East Main Station (Sound Transit)

Last fall Sound Transit thought East Link construction would require three weekend closures in the 2nd Quarter of 2021 and two later in 2021 for testing.

In last month’s East Link Extension update (pdf), which has nice photographs of progress at each station, next quarter will now see five closures, two of which are for removal of the temporary platform at Pioneer Square. The two later closures will still be necessary.

The briefing didn’t name specific weekends. It’s unfortunate that the center platform is going away: while a center platform at Chinatown/International District Station would have been ideal for transfers between Link lines, Pioneer Square would at least provide an option for the mobility-challenged and those with a lot of luggage.

Alas, a permanent platform requires emergency egress and ADA accommodations. Still, if I were ST I’d just leave the platforms there and just not open the doors on that side in the hope that someday there could be a shovel-ready stimulus project to finish it.

In much better (and bigger) news, the project float is still intact, so pre-revenue testing should begin in early 2022, and if the float holds, service could begin later that year, well ahead of the formal target of September 2023.

64 Replies to “Two more Link closures next quarter; float still intact”

  1. There’s got to be some legal reason the platform is being removed, right?

    Otherwise it makes no sense to not leave it in place.

    1. Fire code, I believe. The platform, as-is, cannot be used as a transfer platform because it has no fire exits; ST got around that by having staff stationed in person during single tracking. I don’t really understand why it needed to be demoed, but it might be because it was officially a temporary facility, which allowed ST to side step some fire code and/or ADA rules? If they left it there, even unused, then it clearly wouldn’t be a ‘temporary’ structure.

      If ST wants a permanent center platform as a transfer facility, it would need to be rebuilt anyways with vertical conveyance access to the mezzanine, so the demo work doesn’t really impact ST’s ability to build something permanent in the future. I wouldn’t get too worked up that they aren’t able to recycle a small volume of poured concrete.

      1. It would be nice if ST gave us a reason so we don’t have to speculate. Their excuses are usually bs and can be fun to pick apart. There is no conceivable reason they couldn’t just leave it there and not use it – even if it never gets used we’re going to waste time and money taking it out.

      2. Could they just add track crossings at both ends of the platform? Walking across light rail tracks isn’t some sort of unsolved problem, even in current Link stations.

      3. There might also be a safety/visibility issue with the fact that the track crossing would need to be immediately adjacent to the tunnel portal? That could be deal with some automatic crossing gates, but at that point I can see why ST concluded it was cheaper to just remove the platform.

      4. If the crossing is only at the front of the train in each direction, I don’t see how that would pose a sight distance problem. The result would be a “z” access path.

      5. “If the crossing is only at the front of the train in each direction, I don’t see how that would pose a sight distance problem. The result would be a “z” access path.”

        That is some out of the box thinking!

      6. Thanks jas! In the rare instances where trains must operate in the other direction, crossing gates would be needed to be lowered — perhaps for a significant period of time. However, if that’s required, it’s going to be almost always at a time when the other track isn’t active — and in those rare times, the center platform can be merely “closed”.

      7. Couldn’t they just call it “not a platform”? They could put some artwork on it to block people from exiting that side even if the doors are incorrectly open. Someday if the do renovate it to be a real center platform, then it will be finished and a “platform”.

      8. That would seem to work, Mike! It’s a clever idea! I’m sure the Pioneer Square Art Walk people would have done ideas to keep it fresh!

        Another option is to rent the mezzanine for billboard advertising access. That could generate income to help pay for making the platform permanent down the road.

  2. ST is suffering from the bad design decisions of Metro, and will be for awhile.

    There is NO reason why the bus tunnel couldn’t have been designed as center platform only from the very beginning – just have the buses cross-over at each end of the tunnel like the do at NGTC. Should be no big deal for professional drivers.

    A center platform only DSTT would have had lots of advantages: smaller and cheaper station box, fewer and simpler escalator/stairs/egress, etc.

    Instead Metro went with a giant “breakdown lane”, because, you know, buses are unreliable. Now we are stuck with this.

    I’d love to see ST fully activate center plate forms in the LRTT and go with Spanish boarding, but it will never happen. Too expensive for too little benefit.

    Shame on Metro for lack of creative thinking.

