As we review the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) results as presented by Sound Transit, the decision to cut out all the central Ballard station options stands out as a huge mistake. There is only one Ballard station in ST3 and we have only one chance to get this right. We need a Ballard station where it will serve people who live in and visit Ballard: 20th and Market, directly in the center of the urban village.
A place is not defined by its largest intersection. The EIS includes two station location options, 15th and Market and 14th and Market. Though a station at 15th and Market is marginally better than a station at 14th and Market, neither serve the entertainment district on Ballard Avenue well or maximize usability for most people who already live in Ballard. The forthcoming Ballard station doesn’t need to rely on new transit oriented development; there is already an urban neighborhood there in need of transit service already – this must be development-oriented transit.
The good news is that Sound Transit studied the 20th tunnel option during Pre-DEIS work and discovered the obvious: A 20th Avenue station performed significantly better for riders than the other options presented. The bad news is the station was cut from consideration before the EIS process for cost reasons. But an interesting thing has happened since then: the EIS analysis brought cost parity between elevated and tunnel options in Ballard. An elevated 15th station with a drawbridge now costs the same as a 14th tunnel now. Would that cost parity extend to a 20th station? It might. We need Sound Transit to go back to the drawing board and find out, because the difference for thousands of daily riders is significant.
For anyone considering whether a station at 14th and Market is a good idea, we encourage you to take a walk from this proposed station location to Ballard Avenue or 24th Avenue. Anyone who has tried to take the D line via 15th Ave to visit Old Ballard knows something close to that experience. Is it impossible? No. But it’s far from a great ridership experience, especially for people with mobility challenges. It also involves walking across a dangerous intersection at 15th, which is seven lanes wide at Market.
Our multi-billion dollar 100 year light rail investment must actually be good, not just “fine.” Getting station locations and rider experience right needs to be the first priority for Sound Transit. We need to site the Ballard station where it is convenient for the Ballard that already exists, not distract ourselves with TOD potential in neighboring industrial zones around 15th and 14th. Recent history can be our guide: the Burke Gilman Trail’s arduous history of the Missing Link is an example of how challenging (if not impossible) it is to convert industrial land to other uses. Even if an upzone is possible, a 14th and Market station will never serve Historic Ballard Avenue or the dense 24th corridor well.
A 20th Avenue station is far better for future expansion too. Lines continuing to the north and east should connect into Ballard Station for one seat rides to downtown Seattle. An eastward extension could include an East Ballard station around 8th. Also, if we fail to build a station west of 15th, we’ll have to consider building one in the future, which would make the future Ballard/UW line far less desirable with forced transfers on both sides to access the rest of the system. It’s worth noting that a future Ballard to UW extension that isn’t interlined would involve another expensive tunnel transfer station at Ballard as well. Let’s just skip all that and do it right the first time.
That said, 20th isn’t the only station location option in central Ballard that could work. A station on 22nd could offset the continually rising land prices by using a significant amount of City of Seattle-owned land along 22nd Ave (including the Ballard Commons or Bergen Place) as potential locations for Sound Transit station entrances. There could be another central Ballard option that works better than 20th. The point is that Ballard station has to be in central Ballard and the options that made it through the EIS would require an additional future station to serve it properly.