Part 1 of a series

Paris, the City of Lights…and Transit and Urban Form! (Credit: Alissa Smith, Hope College)

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about whether transit will thrive post-pandemic have been floating around. In our long term view, the human tendency to gather and the need for urban mobility has not gone away. While the pandemic has paused life for a while, and Zoom has made working from afar possible, none of that has changed human nature, or radically affected the tools we need to combat climate change.

Our species still requires connection. If history is any indicator, post-pandemic we will still have social events, shop in urban villages, and cluster where other people are. We will do these things because we are hardwired to value them. Not only does human nature point to this need for cities, climate science demands we double down on them. Don’t just take my word for it—let’s dive into a city doing it right.

The (thankfully) ex-First Lady likes to say “Be Best.” On transportation, we just say “Be Paris.”

In the 170 years since Haussmann built much of the city we see today, through multiple pandemics, depression and world wars—and with advances from the telegraph to telephone to television and the internet—has Paris ever stopped being Paris? Did Parisiens stop using the Subway? Paris as a city has flourished after every disruption, and continues to epitomize the sort of place most other cities wish they were. Around the world, have people stopped agglomerating together? Have humans given up on having community? No, we have doubled down on all of the above.

Like Paris, every C40 city (including Seattle) now says they want to be a 15-minute city. But we will be unable to do that holding neither Paris’ elegant approach to density nor Paris’ transportation network. Building Paris in Seattle is impossible if everyone is driving a car around, electric or not. Not only that, increased car volumes decrease community connections and quality of life. That’s why continued investments in an audacious and ubiquitous high quality transportation network are essential.

Graphic: Seattle Subway (left) & Twitter User: @PushTheNeedle (right)

Disclaimer: When it comes to improvement in the realms of rapid transit and human scale density, Paris is a great example of what the Seattle region should aspire to. Although Paris has myriad problems, including many race- and class-based social justice issues, but the physical form of the city and its rapid transit system would be a significant improvement over what exists in the Seattle region. Paris is a failure by our standards of equity and inclusion, yet this city of 2.1 million still has only ⅓ the homeless population of the City of Seattle, even though Paris is three times its population). In the case of equitable housing, a place like Vienna is the model. Vienna is proof that a city with great mobility can also have an effective, equitable housing policy.

Finally, as people post-pandemic are not going to stay in their home 24/7, they are going to travel. How they travel matters. We live in a city where 62% of our carbon emissions come from road transportation—the largest single contributor to pollution and climate change. Meanwhile, transportation pollution in general isn’t going down.

The solution is—quite simply—cities. Households in dense areas of our cities tend to have carbon footprints about 50 percent below average. And only cities have the tools to improve on that stellar stat by increasing use of already growing electrified transportation options, plus biking and walking by way of becoming a legitimate 15-minute city.

To be like Paris (with respect to transit and housing) requires continued audacity to build out the arteries that connect such a corpus metropolitae. Many here agree, but argue the Pandemic changes everything. But did the last pandemic, that killed 50 million globally and 400,000-600,000 in America, ‘change everything?’ Transit ridership was highest in WWII, and the networks our City has envisaged over the past 110 years have changed hardly at all. In fact, it is the transit network that defines how the city grows, not the other way around. The destinations we are building to now are the same destinations CREATED by the streetcar and cable car networks of our city that existed from 1884-1939.

All these are reasons that we should not only continue to build smart transit expansion…we should double down on it. That’s why Seattle Subway will continue to push for ST3 to be built to standard with universal grade separation and continued commitment to every station and every line outlined in the voter-approved program. We have a decade to find the money to build some of these lines, and are currently in a more hospitable political climate to do so. But if we cut something now, we might never get it back. In this vein, this is also why we have been working for nearly a year on HB 1304 to provide the resources and local input necessary to help our march for more sustainable and equitable transit progress to continue.

Build. Connect. House equitably. Rejoice!

100 Replies to “The case for transit: 2021 edition”

  1. Good post but that map of Paris is stupidly small and does not include the urbanized environs. Greater density is needed and car infrastructure needs to be removed regardless but you should be accurate about the reality of a great global city.

    1. That map of the Paris Metro system within the city limits shows service to 2.1 million people in 41 square miles. It’s “stupidly” to scale, perhaps, but not stupidly small. The urbanized area is something like 8 or 9 million people.

      1. Exactly. A lot of people in Seattle don’t seem to realize that most subways (or metros, or whatever you want to call them) don’t venture that far out of the city. They cover the city thoroughly, with lots of different lines, but they don’t go out for miles and miles to distant cities. Draw a circle with a radius of about 6 miles and you have all of the Paris Metro. All 140 miles, 304 stations and 16 lines.

        The Paris Metro is particularly compact, and is complemented by the RER. But if you look at systems around the world they generally follow this pattern. Thoroughly cover the urban core, and run a few (relatively cheap) lines out to the suburbs. We seem to be doing it backwards. We are building the equivalent of a very long RER line (going further outside the city than the RER A or B) while at the same time neglecting to actually build a city Metro. I can’t help but wonder if general ignorance of transit systems — the lack of overlays like the one shown — is part of the problem. By the way, it works especially well in reverse. Take our proposed plan, and overlay it on a (much bigger) city, and you can see how ridiculous it seems e. g. https://www.flickr.com/photos/67869267@N07/8431399012/).

      2. There are many cities that have the model of a very-frequent urban network, overlayed by commuter rail that spans out into the suburbs. Boston and San Francisco are two immediate examples that come to my mind. The problem is, once you need to go outside the bubble served by the frequent metro, the frequencies on the commuter rail tend to really stink. For instance, in San Francisco, the CalTrain runs once per hour. Many of the Boston commuter rail lines run worse than that, as I have experienced firsthand.

        We take it for granted here, but the geographic range of areas you can get to with even 30-minute bus service is much better in the greater Seattle area than you can find in most of the U.S.

      3. PATH runs every 5-10 minutes and is busy even at midnight. Caltrain has plans to be frequent someday. In London some less-frequent commuter rail networks seem to have been taken over by the more-frequent tube, like the northern three stations on the Victoria line., and maybe the western ends of the Northern line, and Heathrow service. I have always preferred to live on a subway line instead of a commuter rail line because of this frequency difference. But commuter rail service can be frequent and sometimes is.

    2. I don’t think it’s supposed to. The post is comparing the city of Paris with the city of Seattle, not the entire regions. I lived in Paris for several years and I can tell you that besides maybe La Défense, no one who lives in Paris is leaving city limits on any regular basis.

      Paris is still an odd comparison for many reasons. It’s the political, economic, and cultural Capitol of a major country. Doesn’t hurt to aspire for the best though, as Melanie says. You can walk 10 minutes in any direction and find a metro stop, you even can often see the next station from the platform you’re standing on.

      1. “no one who lives in Paris is leaving city limits on any regular basis” because Paris residents are generally wealthy and all the amenities are within Paris. Europe is far ahead of the US in suburbanizing poverty.

    3. I mean, greater Seattle extends from Lakewood to Smokey Point and Bremerton to North Bend.

      I think this map comparison is appropriate.

    4. It also puts the Paris system “middle” in the middle of Lake Union rather than the middle of Downtown. The overlay map contains an obvious North Seattle bias.

      1. Lake Union is the geographical center of the city. And it doesn’t matter where it’s drawn because it’s only comparing the size of the network to Seattle, not suggesting that we should replicate the lines at those exact locations. We certainly wouldn’t have a line across most of Mercer island to the southeastern quarter.

    5. It’s misleading to look at the Paris Metro in isolation because from a passenger’s perspective the RER is also there. It would be like looking at MUNI and thinking there’s no service in the Mission district, when actually BART is there. A Metro+RER map would be more extensive and extend further, and that’s what Seattle needs. The Metro is also designed with extremely close stop spacing so it’s impractical to extend it; instead the RER serves that purpose for what in other cities would be longer metro lines.

      And very important, the banlieus, which are suburbs where the poor people live, are on the metro. So they have access to very frequent trains to the rest of the city. That’s what South King County doesn’t have, except in a narrow area around 99.

      1. Even if you included the RER, it would be impressive how much coverage there is close to the center of town, as opposed to what we are building. There is a tendency when you look at a big map to focus on the outliers — the lines that stretch out to the hinterlands. But if you look at all of the stations, it is pretty clear that almost all of them are close to town. The same is true of the lines.

        For example, here is a map that includes the RER and the stations (although I’m not sure if it includes every rail system in the region): http://vasyenmetro.com/?lang=en. If you zoom out, you can see that the lines extend pretty far. In the northeast corner you can see de Gaulle Airport, about 15 miles away from the center of town. To the east, the terminus (Marne-la-Vallée Chessy) is even farther (about 20 miles). But that’s about it. These long arms that extend out contain only a handful of stations. Now zoom in, so that the little circles (that represent a station) don’t overlap each other. Even on a big screen, the network fills the screen. Lines everywhere, stations everywhere. They are all remarkably close to the center of town. Saint Denis, for example, which sits outside the main cluster, is only six miles from the middle of the city.

        Draw whatever size circles you want — 3, 5, 10, 15 mile radius, and it is clear that almost all of them are close to the center of town. Paris has the shortest stop spacing, but there aren’t alone in this regard. If you look at the London Underground, or Overground, it is the same way. Even New York, which has a lopsided system (because of the city borders) has service that is dominated by routes close to the central core. They have good commuter rail, but even though it is the most popular commuter rail system in North America, it doesn’t get anywhere near the ridership of the subway. Nor are they looking at spending a fortune extending it outward. Instead they are busy trying to build things right in the core (Second Avenue Subway or the 7 extension). The only projects that are even close to what we are building (to Everett and Tacoma) are things like the Triboro RX (which would connect several boroughs) and the Rockaway Line. These still aren’t anywhere near as far away as Everett or Tacoma, and these leverage the existing (old) railway, making it much cheaper. Keep in mind, these are gigantic cities. The Rockaway Line would cost around a billion dollars, and get around a quarter million passengers.

        What we are doing is fairly common in the U. S. (Denver, Dallas, BART) but not common outside it. If you took someone from New York, Paris or London and told them what we are doing, they wouldn’t bat an eye over running the trains on the surface. But they would be shocked that we are running the trains up to Everett, and down to Tacoma. They would ask why — is our city spread out, like a giant snake? No, its not; in fact while we are much smaller than your city, most of our density is within in the urban core, and that has only increased in the last decade. It is a baffling system — one that even Sound Transit, by their own estimation, admits is lopsided: https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/01/30/link-riders-2040/.

