Technicolor of a Skagit Transit Bus

This is an open thread.

118 Replies to “News roundup: access”

  1. From the ST “news release” link about the progress on the Tacoma Link Hilltop Extension project, we are treated to this little bit of spin:

    “Walsh Construction Company II, LLC is building the Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension. The $217 million project is funded through a partnership between Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, a $75 million federal Small Starts grant and a $15 million federal TIGER grant.”

    I guess ST forgot that they “rebaselined” this project just last year to a total of $252.7M:

    “In September 2017, ST Board baselined the schedule and budget. In June 2020 the Board approved an increase to the authorized project allocation from $217.3M to $252.7M. The T100 construction contract was executed in August 2018. In December 2019 the Board added contingency to this contract. Following the April 2020 risk assessment, staff recommended an additional $35.4M budget for an Estimated Final Cost of $252.7M of the project. The ST Board approved the recommendation in June 2020.”
    (Source: Jan 2021 Agency Progress Report Capital Programs, page 102)

    As a reminder, this program entered the FTA’s Small Starts program pipeline with a projected cost of just over $166M. The FTA’s Nov 2014 Rating Assignment listed the total project cost in YOE$ at $166.01M. Two years later, the Nov 2016 Rating Assignment listed the cost at $175.63M with this narrative:

    “Significant Changes Since Last Evaluation (November 2015): The capital cost increased from $166.00 million to $175.63 million because of higher unit costs of vehicles and the need for a larger operations and maintenance facility than Sound Transit previously planned. SoundTransit’s anticipated Small Starts funding amount did not change, but the Small Starts share decreased from 45 to 42 percent. Additionally, Sound Transit now expects to receive an SSGA in late 2017 rather than late 2016.”

    Of course, Sound Transit is hardly one to ever worry about facts getting in the way of their chosen narrative, i.e., spin. We are seeing this now in spades with their oft repeated talking point that all ST2 capital projects now under construction save one are on or under budget. Sure, “rebaseline” enough times and that’s hardly remarkable. Geesh.

    1. Even without the overruns, that’s a lot of money for a weak line. It curves around on itself, which means that various combinations (Saint Joseph to Union) just won’t happen. Folks will only “round the horn” if they are at the north end, making it essentially two separate, short routes. From a network standpoint, it creates a bit of a mess. There are some good east-west buses, so in that sense it works out OK. But I don’t see how Pierce Transit can fully leverage this line. Even when the line goes further, the sudden turn to the west (on 19th) won’t help things. At that point, it is simply overlapping the 2, while being incapable of replacing it (since the 2 keeps going east-west).

      I’m surprised they didn’t just try and poach the 1. That is a straightforward, popular route, and allow Pierce Transit to add service elsewhere. If the goal is to revitalize an area (i. e. allow tourists to see some of the character of Tacoma) then that accomplishes your goal without going around in circles (and it picks up a lot more riders to boot).

      Of course just granting Pierce Transit that money would do more to improve transit than this project ever will.

      1. RossB: correct. ST selected a political mode with the hairpin alignment. Electric trolleybus could climb the hills and provide more direct and frequent service.

      2. The goal was to serve the Hilltop area (equity) and the medical district (Tacoma’s First Hill) and planned growth on MLK and 19th. Going west on 6th wouldn’t have done those. Going west on 19th would have bypassed downtown. Going west on 11th would have still caused a U-shaped bactrack like the current alignment. And there may have been an element of “It must be rail” like the First Hill Streetcar.

        In my mind you need to aim for the high and low: fast grade-separated rail that’s faster than buses, and inexpensive bus routes elsewhere. Going for the mediocre middle of mixed-traffic trains just wastes money with no mobility benefit. I thought the mixed-traffic segment in downtown Tacoma would be upgraded with Hilltop Link and MLK would be built better, but it isn’t. So Pierce is stuck with a low-speed train for the sake of having rail in the subarea. We should just say, “A mixed-traffic streetcar isn’t rail!”

      3. However, I assume the Tacoma streetcar will perform better than the SLU and First Hill streetcars since the population is lower and congestion is presumably less. By “performance” I mean travel time and reliability, not ridership. Ridership will be limited by said low population.

      4. The goal was to serve the Hilltop area (equity) and the medical district (Tacoma’s First Hill) and planned growth on MLK and 19th.

        Which is another way of saying “the plan was to go this way”. I get it, I’m just saying it was a bad plan. If the train went out 6th it would have served the medical district. It would have basically replicated the 1 which is the most popular route. It is worth noting that the 1 gets over 5,000 riders, while the second most popular gets 2,500 and none of the other buses get over 1,000.

        This will connect Hilltop with Tacoma General, but that’s about it. No one will take this from Hilltop to downtown — they will take the 28. From 19th (Saint Joseph) they will take the 2. There are very few combinations that actually work better than existing buses.

        This is symbolic transit. ST had a mode (streetcar) and asked Tacoma where to put it. That’s bad enough. But Tacoma ignored ridership, and the overall network, and simply had them tack on another route. It is extremely expensive, and adds very little. It is like adding gold plated rims to an Eldorado that needs a new transmission. Yeah, it looks cool, but it won’t get you very far.

      5. Tacoma is clearly hoping for a “Pearl District” effect. Hilltop was a wasteland before this project and they are hoping that this and a few other small projects will revitalize the neighborhood like the streetcar did in Portland’s Pearl District. It’s expensive, but Hilltop has the bones to become a tremendous neighborhood once again.

      6. “This is symbolic transit.”
        Agreed. The extension of the Tacoma streetcar line was always a dubious project even at the original cost estimate of $166M*. None of the dynamics at play here have changed that assessment. All that has changed is the price tag. At a quarter of a billion dollars (let that sink in for a minute), it is a poor use of the Pierce County subarea’s limited resources. The mobility and connection needs expressed in ST’s Small Starts application for FTA funding could just as easily have been met with bus service fully funded through ST subsidies for far less.

        *The FTA Small Starts Grant was awarded in 2018. This was the final rating assignment at the time:

        Overall Project Justification Summary Rating – Medium:

        •Environmental Benefits
        Rating- High
        •Mobility Improvements
        Rating – Low
        •Congestion Relief Rating – Medium-Low
        •Cost Effectiveness Rating – Medium
        •Economic Development
        Rating – Medium
        •Land Use Rating – Medium


      7. Hilltop was a wasteland before this project

        Oh come on. Hilltop has always had character. It always had potential. But like most of Tacoma, it struggled. The UW branch has played a big part of the city’s, and this neighborhood’s revival. The streetcar? Meh.

      8. I remember that there was a Tacoma Link systems study several years ago to figure out what corridor to build and this project somehow came out on top.

        It’s too bad the choice was made before ST3 and thé Tacoma Dome extension took hold. The funds probably would have been better spent on a short one-station extension past Tacoma Dome to UWT or slightly further to be closer to St Joseph. Oh well, that train has left the station.

        It pains my creative mind to say this: I don’t see how to turn this service into anything valuable.

      9. “I don’t see how to turn this service into anything valuable.” – develop the area around it! Streetcars are about local service, so T-Link will be successful if there is robust local activity. There’s a ton of zoned capacity all along the existing alignment, and particularly once Phase II opens the streetcar will be great for all sorts of trips within Tacoma’s ‘greater’ downtown that too long for (most people) to walk.

        Reasonable people can disagree on whether streetcars are a good development tool or simply follow neighborhoods where development was going to happen anyways. But it’s (mostly) built and exactly where Tacoma wants to grow, so might as well maximize the asset.

        None of this logic supports Phase III, which is hot garbage and should be ditched asap in favor of bus investments. Literally any bus investments would be better, but PT has good “BRT” (think Rapid Ride) corridors identified that would be a great starting point for further transit investment.

      10. AJ, density alone does not make a good streetcar route. It has to connect directly to complementary destinations.

        That’s the problem here. Except for maybe Tacoma General, the line will be very circuitous for a future resident in this corridor to use to get to anywhere other than to other destinations on MLK. Even using this to get to Downtown Tacoma jobs or attractions or UWT (and especially Tacoma Dome for transfers) is time consuming. Similarly, any new non-residential destination here will take so much time to reach that the streetcar won’t be very attractive.

        We talk about how a five block dogleg is a blow to FHSC usefulness. This deviation is much bigger.

      11. Seems like for any trip pair involving two of Stadium, the commercial core, UWT, the brewery district, and the Dome, seems like the streetcar is perfectly straight? That’s where most of the density is and will be.

        And then along Hilltop, it doesn’t look like there is any bus route that runs the full length of MLK, as everything else turns towards downtown, so a ‘perpendicular’ route seems useful. Again, a bus along MLK would have done just fine, but once the tracks are laid, it does seems like a useful service pattern.

        I don’t see anyone riding the streetcar from Hilltop to downtown because of the abundance of east-west bus routes, so from a ridership standpoint perhaps look at it as two separate streetcar routes (Hilltop to Stadium and Stadium to the Dome) that happen to be interlined for operational reasons?

        I’m optimistic Stadium to the Dome might be Tacoma’s version of the CCC; not really an improvement over a well designed bus route, but because it runs through dense neighborhoods and has dedicated ROW, it should get good ridership.

        For Stadium to St Joseph, unfortunately FHSC may end up being a good comp, as both routes run perpendicular to the primary trip patterns and operate in mixed traffic. On this segment, the only justification for the investment is around economic development & placemaking, as the mobility improvement is negligible.

      12. “We talk about how a five block dogleg is a blow to FHSC usefulness.”

        Tacoma Link’s U-shaped section contains the biggest destinations, the medical district, downtown, and UW Tacoma. The First Hill Streetcar’s barbell bend goes around three sides of an elementary school.

      13. I’m optimistic Stadium to the Dome might be Tacoma’s version of the CCC; not really an improvement over a well designed bus route, but because it runs through dense neighborhoods and has dedicated ROW, it should get good ridership.

        That’s the problem. It isn’t especially dense. Nothing in Tacoma is that dense. This is an enormous amount of money to spend on transit mobility in a county where the best buses run about every 15 minutes.

        Like the CCC, it doesn’t work from a network standpoint. To quote Jarrett Walker, “All other things being equal, long, straight routes perform better than short, squiggly and looping ones.” The streetcar is a short, squiggly route.

        Of course it adds something. Every bus route adds something. But a route that costs this much — for both construction and service — should transform transit in the region. This won’t.

        The comparison to the streetcar is apt, as they both suffer from the same backwards planning. They basically asked “where do you want the streetcar”, instead of “how best can we improve transit”. If you ignore the fact that it is a streetcar, it makes no sense. It doesn’t enhance the existing network, nor create a new, more efficient one. It is just a strange, awkward route that instantly becomes outdated the day it is built. Planners have to work around it, as if it was an old legacy system, despite being brand new.

        In comparison, consider the Madison BRT. Argue all you want about the cost or implementation, but the routing is rock solid. Every transit planner in the world would look at the CCC or the Tacoma Streetcar and ask “Why is it going around in circles like that?”. No one would question a bus that essentially just travels the whole length of Madison. In the words of Walker, it is a “long, straight route”.

        It is also transformative. A lot of the Metro network is long overdue for a major restructure. The buses are too focused on going downtown. There are too many routes too close to each other (10, 12 and 48 north of Thomas; the 2 and 12 west of First Hill). This reduces frequency. There are even “L” shaped routes overlapping other routes (like the 4 and 43). It all adds up to much lower frequency, which in turn make every transfer extremely painful. It is essentially a low frequency, hub-and-spoke system that only makes sense if you are going downtown (or maybe the U-District). It is out of date.