    1. Why is a center platform OK at places like stadium and Rainier Beach, where people are required to cross the tracks on foot, but not here? The idea that the ADA requires it here but not there makes no sense especially when there’s a side platform in addition. Sound Transit needs to give us an explanation.

      1. excellent question.

        And in a broader sense, why doesn’t a community outreach person at Sound Transit post on this forum?

        Or… why couldn’t ST run its own moderated forum? It seems like they are missing an opportunity.

      2. Those are surface stations, that’s gotta make a difference for fire code. The need for ST to planfor rapid egress of a fully loaded, 4-car train at any point underground is one of the main reasons tunnels are so much more expensive that elevated alignments.

        There might also be a safety/visibility issue with the fact that the track crossing would need to be immediately adjacent to the tunnel portal (again, not a problem with surface station). That could be deal with some automatic crossing gates, but at that point I can see why ST concluded it was cheaper to just remove the platform.

      3. Sure AJ, I get that, but no one has proposed removing the outside platforms and using them like they have always been used.

      4. There’s no reason the DSTT stations couldn’t be center platform, as the Capitol Hill and UW stations are. King County just chose not to design it that way. The explanation I heard at the time was that it’s more expensive to build a tunnel with lanes that widen at the stations and narrow between them. They ignored the interests of passengers who transfer between opposite-direction routes (as Eastside-to-airport trips will be), or wait for the first of two routes stopping at different platforms, or change their destination en route and turn around.

      5. They ignored the interests of passengers who transfer between opposite-direction routes (as Eastside-to-airport trips will be)

        I’m trying to remember the buses that used to run in the tunnel. I think most that came from the south also served stops outside (on the SoDo busway) the logical place to transfer. If they had designed Convention Place Center with a center platform, it would be irrelevant now. That’s why it is crazy to assume that they screwed up — they had no idea how this system was going to be expanded the way it was. Even when the added the rail, they messed up, and it had to be pulled out.

        It would be costly to add a center platform now, but they could still do it. Its not like the escalators are in great shape. Add some new ones, add an elevator, and you are done. But it isn’t a big priority.

        Partly because I don’t see that many people reversing direction there. Rainier Valley to Bellevue? Maybe, but a lot of those people will just take the 106 and catch the bus at Judkins Park. TIBS will have an express to Bellevue. SoDo and Stadium are two fairly low ridership stations. Stadium is driven by, well, the stadiums. Just about all those riders will simply walk from I. D., rather than transfer. I don’t think there are that many people taking transit from SeaTac to the East Side. About 150 riders did that on the 560, and some of those riders got off at Renton. From further south, it is probably better to catch the new STride bus instead of riding the train all the way into Seattle. You also have trips to Mercer Island from those various locations, but again, that’s pretty tiny. Even Beacon Hill to Bellevue — one of the more significant combinations — isn’t going to add up to huge numbers of people.

        Don’t get me wrong — it would make sense to have a center platform there. But I don’t blame ST for not building it. Only a relative handful will lose out, unlike say, Mount Baker Station, which really hampered ridership in the area.

    2. I expect the biggest operational curse in future years is that we didn’t build crossover tracks for emergency use in the University Street station vault during Connect 2020. All it takes is for one door problem (or worse a passenger injury) on one train in the DSTT to shut down the entire system with anything over a 15-minute delay — and create overcrowded station platforms that could overflow, especially if trains start vacating all the riders at one station. With an extra switching track, single-track operations can be used to clear trains and riders much more quickly.

      Why is this impending problem summarily ignored by ST? It looks like mass agency denial to me.

      It’s just one more reason why I think the second tunnel may need to be closely tied to the existing stations in the first. Then, underground passages including elevators, escalators, stairs and maybe even inclined elevators or funiculars (all the way to Boren) can be used to compensate for losing the Midtown station and give riders options when the inevitable service problems emerge.

    3. Oh please. Metro just building the station is the best thing that ever happened to transit in this town, let along Sound Transit. Imagine if was never built. We would have eventually built a transit mall, but for years and years riding downtown would be slower. If we eventually had light rail in this town, it would been on the surface (like Portland). It would have avoided Capitol Hill (too hilly) and gone up to the UW via Eastlake. A similar line on Westlake, as well as to Rainier Valley (via Jackson) would have followed.

      The transit tunnel was great as a bus tunnel, and the greatest give ever given to Sound Transit. It wouldn’t cost that much to rebuild it with a center station, but it was never a priority. This has nothing to do with Metro somehow magically predicting a split at I. D., and everything to do with ST simply not wanting to spend the money.