      2. While I also don’t think Paris’ Metro system is a very good comparison to our region, I understand the larger point the OP is trying to make in this op-ed. Aspirations are fine of course, but the agency that has been charged with building our HCT system clearly doesn’t understand transit. To anyone that has been paying attention for the last 25+ years, this point really shouldn’t be debatable. With that said, I recognize that ST has to contend with two fatal flaws that have dictated the course of their endeavors, those being, one, the ridiculous spine concept, and, two, the subarea equity policy. As a result, our region, and Seattle in particular, most likely will never have an HCT system that emulates a successful system like Paris has. Of course Paris got a big head start:

        https://youtu.be/wzFQaW-R6gQ

        Notice how far out those RER lines go. If I’m not mistaken, we are building our light rail system with even farther distances. I’ve been to Paris a half dozen times as an adult and love its Metro. It’s just so friggin’ easy to use and gets one to just about everywhere. (I still remember my first trip there as a teenager with a school group and going thru the fare gates with my little paper ticket and it popping out the other side. As a NYC kid who grew up using tokens I just thought that was the coolest thing. Lol.) In all of those trips, I’ve only used the RER to get out to Versailles and to and from CDG Airport, so I’m not as familiar with them as I am with the core subway. While I’m sure that they serve their purpose today, one cannot ignore where they fit into the Parisian HCT system’s timeline.

  2. It’s is an open question whether light rail systems like Seattle’s — ones whose “main justifications [were] rush hour congestion and pricey downtown parking” — are justified.

    https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/24/coronavirus-effect-mass-transit-461658

    That story goes on to highlight the reasons why light rail now may not be suited to new business realities impacting Seattle more than other mid-sized US cities:
    “Companies everywhere are reducing their office footprints amid the pandemic, with more people expected to work from home for at least part of the week for the foreseeable future. “

    1. What makes you think Seattle’s transit system — or any system, for that matter — was justified mainly because of rush hour congestion and pricey downtown parking?

      I think you miss the main point of this article. The Paris Metro was not build so that riders could commute to their downtown office. It was built so that people could get around. That is true of just about every major transit project. Exceptions include commuter rail, which generally are built on the cheap (leveraging existing railway) and commuter express buses (which are also generally cheap). These never carry huge numbers of people, unlike urban systems. There is no city in the U. S. (if anywhere) where trips of this nature exceed the popularity of urban trips, even if they commuter rail is outstanding and the urban system is extremely slow (like the Bay Area). No one with any sense spends huge amounts of money on a transit system mainly to deal with rush hour congestion and pricey downtown parking.

      The post-pandemic world changes nothing. Projects that were a terrible idea before remain a terrible idea. Projects that made sense before still make sense. ST2 is largely the former, while ST3 is largely the latter.

    2. There are a lot of fallacies in that article.

      “Transit ridership had been falling for years before the pandemic shut down much of the U.S. economy”

      It went the opposite direction in Seattle and Pugetopolis. It fell in most of the country because cities shrank their transit service, didn’t expand it to keep up with rising population and job growth, or they had accumulated such a large maintenance backlog that trains kept breaking down or catching fire. When trains become unreliable, people stop riding them as much. When a bus stops serving a neighborhood or loses frequency or ends earlier, people can’t ride it for certain trips. Jarrett Walker has said that ridership rises and falls in close correlation with expansions and contractions in the transit network. Also, the US has a lot of latent demand: ridership that would appear if the transit to serve it existed, and that other countries would have.

      “The ongoing shock to the system could wipe out the main justifications for transit’s existence — rush hour congestion and pricey downtown parking”

      Transit has a lot of other justifications too. Do you think people ride the Paris Metro only during rush hours? Most trips are not work-related, and transit is trying to get a greater mode share there, as it has in Paris. There are also chain trips, like stopping at the store on the way home from work. Then there are lower-income people who can’t afford a car, and people who can’t drive, and people who prefer not to drive, and visitors, and people whose car is in the shop, and people who carpooled one direction but need to take transit the other direction.

      “home sales in suburbs and small towns have risen to 85 percent of total sales, up from 80 percent before the outbreak”

      5% difference does not translate to cities emptying.

      “The workforce may be a lot different from what it was before the pandemic”

      75% of jobs are incompatible with telecommuting. Tech workers think most people work in tech, but they don’t.

      Finally in the last quarter of the article it makes some reasonable observations:

      * “Philadelphia recently contracted with a major urban planning firm for a comprehensive redesign of its bus network”. Well, good, more cities should do that.

      * “Transit will also continue to shift away from an exclusive focus on work trips.” So you’ll need transit for that, not just shut down or reduce the network.

      * “transit agencies have repeatedly found that bells and whistles don’t attract and retain riders as much as frequent, reliable service.” That’s what I said at the beginning. Why didn’t the article?

  3. Yeah, it would be nice to be like Paris, but I would be happy to be like Vancouver BC.

    I do appreciate the overlay of the Paris Metro on Seattle, though. It shows very clearly why our priorities are messed up. You can do that with just about any major transit system — London, Rome, New York. Even very large systems serving gigantic cities don’t go out as far as ST3 will. At the same time, those systems thoroughly cover the city itself. The same is true for just about every transit system that carries a lot of people — even ones in the United States (Chicago, D. C.). In contrast, the cities that have systems that stretch out to the hinterlands, while neglecting the urban core have terrible outcomes (Dallas and Denver for example). We will have a mix, of course. Something similar to BART, but without Muni (which is essential for mobility in San Fransisco).

    Not that I think we can emulate San Fransisco, either. Again, it is much bigger. The closest thing to Seattle is Vancouver BC. This should be our model when it comes to mobility. When Vancouver finally gets around to building the UBC/Broadway line, they will be essentially done. There are other lines they could add (as well as extensions) but those are just frosting on the cake. By bus or by rail (or both) you will be able to get around the city quite easily. That won’t be the case in Seattle. Instead of focusing on our core, we will build huge extensions to faraway cities and suburbs. It is as if it was built for an imaginary city — one in which people congregate around the freeways, and routinely visit places like Ash Way to check out a show.

    It would be OK if, like Vancouver, there was great synergy between the buses and the trains. The buses run quickly and frequently, connecting to the trains to handle the congested, slow and quite popular sections. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case — the train will often run where the buses run quickly, going huge distance — sometimes even in the city — without bother to have a station.

    We will never be Paris, but would makes me sad is that it is unlikely we will ever be Vancouver BC. What makes me even sadder is that we blew it. We had our chance, but built something else instead.

    1. Seattle is not like Vancouver because of its rail system, it is not like Vancouver because of a lack of coordination caused by:

      1. Separate fares for KC Metro, ST, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, make it more expensive and confusing than it should be to get around. Vancouver Translink – one fare to go anywhere in metropolitan Vancouver.
      2. Poor intermodal connections aggravated by the different transit agencies creating different schedules as well as poor intermodal infrastructure. Vancouver has extensive bus transit centers at most of the suburban stations, where are Seattle’s extensive bus transit centers at Link stations?

      I acknowledge it will be easier to spend $8 billion+ on ST3 than it would be to force the transit providers to work better together. You want Seattle transit to work like Vancouver transit? Force an absorption of KC Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit into Sound Transit.

      1. I think the Vancouver analogy is apt, @rossb, and I agree with you.

        Why aren’t we like Vancouver yet? A key part is that we are simply 23 years BEHIND Vancouver. SkyTrain’s automated Expo line opened for Expo ’86. That helped drive land use changes. Seattle didn’t launch rail until 2009 and began upzoning in station areas and urban villages after that. To me it’s fairly key that in the Seattle/Vancouver paradigm, transit helps DRIVE land use changes and is not merely a response to it.

        So I think we should embrace the Vancouver example and follow their lead, because “the best transportation policy is good land use policy.”

        https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattle-struggles-with-growth-and-transit-while-vancouver-b-c-figured-it-out-years-ago/

      2. 1) I thought the ORCA card worked for all those agencies? It doesn’t seem particularly confusing, although it may be relatively expensive. Metro does have very high bus fares, although I doubt that contributes much to the high rate of driving.

        2) I mentioned the issues with bus to train interactions. But pretty much all of the stations with Northgate Link and Lynnwood Link will have major bus to train transfers. So will a lot of East Link. For that matter, that is true with ST3 as well. But that’s not the problem. ST2 was a good plan, and will make a huge difference in transit mobility for the region. ST3 won’t.

        Once you have a good terminus (e. g. Lynnwood) you gain very little going further. It can handle all of the buses coming from the north. Riders gain very little (if anything) if their bus ride is a bit shorter, but their train ride is longer. You aren’t connecting destinations, because there just aren’t a lot of people trying to get to Ash Way, the way that lots of people are trying to get to Capitol Hill. Extending beyond a good bus/train center (with an HOV ramp to HOV lanes) gets you little.

        In contrast, replacing the 44 with a train changes everything in the north end. You replace the slowest part of your grid with a fast train. That means someone in say, Loyal Heights can get to the UW very quickly, by taking a (relatively fast) bus headed south, followed by a (very fast) train headed east. This transit trip — involving a transfer — would be about as fast as driving, even if there is no traffic. Even that suburban rider benefits more. If you are in Everett and want to get to Fremont, for example, in a few years you will take a bus to Lynnwood, then take a train to the U-District, and then another bus to Fremont. By far the slowest part of your journey will be the last leg. Extending the line further north instead of making that trip faster gets you nothing.

        We will never build the Paris Metro, where just about every trip is taken by train. We could, however, build something like Vancouver has, where huge numbers of riders take both the bus and the train. That can only be accomplished if you build a good transit network, allowing the buses and the trains to work efficiently to produce a fast, frequent grid. Unfortunately, with ST3 we aren’t doing that, even though we are spending a fortune.

      3. Vancouver started planning upzones earlier, in the 1960s or maybe 1950s. The government decided to switch to compact European-style development to avoid becoming like Los Angeles. Then there was a large influx of Hong Kongers, who weren’t afraid of living in highrises and were willing to build them. Skytrain may have been inevitable but the first line was timed for the Expo, to transport visitors and staff and to be a showcase of then-new Canadian technology. Vancouver’s trajectory is similar to Bellevue, which decided in the 1970s to become a major jobs center, and it took twenty years for anything visible on the ground, but now it has the largest downtown in the Eastside.

        The outlying growth may have followed Skytrain, but it was in an environment where Vancouver was already going that direction, and there wasn’t opposition to compact development in outlying areas. Or maybe there was opposition, but not enough to prevent it from happening.

      4. Why aren’t we like Vancouver yet? A key part is that we are simply 23 years BEHIND Vancouver. That helped drive land use changes. To me it’s fairly key that in the Seattle/Vancouver paradigm, transit helps DRIVE land use changes and is not merely a response to it.

        Yeah, sure. And when ST2 is done, you could say we are slowly catching up. There has been plenty of increased density in Seattle, a lot of it in places close to the station (e. g. Roosevelt).

