In my previous post, “Notes from a Vancouverite”, I pointed out that the Sound Transit plan for Ballard and West Seattle was not very good yet had a high cost, and I advocated for a superior route to serve Ballard:
And West Seattle with a possible extension to Bellevue:
These were to be tunnelled lines using frequent, automated trains with short stations in order to save money. I note that my proposals were not taken up (although part of the West Seattle-Madison-Bellevue Line did make it into Seattle Subway’s vision), so I have decided to try again. My quest is aided by Sound Transit’s current plan, which is truly awful, and Sound Transit’s current budget, which is truly huge.
Problems with ST’s Draft EIS Plan:
The best I can tell the current cost estimates for the plan are over $12b:
I couldn’t find figures for the total increase in boardings that the plan will bring, but I have estimated it as follows. The DEIS estimates that the West Seattle and Ballard stations will generate 33,300 boardings per day. That includes residents of those areas starting a journey and non-residents returning from a journey started elsewhere on the transit system. So doubling that figure should give the increase in boardings due to those new stations: 66,600. In addition, the new downtown stations will generate trips among themselves and on the rest of the Link network. Because of the integration of the lines with the existing Link lines, it was difficult for me to determine which of these will be new boardings due to the additional stations or existing Link riders in DSTT 1 being moved to DSTT 2. So I’m going to be nice and say those new downtown stations will also generate 66,600 new boardings (over and above the return journeys to the West Seattle and Ballard stations already included) for a total of 133,200 boarding per day.
133,200 new boardings per day is a good expansion and justifies spending money. But over $12b? Assuming 133,200 boardings means 66,600 individual riders, you could purchase a $180,000 car for each of them with $12b. A transit line lasts longer than a car and that the real limitation for urban transportation is space and cars don’t solve that, but the metric is still not good. And it gets worse. Sound Transit’s financial plan implies that this new expansion will not cover its operating costs with fare revenue, so the actual long term financial cost is actually over $12b. And bus integration isn’t what it ought to be, so there won’t be large savings in reducing duplicating bus routes either.
Cost Benefit Analyses don’t walk on water and are based on assumptions, but it would be nice to see at least some attempt to match the total cost of the plan with the total benefit of the plan plus a comparison with other options.
2. Only One Station North of Ship Canal
Only one station north of the Ship Canal seems insane. That looks like fertile transit ground to me. Not to mention that the Ballard Station placement is only OK.
3. Terrible Stations
This is the real doozy. Some of these are so bad that there is earnest consideration on this blog about whether these plans are a pretext for cancelling the whole thing.
The part in grey is the current Westlake Station, already a large structure, which demonstrates just how huge the new underground works are intended to be. If this engineering marvel did something marvellous, who would complain? But all this engineering actually just causes trouble. Making people spend five minutes or more just to get to the platform.
Since I’m actually pathetic enough to go through a bunch of this crap, I will include quite a few images of just what Sound Transit has in store for you.
Westlake Preferred Option Plan:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing East:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing West:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing North:
In case anyone missed it, behold Escalatorpalooza:
The Second Avenue Subway in NYC introduced the world to the concept of the billion dollar subway station. Sound Transit has not broken out the station costs separately, but I wonder, do we have a runner-up here?
Midtown Preferred Option Plan:
Midtown Preferred Option Section Facing East:
Midtown Preferred Option Section North Stack Facing South:
Midtown Preferred Option Section South Stack Facing South:
Midtown Preferred Option Ventilation Section Facing South:
New Vancouverite Plan
My goal isn’t to come up with something entirely new but to adapt the current plan as much as possible to make it workable and cheaper. In the main this means a tunnelled, automatic metro with very short platform lengths:
The Stations are:
- 15th Ave
- Denny Park
- Westlake – Transfer Station
- ID – Transfer Station
- Stadium (Optional) (Or Located on 1st Ave)
- Avalon – Connection to Operations Centre under West Seattle Stadium
I still think that Queen Anne is a worthy target for some rapid transit, but remembering the spittle flecked rage the last time I mentioned the unmentionable, I’m not pushing that one again:
The Ops Centre would be under the West Seattle Stadium which would mean ripping it up, excavating out the required area, building the ops centre and then decking it over and rebuilding the stadium and maybe the clubhouse for the West Seattle Golf Course. It is city owned so the only cost would be construction. Here is a comparison with the ops centre for Skytrain (which handles way more rolling stock):
For capacity I’m comparing this new line with the Canada Line in Vancouver. The Canada Line was built with an ultimate capacity of 15,000 passengers per direction per hour (ppdph), but is currently operated at 8,000 ppdph. Pre covid the line had a peak ridership of 150,000 boardings per day. I can tell you that 8,000 ppdph was not enough to handle that. The trains were crush loaded at peak times. So for a new 133,200 boardings-per-day line, 8,000 ppdph is probably the bare minimum.