      Oh, and the reason the stations are so big is because they were built with fare gates in mind. That’s why they have the big mezzanines. They figured some day they might run a train down there, and need them (since most subways back then had them). The very thing you accuse Metro of (lack of imagination) is the reason they are so big.

      1. It is, but King County (not Metro) should have designed it better, with center platforms, down escalators, and more reliable escalators/elevators. The location of ORCA readers at some stations is also suboptimal, where you use an elevator and have to go out of your way to tap an ORCA reader, but it’s unclear what they intended for a payment path, whether they have a coherent vision for it, and whether they could have foreseen the rise of proof-of-payment and freestanding ORCA readers instead of turnstyles.

      2. It’s pretty clear to me that they did design the stations to accommodate turnstyles. There’s a clear “neutral zone” separating the surface elevators from the platform elevators, otherwise they could’ve saved money by making them a single elevator column from surface to platform.

        The designers had experience in designing train stations, all of which had turnstyles. They were never installed because of cost and travel within the bus tunnel was free. I’d still like to see them someday, Vancouver is installing them in their busier stations.

      3. Yes, they intended that people would buy tickets on the mezzanine and go through turnstyles. What I don’t know is where the turnstyles were intended to be. They need to be in front of both the escalators and elevators, so that you don’t need a separate turnstyle for a distant elevator, and it’s not clear that they planned that well.

      4. It is, but King County (not Metro) should have designed it better, with center platforms, down escalators, and more reliable escalators/elevators.

        That is a lot of extra money for very little benefit. Down escalators? Most of the world gets by with no escalators. Stairs never fail. Center platforms aren’t much value unless lots of people are reversing direction. It isn’t clear that many did — I don’t remember doing so. You have a better memory than me — do you remember combinations that required doing that?

        We would be better off just putting the money into more service.

        Oh, and worth noting, having platforms on the side meant a very wide area in the middle, which made it easier for buses to pass buses. That was common before low platform buses (https://youtu.be/etT_wVuKy_I?t=94). It is likely that the decision to run the buses down the middle saved riders more overall time than building center platforms ever will.

      5. “ Down escalators? Most of the world gets by with no escalators.”

        I’ve ridden on dozens of systems and the only ones with no escalators are old. There have even been station upgrades to add escalators in many places including Chicago, New York, London and Paris. Most new stations have escalators unless they are too deep.

        Keep in mind too that light rail catenaries mean that there are more steps required to clear a track than third rail systems require. I think the catenary adds about 10-15 stair steps so there’s often 40-50 steps involved — like three flights of stairs inside a typical house.

        If two-way escalators can be the norm at Seatac or at the University Village parking garage or most regional shopping malls, why should transit riders not expect the same?

        Arthritis afflicts 1/4 of all adult women and going down steps can often be harder than going up them for these people. Just because you don’t need them is not a reason to declare that others don’t need them.

      6. Overhead wire can be pretty compact. In tunnels the wire drops lower than in outdoor operation. Wire + insulators + clearance is maybe 15 inches. Even the 11 kv stuff on the Northeast Corridor is pretty compact.

        What matters more is the size of the equipment. SkyTrain, London Underground deep tube stock, etc are really small.

      7. “I’ve ridden on dozens of systems and the only ones with no escalators are old. There have even been station upgrades to add escalators in many places including Chicago, New York, London and Paris. Most new stations have escalators unless they are too deep.”

        That paragraph pretty much sums up long term public works cost inflation. As expectations increase, costs increase.

      8. “ That paragraph pretty much sums up long term public works cost inflation. As expectations increase, costs increase.”

        Is this a complaint?

        And to be clear, the major issue with recent WSB cost increases is not so much cost inflation and design expansion , but a huge initial mistake st defining needed property purchase. That’s at least half of the cost increase. The projects voted on did not assume the amount of property takes that now seem to be required.

      9. No, more an observation. Future Link projects will be more expensive because people want nicer things. Some of are good improvements and some are not.

        On this specific issue, I’m with Ross. Stations don’t need escalators unless there is a significant incline. Lynnwood got rid of most of its, which I thought was a good decision.