        Except after that our paths diverge. While Vancouver is building things out of order, and should focus on the UBC/Broadway line, at least it will eventually get built. They aren’t pursuing a line to Abbotsford with freeway stations, which is essentially what we are doing. Tacoma Dome Link will be an extremely long line, and result in only a tiny number of riders, let alone new riders. My guess is you won’t be able to tell whether overall transit ridership went up or down, despite spending a fortune. The same is true for Issaquah Link, Everett Link, and even West Seattle Link. If they force riders to get off the bus (just as it is about to get on the freeway and get them very quickly to downtown) then it will get riders. But new riders? Of course not. Even Ballard Link runs the risk of being a boondoggle because of poor planning. There is a very real risk that the northern terminus — the only station north of Lower Queen Anne with the potential of high ridership — will transform from a pedestrian oriented station, to nothing more than the equivalent of Mercer Island (a bus transfer station). Yeah, you get riders, and you have plenty of bus to rail transfers, but you don’t build a real network. It is a major north-south line, with very little in the way of east-west crossing routes. If you live a mile east of 15th and Market, on Phinney Ridge, the train is irrelevant. Not only do you ignore it, but you don’t even get additional trips into Ballard (darn hill). Billions spent — even some very close to where you live — and your world is the same as always (ride the 5, maybe transfer to the 44 to get to the UW, or the 8 to get to Capitol Hill or the C. D., …). Or how about Magnolia. If there is any community in the city that could add density, it is Magnolia. Even if they just increased density in the middle it would add huge numbers of people very close to downtown. When Link gets to Ballard, they will transfer to take the train downtown — fair enough. But what about a trip to Ballard? If the terminus is 14th, then they are worse off than now. Their trip to Ballard requires a longer walk, or waiting for another bus. This would mean a three seat ride for trip that is about 4 miles, and takes ten minutes by car (https://goo.gl/maps/5yfS5ML5wS87jbze8).

        Keep in mind, this is by far the best rail project in ST3! Yet even it won’t really move the needle very far in terms of creating a good transit *network*. This just shows how poorly designed our system is. Vancouver has what Jarrett Walker called, an almost perfect grid (https://humantransit.org/2010/02/vancouver-the-almost-perfect-grid.html). Some of that is luck, but some of that is good planning. The problem is, even if Seattle builds a really good grid, there will still be lots of extremely slow buses, while many of our train lines (that were extremely expensive to build) will be largely empty. Huge numbers of people will just drive. When asked, they will say “it doesn’t work for that trip”, or explain that “Our system isn’t really designed for trips like that”, even though trips like that — which make up the bulk of trips in any city — are easy and fast by transit in Vancouver.

        Density helps, but you also need the transit network.

      5. It is also worth noting that while the areas around the SkyTrain stations have plenty of density, most of the density is close to the center of the city, and not necessarily by a station: https://blogs.ubc.ca/maps/2013/07/03/vancouverpopulationdensity/. This explains why the city has such high bus ridership. So while density in the form of suburban towers is nice, it is not why Vancouver has such high transit use. The combination of good urban density, and a very good transit network has more to do with it.

  4. If Paris’ level of transit is desirable, then Paris’ willingness to implement lots of different rail technologies should also be deemed desirable. By having so many rail modes — both steel rail and rubber-tired metro, both elevated and tunneled segments, steel and rubber-tired suburban trams, automated lines, inclines/ funiculars, long distance high speed rail, multiple faster regional rail lines with frequent all-day service to the suburbs, a future gondola line and so on — they don’t begin by limiting the system technologies considered.

    We could be expecting so many miles of rail transit if we had opened the choice beyond a yes/no Link or Sounder rail technology strategy. Link is great — but quite expensive to expand, and it would take a miracle for Sounder to be an electrified two-way high-frequency line.

    1. What’s your point? There’s no requirement limiting modes at all, just economies of scale of using the same mode ST is already planning in ST3 given we’re expanding that system.

      If you’re referring to HB 1304, then you’re still misinformed:

      “Public grade-separated transportation facilities” means a light, heavy, or rapid rail facility, monorail, inclined plane, funicular, trolley, or other fixed rail guideway component of a transportation system operating principally on exclusive rights-of-way that is not regulated by the federal railroad administration or its successor that utilizes train cars running on a guideway, together with the necessary passenger stations, terminals, parking facilities, related facilities, any lands, interest in land, or air rights over lands, or other properties, and facilities necessary and appropriate for passenger and vehicular access to and from people-moving systems.”

      1. The point should be rather obvious:

        1. The recent ST discussions of ST3 shortfalls doesn’t dare suggest examining a different technology. It merely suggests deferring or delaying light rail projects.

        2. The Seattle Subway fantasy map assumes that those new lines will all be Link light rail. There is no suggestion of trams, gondolas, funiculars, rubber tire rail, limited stop regional trains running two-way all day or similar technologies.

        The overarching point is that Seattle will never be Paris because Paris thinks more broadly about choosing technologies than even the Seattle “mainstream” advocates do. It’s lazy creative thinking and can only lead to a system never being attainable because it’s so expensive to use in every instance.

      2. To your point about modes: No. Seattle Subway is doing the opposite of ruling out any high capacity transit modes. We’re entirely agnostic to mode as long as it doesn’t have grade crossings and is high capacity rapid transit between neighborhoods. Seattle Subway is the organization working to make high capacity transit options attainable for more neighborhoods in Seattle. And HCT is always cheaper than new roads of comparable capacity.

        To say Seattle won’t be Paris because mode choices loses the forest for the trees, but OK. Seattle Subway is still working on getting us important steps in the right direction. Step 1 in this article series is making the case that rapid, high capacity transit is still extremely important for the future of Seattle. Glad we all agree on that point.

      3. Seattle Subway’s rhetoric seems to be entirely about rail. I had no idea they were mode agnostic. They would be a far more effective outfit if they talked about High Capacity transit corridors, rather than fantasy rail maps. Seattle Subway’s vision map is a textbook example of how to not construct a long range plan because it explicitly assumes modes.

      4. Any good subway network has complementary bus service for areas the subway doesn’t reach, in-between stops, and routes making the third side of a triangle (like Overlake-UW). Seattle Subway is focusing on the core high-capacity transit network. It’s assumed that Metro, CT, PT, and ET will have an extensive bus network around it, with several times more routes and route-miles than the train, as does every other city with extensive subways. But the most critical thing, and the one third-party activists can most usefully do, is to make sure the core trunk network (Link) is right, then everything else can fall into place around it. Metro, CT, and PT know what to do: they all made good long-range plans to complement the Link network. They just need the funding to realize it.

        There still remain the issues that we’d be better off with a two-level network (like Paris’s Metro+RER, New York’s subway+commuter, Chicago’s L+Metra), etc. But ST chose one hybrid level rather than two distinct levels, so it’s mediocre at both. (Sounder is not comparable to the other commuter rails because it only goes where the legacy track goes, and we have only a few legacy tracks and not in the right places.) The reason ST chose a hybrid scheme was it supposedly costs less than building two networks. And it didn’t pay enough attention to in-city needs, because most of the ST ratepayers don’t care about that. We’re not going to change Link’s hybrid nature now. Although we could add a mode somewhere for a particular line if warranted.

      5. “…. other fixed rail guideway” eliminates non-rail modes. “Grade separated” excludes vehicles like European longer trams, which could work well in parts of Seattle as they do in parts of Paris.

        I’d also like to see some funding recognition for future-proofing what we are building too — like using funds for building future track junctions and for holding space inside stations than can be used for future escalators and elevators if needed. If the fantasy map is to include junctions, then funds for these possible junctions is needed, and ST says they won’t design for any.

      6. Sounder is not comparable to the other commuter rails because it only goes where the legacy track goes

        I’m pretty sure New York and Chicago commuter rail just follow the existing railway. Even the RER is basically a combination of connecting existing surface rail in the suburbs with a subway system in the urban core. That would be like taking Sounder, and just connecting it with Link, to allow riders to get to Westlake, the UW, etc. In that sense, it basically is a hybrid system (like the S-Bahn), but it leverages a largely built out subway that covers the core (like the U-Bahn).

        In general it is pretty crazy to build commuter rail from scratch, let alone make it the only thing you have (only in America…). We are basically building a very expensive S-Bahn, but without the U-Bahn. Again, only in America.

        Oh, and suburbs that don’t have an existing rail network to leverage just run express buses.

      7. I think you make great points, Ross, but there are a few things that need clarifying .

        1. The RER segments were generally new tunnels running underneath Paris using their suburban rail technology. They did not use existing Metro lines as best as I can tell. That would be like building new, limited stop tunnels under central Seattle for an electrified Sounder as opposed to routing through existing tunnels and making lots of stops.

        2. Many of our rail lines were primarily built to move goods, where Chicago and New York lines were built more to carry people from the outset. That outset may have been 100+ years ago and certainly our Sounder tracks probably included stations in the original design, but given how these were built, I don’t think they were designed with frequent passenger service as their primary objective like those in Chicago and New York. After all, the interurban line was probably more viewed to offer that passenger service.

      8. “I’m pretty sure New York and Chicago commuter rail just follow the existing railway.”

        The point is that most American cities have more existing rail track going straight to the largest suburbs and neighborhoods that need high-capacity transit. MAX east and west is along an existing railroad. Skytrain Expo line is on an existing railroad. BART’s Fremont line is on an existing railroad. Chicago has existing railroads galore which Metra is using. London has so many existing rail lines it doesn’t know what to do with them all and it keeps changing its mind.

        In contrast:

        * Sounder South makes a big detour to Auburn and backtracks to Tacoma. That serves cities in south central King County and southeast Pierce, but it’s not the shortest way to Tacoma.

        * Then we built a city — Federal Way — not on the existing rail line, and now we have to have express buses and new light rail on new ROW to serve it.

        * The north end the population is concentrated around 99 and I-5 but we paved over the existing Interurban rail line that would have served them, and instead we have Sounder North along the coast with half a walkshed and small downtowns, and most Edmondsites and Mukilteoites have to go out-of-direction to get to the station. The number of people in “downtown” Mukilteo within walking distance of the station seems to be about ten.

        * The former Burke Gilman Trail track detours so much it’s useless as a fast way from Seattle to the Eastside (although it could serve for UW to Northshore). It misses Wallingford and Lake City, two of the biggest destinations and ridership generators.

        * The Seattle-Renton-Bellevue route is also indirect, and much longer than the floating bridges.

        * A suggested Link extension from Redmond to Woodinville along existing track would be a big detour from the perspective of somebody in downtown Bellevue or the Spring District.

        * The main southern track goes through a pretty empty industrial district, while the potential riders are over a hill in Rainier Valley.

        * There are no other existing opportunities from downtown to other parts of North Seattle, South Seattle, or West Seattle. Or to other parts of Snohomish County, South King County, or the Eastside.

        “In general it is pretty crazy to build commuter rail from scratch”

        It’s pretty crazy to throw away the existing tracks you had. Or to build new suburbs far from the early 20th-century tracks, and let them become the main must-serve cities in their subarea. But Americans do it anyway, and Pugetopolis is no exception. And the many waterways and hills forced the original tracks to meander in ways that an efficient transit network wouldn’t. And they were intended originally for mostly carrying freight, so travel time was not much of a priority.