The Canada Line uses Hyundai Rotem cars in two car trains that have a passenger capacity of 334 and a total length of 135 feet:
Operated on a 90 second interval or 40 trains per hour provides a total of 13,360 ppdph which seems like enough to me. Not enough to cover major growth in the corridor, but enough to cover some growth.
To make the central section more usable, the tunnel needs to be much closer to the surface and constructed with the cut-and-cover method. Ideally the tunnel should be as close to the surface as possible, so that the road surface is the tunnel roof. To aid in this, metro tunnels without overhead wires don’t have to be tall as light rail tunnels. 5th Avenue is not that wide downtown, but it does look wide enough to handle cut-and-cover tunnels, and it is also possible to stack the metro tunnels if need be. (Skytrain in downtown Vancouver is stacked.)
However, one disadvantage must be acknowledged. Shallow tunnels will make a total mess of the current Westlake Station. The tunnels will have to go through the current mezzanine and require a bunch of reconstruction:
On the other hand, short platforms really expose the gigantism that has overtaken Sound Transit’s plan. Here are several images of the Sound Transit plan with a shallow 150 foot station box superimposed.
ID – Shallow tunnels under 5th:
One concern with cut-and-cover construction is the amount of time that the road will be closed. However, in this case, this is almost a benefit. Some of the stations in the current plan are so big and complicated that the construction timeline anticipates that they will be under construction for 9 years! And there is no reason why cut-and-cover cannot be done quickly. The Pine Street cut-and-cover segment of the original DSTT was built in under six months albeit with a temporary surface put down for the Christmas shopping season that had to be taken up and re-done in the slower shopping months.
The tunnels will have to be bored south of ID and north of Denny Park, but even then, the very short station boxes make things so much easier. Here is a 150’ station box at 15th Ave:
This is less than a third of the block.
This is my estimate of costs in millions:
|Tunnel at 150m per km||2,475|
|14 Stations at 150m each||2,100|
|More Seattle Nonsense||1,000|
The 150m per km figure is from Alon Levy who estimates that this is the no-BS international cost of metro lines (I think he also means to include stations and rolling stock too but I daren’t go that far). Stations I have pencilled in at 150m each which is on the high side plus an additional 250m for a total of 400m at Westlake because it will be a mess. And the operation centre at 500m is also on the high side but it means that it can be done right.
For those that think that my estimates are unreasonably low, actually 5.325b for a short metro line is no bargain and 7.325b is properly expensive. (Sound Transit first estimated this extension at 7b for ST3.) There are those on this blog that decry tunnelling at the main driver of costs, but it isn’t tunnels, its stations. Colossal, overblown stations mean colossal, overblown costs. The tunnel from downtown to Roosevelt was expensive but not preposterous, so it can be done, even in Seattle. And the promise of lower costs above ground is clearly spent. Elevated lines can be built cheaply on publicly owned ROWs, but it isn’t that cheap on purchased land, and not if there are two bridges and a high level viaduct as in West Seattle.
As a postscript, this is how I would outline expansion if that were undertaken. Two interlined lines going east and west. Since the peak frequency is 90 seconds, interlining only drops this to 3 minutes which is still perfectly doable if expansion were desired in the future.
15 Replies to “Notes from a Vancouverite, Revisited”
Thank you for presenting this. One of the systemic problems in our region is that agencies often can’t put more than one alternative with only a few options within that.
ST did not seriously consider automated technology like Vancouver has for ST3. I think many of that see this as a mistake. However, individually we do not have the skills and information to nuance different approaches that don’t assume the current chosen technology. This is made worse because ST still has not discussed what proportion of the transit transfers are between rail lines and how the need to travel over five minutes in some stations to make a connection will discourage ridership.
ST will state that revisiting their previous arbitrary choices is too expensive and time consuming. However, as you point out, the costs are several billions higher than promised and the schedule has already slipped by years. This should give enough impetus for an elected official to revisit the WSBLE program. So contacting the elected officials to encourage them to not continue pursuing the “preferred alternative” needs to happen.