      10. 1920s houses had one 60-watt light bulb for a long hallway, one telephone beneath it, and one bathroom. Was the increase to multiple light bulbs, multiple telephones in rooms, and multiple bathrooms worthwhile?

        The lack of down escalators just shows how little regard the governments and community had for public transit. All the department stores around Westlake had two-way escalators, because customers would consider it substandard if they didn’t and would shop elsewhere. But public transit, let them walk stairs. This has been a persistent controversy ever since the tunnel opened.

    4. Oh, and by the way, Mount Baker Station is built the same way (no center platform). What if a split occurs there, with the new line running down Rainier Valley via Rainier Avenue to Renton. That would be the same situation all over again, and yet Sound Transit built that station.

      There was no reason to assume that there was going to be a split at I.D., it just worked out that way.

      1. True that!

        There is no center platform station between Rainier Beach and Beacon Hill — and this was an ST design choice. I suspect no one thought much about it. The Mt Baker station would have been so much better with a center platform — providing elevator and escalator redundancy. Of course, had the station profile been vertically adjusted, a walkway across Rainier Ave and maybe MLK could have been more easily connected too.

        This is exactly why more scrutiny is needed years before stations open. A design choice will affect the station for decades if not centuries. We obsess lots about the platform spots but not the platform details.

        I’m still waiting to see if anyone besides me cares about the lack of cross platform access at SODO. The current preferred plan (four tracks at grade and access only from a Lander bridge including to the existing side platforms and a third center platform only for West Seattle trains) will require two elevation changes for every rider — transferring or not. A focused rider circulation design revisit here is badly needed!

      2. What do you mean a split? There was always an intention for future East Link to branch off at Intl Dist to use the rail-convertable I-90 lanes that were built in the 80s before ST existed. (In fact, they were built around the same time as the DSTT.)

        Mt Baker Station shows ST’s then-trend of always side platforms, following the precedent of the DSTT, except at SeaTac for some reason. Later ST acknowledged the wisdom of center platforms and designed Capitol Hill and UW that way, and at least some of the later stations.

        But it stubbornly refused to reconfigure Intl Dist even though it’s the most important train-to-train transfer point in the system. It must be because the station was already built. Even though ST fully knows that East-to-South trips will require transferring to an opposite-direction train.

      3. Oh, and none of ST’s plans or proposals have ever shown a branch out of Mt Baker. That’s only unofficial suggestions for a Renton line. And they would immediately run into the reason Link wasn’t put on Rainier in the first place. That was the original concept, to have Link on Rainier, but ST said Rainier was too narrow and congested for light rail so it put it on MLK instead.

      4. My point is that there was no reason to assume that the split would occur where it did. Here is another way to have built the system:

        1) Go south to Rainier Valley, via Dearborn, and MLK. You could probably run cut and cover, saving a lot of money versus the tunnel in Beacon Hill. Add a station on Rainier and Dearborn.

        2) Split at that station, with one train going to Bellevue.

        That means the split occurs outside the tunnel. The idea that they knew exactly how they were going to build light rail lines back when they built the tunnel is absurd. A lot of people thought they never would build light rail. I’m all for future proofing, but we aren’t talking about a major blunder. If it really was a big deal, ST would just retrofit the station — it isn’t that expensive to do the work now. Its not like the decision to skip First Hill, which we will forever have to live with.

        Actually, I kind of like that alignment better. You lose Beacon Hill, which is regrettable — it is a solid station. You lose a couple middling stations (SoDo and Stadium). But you gain a station that is further away from the freeway than Judkins Park, and thus better serves the neighborhood. You make the trip to Rainier Valley and places south much faster. So much so that you can send the 7 up the hill to First Hill. It might still be a tough sell. Even if you kept the 7 as is, you still make that transfer (for folks going further north) much better. With a cut and cover station, the transfer would be painless, and the transfer would often save time (especially when both lines are built). You just build small staircases on both sides of the street, since the station sits right below Rainier. It would be like a typical small station in New York, with the side platforms. Oh wait — no, I guess not — I guess you spend a bunch more money, and delay those riders so that the other riders get to transfer more quickly. :)

      5. The original proposals did skirt the northeast side of Beacon Hill like I-90 does. I don’t know the details on that since it wasn’t selected. I’d always assumed the south line wouldn’t use the I-90 lanes, but I’m not sure on that. I don’t recall any station between Intl Dist and Mt Baker.

