This map shows all the lines that will become infeasible if Seattle City Council doesn’t ensure the City has a clear vision for a future where we are fully connected by light rail. (Seattle Subway)

Seattle could have a complete Seattle Subway network, but only if the City of Seattle has a plan to champion that future. Currently, Seattle is marching into the future without a plan for a fully connected city. Even when ST3 is complete, nearly 60% of Seattle’s built-up areas will still not be served by light rail. If Seattle City Council doesn’t act now, many of these areas will never be served. Decisions are being made now—without the Council’s conscious input—that may forever preclude parts of our city from ever being added to the light rail network. This includes corridors as obvious as Aurora or a replacement for the forever-late King County Metro route 8.

Currently, 57% of Seattle’s urban villages will NOT be served by the ST3 light rail plan. One would think that all of those neighborhoods could just be added later, but for ST3 planning reasons, they likely will not be unless we determine now what our future system should look like. The reason lies in the details of how Sound Transit plans extensions (or—more charitably—is forced to plan by state law and the FTA).

Sound Transit only plans exactly what voters voted for. In 2016, voters approved light rail from downtown to Ballard, for example. No aspect of that authorization included future compatibility so that some day, an Aurora Line could be added. However, any look at the pre-pandemic Rapid Ride E-Line would tell you that we are already past due for light rail on that corridor.

What does this mean? It means that if Seattle doesn’t create a plan for what the long term city network looks like, Sound Transit will build a tunnel through downtown Seattle with no ability to add branch lines in the future, such as a wye junction near Harrison and 99 to enable people to go up Aurora, perhaps has far as Edmonds. It also means that a $4+ billion downtown tunnel has no accommodation for new lines nor for new destinations to be added in the future—leaving 75% of its capacity permanently unused. Instead of one line with trains arriving every 6-8 minutes, in most downtowns around the world subway tunnels have three to four subway lines with trains arriving every 90 seconds to 2 minutes that take passengers to dozens of destinations. 

This would be a costly and irreversible oversight that would preclude our city from having the transit options that connect every neighborhood in a safe, sustainable, and convenient way. Failure of planning now prevents us from being a climate leader with high quality of life in the future.

In the next few months, Sound Transit will begin work that will lock this omission in concrete, forever, as it releases a draft EIS that will be finalized in two years.  Without a vision that stands up for a connected Seattle, we will forever preclude neighborhoods like Bitter Lake, Licton Springs, South Park, First Hill, and Madison-Miller from ever being connected to the rail system in a cost effective manner. 

In 2013, it was the City of Seattle that initiated the process that led to Sound Transit 3 when the city and Sound Transit partnered to create the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study. That study was completed in May of 2014 and it led to a much earlier ST3 vote than originally planned. Sound Transit and the city worked together on that project, and regional partners would have to come together to implement a future vision as well. However, Sound Transit’s regional board can’t tell the City of Seattle what our vision for future high capacity rail is. We have to initiate that conversation ourselves.

This is why we are asking the Seattle City Council to ensure there is planning money to have a technical analysis of what our future transportation and light rail needs will be, so that our City can speak with clarity to Sound Transit about what the $4B downtown tunnel must be able to support in the future.

If our Council doesn’t champion what the future of transportation in Seattle should look like, who will?


The first Seattle City Council Transportation and Utilities Committee meeting on this topic is scheduled for Wedneday, April 21, at 9:30am.

The fastest way to make your voice heard is to email and say: 

“Don’t leave any neighborhood out. We all deserve light rail connections. We must create a Seattle light rail vision now to make sure we are not locked out of light rail expansion forever. As the Seattle City Council, please champion light rail beyond ST3 and for all of Seattle.”

You can also sign up for live, online public comment before Wednesday’s council meeting at: (available starting just after 7:30 am, Wednesday)

77 Replies to “Please Tell Council: Don’t Leave Us Behind!”

  1. There will likely be two Seattle City Council Transportation Committee meetings about the VLF funding plan. The second one would be on May 5th.

  2. It’s mind boggling that Seattle hasn’t even bothered to do a citywide Light Rail plan yet. So yes, obviously this.

  3. “In 2013, it was the City of Seattle that initiated the process that led to Sound Transit 3 when the city and Sound Transit partnered to create the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study. That study was completed in May of 2014 and it led to a much earlier ST3 vote than originally planned. Sound Transit and the city worked together on that project, and regional partners would have to come together to implement a future vision as well. However, Sound Transit’s regional board can’t tell the City of Seattle what our vision for future high capacity rail is. We have to initiate that conversation ourselves.”

    I agree ST cannot tell Seattle what its transit vision should be (except ST thinks it is ST 2 and 3 for ST revenue). But I wouldn’t assume ST 3 projects in the N. King Co. subarea will be built.

    There is an $11.5 billion funding shortfall — according to ST, up from $2.5 billion a year ago — plus as you note the second transit tunnel was originally estimated to cost $2.2 billion, and is now estimated to cost around $3.65 billion. $11.5 billion for ST 3 projects not including the second tunnel is pretty much all of ST 3 in N. King Co., and I have a sneaking suspicion ST 3 in N. King Co. was designed to cover the costs of completing ST 2 and the spine, which resulted in some silly projects like Issaquah to Rose Hill light rail at a cost of $4.5 billion.

    All five subareas are suppose to share the cost of the second transit tunnel with Seattle paying half and the other subareas half, split four ways. Other than the eastside subarea I am not sure the other subareas have an additional $276 million each for the actual cost of the second tunnel, assuming everything goes well tunneling deep under 5th Ave.

    I don’t know what Seattle Subway’s plan would cost, and after ST 3 and Move Seattle I am a little suspicious of transit cost estimates. Until neighborhoods see just what they will — presumably — get in a SS/HB1304/Seattle limited levy we won’t know how badly they want rail in their neighborhood. The reality is the cost estimates on these transit projects have been simply dishonest. ST didn’t make a $13 billion estimating error on ST 3 in N. King Co. in 2016 when ST 3 passed.

    I don’t live in Seattle so I think this is a decision Seattleites and ST should make. I do live on the eastside, and would not count on the four other subareas (Seattle’s “regional partners”) will agree to pay twice for ST 3 in N. King Co.

    I would also suggest waiting for the spine to be completed and operational before brining up a regional levy in order to know just how much extra $$ is needed for feeder bus service along 90 miles of spine. First/last mile access is called that for a reason.

  4. This is one instance where the North Seattle vs. South Seattle “scaling” criticism comes in to play. Aurora Ave. is walking distance (albeit a bit of a long walk–Northgate Station to 105th&Aurora is just under a mile) from I-5, no major geographical barrier, and it is suburban density in between them. Parts of Aurora Ave. will be in the walkshed of the Ballard – Lake City line and the Ballard – UW line, which are marked as is still feasible to build, and the rest would be a short RapidRide away. (Definitely appropriate to improve RapidRide there as a “consolation” for not building Link where it “should” have gone–upgrade it to real BRT!). Belltown, “Metro-8”, and Georgetown are much better examples of dense/urban places that could be permanently left out of the rapid transit network without advance planning.

    1. People don’t generally walk a mile to access a transit system, particularly not for casual trips, and Aurora is an absurdly good TOD opportunity.

      I don’t get what the point of the map thing is, N/S Seattle are approximately the right size on the map, right? Are you saying that it isn’t exactly geographically representative? Most transit maps aren’t.

      1. Sure – the commuting and special trip walkshed for high quality transit is larger, but there are near-zero casual trips occurring at that distance. People don’t generally take transit to pop over to a store in another neighborhood by first walking a mile – particularly not the mile we’re talking about, which is like walking along a highway.

        It’s absurd to think that those two stations being a mile apart somehow makes a line on Aurora, which already has the highest bus ridership in Seattle and is a huge TOD opportunity, not make sense. It’s very obviously a great place for future expansion.

      2. There are two arguments for an Aurora line. (1) Capacity relief on the main I-5 line. (2) The immediate needs of north-central Seattle. When other cities build parallel lines, they do it when the first line reaches capacity. That could eventually happen in Seattle if density and ridership continue to increase or if the estimates are too low.

        As for serving north-central neighborhoods, the thing to keep in mind is Link would have fewer stops than the E; it would be like Swift or Stride. A different level of service for different kinds of trips. So the question becomes, how much does the 99 corridor need a train that stops only at 46th, 85th, 105th, and a few other places? Is the main line close enough, or not? How will this change in the future? It partly depends on what Aurora will turn into in the future, and that’s more of a land use issue than a transit-agency issue.

      3. Aurora, which already has the highest bus ridership in Seattle

        The only reason that the E has the highest ridership is:

        1) It is extremely long.
        2) It is extremely fast.

        The former means it isn’t a good value. No one measure corridors by total ridership — they measure it in terms of ridership per distance.

        The latter means it wouldn’t improve things that much. As of now, the entire, very long corridor carries less than 20,000 per day. That is way too small by itself to justify rail — you need to see a huge increase in ridership. But with only minimal improvement in speed, you won’t get it.

