Last week Sound Transit released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the West Seattle/Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE), the long-awaited Link line from Alaska Junction to 15th and Market, via Sodo, Downtown, South Lake Union, Uptown, and 15th. The comment period began today. View the online open house and comment here.
Really Deep Stations
Both Doug Trumm and Mike Lindblom ($) have already explained the very deep stations proposed along underground segments downtown quite thoroughly. But briefly: typically, the deepest stations in a system are among the lower-ridership ones (like Washington Park in Portland). Westlake, Midtown, and Chinatown would be among the deepest in North America but also among the busiest in the system. Stations this deep mostly depend on elevators, which limit throughput, have an (ahem) spotty maintenance record, and increase the length of every trip that uses the station.
Worse, there is no engineering reason for Chinatown to be deep. It’s a potential concession to a neighborhood that is tired of decades of disruptive construction projects nearby. There is also no appetite to cheaply and shallowly cut-and-cover 5th Avenue downtown for similar reasons. Hopefully, early media attention will help politicians stand up for future riders, and engineers to get a little more creative.
A DEIS is largely about “impacts;” things, sometimes bad and always disruptive, that will happen to the surroundings. Politicians care a lot about impacts on businesses and voters, so there will be much more focus on the next 15 years of construction than the infinity of future riders. All the impacts are there in the report for you to read, but here at STB we care about riders.
They say that all models are wrong, but some are useful. This model says that the alternatives under consideration don’t really differ in ridership at all. Most of the segment alternatives have literally no difference. The exceptions:
- An elevated Fauntleroy Way station (kinda near Trader Joe’s) actually adds 100 more riders (out of 7,800 in the segment) vs. all the other options while also negating various NIMBY impulses around the Junction.
- Moving Delridge station north of Andover St, and the walkshed further into the Delridge/bridge interchange, costs 200 riders (out of 5,800) in the segment, with no real cost savings.
- In Downtown and SLU, running on 5th and Harrison nets 5,000 more riders (to 163,700) than 6th and Mercer while also being slightly cheaper.
You might ask if it makes sense that adding several minutes to platform access at Chinatown would have no impact on ridership at all. Sound Transit could not promptly answer my question as to whether station ingress/egress time was part of the ridership model. But, officially, there’s no difference. Perhaps this is something that could be considered in the final EIS? That said, detailed forensic analysis on the results that don’t match your priors, and easy acceptance of those that do, is a cognitive error I’m disinclined to make here.
Regardless, given the results as they are, it’s hard for future-rider advocates to be super-energized about such small differences, except that (1) the cheaper option is more likely to be built promptly, and (2) even if the number of the riders is the same, wasting an extra 6 minutes or so of their time on every trip forever is a shortsighted decision.
Cheap and Shallow, Like a Reality Show
So what does this future-oriented best alignment look like? From South to North:
- An elevated station at Fauntleroy Way (WSJ-2, this is “preferred” but, comically, 4 of 6 options are preferred; let no faction be left behind)
- A “low-height” elevated option along Genessee St. with the Delridge Station actually a block off Delridge (DEL-2a, one of two preferred, 8 total)
- Hugging the highway bridge over the Duwamish (DUW-1a, preferred)
- At-grade through Sodo with separated crossings at Lander and Holgate (SODO-1a, preferred)
- The “5th Avenue Shallow” option at Chinatown (CID-2a, no preference given)
- 5th Avenue through downtown and Harrison St. through Uptown (DT-1, no preference given)
- Through Interbay, a stop at Galer St and then elevated along the railroad tracks instead of 15th (SIB-1, preferred)
- In Ballard, a 14th Ave Tunnel (IBB-2a) or 15th Ave Elevated (IBB-3). 2a is one of three preferred options; although the numbers show no difference, my lyin’ eyes say to pick 15th.
No doubt, some of these will not happen as protests about “impacts” emerge and pressure Sound Transit into picking more expensive, riskier options that don’t improve rider experience.
Environmental review runs into 2023. Then there’s a few years of design, and earth starts turning on the Sodo/West Seattle leg in 2026.