        The SODO/Beacon Hill tunnel routing was selected when Paul Allen wanted a Stadium station, and a secondary justification was added for SODO workers. There was no Beacon Hill Station at first. The Beacon Hill community got a shell added for a potential future station, and then finally got Beacon Hill Station added to ST1.

  3. Alas, a permanent platform requires emergency egress…

    Change the signs saying “Don’t cross the tracks” to say “Don’t cross the tracks except to exit the station in an emergency.”

    …and ADA accommodations.

    Add wheelchair ramps to allow emergency track-crossing.

    How is this insufficient?

  4. An alternative to adding an elevator and escalator at Pioneer Square would be to add a additional down escalator and additional elevator to each side platform at the ID station. Both platforms have more than enough width, and one even opens to an outdoor space (next to Union Station).

    As a transfer point, the ID plaza needs to be reconfigured anyway so that people aren’t confused about where the paid fare zone and orca readers are. I think fare payment and transfer rules are going to confuse thousands of people after East Link opens in about two years unless major changes to the surface plaza is reconfigured.

    If East Link is truly “under budget”, it would seem a no-brainer to fund the improvements — regardless of what is done.

    1. @Al S. : I would think of trying to bring egress up to the BART level of the Market st Subway. Montgomery, Powell, and Civic Center all have 3 up escalators, 2 down escalators, and three sets of double wide staircases per one center platform. I’d tie this egress expansion into the doubling the number of exits, Spanish Solution, and platform lengthening for 5-car trains at the Downtown stations.

      1. How are you going to fit five car trains into Pioneer Square and University? The overall station length is 570 feet, but about 60 feet is consumed by each mezzanine, leaving only about 450 feet for the platforms. A Link car is about 95 feet long, so five of them would be 475 feet in length. I guess that if the train stopped with its nose in the tunnel the doors would (barely) fit in the available platform length, but it would be a tight squeeze.

      2. Four-car trains are sufficient. If ST wants to it could make capital improvements to the DSTT to bring headway down from 3 minutes to 90 seconds. That would double capacity. It could also replace the trains with open-gangway cars, which would increase capacity 20%. Portland has cars without unnecessary driver cabs, and it allows twelve additional people to sit or stand in each end.

      3. It’s not exactly akin to BART stations. They have mezzanine turnstiles for each operator. This would be at the surface. Plus, ID is a trench and not a full vault so it appears much easier to make changes.

        For ID, I would commission a talented landscape architect and user experience team to work with riders and the neighborhood to design a modified paid fare area with more escalators and elevators. It may be that some existing stairs become escalators and new stairs get installed. A few alternatives with a few rounds of refinement would be great. Expansion options for the eventual second tunnel would need to be included.

        ID has a track siding in the middle now, right?

        This should have been done five or six years ago — well before Connect 2020. Still, it should be a careful process as what evolves will likely be permanent for 100 years+. It may take the East Link opening before enough people say “We made a mistake. Fix this!” like the UW station escalators problem.

      4. @Tom Terrific: I figure that if you’re going to close the station to add new exits and the Center platform, then you may as well throw in moving the Signaling equipment that I assume is under the stairs so the platform can be lengthened.

        Mike Orr: The kind of Signaling improvements youre talking about would need to go hand in hand with new entrances/exits to handle the additional passenger load, which would enable platform lengthening because of the signaling equipment is.

      5. @Al S. : I bring up the example of BART and the Market St Subway, because pre-Covid BART/MUNI carried a similar a similar number of passengers to ST3, with the stations having similar ridership to what’s projected for the DSTT stations post ST3. So if you want the closest possible example to what crowding would look like post ST3, the Market St Subway is the best place to look. Faregates are utterly irrelevant to this issue.

        So, what does this evidence show us?

        That your worries about passenger flow and overcrowding are entirtely well grounded.

        Civic Center and Powell are way less patronized in general, but the Central Subway will probably change things for Powell.

        Meanwhile, Montgomery and Embarcadero hadover 50k passengers each on Weekdays. I would say that Montgomery handled it’s heavy peak loads rather well on normal days, what with three times the stair space and 1 more escalator than the DSTT stations have. On the days where delays happened, they could get bad, though me not being part of the “Commuter Class” means I didn’t suffer through many of them personally.