        There really is a logical progression to these things, especially if you are going to follow the same corridor as an existing highway:

        1) Run the buses more often (every 5 minutes).
        2) Run express overlays.
        3) Once you get to the point where the buses are full most of the day, then a train would make sense. Otherwise, you’ve just built yourself a system that works about as well for a lot less money.

      4. The only reason that the E has the highest ridership is: 1) It is extremely long. 2) It is extremely fast. The former means it isn’t a good value.”

        That’s unfair; the value is in the corridor. Aurora is the longest retail corridor in Seattle, and there’s a network effect of having so much retail and scattered apartments all together so you can travel between any two of them on one straight street or transfer from an east-west route. If it only went from 73rd to 105th and then became rural there would be no Bitter Lake or Sky Nursery. And beyond that is everything in Snohomish County. It’s good that Aurora is a long street and the E runs along all of it; that gives more trip pairs which generate ridership.

        The 70 is so big because it goes between a large university and urban center to downtown, and it has absorbed riders from the 71/72/73X which are no longer there, and Link doesn’t come up to 45th yet. Aurora doesn’t have a large university or urban center yet it still has high ridership.

    2. Yeah the scaling issue results in very deceptive coverage graphics. This is a “north Seattle” vision.

      As I’ve pointed out many times, everything south of Jackson is terribly scrunched. SS says that it’s because the density of stations on the graphic need to be balanced. So they justify making North Seattle bigger so they can show more proposed stations. It’s circular logic and it really makes SS look like their map is designed for their favorite places rather than for a more diverse public.

      It’s also notable that low income communities in West Seattle don’t have an “X” on this diagram. That’s on top of White Center being due south of Alaska Junction and MLK shown as hugging Lake Washington. Do these people ever travel to an area where non-Hispanic white people are a minority?

      If West Seattle and SE Seattle are 30 percent of the population, why do they get no “X”s except for Georgetown? Why is there not an “X” for an east-west Ballard to UW line? Why is there no “X” for Lake City? Why does outer Aurora get an “X” but not First Hill? It looks like a trendy brew pub light rail vision map to me! I’m expecting SS to add beer and ale logos next.

      Perhaps the value in the map is to suggest that if there isn’t a cohesive city-wide vision first based on real world distances, we are doomed to turn light rail building into another expensive popularity contest.

      1. I just looked at the Seattle Subway map next to a map of Seattle and I don’t really see what you’re talking about – maybe South is slightly scrunched?

        What do you think un-slightly-scrunching it does? Makes another line in South Seattle make more sense? Where?

      2. TR, the actual distance between Columbia City and the south city limits is approaching 4 miles, while the distance between Northgate and the north city limits is just over 2 miles — yet the diagram shows the latter distance to be further. It’s not like far north Seattle is significantly denser. It’s pure graphical bias of the creators.

        The West Seattle distortions are even more warped on top of this scrunching. Westwood Village is due south of the planned Delridge Station (not Alaska Junction) and White Center is notably 45 degrees southeast from that, yet SS puts them on a north-south access with Alaska Junction. The creators clearly don’t fully understand West Seattle geography.

        This is important because the short distances make Graham and BAR stations relatively unneeded. It also masks how Alaska Junction is a diversion on the West Seattle line and how far the distance is to White Center.

        As for new lines, it masks how the Metro 8 fantasy line could be extended as a Rainier Ave subway. Demand on Route 7 is certainly higher than many of the east-west lines north of Greenlake (implied as likely subway lines on the SS diagram).

      3. Interesting – A Rainier line is really close to the MLK line, but does closer match where people live in the Rainier Valley. It’s where Link probably should have been in the first place. That said – it’s hard to see how it happens when the densest parts Like Columbia City are about a quarter mile away from where the MLK line already is.

        I’m pretty sure North Seattle is meaningfully denser than South Seattle but I can’t immediately find a way to get exact info – my Google attempts at finding the land masses of each failed. I know North Seattle has about 50% more people based on the Districts and (eyeballing it) it’s approximately the same size on the map. Is it 50% denser? Maybe.

      4. The thing about south Seattle is it is not just about the distances, but there are also significant geographical barriers to deal with (Delridge vs. California being a great example within west Seattle!), north Seattle, much less so, especially between I-5 and Aurora Ave. I’m more concerned with this than whether the transit vision map is drawn to scale! I-5 to Aurora is more or less a continuous suburban neighborhood, mostly single family homes behind strip malls, while the “missed” locations in central and south Seattle are distinct urban neighborhoods. Now there is more density, both existing and under construction, further north along Aurora, especially up in Shoreline, but frequent busses for the “last mile” to/from the Lynnwood Link stations should be fine.

        And it’s not as if I’m expecting people to walk a mile to take random evening trips to other neighborhoods. That’s what frequent bus service is for (and also, safe bicycle routes, esp. as the geography is much less of an obstacle). The E really does need an upgrade to proper BRT *yesterday* as it is a chronically overcrowded bus line (Link itself really should have gone up Aurora instead of I-5, but alas, that ship has long since sailed).

        BTW I do feel that Ballard – Crown Hill – Greenwood – Lake City – Northgate – Lake City really would be transformative and really does NEED to happen. Northgate – Lake City is a good example of geography making places be “further apart” than what it may seem like on a map, and Ballard/Crown Hill are genuinely far from Northgate (and most everywhere else;), and it gets you a station right on Aurora. This line is arguably very much at risk if poor decisions are made with Ballard Link! How you would do the transfer at Northgate–question for another day, but advance planning would also help here.

    3. The distance between the two lines isn’t a big problem. Everything else is. It simply doesn’t add much value over what exists now. Everyone is vague about what an Aurora Link would look like, other than to suggest it will be better. Right now the stop spacing for the E is about right for a mass transit line. This leads to some questions: If you have all the same stops, will it be much faster? If you don’t, then don’t you lose a huge portion of your potential ridership?

      Then there is the big one: does this complement or compete with the main line? Put it this way: Why would you choose this line over the other one? There are no big destinations on this line, other than downtown. In contrast, the other line goes to the UW (a major destination) as well as Capitol Hill and Northgate (significant ones). Very few people from Lake City will take this train. There will be a few (just as they would take the E) but not huge numbers. In contrast, lots of people from Bitter Lake will take the main line, to get to the places I mentioned. Even if you are at 130th and Aurora, looking at the E, you will continue to wait for that bus to Link (since the 44 is so slow).

      For riders on the west headed to downtown, the new train line saves them a few minutes (at best) over the existing E, or staying on the bus and transferring to the main line. As you go south, the geography makes east-west travel difficult. If you are in Phinney Ridge, you aren’t taking a bus over to Aurora (there isn’t one). You ride the 5 south. When it finally becomes easy to get to Aurora, it intersects the expressway, and is much faster to just stay on the bus. The same is true of the D. Between 85th and Market, there are no crossing buses. If you want to transfer to a train headed downtown, you take Ballard Link. An Aurora Link — only marginally faster than what exists now — won’t attract riders from all over because it offers so little. From the east it is redundant, and from the west it is hard to get to (and besides, those folks have a way to get downtown).

      In general it just doesn’t add much to the network. The main line’s strength is not the speed with which it gets to downtown, but the speed with which it gets to other destinations. It will attract people from both sides. Lake City to Capitol Hill. Bitter Lake to the UW. An Aurora Link simply can’t offer that, despite the enormous amount of money it would cost.

  5. When MAX Orange Line was build in 2016, it was able to be built through a short tunnel left for it underneath Tacoma Street, built in 1992, because there was a plan that said there might one day be a light rail line there.

    When MAX Red Line was built, it was relatively cheap to do so because a tunnel under Interstate 205 already existed for it, built in the 1970s when it was cheap to do so because the freeway was being built then.

    These are the types of things that can be done if there is a plan in place.

    1. I think it’s the Green Line that uses that I-205 tunnel.

      The Red Line was relatively cheap because it was partially funded privately as part of a deal to develop the area east of the airport. Of course, they also cut costs by single-tracking reach end, and now we’re spending $200 million to fix that…

      1. There was a tunnel on the green line too, but the one on the red line was also built into the freeway.

        I-205 was built with a transit way of some sort in mind, but the airport was not. That’s part of that $200 million. The concept at Gateway Transit Center is a case in point of how failure to have a plan costs money in the end, because MAX of 1986 obstructed the 1970s transitway. When the red line was built, they had to approach Gateway using the odd cloverleaf thing because of how that was built.

        There’s actually a Wikipedia entry about the transitway:

  6. If we created a “light rail vision”, what is to prevent it from being as flawed as ST3, or the ridiculous map(s) that Seattle Subway makes? For that matter, what is to prevent prioritizing certain corridors, without solid reasoning to support them?

    Case in point, Aurora. There are several considerations when it comes to building a subway system:

    1) Ridership per mile. Not total ridership, but ridership per mile. The E is nothing special in that regard (it is well below the 3/4, 7, 44, etc.).