        , let alone make it the only thing you have (only in America…). We are basically building a very expensive S-Bahn, but without the U-Bahn. Again, only in America.

        Oh, and suburbs that don’t have an existing rail network to leverage just run express buses.”

    2. The only reason Sounder exists is it seemed a shame not use the existing track and it could get started quickly, decades before Link. It was low-hanging fruit that people thought ST would be irresponsible not to do. With Everett and Duopnt it reaches the ends of the ST district so there’s no more left to expand to. The only significant route overlooked is a Seattle-Renton-Bellevue route, and that seemed like a dud because the bridges are much shorter, the Mercer Island bridge was specifically designed for future rail, and the Renton section might interfere with Boeing and downtown Renton. So it’s not Link expansion vs Sounder expansion, it’s Link expansion vs some other mode expansion, and Sounder’s just there on the side, hopefully getting more frequent but not going to new areas. Unless IT or PT want to pay to extend it to Olympia or Marysville.

  5. “If history is any indicator, post-pandemic we will still have social events, shop in urban villages, and cluster where other people are.”

    I’m not so sure history is the best guide here.

    1) Technology is allowing new ways of working and living to an unprecedented level. In the past there was no reasonable alternative; now many people have complete capability to not commute at all or as frequently.

    2) Shopping is moving online more than ever before. Shopping is no longer the destination activity that it once was.

    3) Social events will come back to some extent, but how quickly and how different will they be? Sports and concerts are unlikely this year with full crowds, or perhaps any crowds. Beyond that, will they be back with the same frequency and size long term?

    I’m not at all confident we’re even going to have full in person school this fall, and I feel like that is a requirement before we move along to opening up other things.

    1. Social events will come back to some extent, but how quickly and how different will they be?

      You are making the case that there will be a permanent change, and then you are expressing (reasonable) doubts as to when the pandemic will be over. The time frame doesn’t matter — at some point it will be over. At that point, the social activities we engaged in before will still be there. Even now — in the middle of the pandemic, they allow way too many people into stadiums to watch football games. These people are risking their lives to watch a game, and you think they have lost interest? The Miami Heat is going to experiment with COVID smelling dogs, while allowing the general public to watch basketball games. The demand hasn’t gone away. We are a social species — we want to do things, together. Whether it is hanging out a bar, watching a show, or just getting together with friends. Holy cow, that is how the pandemic has spread — this desire to get together has exceeded what is (widely considered) common sense safety. People are begging schools to open — as the pandemic is peaking. People are literally risking their lives to socialize, and you wonder if people have all become hermits.

      When this is over, bars, restaurants, clubs, play houses, arenas and dance halls will be open. It is worth noting that the 1918 flu was followed by the Jazz Age. People were tired of staying apart, and if anything, became more social than ever.

      1. Well said. What’s the point of being alive if our universe of human contact is bounded by a Zoom border? Seriously.

        It would be good for the planet to have the technological societies’ birthrates plummet as it certainly would.

    2. Well, the Jazz age was possible because they successfully eliminated the Spanish Flu. It’s too early to say whether we’ll be able to do that. Half the US population is estimated to reject the vaccine. and the virus already has two troublesome mutations. There’s also the question of whether another major virus will follow it. Just because it’s been a hundred years since the last one doesn’t mean another virus won’t come in five or ten years. Especially with humans destroying animal habitats, which cause the animals to migrate closer to humans, which makes catching a new virus from animals more likely.

      1. Mike, the spectacular advantage enjoyed by RNA vaccines is that when the vaccine is observed to have created a significant mutation that begins to thwart the vaccine, a “booster” element can be added with the RNA sequence modified by CRISPR in single-digit weeks.

        The fundamental technology is certainly vulnerable to allergic reactions; any biologically active serum is. But the wonderful thing about it is it cannot cause the disease. Unlike “killed” or “attenuated” vaccines, the portion of the virus which replicates the organism is completely missing. It’s gone from the shred of protein-templating RNA that the vaccine distributes. So the safety protocols for such boosters will increasingly just be to check for high levels of allergic responses.

        ModeRNA (I wish they pronounced it “Mode-RNA” as it was originally envisioned) and Pfizer will have boosters for the South African variant out for allergy testing by mid-February.

      2. Yeah, Tom is right.

        If anything, what is extraordinary about this pandemic is how the predictions have all been so accurate. Before the pandemic there were news reports about how Trump (unlike Obama and Bush) was actually making our pandemic response worse. He was gutting the agencies. At the same time, it was well known that the Chinese lie about their illnesses (they lie about a lot). Once this hit, it was clear that we were in trouble. They suggested a second wave, and sure enough, we got hit with it. At one point they predicted as many as 4,000 people a day would die from it. I found this hard to believe. Medical outcomes had improved dramatically since the beginning — we were just much better at fighting the disease. Well, sure enough, we hit that number.

        Meanwhile, they predicted that we should have a vaccine (or two) by the end of the year. Sure enough, that happened. They predicted that it will be while before the numbers come down. Yep. They mentioned the possibility of mutations — either more deadly or more contagious. Yep. But they also mentioned that vaccinating for those mutations is relatively easy, and quick. Everything the scientists and experts predicted has come true. There were people who thought this was not a big deal (like those inside the Trump administration as well as the government of Sweden) and those that thought it would be years if we get a vaccine (like HIV). Those people were wrong, the experts were right.

        There is still a lot of wiggle room here. If we continue to be unsafe, the numbers will increase until immunization is widespread. Tens of thousands more could die. But eventually — by summer, or fall at the latest — we should have the pandemic under control in the United States. Other countries may not be so lucky — it will take some time for them to get treated.

        It may not be wiped out. Measles hasn’t been wiped out, and it is a much more contagious disease. Over 100,000 people die it every year, and this has been for a while (140,000 died in 2018). But that didn’t stop people from socializing.

      3. This is getting a bit off-topic, but the flu strain that caused the 1918 pandemic never actually went away, nor were there any serious attempts to eliminate it: at the time, we barely knew what viruses were and had no idea that a virus might be responsible (common explanations at the time were miasma, or bacterial pneumonia). Without vaccines, the virus simply ran out of susceptible people to infect, but it still circulates even today. Eradicating zoonotic diseases is simply very hard, and often not even worthwhile.

        The vaccines will help us get out of the pandemic faster and with less death, but they’re certainly not necessary to do so.

  6. I’m reminded of sitting next to a well-travelled professional who was sitting next to me when a local politician said that his goal was to turn a major suburban American city into the “next Paris” — when he mumbled “I don’t think he’s ever driven in Paris before .”

  7. Paris had 40 million tourists in 2018, and tourists generally take transit in Paris. https://www.sortiraparis.com/news/in-paris/articles/187142-tourist-numbers-record-in-2018-in-paris/lang/en

    Interestingly Seattle had 39 million tourists in 2017. https://visitseattle.org/press/press-releases/seattle-sees-eighth-consecutive-year-of-record-tourism/

    Both figures dwarf number of residents.

    The difference IMO is density, especially from the core out. Paris is just so much denser in its “core” compared to downtown Seattle, both retail and housing. Instead Seattle spreads its density out over an enormous area, and instead of walking to rail residents must take a bus. What tourist visits Seattle and wants to visit 130th?

    When it comes to post pandemic transit use, the future is unpredictable, except a good general rule is people will return to doing what they liked doing pre-pandemic, and if possible avoid what they don’t like. The one thing people don’t like (and possibly one good thing to come out of the pandemic) is commuting to work, by any means. The key from the pandemic is everyone had to learn to work from home if their work allows it, and many found they enjoy it, whether on a beach in Hawaii or at home with the kids. Working from home use to be a non-issue when employees interviewed for a job, but now may be the major factor.

    On a side note, The Urbanist has an interview with Terry White, new head of Metro. https://www.theurbanist.org/2021/01/25/terry-white-has-deep-roots-and-big-plans-as-metro-general-manager/

    His three main goals for Metro include:

    1. Convincing riders buses are healthy to ride post pandemic.

    2. Reducing layover times for buses due to driver breaks and other technology improvements.

    3. “Equity prioritization” based on who continued to ride the bus during the pandemic, which apparently means the less privileged, including reduced fares.

    This is all good stuff, except that we just spent tens of billions of dollars to build a light rail spine based on feeder buses, and Metro will likely see significant farebox declines and general fund subsidies in the future. Unlike Paris we didn’t build light rail to replace buses, but complement it. I am guessing Terry White is planning on a steep decline of the work commuter on transit, because his equity prioritization is going to hurt frequency and routes for feeder buses during peak hour commutes for workers, especially in “privileged ” areas.

    I know we often debate about adding a seat and transfer for eastside work commuters after East Link opens and ST moves to a bus intercept system, replacing one seat express buses to Seattle, but I always assumed that debate was based on decent bus frequency for a pissed off eastside commuter who has to drive to a park and ride to now catch a bus to another eastside station served by East Link to get to Seattle. I doubt Terry White’s equity prioritization will benefit the eastside, land of the white and privileged to many (except the white and privileged mostly drive to work on the eastside).

    At least the eastside subarea has the money to continue one seat express buses to Seattle if eastside commuters demand it due to poor feeder bus frequency, and has demanded ST build the promised park and rides. Not sure what a Seattle work commuter does north of Yesler who also now has an extra seat and transfer on a bus to a train station, because serving work commuters is not apparently “equitable”, although a big reason for light rail, at least in the ads for it.

    Apparently Terry White wants to remove the work commuter from transit, or is assuming the work commuter won’t be coming back post-pandemic, which is a risky bet, and not one I am sure ST was expecting.

    1. “adding a seat and transfer for eastside work commuters after East Link opens and ST moves to a bus intercept system, replacing one seat express buses to Seattle,”

      Link also creates new one-seat rides to Seattle; e.g., Wilburton, the Spring District, Overlake Village, and Surrey Downs; and one-seat rides from its Eastside area to Capitol Hill, the U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate. And train-to-train transfers to southeast Seattle and the airport. All these running every ten minutes all day and evening including Sundays. Most of these currently require a two-seat ride on less-frequent buses. A few like Overlake Village may have peak-express service to downtown but not off-peak. And all these new one-seat rides are in much denser areas than the lost one-seat rides, so it’s serving the population where it mostly is, and where it will be a higher percentage of the population in ten and twenty years.

      “but I always assumed that debate was based on decent bus frequency for a pissed off eastside commuter who has to drive to a park and ride to now catch a bus to another eastside station served by East Link to get to Seattle.”

      “Decent” is in the eye of the beholder. What is the psychological benefit of a one-seat bus ride? How long does the train segment and bus segment have to be to justify a transfer? Different people answer it differently, and will have different thresholds for liking or tolerating the bus+train switch. I think it’s reasonable to take Link from Westlake to U-District and transfer to a bus. The Eastside is three times further away and across a lake, so it’s more justified there. The people from Issaquah you’re so concerned about will take a bus some ten miles to a Link station, and they’ll park at the Issaquah P&R, not the Eastgate P&R.