        Yet Madison BRT should take a sledge hammer to those routes. The 12 is gone, and the line spacing problem north of John is solved. The 2 shifts over to Pike/Pine, again enhancing line spacing. The 8 goes over to Madison Park, not MLK, making it straighter, and saving service money. The 43 goes away as well. All that extra service (from the 11, 12, 43) goes into making all the buses more frequent, complementing the extremely frequent Madison BRT (6 minute service all day). Plenty of trips would now require a transfer, or walking a bit farther, but the buses run a lot more often and a lot more people come out ahead. This is transformative.

        Or imagine if the 7 was replaced by a streetcar. We would argue about whether it needs to be a streetcar, but no one would argue about the routing. The large amount of money that goes into the 7 could be put into other bus routes. At worst it is essentially just a lot of money from another source that goes into making the buses more frequent.

        None of that will happen with this streetcar. Ridership won’t be great, because it adds very little. It won’t transform the network — my guess is Pierce Transit will essentially ignore it. Nor does it give the region what it really needs — money to run the buses more often. It is just a lot of money to spend on something that will do very little.

      14. To everybody “poo-poo-ing” the U-shaped route of Tacoma Link, trust me, it will get used. Expansions at both TG & St Joe have been devoid of added parking, despite increased beds and employees. And the street parking situation at both has become increasingly encumbered by limited parking zones. Nurses who have worked there for years now must leave 10 to 20 minutes earlier than they did when they first started, in order to either wait in the long queue (around the block_ to badge into the garage, or circle the block for a coveted all-day parking space. Unfortunately there isn’t a ton of good transit in the south Sound, so driving is the only option for many.
        But with an increasingly difficult parking situation, more employees will explore transit options before buying a new home, or consider a park & ride as part of the commute. (Many will also consider jobs in rural area or out-of-state, keeping the Tacoma nursing shortage and pay on-par with Seattle, given that Seattle hospitals won’t pay a wage competitive with housing costs.)
        Moreover, folks without cars have few, if any, good options of getting from Tacoma Dome Station or most points downtown, to St Joe, the opposite end of the “U.” If you are on a physical fitness regiment, you could power walk up the 25% slope hill. Or, you can take a bus to the north end of downtown, then change buses, and take another bus that zig-zags south and west. Nobody without a car will pay the premium for an Uber straight up the hill. (If you are car-free with that kind of discretionary spending, you probably live in Seattle.) Or, you could just ride the frequent Tacoma Link that has no transfer penalties and has signal priority.
        FYI, the termination at S 19th positions the route well to transition into a good crosstown route with a station at a third hospital which is surrounded by numerous smaller outpatient clinics. The lengthened route also improves the case for truncating many south-end routes at Tacoma Dome and the north or west end routes along MLK or Division, to save bus operating hours and layover difficulties in a congested downtown.

      15. I think the Hilltop neighborhood and central Tacoma in general is very ripe for redevelopment. The challenges will be more about gentrification than whether or not the streetcar will be useful.

        The horseshoe shape of the line isn’t ideal and has driven up the cost, but of all the streetcar projects since the original PDX line, this is the one that has the greatest chance of rebuilding an economically devastated neighborhood.

      16. I’m just going to reiterate what I stated in one of my comments earlier.

        The FTA assessment gave this extension project the following scores in these two areas that have been discussed throughout this thread:

        Mobility Improvements
        Rating – Low
        Economic Development
        Rating – Medium

        I suppose if this subarea wants to spend its limited resources on what amounts to an urban renewal plan masked as a transit and mobility plan, then that’s certainly their prerogative given that they obviously have gotten ST’s support of the scheme. I’m just in the camp who thinks that this quarter of a billion dollars could have been spent on a ton of additional bus service that would have much more of an impact on actual mobility in this area.

      17. I certainly wouldn’t want to make the case that this project is the best use of $250 million, but I don’t think it will be a total waste of money either.

        Tacoma has been facing a long term problem in trying to revitalize the Hilltop. For long-time residents of Seattle, you may remember how empty the area around 12th & Jackson was in the 1960s and 70s. Today it’s a vital and growing part of Seattle’s economy. Hilltop needs to replicate that success for Tacoma to grow. There’s plenty of land available for re-development in the Hilltop and if it’s an overpriced streetcar line that gets the ball rolling, I won’t complain.

  2. Is the reason for the PNW being marginal in Levy’s graph a question of city size, terrain, or something else? Is there another blog post of his that will clear it up?

    1. It is a combination of cost, city size and city density. More here:

      That doesn’t mention cost. It is possible that Alon is ignoring cost (which means the case for it is extremely weak) or assuming the same costs as California (reasonable) or those that have been published. No matter what, the costs would be high for an area that isn’t especially well suited for it.

      I made a comment in there ( making the case for higher speed rail (110 MPH). This would get plenty of riders for a lot less money, by largely just reusing the existing rail and right of way. It would cost a lot less money. Since fares would attempt to get the money back (and the trip is price sensitive) it is possible that a cheaper improvement would get the most riders. It would definitely be the best value. Spending billions to get only a handful more riders is not a great way to be “green”.

      1. Would love to see Olympia go all in on 110 mph service on the Cascades. It seems doable and the cost-benefit analysis may well be better than HSR proper. Part of me worries that we’re going to fritter away years chasing HSR when we could be riding fast, frequent trains and killing regional air travel.

      2. @Rossb: Keeping the line in it’s existing RoW is completely unviable on the sections from King St Station on North. The ongoing issues of Erosion, Landslides and Sea Level rise on the coast route mean that it’s probably more cost-effective to just build a new corridor between Seattle-Everett than it would be to upgrade Coast route.

        And while the 220-250 mph plans are absurd, I think shooting for 2 hrs SEA-POR and 2 hrs SEA-VAN is ambitous but not overkill.

      3. Alon is not ‘ignoring’ cost because he is using a Rate of Return metric as his KPI, by assuming average cost and making super high level assumptions about geography. The issue is that his model suggestions that the population size, density, and distance of Cascadia likely does not merit true HSR, but it does support some investment, which is why it is marginal. So if there’s a way to create HSR for a fraction of the typical cost (i.e. a 115 mph corridor with significant reuse of existing ROW) pair with other policy measures (carbon tax, tolling I5, etc.), then the ROI calculation could certainly change.

        FDW – I think you can reuse much of the existing ROW between Seattle and Portland, and between Seattle and Vancouver some segments, such as through the Skagit valley, are plenty straight as well. The big issue is, as you say, between Seattle and Everett, but that is also the corridor where an entirely new line could create good value for intraregional trips between Snohomish and Seattle, which is ridership Alon is not including in his model because he is looking at ridership between MSAs rather than within MSAs.

    2. Am I crazy, or is regional HSR the one application where using existing ROW alongside freeways actually makes sense?

      1. Quite often, yes. But that doesn’t make it particularly cheap. The biggest cost (per mile) is just getting out of the city. There isn’t a lot of available ROW there. Then as you go out further, the freeway often narrows, or goes over the road. You can see both here: The inner ROW is pretty much gone there. You also have to go over the Old Highway 99. You are a long ways from any major city, at yet it still isn’t cheap.

        That all assumes the high speed rail can take the corners of the freeway. I-5 makes a lot of twists and turns that seem gentle at 70 MPH, but are really different in a train, going 200 MPH. High speed rail would be very expensive, unfortunately, just as it is in California. The difference is we have a much smaller population.

      2. Given the wide ROW in many places as well as the more gentle curves and grades, this is true in the abstract.

        It’s a philosophical problem I have with so many upcoming Link lines running in freeway ROW: light rail just goes slower than free-flow traffic rather than faster like HSR does. We are using this valuable ROW for something slow. It’s cost-effective in the short run but a tragic waste of valuable ROW in the long run.

      3. “Killing regional air travel”

        I am not sure what that means, or why it is a goal.

        The hassles of flying and getting to the airport are the two biggest drawbacks of short flights (although Link helps with access). I don’t think most take “regional” flights to Olympia. The two closest regional destinations are Portland and Spokane. If you are flying to NY or LA the hassle of flying is outweighed by the distance and time savings of the flight.

        The real choice is between flying and driving for regional travel. Travel for most out of state destinations is just too long to drive or take a train, with too little in between.

        Some of that comes down to what you need to take with you and number of travelers. A kid and stroller can make driving to Spokane better than flying. For Portland the time difference between flying and driving is about the same. The hassle of the airport (unless you are a frequent MVP flyer with Clear access and club rooms) is the same as rail — access to and from stations plus transportation around Portland — while for many the drive along I-5 for 3 hours is pleasant, listening to music or a book on tape. Spokane at closer to 5 hours is just about 1 hour too long a drive. But transit in Spokane — especially in winter — is not good, so you need a rental car.

        Regional rail however has the negatives of flying (access, transportation at destination, cost, time) and driving (time).

        The more travelers the more cost effective driving is for regional travel. A family of four costs the same to drive to Portland or Spokane as a single driver, when the cost to fly or take the train is three times more expensive than a single flyer.

        The bigger threat to airlines is from Zoom and remote working because those remove the lucrative business flyer, and leave the budget vacation flyer.

        If I were going to spend billions on rail I would spend it in urban cities, not very expensive regional rail lines that can’t compete with air or car travel but suck out all the public funding.

        Or like Link you could do both: exhaust all the public transportation funding to build 90 miles of “commuter” rail from nowhere (Everett) to nowhere (Tacoma) to nowhere (Redmond), with even more nowhere in between, rather than a comprehensive transit system in the urban cores, when that nowhere to nowhere 90 mile route is right in the sweet spot for cars, even if driving alone.

      4. “Killing regional air travel”

        I am not sure what that means, or why it is a goal.

        Regional air travel in this case means Portland to Seattle, Seattle to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Portland. “Killing” means that it will dramatically reduce trips of that nature. This stands to reason, as there are quite a few people who will switch from the hassles of the airport to rail if the latter is competitive in terms of total time.

        This is a goal for several reasons. First, regional air travel — like all air travel — uses fuel. There are hopes of electric propeller planes, but an airplane is still a lot less energy efficient for a trip like that than a train. Likewise, the costs don’t scale. The more planes take off, the more airport space is needed, as well pilots, etc. I don’t think regional air travel is a huge factor in the (very expensive) plans for new or expanded airports, but it doesn’t help. The more we can move to using trains for this sort of thing the better.

        The reason Olympia was mentioned is because it is the state capital. It was mentioned the way that people mention “Washington”, as in “Washington will decide later this week how to address the problem”. This doesn’t mean the city itself will do anything, but the officials who work there will. The fate of this rests in the hands of the state government, AKA “Olympia”.

      5. “Killing regional air travel”

        “I am not sure what that means, or why it is a goal.”

        Energy efficiency. Stations in city centers rather than in low-density areas where runways can be sited.

      6. Regional Air Travel also covers the people flying from Bellingham to Seattle or Eugene to Portland, where they transfer to long haul flights. It’s more common than you think.

        It would be cool if Alaska had a codeshare agreement with Cascades so your plane ticket might include a last-mile leg on a train but that would require a much better connection to Amtrak at SeaTac than what we have now. I don’t think a shuttle bus would cut it either.

      7. Regional Air Travel also covers the people flying from Bellingham to Seattle or Eugene to Portland, where they transfer to long haul flights.