The way that urban transportation projects are evaluated in the US is frustrating. I’m an unreconstructed urban transportation nerd, and I find the process to be heavy sledding. Joe Public can be forgiven for not having a clue. And after all that process, it often seems to lead to the wrong answers.
In Canada the process is usually done with something called a business case or multiple account analysis. (Multiple account analysis acknowledges that trying to convert everything like time savings or urban design effects to dollar figures is artificial, so it keeps the financial accounts separate from various other “accounts” like ridership, time savings, environmental, social, design etc.)
In Vancouver the process invariably evaluates several alternatives for a proposed route:
Best Bus – this is putting money into the bus system to improve along the alignment as much as possible.
Full BRT – Proper segregated lanes and signal control.
LRT – Mostly surface alignment.
Metro – Dedicated ROW, automatic control.
The whole report is around 50 pages and the costs and benefits of all the options can be summarized on a page. (Invariably there are two reasonable options. Spend a lot of money to get the best service with a metro, or save your money and still get a good amount of improvement with a BRT. Best Bus doesn’t do much because there isn’t room for more buses, and LRT never wins. Does everything a bus can do but with more money.) This is the primary document for public comment and political decision making.
Once the route and technology type is selected the process usually stalls while funding is scrounged, but the specifics of station locations and entrances are not really subject to public comment. They are published and you can complain about them if you like, but it doesn’t happen much. It is really funding and changes in government that drive the process from here. In Canada the budgets for urban transportation are often much leaner than what you enjoy in the US, so there really isn’t the option for proposing any fanciful additions.
In contrast, with the DEIS, the options analysis is really only about variations on one option, building a metro-style ROW and using light rail trains. I have suffered to go through the Options Analysis chapter and the related appendix, and the options that you would expect to be analyzed aren’t even mentioned. Re-using the DSTT isn’t mentioned. There is only a one liner on even interlining in SODO. Building a separate line isn’t mentioned.
If I were to improve the process, I would do a much better job with the real options analysis at the first round, and then for the second round of public comment, I would not bedevil the public with a huge mass of possible choices, I would just present the preferred option and some truly reasonable alternatives and invite the public to make suggestions for improvement.
How are you going under the 99 tunnel? The depth of the SLU & QA stations (as currently proposed by ST) seem to be mostly driven by a need to avoid the massive freeway tunnel.
If you are going to propose a station under a avenue (like at ID), shallow stations seem fine, but north of Midtown I think you need to do some more homework.
Punching a station through the Westlake mezzanine would surely include a lengthy closure of station, but are you assuming the rest of the DSTT can mostly remain in service while the station is rebuilt?
This proposal doesn’t go under the 99 tunnel. Stays east the whole way. The only thing that really needs to be avoided is the sewer main that I think is under Dexter. Dexter might be a useful compromise spot for a station between Westlake and Aurora, but it might be right over the main which would mean no go. So I have anticipated that the line will dive under the main and then have a station at Aurora and Galer or thereabouts. The next main runs along the north shore of the ship canal, but that can be cleared just by clearing the ship canal.
I have pencilled in Denny Park as the place to transition to bored tunnels because it is convenient place to launch equipment and haul away spoils but the cut-and-cover could continue to Lake Union and transition to bored there. That would mean a excavation close to the water which is a nuisance, but certainly done all the time. Then the line would stay east of the Dexter sewer main as well and only need to clear the ship canal.
The transition to bored tunnels does mean deeper stations, but not extreme. The deepest station will actually be at Phinney just because the hill climbs so much. In my notes that is around 100 feet deep, which isn’t wonderful, but it also isn’t a hideously complicated transfer station. 15th Ave and Ballard will be shallow. I was concerned about the West Seattle depths, but actually the 5% maximum grade of a metro line can follow the surface contours just fine. Even Delridge won’t have to be deep because the channel east of Harbor Island is only -30′. If you tunnel to -60′ for good clearance you have over 2000′ to bring it up to the +50′ elevation of Delridge. And of course the bored tunnels cannot come right to the surface so the grade is 5% or less.
The grade transition from ID to Midtown is 5%, so a cut-and-cover tunnel matching the surface grade ought to be possible.
Yes I would anticipate the DSTT to remain in service during the work aside from some weekend closures. A strong, protective scaffold would have to be build at the platform level to protect users from a catastrophic failure, but the only really heavy demolition work to be done would be taking the road and roof off the current mezzanine. That would necessitate the weekend closures.