      1. “Link also creates new one-seat rides to Seattle; e.g., Wilburton, the Spring District, Overlake Village, and Surrey Downs; and one-seat rides from its Eastside area to Capitol Hill, the U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate. And train-to-train transfers to southeast Seattle and the airport. All these running every ten minutes all day and evening including Sundays. Most of these currently require a two-seat ride on less-frequent buses. A few like Overlake Village may have peak-express service to downtown but not off-peak. And all these new one-seat rides are in much denser areas than the lost one-seat rides, so it’s serving the population where it mostly is, and where it will be a higher percentage of the population in ten and twenty years.”

        Wilburton, The Spring District, Overlake Village, and Surrey Downs are dense, and will be denser than areas towards Sammamish and Issaquah in 20 years? Ok. And first/last mile access to these stations is by? Park and Ride. No one who has two nickels to rub together is going to take East Link from the eastside to the airport, and don’t look for ridership from the eastside to south Seattle to explode. Good lord, it would take two hours after driving to the park and ride, or catching a feeder bus with a suitcase, transferring in Seattle, and the milk run to get to the airport. Time has some value too.

        East Link is fine, although at $5.5 billion expensive for a line with so little density, when future density will mostly be employees, not housing. But it serves a tiny part of the eastside.

        The 550 is a one seat ride, and had grade separated transit across the bridge span and transit tunnel access. Everything south of the East Link line — that runs north at a 45 degree angle from Bellevue which is already north of I-90 — loses a one seat stop if they have it. It is important to remember that on the eastside when you talk about transit you are talking about commuting to work, especially for rail. Eastsiders predominantly drive during non-peak hours.

        “Decent” frequency is in the eye of the beholder is a different standard than I usually read on this blog. I thought frequency was a measurement of time. You sound like Terry White.

        Look, I am not all that concerned about commuters from the eastside who will gain a seat and transfer in their commute to Seattle. I live on Mercer Island. I drive to work. If they don’t like taking a bus to an eastside station that serves East Link they can work from home, drive directly to S. Bellevue or Mercer Island’s park and ride, drive to work, get a job on the eastside, or raise holy hell with their elected leaders. Yes, you ridicule Issaquah, except Issaquah got a $4.5 billion light rail line for a city of 35,000 in a subarea with the money to complete that crazy expense, when West Seattle and Ballard won’t.

        You have to understand the main difference between you and most commuters on the eastside is you love transit, and are an urbanist, which is great. But most eastsiders hate transit, and commuting, and density. The Spring District like all Bellevue upzoning is massive, expensive, targeted, and commercial, and it will have huge parking requirements like The Hines Project, and most will drive to work except the service staff because these will very expensive offices, with some very expensive condos.

        But if you don’t live on the eastside why get worked up about it. I am not pulling my hair out over the fact the 41 is getting cut, or Metro is moving service to South Seattle, or whether residents in North Seattle will have less frequency during peak hours. That is their problem, and the problem for their elected leaders if the citizens make it one.

        All I was saying is under Terry White all areas other than south Seattle will lose frequency, which is in the eye of the beholder I guess. Any my guess is Mr. White is going to find farebox revenue and general fund subsidies decline more than estimated, which is going to decrease frequency for everyone, which means everyone will have to look for options. People adapt. There are always options, especially with working from home because that will be a legitimate employment requirement in the future, if an employee wants to make it one, along with salary, benefits, vacation, and all the rest.

      2. “And first/last mile access to these stations is by? Park and Ride.”

        I grew up a couple miles from Overlake Village station. My mom took two buses to Queen Anne when she was working there. There was and is a bus to Overlake Village, and it could be modified to be a feeder. Me, my parents, and some of my neighbors would have taken the feeder to Link and Link to Seattle. Maybe more of them would drive a couple miles to the P&R, big deal, they would have done it.

        I also have some concerns about Terry White’s viewpoints. I’m concerned it might lead to fewer restructures if status-quo advocates prevail to keep one-seat milk runs (even if they’re five blocks from a parallel route they could be consolidated with), or more Seattle routes losing evening frequency in order to ship hours to South King County and southeast Seattle. That would be a return to the bad old days of the 80s and 90s. But we’ll have to see whether he does this, and in any case it would be better discussed in a separate thread.

    2. I don’t believe Seattle and Paris have similar numbers of tourists – maybe if one counts every day trip from Bellevue, but not on any consistent metric.

  8. “That’s why Seattle Subway will continue to push for ST3 to be built to standard with universal grade separation and continued commitment to every station and every line outlined in the voter-approved program. ”

    A significant share of the blame for ST3’s massive delays and cost-overruns rests in the dogmatic insistence of Seattle Subway and other like-minded activists on grade separation. Surface light rails works FINE on the Rainier Valley alignment. There are occasional delays and accidents, but it’s not like those never happen on underground or elevated lines. Pushing out opening dates for the next major phases of expansion into the 2050s and beyond so that a small group of activists can fulfill their fantasies about Seattle becoming Paris, a city with completely different economic and geographic conditions seems insane, at least to me. I did some pro-ST3 campaigning on Seattle Subway’s behalf back in 2016. The years since then have shown me why we’d be nuts to let these people dictate the direction of a theoretical ST4, or have any further influence on the disastrous state of ST3.

    1. Seattle Subway is fine with at-grade/surface light rail, but not with the at-grade crossings that cause those delays, accidents, and keep frequency so low in the Rainier Valley. The Rainier Valley frequency will never be more than 6 minute headways. That sucks. Period.

      1. What’s wrong with 6 minute headways? Seattle Subway would reject the Blue Line in Long Beach?

        The single most valuable things about Link technology vs another rail mode is that it allows for the occasional at-grade crossing while still providing high capacity transit. To categorically oppose at-grade crossing is to remove the single most valuable tool in ST’s Link toolkit.

        If you want to pick a mode for a “vision map,” Seattle Subway should be advocating for a robust Stadbahn network within Seattle and a tram-train approach in the suburbs*. Paris is a foolish comparison. Munich or another German city would be a far more helpful overlay. Even though the streetcars are gone, they bequeathed Seattle with a street grid that is optimized for Stadtbahn operations, notably 24thth and 15th/Holman in Ballard and Fauntleroy in West Seattle.
        https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/10/28/stadtbahn-systems/

        *i.e. Link should transition to at-grade operations when it reaches a permanent terminus, such as in Everett, South Tacoma, Kirkland, and Issaquah.

      2. The Rainier Valley frequency will never be more than 6 minute headways. That sucks. Period.

        Sure it does. Is it worth fixing? Of course not. It was the right choice, because the alternative (cut and cover) would have been very expensive. Keep in mind, ST has no interest in running the trains every six minutes all day, even though it can. I’m not sure if it will run them either minutes. While a branch to Renton would be nice, I just don’t think it would have good ridership (a Boeing Access Road freeway station achieves much the same thing for less money).

        All that being said, the biggest problem with ST3 in Seattle was the insistence that West Seattle be part of it. West Seattle should not be next. There isn’t even a good case that it should be in ST4 or ST5. West Seattle has several qualities that make it very poor to serve with light rail, such as:

        1) Very challenging geography. You need to spend a fortune just getting there, and getting up the hill.

        2) There is practically nothing for that entire stretch. That is why there won’t be any new stations between SoDo and West Seattle. That itself is weird. A hugely expensive line, and for over two miles there will be no station. That’s not good.

        3) That same route has a freeway — that same stretch of nothingness — has a freeway.

        4) West Seattle is very spread out. It doesn’t have any big destinations, only medium size ones. Destinations like Alki and South Seattle College won’t have stations, and neither will the highest density neighborhood, High Point.

        This means that it is very expensive to serve, and won’t be served well without spending way more than Seattle will ever spend. It also means that anything short of that won’t get you much. Most of the riders will have to transfer to get to Link, and their transfer point won’t be a major destination. For many, if not most, it won’t even be a minor one, but instead some seemingly random place close to the freeway (the Delridge or Avalon Station). Nor will that transfer save riders time (see item 3). Every stop will be close to the freeway, which means the vast majority of riders will lose time by transferring to the train.

        But it gets worse. West Seattle Link won’t intersect the main line at a major destination, like Westlake or the UW. It will intersect at SoDo. There is basically nothing there. The idea that someone in the Junction would prefer to take a train to SoDo, then transfer to another train is dubious. The idea that someone would prefer a three seat ride from the Delridge corridor is ridiculous. I could say the same about Alki, High Point, South Seattle College, or any number of a dozen places in West Seattle. It just doesn’t make sense to run a train from the Junction to SoDo. The line has to continue, to downtown.

        Which is why they are building another tunnel. There are two lines that will be coming from the south (one from Bellevue, one from SeaTac). You can’t run three lines without delaying the other two, which in turn would create crowding. Thus the only way that West Seattle rail makes sense is if you build *both* a very expensive line to West Seattle and an expensive tunnel. Even with a mere handful of Stations in West Seattle (not coming close to covering the gigantic peninsula) and downtown stations pretty much identical to the existing ones, that whole thing (West Seattle Junction to Westlake) costs a bundle.

        That is a lot of money for what amounts to only one new destination (West Seattle Junction), a moderately dense area (Avalon) and a bus intercept (Delridge). At that point, the sunk cost fallacy rears its ugly head. If you are going to build all that (for so little) than surely it doesn’t cost much more to really take advantage of that new tunnel, and keep going to serve South Lake Union, Lower Queen, and Ballard. As it turns out, it really does cost a lot more — because (surprise, surprise) crossing the ship canal with a train isn’t cheap. Yes, they could have — and should have — saved money by going through Belltown and then on to the surface (https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/12/06/some-thoughts-on-ballard-option-c/). But the first problem was assuming that West Seattle Link was essential, and then compounding it with a sunk cost fallacy.

        This is why other projects were not even considered. A Metro 44 subway transforms the north end. Suddenly everyone in a huge region (more or less everywhere north of the ship canal if done right) has a faster trip to the UW. That in turn transforms places along the way as well (which aren’t crippled by being next to a freeway). Wallingford is decent right now (every bit the destination the The Junction is, if not better) but being *in the middle* of a major line that connects an entire region would make it thrive.

        I understand why people want to run a line through South Lake Union. I get it. It is essentially an extension of downtown. But if that is your priority, than it deserves better than this. The best way to serve South Lake Union is with a line that actually serves South Lake Union, instead of merely hinting at it. There are only two proposed stops there: one is close to Denny — so close that few will bother transferring from Westlake, but will instead just walk. The other is in the middle of nowhere, but serves as a bus intercept for the Aurora buses. A stop at Denny is nice, but stops on Thomas or Harrison is much better. There really should be three stops: Fairview, Westlake and 7th. The first covers the Cascade neighborhood, the second South Lake Union, and the third provides a connection for the E. But instead of running to downtown (as both Ballard Link and the E do) it would run east-west, connecting to Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central Area. This so called “Metro 8 subway” would not follow the path of the 8 (it would be underground, after all) but would connect these high density neighborhoods as never before. Like the Metro 44 line, each station would become a very high density destination, as none of them would be next to the freeway, or next to a green belt (except, of course, for the shared stations already built — Judkins Park and Mount Baker (if it got that far)).

