station location for Ballard, except West Seattle doesn’t have a cheaper & good enough alternative like 15th. Or I guess it does, and it’s called “Delridge” …

        If we knew we were going to get rid of the West Seattle bridge and all the induced demand it creates, we could probably surface run between the Avalon and Junction stations along Fauntleroy and Alaska. If ST was really looking to save cash, that could be an interesting option. Shoot, cut & cover under Fauntleroy and Alaska would be a cheaper option & place the station a very short stair climb from the surface.

      2. “Rainier valley surface running is great for Rainier valley but a bummer for south King … but south King’s project came afterwards, and at that point it’s better to plug into an existing at-grade alignment and build an entirely new alignment, i.e. the Dwamish bypass that may make sense in the distant future but likely not for another generation.”

        It’s a change in philosophy. When the initial segment was designed in the 1990s, most American light rails were 90+ percent surface like Portland, San Jose, and San Diego. So ST envisioned the same to keep capital costs low, because it was assumed people wouldn’t tolerate the taxes for elevated or tunnels. The DSTT was already there and reserved for Link, so there was no question about using it. The earliest initial segment would have gone around the northeast sides of Beacon Hill and gone surface to SeaTac, and presumably Federal Way after that. The earliest northern part would have gone along I-5/Eastlake, but then it was decided that it must have underground stations at UW, the Ave, and Broadway, like BART does in Berkeley and the Mission District. But Rainier Valley was flat, so there was no physical justification for elevated or tunnels as ST saw it.

        Then the Tukwila segment went through design, and the City of Tukwila objected to surface trains on 99 (which it had just beautified and didn’t want torn up again) and taking a corner of Southcenter’s property, so it was elevated, and the elevation went all the way back to Rainier Beach to cross all the highways without steep inclines.

        Then in ST2, Roosevelt lobbied to get its freeway station moved to Roosevelt Way underground. Then ST determined it was cheaper to remain underground till 95th rather than weaving around I-5’s supports. So that lead to the current alignment between Rainier Beach and Northgate.

        With the experience of Tukwila and Roosevelt and the public’s greater clamor for elevated and tunnel everywhere, all the segments after that were assumed to be grade separated or in a freeway right of way without level crossings.

        Then Bellevue asked for a tunnel in front of City Hall, and asked ST to economize elsewhere in East King to pay half of (and for North King to pay for Link to Judkins Park Station, which previously East King was going to pay for). This led to a reversion to service in parts of the Spring District and south Redmond. But that’s a small exception that isn’t replicated elsewhere.

        So Link was going to be mostly surface but that changed as neighborhoods went through design one by one. And travel time was never mentioned during these debates that I heard.

      3. Surface through Interbay between the rail yard and athletic field is clearly the best value, at least from about Armory Way to the bridge approach. A surface grade station directly under Dravus is equi-distant between the housing east of 15th NW and that on Magnolia along 20th and beyond.

        It would require removing the Tee-Ball field, but I’m sure that it will go with the elevated options also. Who would want to play on it with a 40 foot high trackway looming over third base? Otherwise there is enough room between the BNSF tracks and the golf course rough.

        Buses could stop on Dravus immediately overhead, in-direction, and stairs, zig-zag ramps, or escalators on both sides of the street down to each platform would not be very expensive. Grant, it would need four elevators to avoid making people cross the tracks.

        Since the BNSF main line goes under Dravus with double-stacks and auto-veyors, the Link cars should be able to fit with their pans squeezed down like in the tunnel just fine. Given that trains will be stopping or starting, the speed restriction imposed by pan lowering is immaterial.

        Armory Way offers a great pathway to 15th West where the trackway would follow the pathway proposed for the Prospect Street station options (diagonally across 15th West, through the Postal Annex property, and then down 14th West a block or so to the edge of the greenway).

        If one wanted to stay on the surface farther and if BNSF is willing to sell its three lightly-used storage tracks between the two-track main and the National Guard, the trackway could go elevated just north of the Magnolia Bridge in the long curve, curve more sharply to come parallel to across 15th West and curve into the hillside there in a retained cut. It would require a bit lower speed through such an “S” curve, but it would disrupt the neighborhood much less. And it’s not that far from a Prospect Street Station so the slowing is not so much of a penalty.