OK fair enough. I’ve wondered if the 99 tunnel is enough of a barrier for ST to pivot to a Fremont corridor rather than Interbay corridor to reach Ballard.
Interesting proposal — I really appreciate the diagrams, and how much detail they provide. You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this.
I’m not sure why your previous idea created “spittle flecked rage”, given it is quite similar to a previous plan considered by Sound Transit (Corridor D*). It had the best ridership numbers, but was one of the more expensive options. That seems laughable now, considering the extra expenses for things like elevated rail along 15th/Elliot, and a second tunnel through downtown. The current pathway was chosen not because it was best for riders, but because it was supposed to be cheap. Oh well, so much for that idea.
Similarly, your new idea is quite similar to Corridor E (same document). You call for cut and cover, while they called for a mix of surface and tunneling. In both cases it is essentially a rail version of the 40. Quite reasonable if you can keep the costs down (and speed up). Otherwise, we are probably OK with just the 40.
I find it interesting that you compare this to Vancouver, without pointing out the obvious differences. Vancouver doesn’t have anything like West Seattle Link, nor are there any plans for it. The closest analogy would be to run a SkyTrain line to the Park Royal Mall (Marine Drive and Taylor Way). All those buses that go over the Lions Gate Bridge would be truncated, right before the riders get a fast trip into the city. West Vancouver would be thrilled — since they would finally get their own SkyTrain line. Riders, of course, not so much. Even that analogy doesn’t do the situation justice, as West Vancouver is next to North Vancouver. The buses can (and do) go east-west north of Vancouver, while they struggle to do that in West Seattle. Even if they did, there is no equivalent to North Vancouver next to West Seattle. Then consider that the mall would likely add residential towers — overrated for their transit efficacy, but still significant. Finally, West Seattle is connected to downtown via a freeway, with bus lanes most of the way; I don’t believe the buses connecting West Vancouver to downtown Vancouver are quite that fast. Yet without any of those advantages, Sound Transit pushes along with their plans for West Seattle Link, knowing that they will make the transit trip worse for the majority of riders (unless they fail to truncate the buses, which means that the train would largely be ignored). Vancouver transit officials — like most around the world — just shake their heads, wondering what in the world we are doing.
Ballard Link is different. It is kinda sorta like a traditional metro (especially your rendering) which means that it is similar to SkyTrain. (SkyTrain may have some unusual touches, but it definitely follows the traditional mass transit pattern found throughout the world — Link does not). You’ve got urban stop spacing (especially with your plan) and several destinations along the way.
Yet it fails, miserably, to match the key component of SkyTrain, which is bus to rail system integration. There is only one ST plan that comes close to something that Vancouver would build, and that is the Ballard to UW subway. Everything else — even Ballard Link at its best — fails to live up to that standard. I think I’ll write an ode to the Canada Line to hammer home this point, but as a separate comment.
* Here is a full report of the previous plans: https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/About/DocumentLibrary/Reports/B2D_FinalReport%2005-16-14.pdf. Here is a summary: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2013/12/06/sound-transit-refines-ballard-options/
It was the provision of transit to Queen Anne that provoked the spittle-flecked rage. And maybe spittle-flecked is overstated, but the original article and the comments are still there. In my previous post I also reviewed Corridor D specifically and pointed out that while it did have the best ridership, its ridership and the ridership predictions for all the options were unreasonably low. That study is clearly flawed and justifies going back to that level of decision making.
But Corridor E is not like my route. When I do transit fantasy planning, I’ve got a map of the area, a density map and a bus map open. For this I was using one of Oran Viriyincy’s from a few years ago. By staying on Leary, Corridor E misses a bunch of the walk up density and the bus connections, particularly the 5 and the 44 east and west of Phinney. In younger, lower density cities like Vancouver and Seattle, planning with a bus map is essential. I’m not sure that Sound Transit knows about this. So my route is not just a rail version of the 40, but a bus connector that happens to cover some of the same ground. And it would be way faster and way more frequent.
The entire Ballard route is designed with bus connections in mind. (Caveat: my bus map is pre-covid so there might be some changes since. This is the number of bus routes would intersect with the new line: 17, 18, 19, 44, 40, 15, D, 28 with a route shift, 5, 31, 32, 62, 26 with a route shift, and finally the E with bit of fancy connection infrastructure. I would imagine the 5 and 62 becoming one route that joins in Fremont and the 28 and 26 would do the same. The 40 would continue over the Fremont Bridge to downtown. You call this failing miserably at bus and rail integration, but I would questions what success would be.