        No matter your priority — serving a region (Metro 44) or focusing on the highest density parts of the state (Metro 8) there are (or were) better options than Ballard to West Seattle Link. But once you started down that road to building West Seattle Link, this is the mess we ended up with.

      3. To me one of the biggest arguments in favor of west Seattle light rail is less time getting into and out of downtown. 3rd Ave. moves pretty well, but on Columbia, you have a red light pretty much every block that lasts a good minute or two. Plus traffic congestion on Alaskan Way caused by all the car drivers who are too cheap to pay the toll. Considering that you pretty much have to pass through downtown to get to anywhere north or east of downtown, this is important.

        That’s not to necessarily say it’s worth it. As you pointed out, it is expensive. But, the benefit is real.

        That said, I 100% agree with you that a West Seattle line that just ends in SODO is just plain stupid. Until the 2nd downtown tunnel is built, there’s really no point in running trains over the Duwamish.

      4. The problem with 6-minute headways is Link might become overcrowded. It was already almost full between Beacon Hill and downtown before covid, and now you’re talking about adding the busloads of riders from Federal Way and Tacoma.

      5. asdf2 and others,

        If Daniel is right that Eastside commuting has essentially ended, permanently, then Seattle doesn’t need a second tunnel! Upgrading the DSTT with center platforms for faster loading and unloading and better ventilating the section between CHS and HSS to allow for two minute headways means that the tail track at Northgate can be the destination for trains from Tacoma. It would have to be re-engineered into a second level with two tracks above the main line tracks, but it should be able to turn-back six-minute headways if necessary.

        You then have West Seattle to Everett as planned, Overlake to Lynnwood as planned, and Tacoma to Northgate not as planned but requiring no longer to run than Everett to Ballard.

        During peak periods you have two-minute headways on the main stem between Northgate and IDS, two/four minutes to Lynnwood and SoDo — which averages the same three for capacity — and six to Everett, Overlake and Tacoma as planned.

        Midday is easy-peasey.

        This requires that the City of Seattle provide more rigorously patrolled — preferably bollarded — bus lanes on Westlake, Cedar and Battery and perhaps a short section of bus tunnel from the north end of Third Avenue to about the intersection of West Harrison and Elliott West to improve reliability of service to and from Ballard and Lower Queen Anne. There would be an underground bus station about Queen Anne and Harrison for LQA. This is essentially a poor-man’s version of the bus tunnel without requiring a new tube through the expensive, hilliest, and deeply foundationed parts of downtown. There are no tall buildings between Third and Denny and the bluff at the west end of Harrison.

        Obviously private autos would have to be entirely embargoed from Third Avenue. The two big garages accessed from it can be torn down and replaced with productive floor-space, even if they’re just residences.

        To join the West Seattle stub use the flying junction at the Maintenance Facility. This would allow the Busway to continue serving Burien and Renton buses. The two-four headways along the busway would require that Lower Royal Brougham would have to be closed across the tracks and over- or under-passes built at Holgate and Lander.

        Of course it would not be free, but it would be enormously cheaper than the new downtown Tunnel and the Ballard extension.

      6. Mike,

        Again, if Daniel is correct, commuting from the South End will be greatly reduced as well. Even if not it is certainly still cheaper than the tunnel and Ballard to add a second track to the UP between Black River Junction and South Tacoma. Then run some BNSF through freights that way in order to increase South Sounder which is better for commuters. If ST pays for the trackway it can let BNSF run to that way in order to offset its wheelage fees for more peak-hour trains.

      7. If commuting permanently collapses, none of ST3 is needed. I strongly disagree with most of Ross’s criticism of ST3, but if the premise is “no one commutes anymore” then none of this rail infrastructure is needed nor do we need a 2nd bus tunnel. ST3 only makes sense in a context of a region that’s going to add >1 million people and continues to drive most employment growth into two traditional CBDs (Seattle and Bellevue). If Seattle and Bellevue collapse as regional job centers, Sound Transit has lost its reason for existence.

        The system is being built to move people from across the region into Seattle. If you don’t think that’s going to happen, don’t fiddle with the ST3 design to make it more Seattle oriented – just ditch ST3 in its entirety and paint some bus lanes.

        I believe that 1) most of the region’s employment growth will occur in Seattle and Bellevue, and 2) most the region’s population growth will occur outside of Seattle, which is why I still support ST3’s overall vision, despite many specific issues like prioritizing WS.

      8. 3rd Ave. moves pretty well, but on Columbia, you have a red light pretty much every block that lasts a good minute or two. Plus traffic congestion on Alaskan Way caused by all the car drivers who are too cheap to pay the toll.

        If only there was a busway connecting from the Alaska Way Viaduct to downtown. Oh yeah, there is. All you have to do is build a ramp to connect to it, and the bus would cruise to downtown. It wouldn’t be cheap. You have to add an HOV lane to the Alaska Way Viaduct, and build the ramp (connecting the HOV lane to the busway). But it would be a fraction of the cost of the new rail line, and mean that a bus would be in its own lane from the moment it got on the West Seattle freeway until the other end of downtown.

        It isn’t clear whether that should be a priority, either. I’m not convinced it is that bad — or will be that bad. If memory serves, they are going to add bus lanes to Alaska Way. They’ve already added them to Columbia. It sucks to wait at a red light, but so does waiting at a station, in the middle of nowhere.

        Assuming they truncate the buses, the vast majority of riders will not walk to the station. This makes it unlike any other line. As with just about all transit, the majority of ridership comes from trips in the middle of the day, or the evening, not when there is a lot of congestion. Oh, and there isn’t much congestion going the other way, either.

        Put it this way. Imagine they just keep all the bus routes the same, following West Seattle Link. I contend that very few people would transfer. Ridership on the new train line would be tiny, and be dwarfed by those riding the buses. Again, this is if they do nothing to the buses. If they actually improved the speed (by building another bus tunnel, as well as the aforementioned improvements to Alaskan Way Viaduct) then way more people would benefit.

      9. If only there was a busway connecting from the Alaska Way Viaduct to downtown. Oh yeah, there is. All you have to do is build a ramp to connect to it, and the bus would cruise to downtown

        Ross, there’s no “Alaska[n] Way Viaduct” any longer. SR99 goes into the tunnel and yes, there’s a flyover of sorts for the northbound traffic that leads to Alaskan Way, but it’s mostly on the ground above the tunnel. I thought that there was a plan for bus lanes on it as far as Columbia Street. I take it from asdf2’s comment that they were removed from the plan.

        So, when you say “Alaska Way Viaduct” did you mean what used to be called the “Spokane Street Viaduct”? And is “the busway to connect to it” you referred to the one along what would be Fifth Avenue? Otherwise, where would this ramp (“connecting the HOV land to the busway”) be?

        I ask because while that would be a great solution if the busway still led into the tunnel, it does not. Buses turn left at lower Royal Brougham and then are immediately dumped into the mess that is Fourth South between the train stations. While Columbia Street may have a “light at every intersection” (meaning First, Second and Third but not I believe Western) as asdf2 notes, it probably takes considerably less time to get from Jackson Street and Alaskan Way to Third and Columbia than it does to get from Royal Brougham and Fourth South to Third and Columbia. Even if the bus is stopped a for a bit at Jackson or Yesler there are just as many lights, and one more bus stop between Fourth South and Royal Brougham and Third and Columbia as there are between Jackson and the Alaskan Way (the first light on the off-ramp from SR99) and Third and Columbia.

      10. This is in amplification to the comment on not needing the second tunnel.

        It’s even possible to drop the West Seattle spur and still have frequent service on the main stem from IDS to Northgate. Just use the loop around the Maintenance Facility to turn back the trains from Everett, or since Everett wouldn’t be reached without ST3, half the trains from Lynnwood.

        There is a stretch of the outer loop which is probably almost never used between the cross-over used to access the inner loop distributor between Horton and Hinds and the Eighth Avenue road entrance to the facility which is long enough to stop a four-car train. If operators were “hot-seated” there — the arriving operator detrains and a waiting one takes his or her place then takes the train out — operators could have an 18 minute break by taking out the third train following the one which they brought in.

        This means that the only parts of ST3 which would need to be completed are the Redmond extension and a couple of the infill stations. I’m sure the East subarea would be glad to pay for Redmond itself, and Seattle could pay for the infill stations and the necessary pieces of bus improvement outlined above with the re-branded Monorail facility.

        The ST district as a whole could pay for the second track on the UP to make Sounder South a higher-capacity line, thus “paying back” Pierce and South King for any surplus money they’ve paid in for the initial starter line.

        This ends all the controversy about ST3 being a Toonerville Trolley to the ‘burbs and saves many billions of dollars.

      11. “on Columbia, you have a red light pretty much every block that lasts a good minute or two”

        I assume you’re talking about the C and other West Seattle routes that have a four-block segment on Columbia. Big deal. It’s only four blocks, compared several miles of freeway and future transit lanes south of it and an improved bus-only 3rd Avenue north of it. It’s only a tiny part of the total distance or travel time. The South Lake Union streetcar stops every block more times between Stewart and Denny than the Columbia Street buses do. And in other corridors like Eastlake on the 70 or crosstown on the 44 the bus gets bogged down for miles — the West Seattle buses don’t have anything like that.

        And the reason it gets caught at stoplights every block on Columbia Street is that the vast majority of circulation is north-south along the avenues, so it’s right that they should have signal priority. And that priority helps the 3rd Avenue buses, the 2nd-4th-5th Avenue buses, and the theoretical CCC streetcar if it isn’t cancelled. Columbia Street is very short; even a car can’t go further than Alaskan Way to 6th Avenue, so there’s not very many stoplights to go through.

      12. When you’re driving out of West Seattle, you don’t have to deal with any of the stoplights downtown unless you’re actually going downtown. Any other part of the city, you take the West Seattle Bridge to SR-99 or I-5 and bypass it. With transit, the time it takes to get into and out of downtown is not just about trips to downtown. It’s also something you have to endure to get between West Seattle and anywhere north or east of downtown. That’s a huge swath of the city. Even destinations south of downtown, the transit network is often convuluted enough that the most direct route still involves going into downtown and back out again.

        It order for transit to be compete for trips to anywhere other than downtown itself, the travel times have to improve. Buses down the freeway that bypass downtown doesn’t really work because there’s no obvious place past downtown for the bus to let people off and you can’t run separate buses to every neighborhood without spreading service to thin and ending up with an infrequent mush. What does work is grade-separated transit in and out of downtown – which is exactly the West Seattle Link part of ST3 does.