    2) Current speed. If a bus is especially slow, but gets lots of riders anyway (like the 8 or 44) then you will get a huge increase in ridership when you speed it up, and the existing riders save a lot of time. The E is extremely fast — the opposite of what you want.

    3) Cost. It isn’t clear how the proponents of this idea want to get to Aurora, but the cheapest possible way is extremely expensive.

    I could go on (and will, if anyone wants me to). The E is nothing special when it comes to converting to rail, and ranks well below several other corridors. So low that it is unrealistic to assume that it will ever become rail.

    The main point I’m trying to make is that the sort of seat-of-the-pants reasoning made by Seattle Subway is not that different than how we got into this mess. Someone basically said “We need a train to West Seattle, because, uh, sometimes a lot of buses occasionally encounter traffic”. There was no professional analysis done to determine whether it was a good value, let alone the best value.

    Without paying for a third party analysis to determine the most cost effective way to improve transit in the city, we are likely to make the same sorts of mistakes. We will end up with empty connections to nowhere, or worse yet, spend billions and billions on things that improve the system only slightly, while the vast majority of transit travel in the city is still poor. If you want the council to pay for third-party professionals to come up with a plan, that sounds great. They could actually work with Metro, instead of largely ignoring them (like ST). But if you want to just continue down the road we are on — with poorly planned projects — forget about it.

    1. Isn’t having a city specific study the point of this push by Seattle Subway?

      The city needs a plan and this seems like a reasonable way to get one.

      Also, as far as I can tell, things like a line up Aurora are only presented as possibles. There is no guarantee that the study will decide that, (Seattle Subway won’t be doing the study), but if it does then I’d like to think that it would be part of a greater plan involving all transit that makes sense.

      If you can’t tell I’m all for the study and getting a coherent system plan put together. :)

      1. things like a line up Aurora are only presented as possibles. There is no guarantee that the study will decide that

        What study? The only time they have ever studied things is after the fact. That is what I’m getting it. There was no study that determined that West Seattle rail is the best value. Of course not. That would be absurd. First they decided that West Seattle should be a priority, then they studied various options. Then we voted on it and then we figured out that those plans were flawed. My point is if we go down that same road, we will end up with more expensive crap, and Aurora is a great example of that. Look at how many people just assume that it makes sense for light rail, without any argument as to why. Somehow it has become a self-evident fact, just as the need for West Seattle rail became self-evident (along with Tacoma Dome rail, Everett rail and Issaquah to South Kirkland rail). It is a broken process that leads to arbitrary projects that are a poor value.

        We should hire a consultant to take a realistic look at our transit system. Of course it makes sense to future-proof the system, but we are already seeing how unrealistic plans have altered what we are building, and not for the better. It is quite possible the last station in West Seattle will face north-south, so that it can more easily head south, to Burien. It is also quite likely this will result in a station that is significantly worse than if it was oriented east-west. Yet it is highly unlikely there will be train headed south, and if there was, it would be a horrible value.

        A long range rail plan would be nice, but it can’t be done the way we’ve been doing things, otherwise it will result in the same kind of crap.

      2. The post you are commenting on is literally about getting the city to do a study and make a citywide plan.

      3. Yes, and my point is we need to know how that study is conducted. If it is like ST studies — severely flawed — then we will end up with crap. Garbage in, garbage out.

        If it involves hiring a third party consultant to try and formulate a long range transit vision, then sure.

    2. Aurora is an excellent example of how a mode first approach is disastrous. If the only option is to build rail, then it’s an intriguing corridor, but if it’s identified first as a frequent transit corridor and then evaluated for modal options, it’s pretty obvious that there is no reason to elevate it above arterial rapid transit.

      1. Exactly. Seattle Subway is doing the same thing that the monorail group did, and the gondola people are doing. They look at a transit situation only in the context of that mode. They don’t consider where that mode is most appropriate (where that mode adds the most value). The pronouncements are made with very little assessment, yet are full of confidence (“corridors as obvious as Aurora”).

        This wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t the way that we actually build things. Kirkland went out and hired its own transit consulting firm to determine the best project they could build for Kirkland. They looked at various options, and came up with an open BRT system. That was rejected by ST. Not because they had their own transit consultants who found flaws with the assessment, but only because they didn’t want to. There was no evidence that the current plan would get more riders, or save those riders more time.

        Of course not. The current plan it so build rail from one station (a park and ride lot) to downtown Bellevue, right next to the freeway. It is clearly the wrong mode, and not worth the enormous costs. But that was the result of this mode-first approach, and a result, Kirkland will have poor transit for the foreseeable future.

      2. Except if you are asking for expenditures above and beyond what taxes are paid for any transportation project. (i.e. roads get a free ride (gas tax + local REET, etc.)

        That is:
        Sound Transit ballot measures only pass because they included rail.

        If the ballot measure was for a tri-county Better Bus System, it would have failed.

        Now, as to why it seems ST does things that don’t make sense from a perspective of a Transit Authority is because, regardless of their official name including those two words, they are not a Transit Authority.

        Sound Transit is a POLITICAL entity, made up of politicians from the three counties, and each with their slight bias for the area they represent.

        If you look at ST from that perspective, some of their decisions make sense in a political framework.

        Freeway Light Rail is just as bad as Freeway monorail. It doesn’t have the walkshed that would make it successful.

        For Northgate to Lynnwood, Link should have followed the Interurban ROW.
        The challenge being the Northgate to 145th segment along Roosevelt Way N (north of Haller Lake, on the map).
        Why didn’t they?
        Because ST didn’t want to go through the same pissing match they did with Tukwila. Path of least resistance. Shoreline didn’t want it.

        Why didn’t they put a Link spur from Wilburton to South Kirkland along the ERC? That’s at least the one segment was justified on ridership estimates. Even the City of Kirkland was amenable to BRT in that corridor.
        They looked at either fighting the City Council on mode, and the SOT NIMBY Lawyers (no doubt working pro-bono because they ARE the Nimbys), and said… We’ll give you your GLORIOUS Freeway Bus interchange on the Super Express Bus System, and spend the bigger money where people are asking for it…..
        Now that’s another question for serious transit metrics. Freeway ROW again, and does Issaquah generate the ridership?
        Didn’t matter. They asked for it, they want it.

        That line of reasoning is also what makes sense for West Seattle Link, and Ballard. The neighborhoods that want it, will likely not get ignored, such as neighborhoods that would put up a stink.

        Why is Link being planned to go to Tacoma?
        After all, who’s going to commute that whole distance? From a transit analysis standpoint, I doubt a lot of commuters would…

        But, if you’re one of the City Fathers (Mothers?), and you notice that it’s only about 10 minutes longer to take Link from the airport to the City of Destiny, than it does for those really expensive downtown Seattle hotels, it makes more sense. And the museums…

        From that perspective, the jog to Paine Field makes sense for Everett.

        I know this is the SEATTLE Transit Blog, but ST operates as a 3 county political entity. They are taking the path of least resistance.

      3. Ross
        To be fair, the approach in Kirkland is:
        1) Continue to invest in ST Express operations, which will improve as they leverage other pieces of transit infrastructure, such as East Link or the Montlake Lid
        2) Launch Stride, first leveraging the existing Totem Lake station and then later build a fancy station at 85th (I’m assuming 85th is going to be delayed relative to the rest of 405N)
        3) Several decades later, begin work on a rail spur that maybe later can be extended further.

        “That is: Sound Transit ballot measures only pass because they included rail. If the ballot measure was for a tri-county Better Bus System, it would have failed.” Not to be confused with the bus levies that regularly pass in the tri-county area?

        “going to commute that whole distance?” Not many people. The political and technical arguments for Tacoma and Everett link have never had to do with commuting to Seattle. The only people who talk about commuting from ST3 endpoints into Seattle are people arguing against ST3.

      4. @AJ — Yeah, sure. But making very expensive long terms plans in hopes that they someday will make sense is folly. It is silly to think that a very expensive subway line from South Kirkland Park and Ride to downtown Bellevue makes sense, given that such a bus route doesn’t even exist right now! There is no express from South Kirkland P & R to downtown Bellevue. Not as a continuation of another line, let alone a stand-alone line. You have the 250 but it stops along the way. That is because it needs those extra passengers — there simply isn’t enough demand for trips to downtown Bellevue to justify an express, and that is with service that goes through Kirkland. It isn’t like it would be difficult — it would shave ten minutes off the trip ( This is a huge amount of time savings — way more than the savings from that to a train. Yet Metro doesn’t do that, simply because there aren’t enough riders.

        It is really a silly idea, that came from this notion that we must build rail, of some sort, to Kirkland. Not downtown Kirkland, or the most populous part of Kirkland, just Kirkland. A part of Kirkland with relatively few people, and good access to freeway ramps. One stop, making a marginal improvement in speed over a bus route that carries so few people it doesn’t even exist.