        Those folks are likely to stick with the plane. Train travel has several advantages, including fewer security hassles and direct access to downtown. If you are taking a connecting flight, these don’t matter. If you are in Bellingham and flying to Chicago through SeaTac, you aren’t going to take a train to Seattle and transfer to SeaTac. You will just take the plane, make the easy transfer, and go.

      8. I’ve taken the train to Seattle to fly out as the ticket price difference was about $200.

    3. It’s city size. Seattle, 4.0 million; Portland, 2.7 million. Alon has mentioned previously that international routes suffer from low demand, so you can’t really count Vancouver (2.5 million). I don’t think there is high speed rail anywhere in the world connecting such small cities.

      Compare to…

      California: Los Angeles, 18.7 million; San Jose, 7.8 million; San Diego, 3.3 million; Sacramento: 2.5 million. (Not counting Tijuana, 2.2 million).

      Texas: Dallas: 7.6 million. Houston: 7.2 million. San Antonio: 2.6 million. Austin: 2.2 million.

      1. Size and density (according to the previously linked comment). This makes sense to me. The less dense you are, the more likely you are to have a car, and want to use it. It is also harder to get to the train station. If you are in Federal Way and want to visit your relatives in Gresham, you probably are going to drive, no matter how fast the train is. More to the point, going from high speed (110 MPH) to really high speed (over 200 MPH) isn’t going to make much difference in your decision. You are more concerned about convenience (like how often the train runs through Tacoma or transit on either end) along with cost.

        That is why the reports suggest that high speed rail would pretty much wipe out the air market, but only make a small dent for drivers. I think the far cheaper 110 MPH range would be similar. For most riders, it isn’t worth the hassle of going to the airport. For people going from city to city, suddenly the train is faster (that isn’t the case today). At that point convenience and cost become the big factors, not any additional speed.

      2. Looking at France’s TGV, it’s the size and density of Paris as well as the size of the country (similar to Texas) that seem to be the major drivers. Except for the original Marseille- Lyon line (2.1m and 1.6m), the other Metro areas served are all less than 1.2 million.

        Our Metro region has about 4m compared to 12m in Paris. However, we don’t have nearly the subway system and general density of Paris. If our next million people were housed in the core and we had five or six more “city” lines (rather than two in ST3), HSR would be much more marketable as a component of a larger rail-using culture. One other irony is that Seattle’s latitude and climate almost matches Paris exactly.

        Spain is similar to France.

      3. The real reason isn’t just about individual city size or density. Seattle and Portland are far from Paris, but Alon’s map serves plenty of places that make them look like it by comparison (Jacksonville FL, Buffalo, Cleveland, St Louis, Columbus, etc). If you’re just looking at potential ridership between 2 city pairs, Seattle-Portland is easily better than the large majority of cities on Alon’s map. The main issue is that all of those mid-sized, sprawly cities can connect to the core New York-DC corridor and to Chicago, creating a network effect that justifies the investment. Relatively few people would use high speed rail to travel from Buffalo to Cleveland, but a connected network would have riders going from Buffalo to Chicago, Cleveland to Philly, both cities to New York, some long-hauls to Atlanta and Florida, etc.

        A real world example of this is in Spain’s network. Though only Madrid and Barcelona are larger cities than Seattle and Portland, Spain still has built out a comprehensive national network connecting all kinds of tiny (but dense) cities together.

        Cascadia, meanwhile, is its own little corner of the US. Few people live between Portland and San Francisco, making an extension to connect with the California line too expensive for too little gain. And running a transcontinental HSR line through the Rockies is pure fantasy.

        Check out this post for more info on the model he used to assess potential ridership and ROI:

      4. Britain has high-speed rail throughout the country, on most of the way from London to Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, and in other corridors. It’s not just for connecting regions of 7 million or more.

      5. The main issue is that all of those mid-sized, sprawly cities can connect to the core New York-DC corridor and to Chicago

        Yes, which is another way of saying that none of the Pacific Northwest cities are Chicago. We aren’t as big. We aren’t as dense. If Seattle was huge, then it wouldn’t matter that Portland and Vancouver aren’t that big. But it isn’t. None of them are very big.

        We aren’t even as big as those Texas cities. Dallas and Houston (as sprawling as they are) are still much bigger than Seattle, which is much bigger than Portland. If we had extraordinary density (for North America) then we might be able to make up for it, but we don’t.

        Throw in the extremely expensive costs, barely adequate transit, and it is just a bad value.

      6. Medium-sized cities have a lot of travel too. Otherwise why is I-5 up to fourteen lanes and still fills up? People don’t take trains because we’ve let them atrophy into oblivion and we’ve invested in highways and airports instead. This is an attempt to start rectifying it so that future generations aren’t in the hole we are. A city of 720K (Seattle) going through a region of 850K (South King County) to a city of 213K (Tacoma) and a county of 660K (the rest of Pierce County) naturally has a lot of north-south travel. It’s just that we’ve chosen to invest in highways instead of trains. In similar-sized metro that continued their train investment rather than diverting it to highway expansion, there’s a lot more train ridership. Because hundreds of thousands of people are traveling north-south every day for a thousand different reasons. Otherwise I-5 wouldn’t be full.

      7. Medium-sized cities have a lot of travel too. Otherwise why is I-5 up to fourteen lanes and still fills up?

        Because most of the drivers are going a relatively short distance. Very few are going city to city. In Alger, for example, it is two lanes each way. A lot of the traffic is trucks. The remainder is mostly folks traveling within Skagit and Whatcom County. The same thing is true to the south.

      8. Looking at cities as dots on the map, especially sprawling US cities, really isn’t particularly helpful in trying to do this analysis. High speed rail isn’t an airline service, where cities are dots.

        As an example, the TGV operates on high speed lines, but also lower speed lines. The original Paris-Lyons line may have ended at Lyons, but the trains continued on several lines to several other cities. Even in Japan, where the high speed lines are a completely different track gauge than the rest of the country, there are higher speed trains and more regional trains on the same high speed line that stop more frequently. On the Tokaido Shinkansen line, the fast train makes 6 stops, the semi-fast train makes between 7 and 12 stops, and local trains stop at all 17 stations.

        So, such a line could be used for Mt Vernon to Everett or Tacoma to Olympia service, or something along the lines of Seattle to Chehalis at high speed with the train continuing on the local line to Aberdeen, or Seattle to Portland with an end station in Troutdale on the conventional line.

        I’m not saying any of that is reasonable to build, but the studies I have seen treat the thing as an air service on the ground rather than how actual high speed rail lines are actually built in other countries, to gain the most ridership for the corridor served.

        It’s also important, I honk, to point out that as the speed increases, while the capital costs go up, the operating costs go down because the labor cost is spread out over more trips. Sure, it requires more energy to go faster, but not really that much more compared to the labor cost.

        Combine all of these factors, and it’s why the USA is the only country in the world that develops plans for high speed rail that lose money. No lines anywhere would make money if they were built to connect two dots only.

    4. The PNW is going to perform weaker than lines elsewhere. From Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, there are lots more 1M+ metro areas within a 100-500 miles distance. We only have two. Plus, our terrain and limited ROW make land+construction costs no cheaper than in these other areas.

      Take Chicago as an example. HSR from St Louis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Detroit would seem ideal. CTA with Metra has pretty good coverage. HSR would also be potentially attractive for Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Toronto.

    5. Levy has his own vocabulary which can be cryptic. He says most US cities “don’t have a transit network” even while saying he has ridden the subways and BRT in LA so he knows they exist. What he means is that transit’s mode share (around 5-10%) is so low as to be negligable. He says Pugetopolis “barely has a transit network” — above some cities with multi-line LRT — because its transit mode share is just above the threshold, and credited the ST2 and ST3 investments and Seattle’s TBD. We could also add RapidRide A-F and the earlier investments in Cascades. And other analysts have noted that Pugetopolis has higher ridership per capita than similarly-sized American cities, due partly to the geographical barriers (bridge bottlenecks) and liberal culture. Metro has gotten multiple awards for its bus network. Unfortunately, we’re so far behind Europe and Toronto.

      Most analysists see two West Coast HSR networks as potentially viable: Vancouver-Portland(Eugene) and Sacramento(SF)-LA(San Diego), but not the gap in between. The gap would take a lot longer because of the low population within it and the distance of trip going through it. The HSR sweet spot is for trips up to 250 miles or three hours, and it can have two of those if there’s a large city in the center. Vancouver-Portland is around that size, as is Seattle-Spokane. But the population drops off precipitously north of Vancouver, south of Eugene, and east of Issaquah, so HSR beyond those isn’t very viable. Eugene-Sacramento doesn’t have enough demand to support HSR on its own, and Seattle-Sacramento is too long to be competitive with flying.

      Europe or China would connect the entire west coast anyway as part of a continental network, but in the US it’s hard enough to get even the low-hanging fruit in Levy’s map approved, much less the rest of the country, so let’s worry about the low-hanging fruit now and worry about the rest later. A regular bus from Eugene HSR station to Sacramento HSR station would be enough so that people can travel throughout the west coast without a car or airplane, without a 19-to-24 hour journey.

      1. @AJ: The plan is decent enough intermediate step, but of course we should be looking beyond it. It’s from 2006, and American Mainline Rail has finally started leaving the Stone Ages since then.

        And plans can change on the drop of hat. Let’s go back to Metrolink. They pretty much spent A decade and a half pretty much treating the CAHSR as if didn’t exist. It was only in 2017, once Caltrain and HSR came with Electrification and Level Boarding schemes completely and utterly without any input from Metrolink, that Metrolink announced the SCORE concept, and that Metrolink would be using the new infrastructure built by CAHSR to provide better service on their system. Now Southern California Rail Commentator Paul Dyson was making the prediction that Metrolink was inevitably going to announce their own Electrification sceme, and he even put out his own crayon on the matter called “Electrolink”.

        It’s not just LA that’s getting board, Toronto’s GO RER, Philadelphia deciding that Vukan Vuchic was right, Denver’s Fastrack being taken to the next level, Montreal’s REM project, Virginia’s massive purchase of Railways, South Florida’s Brightline, and the downright interesting stuff happening in Utah. The Transport Zeitgeist is pointing more and more towards Modernized Regional Rail, and it’s only a matter of time before Washington State follows suit.

        If you really don’t think things can turn on a dime like that, how then do you explain how SLU got into ST3. There was no talk about it whatsoever in official plans, no process at all. It appeared out of nowhere like 6 months before the election, screwing over Belltown, again with no democratic process whatsoever. Now it’s quite obvious that SLU sure as hell deserves the stops that it’s getting, but the process by which it happened was completely unlike every other project thats been in the pipeline the past 20 years.

        The ideas that I have in mind for the Cascades corridor aren’t so much derived from CAHSR, or even Caltrain. Rather it’s the Bay Areas other big regional rail system: The Capitol Corridor. Specifically, it’s the kind of upgrades that are in the works for it.

        And yeah, I don’t see this funded through the Sound Transit system. However I see it as being operated as a part of Sound Transit’s Rapid Transit system.

      2. “how then do you explain how SLU got into ST3. There was no talk about it whatsoever in official plans, no process at all.”

        it got in through the regular process. The city of Seattle recommended it during a public feedback period. ST defers primarily to city governments, so it did in this case. SLU is not just some random neighborhood, it’s a highrise district and an effective extension of downtown. The surprising thing was that everybody missed it earlier: both the city and ST and transit activists. If you build a highrise district, of course it needs high-capacity transit to get tens of thousands of people in and out of it every day. The city of Seattle and ST were late in recognizing it, but of course it needed to be done, and it was.