        Embaracdero on other the hand? A disaster waiting to happen even on good days. And it has about the same amount of egress to each of it’s levels that the DSTT stations have. It has heavy interchange traffic because it’s currently THE place everyone Coming from the East Bay transfers to in order to get to sporting events, and to Caltrain. The opening of the Central Subway will ease this traffic, by giving them an Alternate (potentially faster) transfer at Powell.

        But the ongoing DTX project, the “Metrofication” of Caltrain, and BART’s short (30+ tph) and long (2nd Transbay Tube) term enhancments means that Embarcadero is probably going to be dealing with 2x to 3x the traffic it already is. The existing platforms simply aren’t going to be able to handle that kind of load. To solve this, BART is proposing to spend a lot of money building full Spanish Solution platforms at Embarcadero (probably for both levels), and half one at Montgomery.

        Meanwhile, the DSTT stations all have plenty of space for the installation of the Center platforms for Spanish solution. The Center platforms would allow for the installation of Down escalators, because the Center platforms would only need up escalators, with all the existing ones becoming down escalators.

        In many ways, the Market St Subway has the opposite problem as the DSTT, they have tons of acess points to the Mezzanine level, while falling short at platform level. Meanwhile, the DSTT has the space at platform level, but lacks enough entrances to stations.

        With the DSTT 2, I’d say that ID and Westlake need another 8-10 entrances each, University St/Pioneer Sq 4-6 each, and Midtown/Denny should be built with least 8 entrances each. At least some of these could be relocations of existing entrances.

      6. @Tom Terrific
        “How are you going to fit five car trains into Pioneer Square and University?”

        Yeah, I always wondered about the platform length issue whenever I rode the buses thru the DSTT knowing that one day they would be replaced by light rail trains. But, hey, it only took the NY MTA until 2009 and over a half billion dollars to finally fix this problem at South Ferry Station (Battery Park). Before then, the train operators had to warn people at Rector to be in the first five cars if they planned on getting off at the Battery. So many tourists and day trippers (what we called non city natives in my day) used to get caught up in that little trap. Of course, Super Storm Sandy hit just three years later, flooding South Ferry Station and doing extensive damage, forcing the MTA to close the new station and eventually revert to the old subway station with its short platforms. It cost the agency several hundred million dollars more to rectify. Ouch.



      7. “ With the DSTT 2, I’d say that ID and Westlake need another 8-10 entrances each, University St/Pioneer Sq 4-6 each, and Midtown/Denny should be built with least 8 entrances each. ”

        I agree, FDW.

        I wish the hundreds of millions being spent on another crawling CCC streetcar was spent on enhancing existing DSTT access and adding entrances through some strategic mezzanine tunnel extensions and more vertical devices.

        I wish ST3 had more dedicated funds to improving access to the already funded stations. There is this unspoken assumption that what exists shouldn’t be improved — so even the $100M access set-aside in ST3 has been structured to improve access only to rail station entrances rather than to rail station platforms.

        I wish that we were paying as much attention — and getting as much explanation — from ST about the planned DSTT2 platforms and access as the end stations in West Seattle and Ballard are getting. The Downtown stations will rely more on pedestrian access (as opposed to riders transferring from buses) so layouts will seemingly matter much more than at the ends.

      8. 8-10 more entrances? That sounds like a lot. I’ve never seen crowding at the entrances at either Westlake or Intl Dist. The new trains will require a new pair of platforms, and there will be some addition to the stations around them for people to wait and board, But I don’t see a need for more than doubling the number of entrances.

      9. @Mike Orr: That’s because Link hasn’t been built out yet. They WILL get more crowded, as the ST2/3 come online. And while I hate to bring up BART again, the Market St Subway was being planned/built when the Bay Area had a similar population to Pudgetopolis now. IIRC, both of the Subways Chicago built were constructed with 8 entrances each too So bringing all the DT Stations to that level as a minimum seems like a reasonable proposition, though they could be the form of fewer, higher-capacity entrances like what ST did for Capitol Hll.

  5. In much better (and bigger) news, the project float is still intact, so pre-revenue testing should begin in early 2022, and if the float holds, service could begin later that year, well ahead of the formal target of September 2023.

    The revenue service date for East Link is June 30, 2023. Staff even said June 30, 2023, in the presentation on January 14 to the System Expansion Committee.