        Obviously the Helix Bridge would need to be extended across Elliott to the station.

      4. Was the original plan on which people voted to be “at-grade” on 15th West? The “Folio” of August 2016 only explicitly promises “grade-separated Light Rail” to West Seattle, so I suppose that ST could say “You were only voting for median running on 15th West” if it came to it. However, I seriously doubt that people really expected an alignment along 15th West to be at the same level as the traffic. Yes, that was as you say “Option C”, but that was way back in 2013. By vote time, in the conceptual diagrams, the thing was elevated.

        Yes, there are bus lanes along 15th West at some times of the day, but we know what that means when traffic gets congested: another driving lane!!! So median running — the only possible way to build it with all those entering and exiting streets — would at a minimum remove parking permanently from one side of the street or the other. It really can’t be widened in enough places to make it superfluous to widen it in any place, except under the Dravus Bridge a bit.

        Physically separating an at-grade trackway from the adjacent lanes would require a significant rebuild of the roadway and ruin the traffic flow to businesses along the street. Today the two-way left-turn lane provides a “left shoulder” if necessary. If a rail line occupied the median there would be a need for at least a minimal “shoulder” adjacent to the Jersey barrier; say at least two feet. That would mean that the rail line would consume about 16 feet of the existing roadway or the two-way turn lane and one other.

        At Dravus it is at least possible to have a narrow platform stretching south from the bridge covering the median with a fairly narrow walkway on the west side of the bridge pillars. But such a station would never meet ST’s standards. It would be way too much like the CTA Blue Line in the Kennedy Expressway.

        But let’s be real: ST is never going to go for surface running down the middle of 15th West and Elliott, and the City would object itself. The only at-grade right of way is along the BNSF tracks. ST uses it a little bit on the tunnel options, because for some reason they want the station more than a block north of Dravus. But I guess they like building monuments rather than transit stops.

      5. Change in ‘philosophy’ might be a bit too grand of a word. It’s a change in expectations, which in some ways is good (e.g. no mixed traffic running), but in this specific case is bad. What Bellevue did was correct – fully grade separate in the most important and most congested area (downtown Bellevue), and economize elsewhere. Seattle needs to do the same.

        Here is a great example, to pick at a minor comment by Tom : “it would need four elevators to avoid making people cross the tracks.” I’d argue people should be able to cross the Link tracks at the station, just like they do at SoDo, Stadium, Columbia City, etc. A station under Dravus should only need 2 elevators for redundancy, placed on opposite sides (SW/NE, or SE/NW) for coverage. Place a track crossing right by a the elevator doors, so those who need to use the elevator have the shortest distance to access the opposite side of the station, but don’t install 4 elevator shafts. (This is different than the DSTT, where you have 4 elevators to serve different blocks. Here, all 4 elevators empty onto Dravus).

        Along 15th, I think it’s OK to remove the BAT lanes for the short distance Link is running at grade. The D will cease to be an important means to travel between Ballard and downtown, and could be broken into 2 routes for reliability. The major Magnolia routes look like they will be truncated at Smith Cove. With those 2 changes, 15th in Interbay ceases to be an important bus corridor. Yes, the street would need to be rebuild, but the Dravus interchange needs to be rebuilt anyways.

        Option A: ST pays for at-grade Dravus station and rebuild Dravus bridge/interchange
        Option B: ST pay for an elevated Dravus station, and SDOT rebuilds Dravus at a later date.
        Option A might be more expensive for ST, but it’s clearly cheaper for the public in total. This seems to me much better synergy than the vague hand-waving towards multi-modal bridges over the Dwamish and the Ship Canal. SDOT could even pay for the new Dravus bridge, to make it more akin to ST and SDOT coordinating on two new Ship Canal bridges at 15th and 14th.