Of course my views on transit are based on my experience in Vancouver. When I was a student I used to think light rail was a good idea. Then we got some planning reports for the Millennium Line which showed that light rail is only cheaper if it offers substantially inferior service. Otherwise you might as well just go metro from the start. But I took a few things as given. I think rail transit to WS is a given. I certainly would credit you with a better read on Seattle politics than me, but do you have any reason to doubt this? Lament it yes, but doubt it?
West Seattle is something like extending Skytrain to North Vancouver but not exactly. The one Skytrain route that makes sense, directly across under the harbour, replacing the Seabus, would be a significantly shorter route and much faster and much more frequent. It would be a big improvement. That isn’t really possible in WS; however, you will note that I tried to make it possible in my first post. I proposed something along California that went directly downtown and then up Madison. That really would be new because it would make downtown and First Hill very close to those stops on California. So yes, for this plan I took some things as given and just copied the stop locations. And they do make the most sense for bus connections.
“I would imagine the 5 and 62 becoming one route that joins in Fremont and the 28 and 26 would do the same.”
Hmm? The 5/62 would go from Shoreline CC to Fremont and then northeast to Sand Point? The 62 provides important service along Dexter, and connects SLU to north-central Seattle. Link is limited-stop so you’d need local bus shadows. The 26 is deleted, although some say that created a transit hole between Fremont and lower Wallingford and Latona.
Both Dexter and Eastlake are mostly residential-only, so if you live there you need a bus to go to the store or other daily errands. Thus why the 62 on Dexter is so important.
“When I was a student I used to think light rail was a good idea.”
This is confusing because of the very different defintion of light rail in Vancouver and Seattle. What you’re describing is a surface tram. Seattle merges its tram and metro segments into one “light rail” category. The same way Metro/ST merge their limited-stop and long-distance point-to-point routes into one “express” category, even though the 15X, 512, and 522 are fundamentally different from the 545 and 577.
In 2000 when Seattle started thinking about transit upgrades, I attended an open house where we were asked, “Should Seattle’s next generation of transit focus on light rail, streetcars, or buses?” I said light rail or buses but not streetcars. Grade-separated rail is fast and transformative. Buses are inexpensive so they can serve more areas for the same amount of money. Streetcars are the worst of both worlds: more expensive than buses but no better mobility, so what’s the point? (Based on Seattle’s defintion of “streetcar” as mostly mixed-traffic, and “light rail” as mostly exclusive-lane or grade-separated.) This is similar to what you’re saying, that surface tram is not as transformative as metro, so what’s the point? The Seattle situation is even worse: the middle choice is a mixed-traffic streetcar instead of an exclusive-lane tram, and BRT is not an option. (Both BRT and exclusive-lane trams have the same political problem: unwillingness to give up two GP/parking lanes for them, and no room to add two more lanes.)
“West Seattle is something like extending Skytrain to North Vancouver but not exactly.”
Thanks for an opinion by a Vancouver expert. We can guess how parts of Vancouver function but it’s not the same as having decades of experience living there and seeing everything people around you do.
I’ve often sung the praises of SkyTrain. In my opinion it is the best designed system on the West Coast, and one of the best built in the last fifty years. Before the pandemic, it had ridership of over half a million per day. This is top ten in North America — a group largely consisting of much larger cities. Only Boston — with its system built many years ago — is like Vancouver (not a huge city, but lots of people ride the train). Yet Vancouver bus ridership is almost twice that of Boston (750,000 versus 400,000). Boston has light rail of course, but the combined light rail and bus ridership of Boston is still not as high as the bus ridership in Vancouver. While SkyTrain has impressive numbers, it is the combination of bus and train ridership numbers that are really impressive.
This is by design. Vancouver, like Seattle and most of the cities in the U. S. and Canada, has a lot of people living in relatively low density areas. It is unrealistic to think that most of the people in the city will be able to walk to a mass transit stop. We can’t afford the Paris Metro, especially at modern costs. To get good transit outcomes, the buses and rail have to work together well. To be clear, I’m not talking about individual stations (although that is definitely important), I mean from a system standpoint (an awkward transfer is better than nothing).