    1. Well, the original completion date was 2021, and I have never heard of an amended opening date for East link after July 1, 2023 until now, and follow it fairly closely, so I am not sure how two months makes much difference, or is “well ahead” of Sept. 2023.

      Those on the eastside always wondered why parts of East Link could not open earlier than completion of the entire line going east, but were told the electrical system required the entire line to be tested before opening (then came the post tensioning and engineering for the bridge span/deck “hinge” which pushed opening to 2023, which provided time for Bellevue to complete a short tunnel).

      We were also told ridership would be 50,000/day by 2030 (although ST’s website now shows ridership at opening at a little over 12,000/day), and without a second transit tunnel East Link would have inadequate capacity and frequency, until post-tensioning allowed only one train on the bridge span at a time, which means 8 min. frequency max, which it turns out with actual ridership will likely be more than enough, even during future peak hour commutes.

      1. The opening date was pushed to 2023 due to the 2008-2009 recession and the extended EIS process (thanks Bellevue). The significant (additional) engineering work for the floating bridge didn’t have a direct impact because that came after the delay to 2023, although arguably that work might have caused a delay had the original 2021 date still held.

        Considering East Link still has ~215 days of float as of the November 2020 update (https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/agency-progress-report-november-2020.pdf), a 2-month delay to September 2023 would be significant.

      2. Don’t underestimate government’s ability artificially increase East Link’s ridership using various tactics, such as:

        Increasing MVET fees. Increasing speed camera fines. Increasing red light camera fines. Increasing the number of speed and red light cameras. Closing more roads through expanded safe streets. Replacing road lanes with bike lanes. Eliminating parking spots to create parklets. Eliminating parking spots for outdoor dining. Outlawing parking minimus. Banning single family zoning. Truncating most bus routes to Link stations. Expand traffic calming measures. Charging to park at P&R and TC parking lots. Tolling all roads. Congestion pricing. Raising fees on rideshares. Raising fees on bikeshares. Convert more GP lanes into HOV lanes. Increase taxes on the middle class until they can no longer afford to own a car. Penalize working from home by taxing it.

        There are a variety of measures gov’t can take to force more people to ride East Link. Behind drawn curtains in a smoke-filled room, I’m sure these things have already been secretly discussed by the powers that be.

      3. “We were also told ridership would be 50,000/day by 2030”

        It’s always uncertain to predict the future. Ridership depends on thousands of people’s individual decisions, and they themselves may not know whether they’ll ride Link until it opens or later, or they may think they know but change their minds at the last minute. You can’t predict with certainty what ridership will be any more than you can predict what the stock market will be. Nor can you predict future zoning decisions. It depends on who gets elected to city councils in future terms and generations.

        East Link’s delay is due partly to recessions and partly due to the protracted debate about the South Bellevue alignment. The Bellevue City Council and community members demanded over a dozen alternatives be studied, and each one adds time to the process. The city council was non-cooperative through most of this, with an anti-Link majority. That all added a year to the process, or 2021 to 2022. The loss of tax revenue in the 2008 recession added another year. And I thought it was going to slip a third year due to later cost bottlenecks, but it seems to have gained that back.

    2. I was going to post this comment the other day on the thread by guest contributor ST CEO Rogoff in a rebuttal to his spin piece but then never got around to it. To set the record straight, these are the orginal opening dates for the Link extension projects from ST2:

      Bellevue- 2020
      Overlake- 2021
      Highline- 2020
      Federal Way (kinda)- 2023

      The capital program reset following the Great Recession changed the timelines for multiple extensions. The Bellevue alignment fiasco caused further delay, and additional cost woes for the Lynnwood and Federal Way projects pushed those start dates out as well.


      1. Thanks for the correction. I had forgotten that East Link originally had phased openings.

        It also drives home that the time estimates we see for mega projects (not only ST’s projects) are just not accurate. They seem to assume nothing goes wrong, be it a recession, design issues, environmental/permitting delays, etc.

  6. Still, if I were ST I’d just leave the platforms there and just not open the doors on that side in the hope that someday there could be a shovel-ready stimulus project to finish it.

    Ah, but doing it this was means that there are potentially two opportunities to reward one’s friends in the heavy construction industry who may have missed the previous parties.

    1. That’s just void speculation. I can’t believe boardmembers care only about construction pork and not at all about mobility.