      6. 15th was the default option early in planning because it could run on the surface in the middle of the expressway, at least theoretically, so it looked like it would have the lowest construction cost. Elevated on 15th was second-lowest. And Expedia’s move gave a third reason for 15th.

      7. To more specifically answer Tom’s question, the early concepts didn’t specify surface/elevated/tunnel, they just said 15th. The reason for 15th was the six-lane expressway with underpasses where a train could theoretically go with low capital costs. It remained like that until the 2010s when ST started thinking about concrete alternatives for ST3. That 15th alternative was elevated, as ST clearly didn’t want to run it in the middle of the street or take the two center lanes. It was elevated in the ST3 ballot measure, and remains elevated.

      8. “What Bellevue did was correct – fully grade separate in the most important and most congested area (downtown Bellevue)”

        It’s hard to call it correct when there’s no underground station with an entrance right to the bus bays. Instead there’s a stationless tunnel right next to a hillside station, which is both across an intersection from the bus bays, down a hill, and has little eastern walkshed because it’s closer to 405.

    3. On one condition, AJ. That we do “At Grade” like Portland. Starting out with whatever undercuts and pedestrian flyovers are necessary for Link to render Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach Stations casualty-free.

      Which should save us enough in lost operating time due to accident investigations and legal settlements to pay for the whole conversion process. To be worthy of the title “Regional”, a wreck should mean a collision with at least another train.

      Though given its proximity to Woodland Park Zoo, an exemption should be granted if an antelope gets loose in the SR 99 section called “Aurora North’s In Love!”

      Considering what those things weigh, their agility could really pass for flight. Meerkats-In-The-Cab? Zoo-keepers, keep your keys locked to your belts!

      Mark Dublin

      1. Yeah I think the key is for major at-grade intersections to be adjacent to stations, as the train will be running slower at it enters/exits the station. Portland running Max through the downtown grid is slow but safe.

  11. “They don’t have enough competent people with the proper training,” said Michele O’Toole, the president of J. Martin Associates, which the transit agency hired in 2006 to evaluate its elevator operations. “It all reflects back to qualifications, training, capabilities.”

    What’s STB’s position on doing a “Book Review” on a single article? Because, notice how well the quoted-sentiment might also apply to Operations in general. Routes, vehicle modes, and choice of power sources. Vertical, horizontal, and sloped. Though Its very choice of a spokesman reveals itself part of the problem.

    With all due respect, Mr. Martin, have you personally either run an elevator or repaired one? Machinists and Smith Tower lift-operators reading this, can you also tell me the name of the dashboard switch or lever that “Evaluates” the cage or stairway back into action?

    Occasionally, History can assist instead of blame. Maybe it’s time we re-enlist as “Luddites”, who were not anti-progress as slanderously alleged, but militantly pro-skilled-trades. Reason so many of them ended up in Australia-easy for the “Bobbies” to plant a sheep on them.

    For our Conveyances? Without “Defunding” anything, let independent trades-people de-“Fang” class warfare by rendering each “lift” contracted family property. When in good order, your elevator earns your living driving. When broken, your possession to repair.

    Talk about Fortuitous! Given its tangential proximity to Link, Seattle’s whole map of trolley overhead, the Route 27 which is clearly still a cable-car in spirit and as MUNI proves can be electrified, and First Avenue’s inevitable Streetcar-Connection to Canada via the Victoria Clipper….

    For Prophecy, The Smith Tower was consecrated by Old King Ludd Himself!

    The main reason, incidentally why a lifelong College debt is now an absolute career requirement. As every Employer now responsibly Demands, it weeds out everybody who’s ever taken a single History course. There’s a reason those unholy “Arts” are all called “Liberal!”

    Mark Dublin

    1. Dave S., my guess is when somebody notices that evidently nobody else has assumed them either. But hey! What’s “Well, Well, Well, Well, Well in either Hebrew, Yiddish, or Russian? Too bad “EEDIOT!” is interlinguistic.

      Seems that “The business is weighed down by Dan’s socialist antecedents. The company has been offering incentives for members to retire early, but as of today some 400 of its 2,600 employees are ex-cooperative members and, as noted, their average age is 55.