      3. @RossB: I’m not saying do this INSTEAD of the WashDOT plan, but IN ADDITION to it. Don’t treat 13 trains per day between Seattle and Portland as something an end state that will be sufficient until the heat death of the universe.

        The UHSR study right now sucks because it’s only running as many trains as Cascades itself is planning for, and that’s just not enough. Cascades should be aiming something like 60-65 round trips per day (Betweeen Seattle and Portland) as a part of it’s next plan. This is based on studies that I’ve seen for the Capitol Corridor, and Front Range rail proposals. The Front Range project has 1/2 the population of SEA-POR and is proposing 30 Round trips per day. The Capitol Corridor project has 50% more population than SEA-POR and is proposing 90 Round Trips per day.

      4. If we want the high speed rail that other countries have, we are going to have to get over this hurdle: partial to full rail nationalization. I found this recent video by Alan Fisher that explains this:

        As long as private corporations can control track usage and placement, every attempt to make rail service better is going to be expensive and disappointing. It becomes a protracted negotiation to do even modest things like add four daily round trip trains or enhance rails to carry faster trains.

        It’s such a massive institutional change that it will take time for citizens to get used to the idea. Perhaps it can be done on a state by state basis. Until there is public control, we will do nothing but publish plan after plan that will either be trivial or utopian, but never strategic.

      5. @Al. S : Nationalization is something that would be a nice bonus, and would make everything a lot easier. But the examples of Los Angeles’s Alameda Corridor (and the process that led to the creation of Metrolink), the more agreement between MBTA and CSX(?) are examples that you don’t have to go that far.

    6. @AJ: The travel times I’m proposing probably mean going up to/over 150 on some bits, mainly South of Seattle where it’ll be easier to do with electrification. I’d keep using a fair chunk of the existing corridor, but I want everything grade-separated, so I’d be willing to bypass the alignment where necessary to enable the kind of speed I’m aiming for. Like for example, I would stay on I-5 in North Snohomish/South Skagit, avoiding the dogleg to Stanwood. And between Kelso/Longwood and Outside Vancouver, I’d move the tracks to the I-5. But, say the section between Tacoma Dome and Tenino? But I would modify those corridors in a pretty major way.

      @RossB: I’m not talking about that weaksauce plan. I’m talking about what comes after it. Unlike you, I don’t see the game for transportation development as being over with ST3. I see ST4 being in the cards, and it being another oppurtunity to seriously enhance Seattle’s Transport network. And you want to know what project will be featuring in ST4, after the Spine is done?

      The Spine.

      1. The “weak sauce” plan, as you call it, is an actual plan. The details have been hashed out — it just needs the money. It would dramatically improve the speed between Seattle and either of the two cities. It would get people — including me — to consider using the train, instead of driving. (Right now driving is much faster than taking the train.)

        The only other official plan is being hashed out, as we speak. But so far, estimates are that it would be extremely expensive, and gain only a handful of riders transitioning from other modes. It might not gain any, if they try and recoup the costs (people will go back to driving, or taking the bus if they charge too much).

        Everything else is just spit-balling. We have no idea how expensive it would be, or what kind of speed improvement it would lead to. It is quite possible that other improvements can be made — an iterative approach makes sense — but the key is to start with what has been researched, and what we know will make a huge difference.

      2. “what project will be featuring in ST4, after the Spine is done?”

        The Spine isn’t done until it reaches Tacoma Mall and Everett CC. That’s what Pierce and Snohomish said in the run-up to ST3. So those will be first in line in ST4.

        Seattle has several unofficial ideas we’ve discussed repeatedly. I’ve traditionally preferred Ballard-UW, Metro 8, Lake City-Bothell, and something southeast to Renton. But ST3’s alignments are turning out so underwhelming, and the political paths amd transfer interfaces to any of the potential North King projects are getting so bewildering, that I feel less strongly now. I haven’t heard anything from North King politicians or ST board/staff on what they might want next. The only thing we have is the preliminary studies that were done in ST2 or are funded in ST3. The ST2 ones were Ballard-UW and WSJ-Burien-Renton. I don’t remember the ST3 ones.

        In South King the first unfinished project is WSJ-Burien-Renton. I don’t know how eager they still are for it. I’d like to see Stride on Renton-Kent-Auburn-Puyallup.

        East King hasn’t said what it might want. Renton is in East King, and it was vocal about not getting Link in ST3 despite its large population and equity-deserving demographics. WSJ-Burien-Renton would address that. (Renton-downtown travel time is a surprisingly fast 40 minutes, comparable to the 101, even with the West Seattle detour. It shows how much full grade separation makes a difference.) But East King as a whole would probably put Kirkland first. That would mean reviving the debate about how to extend the Issaquah line to downtown Kirkland, which was deferred due to contradictory demands between ST, Kirkland, and the south Kirkland “Save Our Trails” activists. The ST2 study was Ballard-UW-Redmond, but the Redmond tail was rejected as too redundant with East Link. So it could either go to Kirkland via 520, a Sand Point lake crossing, or going around via Bothell. ST considered all these but didn’t come to any conclusion. There’s also the long-term idea of north-south light rail; e.g., Bothell to Renton. ST deferred that as not having enough ridership for several decades. Some of the above alignments for Kirkland would also be a down payment on that. Or East King could get excited about more Swift or RapidRide lines, although there’s no sign of that yet.

        But the background issue is ST3’s large backlog. It’s not scheduled to be finished until 2041, and that looks likely to be extended to 2046. ST3 needs all of the ST1/2/3 tax streams, so any ST4 before the 2050s would have to be on top of that. Many people think ST3’s taxes are already at the upper limit of tolerance and wouldn’t support anything on top of them. How much is it worth planning projects that wouldn’t even start construction for thirty years?

        Another issue is whether the subareas’ desires will be so divergent it would be impossible to combine them at a uniform tax rate. ST is one tax district so the rate must be equal across all of it. But if Snohomish and Pierce say they don’t want anything beyond Everett CC and Tacoma Mall, and East King and South King say they don’t want anything, and North King still wants a large number of projects, then it wouldn’t work in the current ST funding structure.

      3. @RossB: Quadruple-tracking the Spine, as that’s the only realistic to build HSR is to put next to Link. This isn’t in official policy, Like how Electrification and Frequent wasn’t in Metrolink’s until recently, but that’s what the HSR studies will build toward.

        @Mike Orr: What I’m proposing could be called an “ST4”, though I don’t think it’ll be done within the framework of ST has now.

      4. The existing WSDOT plan is sufficient. It should be included in the next statewide transportation package. Even at our current growth rate, I see no need need for a “what comes after,” just a robust O&M subsidy to improve rail’s mode share.

        I don’t see regional rail being done through the Sound Transit funding framework. An entirely new alignment between Seattle and Everett would mean an ST4 large enough to fund Mike’s entire wish list (Metro 8, Ballard-UW, etc.), and to Mike’s point that would put a project like this opening in the 2100s as ‘the spine’ and several Seattle projects would all be ahead in the queue.

        FWIW, ST4 is likely to include a pivot bus projects, given that HCT corridors that don’t make the cut until round 4 are presumably corridors better suited for Stride, not Link. There’s ample need for bus investments throughout the region to pair with Seattle rail projects to create an ST4 coalition, so no need to gin up a rail megaproject for Tacoma and Everett. I see an ST4 to be much closer to Sound Move in size and complexity (one big Seattle rail project, with bus and Sounder investments sprinkled throughout the region to meet subarea equity)

      5. Quadruple-tracking the Spine would cost a fortune. That’s the problem. High speed rail is extremely expensive, for very few additional riders. It isn’t matter of planning, it is a matter of value. High speed rail for this region isn’t a good value.

        In contrast, the old WSDOT plans wouldn’t cost a fortune, but would be sufficient to get a lot of new riders.

  3. To be fair, the Washington Policy Center harps on CT’s newest Swift route: the Green Line. They claim ridership hasn’t materialized, which is true. The line is a dud. Perhaps in 5-10 years when the SR527 corridor is more dense and the route extends to Bothell, the Green line may be more beneficial.

    I still wonder why CT chose the SR527 corridor before the much more popular 115/116 corridor. That’s like converting the 150 into a Rapid Ride line before Aurora Ave or 15th Ave W.

    1. I think part of the problem is the wide stop spacing. From what I gather, the idea is to essentially build a network for long distance travelers. This could work if:

      1) You have a large number of long distance travelers.
      2) You have frequent service connecting to it.

      Community Transit certainly doesn’t have the latter, and I doubt they have the former. Outside of rush hour, there just aren’t that many people going to Canyon Park or Seaway. It is essentially an express overlay, running all day long, but without the demand. It would be like running the 301 all day in a world where the E got half the ridership it does now. Except even that analogy is a stretch, as downtown Seattle is a major draw (nothing along the Green Line is).

      The Blue Line gets away with wide stop spacing because the corridor is very spiky. You have major attractions (the community college, the hospital and clinics) and then you have basically nothing (lots of car lots). I think CT could still add more stops and come out ahead, but it does OK by hitting the highlights. The highlights are simply lower along the other corridor.

      From a network standpoint, it looks to be the start of something that isn’t ready yet. Canyon Park is a launching point to UW Bothell and Bellevue, but the ST bus runs infrequently (every half hour). There are a fair number of buses to the north, but most are infrequent (many are rush-hour only) and the connections can be awkward. For example, if I’m not mistaken, the most frequent Everett Transit bus is the 7, and this doesn’t quite intersect it. This means riders need an extra transfer to get to Everett Mall, or the stops north along SR 99 not covered by Swift Blue (which is just about everything). The south end could use the added frequency of STride, while the north end could use a major restructure of Everett/Community transit buses.

      The line, meanwhile, could use some work. It needs to extend to UW/Bothell. At that point, you could fix the stop spacing, and get rid of the 105. Even for a long distance rider, the improvement in frequency more than makes up for speed difference (the stops have off-board payment after all). To be fair, this would cost more. It is quite possible that CT knows all this, but simply doesn’t have the money to build all the off-board stations that it wants.

      1. “…or the stops north along SR 99 not covered by Swift Blue (which is just about everything).”

        Not sure what you mean by this part. Perhaps you could clarify?

        In general I agree with your points about the Swift green line on stop spacing, not reaching the UW Bothell campus and the timing of its launch (in relationship to its own network and the other moving pieces in the transit development in this area of the north end). As I stated previously in a similar discussion on this topic some time ago, I can understand why CT moved forward with this line before their planned orange line even though the latter will most likely see higher demand throughout the day and be less peak-oriented. Lynnwood’s 196th St project had stalled by then and funding was uncertain during the timeframe that CT was making these decisions. Additionally, the green line planning was overall further along, largely because the corridors involved had already been identified and studied in the agency’s LTP.

        With that said, the ridership numbers for the green line have been disappointing to me as well. With the proper stop spacing improvements as well as getting the line extended to the campus and the other transit pieces coming on line in the next few years, I would expect ridership on the this Swift line to increase significantly.