        In comparison, look at Northgate Link. There used to a be a bunch of express buses from the UW to downtown (using the freeway) and they ran all day (and carried a lot of people). There are several existing buses that go downtown (like the 70) and they carry a bunch of people. The same is true of Northgate and Roosevelt. Furthermore, the buses that go in between the various destinations (Northgate to Roosevelt, Northgate to UW, etc.) carry lots of riders, and are very slow. UW Link and Northgate Link where bound to carry a bunch of riders, and this was obvious 40 years ago.

        Will Kirkland Link make sense 40 years from now? It is highly unlikely.

      5. They aren’t ‘hopes’ but plans. Same for 85th, which makes sense only in the context of growth in Rose Hill, which now looks likely given arrival of Google and planned rezoning.

        This is the same issue you have with all the lines outside of Seattle. You can only see the neighborhoods as they are, now how they will be. You simply can’t imagine the rest of the region being nothing more than cutesy suburbs, despite over the relevant time period (~25 years) Bellevue transformed from low rise shopping malls and office parks into office and condo towers. ST3 is predicated on simillar transformations occurring throughout the region over the rest of the century.

      6. Sound Transit ballot measures only pass because they included rail.

        If the ballot measure was for a tri-county Better Bus System, it would have failed.

        Says who? First of all, of course there would be some rail, it just wouldn’t have as much. You would extend the line to Redmond and Federal Way, for example. If you really wanted to add some in Snohomish County, then go as far as Ash Way.

        The proposal passed largely along “Transit, good or bad?” lines. It passed overwhelmingly in Seattle, although *not* as much as the latest Metro proposal. It passed in neighborhoods that will get little out of it (like Fremont). It also passed in the north end in general, but support got weaker the farther north you went. This suggests that maybe people didn’t realize the line was going to go to Lynnwood anyway (even if it failed) or they just wanted to support transit. It passed in downtown Tacoma, but failed in areas that will be closer to Link (and gain more it, like Fife). As for bus projects, it passed quite well in the north Lake Washington suburbs, suggesting that they really did want that fast bus line to Link. (

        It wouldn’t take much effort to promote the project. You run the same sort of ads, promoting the time savings that mostly will come from ST2, while promoting ST3. For example, Everett to downtown Seattle is very slow, but with ST3 it will be fast. For that trip, the travel times are even better! An express bus to Lynnwood would get to Lynnwood faster than a train. Run more express buses to Boeing, that also extend around the (very large) business complex (so that people wouldn’t have to hop on a shuttle). It isn’t that difficult to come up with a system that is much better, much cheaper, and just as easy to sell.

        One of the big reasons it passed was timing. It was a general election year, when the voting public tends to be more left leaning. Sound Transit had done well, opening up the line they should have started with (UW to downtown). Because they moved the goal posts, they could claim it was “under budget and early”, when, compared to the original estimates, it was the opposite. The economy was doing well, the region was growing, and it was easy to argue that this should be a priority (e. g. while homelessness was a problem, it wasn’t as visible to the masses as it is now). A smaller project, with a lot more bus oriented transit, would have passed with similar numbers.

      7. @AJ — Of course I can imagine those neighborhoods growing, but I can’t imagine any realistic scenario where the station makes sense. There is only one station, and it is separated from the main station by a freeway! Can you imagine any system, anywhere in the world like that? Of course not.

        What exactly do you imagine, AJ? That South Kirkland will become the next downtown Bellevue? You think that they will tear down the apartments and offices in the area to rebuild itself into a compact set of residential towers and offices similar to Belltown? Come on, that’s just not gonna happen.

        There will be growth — of course there will. It will be similar to what has happened around there. There will be six story buildings, with parking, so folks can take advantage of one of the big amenities in the area (proximity to the freeway). Population density will increase, but it won’t leapfrog places like Capitol Hill, and it won’t ever become the destination it is. Oh, and Bellevue won’t become downtown Seattle, either. Travel between those two spots will never reach the kind of all-day demand where such an expensive investment actually makes sense.

      8. Sound Transit is a POLITICAL entity, made up of politicians from the three counties, and each with their slight bias for the area they represent.

        Yes, absolutely, although I would say heavy bias, along with a heavy bias towards rail, and a profound ignorance of transit. The one time a city actually hired a consultant to educate them, the board ignored the recommendations. Which brings us to Kirkland.

        They looked at either fighting the City Council on mode …

        Which again, begs the question — Why? Why was ST, with no evidence to support their case, pushing for rail, when the local city council wanted BRT? Doesn’t that fly in the face of asking the local politicians? It is mode fetish.

        and the SOT NIMBY Lawyers (no doubt working pro-bono because they ARE the Nimbys), and said… We’ll give you your GLORIOUS Freeway Bus interchange on the Super Express Bus System, and spend the bigger money where people are asking for it…..
        Now that’s another question for serious transit metrics. Freeway ROW again, and does Issaquah generate the ridership?
        Didn’t matter. They asked for it, they want it.

        Yeah, sure. Except they also decided to give Kirkland something they didn’t ask for and didn’t want — a light rail line to South Kirkland. The Kirkland council wanted BRT on the CKC. The Nimby’s wanted BRT on 405. The ST Board wanted light rail on the CKC. So they end up with a spur line, and a huge interchange? I actually understand the interchange, but why the rail spur? Its not like the 405 BRT solves Kirkland’s transit problems — it hardly makes a dent. For the cost of that spur there are a bunch of bus projects that would add real value for the city. For example, run a line from Juanita, through downtown Kirkland, and then on to Bellevue, using that (very expensive) interchange. Take over the RapidRide lines, and start with a much bigger budget (for both capital and service). Run express buses from UW to Woodinville. Or how about a major investment in the corridor, and rebuilding the 405 to 520 interchange, so that the buses never encounter traffic? All of that would have been a better investment than the rail stub, pleasing both the city council (who can hold out for eventual BRT on the CKC) and the NIMBYs (who figure the better the bus system is with the CKC, the less likely they are of using it). Instead you have the worst of both worlds — the council knows it is a waste of money, and the NIMBYs fear that the train is getting closer.

        The approach the board took can only be understood as a strong preference for rail.

      9. Didn’t matter. They asked for it, they want it.

        That line of reasoning is also what makes sense for West Seattle Link, and Ballard. The neighborhoods that want it, will likely not get ignored, such as neighborhoods that would put up a stink.

        OK, I agree with much of what you wrote, but the idea that Seattle projects were based on enthusiasm is ridiculous. There was great enthusiasm for Ballard to UW rail. There was great enthusiasm for rail to First Hill. In fact the community council practically begged them, and the board (led by Dow Constantine) said no. The same is true when it comes to putting the Ballard station in central Ballard.

        In contrast, one area where there was always griping was West Seattle. People didn’t want an elevated line to the beloved Junction. The only reason they built a line to West Seattle is because Dow Constantine wanted it. The only reason they didn’t consider a bus tunnel is because the folks in charge wanted rail.

        If you really wanted the easy path of no resistance, you would not have proposed so much elevated transit. You would built the Ballard to UW line (all underground) and the Metro 8 subway (also underground). To placate West Seattle, you would have added a bus tunnel (which would have also thrilled folks on Aurora) and improvements to the Spokane Street viaduct. The board allowed West Seattle to jump to the front of the line (likely because Dow is from there) and ignored alternatives to rail because of political preference for it.

        To suggest that other areas (like First Hill, Capitol Hill, Central District, Belltown, Fremont, Ballard) didn’t want a major improvement in transit, while West Seattle did is ridiculous.

      10. @ Jim Cusick – regarding who scotched taking Link up the Roosevelt cutoff to the Interurban row – I was involved in lobbying for that. It was not so much Shoreline as it was Snohomish County electeds who wanted it to stick to I-5. I can’t prove this but we thought the push was coming from Lynnwood and the mall. We actually had the King Co votes for Roosevelt, etc. but not from Sno Co.

    3. I would also add two other points:

      1. We are woefully short in funding the ST3 system inside Seattle. Proposing that money adds light rail past ST3 is ignoring financial reality of the immediate problem that is unsolved. Right now, billions of extra funding are needed.

      2. I’m not convinced that we won’t need some “fixes” to the current system. MLK speed and safety. Possible overcrowding. Inadequate vertical circulation at some stations. Better pedestrian connections to existing stations.

      Thanks Ross for pointing out the logic flaw of choosing technology and corridors without thorough study first. Im just adding how even having one new corridor may still not be the best choice in how to spend limited public money.

      1. The point (at least, the point as I read it) isn’t to spend money now. The point is to avoid spending unnecessary money in the future.

        The old interurban right of way along the west side of Lake Union is mostly still there from the 1930s. If you plug that up with, say, overpasses or something, then if light rail does get put there it becomes far more expensive.

        Is it worth preserving? Only way to know is to develop a long term plan.

      2. Yeah, and I’m fine with that, Glenn. It does make sense to future-proof the system. But I want to know who is doing the future-proofing. If it is the same folks that helped create ST3, then we will spend a bunch of money on “ramps to nowhere”, or worse yet, eventually build those projects, while more worthy transit improvements sit wanting.