      “Few of them want to drive buses anymore, so that three quarters of them are working at a heavily overstaffed headquarters. Meanwhile, like other public transportation operators, Dan is coping with a shortage of drivers. The new owners are expected to try and coax more of the old members into retiring early or going back to driving.”

      What’s Yiddish for Goooood Luck? Scripture says God was keeping Moses company by his death-bedup there on that mountain, watching His People cross the service-area boundary. But real truth is God’s still trying to make him drive his bus a few more years.

      Leaving Creation….One. Co-op. Short, so this is where STB comes in! Since the foreseeable future is rendered impregnable because nothing at all can happen, it would also be good to have at least 587 shop steward reading this:

      Because: “On the other hand, Dan (Bus Cooperative) has been aggressive about readying itself for the revolution in transportation. Its fleet of 20 electric buses is due to grow five-fold in the next few years and it has bought a 16% stake in the Israeli startup Electreon Wireless, which has developed a wireless energy-transfer technology for powering electric buses.”

      Well, if worst comes to worse, 587 and the Israeli’s can get together on a pro-labor Brother-Sister-Cities relationship with those Crimeans, who’ve got enough trans-mountain trolley-wire to do Mercer Island/Ellensburg in a snap.

      But meantime, let the record show that it is NOT anti-Semitic to oppose this course of action. Supporting it is another story. But wait! Look at this! Island Crust Cafe is not only a delicatessen, but has also brought Caffe d’Arte to Mercer Island.

      No rush, ST, but please don’t be too long getting back to us.

      Mark Dublin

  12. How many of the escalators in the DSTT could be converted to stairs? There really only needs to be escalators on one side of each platform. Or none at all if they keep the elevators working.

    1. The elevators are too small for crowds of people exiting and entering. And they’re very slow. There was a period in the 80s and 90s when new elevators were slower than earlier ones had been, I assume for ADA. Elevators in the 00s and 10s were faster again. So the elevators would only get good if ST replaces them with faster ones or turns up the speed.

    2. The point is that only a handful of people would use the elevators, while everyone else uses the stairs.

  13. Tom Terrific, in the days when union wages put a lot tighter crimp in Homelessness than all the right right-wing talk-show hosts combined could ever hope to match, there was always this constant:

    The closer any union got to an anti-labor boss, public or private, the worse the treatment its own members received from it. Including getting the crap beaten out of you for bad-mouthing right-wing “pols” like Wisconsin’s bullying drunk of a Republican senator named Joe McCarthy.

    Remedy? It’s a mean little COVIDGODESS that snarls nobody good. Let’s use this period’s complete lack of activity on any front to polish and sharpen ATU Local 587 and an other workforce interested.

    I forget, does Washington State even have the death penalty? So I guess that whether Bob Barr frames me on a murder charge or not like Utah did to Joe Hill, if my plan works we really will have Nothing To Lose But Our Chairs.

    Mark Dublin

  14. Boy, am I ever slipping. It took me all day to notice the most eloquent image the pack. Only question is how long it will take for that trash-filled shaft of a working elevator to show a jury everything it needs to see.

    But at this writing, also the strongest affirmation of the course of action that I advocate. Get into immediate contact with every conveyance control program in our whole community college system.

    To avail ourselves of a whole cohort of young trainees, who to pay for their tuition, will volunteer to begin, hands-on, a career of installing and maintaining transit elevators and escalators.

    As the first step in an expanding industry local to Sound Transit’s service area, which will design, manufacture, and help install these conveyances as our transit system expands.

    With the goal of restoring, locally and nationally, our country’s industrial reputation for the toughness and simplicity that characterized the jeeps, the DC-3 -style aircraft, and the PCC streetcars that the world used to buy from places like St. Louis.

    Buses variously powered, streetcars, LRV’s, elevators, escalators, mezzanines that’ll hold factories, schools, and houses. What the World needs, the world once more
    shall have. But now, what’s Made In USA will be once more made by US!

    Thanks everybody for this whole posting. Bodes well for all that follow.

    Mark Dublin

Comments are closed.