        Back in 2019, shortly after the Swift green line’s launch, CT published the following information in a board presentation:

        Swift Performance Report -April 2019
        • 44,212 Swift Green boardings
        • 22% of all BRT boardings
        • Most utilized stations (% of weekday boardings):
        –Canyon Park P&R, 20%
        –Hwy 99 (pair), 18%
        –Seaway TC, 16%
        –4th Ave W (pair), 11%
        • The corridor with routes 105, 106 and Swift Green doubled daily ridership
        • 47% of Swift Green boardings were with Orca taps/tickets

        Average Daily Ridership (weekdays):

        Boardings by station-
        NB (882), SB (849)

        Canyon Park P&R-347, 0
        220th St SE-27, NR
        208th St SE-62, 18
        196th St SE-26, 17
        180th St SE-54, 30
        164th St SE-44, 46
        153rd St SE-31, 17
        Trillium Blvd-20, 20
        16th Ave SE-61, 27
        Dumas Rd-13, 7
        3rd Ave SE-43, 16
        4th Ave W-116, 66
        Gibson Rd-28, 25
        Hwy 99-58, 252
        112th ST SW-6, 25
        100th St SW-13, 38
        Kasch Park Rd-4, 31
        Seaway TC-0, 281

      2. “It is essentially an express overlay”

        It’s a limited stop overlay with stations every 1-2 miles. Don’t confuse that with a long-distance express. In the long term it will be suitable for a trip to Fred Meyer or the university as land uses improves and the population increases. It’s akin to Stride, Link, and the 512 and 550.

        And CT wanted to extend it to UW Bothell initially but it didn’t have enough money for that. It will extend it as soon as it can.

      3. “At that point, you could fix the stop spacing, and get rid of the 105.”

        That would make it not Swift anymore. If you’re going to add all local stops you might as well throw away the Swift line. And the best place to add stops is in CT’s tax district, not outside it. It’s a limited stop line that’s primarily to get Snohomans to UW Bothell and downtown Bothell, not to replace King County local service.

      4. For example, and this doesn’t quite intersect [Everett Transit 7]. This means riders need an extra transfer to get to Everett Mall, or the stops north along SR 99 not covered by Swift Blue (which is just about everything).

        I should not have wrote “SR 99”. I mean the main corridor, which starts out as SR 99, but becomes Evergreen Way. I didn’t realize that until I took a closer look at the map. My main point is that there aren’t that many connections on the main corridor.

        Here is an example: You want to go from Mays Pond to Shoreside Village, an apartment complex off 75th Street SE ( You take the Green Line, but then what? You can take Swift Blue, but it will overshoot your destination by a half mile. The 7 will get you right there, but first you have to access it. That means you will take Swift Blue, then transfer to the 7, or you will just walk a really long ways. Of course most people would just drive. The network isn’t doing Swift Green any favors.

      5. [I didn’t close the italics correctly on my last comment, hopefully I’ll do better this time.]

        That would make it not Swift anymore.

        Right. It would make it like RapidRide E. A bus that carries way more riders, runs a lot more often, and is generally way more useful than Swift. You still have off-board payment and some BAT lanes (the main value of Swift). You just make it … better.

        If you’re going to add all local stops you might as well throw away the Swift line.

        You don’t add “all the local stops”. You don’t have (stupid) American stop spacing (200-250 meters). You have international stop spacing (300-600 meters). That is in general. If a stop isn’t worth serving on Swift, it isn’t worth serving it all. Why run a redundant coverage bus when there are lots and lots of place in Snohomish County with no service at all?*

        The only time it makes sense to run an overlay is if the base bus — which again, has international stop spacing — is so full that adding frequency doesn’t help. You’ve already reached the saturation point Rather than add another regular bus, you might as well add a bus that skips stops, but is still full.

        Otherwise, the rider loses more time waiting for the bus — or walking long distances to the bus stop — then they save with the faster ride. (Here is a transit expert saying the same thing:

        Here is another quote from Alon, on the same post:

        A lot of this boils down to the stop innovating and start imitating principle I tell Americans about re construction costs. American bus networks suck. Canadian ones are better, but that boils down to how they feed rail and how the bigger ones run every 8 minutes off-peak, not 15. Once you get out of North America, you rarely see 200-meter interstations on buses. You see a range of 300-600. Nor do you see much creative local/express combos; it won’t surprise me if there are more such combos in Brooklyn alone than in all non-North American cities I’ve lived in (Tel Aviv, Singapore, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, and let’s even throw in the Riviera) combined.

        * There are exceptions. Sometimes a coverage bus can serve a stop simply because it is “on the way”, while the ridership-oriented bus ignores it. For example, this bus stop here, served by the Everett Transit 7, is marginal: There is a little strip mall close by, so there is something, but not much. If Swift stopped there, the stop spacing would be fine, but you wouldn’t get many riders. It makes more sense to just skip it, and serve the Safeway (at 75th Street) where there are apartments and a lot more retail. That would mean aggressive stop spacing, but better than now.

        That would, however, leave folks without coverage. Thus a coverage bus could pick up that stop. A route like this:– clearly a coverage route — could cover that bus stop and provide infrequent service. Otherwise, that bus stop should simply go away.

    2. There are many, many routing puzzling routing decisions all over the region. I think a lot of them are based on “aspirational” routing, where they imagine that better service will induce demand, where it’s simply not possible, given the density that is possible with our zoning laws.

      We would do far better to base our routing decisions on existing bus ridership. Our cities don’t really make zoning decisions in response to increased transit capacity at all.

      Like, why are we building Link up 15th rather than Aurora? Why is Link going to Boeing in Everett at all? Why did Link go down MLK rather than Rainier? Why isn’t Link going to Crossroads? I could go on all day…

      1. Succinctly, I’d say this:

        We plan rail lines and stations incrementally rather than comprehensively.

        The sausage-making ST3 process was the penultimate example of this.

      2. We would do far better to base our routing decisions on existing bus ridership.

        Yes, but to begin with, we should focus on ridership per mile. It is also worth noting that speed and frequency effect ridership. When it comes to subways, you need to consider new routes that are different than exist currently, because the train is underground. Then there is the overall network. This all makes it a bit more complicated then simply replacing a route with a subway, although you are basically right.

        Like, why are we building Link up 15th rather than Aurora?

        That is a great example. Ridership per mile is better for the D and the E. Furthermore, the E is extremely fast, so a train (with the same stops) wouldn’t get you much. A train with fewer stops would lose a bunch of riders (which is why Metro doesn’t run an all-day express). While the line is very similar to the D, the curve to cover South Lake Union adds value. From a network standpoint, both are flawed, as much of the line lacks crossing service (due to our challenging geography). I’m not saying that Ballard Link was the best possible route (it isn’t) but Aurora Link would be worse. Of course if it went through Queen Anne, then Fremont than made its way to Aurora, it would be something different entirely, and existing ridership numbers would only give a hint as to the potential.

        Why is Link going to Boeing in Everett at all?

        For that matter, why is Link going to Everett at all? Seriously, if you look at the bus numbers, there is no case. So yeah, this is clearly a case of hoping for the best (hoping that lots of people will take transit to their job at Boeing).

        Why did Link go down MLK rather than Rainier?

        The goal was always to get from Tacoma to Everett. That is a stupid goal, but that was the goal. How they got there was secondary, which is why they took the cheapest route through Rainier Valley. I guess we should be thankful there are any stops — they could have been even more ridiculous and followed the Duwamish. Believe it or not, there are people who think we should do that now.

        Why isn’t Link going to Crossroads?

        My guess is it was money. Link has a strong bias for distance over ridership and yes, we could go on all day citing examples or poor decision making as a result.

      3. Ross, Red Herring. Nobody thinks that the line on Martin Luther King should be pulled up and replaced by trackage through the Duwamish Industrial District. Some of us think that a future, largely at-grade, express short-cut between BAR and Forrest Street for Tacoma trains, with the Rainier Valley line ending at the airport or Highline College, makes sense. At the very least the right of way to accommodate it should be purchased and preserved.

        This is not the Seattle Subway tunneled fantasy from TIBS north through Tukwila, South Park and Georgetown.

      4. Nobody thinks that the line on Martin Luther King should be pulled up and replaced by trackage through the Duwamish Industrial District.

        Nor did I say anyone did. I never once mentioned pulling out tracks.

        Some of us think that a future, largely at-grade, express short-cut between BAR and Forrest Street for Tacoma trains, with the Rainier Valley line ending at the airport or Highline College, makes sense.

        Exactly. It is laughably absurd. To think that such a line would be built *after* we already have a perfectly good line is just hilarious. That’s my point. I can’t believe people propose such nonsense, but there you go. I really wish it was a red herring, but it really is something a significant number of people think makes sense ( But then again, a significant number of people believe the earth is flat, and an even bigger number don’t believe in evolution, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

      5. “Why did Link go down MLK rather than Rainier?”

        Rainier was the original assumption, but ST said it’s too narrow and congested and Link would disrupt the historic districts too much. At the time ST was thinking of surface, as it envisioned surface from Intl Dist all the way to SeaTac, as previous American light rails had been. So it didn’t consider that Link could have been underground or elevated on Rainier.

        “Why isn’t Link going to Crossroads?”

        I was surprised at that too. I grew up in that area and NE 8th Street to Crossroads seemed like the most natural and densest corridor. But given the now-proven commitment to major densification in Bel-Red and the huge ridership growth and potential in the diagonal Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond axis, I think ST made the right decision there.

        “Why is Link going to Boeing in Everett at all?”

        Answered above.

        “Why are we building Link up 15th rather than Aurora?”

        That’s conflating two different issues. One, should Lynnwood Link have gone on Aurora instead of I-5? (Yes.) Two, should Ballard Link go to Real Ballard instead of 15th? (Yes.) You can’t really combine these. Aurora is too far east of Ballard to serve it, and Aurora is more comparable to I-5 than to Ballard, and Northgate/Lynnwood had higher priority than Ballard and was in an earlier ST phase.

        For Lynnwood Link, the long-range plan drawn up in the 1990s had Link on I-5 with stations at Northgate, 145th, 185th, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood TC. That reflected 20th-century thinking of utilizing existing freeway ROW and P&Rs, and the freeway exits are where people and 522 BRT naturally go to (because they’re where cars go to). In 2008, the representative alignment in the ballot measure followed this pattern.

        Then in the Alternatives Analysis at the beginning of the Lynnwood Link EIS, ST had to consider all reasonable BRT and train alternatives to make it eligible for federal grants. So it considered Aurora, I-5, 15th Ave NE, and Lake City Way. The must-serve areas were Northgate and Lynnwood because they were PSRC Regional Growth Centers.

        So ST drew up an Aurora alternative. It surfaced around 115th and had an extra station at 130th. The study results said (A) Aurora’s travel time would be 4 slower than I-5, (B) I-5’s travel time from Westlake is 32 minutes vs 36 on Aurora, (C) it would lose more riders in Lynnwood than it would gain on Aurora because of this, (D) I-5 would be the least expensive to build, and (E) to deviate from the representative alignment and stations in the ballot measure ST would have to write a statement justifying it. For all these reasons ST stuck with the representative alignment.

        The Ballard issue was: the long-range plan in the 1990s chose 15th for the same reason Lynnwood chose I-5: it was a six-lane expressway so a “natural” location for light rail, and could potentially be lower-cost surface. And it would be a straighter shot for an extension toward Northgate (e.g., Homlan Road), where it could continue as the Lake City/Bothell line. In the run-up to ST3, 15th was reaffirmed because of the development potential on 15th. ST never really considered going west of 15th, although it belatedly added one study, but then dropped the alternative soon afterward, and did not consider that transit best practices suggest a line should go directly to the pedestrian center of a neighborhood.