      3. “Why didn’t they put a Link spur from Wilburton to South Kirkland along the ERC? That’s at least the one segment was justified on ridership estimates. Even the City of Kirkland was amenable to BRT in that corridor.
        They looked at either fighting the City Council on mode, and the SOT NIMBY Lawyers (no doubt working pro-bono because they ARE the Nimbys), and said… We’ll give you your GLORIOUS Freeway Bus interchange on the Super Express Bus System, and spend the bigger money where people are asking for it…..
        Now that’s another question for serious transit metrics. Freeway ROW again, and does Issaquah generate the ridership?
        Didn’t matter. They asked for it, they want it.”

        There are no segments on the eastside where ridership supports the costs per mile and fixed route of rail, but ST uniform tax rates and Seattle needing ST 3 to complete ST 2 meant the eastside has to spend too much money somewhere. Don’t blame the lawyers.

        It is just no one wants rail on the eastside: Bellevue runs it along 112th, and Kirkland wants it in Rose Hill. Microsoft wanted it early on but has lost interest. Who in the world builds a $5.5 billion light rail line like East Link and doesn’t run it into the city centers? Cities that don’t think their prime customers and workers will take transit or rail.

        East Link was planned a long time ago when the eastside thought the world revolved around Seattle. Which is why the eastside paid for all of East Link, and the express east-west-east buses until East Link opens. But ridership will be anemic. Not just because of the route, or lack of density, or lack of first/last mile access, but because this a car centric area. Just look at the huge freeways they continue to widen. Now the concern in East Link will bring Seattle to the eastside.

        The reason there is no light rail to downtown Kirkland is because Kirkland did not want a light rail line and station in its town center. “South Kirkland” is actually Rose Hill. Same reason East Link runs along 112th. Who goes to 112th? Where do you think Issaquah will put its station? In the heart of the city?

        Rail from Issaquah to anywhere was political. Why would anyone in Issaquah drive to a park and ride to catch light rail to S. Bellevue, 112th, or Rose Hill when there are huge freeways connecting these locations (and Bellevue Way, not 112th or S. Bellevue), and free parking for customers. In fact, why would anyone in Issaquah go to Rose Hill (or S. Kirkland)? What is in Kirkland that isn’t in Issaquah? How many riders will take Link north to Lynnwood?

        I read a lot about Seattle creating a “transit vision”. My problem there is I don’t think the proponents understand the costs (or logistical nightmare of a very deep transit tunnel under 5th Ave). There isn’t the money. A real transit planner would turn down the job because: 1. there is no money; and 2. citizen expectations are unrealistic. If a transit planner came up with a fantastic bus system that provided first/last mile access to Link Seattle transit advocates would pout.

        My issue with a transit vision on the eastside is it is created by the same transit folks who came up with the spine and transit vision for Seattle, but have never understood the geography and mindset of eastsiders.

        Yes, some believe they will force or entice “privileged” eastsiders out of their cars, or create huge TOD’s (which is partly true except for the T part), or force eastsiders to give up there SFH so housing can be “affordable” so they must take transit because that is what THEY want. A true transit planner would ask why design a transit plan for the eastside if the citizens are not interested in riding transit, let alone increasing density, even if they have the money for it?

        Quite frankly I think Seattle transit aficionados have a better chance of finding $20 or $30 billion to complete ST 3 and some of SS’s projects than convincing eastsiders to give up their cars and take transit, let alone their SFH.

        I think the best thing in the short term is complete the spine, and East Link, and see what works and what does not, because we really don’t have much empirical evidence to base a transit vision on. Will there be ridership from Lynnwood to Everett, will Seattle continue to be the hub, will S. Seattle residents ride link, what will ridership on East Link be, and where will those riders go?

        ST 3 in N. King Co. won’t get built because there isn’t the money, and the Issaquah-Rose Hill line (or any additional rail on the eastside) probably won’t get built because there just never will be the transit ridership demand, no matter how great the population or density, partly because eastside cities did not want to run rail into the city centers.

      4. “It is just no one wants rail on the eastside: ….”
        That’s bullshit. During the I-405 Corridor Program (a.k.a. the current ‘Master Plan’, lest anyone think it doesn’t have any relevance today), surveys taken by the staff came out with the results that showed rail as a solution on the eastside was met with a 75% approval rating.

        The reason you don’t see a full blown Light Rail system on the Eastside was because the price tag was too high for immediate results. So was a future-proofing option of 6 more lanes.

        Let’s do this, if you really want to know what people want, let’s get the show on the road, and accelerate the full buildout of the I-405 Corridor according to the Master Plan, with a BALLOT MEASURE, that covers the full cost by the users of that corridor.

        Or better yet, separate the lanes completely, and toll them. For everyone.

        Look, where I work I will get members of the general public coming in, and (at least pre-covid), complaining about traffic. If they came from the eastside… well it’s all I can do to keep my tongue civil, and not start laughing maniacally and say “Suck it up, buttercup!”

        Ridership/cost per mile was favorable for commuter rail on the ERC.
        Politics and Nimbys killed it.

        Oh, and if one of the SOT people that came on this blog, by using his real name showed he was in the legal profession (Law Offices), and was an adjacent landowner, they are fair game.

        They chose to greenwash their concerns, they should live with the consequences of public exposure.

      5. Glenn, there is no “interurban right of way” along the west side of Lake Union. There is an old NP industrial spur down to the old power plant which has become the bikeway, but it was single track and hence unusable for LRT of that length. It is also right in front of several buildings so speeds would have to be extremely slow. If surface LRT is to use that corridor, it must be in lanes on Westlake.

    4. I’m unconvinced about the E being “extremely fast” as it takes an hour to get from downtown Seattle to 185th. Driving time is about 25 minutes. I’m hoping there are better alternatives once Link opens.

      It seems like such a busy and long corridor, which really continues across the county line, would be a perfect place for grade separated transit, so that huge numbers of traffic light stops could be eliminated.

      1. Right, it’s not fast. I’ve repeatedly timed it 45 minutes from Westlake to Aurora Village, or 25 minutes from 85th to Aurora Village.

      2. E is grade separated starting at 85th, so any “slowness” south of there is due to stops, so if you want to speed up the bus there advocate for a stop diet or an express overlay, not rail. And yes, once Link opens, many Shoreline riders may switch to Link, which then means they don’t benefit from any Aurora rail project unless rail gets all the way to Shoreline. The end-to-end travel time of the E simply isn’t relevant for the vast majority of riders.

        “perfect place for grade separated transit” Then build bus overpasses at the major intersections, like what LA’s orange line is doing. I’m all for dropping a few hundred million to turn the E into a top notch BRT line. I see zero reason for the incremental $3B to convert it to rail.

      3. It would be a “perfect place” (as would Lake City Way or any other wide ROW) for actual BRT, the kind you see in Curitiba or Quito or…. Signal preemption for the transit lanes, center running bus-only ROW – any place that already has room for bus lanes can do this. Emergency vehicles use the bus lanes. Cars can do car things (mostly sit there) just as they do now.

        When you hit capacity on *that* decades from now, rail is the next step, sure. It’s just not any time in the near future, or even in the lifetimes of a lot of us.

        (I love rail and money no object, yeah, put lines everywhere. It is an object, of course, so that’s not reasonable in locations where other HCT might be. I’ve used the systems in Quito and Curitiba and they are plenty fast and frequent enough, with longer buses for higher capacity, in areas far denser than Aurora or LCW. Curitiba’s zoning is actually predicated on highrise/midrise along the lengths of the transit lines dropping to lower density away from them – or basically something that would work perfectly well on Aurora. Crosstown? We need rail for that as there are no reasonable alternatives for other modes of HCT.)

      4. AJ, E is only grade-separated south of 85th in the peak direction during peak times. The rest of the day, it gets to fight the SOV traffic despite carrying a large fraction of the people traveling on Aurora, just so a handful of politically-connected businesses get a handful of “free” parking spots in the transit lane of one of the busiest bus routes in the state.

  7. The RossB comments are spot on.

    We tend to engage in modal wars based on faith (I suspect this happens throughout the US). In the mid 90s, as the RTA was forming, there were two groups of surface LRT advocates who advocated use of SR-99 (e.g., Rhododendron line and R2D?). RTP management really wanted something akin to BART: grade separated and crossing the county lines, so the visions clashed. In the aughts, as ST was bogged down with cost estimation issues around Sound Move, the monorail movement took off. It got traction as transit riders in Seattle were impatient. In 2001, the ST board made the fateful south-first choice for the initial segment. In 2007, ST2 was in a forced marriage with the freeway building RTID in a joint ballot measure; it failed.

    The E Line is a success of intergovernmental cooperation; Shoreline, Seattle, WSDOT, and Metro all played key roles. With funding, it could do more; consider what the 99B is like in Vancouver.

    ST did not choose to build the ST2 I suggested, but it will be great, just not as great as it could have been. We want Link to be powerful; to reach its potential, ST must run it very frequently.