        Yes, some people will have to transfer to it in West Seattle. But, for many, the transfer in West Seattle replaces a transfer downtown, so it’s not really a net transfer. If the transfer costs 5 minutes, you can easily make the time back by avoiding all of those the stoplights downtown. But, to the extent that people are willing to stop being lazy and get off their butt, the walk-up/bike-up ridership to the Alaska Junction Station could be quite big. Simply drawing a 1-mile-radius circle around Alaska Junction covers quite a large number of homes. Granted, for the 120 riders, it’s too far for anything other than a transfer to be realistic, but that’s not anywhere close to all of West Seattle.

  9. Vancouver and Paris do not have limited access highways in their centers; Seattle has I-5, I-90, SR-520, SR-509, SR-599, and SR-99. Paris and Vancouver also have excellent bus network and bicycle infrastructure that does not slow down bus transit. Neither has surface local streetcar. I visited Paris in 1994; they had proof of payment fare collection on all transit modes before smart cards; they knew speed of fare collection was important. Their system has the RER lines to the suburbs, LRT on the northeast and east edge, and an extensive and frequent bus network. To paraphrase John Donne: no mode is an island. We and Seattle should improve the network.

    The remarks of RossB are excellent.

    The policy question posed by the editorial should be on HB 1304. It would allow Seattle to fund more grade separated transit. Is that what should be done in the 2021 session? There are ways that the new funding, if approved, could help implement an improved or faster ST Link network. Does Seattle Subway think Seattle should fund new lines and a new operating base? The baseline RCW was the enabling legislation for the monorail. but what of the other transit investments: sidewalks on frequent transit arterials, bus service, trolleybus and battery bus, pavement management. Should not Seattle decide how to use its revenue on all margins and not just one? The city boundary is a positive aspect of HB 1304.

    1. The small scale improvements you mention (sidewalks on frequent transit arterials, pavement management) and some you don’t (bike network) should have and or at least were sold as the intended improvements of the Move Seattle Levy; The bus service improvements should all be the focus of the Seattle TBD; HB 1304 offers a specific funding source that doesn’t compete with these others for needed light rail expansion in the city limits. But this is the first article in a series. More on that to come.

      1. The fiscal scale of the Seattle Subway lines is huge. But the scale of the projects I mentioned is not small nor covered by the existing programs. More than one-third of Seattle arterials are in poor condition; billions are needed. Bridges need better maintenance; is the last step by the Council adequate to the need? Bridges need replacement. Maintenance is difficult for the public sector; see our history. The Move Seattle levy was over-promised as you implied. Yes, the STBD may focus on the bus network, but is limited in scale. All funding sources compete with one another in the minds of the elected officials and the electorate. HB 1304 aims at the MVET of the SMT. In 2009, a one percent MVET was part of the agreement for the SR-99 AWV replacement deep bore; it was not enacted. ST3 used some property tax; did that make Legislative action on McCleary more difficult? Is ST3 also over promised? I am a full time cyclist; I do not oppose bike infrastructure; it should be implemented in ways that do not slow transit. See Vancouver. There is no doubt that Seattle money could improve ST Link. There may be worthy new lines; but many projects are worthy and funds and rights of way are scarce.

      2. Yep, agreed. And we’ll cover this as one of HB 1304, to get the necessary funds for high capacity transit in ways that won’t compete with other needs for funding. And while we’re not Seattle Bikes, part of this impetus behind this is we think a future Move Seattle Levy should focus on things like the bike network and true BRT rights of way. Bringing bridges into the conversation when there’s something like $26 billion for roads in one of the competing State transportation packages seems like a stretch, but our thought process would be that any absolutely necessary road replacement should be a use of the gas tax, given the state spending on roads is unlikely to stop and that’s all the WA constitution allows gas taxes to be used for.

      3. @Tlsgwm you’re misinterpreting.

        The Supreme Court allowed a gas SALES tax (pennies per dollar) to be used for other purposes. The gas tax itself (pennies per gallon) doesn’t change from roads.

      4. Sorry, Ben, but your interpretation is simply wrong. The state’s high court made this clear in Automative United Trade Organization v. State from 2012 in its discussion of the proviso to article II, section 40:

        “Additionally, article II, section 40 also provides:

        “That this section shall not be construed to include revenue from general or special taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes, or apply to vehicle operator’s license fees or any excise tax imposed on motor vehicles or the use thereof in lieu of a property tax thereon, or fees for certificates of ownership of motor vehicles.”

        In knocking down the appellants’ claims, the court wrote:

        “AUTO and Tower want to insert a restriction into our constitutional analysis that does not appear in the text of article II, section 40. Nothing in that constitutional provision indicates that any new tax similar to a gas tax would require the legislature to use the funds for highway purposes, or that a new tax similar to the MVET or B & O tax would allow the contrary. Furthermore, the language of article II, section 40 is unambiguous in its natural and most obvious import because it specifically indicates that all “state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes [shall] be used exclusively for highway purposes.” The proviso even clarifies that “this section shall not be construed to include revenue from taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes.” ”

        Thus the conclusion discussed in the aforementioned Washington State Wire piece is correct. The legislature could enact additional excise taxes on the sale and distribution of gasoline products with said tax proceeds being used for non-highway purposes and not run afoul of our constitutional provisions.

        Your second reply comment is correct though. However, that doesn’t mean the underlying legislation authorizing the current gas taxes cannot be modified in the future*. For example, the legislature could simply roll these back to zero and simultaneously authorize replacement gas taxes under a new scheme with different intents and again not run afoul of our state constitution. That’s a political issue rather than a constitutional one.

        *One big caveat here is if there are any outstanding revenue bonds backed by such specific taxes. If that’s the case then those bonds would need to be defeased or refunded, or, alternatively only new gas taxes would reflect the change in intents going forward.

      5. The small scale improvements you mention (sidewalks on frequent transit arterials, pavement management) and some you don’t (bike network) should have and or at least were sold as the intended improvements of the Move Seattle Levy; The bus service improvements should all be the focus of the Seattle TBD; HB 1304 offers a specific funding source that doesn’t compete with these others for needed light rail expansion in the city limits. .

        As eddie wrote, the aren’t small scale. More importantly, they were *not* funded by Move Seattle. Just as Ballard to West Seattle is underfunded, so too is Move Seattle. If HB 1304 provides for a new source of revenue, and it doesn’t cover things like bus lanes and sidewalks, then it certainly does compete with them. It is quite possible that Seattle will be allowed to raise taxes to pay for dubious, bloated, and largely ineffective light rail lines, while not being able to fund important and cost effect improvements to the bus network (that will carry far more riders).

      6. I often agree with you… but I’m confused…

        If HB 1304 provides for a new source of revenue, and it doesn’t cover things like bus lanes and sidewalks, then it certainly does compete with them.

        STBD and Move Seattle Levy would cover buses and sidewalks, etc.; HB 1304 would be an entirely different non-competing bucket of sources and uses. So not competing with either STBD or Move Seattle for the same pot of money. So your point seems incorrect without some other factor you’re not describing?

      7. Tlsgwm, I think we need to wait a few weeks until the Supreme’s rule whether zeroing out a tax nullifies its effect on other legislation. True, that’s Federal, but if they overturn the ACA — it’s still not safe until Congress passes at least a $1 penalty — the anti-transit forces in the State will use that precedent.

      8. Then there’s just redefining what a highway is. The original example is funding for WSF. Public transit redefined as a “marine highway”. OK, it transports cars. Tack an auto transport car onto the end of a Sounder train and it’s now a Rail highway? Actually the Chunnel moves a lot of freight and I believe some private autos between England and France. WSDOT could fund (with the gas tax) something similar between Seattle and Spokane which would help a lot with winter driving over the passes.

    2. EddieW, No bonding for bus service!!! That is like borrowing money to eat and drink. It’s fine in an emergency, but it’s no way to live a life.

      1. It would sense at certain times, though, like about six months from now (when the pandemic is over). Bond rates are very low. We are in a recession, so we aren’t raising much tax money. Yet the need for transit is as big as ever (following the recession). Just as it makes sense for the federal government to run a debt in bad times (and pay it down in good times) that is true for states as well.

        All that being said, I would be happy if they just paid for capital costs. That would mean infrastructure improvements, like those mentioned for RapidRide+ (https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/12/18/an-introduction-to-rapidride/). It could also include more battery buses, and running more wire. It could even include bigger infrastructure projects, like tunnels, or freeway improvements (e. g. to make the West Seattle buses run faster to downtown). It is nowhere near what Sound Transit is spending, but we could still spend a lot of money and get really good value from it.

      2. Ross, I agree with everything you said. Six months from now if ridership rebounds sharply it will be an “emergency”. So if Metro and ST need to borrow a few tens of millions to cover the costs of service until sales tax revenues catch up, so be it.

        But other than that bonds — or any form of borrowing — should be “capital expenses only”. I also agree with your list of eligibles, though the leg apparently would rule out new buses. I do think they might let Metro hang more wire by selling bonds against future sales taxes. It’s a form of “permanent guideway transit”, though certainly not “grade-separated”. It helps shape the built environment toward density.

  10. Seattle isn’t dense enough for a Paris-like Metro but if you combine light rail with RapidRide you could have something functionally equivalent. Especially since Seattle has plenty of street space that could be allocated to buses.

    Unfortunately, we seem to be replacing our BRT lines with light rail rather than supplementing them. And we are not willing/able to design RapidRide lines to be anything more than a slightly-faster and more frequent version of a regular bus.

    Where this is headed is that by 2050 Seattle will have a couple of really nice light rail lines, but the cost of creating new ROW will prevent any sort of large-scale rail expansion. Transit will serve a subset of the population really well, but everyone else will continue using cars to get around as they do now. Bus-rail transfers with 6-10+ minute headways will only get us so far.

    1. We have BRT lines in Seattle? Where?

      Rapid Ride E, as one single example, has ridership that badly deserves rail upgrades, not that local stops wouldn’t still to be served by local buses.

      1. of course BRT comes in a wide variety of flavors and intensities. Some Latin American lines are very high end with Metro capacities. Some have little capacity but high service levels, such as Route 99B in Vancouver. The CT and Metro lines are at the low end of both capital and service, but are still BRT. The next SkyTrain expansion will cover part of the corridor.

        as ST2 was being developed, some suggested that Link serve SR-99 and bus serve I-5. But ST had a one track mind and chose Link in the I-5 envelope. During the RTP planning, some community advocates suggested LRT on SR-99, but RTP staff and management wanted more grade separation. The E Line deserves upgrades, but there are many intermediate steps available before Link. What is the Goldilocks investment? It has to consider the constraints of revenue and rights of way.

        The A line will probably complement the FWLE, 2024.