As an example of this, consider the Canada Line. It starts at the downtown waterfront (a destination in itself) with a great connection to SeaBus — a frequent ferry connecting riders to one of the biggest urban centers in the Northwest. Then you have several downtown(ish) stops, in very urban areas, the way you would expect a subway to operate.
South of Olympic Village, things get interesting. This is the point where many rail lines (in similar cities) begin to lose steam. You have a big drop-off in density. To be fair, a lot of those houses are on relatively small lots, and a lot of the houses have more than one family. But it still isn’t Brooklyn or Montreal, with its high-density, low-rise housing. Thus you would expect numbers to be relatively low, creating political turmoil. Urbanists battle it out with NIMBYs, trying to upzone the area. Planners defend the station, despite the low numbers, saying that some day they’ll add density there. Those in the surrounding suburbs — many of which upzoned around their stations — find no use for the stops, and wonder why we spent the money. Some even suggest an express of some sort, since those stops add so little (and so few people actually use them).
Except that didn’t happen. Those stops are great because they fit the grid — a grid that Jarrett Walker called “almost perfect”. The five stops between Olympic Village and the Fraser River all have major east-west bus service (and one of those will eventually be rail). As a result, you can get anywhere to anywhere, and the train plays a huge part.
This mobility extends beyond the city, into the suburbs. As d.p. once put it, the folks in the suburbs are given the keys to the city. But just look at that suburban service. You have a split, right outside how the city — how appropriate. One line goes to the airport, where frequency beyond a certain point gets you nothing (no one takes a spontaneous trip to the airport). The other serves Richmond, again with some east-west bus service, but also more feeder style buses (appropriate for the area). You reduce frequency to Richmond, but given the distance, you don’t lose much as a result. Put it all together, and it is one of the best lines built on the West Coast, even if it cost a bundle.
But it didn’t! There are clearly steps taken to minimize costs. Above ground in the suburbs, cut and cover in the city (or at least most of it). Even single track in places. The biggest complaint from people is that it is sometimes too popular — a problem that Seattle wishes it had. And yet this Canada Line isn’t necessarily the best of Vancouver’s three!
Even the best line in Seattle fails to integrate the buses the way that TransLink does. There is only one stop between the UW and downtown. As a result, riders trying to get to the Central Area from the north either have to ride the 48 over the bridge and through Montlake, or they have to go all the way downtown, and back north again. The trip in that respect is not much different (or much faster) than one taken 20 years ago (I would ride the 41 downtown, then a bus back up the hill). First Hill is a little better, but consider the RapidRide G. This will be the first NACTO level BRT line in the state, and likely the only one for a long time. Some have argued that it should turn on Broadway and connect to Link. I disagree (as I think there are other connections to consider). This wouldn’t be an issue if there was a Link station on Madison. A station at 23rd and Madison, for example, would solve both of these issues, and provide the greater Central Area with the sort of thing that Vancouver provides for most of the city.
Our inability to learn from our nearest neighbor, and build something similar is perhaps our greatest failing from a transit standpoint. We will forever wish we had something as good as what they’ve built, even though we will spend a lot more on our system.
I agree this is a very impressive article. I would only add that based on current and pre-pandemic Link ridership your estimated ridership for WSBLE is probably double or triple what actual ridership will be (which you address) and final costs based on the preferred design closer to $20 billion. So I guess each rider could get two cars costing $180,000 each, or six EV’s costing $60,000 each which will exceed the life expectancy of most of WSBLE. If current work, population growth, and traffic patterns hold there will be road capacity for these additional cars. Now there is a mode alternative to study that causes no commercial or neighborhood disruption, and probably leaves enough left over to replace the bridges over the next 60 years. Except the DEIS contains this required alternative: do nothing. Because the one factor this excellent article does not address is there isn’t the revenue — capital or operations — for the alternatives in the DEIS, this plan, or the 133,000 cars.
Yes I know that I was being nice about the ridership predictions. If I’m going to be some Canadian telling you that you are doing everything wrong I thought I should at least be nice about it. I would emphasize again that the car cost comparison was just a comparison. Giving everyone an expensive car still does not create space to move or store it. Maybe there will be less employment office demand in the future, but there are also a ton and a half of roads that need to be narrowed in Seattle. Mercer anyone? The new waterfront road. Dare I say it, I-5? In the not too distant future, much more road space is going to have to be allocated to bikes, e-bikes and feet.