      6. Ross, I specifically said “this is not Seattle Subway’s” route. You could build a “short-cut” between the loop at Forrest Street and a flying junction between I-5 and the BAR station certainly for less than $2 billion. It could be on the ground between a three lane Airport Way and the railroad tracks for 2/3 of its distance.

        Is it needed now? Of course not. But if South King County grows — and where else is the growth going to go since Seattle seems allergic to densification — there will be a much greater need for quicker access to downtown Seattle, the U District and the connection to the East Side.

        The alternative of course is to trench or elevate the existing line, and that is attractive because it would allow shorter headways. However either is considerably more expensive than an at-grade routing along Airport Way and without farther south riders the six stations between SoDo and BAR wouldn’t need service more frequently than every six minutes.

        Yeah, it’s more “commuter express” Link which is of course less valuable than inner-city Link. But it’s better to reserve the right of way now than pay ten times as much for it later.

      7. There is one possible issue that could trigger support for the light rail bypass between BAR and SODO: Train overcrowding.

        On a per train basis, the most crowded segment in the Link system is supposed to be between SODO and Beacon Hill according to ST forecasts presented on this blog. It’s very tough to add train frequency to the portion of the line on MLK too.

        If riders in the Rainier Valley or Beacon Hill can’t get on a train because it’s too crowded, they will support and possibly lead an effort to get more South King and Pierce riders off of their train.

        It remains to be seen how reasonable the forecasts are. ST should have some idea after 2025. But don’t think that the benefit is just for South King and Pierce subareas. SE Seattle may benefit too — even if it means slightly less frequent trains on MLK..

      8. P.S.

        [T]hey could have been even more ridiculous and followed the Duwamish. Believe it or not, there are people who think we should do that now.

        If we assume that the antecedent of the bolded “that” is the sentence immediately preceding it, it sure reads like you are saying those of us who want to preserve cheap ROW for a future “Bypass” are advocating replacement rather than addition.

      9. Ross, I specifically said “this is not Seattle Subway’s” route.

        Fine, but I was. If you want to start a discussion of what you consider to be a better fantasy map than the one that Seattle Subway proposes, be my guest. But that has very little to do with what I wrote. I wrote that there are people who think we should build a line from downtown to SeaTac now. Of course I was referring to Seattle Subway.

        Since your idea has little to do with what I wrote, it should probably be on a different thread. I guess it does have something to do with the original comment (made by Christopher) in that is aspirational, and has nothing to do with current transit ridership. The point is, spending billions on a new line that probably won’t result in significantly more riders is nuts. It is like people who want to double track BART, so they can run express trains. That’s not the problem. The trains are plenty fast (both BART and Link) and it is nuts to focus on something like that.

        And yes, if in the highly unlikely even that Link can’t handle the capacity, it makes sense to run the trains more often. The 6 minute surface limit for Rainier Valley is arbitrary. Just convince the city to run the trains more often. If that doesn’t work, build a couple underpasses. Running the trains more often adds way more benefit than a shortcut.

        The other alternative, of course, is to just run a few express buses. These will be faster end to end than any train, and nowhere near as expensive. Spending billions on commuter rail is nuts.

      10. it sure reads like you are saying those of us who want to preserve cheap ROW for a future “Bypass” are advocating replacement rather than addition.

        “My grandmother was thrilled when my sister and I visited her in the hospital. She isn’t doing well, though — they have her hooked up to the I. V.”

        “Your sister was hooked up to the I. V.?”

        Come on man, the meaning of the sentence was obvious. Do you know anyone, anywhere, who has suggested we tear up the existing line? I’ve never read such a thing, nor have you. Nor has anyone, is my guess. I mentioned “following the Duwamish”. There is no mention of replacement or addition. The obvious implication is addition.

      11. It’s important to remember that with six minute headways most intersections along Martin Luther King actually have a train interruption on average every three minutes. Yes, if schedules are well-maintained they can be set so that perhaps two of the eight or ten cross-streets experience consistent “meets” every six minutes, but the rest of them have train – some time period of a portion of six minutes – train – another time period consisting of the remainder of the six minutes – train – the first time period etc ….

        An intersection midway between the two “lucky” crossings would have a train very close to three minutes consistently. The others would be (actually “are”) having to deal with two trains as little as a minute apart with as much as five minutes until the next pair. I think the system is smart enough not to cycle if a second train will clear within 45 or 60 seconds. It just stays green for the trains.

        The City (and probably WashDOT) is/are right to limit frequency. The only way to have more carry more people that forty cars per hour is by building the bypass and making the necessary improvements between the MF and tunnel portal, assuming the 2nd tunnel is dug. Those would be overpassing Lander and Holgate and banning cross traffic at street level at Royal Brougham and letting the trains run at speed.

      12. The point is, spending billions on a new line that probably won’t result in significantly more riders is nuts.

        I said twice, in two comments, “not now, preserve the right-of-way” in case serendipty happens and South King grows.

        What that means is “Don’t allow any further development between Airport Way and the railtracks, at least, not south of the Michigan on-ramp bridge.”

        The “bypass” would have to rise up there and cross over to the east side of the tracks and then descend at least somewhat to pass under the Michigan off-ramp bridge. Fortunately, it is considerably higher on the east side of the tracks than the on-ramp bridge is on the west side.

        The ROW would have to continue elevated above Olympic Foundry, the strip of businesses south of Seattle Traffic Shop and on north to about Charlestown. That totals less than a mile of elevated structure.

        It would descend to ground level to pass under the West Seattle Freeway and then cross Airport Way to the dispersal loop at the Maintenance Facility. Airport Way would have to under- or over-pass it, probably under because the gradient would be less.

        There is enough open land between Airport Way and the railroad tracks for a single track. Turn Airport Way into a three lane road with center turn lane and you have the other direction. Only when I-5 is terminally choked does Airport Way need both lanes. Most of the time it has a car every thirty seconds or longer.

        The dispersal loop crosses under the “main line” at the northeast corner of the MF, allowing a flying junction for high volume movements.

        Keep this “ace in the hole” for future use. Heck, if things get bad when Tacoma is opened, just do a single track initially with only the double track at the end points for the flying junctions.

        The south end flying junction would curl around the existing road ramps.

      13. I get what you are saying. But what I’m saying is you are not going to need it. There is no plausible scenario in which a bypass makes sense. If, in the unlikely event they build giant Toronto style towers in Tukwila, right next to the station, they can simply build underpasses in Rainier Valley, live with the additional traffic, or run express buses (since most riders would prefer that). You don’t build a bypass — a major subway project — for commuter rail traffic. You have commuter rail (using existing tracks) or you run express buses.

    3. I think the Green Line opened prematurely. The Canyon Park connection to Stride and maybe even the Mariner Link station will need to open to before I think Swift Green Line can be judged for its long-term value.

      In the interim, a simple extension on the freeway (or maybe surface arterials) from Canyon Park to Lynnwood could be valuable once Lynnwood Link opens.

      1. In the interim, a simple extension on the freeway (or maybe surface arterials) from Canyon Park to Lynnwood could be valuable once Lynnwood Link opens.

        I don’t think that would add much value. If you are at 164th, you will cut over on the 115/116. Once Link opens, you will use the Orange Line (and that goes for stops to the north on SR 527 as well). Any further north and there are much better options then making a huge loop. So basically that would only work for the handful of stops south of 164th (four stops altogether). Keep in mind, only 25 people a day took the 535 from Canyon Park to Lynnwood.

        In contrast, about 330 people a day took the 535 to UW Bothell, and ridership was fairly evenly split (which means it is quite possible that Canyon Park to UW Bothell exceeded Canyon Park to Lynnwood). What that route needs more than anything is a strong anchor, and colleges are always good anchors. It should be extended to UW Bothell, even if it just does an express to get there.

        I agree with your main point though. When Link gets to Lynnwood, and the 405 STride is built, it will help this line quite a bit. Folks will be able to transfer to get to UW Bothell, Bellevue, Totem Lake, Lynnwood, etc.

      2. That’s a good point about the Orange Line, Ross.

        With this in mind, I’m seeing that the Green Line may not be very practical once the Orange Line is running — until the Link Mariner station opens in 15-20 years. I expect getting to Lynnwood will dominate the goal of riders north of Mill Creek until then and much of that area is uninhabited anyway (except the Mariner area which will have a freeway bus to Lynnwood). The segment between Mill Creek and Canyon Park isn’t particularly dense and Canyon Park is un unpleasant transfer point. It makes sense as a generic route — but serving it with high frequency service could be overkill.

    4. One major thing holding back these routes is the lack of attention to pedestrian safety and prioritization near the stops. If you can’t safely walk to/from the stops, you can’t ride the bus. Highway 99 constantly has car vs ped crashes, and whenever I’m over in Mill Creek/Bothell, I get the feeling the Bothell-Everett Highway is even more hostile to pedestrians than Highway 99.

      1. This. As a sometime rider of the Green Line in the past, I’d ride it from Seaway TC to SR 99 to transfer to the Blue Line south, and without fail I would see the Blue Line sail past while I was waiting the 5 minutes or whatever to cross the street. The signal timing at Airport/99 gives about 20 seconds of pedestrian walk but several minutes of car green, and it was so frustrating. This is the only transfer point between the two lines and having to cross the street imposed a 10-minute transfer penalty 95% of the time.

      2. @Pat
        I hear you; that is certainly a problematic intersection for a transfer point because of the far side stops and the length of the cycles. On numerous occasions I’ve seen riders dart across Hwy 99 or Airport Rd against the light trying to make that connection, risking their own lives in the process. I’m pretty sure that CT is aware of the issue though I don’t know if they have figured out a solution. I know that the state has tinkered with the signal timing at this intersection for a number of years, even prior to the Swift green line going live. If CT could increase the operating window of its 10-minute frequencies on its Swift routes, then obviously missing the connection at this transfer point due to the light cycles isn’t as painful. It’s certainly not worth risking one’s life crossing this very busy arterial intersection.

        P.S. When things return to normal and inside dining is fully allowed and safe(r), and you miss your connection and aren’t in a hurry, try the pho at Pasteur’s. I always have the seafood version. :)

      3. Pat, this is a design mistake. No agency will admit it because it would make them liable in case of an injury to a rider.

        At some point it should be fixed. It’s too bad that stops were already enhanced. Until a Link station site is found, some common stop that works for both lines — like a common stop on 99 — would seem to be the best revision.

    5. The WPC report is over the top.

      “Swift Line infrastructure and operations increase congestion for the majority of road users.”

      So we’ll just continue to cater to cars that carry three people in the space a Swift bus carries 10, 50, 75 or 125, and we won’t try to do anything to get more people onto Swift. We’ll just keep our heads in the sand like it’s still the 1970s.

      “Non-transit users pay an unfair, significantly higher proportion of transit costs.”

      Non-drivers pay many times more of cars’ externalities than non-transit users pay for transit. If we had a transit-oriented network with only some cars, we’d only need two-lane roads. Instead we need four- to six-lane arterials, and freeways up to 14 lanes (I-5 and I-90) to carry all the SOVs. That’s a huge ton of money for concrete, plus air pollution that exacerbates asthma and other respiratory conditions, and the roads and parking lots push everything apart making them harder or impossible to walk to, and collisions involving many amateur SOV drivers rather than a few trained professionals (and if there weren’t so many SOVs there would be more room for grade-separated transit that could be driverless), and the cost of policing so much roadway and drivers, and oil politics, and the list goes on and on.