    Seattle has many other issues to address that are important in growing into a resilient transit metropolis: sidewalks on frequent transit arterials that lack them, electric traction transit, pavement management, improving transit flow, so buses are not choked in traffic, bridge maintenance and replacement, bicycle safety, and wayfinding.

    1. “The reason you don’t see a full blown Light Rail system on the Eastside was because the price tag was too high for immediate results. So was a future-proofing option of 6 more lanes.”

      You don’t see a full blown rail system in the core of Seattle let alone east King Co., and my guess is never will based on the funding deficits for ST 3 in N. King Co. The idea of a full blown rail system in East King Co. is unrealistic, financially and use wise, now or ever. The cost per rider mile would be astronomical, because of sheer size, lack of density, poor first/last mile access, and a reluctance to use transit.

      East Link took over 20 years from conception to completion, so immediate results were never a goal. The Issaquah line is scheduled to open in 2041.

      We won’t know ridership per mile on East Link until it opens, but most think the ridership estimates by ST were at least double what actual ridership will be. If East Link has low ridership per mile is there any rail route on the eastside that would have greater ridership/mile? How many folks would take a rail stub from Wilburton to S. Kirkland? First there is no Wilburton at this time, and second what do you do when you get to S. Kirkland/Rose Hill. Walk? Even for cars this is not a heavily travelled route.

      ” During the I-405 Corridor Program (a.k.a. the current ‘Master Plan’, lest anyone think it doesn’t have any relevance today), surveys taken by the staff came out with the results that showed rail as a solution on the eastside was met with a 75% approval rating.”

      Solution for what? If you mean congestion, yes drivers want less congestion, which is why there is so much road construction going on. It doesn’t mean THEY want to ride transit.

      My point is all these grand transit plans — whether it is Seattle Subway or just ST 3 in N. King Co. — are not affordable with current revenues, so I don’t know why the cities should go through the exercise. Complete the spine, find out where it is used the most, and concentrate first/last mile bus service there if the citizens are willing fund more bus service, although in Seattle at least voters may be aggrieved they will be paying for ST 3 for decades with nothing to show for it. That is living with consequences.

    2. We want Link to be powerful; to reach its potential, ST must run it very frequently.

      Seattle has many other issues to address that are important in growing into a resilient transit metropolis: sidewalks on frequent transit arterials that lack them, electric traction transit, pavement management, improving transit flow, so buses are not choked in traffic, bridge maintenance and replacement, bicycle safety, and wayfinding.

      Yeah, exactly. A transit planner should not be focused on the one mode (rail) assuming that will provide the bulk of our transit needs, and that the buses (and trains) will just take care of themselves. A planner should consider the whole system, with a list of (long term) recommendations. Don’t be surprised if long before they say “build another train line”, they say “run the one you got more often”. Oh, and while you are at it, run buses more often on the line you think should be converted to rail. Holy cow, the E only runs every ten minutes during the day. Long before we spend a dime building rail we should run it twice as often.

  8. “It also means that a $4+ billion downtown tunnel has no accommodation for new lines nor for new destinations to be added in the future—leaving 75% of its capacity permanently unused.”

    That’s simply untrue. It will be very straightforward for ST to run peak turnback trains from Ballard to SoDo, if there’s a need to max out capacity in the 2nd tunnel. Also, future junctions could be built in Ballard, SoDo, or elsewhere in the system outside of downtown if there is a desire to offer branching service rather than a peak overlay. An underground junction is not a necessary condition to maximize tunnel capacity.

    Yes, a junction around Harrison is intriguing, and perhaps it is something Seattle should advocate for. But please don’t say demonstrably false things like “permanently unused.”

    1. If a line were built along Aurora running from downtown Seattle to 185th my questions would be:

      1. Where would the stations in downtown Seattle be;

      2. Would a second (or third) transit tunnel be necessary;

      3. Where would the stations be after leaving downtown Seattle;

      4. Would the line be at grade using traffic lanes on Aurora but having to stop for crossing traffic, underground, or elevated (or a combo);

      5. What would the estimated cost be;

      6. What would be the estimated completion date.

      At least with this info I could decide whether such a line made more sense than the West Seattle to Ballard line, if ST had the money for that.

  9. I think the point of this piece is it won’t cost any extra dollars now to build a stacked station with a junction to accommodate some future rail project maybe. NOT doing this will cost billions more to expand the system.

    1. I’m not a tunnel engineer, but my understanding is that breaking through the side wall of a tunnel to put in any branch track still poses a dangerous excavation challenge — even if the tunnel is stacked. I even wouldn’t be surprised that a wider bore to stack two tracks in a single tunnel makes breaching the tunnel wall even more risky — and that boring two separate tunnels one right above the other is also a riskier thing to do.

      1. Al, it’s not just “dangerous”; it can’t be done without digging an enclosure like a station box, supporting the bottom of the tube and then disassembling the compression rings a segment at a time as they were emplaced. This obviously can’t be done under traffic, though once the box is in place a few rings a night could be removed during quiet times.

        So far as boring two tubes one above the other, yes there is a minimum separation required. TBM’s are monstrously heavy so I’d guess that the upper would be the first to go, because once ringed a tunnel transfers its weight outward into the surrounding soil and is actually lighter than the earth that was removed. Also, the tubes can be somewhat offset laterally if the junction is far enough from an adjacent station.

    2. Of course it will cost extra. Otherwise they would do that at every station. It does cost a lot more to add it later, but not billions more. The problem is that without proper study, you don’t know where it makes sense to add a stacked station, and where it doesn’t. You could make a case at a lot of stations, for example:

      Denny — The 70 has higher ridership per mile than the RapidRide E. So maybe we put in a stacked junction for an Eastlake line that would intersect here, serve Belltown, and then loop around and end at Westlake Station.

      South Lake Union — Same sort of deal, except serving the Aurora corridor.

      Seattle Center — There once was a plan seriously considered by Sound Transit that involved a subway line serving Uptown, the top of Queen Anne and Fremont. It would be extremely expensive, but transformative.

      You can make a case for all of those. You can also make the case that instead of stacked junction, you have a split, like what exists for East Link and the main line. The trains will run every six minutes at best, which means that you could have trains running every three minutes in the tunnel.

      Or we could stop obsessing about expansion, and try to actually build what we planned to build, and run what we actually built. It is quite possible that if we hired a consultant, and had open access to all the bucks, they would recommend that we simply spend more money running the trains and buses more often. Yes, I definitely want Ballard to UW rail, and feel like it would be a great value. It would be a shame if someday the cost is pushed upward because ST cut corners in running the train to Ballard.

      But most of all, I want a decent system now, or at least in the foreseeable future.

      1. That station under the top of Queen Anne would be a boondoggle of the ultimate degree. The flat top of QAH is about 350 feet above Lower Queen Anne which would make the station at least 250 feet below street level, assuming a 100 foot rise to it. That’s pretty extreme considering it would have to be about 30 feet below MSL to pass under the Ship Canal.

        And what would it serve? All those billions for a neighborhood that won’t go above five stories. It would definitely be “WOW!” if highrises were allowed, but there is simply no way to accommodate the traffic that they would inevitably generated. If there is a line to and through Fremont it should go under Dexter most of the distance with an “edge” station under Aurora — with entrances from both sides of the street — at Aloha.

        People need to quit talking about Link on Aurora. The bridge can not support the weight of the trackway and a pair of meeting trains. Period, end of story. A line in the Aurora corridor will have to be a subway through Dexter, Lower and Upper Fremont and then can go elevated above Aurora somewhere in the park.

        However, if the crest of Phinney can be strip-zoned for high rises, you’d have that same “WOW!” factor with the view. Unfortunately, the same problems with traffic would probably arise. However, if the traffic could be tamed it would be great to continue in subway with a couple of stations along Phinney and Greenwood, transitioning to Aurora north of 85th.

        Lots more tunneling though.

      2. I completely agree that rail up Aurora south of ~45th is a huge technical challenge. Running it tunneled under Phinney/Greenwood would improve upon the 5’s bus service, and like you said, it could still serve Aurora north of 85th.

  10. Yes. The Seattle City Council should authorize the money to spend on a study/analysis/whatever you want to call it, hire Jared Walker to do it. Draw up the dream transportation blueprint to inform current and future ST AND Metro projects within the city.

    It should not only look at future connections and lines for light rail, but also how buses augment and work with the system. Maybe we could avoid stupid stuff like the 145th St station not actually being on 145th, or the 130th St station not straddling 130th.

    Hell, it will be a system study so maybe they’ll figure out that a gondola line could work somewhere, or balloons.

  11. “ Instead of one line with trains arriving every 6-8 minutes, in most downtowns around the world subway tunnels have three to four subway lines with trains arriving every 90 seconds to 2 minutes that take passengers to dozens of destinations.”