I can’t comment on whether ST’s capital budget may or may not materialize, but I would point out that this automatic line would probably cover its operating costs entirely out of farebox revenue. That has been the experience in Vancouver. It might even generate a wee surplus to chip away at its capital cost amortized over probably its whole life.
I would also point out that I have read many of your comments which are generally skeptical that Seattleites are capable of changing their travel behaviour in any meaningful way that would justify the huge costs of these projects. And generally I agree with you because most of the projects proposed are not that transformative. The service they provide just isn’t that exciting. But it you do provide transformative service, don’t discount the possibility that it can transform. I’m continually surprised at seeing construction workers in Vancouver riding transit. Normally you think that they would melt in embarrassment to be seen without their precious pickup trucks, but provide something that makes sense to them, and they will use it. Ditto the lawyers. If you have a hearing in New Westminster, the fuddy duddies bundle into their cars and drive because they can’t imagine doing anything else. But the lawyers under 60 all take Skytrain. It’s faster, it lets you review your materials, and you can have a chat with the opposing counsel on the way back.
I thought your article was excellent, and I thought your analogy about the number of expensive cars ST could buy each rider for the cost of WSBLE hit the nail on the head, and too many on this blog think money grows on trees. Transit needs to be measured in the end by dollar per rider mile.
I wonder how many intended riders would take the $60,000 EV over the cost of WSBLE, assuming they could not sell it. I am not so sure in the future there won’t be the road capacity for those extra cars based on WFH and likely ridership from West Seattle and Ballard, which is mostly a peak period issue.
“Maybe there will be less employment office demand in the future, but there are also a ton and a half of roads that need to be narrowed in Seattle. Mercer anyone? The new waterfront road. Dare I say it, I-5? In the not too distant future, much more road space is going to have to be allocated to bikes, e-bikes and feet.”
This is a philosophical or ideological statement, something you want for others, not a statement of fact. Your transit system depends on much higher ridership, and that means forcing folks out of their cars.
If bikes and e-bikes have garnered around 2% of all trips today in this dark, wet, cold, hilly region what makes you think bikes will increase that percentage in the future. Have you ever brought home groceries for a family of four on a bike, or taken a kid to daycare? Or biked from Redmond to Bellevue. 90% of trips today are because a car is safe, fast, convenient (weather, night), there are no transfers or first/last mile access, you are insulated from an increasingly insane general public, and you can carry things. Pre-pandemic more Vancouverites were registering cars despite taxes and public transit. https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/06/17/bc-drivers-registering-more-cars-despite-green-policies-like-the-carbon-tax-and-more-public-transit-options.html
The more likely reality in the future is transit will become more micro, not macro, when driverless EV’s arrive. Ironically at that point the spine could well make sense because transit trips will be less frequent and likely longer with WFH. If anything is going to drive up ridership on Link it is first/last mile access that mimics the car in the garage. Right now suburban folks (and 90% of this region is really suburban if you mean within walking distance of a light rail station) don’t mind park and rides, but for ideological reasons ST neglected park and rides, and first/last mile access in general, Link’s Achilles Heel. I gind it amusing that some on this blog think peak commuters from Issaquah to downtown Seattle (or Bellevue) will accept two or three transfers, but God forbid if someone in Seattle who has no job has to take a transfer. The truth is everyone hates transfers, buses strong suit over Link.
If drivers could take a driverless electric Uber which would be much cheaper (and likely have a monthly retainer) to Link I think they would leave the car in the garage for that, IF their destination was someplace urban and dense enough to walk around, far enough just staying in the Uber was too expensive, and they didn’t have a bunch of trips and stops to make like many suburbanites and exurbanites do.
“I would also point out that I have read many of your comments which are generally skeptical that Seattleites are capable of changing their travel behaviour in any meaningful way that would justify the huge costs of these projects. And generally I agree with you because most of the projects proposed are not that transformative.”
When you write this what you are really talking about are: 1. safety; 2. frequency; and 3. first/last mile access. The region is too large and undense for any kind of area wide bus feeder service, which has all the issues I describe above which is why folks drive: because it is more convenient for them.
My humble suggestion is to enclose the light rail stations to solve the crime and crazy problem, and to hope for micro transit and a revitalization of downtown Seattle which is the only real urban area around here (downtown Bellevue provides free parking, at least during non-peak hours), or shared driverless micro transit to feed light rail. Until then I don’t see light rail or transit getting anyone in this area out of their car, certainly to go from Redmond to Everett or Tacoma. Maybe Vancouver is different, but the car registration suggests Vancouver is not that much different. People drive because they like it better than public transit, for a whole host of issues.