      2. The expressway is from Denny to 73rd, not Mercer to 85th. The problem is not that segment, it’s 73rd to 200th. Especially 73rd to 130th where the speed limit is lowest. And the other problem is the lack of full BAT lanes. Shoreline and South King County have full BAT/HOV lanes along their entire segments of the E and A. That’s how to build a BRT line that won’t get laughed at and can be a good stand-in for rail. Seattle balked at full BAT lanes because some Aurora business owners objected to losing street parking and GP lanes. So hundreds of people have to sit on slow buses when Aurora bogs down peak hours, just because a few noisy activists don’t care about high-quality transit. Vancouver would have built it anyway. Shoreline and South King County did. Seattle doesn’t care as much if its buses are slow, as long as GP and parking lanes remain.

        In any case, Link does not replace RapidRide because something needs to serve the in-between stops. The A runs in parallel with Link, as will the 67, and the E and B would too. In Ballard and West Seattle the RapidRide lines will split and moving a bit further away, but there will still be RapidRide lines. The C will be split into the 120, a north-south line (Alki-Burien?), and a Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU express. The D will be split to a Smith Cove-Magnolia-Ballard-Northgate line and a Ballard-Lake City line, and routes like the 32 and 8. And I wonder if that will stick, if Metro can really have no route on Seattle Center-Interbay-Ballard. Assuming the funding comes through of course.

      3. Fair, but the point still stands – that’s nearly half the alignment that requires nothing but paint to create fully grade separated ROW. A ‘upgrade’ to rail means you spend a billion dollars on ROW & stations between Harrison and 73rd for zero improvement in mobility, and as Mike points out, there will still be a need for a local bus shadow.

        If there is a desire to create grade separation north of 73rd, it can be done via a bus viaduct (Melbourne is a good example), but a levy that only funds fixed guideway infrastructure would not be allowed to fund that investment.

      4. AJ is right, and that Urbanist article is a great explanation why. I really think the interest in Aurora Link is misguided. There are a couple things worth considering when evaluating an existing transit corridor:

        1) Ridership per mile. People always seem to forget the second part. Overall ridership is meaningless, in the same way that total population is meaningless. Ridership per mile is like density. The E is an extremely long route. If you combined routes (say the 40 and the 75) it would have a lot more riders too. Here are some ridership per mile numbers of a few of our buses:

        E — 1441
        3/4 — 1850
        7 — 1542
        8 — 1433
        44 — 1760
        70 — 1660

        These numbers are fairly rough — I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on them, but it is clear that the E is nothing special.

        2. Speed. There are existing corridors that perform poorly, simply because they are really slow. If you improve the speed, then you get a lot more riders. In this case, though, every other bus on that list is much slower than the E. The E is one of our fastest buses, while the 8, 44, 3/4 are one of our slowest.

        3. Overall network. To a certain extent, this gets back to speed. The 44 would change the overall transit network, because it would be a fast east-west corridor to complement the fast north-south corridors. Not only Link, but buses like the E, the 5 and the D. Aurora Link would simply make for a slightly faster line that parallels the other fast line.

        From a network standpoint, the main Link line makes the case for Aurora Link even weaker. Right now, if you are at Aurora Village and want to get to the UW, you initially take the E. The same goes for getting to Capitol Hill or Roosevelt. This changes with Lynnwood Link. At that point, you take Swift to the 185th station. This would be the case even if we added Aurora Link. The same is true if you are at 130th — you would take the bus over to the 130th Station, and then south. Speeding up the E does very little to enhance the network.

        4. Going off the (street) grid. One of the advantages of grade separated transit is that it doesn’t have to follow the street grid. A “Metro 44 subway” could dip down to serve Fremont, then go back up to serve Wallingford. A “Metro 8 subway” would not turn sharply at 23rd and Madison, but make a gentle curve, picking up a much stronger station on Madison (at around 15th and Pike, for example). It could even curve more abruptly, and get closer to First Hill.

        An Aurora subway would likely just stay on Aurora. It could, in theory, go down to Fremont, but you could accomplish much the same thing by adding a bus stop above the troll, and some escalators/elevators up the hill. Heck, for a small fraction of the cost of just running the train across the ship canal, you could have gondolas not only down to Fremont, but across to the top of Queen Anne. An Aurora Link that sticks to the main corridor adds very little, while being very expensive. One that deviates (e. g. tunneling through Queen Anne, over to Fremont, then somehow up to the surface) would be great, but it would soon be the most expensive project ever build by Sound Transit. That is essentially Corridor D, except instead of going to Ballard, it would keep going north (https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/12/06/sound-transit-refines-ballard-options/). For a huge amount of money, it would not connect to anything as big as Ballard, let alone the UW.

        Whether we spend a bundle for something that is essentially the E, or a fortune for something only a bit better, it just isn’t a very good project, and should not be a priority for rail. We are better off spending money making it faster, along with making lots of other buses faster, as well as converting other routes to rail.

        There are far more cost effective options that we should build first.

      5. Thanks for the ridership per mile, Ross. I tire of our region making decisions on opinions and feelings rather than reliable projections of cost and ridership measures.

      6. Guys. I’m pretty sure that the Aurora Bridge was not engineered for modern Light Rail trains and their necessary guideway structure. If there were ever Link in the Aurora Corridor it would have to find a new way across the Ship Canal.

    2. I agree Joe. That’s why I made the comparison with Vancouver. Check out the numbers, from a report that the Seattle Times did: https://static.seattletimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/vancouver-transportation-Chart-W.jpg. Vancouver has a lot more rail passengers, but it also has a lot more bus riders. In terms of modal share, Vancouver has about double the number of transit riders (20% versus 10%).

      They accomplish this a good grid (made up of both rail and bus service) and very good frequency on both the buses and trains. This is what we should aspire to. Vancouver is very similar to Seattle — probably the most similar. It wouldn’t be that difficult to mimic their success, but it would mean a shift in how we think about transit in the region.

  11. If HB 1304 passed how much would Seattle need to levy to complete ST 3, and any other transit projects or operations, which projects or operations would you prioritize (including increasing frequency), and what taxing forms would you propose, such as property, sales, vehicle, head tax, and so on, and for how long?

    I put the additional costs to complete ST 3 in the N. King Co. subarea, including the N. King Co. subarea’s 1/2 of the second transit tunnel and future replacement of the West Seattle, Ballard and Magnolia bridges, at $10 billion minimum based on ST’s recent increased costs, and likely reduced farebox recoveries and general fund tax receipts. Seattle’s current budgets total $5.9 billion/year, including $1.3 billion in general fund spending. A $10 billion levy would need to be decades long.

    Subways and other new transit projects would be additional, depending on what was proposed. For a long time many have predicted the day would come when neighborhood would have to compete against neighborhood in the N. King Co. subarea when the ST 3 revenue was inadequate to complete ST 3, although I don’t think anyone figured on the extent of the increased costs and reduced future tax revenues. I would think a Seattle only transit levy in the billions would reopen the debate whether light rail to West Seattle and Ballard make sense, although those two neighborhoods would fight that and claim ST 3 cannot be revisited even in a Seattle only levy to complete ST 3.

    At the same time housing advocates are claiming you could build 6500 subsidized housing units for $1.6 billion, although at $246,000/unit that is around half of what subsidized units have cost to build in the past.

    Then, if such a massive levy failed, what projects would you complete or fund? Personally I have always agreed with Ross on this issue, and that is build the second transit tunnel first and use buses for West Seattle and Ballard, increase frequency, but Seattle neighborhoods and groups are as mesmerized by light rail as Issaquah is, although I really don’t think Issaquah really thinks its line will get built in 2041, but made Issaquah look important.

  12. Does HP 1304 preclude segments like MLK? That’s usually not considered “grade-separated”, and I generally prefer all lines running full-speed without level crossings, but there have been some suggestions for reasonable surface segments like 15th Ave NW and Fauntleroy Way. We should make sure we have enough flexibility and not paint ourselves into a corner, as the monorail tax did by requiring “not light rail”, and as the monorail did by putting specific streets into the ballot measure. Excluding surface-running is often a good thing, until it becomes a bad thing.

    1. Yes. MLK style at grade is expressly forbidden, it was in the original law too. Full separation from traffic is the minimum quality acceptable for this kind of investment.

      That said – we agree that things like the CCC and Madison BRT have a lot of value. We just think there is good reason to talk about this investment differently.

      1. Just to add a tiny bit of nuance. HB 1304 says the authority could have Rainier Valley transferred to their ownership, but could never build grade crossings nor could funds it raises be used for grade crossings.

      2. Yes. MLK style at grade is expressly forbidden, it was in the original law too. Full separation from traffic is the minimum quality acceptable for this kind of investment.

        That is ridiculous. Perfect is the enemy of good. This line of thinking leads to crap. You end up with a system that makes no compromises with arbitrary metrics, but then ends up with terrible stations and terrible lines.

        Just look at Ballard Link. The current plan is to build the station at 14th. Not 15th, not 20th, but 14th. Why? Because they are going to spend way too much money running it elevated on Elliot. Using your logic, you would reject a station on the surface at Market, between 17th and 20th, because it was on the surface. Never mind the fact that it could, potentially, be cheaper than an elevated station at 14th (it would cross the canal at 14th, then turn on Market, then drop to the surface). You would rather have that station at 14th, in the middle of nowhere, instead of that station in the middle of Ballard.

        The light rail line down Rainier Valley functions quite well. The biggest weakness in Rainier Valley are the stations. Mount Baker Station is awful (https://seattletransitblog.com/2012/04/18/the-awfulness-of-mt-baker-station/) and there aren’t enough of them. It will be 25 years since Link opened before they add Graham Street Station. Spending extra money on a tunnel would not have helped things — it probably would have made them worse. Imagine Rainier Valley with only two stations, instead of four. That is the type of thing you get when you compromise on the things that matter, and don’t compromise on the things that don’t.

      3. Why would “the authority” want the Rainier Valley alignment? I thought this “authority” was supposed to fund rail lines, not operate them.

  13. I only hope for one thing positive out of the pandemic. That is that we attempt to eliminate the commute. People do not need to leave their home and bus, train, bike, drive, etc. to a skyscraper in downtown to perform work that they can efficiently perform from home. This is definitely not a sustainable model. I have worked from home for almost a year and have used very little additional energy, certainly not what it would take to commute and have a space in an office in downtown Seattle, even taking a train. If we can eliminate the commute we could turn downtown Seattle into a livable community where people can afford to live in Seattle. The thing about Paris is that people love to live downtown, raise families, grow old. It is certainly not like this in Seattle (I await your list of exceptions). Living in downtown Seattle is a novelty of the young, most eventually move out to Seattle neighborhoods or further. When I say downtown, I don’t mean Fremont, you may as well live in Shoreline. Like others have said, we should not build a transit system around the commuter. Let’s reduce commuting, target eliminating it. Certainly, not everyone can work remotely, but lets empty those redundant skyscrapers, convert them to housing, drive down the cost of living in downtown, make it a livable city and build a transit system accordingly. For the fun of it, Google the cost of living in Paris vs Seattle. Really for that price wouldn’t you rather live in Paris. We will never be like Paris, but we can learn from them.

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