      The chapter on Swift is titled “Swift Line creates potentially dangerous reconfiguration of intersections”.

      The problems with Swift’s low ridership are due to Snohomish County’s land use, and unwillingness to invest enough in transit to make a transit-oriented county and allow it to reduce parking minimums. None of that is Community Transit’s fault, so the solution shouldn’t be chipping away at CT’s budget. It should be fixing the fundamental problems. And not coddling to cars, which have gotten way too much coddling in the past seventy years. Why does Alderwood Mall exist? Why isn’t there a more compact development in downtown Lynnwood instead? Why does Mukilteo’s Harbor Point loop along an expressway exist? Why was highway 525 upgraded to a freeway? Why were seven-story apartments on the Bothell-Everett highway built with only a coverage route, and the towers-in-the-park oriented a long distance from the bus stops? Why are the most numerous businesses along 99 car dealerships, and one-story supermarket plazas with huge surface parking lots?

      1. “The problems with Swift’s low ridership are due to Snohomish County’s land use,….”

        I would caution against lumping all Snohomish County communities into one bucket with these kinds of statements. The county only has jurisdiction on land use issues in its own domain, i.e., unincorporated areas of the county.

        I happen to live within one such area in north Edmonds. I’ve had my own property upzoned twice in the 17 or so years I’ve owned it as a result of updates to the county’s comp plan and FLUM. (It’s gone from low density residential [R-8400 zoning] to high density residential [MR zoning].) I think the county has done a pretty decent job with its infill and densification efforts in this area of the SW UGA in which it controls the land use.

      2. I’m talking about all governments in the county, not the county government in particular.

        Even highway 99, which is one of the biggest urban emphasis areas, still looks like something out of the 1970s. I can’t think of anywhere in Snohomish County that looks walkable or pleasant like Wallingford or Ballard. Everett’s Colby Ave and downtown Edmonds gets some credit for trying a little, and 200th Street SW has more density than I would have expected, so that’s a start. Lynnwood keeps saying it will have a big downtown but there’s still no sign of it, just one-story big-box stores. The Bothell-Everett Highway around Mill Creek and north Bothell has what could be called transit-adjacent development, not very transit oriented. I have hope that it will eventually be more convenient to live in, that there will be more destinations to take Swift Orange too, and it will be more frequent and extended to UW Bothell.

      3. The problems with Swift’s low ridership are due to Snohomish County’s land use

        But CT knows about this. They know about the relative demand, based on those factors. Either the area simply doesn’t make sense for BRT, or they blew it, for other reasons. In the case of the Green Line, it is latter. It has poor anchors, weak connections, poor stop spacing and poor frequency. The corridor is OK, the implementation is poor (if your goal is ridership). If your goal is to provide fast service for a handful of people, then they did that well. But that is just a variation on the coverage idea (better for a handful, worse for the majority —

        That being said, they don’t have a lot of money to fix this. They could extend the line, add a few stops, kill the 105 and run this more frequently, but they may not have the money, nor want to pay the political price to do without coverage on the corridor.

      4. “I’m talking about all governments in the county, not the county government in particular.”

        That’s exactly my point. I would caution against lumping all of the various jurisdictions together and making these kinds of sweeping statements when referring to their land use policies and their decision-making revolving around said policies, directives and aims. While all of these jurisdictions are in compliance with keeping their comp plans updated per the GMA mandates, the approaches to achieving their individual stated goals with regard to managing their anticipated growth elements (population, housing, employment, transportation, etc.) vary widely across the county.

        “Even highway 99, which is one of the biggest urban emphasis areas, still looks like something out of the 1970s.”

        I’m not sure entirely what you mean by this, but nevertheless it’s plainly evident that the corridor bares little resemblance to what it looked like back in the 1970s, in both King and Snohomish Counties. Additionally, for Snohomish County-controlled land, the Hwy 99 corridor is a relatively small piece of their seven designated urban centers, all within the SnoCo SW UGA. If you want additional info on this, check out the county’s FLUM and the info on the designated urban centers which I’ve linked to here.

    6. “I still wonder why CT chose the SR527 corridor before the much more popular 115/116 corridor.”

      To entice Boeing to keep jobs in the area, and to get a state grant what was only available for a 527 line serving Boeing. And perhaps from the fallout of the Siemens fiasco. At some point Siemens (I think it was them) was considering locating a plant in the Everett Industrial Center area and asked Snohomish officials, “What’s your plan for high-capacity transit to the area?” The officials said none, just expanding highways for car access. The Siemens reps were flabbergasted because that wouldn’t be allowed in Germany: any industrial center with tens of thousands of jobs must have a high-capacity transit plan like an S-Bahn station or tram integration. So they lost interest in the site, and county and city officials panicked that other companies would do the same. So they and the state prioritized getting the second Swift line there. And later when ST3 became a possibility they routed Link through Paine Field. Never mind that zero of the jobs will be within walking distance of the station because the area sprawls so unnecessarily. (Brooklyn has industrial companies in multistory buildings mixed with other businesses on ordinary streets with nearby subway stations and housing. Obviously an airplane factory needs a lot of space, but it doesn’t need all the gratuitous underused space around it, and other industries don’t need that much space.)

      Which corridor is 115th/116th? My priorities would have been Edmonds-Lynnwood and Everett-Smokey Point.

      1. If there is gratuitous underused space in & around the Boeing facility, doesn’t that imply a future (with or without Boeing) where that space is used and there are a bunch of more jobs concentrated in a major industrial area?

        Snohomish’s political leaders have been pretty clear that the Paine field alignment is to support economic development in the MIC, i.e. creating ridership rather than responding to ridership. I’m unfamiliar with the history of the Swift line, but make sense they would have used the same logic with Swift .

    7. “I think part of the problem is the wide stop spacing. From what I gather, the idea is to essentially build a network for long distance travelers.”

      It’s to provide the missing middle of transit, between local routes and point-to-point expresses. It’s a poor man’s light rail. “Long-distance travelers” makes it sound like they’re going to Bellevue or Tacoma. Even people going from Bothell to Lynnwood or Edmonds to north Lynnwood would like something that takes less than an hour. The problem with Snohomish County is it’s so low density and the destinations are so sprawlingly scattered that it can’t really use any kind of transit well. But it’s trying to build up the best corridors it can, and concentrate people in those corridors. Even if it’s doing a half-assed job of it. But it sometimes does better than Seattle or King County. Seattle has no limited-stop route on Aurora, and hasn’t zoned urban villages around all its E-line stations.

      1. Seattle has no limited-stop route on Aurora

        Yes, because it would be stupid. We are better off increasing the frequency of the E.

        To be fair, we do have a “limited-stop” route on Aurora — the 301. (Yes, very limited). But it only runs during rush-hour, because that is the only time that the E is very frequent. It is the only time that the 301 can fill up as well. Even then, the 301 doesn’t do as well as the E in terms of ridership per mile.

        The point is, these all go together. The Green suffers from really bad stop spacing and very bad frequency. The other buses have bad stop spacing as well — at the other extreme. They are even less frequent. Thus you have a hodgepodge of service, none of it coordinated. This leads to bad ridership.

        Again, my guess is CT knows all this. The only reason they have such huge stop spacing is because they can’t afford more fancy stations. They aren’t that cheap. But that really should be the goal. Make the system more like the E — get to the point where you don’t need a shadow. Put the shadow service into the main line. Ridership will go up as frequency increases and the bus serves more people.

      2. The 301 isn’t exactly an express version of the E though. It travels I-5 much of the way.

        For the times I’ve been up that way, it would be great if there were an actual limited version of the E. Maybe a joint operation between CT and Metro that served the whole corridor?

        Highway 99 has enough busy stops along it that it seems like one every mile or so would be a popular option for actual travel within that corridor, exclusive of an express on I-5.

      3. A limited-stop route stops every 1-2 miles. It would serve al the villages along the way, allowing you to go to or transfer to/from 85th, 105th, 130th, and 155th. The 301 is a true express and runs nonstop to 175th, with only two stops at 45th and 145th, and those are at freeway exits at that. They’re two different transit markets. A limited-stop route would be a faster alternative to the E for all the major transfer points and villages. There are people who go from e.g., Greenwood or north Ballard to 155th or Sky Nursery or the Aurora Village Costco, or transfer to Swift for Edmonds Community College or the church I went to in north Lynnwood. They should have something that doesn’t take 25 minutes just to get from 85th to Aurora Village. That’s what Snohomish County has that King County doesn’t — the missing middle level of transit.

      4. To summarize RossB’s comments:

        For transit to be productive, it must be constantly stopping to load and unload passengers, which means it must be slow. A fast bus is, inherently, an unproductive bus.

        While that may technically be true, productivity isn’t everything. You still need reasonable standards about how long a trip should take. It would also cost less per rider to run fuller buses less often, but that also makes for a miserable rider experience.

      5. To summarize RossB’s (and Alon Levy’s) comments:

        Follow international standards. Stop assuming that small American counties are doing the right thing, while large European cities are doing it wrong.

        A fast bus is, inherently, an unproductive bus.

        Bullshit. What fucking nonsense. Please don’t characterize my statements in that way. If you honestly don’t understand what I wrote, ask for clarification. But don’t write stupid statements and then suggest that is what I wrote. Its fucking rude.

      6. It’s not that European cities are doing it wrong, it’s that US destinations are further apart so you often have to travel a longer distance. This requires a reasonable travel time to make the trip feasible, or feasible on transit. Limited-stop service gives a better travel time, and it stops at the transfer points and largest pedestrian concentrations that many people are going between. And it’s not a question of taking hours away from the local. Both should be frequent. If you don’t have money for it, you don’t have money for it, but that doesn’t mean the limited is unjustified or the transit network and people’s mobility isn’t suffering because of it.

    8. Mike Orr’s summary of a possible ST 4 is excellent.

      The only things I would add are:

      1. I think ST 3 revenue will be/is necessary to complete some ST 2 projects. To what extent won’t be known until post pandemic.

      2. Without frequent first/last mile access light rail will suffer in total trip time. IMO building 90 miles of rail before understanding the costs to provide feeder bus access first was a mistake. First/last mile access to rail comes first, not last. Let’s see what kind of first/last mile access Metro, CT and PT can provide post transit before adding more rail to serve, and let’s see what the funding gap is for ST 3 projects, which would be first in line in any ST 4.

      3. As Mike notes uniform subarea tax rates will likely have to be revisited because 5 different subareas will have five different funding needs and project desires.

      1. “building 90 miles of rail before understanding the costs to provide feeder bus access first was a mistake.”

        Metro, CT, and PT all have good long-range plans. The number of service hours needed and the cost of those hours is known, as are capital costs. The governments have just been slow to identify a funding plan or prioritize transit or tell people their taxes will go up for it.

        I agree with the big picture, that there should have been a comprehensive regional+local transit vision in the 1990s. And it should have been led by somebody who understands the riders’ perspective, what it’s like to do most of your trips without a car, and able to educate the politicians and public on this. Many of them don’t know because they’ve never ridden transit or they only drive to a P&R to an express, so they think in car-centric terms. But the failure is everybody’s: the cities, counties, state, transit agencies, and the public. And the federal government, which doesn’t even have parity between transit grants and highway grants, much less prioritize transit. (Of course, that might change this term. :) What I resist is that some criticisms seem to imply it’s all ST’s fault. But in fact ST has no control over it; it can only beg local agencies and cities to have good feeders. And the cities have just kind of assumed it will happen without much work or planning. There was also a failure to realize the importance of vision up front, so that this would have been done in the 1990s rather than one ST phase at a time, Metro in 2015, and Metro’s restructures and funding plan 1-2 years before each opening.