I just don’t have an ideological dog in the fight. I say let folks determine which mode is best for them, and WFH has been the best thing to happen to the commuter slave in decades, and where they want to live. My guess is driverless electric shared vehicles will be the one thing to get folks out of their cars, but not to take a feeder bus, and only to Link if the distance and destination warrants it, (except a lot of folks really enjoy driving, and it will always be the safest and usually fastest mode, and when determining mode safety is numbers 1, 2 and 3, and 4 and 5 and 6.
“if you do provide transformative service, don’t discount the possibility that it can transform”
I’ll go further and say transformative transit IS transformative on mode share. The problem in the US is it’s not transformative enough. We had one of the most extensive transit networks in the world in the early 1900s and we threw it away. Since then we’ve started from a low base and have only made modest steps, so the result gets lost in the noise.
Link from downtown to the U-District is transformative, and ridership at Capitol Hill shot up to the top of the non-Westlake/non-Intl Dist stations. U-District/UW would have been more transformative if U-District had opened sooner and not during covid. Roosevelt’s performance is impressive. Northgate will probably catch up when covid recedes, the lost mall destinations are replaced, and Snohomish bus transfers are better coordinated — although that won’t matter when the transfers move to Lynnwood. The rest of Link is not as transformative or not built yet or both. I think Seattle-Lynnwood and Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond will be strong (but not as strong as North Seattle), and the rest will be mediocre, as Rainier Valley is. That’s because it doesn’t meet people’s needs excellently, and it’s not majorly better than existing transit or driving. Other countries often have excellent transit that majorly meets people’s needs and is significantly better than driving, so not surprisingly they have high ridership. Vancouver, Toronto, and London are three of the above-average ones, as is our own Washington DC. Calgary also has higher ridership than similar size/density US cities — because the transit is better. In contrast, Portland has a glaring lack of a downtown tunnel. Los Angeles’ Blue Line is noticeably slower and less capacious than Los Angeles’ Red Line or the Bay Area’s BART. Chicago’s buses are impressively frequent but crawlingly slow — there’s room for improvement in transit-priority lanes. Most American cities don’t have even even these, and some have hardly any transit at all. People drive partly for cultural reasons, but also because transit is so lame or for many trips nonexistent.
“Have you ever brought home groceries for a family of four on a bike, or taken a kid to daycare?”
Yet The Netherlands has a 33% bike share of all trips. Grandmothers bike to the store and to get prescriptions. Parents get their kids to daycare without massive driving, or without driving to work so they can take kids to daycare/school/soccer on the way. The kids just walk or take transit or their bikes. As for getting lots of groceries for a family of four, that’s partly because of our big-box centralization: the stores encourage people to go to huge stores with huge parking lots that are hard to get to without a car, and to do a few large shopping trips rather than more smaller ones. When I asked a friend in Switzerland how he got by with a small kitchen, he said the supermarket is a couple blocks away. A German woman who moved to the US was introduced to an American supermarket, and couldn’t understand why her friend gave her a large shopping cart. “Why do I need this? I can fit a day or two’s worth of food in a basket.” The friend replied, “Because Americans shop once a week or less.”
There is a trend of Euopean car ownership increasing, so things might change, but it would take a night-and-day change to become like the US, and I don’t see that happening at all. People take transit in Europe because it’s convenient. They take intercity trains because they get the job done, and they’re more sensitive to energy consumption and carbon emissions.
“I find it amusing that some on this blog think peak commuters from Issaquah to downtown Seattle (or Bellevue) will accept two or three transfers, but God forbid if someone in Seattle who has no job has to take a transfer.”
There are several factors including density and the distance of each segment. The denser it is and the shorter the distance, the less transfers are acceptable. It’s reasonable to take Link from Westlake three miles to the U-District and transfer to a bus. It’s not reasonable to take a bus from 23rd one mile to Broadway and transfer to Link one more mile to Westlake. Two transfers over a 15-20 mile trip is reasonable. Two transfers within a 2-mile distance is not reasonable. From Issaquah, all trips to Seattle or Bellevue are long-distance. Local trips within Issaquah are more akin to the Seattle situation, where you’re just going from downtown to SLU, or SLU to Wallingford, or Wallingford to Northgate. However, it’s not an exact science to balance the tradeoffs and say exactly where a transfer is justified. Different people will have somewhat different opinions.
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