    2. https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019-year-to-date-system-performance.pdf

      Here is ST’s 2019 summary for ridership projections and actual boardings. Generally ridership estimates have been around 25% high, with ST Express the most accurate. A professional transit company should probably be closer than 25% off, although understandably when selling levies claims are exaggerated (look at Move Seattle).

      ST has amended its ridership for East Link but still shows between 43,000 and 52,000 riders/day by 2026. https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion/east-link-extension

      Allowing the same 25% margin for error this still works out to 30,000 to 40,000 boardings per day, which seems very high to me based on 2019 transit ridership on the eastside, even with ST’s plan to truncate all buses on the eastside for trips to Seattle, and measure at the bridge span. Even before significant ridership drops, pre-pandemic the 550 ridership was around 10,000 weekdays. https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2019/10/16/why-ridership-on-st-550-melted-down/ The 554 is historically about half the 550 ridership.

      ST’s target for link farebox recovery is 40%. Actual recovery has been lower, although ST states that is because of the costs to complete rail to Northgate but without any rider revenue yet. But if transit experts I quoted in an earlier post state a 5% decline in transit commuter ridership can have a big impact on service levels overall, then maybe a 25% differential between ridership estimates and actual ridership (pre-pandemic) is going to be an issue, and what looks like a much higher differential for East Link even with 100% bus truncation.

      The ridership estimates on East Link caused a lot of angst on the Eastside because at 50,000 predicted riders/day — with peak hour commuters being the biggest percentage — most could not figure out how 8 minute train intervals through one transit tunnel would work, and since Mercer Island is the last stop in both directions train and station capacity — including the bus intercept — did not pan out. There would simply not be enough space on the trains for peak hour commutes. Now we are told, wink wink nudge nudge, not to worry, ridership will be much lower on East Link.

      So yes, I think ST should be more accurate in its ridership predictions, at least pre-pandemic. Zoning is not going to make a difference, and to assume the eastside is going to amend its zoning for transit is unrealistic.

      My guess is ridership on East Link would have been closer to 20,000 to maybe 25,000/day without a pandemic, which 8 minute interval trains and one transit tunnel can handle. Post pandemic 15,000 to 20,000 riders per weekday is likely. Of course, this halves predicted ridership farebox recovery even before the pandemic. If a private company made that kind of error it would go bankrupt, and claiming it is hard to predict things like future ridership when buses have been running the same routes on the eastside for decades would not be a very good excuse.

      The eastside subarea can absorb the lost farebox revenue, but not every other subarea can, and it just breeds distrust in ST’s predictions, especially when it comes to project costs, which is going to be a big issue in any future Seattle transit levy under HB 1304, or if other subareas are going to be asked to contribute 1/2 of whatever the second transit tunnel costs, because I don’t think Seattle can pay for 100% of the tunnel’s cost overruns. Without a second transit tunnel what is/was the point of ST 3?

      1. I’d agree that the 43K to 52K forecast by 2026 is likely unrealistic. However, there are many other ridership components besides Routes 550/554.

        1. Judkins Park with better entrances on Rainier and a new 23rd Ave entrance. There are a few thousand new apartments under construction around this station right now.

        2. The Eastgate and Issaquah buses. That’s the Mercer Island hubbub.

        3. Massive changes in the Spring District.

        4. Cannibalizing riders a bit from RapidRide B and some 520 routes. That includes new 405N Stride riders transferring to Link.

        The big wild cards probably are how expensive Downtown Bellevue parking will be and what Microsoft does with their commute buses and on-site employment. Half of all East Link boardings were from the two Downtown Bellevue stations and at Redmond Tech station in the 2040 forecast.


      2. 3a. Massive changes to downtown Bellevue itself, not just the Spring & Bel-Red districts. Bellevue CBD is adding 3 million sq ft of office space right now, which is slightly more than all of Seattle. Even a modest change in mode share will unlock a large increase in ridership.

        And Amazon isn’t treating Bellevue as a satellite office just for workers who don’t want to commute into Seattle. It will be a full office with entire divisions, which means some share of those workers will choose to live in Seattle and ‘reverse’ commute.

        The floor is ridership on the I90 routes (55X, 21X) not only pre-pandemic, but pre-DSTT bus closure and pre-P&R closures. Link will be faster, more reliable, and have better all-day service than any of the routes it replaces.

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