        “Let’s see what kind of first/last mile access Metro, CT and PT can provide post transit before adding more rail to serve”

        Then we’ll never get any better transit. The problem isn’t what the local agencies can provide, it’s giving them enough money to do so. We know what Metro can do with more service hours: look at Seattle’s TBD. We just need to give it enough hours and capital funds to fully implement Metro Connects. And I think we need to raise the base standards. My vision of the Frequent routes is 10-15 minutes until 10pm every day, like the 65/67 (in 2019). But Metro’s minimum is only 15 minutes until 6pm Monday-Friday. That’s not enough. And most Seattle trunk routes are already above that, so does that mean much of Seattle won’t get any frequency improvements in Metro Connects? That paradise has already arrived or has passed and that’s as good as it gets?

        So I disagree with the idea of holding off on regional rail until all the last-mile problems are solved. That’s holding regional rail hostage, and condemning people to less effective mobility, and is not a way to get any transit improvements.

      2. On #1, I’m assuming you are referring to ST3 projects funded by ST4, as the cost of ST2 projects funded in ST3 is well known and documented; the impact of the pandemic on ST2 project is small as most remaining projects are already in the construction phase.

        On #2, in addition to Mike’s point about the county agencies, ST also funds 600,000 annual service hours of STX through the end of ST3, most of which are feeder routes once Link is built out. Additionally, through ST3 will have spent over a billion on parking, spent a $100M station access fund plus invested excess P&R revenue, and spent tens of million on station access design and planning through the normal station planning process. Moreover, ST’s plans have been clear from the beginning that the highest ridership stations are the ones in urban locations specifically because those stations have the best access to destinations.

        And on #3, it’s possible Seattle/King might seeking higher tax revenue, but I think it’s unlikely exactly because of your point #2 – there’s nearly unlimited need in the suburban parts of the region for improved station access (bus infra, bus O&M, or bike/ped infra) to pair with rail investments in the urban parts of the region.

      3. Operation and maintenance funding continues permanently. If there’s no ST4, the ST3 taxes (which include all the ST 1/2/3 tax streams) will be rolled back to operation and maintenance and fleet replacement level, which is around 1/4 of expansion level. So we don’t need an ST4 to continue operations, only for expansion.

      4. Correct, but ST4 funding could include O&M funding above & beyond what ST3 authorizes.

        For example, PT’s long range plan includes 5 BRT(ish) lines, one of which has capital but not O&M funding in ST3. An ST4 package could fund the build out of the remaining 4 lines and subsequent O&M, under either the Stride brand or under PT’s brand. The O&M for 4 or 5 lines in Pierce county is a productive way to consume subarea funds if needed, and the same exercise could be applied to the other non-Seattle subareas. It’s basically a backdoor way to boost the operations funding for PT (or CT or KCM), which politically could be an effective way to levy the same ST rate across the region while also rightsizing the capital projects investments for the various subareas.

      5. That’s similar to an idea I’ve been thinking about, for ST to migrate from more rail to being a capital funder for the remaining RapidRide, Swift, and PT RapidRide-like lines. There’s also Metro’s planned all-day Express routes for good measure. I don’t think they should be under the Stride brand because Stride is associated with freeways.

      6. Yeah for sure. Would return more to its roots in Sound Move, so the legal & political framework is certainly there to be a regional capital funder, and a new levy could expand the framework by (for example) providing capital funds for a regional trail network.

        RE: Stride brand, only 2 of 3 Stride routes are on freeways, so I’m not sure how tightly associated the brand is with freeways. SR167 freeway stations on an Auburn to Bellevue route would be very analogous to 405 Stride, while a West Seattle to Burien route could be very analogous to 522 Stride. I would like ST to pursue both of those routes in an ST4 package, and I think they can fit under the same brand.

        Planning for West Seattle to South King is funded in ST3, which makes it a likely ST4 keystone project, but I think that route would be major overkill as Link, which therefore makes it a good fit for a future Stride line.

  4. “Happy” one-year anniversary of Cascades service being suspended north of Seattle.

    Really looking forward to later this year (fingers crossed) when the border re-opens and service can resume. Can’t wait to come on down to visit friends and check out Northgate Link!

  5. I remember as a kid being brought on the Vashon Ferry with my mom and my siblings on foot. She hated it. We only did it without a car one time. Must have been around 1979. I cannot even remember why. My parents owned 2 cars. But whatever. I remember holding hands with my younger siblings and one brother on a pack hanging off my mom’s back. We walked down the road to the ferry. We went up a whole bunch of stairs. Some of us went to the bathroom and some of us watched the waves as the boat left. My mom could not watch both groups. I don’t remember what she did. After all that we sat down for a out 2 minutes and went back down the stairs. The trip is only 15 minutes or so. It was fun for us, but my mom hated it. A seperated pedestrian entrance would have helped. At least from what I can remember. But maybe not. I am pretty sure my mom would have supported a modern Fontleroy dock.

    1. I’ve only been over it once in the last ten years, and I was in a car. It wouldn’t surprise me if it more or less the same. I remember thinking it was a pretty rinky-dink terminal. There have been major pedestrian improvements for the big docks — especially downtown, but also Edmonds. It wouldn’t surprised if they haven’t done much for it.

      It is hard to say how many pedestrians use it, now that there is direct passenger ferry service downtown. The car ferry to Fauntleroy runs a lot more often, so there is that. They should still improve the dock for passengers for that reason alone.

  6. Fauntleroy Replacement item:

    I think we need a broader discussion about the Fauntleroy replacement. It’s a horrible place for a ferry terminal. There is no “there” there and it’s deep inside a single-family neighborhood.

    I get how it is a minimum distance from Vashon Island. I get how fast ferries that head Downtown will siphon off the auto-driving ferry users. I get how the closest Link station to a ferry terminal on Puget Sound is Pioneer Square and even that walk isn’t very convenient.

    Now may be the best time to examine systems options before undertaking a rebuild to last another 50 to 100 years. However, any system changes would involve reconsidering both auto and transit access as well as coastline issues and I don’t think anyone has the vision and will to develop an alternative vision that would make sense.

    Does anyone have an idea for a different strategy for terminal replacement?

    1. It is an auto ferry. It is fine for that. The last thing we want is more auto ferries dumping cars downtown. If anything, I would look to phase that out. There are passenger ferries from Vashon to downtown now, which means that nothing much needs to be done (except maybe run that more often).

  7. The Pinnacle project going in where the downtown Bellevue QFC is (and across the street, north of NE 10th). A bit far away from Bellevue Station to credit East Link. But, I think you can give Link partial credit. No Link, no big tech. No big tech, no Pinnacle.

    1. Now we are getting into the age old argument: does transit really lead to development? From a political standpoint, this is the clearly the case. It is much easier to change the zoning if you plan on adding a significant transit improvement. I don’t think Roosevelt would have agreed to the zoning change without it (it was tough enough as is). From a development standpoint, I think the effect is minor, although it depends on where you are. Green Lake is growing as fast, or faster than Roosevelt, even though it is farther away from the station. Various attractive neighborhoods (Queen Anne, Central Area, Phinney Ridge) saw plenty of growth that had nothing to do with a large investment in transit. Basically much of the city will grow simply because they are allowed to grow. They grow in large part because of the demand for jobs.

      Which brings us to Bellevue. Bellevue — for various reasons — is booming. From a zoning perspective as well as a growth perspective, East Link is likely having an influence. But there are plenty of examples where the zoning isn’t changing, despite proximity to a Link Station. I doubt there will be cases where they allow growth and it doesn’t happen, simply because Bellevue and Redmond (like most of Seattle) has sky high housing demand, and a highly restrictive zoning code.

      In this case, I think the development would have happened without East Link, but we’ll never know (it isn’t that close —

  8. Lucky route 255 riders. We have a 26-day closure of the Montlake Bridge to look forward to this August. And then further weekend closures.

    Can we agree that the route 255 truncation/redirection to UW was premature, and should have waited for the bulk of the SR-520 and Montlake lid and bridge work to be completed? Instead of having ongoing closures?


    August closure

    The first phase of the project will replace the metal grid deck and two expansion joints on the Montlake Bridge. This work requires a 26-day continuous around-the-clock closure to vehicle traffic. This phase is slated to begin after Seafair weekend (Aug. 9) and finish up prior to Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3). The pedestrian and bicycle pathways over the bridge will remain open. Boat access in the Montlake Cut below the bridge will be maintained. WSDOT is working with the United States Coast Guard to determine the best way to coordinate bridge openings during construction.

    Fall weekend closures

    The second phase of work will repair and replace mechanical components that raise and lower the bridge. During this phase of work, the bridge must be in the raised position. Access to vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists will be restricted during working weekends. Boats will be able to access the Montlake Cut below the bridge.

    1. Not to mention April’s Link closures which mean you get to ride route 255 to UW/Husky stadium and then board a Link shuttle bus… So maybe we should add the Link construction as another reason that the 255 truncation was premature…

    2. Metro has finally started doing what we’ve begged it to for years, truncating routes at Link stations and not having so many routes go downtown bypassing other urban centers so that you can get downtown but you can’t get anywhere else. The 255 was on the forefront of these, as were the 71/72/73 in 2016. The original problem with the new routing was that Link unnecessarily dropped frequency after covid started, stranding people at UW Station. The 255 also dropped frequency further than it should given this transfer situation. When you have non-downtown transfers like this you need to keep frequency up to make the network work. Kirkland isn’t just the 255, it’s all the routes that feed into the 255, i.e., the entire northwestern Eastside. The second problem is now Metro’s inflexibility in not truncating the 255 at Intl Dist when 520 or the Montlake Bridge is closed, so that people who want to go downtown can go to downtown, people who want to go to Husky Stadium can take Link, people going to other parts of north Seattle have many routes to choose from, and nobody gets stuck in I-5 traffic. The best way to fix this is for a lot of people to send messages to Metro telling it to do this, because sometimes if there’s a huge public demand Metro will change its mind.

      But if you tell Metro it shouldn’t have truncated the 255 last year, then Metro might revert to its old practice of never truncating any route, and it might take another decade or two to convince it start doing so again.

    3. Ideally, they would have coordinated things so that the Montlake Bridge closures would have happened at the same time as the 520 closures, rather than a few months later.

      But, in any case, if you look closely, a good chunk of the closure period, the Montlake bridge sidewalk will remain open, which means as long as the bus can at least stop at Montlake/Shelby, the Link connection still works, with only slightly more walking. The only problem is how to turn the bus around. There is already a bus signal at Montlake/Shelby, which begs the question of whether it could be programmed to allow for a bus-only u-turn from the right lane. If turn turning radius of a 60-foot bus is slightly too large, Metro could temporarily run the route with 40-foot buses on these days. If the 255 is the only route that does this (e.g. 271/48 rerouted to U-bridge), the 255 can just layover at the Montlake/Shelby bus stop.

      Of course, this approach requires thinking outside the box and it still won’t work for the portion of the closure period where the bridge sidewalk is also closed.

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