    I have to commend Seattle Subway for this observation. The idea of branching has largely been ignored by ST in its system layout. The only segment with two lines is the one from IDS northward — and as it continues north it doesn’t branch again. There is a future short two-line segment in Bellevue but that’s it. Even the SODO segment is planned with two adjacent lines rather than one — incredibly without cross platform transfers except maybe at IDS in one direction only. The hard-headedness of ST to not revisit the track layout and existing SODO station platforms will add both rider inconvenience and system operations problems (track crossings past opposite direction trains) and operations (rerouting to adjacent platforms during service disruptions) challenges.

    I think one historical mistake was not branching to Aurora either just north of the U-District station or north of Northgate . Another was not branching north of Westlake to go to SLU and Ballard.

    Before building a second Downtown tunnel, it would make sense to see if three lines could work. If we are building a new Downtown tunnel, it should be planned with two lines — maybe even three.

    The biggest efficiency problem with no branching is mostly apparent outside of Seattle though. I can’t see the demand justifying six-minute four-car trains to Tacoma and Everett, or three minute trains to Mariner. If that demand actually does evolve, then the segments of those lines inside Seattle will probably be way too crowded to board.

    Once ST2 is operating for a few years, I expect an major attitude shift will occur about light rail. Leaders won’t merely see lines on a diagram; they will see lines from the perspective of operating trains and users in stations and on trains — with occasional but unavoidable service disruptions and overcrowding.

    1. It’s entirely possible to have three lines in the existing tunnel while not running “six minute four car trains all the way to Tacoma and Everett” by having an overlay line between Northgate or Lynnwood, whichever has the better turnback facility, and the Airport. Some sort of revenue interconnection would be required to transfer trains from the existing tunnel trackage which will feed into the West Seattle elevated along the busway to the existing at-grade Line 3 trackage between IDS and SoDo, perhaps not an easy task.

      The obvious way to accomplish this is to make the new busway trackage stacked and shared by the West Seattle and Airport/Tacoma lines, with divergences just south of SoDo station and between Holgate and Royal Brougham. That way a train entering from either line to the south could continue into either tunnel and a train entering from the north from either tunnel could go to either southern line. An elevated trackway between the two divergences could easily handle a train every two minutes, even with the stop at SoDo. This would certainly be somewhat more expensive that just building a completely separated elevated for West Seattle, but would be worthwhile for operational flexibility for the entire future.

      1. Another obvious way would be to put the Rainier Valley line on the outside and the West Seattle line on the inside. By putting the existing southbound tracks on the westernmost outside (where the southbound busway is today) and building a new southbound crossover that connects at the existing switch from the maintenance yard, it would result in the two southbound tracks bring adjacent and the two northbound tracks bring adjacent. Switching between tracks running in the same direction then becomes very easy and inexpensive because they would be adjacent. If trains get stopped due to a disruption further north or south in the system (an MLK collision or a blocked train at Westlake, for example), the operations center would have many more options available to redirect or pause trains.

        The bigger aspect that needs to be mentioned is that tracks are not roads — and can’t be easily added into a system. ST and Seattle Subway keep showing line diagrams and not track diagrams. Without track diagram concepts introduced even at the early stages, operational requirements don’t get vetted and the result is building in a way that both prevents expansion through branching as well as creates massive disruptions when operations must address incidents.

        I only have to point to how Connect 2020 was so disruptive to illustrate the problem. Had a switching track been built north of Pioneer Square Station when the DSTT was built (a few hundred extra feet north added to the station vault), that hassle and all of the service delays on weekends since then could have been minimized by having single-tracking with maybe a temporary single station closure.

        It’s one thing to plan a rail system and draw a pretty diagram. It’s another to operate it 365 days a year for 100 years.

    2. Branching is a central feature of ST2, and the fact that there is no branching between Westlake and Lynnwood is a feature, not a bug, of ST2.

      I agree the Spine outside of Seattle has great opportunity for branching, but branching should be outside the core, i.e. somewhere Link is running above ground, so I’m not worked up about the lack of branching in the 2nd tunnel. You are correct that the spot for a branch is the same location where ST would consider turnback trains. I don’t think anyone here would advocate for ST to turn back a train at Smith Cove, which suggest the first good spot for a junction is Ballard itself.

      I like Mariner as future junction because I like the high frequency at Ash Way & Mariner to serve Swift transfers, but if someone wants to argue for a junction closer to Lynnwood I think that’s reasonable.

      South of Seattle the goal would be to identify a branch that will interline with Ballard-downtown to maximize the 2nd tunnel. Spurs off of RV don’t work because that segment is ‘at capacity.’ This limit leads many to argue for improvements to RV or a ‘Dwamish bypass,’ but I’d suggest just moving the West Seattle spur to the new tunnel and boost frequency between Seattle and Bellevue. That gives double frequency ID to Ballard to then support a junction at Ballard.

      1. Keep in mind branching should occur where there are *permanent* turnbacks. There may indeed be turnbacks at Northgate or SeaTac during midday or evening, but not during peak operations, so therefore those are not good spots for junctions.

      2. So Mariner getting peak trains every peak trains every 3 minutes and all-day trains every 5 minutes — while the Rainier Valley, West Seattle, South Lake Union and Downtown Bellevue get 6 minute peak trains and 10 minute all day trains — is a feature? Really?

        And that’s not even getting how the most crowded Link segment on a per train basis is the Beacon Hill tunnel or how if all the Snohomish riders can get a seat while North Seattle may be squeezing into an overcrowded train.

        I don’t think if these situations as “features” unless I favor Snohomish County.

      3. Those high frequencies are a feature for the majority of riders transferring to a bus. They are 4-car trains for capacity reasons elsewhere in the network. The higher frequency isn’t stolen from elsewhere in the network.

        I’d love to have simillar frequencies elsewhere in the network. One of my crazy ideas is to convert WSBLE into a 2-car, 3 minute frequency line specifically to provide simillar high quality frequency.

      4. One fantasy of mine would be for the higher frequency trains at the peaks to operate close in as a new line. Like having a Line 5 run from Northgate to Rainier Beach or Northgate to Downtown Bellevue — depending on where there is the worst overcrowding. At least that way, Seattle riders have a chance at a seat or maybe boarding a train with room. Seattle riders deserve a seat just as much as Mariner riders or Federal Way riders do.

      5. “So Mariner getting peak trains every peak trains every 3 minutes and all-day trains every 5 minutes — while the Rainier Valley, West Seattle, South Lake Union and Downtown Bellevue get 6 minute peak trains and 10 minute all day trains — is a feature? Really?”

        The north corridor also has the U-District and Northgate and Lynnwood, and people go to those places from both south and north. The issue is not Mariner but north Lynnwood and Ash Way. It’s a judgment call where ridership drops off enough for one line, and ST estimates it at Mariner. ST already extended the second line (East Link) from Northgate to Lynnwood off peak believing its capacity would be needed, and now the choice is whether to keep it at Lynnwood or extend it further to Ash Way or Mariner. ST chose Mariner really as the maximum of the three, as RapidRide G was extended from 23rd to MLK and RapidRide I was extended from 45th 65th and would have been extended to Northgate (although now it’s back at 45th due to budget shortfalls). You can look it as an optimistic choice (“build it and they will come”) or as a convenient transfer to Swift Orange (east-west regional ridership and politically-important Boeing). I see it more as a placeholder, and in the end it may be shortened and the second line terminate at Northgate or Ash Way off-peak.

        Rainier Valley got the worst because it was the first. Previous American light rails were 90%+ surface, and ST’s original intention was for Link to be much more surface (Intl Dist to SeaTac probably). The level crossings limit frequency to 6 minutes. ST wouldn’t consider underground or elevated because Rainier Valley didn’t have the hills or waterways to justify it. Later as the following segments went through design one by one, they were able to convince ST to upgrade them to tunnels or elevated. (Tukwila didn’t want surface trains on recently-beautified Intl Blvd, and Roosevelt wanted an underground station at its center.) So in ST2 and 3 ST assumed 100% grade separation. That lasted until Bellevue insisted on a downtown tunnel and asked ST to economize elsewhere in East King, and that led to bringing parts of the Spring District and south Redmond down to the surface. But everywhere else is presumed separated. (Or in freeway ROW where it can be on the surface but avoid level crossings.) Rainier Valley was too early for that change in attitudes. So sometimes getting the first means getting the worst.

        And because MLK is surface, any line connected to it is limited to 6 minutes. That makes Ballard, Federal Way, and Tacoma the unlucky ones here. And due to the desire to evenly space trains on the two lines, West Seattle is also limited to that. Not that it needs more because it has no urban centers. The Eastside is limited because of I-90 bridge limits and those surface segments.

        If there’s any place that needs 2-line 3-minute service it’s the downtown-UW-Northgate-Lynnwood axis, and that’s exactly where the two lines overlap. It’s a judgment call how much further north to extend the second line. There are reasonable arguments for terminating it at Lynnwood, Ash Way, Mariner, or Everett. ST had to choose something and it chose Mariner. It’s no big deal if it’s a bit further north than necessary. It gives the north and the kind of frequency cities in other countries have, which is one step toward improving our overall transportation system.

      6. “ The north corridor also has the U-District and Northgate …” That’s a red herring. The U-District and Northgate arecloser to these other destinations than to Mariner. Just because a rider will need to go through Downtown Seattle first doesn’t justify less frequent service. Note that the comment is not about serving the north corridor in Seattle at all; it’s about three/ five minute service all the way to Mariner — 11 miles north of the Seattle city limits.

        Further, a side effect of high frequency service is that Roosevelt will be the ninth station after Mariner — for every southbound train in the morning! Similarly, Columbia City will be the 12th stop after a Link train leaves Downtown Tacoma. And let’s not forget the Link vehicles don’t have an open gangway design. Is it fair to say that Mariner riders can “justify” service at three minutes even though Roosevelt riders can’t squeeze onto a train? Wouldn’t the fair thing be to have some trains end at Northgate to give Seattle riders a chance at getting on a train and maybe even getting a seat too? We will be rewarding those people way out in the suburbs and frustrating city dwellers.

        We had this mentality with the interstate system. This is the transit equivalent of building an eight lane freeway miles outside of a city — except we aren’t offering city dwellers any options (like a local transit connection).

      7. I think Mike’s framing is correct. The north corridor gets 3 minute headways because Westlake to UW certainly needs it, and ST’s models say that 3 minute headways will be needed all the way to Lynnwood during peak loads. Beyond Lynnwood, there are minor savings to turnback trains, so my argument is the incremental O&M cost is worth it to provide an excellent transfer experience at Ash Way & Mariner, but I think reasonable people can disagree on that. Al’s freeway analogy, however, is wrong because while a freeway can drop lanes a train cannot drop cars. Yes at the end of the line the vehicles will be mostly empty, but that’s true of any transit line. Do we turnback half of the E-line buses because they are mostly empty in Shoreline and people in Fremont are outraged that Shoreline gets 5 minute frequency during peak? No, that will be silly. Will there be thoughtful operating patterns that include off-peak turnbacks outside of Seattle? I think yes. But unless you are arguing for A) branching north of Lynnwood, or B) single tracking north of Lynnwood, there zero good reason to complain about Link frequencies on Everett Link at this time. As Mike says, we can figure out later where the turnback will be in the north.

        ” Wouldn’t the fair thing be to have some trains end at Northgate to give Seattle riders a chance at getting on a train and maybe even getting a seat too? ” Um, point me to any subway system in the world that does this? Or a bus route that just abruptly ends to kick people off so an equal amount of people will be able to sit in the other direction; can you imagine KCM just ending a 40 bus in Fremont and turning it around so that some Fremont riders can have a seat instead of those evil Ballard riders who selfishly take all the seats first? Will ST have pocket trains to meeting peak of peak demand? Sure. But you don’t end a line so people don’t have to stand for 20 minutes. During rush hour there will be no seats heading into the city for north Seattle riders. That’s how a successful subway operates.

      8. AJ, transit systems have short-turns throughout the world at peak times. And yes, it’s exactly for the reason stated: so that the people in the inner portion of the route have a chance for a seat some days. It’s also capital efficient, since the extra vehicles required to handle peak loads are utilized more efficiently.

    3. “ Instead of one line with trains arriving every 6-8 minutes, in most downtowns around the world subway tunnels have three to four subway lines with trains arriving every 90 seconds to 2 minutes that take passengers to dozens of destinations.”

      I have to commend Seattle Subway for this observation.

      Oh come on. The reason you don’t see many “tiny” subways is that they are extremely expensive. That is why a substantial portion of the cities that have them are huge. For that reason, they also have frequent trains, and lots of different lines. It just wouldn’t make sense for Tokyo to have one line through town.

      But we aren’t Tokyo. We aren’t Paris. We aren’t Chicago, or even San Fransisco. We aren’t even Vancouver. But at least we are close, which means it is a decent starting point.

      Vancouver has three lines. The Expo Line and Canada Line are the only lines that go downtown. They are also the only ones that split in the (nearby) suburbs. The third line does not go downtown, and will eventually intersect the other two. So there are only two lines downtown, and this is perfectly normal, and appropriate.

      If you look at subway systems around the world, you can find plenty that are small. For example, sort the big list ( alphabetically, and the first one that comes serves the city of Adana, Turkey. This is a city of 1.7 million, with much higher density than Seattle ( Yet they have a line that is less than 9 miles long, with ridership higher than ours. If you browse through there, one of the things that I find striking is how many small subways there are. It gets a bit confusing, since there are subway lines that are part of much bigger systems, but if you sort by city, you can see lots of relatively small subways serving much bigger cities than us.

      For example, Toronto. This is the fourth biggest city in North America, and we will pass it in terms of size with ST3. Or how about Prague. It has three subway lines that don’t meet downtown, but form a triangle. It is 33 miles long, and carries 1.6 million people per day. Or how about Minsk. Three lines, 25 miles total, and over 800,000 riders a day.

      Wikipedia groups our system in with other light rail (e. g. streetcars) but if you look at “metro” systems (as Wikipedia defines them) our system is more like that. It is largely grade separated and has big trains — essentially a “metro”. The costs are high for all that grade separation, and we are no exception. In that sense, when you look at systems around the world, we are building an enormous, very expensive system for a city our size.

      Seattle Subway really has it backwards. With ST3 we are the outlier — very few, if any, cities our size have spent that kind of money (or are spending that kind of money) for that much rail. No city our size has ever built anything close to what Seattle Subway envisions. Not even close. Oh, there are big systems that aren’t especially fast, and expensive systems that aren’t big. But there aren’t huge systems with hundreds of miles of grade separation in cities as big as us.

      1. @RossB: Seattle isn’t small, its about the same size as the size as the Bay Area was when the Bay Area was building BART. And BART was supposed to be much bigger than what was actually built.

        And there are plenty of cities of Seattle’s current size that did build large amounts of Rapid Transit.

        And by “Seattle’s current size” I don’t mean municipal boundaries. I mean contingous urbanized area.

  12. While I agree with the general point that development of a plan for future extensions to the system should be undertaken and where necessary provision for connections be made, it’s not clear how the Yellow Line (e.g. “the Metro8 Subway”) would be embargoed as is implied by the line of “X’s” along it. The only place at which it could reasonably be connected to another line is at Mt. Baker. Assuming that the line would be elevated south of I-90 with the platforms diagonally across Rainier Avenue, a single-track aerial connection could be made pretty easily south of the existing platforms at the curve north of South Hanford Street. How trains operating from the Forest Street MF would reverse to enter the Yellow Line is not clear, but given the short length of the Yellow Line as few as eight trainsets might be sufficient to serve it. Therefore, adding a single trailing point cross-over just to the south of the connection and running trains entering or leaving service down to Rainier Beach to reverse might not be terrible.

    The Pink and Purple lines are the real issue of course. Who knows what Sound Transit is finally going to decide for SoDo Station, but whatever it is will
    determine what the options for the Purple line to the south are. If the existing line is to be left untouched except for the north end changes for the tunnel access, the easiest way to connect the Purple Line is to use the outer track loop at the Forest Street Maintenance Facility by connecting at the southeastern corner. Airport Way would have to underpass the track connection, but that’s far enough from the river that it could reasonably be accomplished.

    Even if ST opts for the four track elevated option — extremely unlikely — simply making a stacked curve just south of Spokane for the Purple line deviation would be simple.

    That leaves the two underground junctions for the Pink line. Since I believe that the Northwest is going to face enormous population pressures from climate change refugees, I do think it’s wise to allow for a junction to the Aurora corridor. However, this idea of peeling off to First Hill just south of Midtown is to say the least “challenging”.

    Either the First Hill station would be even deeper than Midtown will have to be, rivaling Forest Glen on WMATA for deepest station in North America, or the profile of the new tunnel will have to include a rise into the “bump” at Madison/Spring. That however means that the grade from IDS to Midtown would be in the 5% range. Since the tunnel will never get snow, that’s certainly feasible, but it’s well beyond what ST has allowed previously.

    In either case, Midtown would have to be a stacked station to allow the turnouts just to the south. That’s actually a good thing given the narrow confines of Fifth Avenue, but it does make the lower platform another twenty-five feet or so deeper. Similarly, the Gates Foundation station would have to be stacked to accommodate the junction for an Aurora line, no matter if it were east or west of the platforms.

    So, yes, ST needs to make some major decisions soon or there will never be a Pink line.

  13. Transit plans should be bound for right of way and cost constraints. Consider how difficult for SDOT to fund all the desire lines in Bridging and Gap and Move Seattle. The Bellevue Transit plan had three scenarios scaled to funding. The high capacity dream have to be planned in the context of other needs and limited resources.

  14. How about we apportion light rail like this way, eddiew: how we use electric rail to add either add very intensive right rail over projective future, or just figure it’s facts and fictures when when’ve either got just keep it.

    Mark Dublin

  15. One hope I have is that an overall system study would call for smaller stop distances in between stations on any light rail lines that are built in the city. Another hope is that it would call for simpler stations than what they have built to date.

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